Supporters of the Common Core standards frequently make the claim that the standards are rigorous, reflect college-readiness, and have been internationally benchmarked and are, therefore, comparable with standards of high-achieving nations. A new study, however, challenges these claims.
Since five of the 29 members of the Common Core Validation Committee refused to sign an attestation form stating they agreed with these claims, and the report was released with 24 signatures and no mention of the five members who refused to sign it, the validity of the claims of Common Core advocates is highly questionable.
Ze’ev Wurman, a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution and former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education, is the author of “Common Core’s Validation: A Weak Foundation for a Crooked House,” published by the Massachusetts-based Pioneer Institute.
Wurman observes that no member of the Validation Committee had a doctorate in English literature or language, and only one had a doctorate in mathematics. Furthermore, only three members had any extensive experience writing standards, and two of those three refused to sign off on the Common Core standards.
“Since all 50 states have had standards for a decade or more, there is a pool of people out there experienced in writing English and math standards,” said Wurman. “It’s unclear why so few of them were tapped for the Common Core Validation Committee.”
Wurman describes two studies conducted by Validation Committee members, who signed off on the Common Core standards in 2010, and then later attempted to find post facto evidence to justify their decisions. In both studies, the research was poorly executed and failed to provide evidence that the standards are internationally competitive and reflective of college-readiness.
One such validation study was performed by David Conley in 2011, whose research claims to demonstrate that Common Core’s college-readiness standards do lead to adequate preparation for college. However, as Wurman observes, Conley’s study fails to ask the key question: “Do the college readiness standards reflect a sufficient level of preparation for college coursework?”
Wurman asserts that rather than demonstrate whether the Common Core standards reflected college-ready knowledge and skills, Conley’s 2011 study asked teachers of college freshman about the relevance of the Common Core to their coursework. Conley’s study, Wurman notes, fraught with methodological problems, nevertheless concluded that the Common Core standards are aligned with college requirements.
One of the studies cited by Wurman was conducted by William Schmidt, Common Core Validation Committee member and Michigan State University educational statistician. Schmidt and a colleague explored whether Common Core math standards are comparable to those in the highest-performing nations and the outcomes that might be reasonably expected after Common Core implementation.
As Wurman describes, even after Schmidt and his colleague rearranged the Common Core concepts in an order that made them appear more like the math standards in high-performing countries, there was less than 60 percent congruence between the two. The researchers found no correlation between student achievement and the states that use math standards most similar to Common Core.
Schmidt’s research methodology, however, was so irregular that he and his colleague wrote that they estimate congruence “in a novel way…coupled with several assumptions.” The researchers admit as well that their analyses “should be viewed as only exploratory…merely suggesting the possibility of a relationship.” Nevertheless, their final conclusion does not reflect such caution.
In addition, Wurman revealed incorrect coding in Schmidt’s study, and examples of Common Core concepts introduced in high school that were listed as being taught in seventh grade.
James Milgram, professor of mathematics at Stanford University and the only member of the Common Core Validation Committee with a doctorate in mathematics, asserted that Common Core is two years behind the math standards in the highest-performing nations. In addition, Milgram wrote that Common Core fails to prepare students for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers.
Wurman told Breitbart News:
Of all the questionable and problematic elements that I have described in my study, I found the glossed-over re-arrangement of the TIMSS topic progression for the Common Core to be the most offensive. Schmidt & Houang repeated references to TIMSS topics “shape resemblance” to that of Common Core as an indication of Common Core’s focus and coherence, when they knew full well that they artificially and incoherently re-arranged Common Core topics precisely to get such superficial visual resemblance, cannot be simply excused as sloppy research. It must have been done with an intent to mislead.
That the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association chose to publish such paper speaks volumes about what still passes for “research” in education.
Wurman’s research is consistent with another recent study published by the Brookings Institution which found that the Common Core standards will have “little to no impact on student achievement.”
Brookings’ 2014 Brown Center report revealed that states whose standards were less like Common Core performed better on national assessments than those states that had standards more like Common Core.
“Supporters of the Common Core argue that strong, effective implementation of the standards will sweep away such skepticism by producing lasting, significant gains in student learning,” states the Brown Center report. “So far, at least–and it is admittedly the early innings of a long ballgame–there are no signs of such an impressive accomplishment.”
Wurman’s study has far-reaching implications, since Common Core supporters continually articulate the claims the research refutes.
Writing at The Daily Beast on Monday, for example, Charles Upton Sahm bemoans the fact that the Common Core standards are getting “pummeled left and right.” He argues that Common Core is an “historic opportunity to provide American students with a more rigorous, content-rich, cohesive K-12 education,” despite the fact that there is no research to support these claims.
Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, observes that Common Core’s weak foundation was the result of the standards’ enmeshment in nontransparent political schemes from their inception.
“From the start, advocates did their best to keep Common Core out of the public eye, even as the so-called ‘internationally benchmarked’ standards lost the support of the Validation Committee’s most highly qualified members — the only ones with proven experience developing high academic standards,” Stergios told Breitbart News. “This study shows that after the fact proponents have no analytic basis to continue to call Common Core standards high quality, internationally benchmarked, or research based.”
“That’s why Common Core supporters rarely debate its merits in public and, instead, prefer to use their stable of DC lobbyists and PR firms to obscure its academic deficiencies,” Stergios said.