High Standards Encourage Academic Success for All Students


Heartland Institute Education Policy Research Fellow Teresa Mull tees off on the poor display of U.S. students on the Program for International Student Assessment, blaming the Common Core standards for schools “no longer teach[ing] reading, writing, and arithmetic.” She argues that under the standards, “math is backwards, confusing… and the reading standards fill students’ minds with filth in the form of raunchy books and with yawn-inducing “‘informational texts.’” The U.S. scores are “embarrassingly bad” and the “latest trend” of “Social and Emotional Learning” will only make things worse.

While the lower PISA scores are concerning, changing course and abandoning high standards would be the wrong way to go. For too long, U.S. students labored under a patchwork of academic benchmarks that differed from state to state and bore little resemblance to the knowledge they would need to be successful after high school. The standards, adopted by more than 40 states six years ago, focused on ensuring that students learn the basics at younger ages while also instilling critical- and analytical-thinking skills – two critical components that had been missing from education.

The fact is, U.S. scores on international tests had been declining for some time, well before states adopted higher standards. Andreas Schleicher, who oversees PISA for the OECD, told the New York Times that since “these standards were in place for only a year in many states… [he] did not expect them to boost America’s PISA scores just yet.” But with high standards, we’re well positioned to see our students performing better academically.

Executive Director for the Collaborative for Student Success, Jim Cowen, wrote that “Recent state scores show that more third graders today are reaching proficiency in third grade math than before we had higher standards. Nationally, state proficiency rates increase by more than 3 percentage points in math this year.” Students are rising to the challenge. It would be detrimental to their academic and future career success to reverse course over the misdirected fears of those who don’t support high standards.