A new analysis on the Common Core Standards Initiative by the Brookings Institution says it is wrong to believe that the effort will do much of anything to improve student achievement in coming years.

The standards in English language arts and math — with linked assessments that are expected to be ready by the 2014-15 school year — have been accepted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, and are strongly supported by the Obama administration.

Supporters of the common Core hail the effort as one of the pillars of modern school reform that will increase student achievement across the country and ensure that public schools across the country are working from the same high collection of goals. Critics have said that the core is effectively a national curriculum that does not meet the needs of local school districts.

The non-profit Brookings Institution, in its newly released 2012 Brown Center Report on Education entitled “How Well Are American Students Learning?” includes a section that looks at the likely effects of the Common Core on student achievement. The conclusions are dim.

The Brookings report has sections about the achievement gap and international test scores, which I will take up soon.

Here’s part of the analysis on the Common Core, and you can read the rest here:

“Do not expect much from the Common Core. Education leaders often talk about standards as if they are a system of weights and measures — the word “benchmarks” is used promiscuously as a synonym for standards. But the term is misleading by inferring that there is a real, known standard of measurement. Standards in education are best understood as aspirational, and like a strict diet or prudent plan to save money for the future, they represent good intentions that are not often realized.

Why don’t aspirational standards make much of a difference? Researchers from the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) first sketched the concept of opportunity to learn using international test score data in the 1970s. Distinctions were drawn among the intended, implemented, and achieved curriculums. The intended curriculum is embodied by standards; it is what governments want students to learn. The differences articulated by state governments in this regard are frequently trivial. Bill Gates is right that multiplication is the same in Alabama and New York, but he would have a difficult time showing how those two states — or any other two states — treat multiplication of whole numbers in significantly different ways in their standards documents.

What is crucial is the distance between the intended curriculum and the two curriculums below. The implemented curriculum is what teachers teach. Whether that differs from state to state is largely unknown; what is more telling is that it may differ dramatically from classroom to classroom in the same school. Two fourth-grade teachers in classrooms next door to each other may teach multiplication in vastly different ways and with different degrees of effectiveness. State policies rarely touch such differences. The attained curriculum is what students learn. Two students in the same classroom and instructed by the same teacher may acquire completely different skills and knowledge. One student understands and moves on; another struggles and is stuck. And that even happens in classrooms with outstanding teachers.

The whole system is teeming with variation. Policies at national, state, district, and school levels sit on top of these internal differences, but they rarely succeed in ameliorating them. The Common Core will sit on top of the implemented and attained curriculums, and notwithstanding future efforts to beef up the standards’ power to penetrate to the core of schooling, they will probably fail to dramatically affect what goes on in the thousands of districts and tens of thousands of schools that they seek to influence.

A final word on what to expect in the next few years as the development of assessments tied to the Common Core unfolds. The debate is sure to grow in intensity. It is about big ideas— curriculum and federalism. Heated controversies about the best approaches to teaching reading and math have sprung up repeatedly over the past century. The proper role of the federal government, states, local districts, and schools in deciding key educational questions, especially in deciding what should be taught, remains a longstanding point of dispute. In addition, as NCLB [No Child Left Behind] illustrates, standards with real consequences are most popular when they are first proposed. Their popularity steadily declines from there, reaching a nadir when tests are given and consequences kick in. Just as the glow of consensus surrounding NCLB faded after a few years, cracks are now appearing in the wall of support for the Common Core.

Don’t let the ferocity of the oncoming debate fool you. The empirical evidence suggests that the Common Core will have little effect on American students’ achievement. The nation will have to look elsewhere for ways to improve its schools.”


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