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In the Nation's Interest

Rebuttal to Ratner’s Wall Street Journal Common Core Op-Ed

By Patrick W. Gross
The Lovell Group;
Co-chair, Policy & Impact Committee,
Committee for Economic Development

In an August 5th Wall Street Journal op-ed, Marina Ratner paints a distorted picture of the Common Core mathematics standards, contending that they “fail any comparison with the standards of high-achieving countries…” Nothing could be further from the truth.  A 2012 study from Michigan State University confirms that they meet the rigor of other top-performing nations. Furthermore, as is widely reported and documented, the development of the standards was actually informed, in part, from the findings of international assessments and studies that include Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Ratner also asserts that California’s Common Core standards “fail compared to the old California standards.”  While California did have strong standards prior to adoption, the new standards build on them and do not detract from their quality.  California, along with eight other states, chose to supplement the mathematics standards with additional content that the state developed – an option available as part of the Common Core adoption process.

Also important to note is that the standards serve as a framework for what students should know and be learning at each K-12 grade level.  To be clear, they are not curriculum.  And the way in which the standards are taught is a decision for educators made at the local school and district levels.  Administrators and teachers alike understand the importance of professional development in the implementation process.  Though the efforts across the country may be uneven at this point in time, progress is being made such as in Tennessee.    

Aside from the educational components there is something larger at stake.  Retreating from the standards would weaken students’ competitiveness in an economy that increasingly puts a premium on mathematics.  By 2020, it’s estimated that U.S. companies will need 123 million highly skilled workers – many of which will need a command of math and the skill sets derived from it – but only 50 million workers will qualify.  This skills gap is unsurprising when you consider the fact that, in 2012, the nation’s students ranked an abysmal 26th in math when compared to their 15-year-old peers in 34 developed countries.   

Not every state began at the level where California started.  Yet over 40 states have voluntarily chosen to adopt the Common Core standards, where students are being imparted with a more rigorous college- and career-ready education.  They will benefit significantly as a result, considering that the median earnings of a bachelor's degree recipient during a full-time working life is about 65 percent higher than that of a high school graduate; and, that college graduates report being more satisfied with their work than graduates of only high school.  Moreover, both students and states will no longer have to devote nearly as much funding to remediation, which came with a price tag of roughly $3 billion in 2011.

The Common Core is a positive step in improving the quality of K-12 education to ensure all students are ready for college and career training pathways.  Its continuation, however, depends on the nation being given accurate information about how and why it will improve the quality of life for our children and generations to come.