Research & Commentary: South Carolina Common Core

Published October 31, 2014

South Carolina became the second state in the nation to repeal Common Core State Standards, a set of requirements for what elementary and secondary school children should know in each grade in math and English, when Gov. Nikki Haley (R) signed H3893 on May 30, 2014. The bill requires a committee to review and replace national Common Core standards in the state before the 2015–16 school year.

Since then, Missouri and Oklahoma have also repealed Common Core. Some other states, such as Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia, never adopted them at all.

Many supporters of new South Carolina standards are concerned the standards won’t be significantly different from the Common Core standards they are meant to replace. This is because the federal government still has the power to determine whether the new standards are “college and career ready” in deciding whether to grant the state waivers from No Child Left Behind requirements.

A study from the nonpartisan Brookings Institution found government-mandated standards fail to correlate with student achievement. For example, every state has had its own set standards for many years, yet variation in achievement is four to five times larger within states than between them, regardless of the quality or rigor of the standards.

The individual needs of South Carolina’s 727,186 students are unlikely to be best accommodated by a government-mandated, single-style progression of learning. Legislators should understand the supposed need for government-created standards is dubious. A free market has its own standardizing mechanisms. Reformers can help create a free market in education by having the money follow the child, and providing schools greater autonomy while increasing accountability. Such reforms will benefit South Carolinians far more than federal dependency.

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

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


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’s control. 

The Common Core: A Poor Choice For States
Heartland Research Fellow Joy Pullmann reveals major weaknesses of 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 represent a significant step back from what experts say are the standards America really needs. And they are tied to a large expansion of data collection on students and an erosion of privacy rights. 

Tip Sheet: Common Core Standards
This one-page tip sheet summarizes the background of and arguments over 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” he said. Ponnuru says the real problem is Common Core is unlikely to increase student learning, primarily because state standards don’t correlate with student achievement. 

How Well Are American Students Learning?
After conducting a series of data analyses, the Brookings Institution finds 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 suggesting Common Core will improve student achievement. 

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. 

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, says Matthew Chingos and Grover Whitehurst in a report for the Brookings Institution. Very little research has been done on available curricula to determine their effectiveness, and it’s practically impossible to determine which 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 foundations of student learning will continue to be ignored, to the detriment of students. 

Common Core: It’s Bigger Than You Think
This August 2014 essay from the South Carolina Policy Council argues passing a Common Core repeal bill is just a modest first step toward eliminating the standards from South Carolina or preventing any other version of it from being implemented. The Council posits South Carolina must next free itself of federal dependency by implementing “real school choice programs” and avoiding the one-size-fits-all solutions the federal government bribes states to accept.


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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