Eye on Education

Why the New National Common Core Curriculum Won’t Fix Everything Wrong with American Schools

The Library of Congress / Flickr

Across the nation, teachers are going through convolutions to learn how to teach the Common Core. It’s the new set of guidelines on what students are expected to learn at each grade level in math and English that 46 states, including Ohio, have adopted.

These new guidelines are supposed to be harder than what Ohio schools – and schools in many other states – teach now. Eventually, it’s supposed to give us smarter, sharper, more responsible (ok, maybe not) high school graduates.

But the Common Core won’t fix everything that’s “wrong” with American schools.

The Common Core is just a set of expectations about what students should learn and be able to do. That’s it.

It doesn’t include new state funding for schools. It doesn’t include better training for teachers. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a Kentucky high school graduate will be at the same level as an Ohio graduate. And it doesn’t come with wrap-around social services for students and families.

Tom Loveless, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, predicts the Common Core will have little effect on students’ achievement:

“The Common Core will sit on top of the implemented and attained curriculums, and notwithstanding future efforts to beef up the standards’ power to penetrate to the core of schooling, they will probably fail to dramatically affect what goes on in the thousands of districts and tens of thousands of schools that they seek to influence.”

The Common Core is better than what Ohio teachers are supposed to be teaching in math and English today, the Fordham Institute says.

But what really matters are the new tests that will come with the Common Core, Fordham’s Emmy Partin says. Ohio hasn’t changed the scores required to pass state standardized tests since the early 2000s, Partin says.

And state schools chief Stan Heffner says those scores are ridiculously low. Thirty-two percent is a passing grade on the seventh grade math test, for example.

Partin says the theory is that if we set passing scores higher, and increase the levels schools must reach to get an “A” rating from the state, everyone will work harder to reach those new standards.

Testing, “that’s where the rubber hits the road in measuring what students are learning and what they’re able to do,” she told us.

But those higher standards may be a tough sell to some, she says.

Today, 82 percent of third graders pass the state reading test. Under the new tests, if Ohio sets the passing score where the national group organizing the new tests thinks it should be, only 26 percent would pass, according to Ohio Department of Education projections.

School district leaders and parents both like seeing an “Excellent” banner draped across the front of their school year after year, Partin says:

“A real fear is that we’ll have these good intentions, but when push comes to shove we may back down and not do it… People never want to hear that you’re not good at something.”

Several states have already tried to pull out of the Common Core, saying that their own standards are better. (The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council’s education “task force” has also approved model legislation opposing the Common Core, but it says it’s because the standards give the feds too much control over local schools.)

Plus, Brookings’ Tom Loveless says he didn’t find a connection between how high states set the scores required to pass their state tests and their performance on national standardized tests. And opposition to using the Common Core will grow, he says:

“… as NCLB illustrates, standards with real consequences are most popular when they are first proposed. Their popularity steadily declines from there, reaching a nadir when tests are given and consequences kick in. Just as the glow of consensus surrounding NCLB faded after a few years, cracks are now appearing in the wall of support for the Common Core.”


  • Karen Lee

    The Common Core (language arts) bears some similarity to the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) which is the result of over 20 years of development by the Council of Europe. The added task in Europe, of course, was to set a common description of expected performance that could be applied to all of the European languages being learned. For example, a student might be expected to describe a typical day in his life, in simple terms, whether doing so in English, French, Greek, or whatever.

    One visible result of the CEFR effort has been that foreign language testing organizations and course book publishers have tuned their work to the CEFR and use that as a marketing tool: “This test is set at the A2 level of the CEFR.” Across the EU, state schools may be proficient or less so in their foreign language teaching, and in some states, there is a lively private tutoring sector that supplements the public system.

    In Greece, where I work in EFL, the private sector initially arose, after WWII, to fill the demand for foreign language certification, as universities couldn’t turn out teachers fast enough. It is now a well-developed sector. Friendly (usually) competition among private tutoring schools has led to a plethora of teacher training seminars, courses, and higher certification. In parallel, state universities beefed up their teacher training as well as language acquisition and testing research. And public school teachers (university graduates) have also supported additional training, in part to dispel the stigma that they weren’t up to snuff. They are now.

    At a glance, the Common Core standards seem similar to the CEFR, in that they suggest what the student should be able to do. In CEFR terms, these are often called ‘can do’ statements. Meeting the standard is not a matter of setting a ‘pass line’ but rather of a simple yes/no. Can the student perform this function or not? Pass lines then are set by school systems or university entrance boards or future employers according to their experience of sufficient performance as expressed in the can-do descriptors. On any given test, a student may be able to perform less than the level suggests, at the level, or above the level. So far, this approach, while still being studied and tweaked, seems to be workable and accepted by educators across the EU.

    Contrary to Tom Loveless’s opinion, the existence of common standards seems to promote better performance. Funding and teacher training will follow the demand for higher performance. Moreover, the ALEC objection to federal standards, while not surprising, raises the question: Can the country, as a whole, afford to wait on states who will see their graduates go wanting in the job market due to lower local standards? If the job market only requires automatons, and if decision making is to be left to a few bright citizens, then core standards are a waste of time. Is this the country Americans like to believe they live in? Or would most Americans like to see their children educated to be the best they can be and the country regain its rank as a vibrant, innovative force in the world?

  • Duckmonkeyman

    Looks like more testing and teaching to the test. With Ohio decimating public schools, we will not likely see any resources such as training, materials, or tutoring to implement the standards. Of course, we can always continue with blame the teacher.

  • Curriculummatters1859

    Here is a great article about why we should not go anywhere near the common core. Research based and funny too:
    Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision Making.

    It should be the first article in this issue:


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