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Corporations Are Behind The Common Core State Standards — And That's Why They'll Never Work

Why do we keep enforcing more and more standards and testing that educators don't trust?

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U.S. public education has a long relationship with pursuing high standards for students, teachers, and schools, reaching back to the Committee of Ten in the 1890s proposing a uniform curriculum for college-bound students. Advocates of child-centered education, such as psychologist G. Stanley Hall (1844-1924) challenged establishing standards and core courses (such as English and math); however, eventually the business model of efficiency based on standardized goals and test-based accountability won the debate. American schools were destined for decades of policies designed to raise standards and increase test scores.

A Nation at Risk (1983) sparked high-stakes accountability built on state standards and testing. By 2001, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reinforced and expanded the state-based accountability era to the federal level. U.S. education has experienced thirty years and fifty separate experiments in standards and testing. Yet, high-stakes accountability has not produced the outcomes politicians promised: raising test scores, increasing graduation rates, and improving international rankings.

Throughout the accountability era, advocates for better standards and testing have focused exclusively on in-school education reform, discounting that regardless of standards or accountability mandates, measurable student outcomes (test scores) remain primarily a reflection of out-of-school (OOS) factors:

[R]oughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error). In other words, though precise estimates vary, the preponderance of evidence shows that achievement differences between students are overwhelmingly attributable to factors outside of schools and classrooms. ( Di Carlo, 2010)

Also, despite the presence of standards and accountability, “doubly disadvantaged” students who live in impoverished households and communities produce test scores reflecting the socioeconomic status of those communities. Most of the challenges facing education have nothing to do with the quality or presence of standards.

Ignoring the failure of standards-based accountability as well as the educational impact of poverty and led by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the U.S. Department of Education, market-based education reform has produced another wave of standards and testing, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative first proposed by Achieve at the National Education Summit for governors and business leaders and funded by a number of private and philanthropic organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Adopted by all except a handful of states, CCSS are poised to be national standards for U.S. public schools, guiding the content of core courses and national high-stakes testing.

The stampede to implement CCSS has ignored that standards-based education reform has not worked in three decades of implementation and accountability built on standards and high-stakes tests is the wrong policy model for education reform. More accurately identified as Common Corporate Standards, this movement will fail students and schools as long as political and corporate leaders discount the history of standards-based education, the research base on accountability, and the overwhelming influence of OOS factors on measurable student outcomes. Focusing on new standards, tests, and accountability as education reform and not confronting that inequity of opportunity in children’s lives and schools remains the essential problem that must be addressed before debates over standards can matter.

Standards, Rigor: Policies that Have Failed, Repeatedly

Who advocates for CCSS? What claims drive that advocacy? And who stands to benefit from CCSS implementation as well as the connected tests?

Typical of contemporary education reform, CCSS began as a political process driven by business interests—not as an educational process designed by classroom teachers or educational researchers. In the 1980s during the first wave of accountability, state governors became the primary voice for educational reform. Those governors often used their educational bully pulpits to pursue economic and business goals—improving the workforce or attracting new companies.

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