Core Curriculum Standards: Raising Many States Up, But Dragging Massachusetts Down?

More than once, I’ve argued that states with low educational performance could do far worse than stealing Massachusetts’ education policies and curriculum. In City Journal, Sol Stern has a good piece about the adoption of the Core Curriculum Standards by many states. For many states, this will be an improvement as their curricula, especially in the sciences, awful. But, according to the experts who developed the landmark Massachusetts education reforms of 1993, it will hurt Massachusetts students (boldface mine):

The far more serious criticism of the standards is that they are academically inferior to the existing standards in several states and the even higher standards in many countries whose students outperform ours. Ze’ev Wurman, a former official in the U.S. Department of Education, has offered extremely cogent critiques of the math section of the Common Core standards, pointing out that they fall short of the best international benchmarks and don’t require more than one year of algebra for high school graduates. Sandra Stotsky, a curriculum specialist and one of the drafters of Massachusetts’s important 1993 education-reform act, has similarly noted shortcomings in the English Language Arts section of the standards.

In fact, many of the original Massachusetts reformers have argued correctly that the Common Core standards don’t aim as high as the standards that their state adopted in 1993 (see “The Massachusetts Exception,”). The Bay State would have done better by its students if it had said no to the Obama administration and stuck with its already excellent standards—which were also heavily influenced by Hirsch’s work. The sad fact is that even before Massachusetts switched to the Common Core standards, Governor Deval Patrick had embarked on a campaign to dilute the demanding 1993 reform.

Nevertheless, school reformers should not ignore one overriding fact: for most states—which, unlike Massachusetts, have lacked rigorous standards—the Common Core is an enormous step forward. Since the standards call for a content-based curriculum, those states are now having a serious discussion about the specific subject matter that must be taught in the classroom. And that’s a discussion that hasn’t happened in American schools for almost half a century.

What I find frustrating in so many policy areas, including education, is the need to develop new things. Massachusetts has one of the best educational systems in the world, never mind the U.S. Instead of dragging Massachusetts down, why not raise other states up to its level?

This is an instance when plagiarism would be an excellent idea.

And not to say I told you so, but I told you Race to the Top (Obama’s education plan) was a bad idea for Massachusetts.

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4 Responses to Core Curriculum Standards: Raising Many States Up, But Dragging Massachusetts Down?

  1. Min says:

    “Ze’ev Wurman, a former official in the U.S. Department of Education, has offered extremely cogent critiques of the math section of the Common Core standards, pointing out that they fall short of the best international benchmarks and don’t require more than one year of algebra for high school graduates.”

    Good Grief! Our adult population cannot handle fractions, yet we should require Algebra II for high school graduation?

    Don’t get me wrong. Innumeracy in the US is a serious problem. But Algebra II is not the answer.

  2. Why not? The kids learning Algebra II are going to be adults some day. Why penalise them with low standards just because the boomer generation are fucking morons?

    • Min says:

      So you think that Algebra II would solve the problem? You think that adults under 50 are numerate?

  3. joemac53 says:

    Every school district in the Commonwealth has to follow the same curriculum (which I like better than the Common Core), but each can get there in a way they decide for themselves. I am so impatient with the top-down remedies from non-teachers.
    My school for many years required two years of math to graduate (Only two years!). We never thought it was a big deal because 97% of our students took math all four years. Math was important to our students and families and teachers and it got the attention it needed.
    The innumeracy of the population is a problem, but it is the cultural problem that allows Americans to be “bad in math” as a badge of honor that is mostly to blame.

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