Research & Commentary: Michigan Common Core

Published April 24, 2013

The Michigan legislature is considering in its 2014 budget a measure that would prohibit the state department of education from using public funds to implement Common Core, national education standards and tests in math and English that 46 states, including Michigan, have adopted. Another bill is in play that would withdraw Michigan from Common Core.

These bills make Michigan one of about a dozen states reconsidering Common Core. Some lawmakers, professors, consultants, and teachers argue this would take states a step backward, because Common Core is rigorous and internationally benchmarked. Pairing these standards with national tests funded exclusively by the federal government as enforcement, they say, will improve student achievement and accelerate innovation by creating a national market for education materials.

Those concerned about the Common Core first point out that no state, school district, or even school has ever used it before. The standards are entirely experimental. Because those on Common Core’s own validation committee were never given research demonstrating what Common Core demands of students will indeed improve student achievement, several 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, rather than a thoughtful comparison of Common Core and its major points to international bests. And 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, they note, 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 Michigan.

Experts Urge Michigan Lawmakers to Rescind ‘Mediocre’ Standards for Student Learning
In a hearing on a bill to remove Michigan from Common Core, several national experts said the standards are mediocre, won’t improve student achievement, and won’t make U.S. students more competitive, reports the Detroit Free Press. Other experts at the hearing countered those claims, saying essentially the opposite. A teacher testified in favor of the bill, saying Michigan teachers had little input on the standards and that they amount to experimenting on children.

There’s No Opting Out of Common Core
Common Core changes curriculum and testing for not just traditional public schools, but charter schools, private schools, and homeschool families, writes Casey Given of Americans for Prosperity-Michigan. This is partly because many private and home schools must administer state tests, but also because the SAT and ACT are being Common Core-aligned, meaning there is very little room for anyone to opt out or for a different arrangement of curriculum and subjects. This reality dilutes the meaning and freedom of all forms of school choice.

Letter of Support for HB 4276, End Common Core in Michigan
The Michigan director of Americans for Prosperity writes on behalf of his more-than-87,000 state members to support House Bill 4276, which would end Michigan’s participation in Common Core. He points out the repeated failure of federal and centralized solutions for education and discusses how Common Core eliminates diversity within schools, creating a monopoly on instruction styles and content. He also criticizes the initiative for taking away the voice and power of local schools and parents to determine what and how children learn.

National Education Standards Will Stifle Innovation
Education standards force students and teachers into a curricular straitjacket, alienating creative teachers and sapping student motivation, writes Michigan teacher Ryan McCarl. Standards are nothing more than the products of committees of education “experts” quibbling around a conference table about which curriculum objectives to attach to each age and grade level. Any list of skills and knowledge all students must possess by a specific age is bound to be somewhat arbitrary, he writes. Centralizing decisions about curriculum also makes the teaching profession less attractive and squashes innovation and freedom.

Education Dept. Helps Leak Students’ Personal Data
States and schools are signing over private data from millions of students to companies and researchers who hope to glean secrets of the human mind, writes Joy Pullmann in the Washington Examiner. Standardized tests are beginning to incorporate psychological and behavioral assessment. Every state is also building databases to collect and share such information among agencies and companies, and the U.S. Department of Education has recently reinterpreted federal privacy laws so that schools and governments don’t have to tell parents their kids’ information has been shared. This leads to great danger for student privacy. 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.

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 like 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. At the same time, 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 since no one keeps such statistics. Without more information on what curriculum schools use and how well it instructs students, initiatives like the Common Core State Standards will not improve learning and the core of student learning will continue to be ignored, to student detriment.

The Common Core Math Standards
Common Core math standards are longer, less demanding, more confusing, and repetitive, says former U.S. Department of Education official Ze’ev Wurman in an interview for the journal Education Next. In short, they are mediocre nationally and internationally. The standards also drop essential math content such as converting fractions to decimals and delay algebra until high school, although 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. It also consistently puts students behind international bests by a grade or two in the elementary years, and a full two years behind in high school.

Invited Testimony for a Hearing in Michigan on House Bill 4276
Common Core’s English language arts standards will not develop critical thinking or college readiness, will reduce the quality of the teaching force, and cannot be changed unilaterally by Michigan educators no matter what legislators and parents are told, says Dr. Sandra Stotsky in invited testimony to the Michigan legislature on a bill to withdraw the state from Common Core. She explains why the research that purports to support Common Core has been taken out of context or otherwise slanted and suggests better alternatives that will actually help students learn while retaining Michigan control over its education system.

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,” says 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 to believe Common Core will improve student achievement.


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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].