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New Education Standards: A-plus


Today marks release of the final “Common Core” standards — symbolically occurring in a state capital (Atlanta) rather than Washington, D.C.

These are proposed academic goals for American primary-secondary education in English and math, developed by a consortium of states, and revised since the March draft on the basis of thousands of comments and a lot of heavy lifting by authors and advisers.

States must now decide for themselves whether to substitute these standards for those they’ve been using in their schools.

Though it’s a pity that the feds are prodding them to make these solemn decisions on a hasty timetable (see here), the academic quality of the “Common Core” is impressive.

I haven’t eyeballed the revised math standards, but the proposed standards for “English Language Arts & Literacy” look to me to be even better than the solid draft released in March: clearer, better structured, more coherent — and very ambitious. The “text exemplars” (appendix b) are mostly terrific and include a ton of “founding documents” and first-rate literature. The “samples of student writing” (appendix c) are helpfully analyzed and annotated. And while I remain underwhelmed by the research base (appendix a), in the end standards have more to do with judgment than with science.

The four documents total a couple inches of paper, and I don’t claim to have mastered them. But I’ve seen enough to restate with fair confidence an earlier (and better informed) Fordham Institute judgment, namely that millions of American schoolkids would be better served if their states, districts, and schools set out in a serious way to impart these skills and content to their pupils rather than the nebulous and flaccid curricular goals they’re using now.

We’ll be back with more. Fordham experts are presently engaged in substantive reviews of both the new Common Core State Standards and states’ current academic standards in math and English. Watch for them in mid-July.

Chester E. Finn Jr. is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.


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