Research & Commentary: Montana Common Core

Published February 24, 2015

Montana legislators are debating a proposal that would repeal the state’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards, a set of requirements for what elementary and secondary school children should know in each grade in math and English.

On November 4, 2011, Montana was the last of 46 states to adopt Common Core. Other states, such as Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia, never adopted the standards, and a recent nationwide backlash has led to successful repeals in Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.

Common Core supporters say implementing standards that are both high and unified with other states will jumpstart the U.S. education system and improve student achievement on a mass scale. A study from the Brookings Institution contradicts that claim, instead finding government-mandated standards fail to correlate with student achievement. For example, every state has had its own set of standards for many years, yet variation in achievement is four to five times larger within states than between them, despite the quality or rigor of the standards.

A government-mandated, single-style progression of learning is unlikely to be the best way to accommodate the individuality of Montana’s 148,000 students. Legislators should repeal Common Core and should replace it with standards based on those of high-achieving states, but they also should recognize research shows there may be no need for government-imposed standards at all. A free market has its own standardizing mechanisms. Reformers can help create a free market in education by letting the money follow the child, providing schools greater autonomy while increasing accountability.

Alternatively, the ACT organization’s standards are a well-regarded, nongovernmental set of standards that are more rigorous than those offered by Common Core. Using ACT’s more traditional, research-based standards and tests will benefit students, parents, educators, and taxpayers by tracking progress toward college- and career-readiness while also remaining free of Washington, DC’s interference.

The following documents provide additional information about Common Core in Montana and nationwide.


Common Core: Poor Choice for Wisconsin (pertinent information for all Smarter Balanced states, like Montana)
In May 2013, testimony before the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly Education Committees’ public hearing on Common Core State Standards, Heartland Institute Research Fellow and Wisconsin native Joy Pullmann argues Wisconsin should abandon Common Core and instead implement its own standards and tests, which should “incorporate coherent content and true international competitiveness, and be modeled on top state standards.” Pullmann cites Common Core’s invasions of student privacy, lack of track record, and demonstrably low standards as proving it’s a “poor choice” for Wisconsin’s 865,000 students.

The Common Core: A Poor Choice for States
In this thoroughly footnoted Heartland Institute Policy Brief, Research Fellow Joy Pullmann reveals some major weaknesses of Common Core State Standards. 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 represent a significant step back from what experts say students really need. In addition, the standards are tied to large expansions of data collection on students and erosion of privacy rights. 

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.” 

Dumb Versus Dumber in Common Core Debate
Ramesh Ponnuru, a Bloomberg View columnist and resident fellow at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, opines Common Core supporters and opponents have been perpetuating misleading claims. He says opponents are inaccurate in stating Common Core will reduce the reading of literature in English classes in favor of nonfiction texts. He charges Common Core supporters with overstating the notion Common Core is not a curriculum, “as though there were a hard and fast distinction between requiring all students to know specific things at a set time and requiring they be taught them in a certain order,” Ponnuru said. He says the real problem is Common Core is unlikely to increase student learning, primarily because state standards don’t correlate with student achievement. 

Replacing Common Core with Proven Standards of Excellence
This October 2014 paper by David V. Anderson, Ph.D., describes the shortcomings of Common Core State Standards, including their academic inferiority and heavy interference from the federal government. Anderson posits the academic standards and batteries of tests from the private, nonprofit ACT organization are academically superior and relatively free from Washington, DC’s control. 

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. 

Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core
There is strong evidence 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 curriculum schools use and how well it instructs students, initiatives like Common Core will not improve learning and the core of student learning will continue to be ignored, to students’ detriment. 

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 important of all, raise the academic bar for prospective teachers. 

Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Curriculum Standards
Neal McCluskey, Ph.D., associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, examines national curriculum standards in this February 2010 Policy Analysis and finds setting high standards and getting students to achieve them is very difficult. McCluskey also writes successful education reform will require going in the opposite direction of the top-down approach taken by national standards, instead moving toward a free-market system that produces a mix of high standards, accountability, and flexibility that is essential to achieving optimal educational outcomes.


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 website at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

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