Common Core Standards drive schools off of a cliff

by Jonathan Butcher
Goldwater Institute

The practice of hunting buffalo by herding them together and driving them off of a cliff has long been abandoned, but as a political tactic, the method is still in use.

States across the U.S. have been assembled and are running off of a cliff in the name of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Arizona and 45 other states signed on to the new standards, though few in state legislatures or the general public know what the standards will require.

One would hope that if the entire country were going to unify behind one set of curriculum guidelines, they would be rigorous and prepare American children to compete in the global economy. Not so with the Common Core.

For example, Arizona’s prior standards treated “literary and non-literary texts distinctly and thoroughly and in more detail than the Common Core,” though there were other areas of Arizona’s standards that did need improvement, according to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. California’s standards, and those of some high-achieving nations, require more preparation for Algebra I; and the content of the Common Core for Geometry and Algebra II is weaker than the standards formerly in place in Massachusetts and California.

This hodgepodge of adjustments and push towards homogenization creates a “race to the middle,” according to Pioneer Institute experts Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Ze’ev Wurman. Ms. Stotsky served on the Common Core Validation Committee, but did not sign off on the standards; and Mr. Wurman served on the commission that evaluated the standards for implementation in California.

The standards also won’t prepare our students for competitive colleges and universities. Pioneer points out that in 2010, Common Core authors admitted before the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that the focus on college readiness when they were developing the standards was “minimal and focuses on non-selective colleges.”

Beyond assessing the rigor of the curriculum, lawmakers will also need to consider the cost of implementing the new standards. Recently, California became one of the first states to estimate what the new standards will cost to implement: $800 million. We know very little about what it will cost elsewhere.

Lawmakers across the country should give serious thought to the price they want to pay to implement standards that aren’t internationally competitive and don’t prepare our children for college. Arizona and other states should opt out of the Common Core and take the best elements from the curriculum standards previously used in Massachusetts and California in order to raise the academic bar for our students. We shouldn’t join the race to the middle.

Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.

Learn More:

Boston Globe: What will the adoption of national standards cost Massachusetts schools?

Closing the Door on Innovation: Why One National Curriculum is Bad for America

Education Next: The International Experience: What U.S. schools can and cannot learn from other countries

The Pioneer Institute: Why Race to the Middle? First-Class State Standards Are Better Than Third-Class National Standards

The Pioneer Institute: Fair to Middling: A National Standards Progress Report

The Pioneer Institute: Common Core’s Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade


  1. Got a look at the standards. They are awful. More political hackery and empty process facilitating for low expectations that will drive the USA down faster into the dirt.

    Is there anyone left in the United States with ANY level of competency or actual familiarity with internationally competitive educational standards?

    How HARD is IT? Pick up the phone, make an appointment and fly over and have someone in Netherlands show the books, photocopy the syllabus. They speak English, helpfully, since the US can’t teach foreign languages either. Sit in on a class and watch an actual TEACHER do that strange thingy called “teaching.”

    This is NOT rocket science!!!! It’s EASY!!

  2. Who still believes that the public school system operates in the best interests of the children?

    That’s been debunked for 20 years or more. So what’s the next step?

    All the bonds and overrides passed this last election. Perhaps worry more about defeating those threats than about stupid sharia law. SHEESH

    • Sorry, the circumstances of this world today require that you multi-task — and inconveniently for your lazy premise, a West African political leader recently commented that it was the collapse of the traditional education system in West Africa that has allowed radical sharia to advance into areas that it normally found great resistence against it..

      This same person has fled his ancestral home (his line been there centuries) due to sharia-driven violence.

      THe collapse of a traditional reading ritin rithmetic education has condemned millions to life poverty, un-skilled, uneducated.

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