Common Core Has Set Back Student Achievement in California

Back in 2012, I wrote a book entitled Obama’s Education Takeover that warned about the harmful impact that the Common Core national education standards would have on student achievement, especially in California.  Now a just released study confirms my predictions.

Pushed by a cabal including the Obama administration, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and various education establishment insiders, the Common Core national education standards were adopted and implemented by most states by around 2013.  The Common Core standards cover core academic subjects and came along with aligned national tests and curricula.

Common Core advocates virtually guaranteed that these new national standards would improve student performance.  For example, Bill Gates said that Common Core “will improve education for millions of students.”

Yet, in my book, I pointed out that such claims made no sense since the Common Core standards were not highly rigorous and were, in fact, weaker than the then-existing state standards in places like California.

Specifically, my book cited evidence showing that Common Core’s eighth-grade math standards were significantly less demanding than California’s then-state standards.  California required all students to take algebra in the eighth grade, while Common Core only aimed for eighth-grade students to be ready for pre-algebra.

Importantly, I emphasized: “Not requiring Algebra I before high school will likely have a significant impact on student achievement, since data show that high school freshmen whose first high school math course was geometry scored much higher on the National Assessment for Educational Progress math exam than freshmen whose first math course was Algebra I.”  My worry has been borne out by new research.

An April 2020 Pioneer Institute study by Theodor Rebarber, CEO of AccountabilityWorks and a former U.S. Department of Education researcher on standards and testing, found that after six years of implementation in most states, “the results for Common Core are remarkably poor.”

According to Rebarber, “the slow but relatively steady gains in student achievement that we have grown used to in recent decades have not only stopped since the implementation of Common Core, but we are now seeing the first sustained declines in student achievement since as far back as we have national test score trend data.”

Besides national achievement trends, the Pioneer Institute study looked at trends in specific states, including California.

Using trend data from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, the study found that from 2003 to 2013, “California’s average annual math achievement gains before Common Core were substantial.”

Yet, from 2013 to 2019, the story has been much different: “After Common Core, average math gains declined to almost nothing in grade four and actually fell at grade eight.”

But the deficiencies in Common Core are not just in math, but in reading as well.

In my book, I pointed out that experts had found that Common Core weakened California’s English-language-arts requirements in language and literature.  Not surprisingly, the Pioneer study found that while California’s reading scores had been going up before Common Core, they “declined substantially” in grade eight after Common Core.

The story gets even worse, however.

“Perhaps worst of all,” said the study, “the test score declines are most acute for students in the bottom half of the student population.”

Indeed, “the farther behind students were before Common Core, especially those at the 25th and 10th percentiles, the more significant the achievement decreases have been.”  Sadly, “These declines appear to have wiped out the gains that lower-performing students made in the decade prior to Common Core.”

In other words, lower-performing students had been improving prior to Common Core, but Common Core put them on a downhill achievement rollercoaster.  As Rebarber emphasized, “our most vulnerable students are paying the steepest price for this [Common Core] error.”

Rebarber concluded: “After six years of digging this hole, the most fervent Common Core advocates seem to believe that we should continue to dig deeper.  Instead, we must ensure that reason prevails and a different approach is considered.”

In my book, I recommended a different approach: “Transferring control over the nation’s classrooms to anonymous federal bureaucrats, special-interest lobbies, and insider experts will render parents and the taxpaying public powerless.  Yet parents are the very ones who have the most at stake in the education of their children.”

Thus, “Against this centralized statism, giving parents the power to choose the best school for their children is the revolution that American education truly needs.”

That statement was true when I wrote it back then and it remains true today.

Lance Izumi is the senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute and the author of the 2019 PRI book Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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