Drilling through the Core, a new book published by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute, takes a critical look at the Common Core standards, arguing against what many conservatives have deemed a one-size-fits-all approach forced on 50 million students by the federal government.
The book isn’t exactly a beach read. Littered with footnotes, acronyms, and direct excerpts from the Common Core standards, it reads more as a reference guide than a narrative. The book is actually a collection of research and essays from education experts, leading to some overlap between the chapters.
That being said, what it lacks in readability, it makes up for in depth of content. Drilling through the Core doesn’t just poke holes in Common Core – it pulls out a giant power drill and rips every piece of it to shreds.
First, the process. One of the major mistakes in developing Common Core was that surprisingly little input was sought from teachers, students, or parents in the rush to develop the standards. Far from being a grassroots movement that began in the states themselves, Common Core was “a project put together by a small number of educational entrepreneurs who ‘sold’ their idea to some powerful financial and political backers,” argues Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, in the book’s introduction.
Though the sheltered process is cause for concern, it is not sufficient to render judgment on Common Core itself. To do that, the authors of Drilling through the Core step through the minute details of many of the Common Core standards. They uncover numerous ambiguities and problems – often easily avoidable had the proponents of the standards actually took the time to listen to more viewpoints.
One of the most glaring questions concerns the emphasis on “informational reading.” Common Core mandates that 5o percent of high school English readings be “informational texts” as opposed to literature. It offers a number of suggested readings that fit into this category, but ultimately leaves many decisions up to teachers.
Teacher flexibility is generally a good thing, but Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky, college English professors, argue that Common Core sets a low standard for literary knowledge. Because teachers can use any number of contemporary texts to “contextualize” the historical literature normally assigned, traditional great texts and poetic works will begin to disappear from curriculums.
For example, British literature is conspicuously absent from Common Core’s list of suggested readings, save a few Shakespeare plays. “Teachers dedicated to a strong literary-historical curriculum may cite Common Core in defense of a traditional syllabus of English literature from The Canterbury Tales to 1984, but teachers uninterested in that tradition may satisfy Common Core with one Shakespeare play, The Declaration of Independence, some poems by Walt Whitman, and the rest contemporary literature,” write Bauerlein and Stotsky.
Common Core was supposed to standardize educational requirements to make sure students have a fundamental understanding of literary classics. Yet, the standards reveal that there’s a remarkable amount of variance that can still occur.
In mathematics, Common Core has been publicly ridiculed for problem solving techniques that defy common sense. Not only are the math requirements confusing, the authors argue that they’re actually ineffective.
In an essay excerpted from a larger 2014 study, education expert Richard P. Phelps and Stanford math professor R. James Milgram describe how Common Core’s math standards are inadequate. “Because the [Common Core Mathematics Standards] are low standards, topping out at about the level of a weak Algebra II course, many students will reach college unprepared for serious work in the STEM disciplines,” they argue. Milgram was the only mathematics content expert on Common Core’s validation committee and declined to endorse the standards.
Another major reason experts are skeptical of Common Core is its overarching philosophy. Common Core purports to train students in “college readiness,” a goal often repeated throughout the guidelines. Many worry that proponents of Common Core misunderstand the purpose of K-12 education, viewing it as a college-prep program dominated by constant standardized testing and training in “21st century skills.”
“School is a haven for knowing – not just knowing about, in order to, but sheer and beautiful knowing,” writes Providence College English professor Anthony Esolen in his Drilling through the Core essay.
The book is worth reading if you really want to dive into the details of the argument against Common Core. The Pioneer Institute estimates that implementing Common Core would cost $10 billion upfront and hundreds of millions of dollars for each following year. For this amount of money, the authors argue we should expect better.