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The odd theory of the Common Core standards is that if everyone has exactly the same curriculum and the same standards, everyone will learn the same “stuff” and progress at the same rate; and as a result, everyone will have the same results, and the achievement gap will close. If this were true, every child who had the same teachers and the same classes in the same school would have identical outcomes, but they don’t.
In 2012, Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution wrote an analysis of the Common Core standards and concluded that they would have little effect on achievement. Not because the standards are good or bad, but because standards alone don’t raise achievement, nor, I might add, do tests, which measure achievement, as thermometers measure body temperature without changing it.
Loveless summarizes his 2012 findings here.
“The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education includes a study of the Common Core State Standards project. It attempts to predict the effect of the common core on student achievement. The study focuses on three arguments: that the quality of the common core is superior to that of existing standards, that the tests tied to the common core will be rigorous, and that having common standards will reduce differences across the United States by “putting all states on the same page.” It summarizes the current debate on the common core, but takes no stand on the merits of the arguments.
“For example, the study does not attempt to determine whether the common-core standards are of high or low quality, only whether the quality of state standards has mattered to student achievement in the past. The finding is clear: The quality of standards has not mattered. From 2003 to 2009, states with terrific standards raised their National Assessment of Educational Progress scores by roughly the same margin as states with awful ones.”
What about states that have common standards? “Test-score differences within states are about four to five times greater than differences in state means. We all know of the huge difference between Massachusetts and Mississippi on NAEP. What often goes unnoticed is that every state in the nation has a mini-Massachusetts-Mississippi contrast within its own borders. Common state standards might reduce variation between states, but it is difficult to imagine how they will reduce variation within states. After all, districts and schools within the same state have been operating under common standards for several years and, in some states, for decades.”
“Effectiveness, not alignment, should be the primary criterion for selecting curricula, disseminating promising instructional strategies, and pursuing all of the other implementation strategies on which common-core advocates are betting so much. They steadfastly believe that “effectiveness” and “alignment with standards” are synonymous. The empirical evidence indicates that they are not.
“On the basis of past experience with standards, the most reasonable prediction is that the common core will have little to no effect on student achievement.”
In his 2014 analysis of states that did and did not implement Common Core standards, Loveless found no reason to change his initial conclusion.