Jane Robbins: Common Core Proponents Mislead


Creators and proponents of the Common Core national K-12 standards have found themselves unexpectedly having to defend the standards against a nationwide firestorm of opposition. It wasn’t supposed to be this way — the standards were to be adopted and implemented under the radar and presented to gullible parents as a fait accompli. But the parents turned out to be not so gullible.

Representatives from the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce and a few other organizations have taken up the mantle of defending the indefensible, but in their recently published quest to clear up “misconceptions . . . touted by a vocal few,” they parrot the shopworn misrepresentations developed by the standards’ marketers. As the North Dakota parents who have done their homework already know, the truth lies elsewhere.

Regarding their claim that the Common Core standards were developed by “top leaders in our communities,” the authors should have delved beneath the talking points. If they had, they would have discovered that the standards – which are owned and copyrighted by two private trade associations in Washington, D.C. — were drafted by essentially five people, none from North Dakota; even the “development” teams that were assembled for show included no North Dakotans. The standards were then submitted to a “validation” process that was little more than a rubber stamp. The only two content experts on the Validation Committee, Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. James Milgram, were so disgusted by the charade and by the deficiencies of the resulting standards that they refused to sign off.

But didn’t North Dakota educators, as the Chamber authors claim, “vet” the standards in a transparent process and adopt them as they adopt all standards? Not quite. To be sure, the Department of Public Instruction went through the motions of a North Dakota review. But here is what the DPI told teachers who participated in its September 2010 survey on which the adoption decision was based: “The State of North Dakota has been invited to adopt the verbatim language and content of the Common Core State Standards . . . . To adopt the Common Core Standards requires the state to not alter any actual Common Core Standards language . . . .”

These were the ground rules governing the North Dakota “vetting” process – verbatim, all or nothing, with no revisions allowed. Clearly, the ultimate decision was to adopt a set of standards created by people outside the state, with North Dakota oversight in name only.

Regarding the quality of the standards themselves, the Chamber authors confidently proclaim that the standards are “incredibly valuable” and that they will “ensure [students] are . . . ready for work or for college right out of high school.” Really? Based on what? The Common Core standards have never been tested or piloted anywhere, and indeed are acknowledged to be considerably less rigorous than many of the state standards they replaced. What gives their proponents such supreme confidence that Common Core is the magic bullet to solve our education problems?

In English language arts, Common Core replaces content knowledge with what Dr. Stotsky labels “empty skill sets” that will not prepare students for authentic college coursework. The standards also diminish the study of classic literature in favor of nonfiction “informational text” of the type students may find in their entry-level jobs (after all, Common Core consists more of workforce-development training than genuine education). This theory – that exposure to technical manuals rather than great stories will make students better readers, and ultimately better employees – is not only preposterous on its face, but refuted by all available research.

The Common Core math standards are even less likely to achieve the lofty results touted by the Chamber authors. One of the lead authors of the math standards admits that they are not designed to prepare students for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies in college. How could they, when they include no trigonometry or calculus and stop with an incomplete Algebra II course? And as Dr. Milgram of Stanford University points out, Common Core’s mandated “reform math” techniques stand in stark contrast to the traditional techniques employed by the highest-achieving countries.

Why are the Chamber authors so certain that such mediocrity (to be generous) will catapult our students into educational excellence? Since they claim that North Dakota experts are sure of this as well, perhaps they would supply the names of the university professors in mathematics, the sciences, and engineering who have reviewed the Common Core math standards and believe them to be capable of preparing students for studies in their disciplines.

But, the Chamber authors claim, Common Core “raises the bar” over North Dakota’s previous standards, which “received” low grades. Received from whom? In fact, this “grading” was done by an education think tank that has received over $7 million from the Gates Foundation, much of which has gone to promote Gates’s pet education project – the Common Core national standards. These grades are therefore suspect from the outset. And if raising the bar is what we’re after, why not adopt the state standards that even this grader had to admit were superior to Common Core? Why settle for less than the best?

The authors close by implicitly admonishing parents to stop bucking the “experts” – to accept decrees from on high, from unaccountable educrats at DPI – or, more accurately, in Washington — who after all have education degrees that parents may not have. But the more parents learn about Common Core – the more they see of it at their kitchen table every night – the less they like it. And the less they’re willing to kowtow to the opinions of distant dictators who have little understanding of what is actually happening in the classroom, and the real-world consequences of Common Core’s pseudo-education. North Dakota can do so much better than Common Core.