Common Core-Aligned Standards Decrease Massachusetts Students’ Achievement, Study Finds

Published February 9, 2018

In 2010, K-12 public schools in Massachusetts implemented Common Core, a set of standards dictating what students should know at the end of each grade level, in exchange for Obama administration financial incentives.

“The 2017 update of Massachusetts’ English and math K-12 academic standards represents further deterioration in English, while the math standards are essentially unchanged from the 2010 version, according to the first independent evaluation of the newly revised standards,” a press release announcing the Pioneer Institute’s publication of “Mediocrity 2.0:  Massachusetts Rebrands Common Core ELA & Math” reported in December 2017. “The 2010 standards, which were based on Common Core, led to declining scores on national tests in both English and math.

“After the commonwealth adopted Common Core in 2010, the amount of classic literature students read was cut by 60 percent and students now don’t reach algebra until ninth grade,” the release said. “The delayed math progression makes it much more difficult for students to succeed in math or science studies in college. Between 2011 and 2015, Massachusetts was one of 16 states whose [National Assessment of Educational Progress] scores fell, and its scores are no longer the nation’s best in eighth-grade reading. SAT scores have also fallen, with a particular drop in student writing that is likely attributable to the reduction in literature.”

‘So Disappointing’

Jane Robbins, an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project and study coauthor, says the results of the research are especially jarring in light of how highly regarded Massachusetts’ state standards once were.

“Massachusetts has always been the crown jewel in America’s academic standards,” Robbins said. “It was so disappointing [for those] who knew about the Massachusetts standards, that they decided to get rid of those and accept the federal money to use the Common Core standards.”

‘Four Serious Drawbacks’

“There are four serious drawbacks in the added and revised standards,” the study reports. “A. No philology B. No English and world literary history C. Displacement of the United States D. A multiculturalist vacuum.

“The first two problems mark a simple but far-reaching failure of the standards to provide students with significant knowledge of language and literature,” the study says. “The second two create a more complicated, but no less deleterious outcome for Massachusetts students. They reveal an ideological intention to substitute a watery, superficial diversity for any literary patrimony.”

‘Diversity’ Replacing Tradition

Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University and study coauthor, says Common Core has watered down the use of traditional educational materials in favor of more politically correct ones.

“What Common Core did to Massachusetts in English Language Arts was deplete the curriculum of strong literary-historical and philological content,” Bauerlein said. “Multiculturalism demanded that the English literary tradition be displaced and ‘diversity’ replace it. The new revisions extend this break-up even further. It will produce high school graduates with less knowledge of the literary patrimony, which includes less historical and philological knowledge.” 

Missing a ‘Golden Opportunity’

Even after the first wave of decreased achievement scores came in, education decisionmakers held onto the federal standards, Robbins says.

“In 2016, [the state] decided to update the standards, so this was the golden opportunity to fix it, to go back to what they had or at the very least fix the most egregious problems with their Common Core standards,” Robbins said. “They didn’t change very much.

“The evidence is all trending in the same direction, but I think there are a couple of things that are keeping them from going back,” Robbins said. “The new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is supposedly taking the boot off the neck of the state as far as standards go, but if you read ESSA, it does describe the standards that it wants, and it describes the Common Core standards. A lot of states are reluctant to change because they don’t want to fight with the feds over ESSA… . The path of least resistance is just to keep what you have so you don’t have to defend it to the federal overlord.”

Robbins says the educational elite are all cut from the same cloth.

“Another problem I think is [that] education establishments all over the country are exactly the same,” Robbins said. “The people in the departments of education are exactly the same, in the most liberal state and the most conservative. They all have advanced degrees in education. They’ve all been taught the same. They believe it’s a good idea, this Common Core. They really think with enough time and enough money, they’ll make it work.”

‘A Philistine Document’

Bauerlein says Common Core was created by people who don’t understand true education.

“The new standards have been written by people who either don’t care about or are ignorant of the inheritance of Chaucer, Spenser, Marvell, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, Austen, Emerson, Douglass, the Brontës, and all the rest,” Bauerlein said. “They have produced a philistine document and given it the veneer of an enlightened, 21st-century vision.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]writes from Alexandria, Virginia.


Mark Bauerlein, R. James Milgram, and Jane Robbins, “Mediocrity 2.0:  Massachusetts Rebrands Common Core ELA & Math,” the Pioneer Institute, December 2017:–massachusetts-rebrands-common-core-ela–math