Brookings Study: Common Core Won’t Boost Learning

Published March 16, 2012

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is unlikely to improve academic outcomes, concludes a new report from the Brookings Institution.

The Core, a set of grade-level requirements for what students should know in math and language arts, was adopted by 45 states under pressure from the Obama administration. The report concludes the proposed standards will have “little to no impact on student learning.”

The study, written by Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at Brookings and a member of the National Math Advisory Panel, compared state standards before adopting the Core to the success of those states’ students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It found more rigorous standards did not correlate with better test scores.

The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?” also argues there is no reason to expect the Core can shrink the current academic gaps between states.

“Consider Massachusetts and Mississippi.… Their NAEP means differ by 25 points. Every state, including Massachusetts and Mississippi, has a mini-Massachusetts and Mississippi contrast within its own borders. That variation will go untouched by common state standards,” it says.

Called Unaffordable, Unconstitutional
“In addition to Common Core’s weak academic quality and very questionable legality, the simple fact is that the proponents of national education standards never even bothered to tell states what this unfunded federal mandate will cost them,” said Jamie Gass, director of the Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform. “Our cost estimates place national standards in the neighborhood of $16 billion.”

This study demonstrates the Common Core and its “accompanying assessment and data collection schemes” will not benefit students, said Emmett McGroarty, a senior fellow for the American Principles Project.

“It’s time for the federal government to butt out,” he said. “It’s time to recommit ourselves to the Constitution and return education policymaking to states and localities, where it is closest to parents.”

Loveless notes the Core has been “backed enthusiastically” by the Obama administration. The U.S. Department of Education has required states to adopt “career and college ready standards” to receive Race to the Top grants and waivers of No Child Left Behind, and stated the Core is the only set of standards currently available it considers fits this designation.

Not a Solution
In his assessment of the Core’s likely impact, Loveless concludes with a strong warning not to expect it will improve academic achievement.

“Just as the glow of consensus surrounding NCLB faded after a few years, cracks are now appearing in the wall of support for the Common Core,” he says. “Don’t let the ferocity of the oncoming debate fool you. The empirical evidence suggests that the Common Core will have little effect on American students’ achievement. The nation will have to look elsewhere for ways to improve its schools.”


Learn more:
“The 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education,” Brookings Institution, February 2012:


Image by Caitlin Childs.