From Journal of Scholarship and Practice. American
Association of School Administrators [AASA], Winter 2011, Volume 7,
No. 4, pp. 3-18. See http://www.aasa.org/jsp.aspx [Scroll down to
Common Core State Standards: An Example of Data-less Decision
By Christopher H. Tienken [Editor [AASA Journal of Scholarship
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative continues to move
forward. As of October 2010, 37 states and territories made the CCSS
the legal law of their land in terms of the mathematics and language
arts curricula used in their public schools.
Over 170 organizations, education-related and corporations alike, have
pledged their support to the initiative. Yet the evidence presented by
its developers, the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council
of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), seems lacking compared to the
independent reviews and the available research on the topic that
suggest the CCSS and those who support them are misguided.
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 (Mathis, 2010). Yet
most of the nation's governors, state education leaders, and many
education organizations remain committed to the initiative.
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?
A Bankrupt Argument
As colleagues and I presented previously (Tienken & Canton,
2010; Tienken & Zhao, 2010), the major arguments made by
proponents in favor of the CCSS collapse under a review of the
empirical literature: (a) America's children are "lagging"
behind international peers in terms of academic achievement, and (b)
the economic vibrancy and future of the United States relies upon
American students outranking their global peers on international tests
of academic achievement because of the mythical relationship between
ranks on those tests and a country's economic competitiveness.
The persuasive, and to this point, effective argument made by
proponents combines the classic combination of fear and falsehoods.
The Roman Poet Seneca wrote, "We are more often frightened than
hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than reality" and in
this case he was correct.
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 (Baker, 2007; Bracey, 2009; Tienken, 2008).
However, fortunately for proponents it seems as if some policy makers,
education leaders and those who prepare them, and the major education
associations and organizations that penned their support for the CCSS
did not read the evidence refuting the argument or they did not
understand it. The contention that a test result can influence the
future economic prowess of a country like the United States (U.S.) or
any of the G20 nations represents an unbelievable suspension of logic
The fact is China and its continued manipulation of its currency, the
Yuan, and iron-fisted control of its labor pool, has a greater effect
on our economic strength than if every American child scored at the
top of every international test, the SAT, the ACT, the GRE, or the
According to Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman, China's
undervaluation of its currency cost the U.S. almost 1 million jobs and
over 200 billion dollars in lost economic growth and 1.5% of its gross
domestic product last year (The Washington Times, 2010). Economic
strength of the G20 countries relies more on policy, than education
achievement. 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 the Programme for International Student Assessment
To believe otherwise is like believing in the tooth-fairy. 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).
19th Century Skills
The vendors of the CCSS claim that the standards address critical
skills necessary to compete in the 21st century. If so, why do they
repackage 19th century ideas and skills? We only need to look at the
mid 1800's and the Lancasterian Method used in London and some of
America's cities and the Quincy, Massachusetts schools to see how
the idea of standardization will play out. It did not work then and it
will not work now.
The language arts and mathematics curriculum sequences embedded
in the standards are nothing more than rehashed versions of the
recommendations from the Committee of Ten in 1893 and the Committee of
15 in1895; hardly 21st Century innovations.
The standards do little to promote global literacy through
cultural collaboration and cooperation. They do not stress
socially-conscious problem-solving or strategizing. In fact, a
conscious is not even necessary because there is not any authentic,
critical thinking in the standards. They are inert, sterile, socially
static, and in stark contrast to what the United States Council on
Competitiveness called for:
At the beginning of the 21st century, America stands at the dawn
of a conceptual economy in which insight, imagination and ingenuity
determine competitive advantage and value creation. To succeed in this
hyper-competitive, fast-paced global economy, we cannot, nor should we
want to, compete on low wages, commodity products, standard services,
and routine science and technology development. As other nations build
sophisticated technical capabilities, excellence in science and
technology alone will not ensure success (p. 10).
The results from the 2010 Global Chief Executive Study
conducted by the IMB Corporation made several recommendations that
call into question the use of 19th century curriculum standards to
address 21st century issues.
After analyzing data from interviews with 1,500 of the worlds CEO's
the authors stated that to remain competitive in the global economies
CEO's and their employees must:
(a) use creative leadership strategies;
(b) collaborate and cooperate globally amongst themselves and with
their customer bases;
(c) differentiate their responses, products, and services to
"build operating dexterity" (p.51); and
(d) be able to use complexity to a strategic advantage.
The vendors of the CCSS have a problem: They have no data that
demonstrates the validity of the standards as a vehicle to build 21st
century skills nor as a means to achieve the things the business
leaders say will be needed to operate in a diverse global environment.
The CCSS are stuck in a time warp. A curricular time machine, if you
will, set to 1858.
School administrators are encouraged to make decisions based on data.
The word data appears 230 times in the No Child Left Behind Act (No
Child Left Behind [NCLB PL 107-110], 2002). The websites of every
state education agency include references to data-driven decision
Many school districts or schools have "data committees"
that make school-wide decisions based on some type of data. 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. The official website
for the CCSS claims to provide such evidence. The site alleges that
the standards are ?evidence based? and lists two homegrown documents
to "prove" it: Myths vs Facts (NGA, 2010) and the
Joint International Benchmarking Report (NGA, 2008).
The Myths document presents claims that the standards have
"made use of a large and growing body of knowledge" (p. 3).
Knowledge derives in part from carefully controlled scientific
experiments and observations so one would expect to find references to
high quality empirical research to support the standards.
When I reviewed that large and growing body of knowledge? offered
by the NGA, I found that it was not large, and in fact built mostly on
one report, Benchmarking for Success, created by the NGA and
the CCSSO, the same groups that created these standards; Hardly
The Benchmarking report has over 135 end notes, some of
which are repetitive references. Only four of the cited pieces of
evidence could be considered empirical studies related directly to the
topic of national standards and student achievement.
The remaining citations were newspaper stories, armchair magazine
articles, op-ed pieces, book chapters, notes from telephone
interviews, and several tangential studies.
Many of the citations were linked to a small group of standardization
advocates and did not represent the larger body of empirical thought
on the topic.
The Joint International Benchmarking Report, the primary source
of evidence provided by the NGA and CCSSO, draws most of its
conclusions from one report, The Role of Cognitive Skills in
Economic Development (Hanushek & Woessmann, 2008). The use of
that report is troubling because it has several fatal flaws in its
logic and methodology.
Questioning the Evidence
The Role of Cognitive Skills report is the primary piece
of evidence used by the National Governors Association and the Council
of Chief State School Officers to support their claim that achievement
on an international test causes future economic growth and that
national standards will improve international test scores for U.S.
The report is methodologically and logically flawed on several levels.
First, the basis of the argument supported in the Role report
about a cause and effect relationship between standardized test
results and national economic growth is derived from a different, yet
unsophisticated economic argument that an individual's grades in
school and performance on standardized tests predict his or her
economic growth later in life. That sounds logical at first, but the
cause and effect slight-of-hand associated with that logic and the
leap from individual effects to national effects of grades, test
scores, and rankings are untenable.
Most economists understand that the variables that drive individual
income growth cannot be applied to an entire national economy. They
are two different units of analysis; two different scales if you will.
It would be like claiming that because a certain teaching method was
effective with one student in a very small school in Maryland that we
should make national education policy for all students in all states
based on the results of that one method, with one student, in one
small school (See Baker, 2007 & 2010 for more complete economic
Connecting an individual's education achievement on a
standardized test to a nation's economic future is not empirically
or logically acceptable and using that mythical connection for
large-scale policymaking is civically reckless. When education leaders
and those who prepare them parrot that argument they actually provide
credence to that anti-intellectual myth. When school administrators
implement programs and policies built on those faulty arguments, they
commit education malpractice.
When trying to extricate the facts from fiction in terms of the
relationship between education and economic strength at the global
level, it is important to understand that not all economies are
created equal (Baker, 2007, 2010; Rameriz, Luo, Schofer, & Meyer,
2006; Tienken, 2008).
It is not methodologically correct to include every country from
the TIMSS or PISA testing samples into the same economic or education
pool. The size of the economy matters. Correlations between test
rankings on international tests and economic strength can be
statistically significant and moderately strong when all the small or
weak economies like Poland, Hungary and the Slovak Republic remain in
the sample with the G20 countries. Whereas the relationship between
international test ranks and economic strength can be non-existent or
even negative when only the G14 or G20 economies, the strongest
economies in the world, form the sample (Tienken, 2008).
The authors of The Role of Cognitive Skills (Hanushek &
Woessmann, 2008) do not cluster the samples to compare "apples to
apples," and they simply place all the countries in the same
analysis pot and act as if size does not matter. Of course there is a
positive relationship between rankings on international tests and
economic growth when one includes 18 countries with weak or collapsing
economies but who have international test rankings above those of the
The inclusion of very small economies with very large ones is
statistically deceptive and actually demonstrates that rankings do not
predict economic success. To think that Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, or
Hungary, all countries that outscored the U.S. in math on the 2006
PISA test, will ever eclipse the U.S. in economic prowess based on its
education output on international tests defies reality.
Nations with strong economies (e.g. the G20) demonstrate a weaker
relationship between increases in education attainment (e.g., output
on international tests, percentage of population with at least a BA
degree) and economic growth.
Japan provides an example of this phenomenon. Japan's stock market,
the Nikkei 225 Average, closed at a high of 38,915 points on
December 31, 1989 and on October 15, 2010 it closed at 9,500 points,
approximately 75% lower, but Japan ranked in the Top 10 on
international tests of mathematics since the 1980's and has always
ranked higher than the U.S. on such tests. Yet Japan's stock market
and its economy have been in shambles for almost two decades. They
have national curriculum standards and testing, and have for over 30
years. Japanese students outrank students from most other nations on
math and science tests.
In contrast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 1,200 points for
the first time, on April 26, 1983, the day A Nation At Risk
(National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) was released.
The Dow closed at 11,691 points on January 4, 2011, over a ten-fold
increase. The U.S. consistently outranks Japan on the World Economic
Forum's Growth Competitiveness Index.
So I am still wondering, where is the connection? (See Tienken,
Maybe Japan's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) benefitted from the
high rankings on international tests more so than the U.S.? Since 1984
the GDP of Japan and the U.S. have grown at basically the same rates.
The U.S. posted third-quarter GDP in 2010 that was approximately 3.74
times larger than in 1984 whereas Japan's 2010 third-quarter GDP was
3.48 times larger than in 1984. Advantage U.S. regardless of what some
call poor international test rankings. The U.S. had approximately
two-times the number of 15 year-old students who scored at the top
levels of the 2006 PISA science test compared to Japan. The U.S.
accounted for 25% of the top scoring students in the world on that
test even though the U.S. did not outrank Japan overall.
The education system needs the economy more than the economy
needs the education system in the G20 nations. Competitive, nimble,
and expanding labor markets in countries with strong economies drive
the citizenry to seek higher levels of education. This was known over
50 years ago when Harbison and Myers (1956) noted, "Education is
both the seed and flower of economic development." (p.xi).
Somehow those who continue to proffer the mythical relationships
between international test rankings and economics and sell the idea of
centralized curricular and knowledge standardization have not yet
discovered this. Neither have those who continue to believe the worn
out ideas and slogans about international test ranks and nationalized
Nations functioning at high levels economic growth and education
attainment require larger changes in the education levels of a
majority of the citizenry to have a statistically significant
influence on the economy (the ceiling effect). But they need strong
economies to stimulate the population to continue their education.
Rameriz, Luo, Schofer, & Meyer (2006) found that, "School
achievement levels appear to have a greater influence on economic
growth in countries with lower levels of enrollment" (p.14).
Those are countries like Chad, Honduras, and Sudan.
The U.S. has ranked either first or second out of 139 nations on the
World Economic Forum's (2010) Global Competitiveness Index
(GCI) eight out of the last 10 years and never ranked below sixth
place during that period, regardless of results on international
assessments and without adopting national curriculum standards.
No other country has ranked better consistently on the GCI. The U.S.
workforce is one of the most productive in the world and best
educated. Over 70% of recent high school graduates were enrolled in
colleges and universities in 2009 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010).
Approximately 30% of U.S. adults between ages 25-34 years-old have at
least a bachelor's degree. Only six other industrialized nations
have a higher percentage of their population holding at least a
bachelor's degree (OECD, 2009) but their economies pale in
comparison to the U.S.
The U.S. leads the world in what are known as utility patents or
patents for innovations. In 2009, the U.S. was granted 95,037 patents
whereas Japan, the country with the next greatest number, was granted
The countries of world combined were granted only 96,896 such patents
(U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, 2010). The U.S is home to over 28%
of the patents granted globally (resident patents); the largest
percentage of any country. Japan is second with 20%. The U.S. is
second behind Japan for the number of Trademarks, 1.7 million versus
1.4 million.(World Intellectual Property Organization, 2010).
The World Economic Forum (2010) stated that the U.S. has an
outstanding university system. It is home to 11 out of the top 15
universities in the world; the United Kingdom is next with three out
of 15 (The Times Higher Education, 2010). It seems illogical that the
country with the best university system in the world can have a
failing PK-12 education system that needs to be placed under
centralized curricular control.
The World Economic Forum attributed the fall of the U.S. from second
place to sixth place on the 2010-2011 GCI in large part to increased
weakness in auditing and financial reporting standards and a lack of
corporate ethics. The overall trust in the U.S. market sophistication
has dropped from ninth in the world to 31st place during the last two
years due to the fact that the global economic meltdown was created by
the U.S. financial markets and vended across the globe.
Conspicuously missing from the list of reasons for the U.S. drop in
competitiveness was the quality of its education system because
education does not drive the U.S. economy (World Economic Forum,
2010). Test rankings simply do not correlate to economic strength when
one compares apples to apples. Baker (2010) found a -.48 correlation
between a country's rank on the First International Mathematics
Study (FIMS) in 1964 and its Purchasing Power Parity Gross Domestic
Product (PPP-GDP). Rameriz et al., (2006) found very weak positive
relationships ranging from .048 to .142 and those positive
relationships were mainly for small and weak economies - size still
Tienken (2008) found no statistically significant relationships
between the Top 22 performing economies in the world and their ranks
on international tests of math and science going back to the FIMS.
Salzman and Lowell (2008) documented that 90% of the variance in test
scores on the PISA is explained by factors within countries, not
between countries. Why
do we focus on a solution that at best will provide only up to a
A Decision in Search of Data
Where is the evidence to support the rhetoric surrounding the CCSS?
This is not data-driven decision making. This is a decision grasping
The evidence offered by the NGA and CCSSO to make the case for a cause
and effect relationship, or any significant relationship for that
matter, between test result ranking, economics, and the need for
national curriculum standards (and eventually national testing)
amounts to nothing more than snake oil.
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.
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
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
McCluskey (2010) reported that for the 27 nations with complete
data sets that outranked the U.S. on the 2006 PISA science test, 10 of
those nations did not have national standards whereas 12 of the 28
nations that ranked lower than the U.S. had national standards. The
same pattern of mixed results held true for the 2007 Grade 8 TIMSS
mathematics results. Although the eight countries that outranked the
U.S. on that test had national standards so did 33 of the 39 countries
that ranked lower (McCluskey, 2010). The students from the majority of
nations with national standards ranked lower than the U.S. students.
The same pattern held true for the TIMSS science assessment. More
countries with national standards underperformed the U.S. than did
countries without national standards.
Perhaps there is another explanation for scoring high on international
tests other than standardized national curriculum standards.
I noticed that every industrialized country, 24/24, that outscored the
U.S. on the 2006 PISA mathematics test of 15 year-olds has some form
of universal healthcare system for at least mothers and children,
whereas the U.S. and 40% of the countries that scored lower than U.S.
students do not (World Health Organization, 2010).
Most of those countries that outscored the U.S. also have lower child
mortality rates and most have longer overall life expectancies than
the U.S. (CIA, 2010). Only Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary have shorter
life expectancies and still outscore the U.S. on international tests.
Many of the countries that outscore the U.S. also have comprehensive
fair housing policies.
Housing policy has been shown to be a stronger intervention for
increasing test scores than nationalizing curriculum (Schwartz,
Perhaps it's not universal curriculum standards that make the
difference. Maybe it's a comprehensive social system that provides a
quality social safety net for children and mothers that has the
greatest influence on ultimate education outcomes.
The data point in that direction. Although this would not qualify
as empirical argument, it does highlight some interesting
relationships and also is just as strong as the evidence offered to
support the standards, maybe stronger.
Centralized Curriculum Planning
The U.S. has a population of over 300 million and is more ethnically,
religiously, and racially diverse than many of the smaller nations
that outrank it on international tests. The U.S. has the third largest
population in the world behind China and India and it has the largest
population of any country that participated in the TIMSS and PISA
testing. Japan ranks 10th in population and the other countries that
have larger populations than Japan did not participate in the
TIMSS/PISA or are not in the G20 set of nations.
Size matters because size brings complexity. Finland, the country that
usually ranks in the top five on international tests has 5.5 million
people. In the U.S. we call that Wisconsin.
In fact, the top six scoring nations on the PISA 2006 math test
have a combined population of only 240 million people.
Singapore, another country commonly cited as one the U.S. should
emulate in terms of mathematics and science curriculum and testing has
only 4.8 million people, a little more than half that of New
To think that every student in this country should be made to
learn the same thing is illogical-it lacks face validity. The U.S.
is just too large and too diverse to engage in such folly. We should
have learned from the Soviet Union that central planning does not work
in the long-run. The diversity of the U.S. is one of its greatest
strength. The U.S. economy is able to adapt to change because of the
skill diversity of the work force.
The intellectual, creative, and cultural diversity of the U.S.
workforce allows it to be nimble and adapt quickly to changes in the
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
The same holds true for Singapore. Authorities there have tried
several times to move the system away from standardization toward
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 (Tan, 2010).
It is terribly naïve to think that all children should be made to
master the same set of academic skills and knowledge and that it would
actually benefit them or a country in the long run to do so.
It 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
It is fundamentally un-child centered and it is an overly simplistic
proposal for such a complex nation. Standardization is a Pollyanna
approach to policy-making.
One cannot separate curriculum from culture, emotions, personal
backgrounds, life experiences, prior knowledge, home environment or
stages of cognitive and social development.
Cognitive Development Theory (Piaget, 1963; 1967; Vygotsky, 1978),
Ecological Systems Theory (Bronfenbrenner and Evans, 2000), and
Socio-cultural Theory (Vygotsky, 1986), or Maslow's Hierarchy of
Needs (1954) among others, suggests that we cannot pretend curriculum
operates in a vacuum apart from other factors.
Standardization assumes that children are not active constructors
of meaning that bring prior knowledge and experience to the learning
situation. It assumes that all students start at the same academic
place with the same advantages and set of skills and that they will
finish with the same results. Those assumptions seem more like a fairy
tale than evidence-based decision making.
So what does the research suggest in terms of centralized curriculum
planning? Wang, Haertel, and Walberg (1993) found that curriculum has
the greatest influence on student achievement when it is a proximal
variable in the education process. They found that the closer to the
student that the curriculum is designed, deliberated, and created, the
greater influence it has on learning.
This means curriculum should be largely a local endeavor. When
curriculum is treated as a distal variable, something that occurs
distant from the student, handed down from on-high, as is the case
with the CCSS, it has a much weaker influence.
National policy mandates have the weakest influence of all on student
learning, because like the CCSS, they are distal to the actual
learning process (Wang, Haertel, and Walberg 1993).
Recently, Tramaglini (2010) found similar results in a study of
the 120 New Jersey high schools that serve the state's poorest
communities. Tramaglini found that the more proximal the curriculum
development process, the better the students performed on the
state's high school exit exam. Reed (2010) reported that universal
curriculum standards do not close the achievement gap, the achievement
gap is not a product of an "expectations gap" (p. 38) via
differing standards for different types of students, and that local
school contexts explain more of the achievement gap than universal
Alexander's (2002) study of course taking pattern before and
after the introduction of New York's regent standards revealed that
local contexts such as school size and demographics accounted for most
of the disparity in course taking, and universal curriculum
requirements did little to overcome that after their initial
implementation. Local context, involvement and input matters
There are also seminal works from education's history that point to
importance of curriculum as a proximal variable. Of course we have the
mountains of curricular knowledge created by Francis Parker, John
Dewey, Horace Mann, Ralph Tyler, Boyd Bode, the Harap Committee, and
Hilda Taba to name just a few.
But we have large studies from others as well. The landmark Eight-Year
Study demonstrated that curriculum can be an entirely locally
developed project and still produce better results than traditional
curricular programs (Aikin, 1942).
In fact, the experiment demonstrated that the less standardized, more
diverse, locally developed and designed the programs (based on
demonstrated research and theories of learning), the better the
students did in college academically, socially, and civically compared
their traditionally prepared peers.
Results from several well-known earlier studies demonstrated that
there is not "one best curriculum path" for students in high
school and standardized curricula sequences are not necessary to
achieve superior results in elementary and high schools (Collings &
Kilpatrick, 1929; Jersild, Thorndike, & Goldman, 1941; Thorndike,
1924; Wrightstone, Rechetnick, McCall, & Loftus, 1939;
The Road to Nowhere
We have been down the road of standardized curriculum and that
road is a dead end in terms of ensuring that more children learn more.
The results from the "college prep for all" initiatives in
Chicago beginning in 1997, New York State in 2001, Texas in 2003, and
mandated use of universal state standards via the No Child Left Behind
Act of 2002 have done little to close the achievement gap, or the
social/economic gaps that exist in this country (Allensworth, Takako,
Montgomery, & Lee, 2009). The growth of blacks and Hispanic
subgroups on the NAEP slowed after NCLB was enacted compared to the
same time period before the law. One mandated universal curricular
program for all children just does not make conceptual sense, is
intuitively contradictory, and has no empirical backing.
Equality of curriculum standards is inherently inequitable. Mandating
that everyone follow the same set of standards and perform at the same
level of achievement guarantees that everyone will not get what they
need and that certain groups of students, those that do not fit into
the new system, will lose out.
They will be labeled "not proficient" or "in need"
of something, when perhaps they just need more choices, more pathways,
and more diversity of curricula within the system.
We should be increasing curricular diversity, not seeking to constrict
it. We should be trying to help students explore and enrich their
intellectual and social growth, not constrain them or funnel them into
a small set of subjects.
A comprehensive curriculum is supposed to fulfill a unifying and
specializing function. The Common Core State Standards does
It creates a standardizing apparatus. We should respect differences
among children, not try to extinguish them. There is a lot more going
on here on the societal level than meets the eye. It's more complex
than the creators and vendors of the standards either understand or
wish to present.
Think It Over
There is no reliable, independently validated empirical support for
the CCSS initiative and yet many policy-makers and educators support
It is an attractive idea to support because it limits the intricacies
of the real issues and makes it easy to lay the blame at the foot of a
system (public education) that reacts to society, not drives it.
The CCSS initiative compartmentalizes complexity and
compartmentalizing messy issues allows people to be intellectually
lazy. Developing coherent education and social policy is more
The vendors of the CCSS present the standardization of America's
children as a neat and clean solution, easily manageable and easy to
Unfortunately the real world is not so organized and it is much more
cognitively complicated. Believing that we can eliminate the
complexity of educating all students by putting forth superficial
ideas like one-size fits-all standards is like believing rankings on
international tests really mean something. (Is your tooth under the
It seems anti-intellectual, and based on the lack of evidence,
unethical to support such a massive social experiment, using
participants who have no choice but to go along.
The evidence suggests that there is not a crisis in education;
there is a crisis in education leadership at all levels. Those who
perpetuate bad ideas based on flawed data are practicing poor
leadership. If some school leaders and their organizations do not want
to stand up for children then they should stand down and let those who
are willing assume the leadership reins.
School leaders do not have to conduct the research on these topics but
at least they should read it and dig below the surface to understand
Children have a right to a quality education. School leaders, those
who prepare them, and the people who lead our professional
organizations have a duty to help provide the quality. If some
education leaders choose to drink the snake oil then they should
expect to get sick. If some help sell it, they should resign.
Children do not have a seat at the policy-making table. Policy is
thrust upon them, not created with them. They are helpless to defend
themselves against poor decision making.
They do not have a voice. They have only the voices of the adults who
are supposed to know better. I welcome your rebuttals but please
remember: Leave the opinions and ideology behind and bring the
Portions of this commentary were adapted from Tienken 2010 &
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Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244