Nearly 10 years after the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in K-12 education, researchers and policymakers argue that these broad-based curricular reforms negatively impact both public schools as well as private schools.
The Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey and CEO of education nonprofit AccountabilityWorks Theodor Rebarber recently published a study which finds that Common Core has not led to increased student achievement across the nation and is increasingly constraining private schools accepting publicly-funded scholarships.
“The word standards used to mean that teachers had high expectations for students,” co-author Rebarber told Red Alert Politics in a phone interview. “Now, this word has been repurposed to mean a very detailed government regulation of curriculum.”
Two-thirds of scholarship (“voucher”) programs mandate via state law that private schools must administer a single curriculum-based test modeled after Common Core's standards. Implicitly, schools must also adopt the pedagogy on which the test is based, effectively standardizing the entire learning process.
Pre-Common Core, tests used to cover about 40-50 percent of what was covered in the day-to-day instruction of skills and content. Now, the researchers note that the CCSS-based tests attempt to cover 80-90 percent of the material. Thus, if students are not being taught in a specific, standards-based way, they have a greater disadvantage.
Moreover, co-author McCluskey said in a phone interview that when you standardize public schools with Common Core (effectively 90 percent of the K-12 market), you are also standardizing nearly all private schools to some extent because of the textbooks being printed, general curriculum available, and college-readiness standard of the ACT and SAT exams.
“This is what people in the school choice movement need to be aware of now,” he emphasized, and Rebarber similarly noted that, “people are not sufficiently attuned to this risk of central planning being extended to private schools through school choice.”
McCluskey also said that innovation was a goal of the original Common Core supporters, yet that their approach “squelched real innovation.”
“Real innovation goes far beyond everyone pulling together to come up with the most innovative way to hit these standards,” McCluskey emphasized. “We should be giving educators the autonomy to teach with the pedagogy, curriculum, and educational arrangements they think are best.”
Both McCluskey and Rebarber believe that decision-making power about curriculum and pedagogy must be returned to a more local state, district, or even parental level. Common Core leaves little room for genuine innovation and sometimes prevents teachers from doing the real work of education — inspiring and motivating their students to learn crucial real-world skills and topics.
Kate Hardiman is a contributor to Red Alert Politics. She is pursuing a master's in education from Notre Dame University and teaches English and religion at a high school in Chicago.