Why America Needs the Common Core


It is well understood that American educational standards are falling behind those of many other developed nations.  I have recently discussed this issue from the point of view of giving more public support to community colleges, as recently proposed by President Obama.
Capture1But the problem is much broader than this. American college students in general score very poorly in basic critical thinking and communication skills.  As the above chart shows, even college seniors are only 60% proficient in these skills and college freshmen do much more poorly.
A new book, “The Smart Society: Strengthening America’s Greatest Resource, its People,” by the political scientist, Peter Salins, provides a good description of the basic problem.  It starts long before college!  America actually has two different K-12 academic achievement gaps.  One, the “Megagap” is the huge test score disparity between middle class students and low-income students, who are largely minorities.  This achievement gap is best addressed with expanded early childhood education, as we are beginning to do in Omaha NE where I live.
But as Mr. Salins points out there is also a Mainstream Achievement Gap between what most non-disadvantaged American youth are capable of learning and what is actually expected of them in the typical U.S. public school.  It is this learning gap which is primarily responsible for America’s mediocre standing on international achievement tests.
CaptureMr. Salins argues that the Mainstream gap is closable because there is such an enormous variation in achievement scores among the 50 states, as shown in the above chart.  In particular, in Massachusetts, a top state, the Education Reform Act of 1995 included the following reforms:

  • The requirement for all state school districts to adhere to rigorous curriculum specifications.
  • A new statewide diagnostic testing protocol.
  • More rigorous testing of new teacher candidates.
  • A statewide uniform high school graduation standard.

Reforms such as these are what make up the Common Core State Standards Initiative.  Such high standards are working well in the top performing states.  Other states need to seriously implement these same standards.  America’s competitive edge depends on it!


4 thoughts on “Why America Needs the Common Core

  1. As per the article, two types of gaps are addressed:
    1. “One, the “Megagap” is the huge test score disparity between middle class students and low-income students, who are largely minorities.” According to the article, “This achievement gap is best addressed with expanded early childhood education….”
    2. “Mainstream Achievement Gap between what most non-disadvantaged American youth are capable of learning and what is actually expected of them in the typical U.S. public school. It is this learning gap which is primarily responsible for America’s mediocre standing on international achievement tests.” According to the article, this gap is closeable using reforms that are consistent with the state’s “Common Core State Standards Initiative.”
    1. The Meagap is almost certainly not closeable. This is because this gap is greatly affected by the intelligence of the students and because this intelligence has a large genetic component.
    • The expanded childhood education will probably increase the achievement gap. This is because the effectiveness of these programs is dependent upon the intelligence of the children, which differs from child to child and is different for the different races.
    • With an IQ of 85 for blacks versus an IQ of 100 for whites, most blacks are going to have a a difficult time competing with whites in the academic world.
    2. The Mainstream Achievement Gap is almost certainly closeable for many students. However, this does not mean that Common Core is the way to close this gap. “When people don’t know about Common Core and hear a pro message, three quarters of them support Common Core. But when people hear the pros and cons of Common Core, just barely more than half of people support it then.” http://www.joypullmann.com/common-core-communications-collaboratives-not-very-communicative/

  2. Both the Mega Achievement Gap and the Mainstream Achievement Gap need to be addressed. Yes, it will be very hard to close the Mega Gap, between middle class kids and lower-income minority kids, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Even narrowing this gap will have very positive social effects.
    Concerning the Mainstream Gap, the Common Core is simply an organized, coherent way to address it. It does not represent a surrender of state’s rights because the states will be fully in charge of implementing it. If there is some particular part of the CC which is offensive, then just ignore that particular aspect!
    A strong educational system is essential for the U.S. to maintain its global economic and military dominance. One way or another we need to do better than we’re doing right now.

    • Mega Gap:
      1. I agree that “narrowing this gap will have very positive social effects.” Likewise, widening this gap would have a very negative impact. Therefore, a reasonable approach would be to ensure that we are not doing anything to widen this gap.
      2. Thus, we should look at the possible causes of the gap. The possible causes fall into two general categories: environmental and non-environmental.
      3. Virtually all of the efforts to close this gap have attempted to fix the environmental causes. If these efforts had been successful, we would not be having this conversation.
      4. It is, therefore, time to look at a non-environmental cause. As you may know, there is a genetic component to many of our personality traits. This would include such things as intelligence and aggression.
      5. Therefore, any policies that encourage the less bright to have more children will widen the gap. Many of our government programs have this effect.
      6. Conclusion:
      a. If we are really interested in raising the achievement of these minorities, we should eliminate or make major changes to many of our government’s social programs.
      b. If we are going to start of process of drastically cutting back many of these programs, we need to ensure that the economy is able to support these people. Thus, this weaning process must include changes that do not discourage a free-market economy.

      Mainstream Achievement Gap:
      1. One of the things that I do like about Common Core is that it is ostensibly a state driven program. However, as we know, things are not always what they seem. “States were given an incentive to adopt the Common Core Standards through the possibility of competitive federal Race to the Top grants.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Core_State_Standards_Initiative
      2. I don’t want to get too far off-topic but the involvement of the federal government should be mentioned. I am strongly opposed to the federal government having anything to do with education. There are, at least, two reasons:
      a. Such involvement is almost certainly unconstitutional and is definitely way beyond its original intent.
      b. It is much more efficient for the states to get the money directly from the residents of each state rather than to send it through a middleman.
      3. I agree that our educational system could do better. Much of this is due to policies of our government. Most of our government’s social policies were apparently made for political reasons and are not based on reality. If these policies were reality-based, we would not be seeing government programs that fail with depressing predictability.
      4. More on the government’s policies – Programs such as NCLB are based on the assumption the most of our racial/social issues can be resolved if we spend enough money. That is, the assumption is that these problems are due to the environment. This is untrue.
      5. I am pessimistic about our state control of Common Core. Once it is instituted, I believe that it will be one just another government program that will be difficult to control or eliminate.
      6. Rather than Common Core, we could try methods that have been used successfully for many years. See this link for a 1924 test for 8th graders! http://www.worldmag.com/2006/02/a_real_test

  3. Granted that there is a genetic component to intelligence which affects academic achievement. Nevertheless, we haven’t adequately addressed the environmental side yet. This is what early childhood education is designed to do.
    Regarding the Mainstream Achievement Gap, the data I give shows the huge disparities between states. The Common Core will help to equalize standards between different states and therefore close, or at least narrow, this gap.

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