Research & Commentary: Kentucky Common Core

Published July 25, 2013

The Kentucky legislature is holding hearings on Common Core—national education standards and tests in math and English that 46 states, including Kentucky, have adopted.

In 2012, approximately 16 states reconsidered Common Core. Some lawmakers, professors, consultants, and teachers say pausing implementation of Common Core would take states a step backward, because Common Core is rigorous and internationally benchmarked, they say. Pairing these standards with national tests funded exclusively by the federal government as enforcement, they argue, will improve student achievement and accelerate innovation by creating a national market for education materials.

Those concerned about the Common Core point out that no state, school district, or even school has ever used it before. The standards are entirely experimental. Common Core’s own validation committee was never given research demonstrating the standards will improve student achievement, and several committee members therefore refused to sign off on the project.

The international benchmarking claim essentially consists of two sentences saying a handful of countries also require students to use evidence in their writing. There is no comparison of Common Core and its major points to international bests. Education standards experts say Common Core is at best mediocre, making it a massive waste of time and money for teachers and schools.

One of the central objections to Common Core is loss of state and local control and flexibility over what children will learn, even in private and home schools, since all major tests, including college entrance exams, are aligning to Common Core and these will feed into national student databases states are constructing. One set of national learning models cannot possibly accommodate 50 million children’s diverse learning needs.

The following documents offer more information about Common Core in Kentucky.


Tip Sheet: Common Core Standards
This one-page tip sheet summarizes the background of and arguments regarding Common Core. It 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.”

Kentucky Common-Core Testing Snafus Upset Lawmakers
Kentucky quietly ended scoring of the open-ended test questions on its end-of-course high school exams, prompting fury from lawmakers that the state department of education had never notified them of the changes, reports Education Week. Instead, the department allowed local districts to have their own teachers grade the questions or discard them entirely. This forecasts problems for Common Core tests, as those will include many more open-ended questions just like the ones that failed in Kentucky in 2013.

Testimony to Kentucky Legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education, June 10, 2013
A Kentucky father and electrical engineer discusses Common Core and its impacts on his children and their education before Kentucky’s Joint Education Committee. While U.S. education leaders fret about comparisons to Asian countries, he notes, Asian countries are trying to emulate the creativity and flexibility of the U.S. system, which will be lost under Common Core. He also has been attempting to find out what data the state collects on his children and has received no answer despite multiple, repeated inquiries.

New Science Standards Overdo Focus on Climate Change
The new science standards Kentucky has adopted, which synchronize with Common Core’s math and English standards and were developed by many of the same organizations, diminish essential core science content in favor of alarmist global warming, writes Martin Cothran in the Lexington Herald-Leader. He examines the omissions and additions in some detail. Standards that should be designed to equip students to think scientifically and give them a historical context within which to understand scientific achievement instead spend too much time on the latest trendy theory, he says.

Education Dept. Helps Leak Students’ Personal Data
States and schools are signing over private data from millions of students to companies and researchers, writes Joy Pullmann in the Washington Examiner. Standardized tests are beginning to incorporate psychological and behavioral assessment. Every state also is building databases to collect and share such information among agencies and companies, and the U.S. Department of Education recently reinterpreted federal privacy laws so that schools and governments don’t have to tell parents their children’s information has been shared. Pullmann recommends states take three actions: Ensure all student records are anonymous when sent outside their schools, give parents and students full access to their information and ability to correct it, and evaluate and reinforce security against hacking and data loss.

Innes’ Testimony on Common Core Transparency
Richard Innes, an education analyst for the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy, testifies to Kentucky’s Interim Joint Committee on Education in June 2013. He notes Common Core’s creation process was not subject to any federal or Kentucky transparency laws. Because the major decisions about Common Core were made by workgroups operating under confidential conditions, the public cannot know if their comments, those from Kentucky teachers, and even those from the Kentucky Department of Education actually received fair and appropriate consideration. Documents from the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers don’t show anyone from Kentucky on the various Common Core workgroups. And the work of the committees was influenced and controlled by the organizations sponsoring Common Core, according to people who sat on those committees.

Common Core Standards Memorandum of Agreement—Kentucky
This is a copy of the 2009 agreement Kentucky’s governor and education commissioner signed in 2009, committing the state to Common Core before it was written. It states Common Core consists both of national standards and tests, and it limits states to adding no more than 15 percent of their own materials to the final document. It also envisions an “appropriate federal role” in supporting Common Core through money, new laws, and incentives for states to adopt it.

K-PREP Data Sourcebook
Kentucky Performance Report for Educational Progress (K-PREP) tests in elementary and middle school reading and mathematics were the first in the nation to be fully developed around the new Common Core State Standards, this analysis by the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions notes. The study finds the new Kentucky tests seem to be slightly more difficult than the old but compare unfavorably to well-recognized independent assessments such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and ACT.

National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards
Implementation of the Common Core standards is likely to represent substantial additional expense for most states, concludes this analysis by AccountabilityWorks. Although a handful of states have begun to analyze these costs, most signed on to the initiative without a thorough, public vetting of the costs and benefits. In particular, there has been very little attention to the potential technology infrastructure costs that cash-strapped districts may face in order to implement the Common Core assessments within a reasonable testing window. The analysts estimate Common Core will cost taxpayers $16 billion to implement nationwide.

Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core
There is strong evidence that instructional materials play a pivotal role in student learning and, compared to more popular reforms such as merit pay and school turnarounds, changing them for the better is easy, inexpensive, and quick, conclude Matthew Chingos and Grover Whitehurst in a report for the Brookings Institution. Very little research has been done on available curriculum to determine its effectiveness, and it’s practically impossible to determine what curriculum is the most widely used because no one keeps such statistics. Without more information on what curricula schools use and how well they instruct students, initiatives such as Common Core will not improve learning.

The Common Core Math Standards
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. They 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 Common Core math standards had little experience constructing standards, he 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
Common Core’s 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 curriculum 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.

How Well Are American Students Learning?
A series of data analyses from the Brookings Institution find no link between high state standards and high student achievement. “Every state already has standards placing all districts and schools within its borders under a common regime. And despite that, every state has tremendous within-state variation in achievement,” notes the latest such report. Based on every state’s experience with standards and corresponding tests over the past 30 years, the study authors see no evidence Common Core will improve student achievement.

The 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, using a host of documented evidence. The program represents a major centralization of control over curriculum, contrary to the American tradition of decentralized control and funding. Instead of being “world class,” the standards represent a significant step back from what experts say are the standards the nation really needs. And they are tied to large expansions of data collection on students and erosions 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

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].