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Does Common Core Matter? An Excellent 2012 Musing by Tom Loveless

November 20, 2013

The Education Week article below was written in April 2012 by Brookings Institute member Tom Loveless.

In it, Loveless argues why having “common standards” across states will likely produce no monumental gains for states adopting Common Core. 

The piece raises such excellent points that I had to offer it to my readers.


Does the Common Core Matter?

By Tom Loveless

The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education includes a study of the Common Core State Standards project. It attempts to predict the effect of the common core on student achievement. The study focuses on three arguments: that the quality of the common core is superior to that of existing standards, that the tests tied to the common core will be rigorous, and that having common standards will reduce differences across the United States by “putting all states on the same page.” It summarizes the current debate on the common core, but takes no stand on the merits of the arguments.

For example, the study does not attempt to determine whether the common-core standards are of high or low quality, only whether the quality of state standards has mattered to student achievement in the past. The finding is clear: The quality of standards has not mattered. From 2003 to 2009, states with terrific standards raised their National Assessment of Educational Progress scores by roughly the same margin as states with awful ones.

The analysis of rigor takes the same tack. It investigates whether it has mattered to state NAEP scores if cut points for proficiency on state tests were set at high or low levels. There is evidence at 4th grade that raising cut points, no matter where they were set originally, is associated with increased achievement. But the effect is not large, and it is difficult to determine the direction of causality. At 8th grade, states with lenient cut points have made NAEP gains similar to those of states with rigorous ones.

The third analysis points out a statistical fact about NAEP scores: Test-score differences within states are about four to five times greater than differences in state means. We all know of the huge difference between Massachusetts and Mississippi on NAEP. What often goes unnoticed is that every state in the nation has a mini-Massachusetts-Mississippi contrast within its own borders. Common state standards might reduce variation between states, but it is difficult to imagine how they will reduce variation within states. After all, districts and schools within the same state have been operating under common standards for several years and, in some states, for decades.

For the rest of the article, follow this link.

From → Common Core

  1. Joseph permalink

    From Susan Ohanian

    [Susan notes: Many good points. Here’s a simple one we can ask anyone who claims educators wrote these standards and curriculum: Are these “educators” teachers who have spent at least five years in a classroom and are familiar with developmentally appropriate instruction and learning theory? Give us the list of those who designed the curriculum, materials and evaluations along with their credentials as classroom teachers. ]

    Submitted to New York State Senate but not published

    Dear Senator Martins,

    Senator Jack Martins

    New York State Senate

    Albany, N.Y.

    Re: Common Core Hearings at Mineola High School

    And the Protection of Children’s Data

    After listening to your extraordinary hearings at Mineola, I am convinced that we will need to start all over.

    Like the story of the blind men trying to describe an elephant by holding a different part of its anatomy, the numerous issues and concerns make it obvious that no care was invested in a process that usually takes three years with close observation and input from actual teachers and administrators in the classroom.

    This is an issue that directly impact the safety and emotional well being of all students, particularly early childhood, and the integrity of the educational system, as outlined recently in a letter by the Catholic Scholars: letter to the Bishops.


    The evaluation of students, mistakenly called “assessments”, needs to be revisited while we return to the excellent New York State curriculum that was recently in place. Teachers and students are unable to use this data for their own growth and understanding, or receive it in a timely manner. One suggestion was to have testing on alternate years, which could offset the costs of being able to provide testing questions and answers for our own enlightenment and legitimacy.

    These evaluations will add to the costs exponentially as Common Core proponents look to the use of computers in the future.

    At your hearings, we learned of the recent study indicating the severe costs to economically challenged communities due to the Federal government’s unfunded mandates in the Race to the Top (RTTT) program. It was indicated that the community of Rockland County foresees an increase over four years of $11,000,000 with a meager distribution of $400,000 from RTTT.

    Commissioner King indicated that it was federal law that permits the schools to be governed by the States, when, in fact, it is by default in the Constitution that mandates States control of education and not the Federal government.

    Another issue of concern is that parents who refuse to permit their children to be exposed to this questionable testing will cause their excellent local schools to be labeled in danger of failing, which would lead to State Control and the advent of new charter schools on these sites.


    Commissioner King indicated that resources are being provided to the schools, but they have the option of not using them. This may be the most pernicious problem with the Common Core, since testing questions are drawn from the materials which are the costliest component of the Common Core regime. Who controls the resources control the “evaluations” of both students and teachers and these “resources” crowd out good instruction.

    The Commissioner indicated that these publishers will provide informational texts materials when, in fact, the research from their own Common Core indicates that publishers continue to dumb down the textbooks that they produce and provide excerpts from texts about numerous children with emotional stress creating an atmosphere of questionable social engineering both in literature and testing. Teachers become dependent on the “resources” provided by the State’s publishers in the absence of authentic literacy materials and expect that they will appear on the annual testing “evaluations.”

    The Common Core Research for English Language Arts (ELA) & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects indicates that:

    “There is also evidence that current standards, curriculum and instructional practices have not done enough to foster the independent reading of complex texts so crucial for college and career readiness, particularly in the case of informational texts.” (Appendix A)

    Of major concern is that time and money is being spent by municipalities for “staff development” surrounding these resources that are “not required” and are untried and unproven, as indicated by the local school board representative from Port Washington.

    Those who created the curriculum and materials were said to be “educators” by the Commissioner. I am not certain what that term means. Are these teachers that have spent at least five years in a classroom and are familiar with developmentally appropriate instruction and learning theory?

    Senator Martins, you need to get a list of those that designed the curriculum, materials and evaluations along with their credentials as classroom teachers.


    I am particularly concerned that the privacy of students has been diminished by Federal mandates permitting children’s data across the nation to be available to one outside economic entity. Besides testing scores, this entity will create a behavioral profile, which will include student and family social status and behavioral missteps.

    Currently, the Clinton Foundation is creating a “digital badge” which will follow workers and those in education from cradle to grave, as they look for economic opportunities in the future.


    The elephant in the room, if I may return to the above mentioned metaphor, is the role of the publishing companies and the economic impact that they have in producing the materials for those program. Already we have seem major flaws and mistakes in their books and their inappropriate testing materials for children below 2nd grade.

    I have seen math books now expecting children to round to the nearest five “5” as well as the nearest “0”. This may be useful for Walmart clerks, but not scientists.

    I have seen Social Studies books speak of the Bill of Rights created in the Constitution without identifying them or their importance to individual freedoms.

    I have seen workbooks micromanage with reductionist precision to the point that the subject cannot be perceived holistically and become boring and unbearable to the students. In many ways this is due to the market forces of the publishers where children are being prepared for multiple choice testing in kindergarten.

    In summary we should take Regent Meryl Tisch at her word when she indicates that such issues will receive a fair hearing. Such a hearing will require a moratorium on this program for a few years until we can begin an entirely new review which includes parents and classroom teachers in the various municipalities across the State.


    — Joseph Mugivan, MS, Educational Administration PD

    This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

    Joseph Mugivan
    Vesta Energy Consulting
    Municipal and Commercial
    516 637 7069

    “You never change things by fighting the existing
    reality. To change something, build a new model
    that makes the existing model obsolete.”
    -R. Buckminster Fuller

    516 637 7069

    516 637 7069

  2. In my state 47% of all students that go on to college after graduated HS having met all credit requirements and passed exit exams require remediation. There is a lot of misery associated with the lives of the two thirds of these students who then drop out.We are lying to our students who graduate HS: most are not ready for higher ed or the workplace. Higher expectations lead to higher aspirations. Everyone who has children know they live up to or down to our expectations. The core is about developing problem solvers, critical thinkers, and creators rather than memorizors and repeaters. We need to support teachers and principals who are on the front lines of this sea change. All the demagoguery to the contrary is sound and fury signifying nothing.

    • A number of assumptions in your response. First, you assume that “higher” standards will solve the issue of students needing postsecondary remediation. Next, you assume that students “drop out” because they require remediation. Third, you assume that “most” high school graduates are not ready for higher ed/work and that such is the direct responsibility of public education. Fourth, you assume that all children “live up or down” to expectations as though they are little robots without their own wills. Fifth, you assume that CCSS automatically produces “problem solvers, critical thinkers, and creators.” CCSS is standardized so that testing consortia can attach standardized assessments to it. CCSS develops test takers, not creative problem solvers.

      I am a teacher “on the front lines of this sea of change.” Like teachers and admin across the nation, I have been thrown into the CCSS “sea” by those outside of the classroom who have “designed” CCSS as part of a larger package of inflexible, top-down reforms:

      This “fury” is real to the teachers forced to adhere to CCSS and whose jobs are attached to CCSS assessments.

      If you want CCSS, you can have it.

      I don’t, and I will continue to expose it for the manufactured reform that it is.

      By the way, you should examine the education requirements for projected employment in upcoming years. In Louisiana, the top three are cashier, retail sales, and waitress/waiter:

      So much for that fictitious college “demand.”

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