Proponents of the Common Core national standards have claimed from the beginning that a major goal of the initiative is to reduce the “achievement gap” between white and minority students. Common Core test scores in California and New York suggest that the opposite is occurring. And now we have confirmation from what could be called the premier Common Core state in the country – Kentucky.
Prompted by an education establishment enamored of the progressive theories underlying Common Core (as well as by federal Race to the Top bribe money), Kentucky was the first state to adopt the national standards. In fact, formal adoption occurred before even the draft standards were issued, much less the final standards. The state fully implemented the standards and began administering the aligned state assessments during the 2011-2012 school year.
Kentucky thus has the nation’s longest experience with Common Core, and its results may be a bellwether for the rest of the country. Especially for minority students, the early signs are troubling.
Kentucky just released its 2014-2015eighth grade scores on the EXPLORE and PLAN college-readiness tests. Those tests are aligned with the ACT college-entrance examination and have a long, reliable history of assessing college-readiness. These Kentucky scores are perhaps the best indicator anywhere in the nation of the effect of Common Core teaching.
What is it about Common Core that disproportionately harms minority students?
And the news is bad. As explained by Richard Innes of the Bluegrass Institute, “In every single case [in all tested subjects (English, math, reading, and science)] the white minus black achievement gaps for both EXPLORE and PLAN have increased since Kentucky adopted Common Core aligned state tests in the 2011-2012 school year.” Since 2011-12, the smallest EXPLORE achievement-gap increase was 1.1 percent for English, and the largest increase was 3.7 percent in math. PLAN’s smallest gap increase was a change of 0.4 percent in math, with the largest at 2.7 percent in English.
Even more dismal are the percentages of black students meeting EXPLORE and PLAN benchmarks. In five of the eight categories (each test includes four subjects), black student performance declined from the 2012 test results. In two of the other three categories, performance increased only slightly over previously deplorable scores, and in the third, it remained the same.
The results from Kentucky – the state that is further down the Common Core road than any other – strongly suggest that Common Core is hurting the very students it was supposed to elevate.
Innes sums it up: “EXPLORE and PLAN show Kentucky is grossly leaving its major minority population behind and the situation is generally worse now than when Common Core started. After 25 years of expensive education reform efforts in Kentucky, only around one in ten black students is getting the math education needed, and only about one in five is getting the even more critical reading skills that are essential for almost any career today. These numbers are a disgrace.”
Why is this happening? What is it about Common Core that disproportionately harms minority students?
Perhaps one answer lies in pedagogy. Common Core embraces student-centered “discovery” learning, where the teacher acts as (to use the popular cliché) a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage.” In other words, the teacher is supposed to teach less and “facilitate” more. Especially for disadvantaged students, that pedagogy does not work. Project Follow Through, the largest and most expensive government education study in history, proved this by following 79,000 Head Start participant children for years to determine the best means of educating them.
Moreover, Common Core math locks children into a slowed-down progression that ultimately leaves children unprepared for higher education. As Marina Ratner, professor emerita of mathematics at Cal-Berkeley, argued last year in the Wall Street Journal, “students taught in the way that these standards require would have little chance of being admitted to even an average college and would certainly struggle if they did get in.” And the leading expert on K-12 English standards, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, testified in Utah that “… Common Core’s ELA standards fall far below what other English-speaking nations or regions require of college-intending high school graduates.”
Such defects disproportionately hurt students from disadvantaged backgrounds. That’s not rocket science. Wealthier families have the wherewithal to work around Common Core by hiring tutors, giving their children private supplemental courses, or moving them to private schools. Disadvantaged students simply will not receive what they need from the schools. They will fall further and further behind.
Continuation of these bankrupt educational strategies is not rational; it’s a matter of almost religious devotion that this must work because it sounds so good. And it’s almost certain that the zealots in the education establishment will resort to cover-ups before they betray their faith. ACT has already announced it will phase out EXPLORE and PLAN, and the College Board has dumbed down the SAT to align with Common Core. The chances of further embarrassing testing data are thus diminished.
And inevitably, colleges and universities will bow to the pressure and just convert their remedial courses into basic freshman courses, masking these Common Core-trained students’ lack of preparedness for authentic college coursework. Kentucky State University has already announced it’s dropping remedial courses, substituting redesigned credit-bearing courses for students who formerly would have needed remediation. Whether these students can succeed in these new “accelerated” courses, or if the courses will be watered down from the former credit-bearing courses, remains an open question.
This mostly looks like more depressing evidence that the Common Core scheme will require increasing levels of fraud to hide its failure. The students who suffer the most will be the students who face the most obstacles as it is. This is nothing short of a national scandal.