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Study Finds Declining Student Achievement, Increased Harm to School Choice Since Common Core

September 26, 2018 in Economics

By Neal McCluskey, Theodor Rebarber, Patrick J. Wolf

Neal McCluskey, Theodor Rebarber, and Patrick J. Wolf

While U.S. academic performance has declined since the broad
implementation of Common Core, school choice programs are
increasingly hamstrung by regulations that require private schools
to adopt a single curriculum standards-based test as a condition
for receiving public money, according to a new study published by
Pioneer Institute.

“When states mandate a particular curriculum
standards-based test, private schools are essentially required to
adopt the curriculum content and pedagogy on which the test is
based if they want to increase the probability that that their
students are successful,” said Theodor Rebarber, chief
executive officer of AccountabilityWorks and co-author of a report
titled, “Common Core, School Choice and Rethinking
Standards-Based Reform.”

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. tuition grant (“voucher”)
programs require schools to administer a single curriculum-based
test, typically a Common Core-aligned test, in order to receive
public money. Tax credits are less susceptible to government
mandates than voucher programs are.

Congress should eliminate
the mandate that every state impose a single statewide set of
curriculum standards and allow states to experiment with diverse
approaches to accountability.

Under tax credit programs, parents paying tuition or others that
donate money receive a tax credit. The authors find that in 95
percent of cases, these programs are not subject to
curriculum-based testing mandates.

Common Core is the logical endpoint of nearly three decades of
congressionally mandated centralization through
“standards-based reform” that has moved key curriculum
content, sequencing and pedagogical decisions away from local
school systems and educators to the state and national levels.

Instead of the promised accountability for results or informed
school choice, the outcome at the local level has been a culture of
compliance (“alignment”) that has intruded into the
core function of curriculum and teaching.

“With its near-monopoly status distorting the textbook and
other instructional materials markets,” said Neal McCluskey,
director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational
Freedom, who co-authored the study, “Common Core blunts the
innovation, dynamism and competition that is the heart of the
school choice movement,” with Rebarber.

The authors find that after several decades of only incremental
test score improvements, which started prior to federal
requirements for curriculum centralization, since Common Core was
implemented in 45 states and Washington, D.C., student results are
showing the first significant declines in achievement, especially
for students who were already behind.

Fourth- and eighth-grade math scores were down overall on the
2015 and 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress. The
declines among lower-performing students (bottom quartile) were
even steeper. Fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores were flat,
with declines among lower-performing students. At the same time,
the United States is no closer to the internationally competitive
performance in math and science observed in top-tier developed
nations.

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Source: OP-EDS

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