Common Core Is Heavy on the ‘Common’

July 18, 2012

For immediate release (634 words).

by Heather Crossin and Jane Robbins, J.D.

Part of the mantra recited by proponents of the nationally designed Common Core State Standards, endorsed in concept by both Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett, is that they will make students “college-ready.” Producing college-readiness, however, could take place in one of two ways: 1) Increase the academic preparation of students to meet college requirements; or 2) decrease college requirements to meet students’ level of academic preparation. There’s disturbing evidence that Common Core is designed to accomplish the latter.

The Common Core creates a façade of academic rigor to hide the perpetuation – or even proliferation – of mediocrity. The new standards supposedly will produce students who are “ready for first-year credit-bearing, post-secondary coursework in mathematics and English without the need for remediation.” This suggests that all post-secondary coursework is created equal. But are the academic requirements of the local Indiana community college the same as those of, say, Yale, and if not, which level of coursework will students be prepared to handle?

Common Core’s creators have answered that question, though sotto voce and not advertised on their website. Testifying before Congress in 2008, Cynthia Schmeiser of American College Testing (a key partner of Common Core) stated that collegein the college-readiness claim refers to “two- or four-year colleges, trade schools or technical schools.” Jason Zimba, who helped draft the mathematics Standards, admitted as much when questioned at a meeting in Massachusetts in 2010. The concept of college readiness, he said, is minimal and focuses on non-selective colleges. So don’t count on the standards to propel your child to the Ivy League.

These admissions explain the disconnect between what Common Core contains and what universities expect. As described by Professor Sandra Stotsky and former U.S. Department of Education official Ze’ev Wurman in a 2010 Pioneer Institute report, multiple analyses of authentic university requirements showcase the deficiencies of Common Core in the college-readiness department. For example, in 2004 the American Diploma Project (ADP) issued model English and math standards that were approved by high-school teachers, university professors and managers in highly skilled occupations. In both subject areas, the ADP standards far exceed Common Core. And a 2003 study involving hundreds of professors from research universities and “designed to identify what students must do to succeed in entry-level courses at their institutions,” lists myriad expectations in English literacy that are nowhere to be found in Common Core.

So what happens when students deemed “college-ready” enroll in selective universities and find themselves ill-prepared for freshman work in English and math? Consult the second part of the formulation we began with: College courses may have to be altered to align with what the Common Core-trained students can handle.

A report recently produced by officials of two Common Core-affiliated organizations urges post-secondary institutions to work with K-12 educators to ensure that students who are educated under Common Core will be able to handle freshman work. “As high schools align their curricula to the standards,” the report warns, “post-secondary institutions also will face questions about their own courses. Will students who successfully complete a college-ready curriculum transition seamlessly into first-year college courses? Do those courses assume mathematics or English-language arts knowledge and skills that are not part of the standards?” If so – if the college courses are just too darn hard – college professors will have “exciting opportunities . . . to reassess their own curricula for . . . general education in light of these new common state benchmarks.”

It’s unlikely that many professors will welcome the “exciting opportunity” to dumb down their courses. But this seems to be the endpoint of Common Core. The administration of Barack Obama has decreed that students schooled under the standards will be college-ready, and college-ready they shall be . . . even if we have to tweak the definitions a bit.

Heather Crossin, an Indianapolis mother of school-age children and an activist on education issues, is a member of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and a former aide to U.S. Rep. Dan Burton. Jane Robbins, J.D., is a senior fellow with the American Principles Project in Washington.


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