12. Who opposes the Common Core and why?

Education professionals, policy analysts, and government officials center their critiques of the Common Core on four points: the standards are pedagogically nonsensical and academically deficient, the standards will not fix the broken education system, the method of implementing the standards is flawed and expensive, and the federal government has overstepped its bounds.

Five members of the Common Core Validation Committee refused to validate the standards.1 Three of these individuals—R. James Milgram (professor of mathematics emeritus at Stanford), Sandra Stotsky (professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas and member of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education), and Ze’ev Wurman (a U.S. Department of Education official during the George W. Bush administration)—have collaborated to write two studies that condemn the academic merit of the standards.

Stotsky and Wurman conclude that the Common Core English language arts standards do not make students “college- and career-ready,” arguing that the lack of literary material required by the standards does “not ensure…sufficient literary and cultural knowledge for authentic college-level work.”2 Milgram and Stotsky debunk the assertion that the standards are internationally benchmarked by demonstrating that the required readings for the British Columbia high school exit test and for Finnish secondary students are far above the Common Core requirements.3 Stotsky, in commenting on the English language arts standards, notes that the vagueness of the Common Core makes it extremely difficult for teachers to design a workable course of study that actually follows the standards.4

Wurman specifically examines the Common Core mathematics standards and concludes that the Common Core leaves students one or two years behind the National Mathematics Advisory Panel’s recommendations, the requirements of some states, and the standards of leading countries by students’ 8th-grade year.5 He also cautions that the Common Core employs an approach to teaching geometry that “has not been widely used anywhere in the world, and the only known experience with it is considered a failure.”6 Curiously, one of the key writers of the mathematics standards, Jason Zimba, alluded to the inadequacy of the standards when he told the Massachusetts State Department of Education in 2010 that “the concept of college readiness [in the standards] is minimal and focuses on non-selective colleges.”7 Andrew Porter, the vice president of the National Academy of Education and a supporter of a national curriculum, and Andy Rotherham, special assistant for domestic policy during the Clinton administration, also oppose the Common Core because of its academic flaws.8

The second argument against the Common Core is that the standards will not repair the broken education system. Brookings Institute policy analyst Grover Whitehurst observes that high academic standards and high student achievement are not connected.9 In fact, statistics show that states with high academic standards score about the same on standardized assessments as states with low standards.10 Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution further notes that low national achievement levels result from varied performance levels within individual states, not between different states.11 But the Common Core will do nothing to remedy this problem, because it maintains the status quo of statewide standards and does nothing to assist struggling school districts.

Critics of the Common Core also condemn the way that the standards are being implemented. Randi Weingarten, president of the second-largest teachers union in America, opposes the Common Core because of the “high stakes attached” to its implementation.12 She argues that the Common Core will only be destructive since the government has done nothing to prepare teachers to successfully utilize the standards. Diane Ravitch, a liberal education historian who has pushed for national standards for years, criticizes the government’s use of Race to the Top funding to coerce states into adopting the Common Core. She summarizes, “ The Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.…Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states.”13 Ravitch also warns that the mass implementation of the standards before they were tested in a small area blindly ties 36 states to a potentially disastrous system.

Additionally, states will have a difficult time shouldering the cost of buying new curriculum, using new assessments, and increasing the use of technology in schools. The Fordham Institute calculates the cost of implementing the Common Core to be $12 billion across the states, and the Pioneer Institute estimates $16 billion.14 The shares of $4.35 billion that the states received through Race to the Top will not even come close to footing the bill.

Finally, members of the U.S. House and Senate oppose the Common Core because it has handed the education authority of the states to the federal government. Lawmakers have raised concerns about the Department of Education’s unilateral revision of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, its push for expanded state longitudinal data systems, and its close involvement in the implementation of the Common Core.15 The Republican National Committee called the federal government's actions “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children so they will conform to a preconceived ‘normal.’”16

Common Core opposition spans the political spectrum, including both Republicans and Democrats. Diane Ravitch states that she could not support the Common Core because the standards were “developed and imposed without regard to democratic process. The writers of the standards included no early childhood educators, no educators of children with disabilities, no experienced classroom teachers; indeed, the largest contingent of the drafting committee were representatives of the testing industry.”17 Stan Karp, member of the liberal reform group Rethinking Schools, writes that the Common Core “is a set of standards that does not reflect the experience of many groups of students served by public education, does not reflect the concerns that many parents have for what they want to see in their education, and that really doubles down on a testing-and-punish regime that has proven to be the wrong approach to improving education.”18 Cofounder of the left-leaning Network for Public Education Anthony Cody worries that test-based education will strangle classroom creativity, stating that “I want to have some autonomy as a teacher to do open-ended investigations, to explore the things [the students] are curious about…the more tightly this is tied to a predetermined list of outcomes and testing, the harder it is for me to do that as a creative teacher.”19

Opponents of Common Core are putting politics aside in an effort to unite against a federal takeover of education. People with different backgrounds now speak in unison, demanding higher standards, not standardized mediocrity.

Document updated August 16, 2014

1 Common Core State Standards Validation Committee, Reaching Higher (Common Core State Standards Initiative, June 2010), “The Common Core State Standards Initiative Validation Committee” in front matter and “Certification” on p. 4, accessed June 5, 2013, http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CommonCoreReport_6.10.pdf ; Sandra Stotsky, “Testimony for a Hearing on House Bill No. 2923” (before the Texas Legislature), accessed July 3, 2013,   http://coehp.uark.edu/colleague/9863.php .

2 Sandra Stotsky and Ze’ev Wurman, “Common Core’s Standards Still Don't Make the Grade: Why Massachusetts and California Must Regain Control over Their Academic Destinies,” A Pioneer Institute White Paper no. 65 (Boston: Pioneer Institute, 2010), 25, accessed June 11, 2013, http://pioneerinstitute.org/download/common-cores-standards-still-dont-make-the-grade/ .

3 R. James Milgram and Sandra Stotsky, “Fair to Middling: A National Standards Progress Report,” A Pioneer Institute White Paper no. 56 (Boston: Pioneer Institute, 2010): 21, accessed June 13, 2013, http://pioneerinstitute.org/download/fair-to-middling/ .

4 Ibid., 12–14.

5 Stotsky and Wurman, iii.

6 Ibid., 20.

7 Minutes of the Regular Meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, March 23, 2010, Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, 5, accessed September 20, 2013, www.doe.mass.edu/boe/minutes/10/0323reg.doc .

8 Andrew C. Porter, “In Common Core, Little to Cheer About,” Education Week, August 9, 2011, accessed June 13, 2013, http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/08/10/37porter_ep.h30.html?tkn=TYPFs%2B5eaCVID%2FpCcM%2FaCAmn%2FVrm9T3wXVoL&cmp=clp-edweek; and Ze’ev Wurman and W. Stephen Wilson, “The Common Core Math Standards,” Education Next 12, no. 3 (Summer 2012), accessed June 13, 2013, http://educationnext.org/the-common-core-math-standards/ .

9 Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, “Don’t Forget Curriculum,” Brown Center Letters on Education no. 3 (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 2009), accessed June 13, 2013, http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2009/10/14-curriculum-whitehurst .

10 National Center for Education Statistics, Mapping 2005 State Proficiency Standards onto the NAEP Scales (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, June 2007), accessed June 13, 2013, http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/studies/2007482.pdf, and Sheila Byrd Carmichael et al., The State of State Standards—and the Common Core—in 2010 (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 2012), 3, accessed June 12, 2013, http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/the-state-of-state-of-standards-and-the-common-core-in-2010.html .

11 “The variation [of National Assessment of Educational Progress scores] within states is four to five times larger than the variation between states”; Tom Loveless, How Well Are American Students Learning? The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education vol. 3, no. 1 (February 2012), 12, accessed June 12, 2013, http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/newsletters/0216_brown_education_loveless.pdf .

12 Randi Weingarten, “Common Core: Do What It Takes before High Stakes,” Huffington Post, May 19, 2013, accessed June 13, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randi-weingarten/common-core-do-what-it-ta_b_3300790.html .

13 Diane Ravitch, “Why I Oppose the Common Core Standards,” Washington Post, February 26, 2013, accessed June 7, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/02/26/why-i-oppose-common-core-standards-ravitch/ .

14 Patrick Murphy and Eliot Regenstein, Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost? (Washington, D.C.: Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 2012) and Accountability Works, National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards, A Pioneer Institute White Paper no. 82 (Boston: Pioneer Institute, 2012).

15 Marco Rubio, “Letter to the Honorable Arne Duncan,” September 12, 2011, accessed June 13, 2013, http://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=7c1cf499-4bfc-4db0-8a5b-5e3cc5291560; “Letter to Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Moran,” April 26, 2013. accessed June 13, 2013, http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/2013/Harkin_Moran_Letter_April_2013.pdf; and Letter to the Honorable Arne Duncan, April 30, 2013, accessed June 13, 2013, http://www.hslda.org/docs/news/2013/CommonCore_Duncan_FINAL.PDF .

16 “Resolution Concerning Common Core Standards,” Republican National Committee, accessed June 13, 2013, http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2013/04/republicans-to-discuss-opposition-to-controversial-common-core-curriculum.html.

17 Diane Ravitch, “Time for Congress to Investigate Bill Gates’ Coup,” Huffington Post Blog, June 9, 2014, accessed June 23, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-ravitch/time-for-congress-to-inve_b_5473992.html.

18Eric Westervelt, “Political Rivals Find Common Ground Over Common Core,” January 28, 2014, accessed June 23, 2014, http://www.npr.org/2014/01/28/267488648/backlash-grows-against-common-core-education-standards.