The case for common core standards

Common core standards, now adopted by 28 states and counting, are “remarkably strong” and vastly better than the standards in most states,  write Checker Finn and Mike Petrilli of Fordham on National Review.

One reason the Common Core fared so well is that its authors eschewed the vague and politically correct nonsense that infected so many state standards (and earlier attempts at national standards). They expect students to master arithmetic and memorize their times tables; they promote the teaching of phonics in the early grades; they even expect all students to read and understand the country’s founding documents.

. . . Anxiety will surely rise when school kids across the land begin (three or four years hence) to take tests linked to these standards, and even more when those test results start to determine promotion from fifth to sixth grade or graduation from high school. (The development of those tests will soon start, aided by $350 million of federal stimulus funds.) But without tests and results-based accountability, along with solid curricula, quality textbooks, and competent teaching, standards alone have no traction in real classrooms. Adopting good standards is like having a goal for your cholesterol; it doesn’t mean you will actually eat a healthy diet or live longer.

Massachusetts has made steady achievement gains by setting high standards backed by well-designed assessments and a high bar for graduation, they write. But most states have vague standards that are erratically  implemented.

Expectations are low: Fordham’s 2007 comparison of how states define proficiency found some states where students scoring below the 10th percentile nationally were considered “proficient,” while other states set “proficient” as high as the 77th percentile.

“Most Americans understand that this is not the way a big, modernized country on a competitive planet should operate its education system,” they write.

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