Why There’s a Backlash against Common Core
Decisions about standards should be made at the state and local level.


Concerns about Common Core national standards have been voiced — repeatedly and often — by experts in mathematics and English.

“They may be higher than some state standards, but they are certainly lower than the best of them,” wrote Ze’ev Wurman of the mathematics standards. Wurman is a former member of the California State Mathematics Curriculum Framework and Criteria Committee, and a former U.S. Department of Education official.

In testimony before the Texas legislature in May 2011, Stanford professor emeritus of mathematics James Milgram described the Common Core standards as “in large measure a political document that, in spite of a number of real strengths, is written at a very low level and does not adequately reflect our current understanding of why the math programs in the high achieving countries give dramatically better results.”

Milgram — who sat on the Common Core mathematics validation committee and was the only mathematics content expert — refused to sign off on the standards. Porter-Magee and Stern claimed on NRO last week that Common Core gives “essential math skills” a “high priority” and that its “math standards . . . coherently build on one another over time.” Milgram clearly disagrees.

University of Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky developed Massachusetts’s widely praised English Language Arts standards. “The fatal flaws in the Common Core English Language Arts (ELA) standards went unnoticed because over 45 state boards of education and/or their governors hastily adopted the standards in 2010, in some cases long before they were written or finalized,” she wrote in an issue brief for the Heritage Foundation.

Like Milgram, Stotsky was a member of the Common Core validation committee. She likewise refused to sign off on the English Language Arts standards. “By reducing literary study,” she said, “Common Core decreases students’ opportunity to develop the analytical thinking once developed in just an elite group by the vocabulary, structure, style, ambiguity, point of view, figurative language, and irony in classic literary texts.”

The Common Core standards “simply delineate what children should know at each grade level and describe the skills that they must acquire to stay on course toward college and career,” Porter-Magee and Stern wrote. “They are not a curriculum; it’s up to the school districts to choose curricula that comply with the standards.”

But when the decision was made about “delineat[ing] what children should know at each grade level,” parents were far removed from the discussion. And if Common Core national standards are implemented, parents will have take any concerns they have to the federal Department of Education.

Those who are closest to the child, not national organizations or bureaucrats in Washington, are best equipped to improve educational outcomes. Decisions about standards and assessments should be made at the state level, or better still, at the local level, where parents, teachers, and business leaders, who understand the skills students need for success at work, can provide real input.

Thankfully, it’s not too late to reverse course. Efforts in the 1990s to nationalize curricula, despite significant momentum, were ultimately rejected by governors. States and local school districts understood that Washington was overstepping its bounds to an unprecedented extent and chose instead to retain their educational sovereignty.

It’s time once again to stand up for educational freedom, and reject this latest — and perhaps greatest — overreach.

 Lindsey M. Burke is the Will Skillman Fellow in Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation.