The nonprofit Carnegie Corporation of New York, which has supported the Common Core State Standards, published a report in 2013 with some startling information that was little noticed in the education world until recently: that the high school dropout rate could double as a result of the Core initiative.

Veteran educator Larry Ferlazzo pointed out on his blog recently that the Carnegie report titled “Opportunity by Design: New High School Models for Student Success,” includes data put together by McKinsey & Co. that shows how the Core — a collection of standards considered more rigorous than most states had before adopting them — would affect graduation and dropout rates.

It says that the six-year dropout rate would rise from 15 percent to 30 percent dropout rate by 2020 unless learning environments are drastically changed — which isn’t happening even as the Core is being implemented in many states. It also projects that the four-year graduation rate would drop from 75 percent to 53 percent.


The report says:

The implementation of the Common Core is an unprecedented chance to “do school differently” for greater impact. While progress at the state level has been significant, we must also seize this opportunity to redesign schools to enable personalized learning. This means fundamentally reshaping the use of human capacity, technology, time, and money, to provide both recuperative and accelerative opportunities for all students. This will open pathways for more young people to graduate.

So far, much work has gone into retooling many of these elements individually. Many states, districts, and schools have made essential progress in changing teacher preparation and professional development to help talented educators enter and stay in the classroom. There have also been pushes for interventions like additional learning time, new curricula, and new technology, much of which has been shown to have a significant impact on student achievement. However, applied individually, each of these fails to get our schools and school systems where they need to be to serve every student. By purposefully integrating many of these advances in a comprehensive school design, much more can be accomplished than applying each individually.

For example, strengthening teaching receives much necessary attention, and significant leaps have been made in supporting educators. Now is the time to assess whether addressing teaching talent alone is enough to close the student proficiency gaps exposed by the Common Core within approximately the next five years. In a recent modeling exercise, analysts from McKinsey & Company used available estimates of what can be accomplished by top-quartile teachers (those able to “move” student performance at the rate of 1.25 grade levels per year, as triangulated from research by the Measures of Effective Teaching team, The New Teacher Project, Education Trust – West, and Eric Hanushek) to test whether or not it might be possible to avoid large drops in graduation rates using human capital strategies alone. The short answer is no: even coordinated, rapid, and highly effective efforts to improve high school teaching would leave millions of students achieving below the level needed for graduation and college success as defined by the Common Core. Initiatives designed to strengthen teaching, whether through improved curriculum, excellent professional development, or hiring well-prepared teacher candidates, will be tremendously important to standards implementation, but they cannot possibly meet the demand to raise student achievement to Common Core levels unless they are part of more far-reaching changes in school design. [bold-face is mine]


So, are we to believe, based on a single study, that the dropout rate will really double if schools in Core districts aren’t dramatically redesigned? Basing anything important on a single education study would not be smart. Somewhere there exists a mountain of studies piled on top of each other, all of them predicting what is going to happen in education if something is or isn’t done. Very few of them accurately predicted the future.

The popularity of the Core that existed at the time of the this report — in early 2013 — has given way to a critical assault by people from all ends of the political spectrum questioning the content, authorship and implementation, resulting in a number of states dropping the standards and/or pulling out of the Common Core assessment regimen. The broad effort to have the same “college- and career-ready” standards from coast to coast with assessment systems that could ostensibly evaluate apples with apples is collapsing, with many states going their own way.

But this 2013 study does reinforce the notion of unintended consequences in even the best-intentioned initiatives. School reformers have rushed to push through huge changes in public education in recent years without sufficient thought about the reforms themselves, implementation issues and unintended consequences.

On the This Week in Education blog, John Thompson wrote:

The goal of Carnegie “Challenge” research papers is “to lift up ideas and issues in a way that we hope will elevate them to the nation’s agenda.” So, why has this all-important finding not influenced the debate over the Common Core agenda?

Apparently, Carnegie seeks to focus on the positive. If, over the last few years, systems had focused on building personalized learning environments and if states had invested unlimited billions of dollars on high-poverty schools, Common Core might not have become a trainwreck. If New York City’s “Small Schools” (generously funded by the Gates Foundation and others) had actually served the “same kids” as students in large failing high schools, in theory the same expensive methods could have eased the transition to Common Core.

It is now 2014, however, and high-poverty schools across the nation have yet to receive a blank check and the freedom to stop the education malpractice of teaching to the bubble-in test. I suspect that the Carnegie Corporation doesn’t want to explicitly criticize the Gates Foundation’s commitment to test-driven accountability. But, surely it doesn’t anticipate a happy ending to Common Core implementation and testing in 2015.