The Controversial Common Core

March 15, 2019

The Obama administration saw the conception, creation and implementation of a Common Core system that was very much controversial. A Gallup news article comparing two Gallup polls on parents’ views on the Common Core around the time of the new enforcement of the standards stated, “Thirty-five percent [of parents] view [the standards] negatively and 33% view them positively, while another third aren’t familiar with them or don’t have an opinion. This reflects a slight shift since April, when parents were slightly more positive (35%) than negative (28%).”

This issue was always quite a partisan one, with the same Gallup article citing that, “The majority of Republican parents—58%—now hold a negative view of Common Core, up from 42% in April, and leaving just 19% viewing it positively.” Many states’ governmental races have demonstrated this with liberal candidates expressing their support of Common Core and right-leaning candidates expressing their disdain.

Despite all of this controversy and the fact that the Common Core is still being used in 41 states, it is hard to find conclusive data on how well the Common Core has worked. A 2017 paper entitled “Is Common Core ‘Working?’ And Where Does Common Core Research Go From Here?” written by Morgan S. Polikoff of the University of Southern California, attempted to aggregate research in achievement-success and implementation of the Common Core to paint a picture of how well the standards attained their vision.

In the paper Polikoff states quite clearly that, “The upshot of these issues—and there are more—is that no analysis of which I am aware provides convincing causal evidence of the impact of the [Common Core Standards] on any student outcome. Furthermore, it is not obvious to me that such an analysis is even possible. Even if it is possible, the outcomes that would be used for such an analysis would almost certainly be quite narrow.”

This makes the Common Core a very difficult issue to tackle given its astronomical importance. Families need to find unconventional avenues of education for their child, in order to not regularly encounter the standards and regulations that do not perfectly account for the needs of every type of community with a public school could be devastating for some. But it is difficult to find and maybe even impossible to identify the effects of the Common Core Standards on student achievement.

I believe it is this futility that has made the discussion of the Common Core Standards lay dormant. In early 2019, USA Today reported that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would sign an executive order that would eliminate the last of the Common Core from Florida. But this event triggered no mainstream discussion of the Common Core’s effectiveness.

Society tends to dwell on large-scale theoretical problems. With Trump taking office, it is not surprising that most current concerns focus on the abstract issues that paved his way to the presidency. However, the Common Core is an example of an extremely impactful policy that cannot be thoroughly evaluated in a purely theoretical way and, by the same token, cannot be dealt with entirely at the local level. The Common Core impacts every school and community differently but represents the nationwide use of federal guidelines. In order to give it a thorough evaluation, widespread awareness and a practical mindset is required.

Perhaps it is that narrow margin of change in achievement that Polikoff described that justifies the lack of debate surrounding the Common Core. Even if it has made students worse off as a result, the change is not enough to plunge any state’s educational system into an identifiable turmoil. While I do not think the topic should dominate discussion, the lack of discourse on the topic feels isolating.

At the end of her paper, Polikoff gives some guidelines to future researchers of the Common Core. They read: “First, there will continue to be a desire to answer the impact question, and researchers should do the best that they can to meet this demand. […] Second, we need ongoing implementation research. […] Third, we need to better understand how district and school leaders can support effective standards implementation […] Fourth, we have relatively little work that addresses the equity implications of the Common Core. […] Finally, in this rapidly changing policy environment, we need research that is (a) timely and (b) made available and digestible to policy makers and practitioners.”

I would argue that these guidelines are not only helpful for researchers but also concerned parents and individuals. Given that we have no meaningful data to cite, it is important that we go out and ask community officials and teachers about the impact, implementation and equity of the Common Core system. As a liberal, I am inclined to trust the work done by the Obama administration, but as a student, I am skeptical of a nationally enforced standard of education that is not discussed with any frequency.

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