One of the most puzzling phenomena in recent years is the unquestioned acceptance by seemingly rational people of the many claims made by the proponents of Common Core’s standards. The claims have been made repeatedly despite the fact that they have been shown to be either lies or simply utopian hopes. So, what are the lies or the utopian hopes? And why do others repeat these lies or pie-in-the-sky claims about what these standards will achieve?
First, we are regularly told that Common Core’s standards are internationally benchmarked. Joel Klein, former head of the New York City schools, most recently repeated this myth in an interview with Paul Gigot, the Wall Street Journal editor, during the first week in June. Not mentioned at all in the interview or the op-ed he co-authored in the WSJ a week later is Klein’s current position in a company that does a lot of business with Common Core. An Exxon ad, repeated multiple times during a recently televised national tennis match, also suggested that Common Core’s standards were internationally benchmarked. We don’t know who influenced Exxon’s education director.
Gigot never asked Klein what countries we were supposedly benchmarked to. Nor did the Exxon ad name a country to which these standards were supposedly benchmarked. Klein wouldn’t have been able to answer, nor could Exxon have named a country because Common Core’s standards are not internationally benchmarked. Neither the methodologically flawed study by William Schmidt of Michigan State University, nor the post-Common Core studies by David Conley of the University of Oregon, all funded by the Gates Foundation, have shown that Common Core’s content is close to, never mind equal to, the level of the academic content of the mathematics and English standards in high-achieving countries. Moreover, Conley’s studies actually contradict the findings of his much earlier pre-Common Core study showing what college faculty in this country expect of entering freshmen in mathematics and English.
Second, we are frequently told that Common Core is about standards and testing, not curriculum. For example, Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser claimed, in an op-ed in the Boston Globe on Friday, June 14, that Common Core’s standards are simply “a matter of testing, not curriculum.” Why, then, is the Bay State’s department of elementary and secondary education running teacher workshops to redesign classroom curriculum for Common Core? Especially when the curricula that were based on the state’s own, first-class standards and own, first-class tests helped to propel the Bay State to first place on NAEP reading and mathematics tests, in both grade 4 and grade 8, and to a tie for first place in grade 8 on an international test. Glaeser did admit he is on the Gates Foundation’s advisory board. Is he obligated to repeat its party line?
Third, we are regularly told, as if by parrots, that Common Core’s standards are “rigorous.” How they can be rigorous when the chief mathematics writer, Jason Zimba, told a Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting that college readiness meant that students would be ready for admission to a non-selective college! And how could “rigor” even lurk in Common Core’s ELA standards since they are mostly very abstract and generic skills, like “Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text!” Such an unintelligible statement is obviously applicable to any grade level and almost any text; it does not indicate any educational level or text quality, as an authentic, intelligible standard would.
Fourth, we are also regularly told by the media and education policy makers that Common Core’s standards will lead to “deeper learning” and “critical thinking.” Deeper than what? Critical thinking about what? Where are the examples to illustrate this loose talk? Since its English language arts standards are chiefly abstract skills, what are students to learn deeply or think critically about? Hopefully, not its grade-level mathematics topics, which have been estimated by a mathematician to be about one to two years behind the topics taught by grade 8 in high-achieving countries?
Why do otherwise intelligent people in the academic or business world believe what they read in reports, or are told by people, with no obvious credibility? Would anyone believe everything a car salesman or his company’s promotion literature tells us without test-driving the car and checking a few independent consumer reports? How did we become a nation of suckers, and at our children’s expense? Not everyone has been a recipient of the Gates Foundation largesse.