Common core consequences

Few bandwagons were jumped on so quickly by so many, and with such voluminous fanfare, than the one bearing the banner of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative. Nine years ago this month, nearly every “crat” from every governmental and civic bureau united in leaping ovation behind “new standards” that would revolutionize and modernize American education.

Arne Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary, dove completely off the deep end in rabid support, claiming the Common Core standards could wind up being “the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education.”

Well, not quite.

Following a seven-year federal study, the national data are in and the “Race to the Top” funding that drove Common Core adoption wound up creating a Twist toward the Bottom effect on student achievement.

“Contrary to our expectation” is how researchers at the Center of Standards, Alignment, Instruction and Learning (C-SAIL) described the CCSS’s derailing of an upward trend in observed fourth-grade reading scores from 2005 to 2010. Between 2010 and 2017, “[t]he table reveals significant negative effects for grade 4 reading,” the study noted.

The findings got even worse: the C-SAIL authors calculated a “counterfactual,” predicting what the National Assessment of Educational Progress composite scores would have been had states not adopted CCSS.

The reading achievement “would have improved significantly more after the adoption of the new standards had the states continued with their old standards,” they concluded. In layman’s language, students would have been better off had critics of Common Core (and there were many) been listened to.

Karen Lamoreaux’s 2014 viral video lampooning the CCSS “critical thinking” solution to a simple math problem has been viewed more than 3.5 million times—and comments are still being posted on it as recently as this week. She called her example, in which students were expected to draw circles and count hash marks rather than employ simple division, as “not rigorous.” I called it ridiculous.

It turns out the C-SAIL study validates us both: Eighth-grade math scores also suffered a “significant negative effect,” with observed scores in the wake of Common Core interference actually dropping below where they were in 2006—four years before adoption.

And if that’s not bad enough, researchers found it “troubling” that the achievement declines got worse over time.

Common Core is the disaster that just keeps on damaging. But the billions in lost funding and countless wasted hours pale against the colossal opportunity costs inflicted, as indicated by a 2016 Harvard University study linking student performance on math tests to state GDP growth per person.

Besides demonstrating that raising all states’ math test scores to “basic” levels would add $32 trillion to the national economy, gains were estimated for each state. The positive economic impact of lifting student achievement would be greatest in states where achievement levels are lowest, like Arkansas.

If all states could improve math scores to the top-performing state’s level (Minnesota), the projected GDP gain in Arkansas would be nearly 700 percent, or somewhere around $800 billion.

Like other leviathans spawned by the national education-industrial complex, even opposite-of-desired effects aren’t enough to discredit the “experts” who foisted Common Core on schools, teachers and parents who all knew better.

True believers, like Duncan, remain unrepentant. The only lesson they learned is the same old bureaucrat’s blame-game excuse: They didn’t spend enough money.

If anything, the uncommonly awful Common Core spectacle should spark increasingly credible calls for the abolition of the federal Department of Education (a lamentable Jimmy Carter legacy).

Its focus was flawed from the start, looking at schools as a massive system to be tweaked, instead of individual students to be taught. And its lens forever skewed by the Washington tendency to use funding as a policy club to beat states into submission.

Federal money can be a blinder, as the C-SAIL study so clearly reveals. State education departments and schools all clamored for the Common Core financial reward, only to discover nine years later that not only did the standards fail to improve learning, but succeeded in impairing it.

Signed into law 40 years ago this fall, the federal education department has overseen more than $1.7 trillion in spending ostensibly to make schools better. Should continued funding be the consequence for instead making them worse?

It’s tough to name any laws, regulations or policies emanating from the Washington education bureaucracy that don’t prompt a disapproving head-shake among the real educators in our schools—teachers in the classrooms.

The department can’t even justify its existence with any evidence-based performance metrics. Ironically, the C-SAIL study was funded by the Obama administration for the purpose of proving Common Core’s effectiveness.

A bill to end the 4,000-bureaucrat education department was re-introduced by Kentucky Republican congressman Thomas Massie in February, mostly as a symbolic gesture since Democrats in control generally want the federal government to have an even heavier hand in education policy.

Four decades of failure is enough for any federal department, especially one that’s become demonstrably detrimental to its supposed constituency.

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