Policy Documents

Research & Commentary: Arkansas Common Core

August 1, 2013

The Arkansas legislature is holding hearings on the Common Core national education standards and tests in math and English that 46 states, including Arkansas, have adopted.

In 2012, 16 states reconsidered Common Core. Some lawmakers, professors, consultants, and teachers say pausing implementation would take states a step backward, because Common Core is rigorous and internationally benchmarked, they claim. Pairing these standards with national tests funded exclusively by the federal government, they argue, will improve student achievement and accelerate innovation by creating a national market for education materials.

Those concerned about the Common Core set of standards point out no state, school district, or even a single school has ever used it before. The standards are entirely experimental, and Common Core’s own validation committee was never given research demonstrating the standards will improve student achievement. Several committee members consequently 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. There is no comparison of Common Core and its major points to international bests. 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 is the loss of state and local control and flexibility over what children will learn, even in private and home schools, because all major tests, including college entrance exams, are aligning to Common Core and these will feed into national student databases the 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 Arkansas.


Tip Sheet: Common Core Standards
This one-page tip sheet summarizes the background of and arguments regarding Common Core. It 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.”

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 of all, raise the academic bar for prospective teachers. 

Beebe Said To Appoint Task Force 'FASTER Arkansas' With Plans for Broadband Expansion
Arkansas schools simply don’t have enough computer equipment and bandwidth to administer Common Core tests, so Gov. Mike Beebe has appointed a task force to recommend solutions.

Arkansas Public School Debt Nearly Triples Since 2000
Debt among Arkansas K-12 public school districts and educational service cooperatives has nearly tripled since 2000, increasing from $1.2 billion to $3.5 billion, according to data compiled by the Arkansas Policy Foundation. That’s $7,200 for each K-12 child in an Arkansas public school, an all-time high.

Jay Greene’s July 2013 Speech to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Common Core is doomed to failure because it requires more coercion than states and schools can handle and research has shown that in the long run, improved standards don’t lead to improved results, states Jay Greene, head of the University of Arkansas’ department of education reform. No Child Left Behind increased federal control over public education, but Common Core is worse because it effectively tells schools what and how to teach, because the standards drive content and teaching methods, he explains. Common Core imposes top-down accountability instead of putting it where it should be, with communities and families, Greene said. The best way to ensure the most effective education system is school choice, he concludes.

Education Dept. Helps Leak Students’ Personal Data
States and schools are signing over private data from millions of students to companies and researchers, writes Joy Pullmann in the Washington Examiner. Standardized tests are beginning to incorporate psychological and behavioral assessments. Every state also is building databases to collect and share such information among agencies and companies, and the U.S. Department of Education recently reinterpreted federal privacy laws so schools and governments don’t have to tell parents their children’s information has been shared. 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 the ability to correct it, and evaluate and reinforce security against hacking and data loss.

Invited Testimony for a Hearing in Michigan on House Bill 4276
Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita at the University of Arkansas who sat on a committee to evaluate Common Core, explains to the Michigan legislature in 2013 why it should ditch Common Core as quickly as possible. She states Common Core’s non-rigorous English standards will reduce college readiness and critical thinking; that they lack a research base, international benchmarking, and qualified authors; and that non-Common Core English classes can better prepare students for authentic college coursework. She also explains how lawmakers and schools can implement a first-rate academic curriculum that increases student learning.

National Cost of Aligning States and Localities to the Common Core Standards
Implementation of the Common Core standards is likely to represent substantial additional expense for most states, concludes this analysis by AccountabilityWorks. Although a handful of states have begun to analyze these costs, most signed on to the initiative without a thorough, public vetting of the costs and benefits. In particular, there has been very little attention to the potential technology infrastructure costs that cash-strapped districts will face in order to implement the Common Core assessments within a reasonable testing window. The analysts estimate Common Core will cost taxpayers $16 billion to implement nationwide.

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 curricula schools use and how well they instruct students, initiatives such as Common Core will not improve learning.

The Common Core Math Standards
Common Core math standards are longer, less demanding, more confusing, and more repetitive than the best standards being used today, says former U.S. Department of Education official Ze’ev Wurman in an interview for the journal Education Next. They are mediocre nationally and internationally. The standards drop essential math content such as converting fractions to decimals, and they delay algebra until high school, whereas high-achieving countries and states expect students to do algebra in grade 8. The authors of the Common Core math standards had little experience constructing standards, he notes, and it shows. The standards consistently put students behind international bests by a grade or two in the elementary years and a full two years behind in high school.

How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk
Common Core’s standards for English language arts make it unlikely U.S. students will study a meaningful range of significant literary works in high school and learn something about their own literary tradition before graduation, conclude Sandra Stotsky and Mark Bauerlein in this Pioneer Institute paper. The Core’s decreased emphasis on literary study will prevent students from acquiring a rich understanding and mastery of the English language, and its stress on direct informational reading likely will lead to a decrease in students’ analytical thinking capacity. The paper explains how states and schools can compensate for these deficiencies in Common Core’s English language arts requirements.

The Road to a National Curriculum
In three short years the Obama administration placed the nation on the road to a national curriculum. The two federally funded Common Core testing consortia admit the standards and assessments will create content for state K-12 curriculum and instructional materials. Three federal laws expressly prohibit this, however, note two former top U.S. Department of Education lawyers in this policy brief for the Pioneer Institute. 

How Well Are American Students Learning? 
A series of data analyses from 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,” notes 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 Common Core will improve student achievement.

The Common Core: A Poor Choice for States
In this Heartland Institute Policy Brief, Heartland Research Fellow Joy Pullmann reveals major weaknesses of the Common Core, providing a host of documented evidence. The program represents 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 the nation really needs. And they are tied to large expansions of data collection on students and erosion of privacy rights.


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 Web site at http://news.heartland.org/education, The Heartland Institute’s Web site athttp://www.heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.

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 jpullmann@heartland.org.