Fordham: Common core raises standards

The Common Core State Standards are “clearer and more rigorous” than English Language Arts standards in 37 states and math standards in 39 states, concludes the Fordham Institute’s newest study.

Yet California, Indiana and the District of Columbia have ELA standards that are clearly superior to those of the Common Core. And nearly a dozen states have ELA or math standards in the same league as Common Core.

Mike Petrilli adds on Flypaper:

But what’s heartening is this: as you can see from our nifty maps, most of the 28 or so states that have already adopted the Common Core are moving from “clearly inferior” standards to something much better. As a result, the national average for state standards has already gone from a “C” for both math and English (pre-Common Core adoption) to a B-plus for math and a B for English, now that these states have switched standards. In just the last month or so, America has raised the bar by at least a letter grade, from mediocre to very good standards.

Of course, as everyone knows, standards alone don’t change anything. They are just aspirations. But if combined with rigorous assessments, high “cut scores,” meaningful accountability, and strong implementation, they can move mountains, as we’ve learned from Massachusetts over the past decade.

Yes, that’s a huge “if,” but still, the country is raising its expectations, and for that we should be glad.

Massachusetts Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt the common standards today. The new standards are better than Massachusetts’ acclaimed standards, said two former education commissioners of the state. But former Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld called for sticking with the state’s standards, adding,  “It would be madness to eliminate the MCAS test.”

In California, another state with rigorous standards, a state commission endorsed the common core standards “with modifications  that will set up students for taking a complete Algebra I course in eighth grade,” reports Educated Guess.

The common core standards split algebra between eighth and ninth grades, so California, where 60 percent of students already take Algebra I in seventh or eighth grade,  would continue to be out of sync with much of the nation – though in concert with some high-achieving nations in math, like Singapore.

The State Board of Education must vote yes or no on the recommendations by Aug. 2.

The common core initiative’s sponsors, the National Governors Assn. and the Council of Chief State School Officers, permit states to add up to 15 percent more standards.  California’s commission used that authority liberally, grafting on sections of the state’s generally acclaimed rigorous standards.  It added standards for penmanship, formal presentations and oral recitations to the common core English language arts standards, and significant numbers of math standards in algebra and advanced subjects.

National standards will be watered down or ignored, predicts Cato’s Neal McCluskey.

. . . the same political forces that have smushed centralized standards and accountability in almost every state — the teacher unions, administrator associations, self-serving politicians, etc. — will just do their dirty work at the federal rather than state level. Indeed, those groups will still be the most motivated and effectively organized to control education politics, but they will have the added benefit of one-stop shopping!

Washington, D.C. is expected to approve the common standards today. By the Aug. 2 deadline for Race to the Top eligibility, three-fourths of the states are expected to be on board.

Will national standards improve education? The New York  Times hosts a debate.

Update: There’s no evidence national standards improve economic competitiveness or raise achievement, argues an EPIC paper.

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  1. tim-10-ber says:

    They are but maybe they aren’t…once again it is all up to the states…so why isn’t the NAEP the national assessment if national standards are so important?

    Tennessee raised their standards and finally, finally raised the cut scores on the TCAP. The PR blitz has started as kids that had been “advanced” may now be below “proficient”. Well, duh…the NAEP has told Tennesseans for years this has been the case…

    More data will be released in September and October with the state report card in December…

  2. Support for curriculum standards proceeds from magical thinking. The fundamental flaw in the argument for standards is that neither children nor their future career paths are standard. The education industry is no more likely a candidate for national standards than is the restaurant industry or the shoe industry. Imposed standards are utterly inappropriate for an industry that would generate a more harmonious result if utterly free of external control, beyond individual parent’s desires and provider’s capabilities, for very young children, and students’ desires and instructors’ capabilities, for older children and young adults.

    This view has empirical support. Years ago I took the grades which the Fordham Institute and the Education Trust gave to States for their standards, converted these graddes into numbers on a 0-4 point scale, and applied the EXCEL correlation function to States’ NAEP 8th grade Math score. The result was negative–the higher the standard the lower the score.

    Standards are a distraction from the main argument: What does society gain from a State presence in the education industry, anyway? Aside from drug abuse, vandalism, and violence, that is.

  3. Cynical says:

    The education industry is no more likely a candidate for national standards than is the restaurant industry

    Health department standards, building codes, fire codes, all apply to restaurants.  Food grading is a national standard.

  4. (Malcolm): “The education industry is no more likely a candidate for national standards than is the restaurant industry…”
    (Cynical: “Health department standards, building codes, fire codes, all apply to restaurants. Food grading is a national standard.”
    No more, no less. Actually, considerably less. Building codes and fire currently apply to schools buildings (independent and government owned) as well as to restaurants, warehouses, and office buildings. In re food handling standards, these address safety issues unique to that industry. Food grading applies to farm products, not restaurant food, and generally reduce aggregate social welfare by limiting supply. Dominant players use produce grading to keep products out of the supply stream. Read Jay Greene’s post on this subject, and pay particular attention to his encapsulation of Neal McCluskey’s conclusion.

  5. Paul Hoss says:

    A sad state of affairs for Massachusetts. This is just the first step in the dismantling of what has been the best public school model in the country.

  6. The Common Core State Writing Standards have used a rather utilitarian approach to categorize essays into two classifications: argument and informational/explanatory writing. (The third writing classification, narrative, is acknowledged and brief mention is made of poetry and “other forms.”) The approach used by the English-language Arts committee was to examine the writing assignments of freshman English college professors then define the essay accordingly for the purposes of the Common Core State Writing Standards. The committee used the 2009 ACT national curriculum survey of postsecondary instructors of composition, freshman English, and survey of American literature courses (ACT, Inc., 2009) as reference and found that “write to argue or persuade readers” was virtually tied with “write to convey information” as the most important type of writing needed by incoming college students. Hence the two essay classifications.

    Although much makes sense in the Common Core State Writing Standards in terms of essay classification, it seems to me that much of the document assumes things not yet proven. A few examples should suffice.
    -Who is to say that college English professors are the experts in defining the essay? The experiences of my three sons at U.C. Berkeley, U.C. San Diego, and San Diego State would prove otherwise. With few exceptions, the writing topics and prompts assigned as papers and exams were uniformly contrived, artificial, and downright incoherent for both assignments and exams, leaving my sons, me, and my English high school and middle school colleagues shaking our collective heads. Basing the K-12 writing standards on how and what college professors teach may be a shaky foundation.
    -Who is to say whether the personal essay, narratives, and poetry are less important than argument and informational/explanatory writing? Other forms of writing may be more developmentally appropriate at different grade levels and may actually serve as effective scaffolds to the two essay classifications.
    -Application of the these essay classifications may work fine within the social sciences; however, our science colleagues may find these forms constraining, and perhaps out of sync with their rigid scientific methodologies.

    For those interested, I have organized the Common Core State Writing Standards (Appendix A) in an “executive summary” on my blog at


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