Common Core Has Passed Its Peak?

Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School (Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)
Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School
(Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)

Take time to read the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education. This was prepared by Tom Loveless who a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brown Center on Education Policy with the Brookings Institute. Loveless is a Common Core “agnostic” so to speak so his findings are particular interest.

He claims that the Common Core State Standards as an education reform have achieved their peak and are in decline.

He highlights the declining use of fiction.

The relative importance of fiction is clear until 2011, when it begins to slip. In fourth grade, the 25 percentage point gap favoring fiction in 2011 declines to 15 percent in 2013 and to eight percent in 2015. In eighth grade, the 34 percent emphasis favoring fiction declines to 24 percent in 2013 and to 16 percent in 2015.  Teachers in 2015 were less likely to embrace the superiority of fiction in reading instruction than in the past, and the change is evident in both fourth and eighth grades after 2011.

He notes a decline in advanced math classes.

But something happened around 2011. From 2011 to 2013, the relative growth of advanced courses stopped dead in its tracks. Then, from 2013 to 2015, enrollment in advanced math declined from 48 percent to 43 percent. Enrollment increased from 26 to 32 percent in general math.

This is the opposite of where we should be heading if we want to encourage students to consider STEM fields.

Addressing NAEP scores he writes:

Maybe CCSS has already had its best years and additional gains will be difficult to attain. Major top-down reforms can have their strongest effects when first adopted, whether it’s the NSF-funded science and math curricula of the 1960s, including New Math, or the more recent No Child Left Behind Act. Policy elites rally around a new policy, advocates trumpet the benefits that will occur, a public relations campaign is launched to garner support, and local educators respond enthusiastically to the new reforms. New Math started with a bang, but as criticism grew and teachers’ support dissipated, the materials fell out of use.

The 2015 NAEP scores were a political disaster for Common Core. Eighth grade math scores, for example, fell for the first time in NAEP’S 25 year history (down three points). Some observers were quick to point a finger at CCSS. That’s probably unfair. The analysis above indicates that, yes, nonadopters performed better than CCSS states, but only by declining less, not through improved performance. None of the states are setting the world on fire. Whatever is depressing NAEP scores appears to be more general than the impact of one set of standards or another.

In a nutshell states that have adopted may have already seen their best gains early on during their adoption of the standards. Loveless suggests that student achievement ultimately is not greatly impacted by a set of standards.

So why are advocates so hyper-focused on seeing everyone adopt common standards? Top-down initiatives appear to have a short shelf life.