Common Core English Language Arts standards: More problems than promise

December 5, 2013

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The mission of the Civitas Institute is to facilitate the implementation of conservative policy solutions to improve the lives of all North Carolinians.

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RALEIGH, NC – On June 2, 2010 the North Carolina State Board of Education adopted the Common Core math and English Language Arts standards.

common core twoOpinion regarding the quality of the English Language Arts (ELA) standards appears divided. The Pro-Common Core Fordham Foundation found the ELA standards superior to the existing standards of 37 states, including North Carolina.

Such a conclusion reflects on the poor quality of standards nationally. Despite the improvement, however, scholars say ELA standards have significant shortcomings.

“Empty skill sets.” Sandra Stotsky is a member of the ELA validation committee and one of the primary authors of the Massachusetts state standards — widely regarded as the best in the nation. She criticized the ELA standards as “empty skill sets [which] cannot lead to even a meaningful high school diploma.”

Rigorous Standards? Common Core Standards’ goal of “college readiness” does not signify a level of achievement or readiness for real college work. After analyzing examples of complexity in high school texts, Professor Stotsky determined “the average reading level of the passages on the common tests now being developed to determine ‘college-readiness’ may be at about the grade 7 level.”

College Readiness. Common Core’s goal of “college readiness” ELA standards will prepare students only for nonselective community colleges. This fact was admitted by Jason Zimba, one of the writers of the standards. Common Core Standards do little for students who aspire to attend the best colleges and universities.

Internationally Benchmarked? Despite claims to the contrary, the English standards are not internationally benchmarked. No supporting evidence has been provided. When confronted with the claim, some Common Core supporters have changed the verbiage from “internationally benchmarked” to “internationally informed.”

Misplaced Emphasis. ELA standards divide reading between literary texts and informational reading. The emphasis on informational texts diminishes student exposure to great and complex literary works. Much research suggests critical and analytical thinking skills — the skills Common Core proponents say they support — develop through exposure to great literature. The move to require greater emphasis on informational texts is not grounded in research.

Little Emphasis on Basics. Contrary to the Common Core Standards themselves, Common Core-based tests developed and released by the NC Department of Public Instruction include relatively few English language questions and no traditional grammar, spelling, mechanics or usage questions.

Authored by Bob Luebke – Civitas Institute


[1] Chester E. Finn, Jr. & Michael J. Petrilli, “The Common Core Curriculum National education standards that even conservatives can love,” National Review Online, July 22, 2010, nationalreview.com/articles/243517/common-core-curriculum-chester-e-finn-jr. Sheila Byrd Carmichael
[2] Testimony for a Hearing on Indiana Senate Bill 183, Sandra Stotsky, Professor of Education Reform Emerita, University of Arkansas, January 16, 2013.
[3] Controlling Education from the Top: Why Common Core is Bad for America: A Pioneer Institute and American Principles Project White Paper, Emmett McGroaty and Jane Robbins, May 2012.
[4] Id. See also Sandra Stotsky & Ze’ev Wurman, Common Core’s Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade, Pioneer Institute, no. 65, at p. 22 (July 2010); See Statement of Ze’ev Wurman Regarding Common Core Mathematics Standards (“Wurman Statement”).
[5] Common Core is Neither Internationally Benchmarked or State-led, Jim Stergios, Pioneer Institute, August 7, 2013. available at: http://pioneerinstitute.org/blog/blog-education/blog-common-core/common-core-was-neither-internationally-benchmarked-nor-state-led/
[6] See Goodbye Grammar, N.C. Based Common Core English tests disregard, grammar, spelling, mechanics and usage, Spotlight Report,  Dr. Terry Stoops, John Locke Foundation, May 13, 2013.
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