Research & Commentary: Common Core in Pennsylvania

Published July 1, 2014

Pennsylvania is one of 45 states that adopted national Common Core State Standards. State officials refer to the standards as “The Pennsylvania Core Standards” because they have added three appendices. Despite the name change, the standards in Pennsylvania are the Common Core standards, which have questionable academic quality, were created and adopted in a nontransparent way, raise significant student privacy concerns, and would further erode state and local control of schools.

Advocates for Common Core claim the national set of educational standards will prepare students for college and the workforce through a set of internationally benchmarked criteria. But these standards were never tested by any nation, school district, or school. There is no research to suggest these standards will help students compete globally.

In testimony at a hearing on a Texas House bill that would retain the state’s own standards, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, stated, “Common Core’s ‘college readiness’ standards for English language arts and reading do not aim for a level of achievement that signifies readiness for authentic college-level work. They point to no more than readiness for a high school diploma (and possibly not even that, depending on where the cut score on tests based on these standards is set). Despite claims to the contrary, they are not internationally benchmarked.” 

Even though some states have changed the name or added a few standards of their own, as Pennsylvania has done, the Common Core is not a state-led initiative. The standards are national, not specific to each state or district, regardless of each state’s needs. With Common Core, the task of educating children shifts from a traditional state or local function to a power of the federal government.

In testimony before the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee, Joy Pullmann, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, explained, “Any state additions to Common Core may [by law] comprise no more than 13 percent of the final standards. So no matter what you call it, all remarks on the national Common Core apply, since Pennsylvania students will encounter all of it.”

Several states, including Oklahoma and South Carolina, have repealed Common Core, and many others, including Louisiana, Missouri, and North Carolina, are in the process of taking similar steps. Pennsylvania should follow their example and repeal Common Core to recover control of its educational system.

The following documents offer more information about Common Core in Pennsylvania and nationwide.


Testimony—Common Core: Low-Quality and Intrusive                                              
Heartland Institute Research Fellow Joy Pullmann testifies before the Pennsylvania State Education Committee regarding Common Core. She dispels the myth that Common Core was a state-led initiative. The states did not develop the standards and had no input in the development process. Although states such as Pennsylvania attempt to differentiate their standards from those of other states, the vast majority of the standards are the same across the nation under Common Core.

Pennsylvanians Against Common Core  
Pennsylvanians Against Common Core is dedicated to repealing Common Core in the state. These activists realize the immense danger of a federalized education system and are working to reclaim their right to decide how to educate their children.

Sandra Stotsky on the Mediocrity of the Common Core ELA Standards Dr. Sandra Stotsky, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, explains the weaknesses of the Common Core English language arts standards in a hearing regarding a Texas House bill. Stotsky notes the standards were never tested and therefore the claim that they prepare children for college and careers is unfounded. Stotsky also discusses the nontransparent process used to develop the national standards.

Tip Sheet: Common Core Standards
This one-page tip sheet summarizes the background of and arguments regarding Common Core. The writer concludes, “States should replace Common Core with higher-quality, state-controlled academic standards and tests not funded by the federal government. They should secure student data privacy and ensure national testing mandates do not affect instruction in private and home schools.”

What To Do Once Common Core Is Halted
For states that realize Common Core is of low academic quality and infringes their freedoms, there are several better paths to take, writes University of Arkansas Professor Sandra Stotsky. She recommends lawmakers set up task forces of in-state academic experts to draw up academic standards for high school, develop networks of specialized high schools, fund internationally recognized math curricula, and most of all, raise the academic bar for prospective teachers.

The Common Core Math Standards
The Common Core math standards are longer, less demanding, more confusing, and more repetitive than the best standards being used today, says former U.S. Department of Education official Ze’ev Wurman in an interview for the journal Education Next. The standards are mediocre nationally and internationally. The standards drop essential math content such as converting fractions to decimals, and they delay algebra until high school, whereas high-achieving countries and states expect students to do algebra in grade 8. The authors of the Common Core math standards had little experience constructing standards, Wurman notes, and it shows. The standards consistently put students behind international bests by a grade or two in the elementary years and a full two years behind in high school.

How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk
The Common Core standards for English language arts make it unlikely U.S. students will study a meaningful range of significant literary works in high school and learn something about their own literary tradition before graduation, conclude Sandra Stotsky and Mark Bauerlein in this Pioneer Institute paper. The Core’s decreased emphasis on literary study will prevent students from acquiring a rich understanding and mastery of the English language, and its stress on direct informational reading likely will lead to a decrease in students’ analytical thinking capacity. The paper explains how states and schools can compensate for these deficiencies in Common Core’s English language arts requirements.

The Road to a National Curriculum
In three short years the Obama administration placed the nation on the road to a national curriculum. The two federally funded Common Core testing consortia admit the standards and assessments will create content for state K–12 curricula and instructional materials. Three federal laws expressly prohibit this, however, note two former top U.S. Department of Education lawyers in this policy brief for the Pioneer Institute.

Common Core: A Poor Choice for States
In this Heartland Institute Policy Brief, Heartland Research Fellow Joy Pullmann reveals major weaknesses of the Common Core. The standards represent a major centralization of control over curriculum, contrary to the American tradition of decentralized control and funding. Instead of being “world class,” the standards fall far short of what the nation’s children really need. In addition, they are tied to large expansions of data collection on students and erosion of privacy rights.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

Whether sending an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus, hosting an event in your state, or simply sending you further information on the topic, Heartland can assist you. If you have any questions or comments, contact Heartland Institute director of government relations John Nothdurft, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].