Students attending K-12 public schools in Tennessee are struggling to perform above average on national standardized tests. Partially adopted in 2010 and fully implemented by the 2013-14 school year, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) failed to produce the academic results expected. The Tennessee Department of Education and Governor Bill Haslam “rebranded” CCSS as Tennessee standards after the legislature passed a bill to repeal the Core in April 2015.
“Common Core is as big a change in education as Obamacare is in health care, but unlike Obamacare it needed no votes in Congress to become national policy,” Joy Pullman, executive editor of The Federalist, wrote in her 2017 book, The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids.
These controversial K-12 public education standards, “garnered practically no notice from the media before the Obama administration, in concert with largely unelected state bureaucrats and a shadow bureaucracy of private organizations, locked it in nationwide. That meant no public debate before the scheme was imposed upon a country supposedly run with the consent of the governed,” Pullman observed.
Common Core State Standards were adopted in full or in part by the governments of 46 states beginning in 2009, the first year of the Obama administration. Tennessee began with partial adoption of those standards in 2010 but moved to full implementation during the first year of President Obama’s second term in 2013.
Despite the hype from the public education establishment the results of these new standards upon student performance, both in Tennessee and around the country, have not been good. Common Core, Pullman wrote, “falls short in building a solid foundation of cultural knowledge and in teaching practical skills.”
In Tennessee, the most recent data from the “Nation’s Report Card” using the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) reveals neither the Common Core State Standards nor Common Core-lite have been able to move students above the national average in 4th grade math, 4th grade reading, 8th grade math or 8th grade reading.
The Tennessee Legislature repealed CCSS after pushback from parents and teachers. Tennessee Eagle Forum and others were hopeful that after 3 years of grassroots activism against Common Core, they might have succeeded at eliminating them. Opponents were unimpressed with the results.
“Starting with the Common Core is the problem. A true repeal would set the standards and the committees would start from scratch,” said Shane Vander Hart of Truth in Education. “This process would just lead to tweaks. Granted there may be some improvements, but let’s be clear this wasn’t a repeal and Tennessee has adopted Common Core lite sans the name Common Core.”
Research investigating whether CCSS has had a positive or negative impact has been ongoing. A 2015 report by Tom Loveless for the Brookings Institute of results around the country found the early impact to be “…quite small, amounting to (at most) 0.04 standard deviations (SD) on the NAEP scale.”
A “standard deviation” is a measure that is used to quantify the amount of variation or dispersion of a set of data values. According to Loveless, “A threshold of 0.20 SD—five times larger—is often invoked as the minimum size for a test score change to be regarded as noticeable.”
More recently, the 2018 Brown Center Report shows both math and reading scores have dropped in 4th and 8th grades. By 2017, all states had implemented CCSS, although at least 11 states, including Tennessee, have repealed or renamed them while 4 never adopted them. Of those who still have CCSS, Montana adopted only the English Language Arts standards.
Another significant change following the wide acceptance of CCSS is the drop in the number of states using the tests designed specifically to align with the standards. Initially, 45 states agreed to use either Smarter Balanced or PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) as their statewide assessment tool for the Common Core State Standards. That number has dropped to just 16, including the District of Columbia.
Many teachers are unenthusiastic about CCSS, while others consider them just another requirement of their jobs.
At TeachHub, Jacqui Murray said that “the biggest pedagogic change to American education since the arrival of John Dewey is happening right now. It’s called the Common Core State Standards. Its goal: to prepare the nation’s tens of thousands of students for college and/or career.”
“If you are involved in any part of teaching, administrating, or planning, you are holding your breath, downing an aspirin, and crossing your fingers, knowing a storm is about to hit. You’ve prepared, but is it enough?” she added.
Common Core State Standards and their “rebranded” siblings do not appear to be preparing students for college or careers.
One college entrance exam, the ACT, breaks down the “percent of college students who met college readiness benchmarks” for 2014 through 2018—after most states implemented CCSS.
The percentages of students “ready” for college fell in reading, from 64 percent in 2014 to 60 percent in 2018, and math, from 43 percent in 2014 to 40 percent in 2018. Reading readiness stayed roughly the same, fluctuating between 44 percent and 47 percent over the five year period and ending at 46 percent for 2018.
The most recently available ACT scores place Tennessee students more than a full point behind the national averages for composite score, 0.8 behind in English, 1.4 behind in math and 1.4 behind in reading.
Even Bill Gates, a long-time supporter and major funder behind CCSS, realizes they are not doing well.
“Bill Gates tacitly admits his common core experiment was a failure,” author Joy Pullman notes.
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