Study: Common Core Disserves Math, Science Students

Published November 6, 2014

Common Core standards do not prepare students of math and sciences adequately for college, despite their claim to be “aligned with college and career expectations,” a new study on the standards reveals.

The highest-level math class required for students under the Common Core is a partial algebra II course, which is insufficient preparation for complex university level courses, the Pioneer Institute study “The Revenge of K-12” reports. The study was conducted by Richard Phelps, founder of the Nonpartisan Education Review, and James Milgram, an emeritus professor of mathematics at Stanford University.

The lower standards mean fewer high school graduates will be qualified to take upper-level mathematics and science courses in college, according to the study.

“People should be wary of how sneaky this has all been,” Phelps said. “People are just taking [the developers] at their word that everything is higher, deeper, more rigorous, and so forth.”

Predictor of Success

According to the study, the level of mathematics courses taken in high school is “the single strongest predictor of success in college,” more critical even than socioeconomic status, GPA, and college entry test scores.

When high school graduates enter college with an algebra II-level understanding of mathematics, they are unprepared to take on advanced university-level math and science classes. College-level, credit-bearing courses must then be drastically simplified to bring undereducated high school graduates up to speed.

These facts don’t keep Common Core proponents from claiming the standards are rigorous, however.

“What is important to keep in mind is that the progression in the Common Core State Standards is mathematically coherent and leads to college and career readiness at an internationally competitive level,” the Common Core website reads.

Yet as Phelps and Milligram show, the standards are not internationally competitive in the least. Under the new standards, students are not required to take algebra until high school, Phelps notes.

“If kids are not going to be able to take algebra until ninth grade—much later than our national competitors—they’re probably not going to take calculus,” Phelps said.

Internationally, the norm is to take algebra in the sixth, seventh, or eighth grades, Phelps said.

“The ones least likely to take algebra from now on would probably be the smart kids stuck in really bad schools,” Phelps said. “[The schools] will be dropping the low-participation courses, and it’s not part of the Common Core so they don’t need to offer it.”

Dumbing Down SAT

The study also explored the national alignment of the SAT test to the Common Core’s high school standards. According to the study, this action lowers the standards for the SAT “to an inflexible retrospective test aligned to and locking in a low level of mathematics.” The report states this lowering of standards will make the college entrance exam less informative for school admissions departments.

“It is now clear,” the report reads, “that the original promise to anchor K-12 education to higher education and backmap the Common Core Mathematics Standards from the upper grades down to the primary grades was empty rhetoric.”

Phelps judges the national standards as a misguided effort. “I think education should be whatever the people in the local community want it to be,” Phelps said. “There are a lot of stakeholders. I’m sure employers want well-trained, quick-thinking people. But civil society needs people who understand the Constitution and know how to vote and that sort of thing. And a lot of parents want [schools] to instill values in their kids.”

The National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, both of which contributed to the development of the Common Core Standards, did not respond to requests for comment.

Vivian Hughbanks ([email protected]) writes from Hillsdale, Michigan. 

Image by pastthelamppost.

Learn More:

The Revenge of K-12:  How Common Core and the New SAT Lower College Standards in the U.S.”, Richard P. Phelps and R. James Milgram, The Pioneer Institute, September 2014,