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Myths about National Standards: Myth #2

Posted by Jim Stergios  November 19, 2011 09:05 AM

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The French painter, poet, novelist, director, etc., Jean Cocteau noted the following about our need for myths:

Man seeks to escape himself in myth, and does so by any means at his disposal. Drugs, alcohol, or lies. Unable to withdraw into himself, he disguises himself. Lies and inaccuracy give him a few moments of comfort.

With education so rife with mediocrity, those satisfied with the status quo often resort to myth for comfort. Some schools don’t perform well, the myth goes, because poor and minority kids cannot excel; there’s the myth that if we only added more class time everything would be fine; there’s the myth that classroom size always or even most of the time matters. And, of course, most recently there are all the myths about how nationalizing education decisions will somehow magically help improve our schools.

The need for myths is so powerful that the call for national standards allows even the smartest people to seek excuses for illegal behavior. Because of their need for myths, otherwise smart people will even make excuses for the US Secretary of Education’s recent push to create "conditional" waivers, even though the conditions he is setting for states have no basis in law.

In a previous post, I noted that proponents of the Common Core standards may like to claim that these new national standards are internationally benchmarked. They’re not. Myth #2 about national standards is that they're aligned with workplace needs and college readiness.

Again drawing from friends in the academic world, let me share some thoughts on these myths. Myth 2: The Common Core standards are aligned with workplace requirements and also with college readiness.

The statement is not true on workplace requirements and not true on college readiness. My opinion? Roll the expert tape.

Let’s start with comments from experts on career-readiness. Prof. Michael W. Kirst of Stanford University (and now the president of California’s State Board of Education) wrote this to the Council of Chief State School Officers (one of the proponents of the Common Core standards) on CC’s “Career- and College-Readiness” standards.

My concern is the assertion in the draft that the standards for college and career readiness are essentially the same. This implies the answer is yes to the question of whether the same standards are appropriate for 4 year universities, 2 year colleges, and technical colleges. The burden of proof for this assertion rests with CCSSO/NGA …

The ELA standards hedge this issue by saying “the evidence strongly suggests that similar reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills are necessary for success in both the college and workplace.” There is no similar wording preceding the math standards. I have reviewed the sources included in the draft, and cannot follow how the panel deduced that college and career readiness standards are the same.

In April 2010, as the Common Core was bring finalized, the Association for Career and Technical Education gave this take on the lack of the CC’s alignment with workforce preparedness:

Since most of the career opportunities for today’s students will require some form of postsecondary education, there are many times when students will not be able to acquire the necessary academic, technical or employability skills in high school that will allow them to be career-ready without further education and training. Additional knowledge and specialization in one or more of these areas is often required either immediately after high school or in the future, depending on a student’s career choices. [emphasis added]

What about college readiness? Are the national standards aligned with such a vision?

The fact is no. One cannot define an authentic college-readiness and expect 100% of students to meet it. The Common Core chose to dumb-down its definition of college-readiness so it can make the political claim that its standards are “college ready.” Common Core standards are set to prepare students only for non-selective community colleges.

No country in the world realistically expects to send 100% of its high school students to college, which is what the Common Core promises and what the U.S. Department of Education seeks to enforce through new regulations. The best performing nations send about 70% of students to both two- and four-year colleges, which is precisely the percentage of students in the U.S. going on to college.
(Education at A Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, chart C2.3, page 312. Note the misleading nature of chart C2.1 on page 308.)

And when, in March 2010, Common Core’s representatives spoke to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, clearly acknowledged that Common Core’s concept of college readiness is “minimal and focuses on non-selective colleges.”
(Minutes of the Regular Meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, March 23, 2010.)

Common Core defines less than a full Algebra 2 and Geometry courses as its “college readiness.” Current reality is that in a survey of public four-year state colleges in the top 20 states by population, only the University of Maryland, University of Virginia, and one campus of the University of Massachusetts (Lowell) require less than 3-years of high school math, including Algebra 1, Algebra 2, & Geometry. Want me to make that clearer? That’s only 3 systems in the top 20 states by population.
(R. James Milgram, Z. Wurman, “List of major four-year state colleges from larger states that require for admission at least 3 years of high school math, including Algebra 1, Algebra 2, & Geometry, or higher” Unpublished document, distributed at the joint MAA-AMS meeting, January 2010.)

If that last statistic is not enough to demonstrate to you the level of mythologizing going on with Common Core, then perhaps you prefer to read myths. Here’s one—a recent Common Core “validation study” from the EPIC center, which was funded by the hyper-pro-Common Core Bill Gates Foundation and which has severe methodological problems. (Read here and here.) The study was performed by a member of Common Core’s Validation Committee who had already certified a year before the study that Common Core’s “college readiness” is “reflective of the core knowledge and skills in ELA and mathematics that students need to be college- and career-ready.”

Escaping in myth by any means possible. The current moments of comfort some derive from the national standards will not serve us well into the future.

Crossposted at Pioneer's blog. Follow me on twitter at @jimstergios, or visit Pioneer's website.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Jim Stergios is executive director of the Pioneer Institute. Before joining Pioneer, he was Chief of Staff and Undersecretary for Policy in the Commonwealth's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where More »

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