Study: Historic Drop in U.S. Reading and Math Scores Since Common Core ‘Debacle’

Teacher Arlene Lebowitz assists a student in her third-grade class during summer school Ju
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

A study released Monday by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute reveals a historic drop in national reading and math scores among U.S. students since the adoption of the Common Core Curriculum Standards a decade ago.

“Nearly a decade after states adopted Common Core, the empirical evidence makes it clear that these national standards have yielded underwhelming results for students,” said Pioneer executive director Jim Stergios in a statement. “The proponents of this expensive, legally questionable policy initiative have much to answer for.”

The study, titled “The Common Core Debacle” and authored by education policy researcher Theodor Rebarber, asserts the “shocking trends” in American student performance in critical math and reading skills since the creation of the U.S. Education Department 40 years ago recommends reevaluation of federal involvement in education.

Performance in reading and math since the adoption of Common Core has especially declined in the nation’s lowest-achieving students – many of whom come from low-income families and failing public schools – widening the achievement gap and creating further inequality.

Supporters of Common Core, however, touted the Obama-era federally incentivized standards would be “rigorous” and also “level the playing field.” The Common Core State Standards Initiative boasted that the standards are “important” because:

[h]igh standards that are consistent across states provide teachers, parents, and students with a set of clear expectations to ensure that all students have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life upon graduation from high school, regardless of where they live. … The standards promote equity by ensuring all students are well prepared to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad.

Rebarber observed, however, that while national fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores were rising at about half a point each year from 2003 to 2013, since that time, reading scores have dropped.

“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance,” Dr. Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said in October 2019 following the release of the Nation’s Report Card [National Assessment of Educational Progress] assessments in math and reading for fourth- and eighth-graders.

“The lowest performing students – those readers who struggle the most – have made no progress in reading from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago,” she added:

Rebarber also noted U.S. school children have suffered as a result of the poor-quality Common Core, yet another progressive education reform touted at the federal level:

Dissatisfied with the pace of improvement, most states were persuaded to set aside their own efforts for the promise of a single set of national curriculum standards: the Common Core. Substantive criticism of the national standards, especially by a group of scholars and experts associated with Pioneer Institute, found them not to be internationally competitive, weak on literary content, and based on misguided progressive instructional assumptions and dogmas. In response, Common Core proponents mostly circled the wagons and refused to address substantive criticism of the quality of the standards.

“Several of us allied with Pioneer Institute have been pointing out, ever since it was introduced, the deeply flawed educational assumptions that permeate the Common Core and the many ways in which it is at odds with curriculum standards in top-achieving countries,” Rebarber said.

In the wake of the Common Core “debacle,” a national organization of parents has risen and is calling for an end to federal involvement in education and a return to policy-making at the local level.

United States Parents Involved in Education (USPIE) has produced Truth and Lies in American Education, a film focused on what the coalition of parents says is “the scheme behind the workforce development model of education and liberal indoctrination of children in government schools”:

The parents’ coalition states the film will “inform Americans of the trillions of dollars wasted on federal education in the last 40 years with nothing to show for it but stagnant test scores and declining student academic achievement.”

USPIE observes about its project:

Serious conversations are happening throughout the country about the legitimate and effective role of the federal government in education. Many on both sides of the political aisle agree the federal government has become unreasonably intrusive and ineffective in education policy and practice. State leaders from around the country fed up with being ignored on education policy, have joined forces to abolish the US Department of Education (USED) and put an end to all federal education mandates. It is the goal of USPIE to return America’s education to its proper local roots and restore parental authority over their children’s education.

“The sustained decline we’re now seeing, especially among our most vulnerable students, simply cannot be allowed to continue,” Rebarber also said.

“It’s time for federal law to change to allow states as well as local school districts to try a broader range of approaches to reform,” he added. “With a more bottom-up approach, more school systems will have the opportunity to choose curricula consistent with our international competitors and many decades of research on effective classroom teaching.”


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