From the New York Times news section:
It was one of the most ambitious education efforts in United States history. Did it fail? Or does it just need more time to succeed?
By Dana Goldstein
Dec. 6, 2019
The plan was hatched with high hopes and missionary zeal: For the first time in its history, the United States would come together to create consistent, rigorous education standards and stop letting so many school children fall behind academically.
More than 40 states signed on to the plan, known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative, after it was rolled out in 2010 by a bipartisan group of governors, education experts and philanthropists. The education secretary at the time, Arne Duncan, declared himself “ecstatic.”
American children would read more nonfiction, write better essays and understand key mathematical concepts, instead of just mechanically solving equations.
“We are being outpaced by other nations,” President Barack Obama said in one 2009 speech, in which he praised states that were moving toward the Common Core. “It’s not that their kids are any smarter than ours — it’s that they are being smarter about how to educate their children.” …
And low-performing students, who were supposed to benefit most, have especially struggled in recent years.
The disappointing results have prompted many in the education world to take stock of the Common Core, one of the most ambitious education reform projects in American history. Some see the effort as a failure, while others say it is too soon to judge the program, whose principles are still being rolled out at the classroom level.
OK, here’s the real story behind the Common Core.
The idea was sold by a guy named David Coleman who is now head of the College Board. He was a very bright McKinsey consultant. Back in high school, a friend used to run into Coleman and his debate partner Hanna Rosin in speech tournaments. He and his partner went 0 and 8 against Coleman-Rosin. Rosin’s future husband David Plotz became the third editor of Slate back when Slate hired Michael Kinsley clones.
Coleman went to the funder of Slate, Bill Gates, and told him in effect that school curriculums should be less girly, more like Michael Kinsley’s Slate. For example, don’t assign so many works of fiction in English, assign more nonfiction. Put more statistics into math.
You can see this in Coleman’s new Slate-flavored SAT: I worked through the reading comprehension section of an SAT sample test recently, and I found most of the readings, including one ultra-Slatish contrarian essay from Kinsley’s old compadre David Owen, to be quite interesting.
One obvious (but overlooked) influence on Coleman’s Common Core was E.D. Hirsch’s old Core Knowledge idea that to improve reading comprehension, we should teach kids more facts so ignorance won’t get as much in the way of comprehension. I doubt if it would make much of a difference, but I like facts so I’ve always been sympathetic to Hirsch.
So, Common Core was basically a conspiracy by intelligent centrists to move K-12 education a tiny bit to the right.
On the other hand, Coleman and Gates, while bright, don’t actually know much about education, so their ideas wouldn’t necessarily work. In particular, their tastes in math tended to make sense to Harvard Math 55 students rather than to average ten year olds.
What should have happened was that Gates would fund Coleman to test different approaches for, say, ten or fifteen years and then roll out what works best.
But that’s not the way anything happens in the faddish ed biz. Instead, they just started their own fad with, as far as I can tell, zero testing and talked 40 states into adopting it wholesale.
Not surprisingly, it wasn’t ready for prime time. So now it’s out of fashion. On to the next fad!