The launch of 2015 NAEP scores showed national achievement stalling out or falling in reading and mathematics. Poor people results triggered speculation in regards to the effect of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the controversial set of standards adopted by in excess of 40 states since 2010. Critics of Common Core tended in the wrong the standards for your disappointing scores. Its defenders claimed it was to soon to gauge CCSS’s impact and therefore implementation would take several years to unfold. William J. Bushaw, executive director of your National assessment Governing Board, cited “curricular uncertainty” as the culprit. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan argued that new standards typically experience an “implementation dip” not too long ago of teachers actually attempting to put them into action in classrooms.

In the rush to argue whether CCSS has positively or negatively affected American education, these speculations are vague in respect of how the standards boosted or depressed learning. They cannot give a description of the mechanisms, the connective tissue, linking standards to learning. Bushaw and Duncan come closest, arguing that this newness of CCSS offers established curriculum confusion, even so the explanation falls flat for several reasons. Curriculum inside three states that adopted the standards, rescinded them, then adopted something more important should be extremely confused. Although the 2013-2015 NAEP changes for Indiana, Oklahoma, and Structured were somewhat greater than the national figures, not worse.[i] Furthermore, surveys of math teachers conducted during the newbie or two once the standards were adopted found: a) most teachers liked them, and b) most teachers said these people were already teaching in the manner consistent with CCSS.[ii] They did not mention uncertainty. Recent polls, however, show those positive sentiments eroding. Mr. Bushaw may very well be mistaking disenchantment for uncertainty.[iii]

For teachers, the novelty of CCSS needs to be dissipating. Common Core’s advocates placed great faith in professional development to apply the standards. Well, there have been a number of it. Within the last few couple of years, millions of teacher-hours have been invested in CCSS training. Whether everything that activity has a lasting impact is questionable. Randomized control trials are already conducted of two large-scale professional development programs. Interestingly, but they pre-date CCSS, both programs got down to promote the type of “instructional shifts” championed by CCSS advocates. The studies found if teacher behaviors vary from such training-and that’s not a certainty-the changes fade right after a few years. Indeed, what a pattern evident in lots of studies of educational change: a pop in the beginning, pursued by fade out.

My own work analyzing NAEP scores this year and 2013 led me in summary that the early implementation of CCSS was producing small, positive changes in NAEP.[iv] I warned that individuals gains “may be practically it gets” for CCSS.[v] Advocates in the standards hope that CCSS could eventually produce extended great results as educators discover ways to have tried them. That is the reasonable hypothesis. But it really should definitely be apparent than a counter-hypothesis has equal standing: any positive effect of adopting Common Core often have already occurred. More specifically, the proposition is: any effects from adopting new standards and looking to change curriculum and instruction to evolve to the people standards occur early and they are small in magnitude. Policymakers continue to have two or three arrows left inside the implementation quiver, accountability being the most effective. Accountability systems have essentially been don hold as NCLB sputtered for an end and new CCSS tests appeared on the scene. So that the CCSS story isn’t over. Both hypotheses remain plausible.

Reading Instruction in 4th and 8th Grades

Back towards mechanisms, the connective tissue binding standards to classrooms. The 2015 Brown Center Report introduced one possible classroom effect that is certainly looking in NAEP data: the relative emphasis teachers place on fiction and nonfiction in reading instruction. The ink had been drying on new Common Core textbooks every time a heated debate broke out about CCSS’s recommendation that informational reading should receive greater attention in classrooms.[vi]

Fiction has long dominated reading instruction. That dominance appears to be waning.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

After 2011, something may have happened. I’m more persuaded that Common Core influenced recent shift towards nonfiction than We’re that Common Core has significantly affected student achievement-for either good or ill. But causality is tough to substantiate so they can reject with NAEP data, and trustworthy efforts to do this call for a modern-day analysis than presented here.

Four lessons from previous education reforms

Nevertheless, the figures above reinforce important lessons that have been learned from previous top-down reforms. Let’s conclude with four:

1. There will be evidence that CCSS has an impression over the content of reading instruction, moving with the dominance of fiction over nonfiction to near parity in emphasis. Unfortunately, as Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky have stated, there exists scant evidence that this type of shift improves children’s reading.[vii]

2. Reading more nonfiction doesn’t indicate that students are going to be reading top quality texts, get the job done materials are aligned with CCSS. The Core Knowledge Foundation and the Partnership for Modern Learning, both supporters of Common Core, have very different just what it the manuscripts schools should use while using the CCSS.[viii] Both organizations advocate for curricula having very little in common.

3. Relating to the research into implementing education reforms, analysts have a tendency to pinpoint the formal channels of implementation and also the standard tools of public administration-for example, intergovernmental hand-offs (federal to convey to district to highschool), alignment of curriculum, assessment along with other the different parts of the reform, professional development, getting incentives right, and accountability mechanisms. Analysts often ignore informal channels, and several of such avenues funnel straight to schools and classrooms.[ix] Politics along with the media are sometimes overlooked. Principals and teachers know the dimensions and politics swirling around K-12 school reform. Many educators undoubtedly formed their own individual opinions on CCSS as well as the fiction vs. nonfiction debate before the standard managerial efforts touched them.

4. Local educators whose jobs are related to curriculum almost certainly have ideas by what constitutes good curriculum. It’s part of the profession. Major top-down reforms which include CCSS provide local proponents with political cover to pursue curricular and instructional changes that could be politically unpopular from your jurisdiction. Anybody that believes nonfiction needs to have a more prominent role from the K-12 curriculum was presented a lever for promoting their beliefs by CCSS. I’ve previously called these the “dog whistles” of top-down curriculum reform, subtle signals that provide local advocates license to advertise unpopular positions on controversial issues.

This post originally appeared for the Brown Center Chalkboard.


[i] In the four subject-grade combinations assessed by NAEP (reading and math at 4th and 8th grades), IN, SC, and OK all exceeded national gains on not less than three out of four tests from 2013-2015. NAEP data are usually analyzed using the NAEP Data Explorer:

[ii] Inside of a Michigan State survey of teachers conducted last year, 77 percent of teachers, after being offered selected CCSS standards for their grade, thought we were looking at much like their state’s former standards.

[iii] Inside Education Next surveys, 76 percent of teachers supported Common Core in 2013 and 12 percent opposed. In 2015, 40 % supported and Fifty % opposed.

[iv] I oftentimes tried variation in state implementation of CCSS to assign the usa to three groups and analyzed differences of your groups’ NAEP gains



[vii] Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky (2012). “How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk.” An innovator Institute White Paper.

[viii] Compare the P21 Common Core Toolkit ( with Core Knowledge ELA Sequence ( It is actually difficult to believe that they may be dealing with precisely the same standards in references to CCSS.

[ix] I elaborate about this time of Chapter 8, “The Fate of Reform,” in The Tracking Wars: State Reform Meets School Policy (Brookings Institution Press, 1999).