Common Core Standards: Round 2 Results and Critique

The finalists from round two of the Race to the Top Program, an initiative sponsored by the federal government to reward states for educational reform under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, were announced yesterday.

Of the 35 states and D.C. that applied for the second round, 18 and D.C. were chosen:

• Arizona
• California
• District of Columbia
• Florida
• Georgia
• Hawaii
• Illinois
• Kentucky
• Louisiana
• Maryland
• Massachusetts
• New Jersey
• New York
• North Carolina
• Ohio
• Pennsylvania
• Rhode Island
• South Carolina

Finalists will present their plans to reviewers in Washington in early August, with winners announced in September. Not all finalists will receive grants.

Meanwhile the NYTimes in its Room for Debate feature, had panelists consider the question “Will National Standard Improve Education?” Here’s a summary of comments by invited contributors:

• Sandra Stotsky, professor at University of Arkansas in the field of education reform suggests that, contrary to the hopes of those who created them, the Common Core standards are likely to result in uniform mediocrity. Stotsky claims that the way the Common Core is structured may reverse the trend of increased numbers of students completing Algebra I by 8th grade, an accomplishment that enables greater achievement in both math and science in high school. She also critiques the Common Core “college readiness” standards as not being adequate for college-level work.

• Richard D. Kahlenberg, a Century Foundation senior fellow, points out that in the past, conservative desire for local control and liberal opposition to the testing programs linked with strong standards has prevented a move such as the current Common Core. He notes (without criticism), that it is the state’s impoverished budgets that has lead to the consensus.

Neal P. McCluskey, Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom associate director, remarks that having national standards does not change the underlying situation that public schooling is a monopoly and that those within the system have a strong motivation to have as little accountability as possible. He suggests that parents, rather than the government, should control educational spending and autonomous educational options, rather than the government, provide the choices, and states that research shows that free-market education performs better than monopolies, while there is no “meaningful” evidence that having national standards improves educational outcomes.

Michael Goldstein, MATCH Charter Public School’s founder, says that while he doesn’t think the curriculum will help his school in Boston, Massachusetts (Massachusetts has been touted for its high-quality standards), the Common Core standards are potentially beneficial for “millions of at-risk children” because it will allow successful schools and teachers to share seamlessly with other schools without different state curriculums getting in the way.

Alfie Kohn, an author in the field of education and human behavior claims that the most dedicated proponents of national education initiatives such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind “tend to be those who know the least about how kids learn.” He points out that uniform instruction offers only an illusion of fairness. What he seems to be arguing, although he does not say so explicitly, is that an excellent education for Child A, who may have the capacity to do college level calculus while still in high school may not be the same excellent education that would suit Child B, who has the capacity to become an internationally acclaimed oboist, or Child C, who has the capacity to repair the family car at age 14. What the Common Core standards say, according to Kohn, is that these children should be offered the same instructional demands. What Kohn seems to be advocating is an equally excellent education for each student.

Bruce Fuller, and University of California, Berkeley professor of education and public policy points out that when standards-based accountability was first introduced, gains were seen, especially in students who had weak literacy skills, but worries that the approach to education called “liberal” (not to be confused with the political persuasion)—which he characterizes as nurturing curiosity and the ability to question the status quo—will be lost in the attempt of the standards to make learning fit into uniform modules.