In a confusing piece published by Town Hall, Phyllis Schlafly argues the Common Core’s promise of higher standards does not mean more rigorous intellectual content, but a “higher percentage of students passing them.” Schlafly claims, “The easiest way to get more students to pass a test is to make the standards (or the passing score) lower, not higher… Far from closing the gap, Common Core makes the achievement gap even worse.”
Schlafly is off base on more than one issue here.
Evidence from states overwhelmingly shows that Common Core State Standards are raising classroom expectations. Not only have teachers repeatedly cited the progress their students are making under these higher standards, but an analysis by Achieve this year found most states significantly closed their “Honesty Gaps”—the discrepancies between self-reported proficiency rates and those identified by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Similarly, a Harvard University study concludes states have made “the largest jump in state standards” over the past two years since they were established as part of federal accountability programs. “In short, the Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States,” the study notes.
“[States] should really be commended for starting to be more transparent with parents and educators about how their kids are doing,” explains Sandy Boyd, chief operating officer for Achieve. “It really is the first step in improving outcomes.”
State leaders do have a responsibility to set proficiency benchmarks appropriately high. “By expanding the definition of proficiency to include students that are less-than-proficient,” states risk walking back efforts to provide parents and teachers with accurate information, Karen Nussle wrote last year. “Parents deserve an honest assessment of student proficiency.”
Oddly, Schlafly suggests individuals who “really care about ‘what works’” should consider an abstinence program used in a Florida school district. It’s unclear whether Schlafly is trying to conflate education standards with sex education, but to be clear, the Common Core State Standards address English language arts and math only.
Despite concerted attacks like Schlafly’s, which obstruct honest debate, states and local leaders have demonstrated a commitment to the Common Core. “States have weighed the evidence and opted to build on the framework set by these rigorous, comparable education standards,” Jim Cowen explains.
States have spent years implementing college- and career-ready learning goals and high-quality assessments. While opponents would like to turn back on this work, policymakers should continue to build on the Common Core framework to ensure all students are held to academic expectations that prepare them to succeed after high school.