Upon This Lack of Evidence We Base Our Children’s Futures

Where is the evidence to support the rhetoric surrounding the CCSS? This is not data-driven decision making.

This is a decision grasping for data…  Yet this nation will base the future of its entire public education system, and its children, upon this lack of evidence.

– Dr. Christopher Tienken, Seton Hall University, NJ

In the Education Administration Journal, the  AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice (Winter 2011 / Volume 7, No. 4) there’s an article by Dr. Christopher Tienken of Seton Hall University that clearly explains the utter lack of empirical evidence for adopting Common Core.  The full article, “Common Core: An Example of Data-less Decision Making,” is available online, and  following are some highlights:

Although a majority of U.S. states and territories have “made the CCSS the legal law of their land in terms of the mathematics and language arts curricula,” and although “over 170 organizations, education-related and corporations alike, have pledged their support,” still “the evidence presented by its developers, the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), seems lacking,” and research on the topic suggests “the CCSS and those who support them are misguided,” writes Dr. Tienken.


“The standards have not been validated empirically and no metric has been set to monitor the intended and unintended consequences they will have on the education system and children,” he writes.

Tienken and  many other academics have said that Common Core adoption begs this question: “Surely there must be quality data available publically to support the use of the CCSS to transform, standardize, centralize and essentially de-localize America‘s public education system,” and surely there must be more compelling and methodologically strong evidence available not yet shared with the general public or education researchers to support the standardization of one of the most intellectually diverse public education systems in the world. Or, maybe there is not?”

Tienken calls incorrect the notion that American education is lagging behind international competitors and does not believe the myth that academic tests can predict future economic competitiveness.

Unfortunately for proponents of this empirically vapid argument it is well established that a rank on an international test of academic skills and knowledge does not have the power to predict future economic competitiveness and is otherwise meaningless for a host of reasons.”

He observes: “Tax, trade, health, labor, finance, monetary, housing, and natural resource policies, to name a few, drive our economy, not how students rank on the Trends in International Math and Science Study (TIMSS)” or other tests.

Most interestingly, Tienken observes that the U.S. has had a highly  internationally competitive system up until now.  “The U.S. already has one of the highest percentages of people with high school diplomas and college degrees compared to any other country and we had the greatest number of 15 year-old students in the world score at the highest levels on the 2006 PISA science test (OECD, 2008; OECD, 2009; United Nations, 2010). We produce more researchers and scientists and qualified engineers than our economy can employ, have even more in the pipeline, and we are one of the most economically competitive nations on the globe (Gereffi & Wadhwa, 2005; Lowell, et al., 2009; Council on Competitiveness, 2007; World Economic Forum, 2010).

Tienken calls Common Core “a decision in search of data” ultimately amounting to “nothing more than snake oil.”  He is correct.  The burden of proof is on the proponents to show that this system is a good one.

He writes: “Where is the evidence to support the rhetoric surrounding the CCSS? This is not data-driven decision making. This is a decision grasping for data…  Yet this nation will base the future of its entire public education system, and its children, upon this lack of evidence. Many of America‘s education associations already pledged support for the idea and have made the CCSS major parts of their national conferences and the programs they sell to schools.

This seems like the ultimate in anti-intellectual behavior coming from what claim to be intellectual organizations now acting like charlatans by vending products to their members based on an untested idea and parroting false claims of standards efficacy.”

Further, Dr. Tienken reasons:

“Where is the evidence that national curriculum standards will cause American students to score at the top of international tests or make them more competitive? Some point to the fact that many of the countries that outrank the U.S. have national, standardized curricula. My reply is there are also nations like Canada, Australia, Germany, and Switzerland that have very strong economies, rank higher than the U.S. on international tests of mathematics and science consistently, and do not have a mandated, standardized set of national curriculum standards.”

Lastly, Dr. Tienken asks us to look at countries who have nationalized and standardized education, such as China and Singapore:  “China, another behemoth of centralization, is trying desperately to crawl out from under the rock of standardization in terms of curriculum and testing (Zhao, 2009) and the effects of those practices on its workforce. Chinese officials recognize the negative impacts a standardized education system has had on intellectual creativity. Less than 10% of Chinese workers are able to function in multi-national corporations (Zhao, 2009).

I do not know of many Chinese winners of Nobel Prizes in the sciences or in other the intellectual fields. China does not hold many scientific patents and the patents they do hold are of dubious quality (Cyranoski, 2010).

The same holds true for Singapore. Authorities there have tried several times to move the system away from standardization toward creativity. Standardization and testing are so entrenched in Singapore that every attempt to diversify the system has failed, leaving Singapore a country that has high test scores but no creativity. The problem is so widespread that Singapore must import creative talent from other countries”.

According to Dr. Tienken, Common Core is a case of oversimplification.  It is naive to believe that all children would benefit from mastering the same set of skills, or that it would benefit the country in the long run, to mandate sameness.  He observes that Common Core is “an Orwellian policy position that lacks a basic understanding of diversity and developmental psychology. It is a position that eschews science and at its core, believes it is appropriate to force children to fit the system instead of the system adjusting to the needs of the child.”

Oh, how we agree!

Since when do we trust bureaucracies more than we trust individuals to make correct decisions inside a classroom or a school district?  Since when do we agree force children to fit a predetermined system, instead of having a locally controlled, flexible system that can adjust to the needs of a child?

What madness (or money?) has persuaded even our most American-as-apple-pie organizations — even the national PTA, the U.S. Army, the SAT, most textbook companies and many governors– to advocate for Common Core, when there never was a real shred of valid evidence upon which to base this country-changing decision?

6 thoughts on “Upon This Lack of Evidence We Base Our Children’s Futures”

  1. Ms. Swasey,

    It is not as bad as you make it out to be. The CC is about standards, not about curriculum. Please don’t confuse the two. Utah school boards and districts have the option to set the curriculum and teaching methods. Utah decides. So we will not be like China. Here in Utah, creativity still has a chance to strive with the flexibility built into CC.

    The standards just set the goal as to where students need to be when they enter college.

    We already have an educational system that fosters creativity. That is why the US is at the top in Science and Technology. We just want to make sure more students are prepared for college and US continues to be at the top in today’s global economy.

    We elect representatives who select bureaucrats who run agencies to run the governmental machinery. Works in other areas and there is no reason that it should not work in education.

    We would have a logjam if individuals were asked to make decisions for all agency choices. If we feel that strongly about something, we can always have a ballot initiative. Just like we had one to defeat the misguided school voucher issue.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    You are right. It’s not as bad as Professor Tienken and I make it out to be. It’s actually worse. But thanks for writing. If you find there actually is some empirical evidence that Common Core will prepare students better for college than other standards would, I’d like to see it. The state school board has told me in writing that there is no such evidence.

    Standards drive curriculum and tests, so it’s not ultimately helpful to separate the goals of the two. And sadly, the Common Core IS about curriculum, and not just about standards, anyway.

    The nationally-aligned TESTS drive the writing of the curriculum, and will increasingly narrow the flexibility teachers once had, and make that “flexible 15%” that the federal government has allowed states to add to Common Core, quite meaningless. There is a new philosophical monopoly in American textbook companies right now that follows this pied piper of “common core is good” despite the lack of evidence to support the idea; because of the popularity of the tune, virtually every company has tossed the classically written math and English texts to reprint and re-align with Common Core. As well, David Coleman, who designed the ELA standards, is now College Board president and is aligning the SAT to Common Core. There goes any college’s meaningful flexibility. It really is a stranglehold on American education and autonomy, unless we fight it and demand alternatives.

    You might not be aware that the test writing companies are already writing model curriculum. Also, please watch the Bates speech on the Youtube video: http://youtu.be/xtTK_6VKpf4 –where Bill Gates speaks about the goal to align all standards, tests, and curriculum as one. Gates, the 2nd richest man on earth and the main funder of all things common core, has partnered with Pearson, the largest education sales company on earth, and they are writing common core curriculum right now. Gates says, “We’ll only know this effort has succeeded when the curriculum and tests are aligned to these standards.” He also says, “for the first time, there will be a large, uniform base of customers” at about minute 1:02.

    The idea that Common Core better prepares our kids for college is at best, highly controversial. At worst, it’s a lie. As Professor Tienken observes in the article cited above, if these standards are truly going to do the good things they claim they can do, just show us some evidence, please.

    We all care about education. We all care about children. We all (I hope) care about retaining a local voice and local, representative control.

    My point is this: ideas must be free. Ideas should never– no matter how good they sound, and no matter how many organizations or individuals feel that the ideas are that good– be set in the concrete of irreversible governance. Yet “irreversible reform” is the exact phrase used by the CEA of Pearson company to describe what he calls “making sure it can never go back to how it was.” I’m sorry, but nothing is so good that I would want to give up the power to alter it.

    And the copyrighted Common Core standards have no amendment process. Not even my elected school board member or legislative representative can alter a single strand of the standards.

    Is that okay with you?

  3. Ms Swasey,

    The Common Core is not as radical as everyone here is thinking it to be. Other than a few experts feeling that it is not a good idea or saying that it is not as good as it can be, there is no reason to fear that it will fail for sure. Most qualified people in the field of Education feel it is worth a try. 45 states signed on to state their approval. It can’t be just money motivating all of them.

    About there being no amendment process… there is nothing set in stone. States can drop out if they want. They can choose their methods. They can choose their tests. There is no reason for the opponents to fear the worst.

    Yes it is not perfect. But at the risk of sounding cliched, we can’t let Perfect be the enemy of Good. Talk to any freshman college teacher. They will tell you that most of our kids are already in trouble and run the risk of dropping out of college because they are unprepared for the rigor of college.

    Yes, change is hard but in spite of the opponents saying so, there is no overwhelming evidence that it will fail. The oft quoted dissenting experts are Dr. Stotsky, Dr. Milgram and a few teachers here and there. You talk in person to some of these opposing teachers and the opposing parents in detail, you realize that more than the academic issues, they are much more worried about the effect of social justice and environmental issues being taught that might clash with their personal beliefs.

    There is no reason for us to be so vehemently distrustful of CC. It is an attempt to make things better. We have had CC in schools since 2010. I have seen it at work and while I wish the textbooks had more examples, it has been a good learning experience for my own kids and the kids I have helped with tutoring in their school. All the school teachers I talked to like the new CC curriculum but at the same time are looking to change a few things in the coming years. The pressure to teach to the test has been there even before CC came along. CC is not going to change that.

    The Utah state board has assured the public repeatedly about the following issues. Here is an excerpt from their resource guide. ( http://www.schools.utah.gov/core/Utah-Core-Standards/CommonCoreResourceGuide.aspx )
    On page 97, it has a reply to Oak Norton’s concern about there not being enough math experts on the development committee.

    The state seems to have gone to great lengths to address as many concerns as possible that were raised by questions to the board or the legislators. The opponents can always say that the state is lying but I see no reason or evidence to think that. The state of Utah has done a good job of being engaged and looking out for it’s citizens so far.

    Excerpt from page 11.
    “The Common Core Standards:
    -Were not developed or mandated by the federal government.
    -Are not federal or national standards.
    -May be withdrawn from adoption or changed by the State Board at any time.
    -Were not obligatory because of Utah’s Race to the Top application.
    -Are not under the control or manipulation of special interest groups.”

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    I taught English, including remedial English, at Utah Valley University for two years, so I do realize that there are some seriously ill-prepared students entering college. I don’t disagree that positive change in education is needed. I simply disagree that Common Core is the solution.

    What will solve our many educational weaknesses? Individual teachers. Individual parents. Individual principals and school board members making a heart-motivated difference. Actual positive changes are never going to come from D.C.-based mandates (whether federal or CCSSO/NGA based). They come from people’s hearts.

    Tell me if I get this right; I’m trying to restate your position:

    You feel it is acceptable to experiment with the children in every public school in 45+ states because it might improve college readiness for some. You feel it is acceptable that Common Core has no amendment process and no voice of representation for us because our state could technically drop out at some point. You believe that it is realistic that Utah could drop out later, if and when this experiment fails, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars implementing these tests, teacher retrainings, and technologies to match Common Core. (To me, that’s like saying we could drop out of the federal highway system; not very likely with all the interweavings.)

    So this is my position:

    I am suggesting that experimentation on a national scale is unwise. I am suggesting that Utah should follow Indiana’s lead, and take a one year “time out” from Common Core to fully vet and assess Common Core before continuing down the expensive path of implementation. I am suggesting that all of us need to spend a lot more time studying this issue– not studying the many unreferenced, undocumented pamphlets and speeches from the U.S.O.E., although they are a good place to start, but studying the binding documents themselves.

    These include:

    The Race to the Top Grant Application
    The No Child Left Behind Waiver
    The State Longitudinal Database System Grant
    The lawsuit against the Department of Education
    The report entitled “For Each And Every Child” from the Equity and Excellence Commission
    The Cooperative Agreements between the Dept. of Education and the testing consortia
    The requirements of the federal reviews of Common Core tests
    The exit process for those states dropping out of the testing consortia
    The speeches of Secretary Arne Duncan on education
    The speeches of President Obama on education
    The speeches of CEA of Pearson, Sir Michael Barber
    The speeches of the main funder of Common Core, Bill Gates
    The Dept. of Ed report: Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perserverance
    The federal websites such as the National Data Collection Model, the Data Quality Campaign, the EdFacts Exchange and the Common Education Data Standards sites because three of these four ask for personally identifiable information from state databases.
    The contract that Utah has signed with the American Institutes for Research (if we can a copy from the USOE; these other documents are online)

    I am suggesting that the state is definitely misleading a lot of people on their “Excerpt from page 11.”
    –Maybe not deliberately. Maybe they don’t know. But it’s misleading, all the same.

    I will explain, line by line.

    1 – “Were not developed or mandated by the federal government.”

    Secretary Duncan said that national standards were Obama’s idea and that Obama “called on” states to develop national standards.

    See Secretary Duncan’s 2010 speech: “In March of 2009, President Obama called on the nation’s governors and state school chiefs to develop standards and assessments… Virtually everyone thought the president was dreaming. But today, 37 states and the District of Columbia have already chosen to adopt… Common Core… Not studying it, not thinking about it, not issuing a white paper—they have actually done it.”

    Still, this line –that the feds didn’t develop the standards— was originally true but is currently an irrelevant point. The feds have definitely taken over the testing portion (the clincher) of the Common Core. They’ve put a 15% cap on adding anything locally, which will be enforced by the narrowing and competitive aspects of all common core aligned tests. Before the feds put the tests in place and the cap on the standards, the CCSSO/NGA developed and copyrighted the standards. These are not elected groups. Their meetings are behind closed doors. They have no voter accountability, so in some ways they are more powerful than actual governmental groups, which have accountability to Congress or local voters.

    The federal government did pay for the majority of the national testing systems, did give money for states to apply for the RTTT grant (which asked states to adopt Common Core as a way to get more points in the competitive grant); did offer RTTT money to individual districts if their states turned the money down, and have now created federal review boards for the national tests. The testing consortia are writing model curriculum as we speak. So you cannot honestly say that it’s not turned into a federal program nor that it’s not morphing into a one-size-only curriculum.

    2 -“Are not federal or national standards.”
    There are only a small handful of states who are free from Common Core. Nobody’s free from the effects of the SAT and ACT which have or will be aligned to Common Core. Nobody’s free from the effects of the textbook monopoly. And nobody’s free from the pressure of additional federal grants which will come as RTTT did, only to those who walk the line that the feds are asking states to “voluntarily” walk.

    3 -“May be withdrawn from adoption or changed by the State Board at any time.”
    It is true that we can withdraw from Common Core. Let’s do it!
    It is not true that the board can change them at any time. There’s a copyright. We have to get permission from the NGA/CCSSO to alter standards. And even then, we are told we cannot delete anything. And we are told we may only add up to 15%. By remaining in the Common Core-aligned testing system, we will not likely teach anything we add, such as cursive. Why? Teachers and schools will be graded severely, based on the national tests. There will be more pressure than there has ever been to teach to the test. And the test won’t reflect any of the 15% if we added it.

    And guess what? We need to add WAY more than 15% in my opinion. We need to alter so many things. Give us back classic literature for high school seniors– not just 30%! Give us back early introduction to basic math algorithms. Vital knowledge that should be mastered in 4th grade is being suggested in 7th, currently. That is no small thing– that is not just 15%.

    4 ” -Were not obligatory because of Utah’s Race to the Top application.”

    True, but oh, so misleading. Common Core was never obligatory, but it was as coerced as any bribe!

    The whole Race to the Top grant was on a points system from the federal Dept of Ed. When Utah agreed to adopt Common Core in RTTT, our grant application gained many points. Also, having a student-tracking database (SLDS System) gave us points. (We had one; the federal Dept of Ed had given us $9.6 million to do it, and so we built it.) Adopting Common Core also gave us big points.

    Utah was cash-strapped and desperate; we agreed to these abominable strings for money. At that time, our leaders did not understand what they were actually getting us into. I am sure of that. They didn’t think it would be a dramatic change. They just wanted to get that money for Utah. If you listen to the school board minutes (public record, easily available to anyone) you will hear them speaking about the grant, the money, the application– but nothing ever was said by the board about the wonderful standards and how much they would change Utah’s current system for the better. Nothing. It truly was a Race to the Money. Without asking even the simple questions a car buyer asks a car seller. There was so much unearned trust. And no kicking the tires.

    5 – “Are not under the control or manipulation of special interest groups.”

    Now this one is a flat out lie. The control and manipulation is monstrous and it totally circumvents the American voter. It begins with Bill Gates, the second richest man on earth, who has partnered with Pearson, (the very largest education sales company on earth) and has spent (by Gates’ own admission in a NYT interview) $5 BILLION on his version of what education reform should be.

    That might sound like nice philanthropy to you, but it sounds like wealth having way too much political influence as lobbying, to me. Gates owns Microsoft; he stands to make billions when things go exactly his way with the one-size-fits-all education system.

    Gates granted many millions to fund the CCSSO as they were developing the standards. He paid the national PTA to advocate for the standards. He owns Education Week magazine, so he can control opinion makers in the educational field. He’s given grants to many, many universities, including Harvard, for good press on Common Core; now the Harvard Education newsletter is always pro-common core while professors at other universities, untouched by the golden finger of Gates, honestly find sobering threats in the Common Core standards. (Read Thomas Newkirk of the University of New Hampshire; read William Mathis of the University of Colorado; read Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon; Bill Evers of Stanford University’s Hoover Institute; it’s not just Dr. Stotsky and Dr. Milgram and Ze’ev Wurman and Christopher Tienken who have serious concerns with the academics of Common Core.)

    Gates has also funded the Manhattan Institute, Fordham Institute, and many other “thinktanks” which makes me not trust what they say about Common Core. The think tanks who do not accept Gates’ money, who have thoroughly researched Common Core, reject the whole ball of wax. These include the Heritage Foundation, Pioneer Institute, Sutherland Institute, Cato Institute, Truth in American Education, the American Principles Project, and others.

    If you look at the loudest proponents of Common Core, you can almost always find Gates has paid them, or has paid those who have paid those who have paid them.

    Lastly, let me say this. There ARE good things about the common core standards. For every teacher who comes to us with disasterous stories about common core (Margaret Wilkin, Susan Wilcox, David Cox, Kris Nielsen, Gerald Conti, to name a few) — there are teachers who say they love teaching the common core. I don’t disbelieve them. There is good and bad in everything. But it troubles me that most of the teachers who tell me they dislike it, say so in whispers or use anonymous names in their emails. They are afraid to dissent. They are afraid of this top-down system. This is un-American. We need the freedom to debate. We need the freedom to argue standards now and forever. Common Core is shutting us up. Competing alternatives and dissenting voices or fresh, new alternatives are being muffled by the marching drum that seems to have so few opponents.

    Even if these standards weren’t experimental– even if they were high quality, proven standards that didn’t slow math down, that didn’t diminish classic literature, that didn’t frown on cursive– I would still oppose them because I believe in local control. I don’t want a closed-door meeting in D.C. to determine what college and career readiness means in my professional opinion.

    I believe in the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. I believe in G.E.P.A. law which specifies that the federal government is forbidden from management of state educational systems.

    I believe that Common Core is more than standards; it’s a whole “reform” package that deforms our liberties while it claims to improve education.

    1. Ms Swasey,

      Thank you for the very well thought out and detailed post. You are passionate about preserving liberties and preserving local control. I am passionate about trying something new that will take education in a new direction in the rapidly changing and globalized work environment. This is one of the issues where I feel considering out-of-state thoughts and standards is good for education, in the true spirit of academic / scholarly pursuit.

      Parents and churches will continue to play a vital role in the values education of children but the child’s critical thinking should allow them put everything they learn at home and school together so they can form their own opinions going forward. I may be idealistic but I would like to go forward being optimistically hopeful.

  5. They gist of this posted debate is this:
    Proponents believe that supporting these standards in no way obligates us to keeping them, or to any other parts of the Common Core reform package which includes testing and aligned curriculum.

    Opponents believe that the fact that the No Child Left Behind waivers used by the federal government to implement the standards violated 3 federal laws and bypassed congress. They argue that this is reason enough to oppose the standards and vet the entire education reform agenda.

    I concur with the latter. We should slow the process down, allow citizens due process in this debate and make sure that constitutional principles are withheld so that the proponents argument can actually be true. If we’ve lost our citizen representation in this process, than that is proof enough that we are on a slippery slope to loss of local control over education.

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