Research Shows High, Consistent Standards Are Best Way to Prepare Students for College and Careers

George Leef’s new piece in the National Review supports Joy Pullman’s view that high, comparable standards are “further lowering the bar for college admission.” According to Leef, “Thanks to Common Core, we’ll probably get more sociologists and fewer engineers.” Yet, teachers, business leaders and community leaders continue to give the standards high marks for setting clear, rigorous learning goals that create a path leading straight to college or a good job.

Leef believes that Common Core State Standards were the result of the federal government meddling. “Any time government starts tinkering with things to improve them, the result will be little or no improvement, but a host of new problems. The governmental tinkering with K–12 education provides many examples, most recently Common Core,” he writes.

However, the creation of the Common Core State Standards occurred free of any federal involvement. No federal officials served on the working teams or feedback groups, nor were any federal funds used to support the creation process at any point. It’s an important point that should not be understated.

Leef goes on to support Pullman’s argument that high, comparable standards rely heavily on “informational” materials and are not complex enough to prepare students for what they will be expected to read and write about in college. Leef suggests that students are no longer exposed to reading texts that will help spur critical thinking – but there’s no evidence of that.  Literature remains a vibrant and vital component of English language arts learning. By incorporating more informational materials, like the Declaration of Independence and other important historical texts, alongside classic literature and imagined works, states and school districts are helping students build the skills to become informed and engaged citizens.

Leef also argues that math laid out in the high standards is underwhelming. According to his position, more students entering college will have to take remedial math courses which will mean “more of them heading into squishy college majors that don’t call for any competence in math.”

When it comes to the math education associated with high standards, it is designed to help all children, regardless of their background, develop a stronger understanding of math. They prepare students for college-level coursework and, if they choose, advanced careers in science, technology, and engineering – all of which begin with a deep understanding of mathematics.  Not exactly the “squishy” fields Leef may have had in mind.

Still don’t believe us? This Professor of Physics agrees that math instruction today is a vast improvement from how math used to be taught and will prepare more students for success in STEM fields like engineering.

Leef ignores the extraordinary amount of research that shows how the curriculum associated with high, comparable standards is critical to reading comprehension and acquisition of literacy skills. Additionally, many studies have praised the Common Core State Standards for making a big improvement on most states’ former academic standards. Higher education leaders also support the standards and say they are preparing students for the content they need to know and the skills they need to have when they reach college.

Study after study has confirmed the strength of high, aligned assessments in showing a student’s readiness for college. Research by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Human Resources Research Organization, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and Mathematica Policy Research all give aligned assessments high marks for their ability to accurately measure student readiness for college and career.

States adopted high, comparable standards because they set rigorous, clear learning goals for all students, ensuring more kids will get and stay on a path that prepares them for college and careers.  Simply put, high standards and college preparedness go hand in hand.  They are raising the bar for students everywhere, not lowering it, as Leef and Pullman would like you to believe.