Brookings Scholar Takes Pro-Common Core Scholars to Task

-- Nip Rogers, EdWeek

Brookings Institute scholar Tom Loveless on Friday published on EdWeek op-ed defending his report the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, which declared that the Common Core Standards would ultimately fail to address the problems in American public education.  He singles out some of his critics (pro-Common Core die-hards like Chester Finn) for not being completely honest with the data:

Similar stories can be told in many states. Standards have been a central activity of education reform for the past three decades. I have studied education reform and its implementation since I left the classroom in 1988. I don’t know of a single state that adopted standards, patted itself on the back, and considered the job done. Not one. States have tried numerous ways to better their schools through standards. And yet, good and bad standards and all of those in between, along with all of the implementation tools currently known to policymakers, have produced outcomes that indicate one thing: Standards do not matter very much.

Several commentators on the Brown Center study—including Richard Lee Colvin, Chester E. Finn Jr., and Sandy Kress—disagree with this interpretation and argue that the empirical evidence means that standards are necessary but not sufficient. No, the evidence does not support that notion. Consider the “sitting on the shelf” reasoning. It only applies to the states with good standards, not the states with bad ones. You want the states with bad standards to walk right past the shelf and toss their standards out with the trash. You certainly don’t want anything important downstream to be aligned with bad standards. But states with bad standards have succeeded in making NAEP gains that are statistically indistinguishable from those of states with good standards. How can that be if good standards are necessary?

We all agree that a huge number of policy pieces must fall into place for standards to affect classrooms. It is quite possible that states with bad standards made better decisions in other areas. Maybe they were inept at standards but good at improving teaching and curriculum. If it’s good teaching, strong curriculum, robust accountability, and a dozen other policy pieces that must snap into place for significant improvement to occur, and standards are a net neutral on those events’ occurrence, then perhaps standards need not be the starting point. Maybe those other policies are better at driving improvement. Perhaps strong curriculum should be developed first and then all of the other pieces could be built around it. I don’t know that this is necessarily so, but we should be open to the possibility.

The whole op-ed is here.