“Takedown” of Common Core gets Taken Down

Recently a high school senior testified before the Knox County School Board in Tennessee, and the video of the event went viral. His testimony made it all the way to such respectable morning shows as Fox and Friends (in between water-skiing squirrels and skateboarding dogs of course). If you haven’t seen it yet,  here’s the full video, as much as it pains me to give him extra page views.

As per his request in his opening statement I shall refute his “research,” which is mostly the standard boogiemen arguments against Common Core. Refuting it logically was fairly easy -once I transcribed his speech. As this is a Georgia political blog, most of my argument will focus on Georgia, though there is reference to other states throughout.

This is going to be a long post, so get ready for it.

“Here’s the history of the common core. In 2009 the National Governors Association, The Council of Chief State School Officers partnered with Achieve Inc, a nonprofit that received millions in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Thus the initiative seemed to spring from states when in reality it was contrived by an insular group of educational testing executives with only two academic content specialists. Neither specialist approved the final standards, and the English consultant Dr. Sandra Stotsky publicly stated she felt the standards left students with an empty skill set lacking literary knowledge.”

This is flawed research and a weak argument. He offers no proof of the cabal he suggests led the initiative for Common Core, it’s just an empty claim. He also makes no mention of Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue co-chairing the initiative. Or the involvement of Jeb Bush, Roy Romer, Bill Haslam, Jennifer Granholm, Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee or Mitch Daniels, all governors who were involved. In Bush’s case, still very much involved in education; and in Huckabee’s case, still defending Common Core as a reaction to a Federal takeover of education. While it is fine and dandy that rubes such as Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin go off on Common Core conspiracies, the people who have actually governed and helped to create it are trying to set the record straight.

There is also no mention of how the Common Core standards were based on the 2004 Georgia Performance Standards which were rated by the Fordham Institute as being in the top ten for English and Mathematics. (Link goes to pdf.) Georgia’s standards have been through the gauntlet of implementation and evaluation, and they were developed with input from teachers, administrators, and educational specialists.

Professor Sandra Stotsky, cited as opposing Common Core standards even though she helped develop them, is offered as proof positive of Common Core’s inadequacy. After all, who knows anything better than its creator?  Stotsky is just one voice among many, though, and studies on the rigor of Common Core Standards by Professor David Conley, (who served on the validation committee alongside Stotsky) and Dr. William Schmidt, (who verified through international benchmarking the alignment of Common Core with high-performing countries,) have been dismissed because they were funded by the Gates Foundation, although no one dismisses Stotsky’s funding by the Heritage Foundation.

A study by the Fordham Institute in 2010, when the Standards were publicly released, found the Common Core to be stronger than 33 states’ standards in both English Language Arts and mathematics. To suggest otherwise one must ignore the work and input by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Council of Teachers of English, and other professional groups comprised of teachers and academic leaders.


“Nevertheless Common Core emerged. Keep in mind that the standards were never voted on by congress, the Department of Education, State or local Governments. Yet their implementation was approved by 49 states and territories. The President essentially bribed states into implementation via race to the top, offering 4.35 billion taxpayer dollars to participating states. $500 million of which went to Tennessee. And much like No Child Left Behind, the program promises national testing and a one size fits all education, because well it worked so well the first time.

While I do admire some aspects of the core, such as fewer standards and emphasis on applicational writing. It’s not going to fix our academic deficit! If nothing else these standards are a glowing conflict of interest and they lack the research the allegedly received. Most importantly the standards illustrate a mistrust of teachers. Something I believe this county has already felt for a while.”

Educational standards are rarely voted on by Congress or legislatures, and one could argue that because they were developed by governors and State School Superintendents, that they were “voted on.” But standards are mostly the purview of local Boards of Education. Only four states require legislative approval for standards: Idaho, Kentucky, Maine and Washington -all four of which adopted Common Core. His argument here is spurious.

Bribery is a spurious argument here as well, especially considering that the five states that decided not to participate in the Common Core – Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Minnesota, and Nebraska – have not lost any federal funding. (There was a factual error here that has been omitted) Just because the President thought it was a good idea, should not doom a program that was organically driven from the states.

As for the national “one sized fits all” testing, states are not required to join either of the two federally funded testing consortia. This is evidenced by Alabama, Utah, and Florida, states that backed out of one or both consortia. Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Georgia have decided to stay connected with the efforts but have not committed to administering exams from the consortia. New York, which has decided to go with a different evaluation system, will continue that testing regime after the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments are implemented nationally.

Finally, I’m not sure how the standards illustrate a mistrust of teachers. There is nothing that constrains a teacher to a specific teaching method or what materials/strategies the teacher is to use. Instead the standards only insist that Johnny should know that 2+2=4 and not 5. Thus the teacher and district still has full use of their faculties and training. They are able to cater to a child’s needs and teach that child in the best way they know how.

At this point in the video Mr. Young then goes into a tirade about teacher evaluations that are Tennessee and Knox County specific and not part of the Common Core State Standards. I’ll skip this part.

Mr. Young cares about education but is still confused:

“I stand before you because I care about education but I also want to support my teachers. And just as they fought for my academic achievement so I want to fight for their ability to teach. This relationship is at the heart of instruction. Yet there will never be a system by which it is accurately measured.”

Common Core is a set of standards. Standards only reflect what a student needs to know. Standards do not tell a teacher how to teach, only what a child should be capable of doing after instruction. The curriculum  development and approval is still up to the school district, or in some cases the individual school. An added benefit is that through a multitude of federal laws – like the General Education Provisions Act, the  No Child Left Behind Act or Elementary and Secondary Education Act – it is illegal in most circumstances for the federal bureaucracy to influence curriculum.

We’ll get to measurement in a little bit.

Broader Issues and Robots:

“But I want to take a step back. We can argue the details ad infinitum, yet I observe a much broader issue with education today. Standards based education is ruining the way we teach and learn. Yes, I’ve already been told by legislators and administrators “Ethan it’s just the way things work.” But Why? I’m going to answer that question – it’s bureaucratic convenience. It works with nuclear reactors, it works with business models, why can’t it work with students? I mean how convenient, calculating who knows what and who needs what. I mean, why don’t we just manufacture robots instead of students? They last longer and they always do what they’re told.”

He, as well as others, should go read this article from Foreign Affairs about the state of American education. In it is not a rejection of standards-based education but a comprehensive discussion about the actual problems with our education system. As for his discussion of robots, I applaud him for his imagery, but it does nothing to advance the argument. It only distracts.


“But education is unlike every other bureaucratic institute in our government. The task of teaching is never quantifiable. If everything I have learned in high school is a measurable objective, then I haven’t learned anything. I’d like to repeat that.  If everything I have learned in high school is a measurable objective, then I haven’t learned anything. Creativity, appreciation, inquisitiveness, these are impossible to scale, but these are the purpose of education. Why our teachers teach, why I chose to learn.

Today we find ourselves as a nation that produces workers. Everything is career and college preparation. Somewhere our founding fathers are turning in their graves. Pleading, Screaming, and trying to say  to us that we teach to free minds. We teach to inspire. We teach to equip. The careers will come naturally.

I know we’re just one city in a huge system that excitively embraces numbers, but ask any of these teachers, ask any of my peers, and ask any of yourselves. Haven’t we gone too far with data?”

Again he is wrong, though it’s not his fault. He is a high school senior and likely has not had any experience with quantitative modeling, even if he is an AP math student. Hardly anyone is formally trained in quantitative analysis and even those who are need a while to get really good at it. But it is what allows Google to figure out the path of a flu epidemic as accurately as CDC based on 45 search terms and search history. Another approach is measuring the level of corruption in a nation by counting the NYC parking tickets on diplomats’ vehicles. While neither of these  approaches measure their target phenomenon directly, they correlate with something else that can illustrate the phenomenon. With the right combination of other, and sometimes seemingly unrelated, variables it is indeed possible to provide a measure for qualities like inquisitiveness and creativity.

As for his question about having gone too far with data, the answer is no. We are just getting to the point where we can effectively use big data instead of small n samples to determine correlation and causation. No longer are we just limited to Frequentist and Bayesian statistics. We can use an n in the millions or billions now instead of an n of 1500. (For further explanation go here.)

Please listen to me:

“I attended tonight’s meeting to share my critiques but as Ben Franklin quipped “any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain. and most fools do.” The problems I have cited are very real. I ask only that you hear them out, investigate them, and do not dismiss them as another fool’s criticisms.

I’ll close with a quote of Jane L. Stanford that Dr. McIntyre shared in a recent speech. “You have my entire confidence in your ability to do conscientious work to the very best advantage to the students. That they may be considered paramount to all and everything else. We’re capable of fixing education, and I commit myself to that task. But you can not ignore me, my teachers, or the truth. We need change but not Common Core, high stakes evaluations or more robots.”  Thank you.”

Unlike most of his peers and many people in general, Young is a talented public speaker. But his research is flawed and most of his conclusions are factually incorrect. While Common Core does have some issues, Young did not address the real problems. Instead he chose to believe the conspiracy theories that have come to surround the issue and poison the phrase “Common Core.”


  1. Patrick T. Malone says:

    Thanks Charlie. It is about time some dealt with the reality of Common Core rather than the “Mel Gibson” version

  2. mpierce says:

    Fordham Institute has recieved millions from the Gate’s Foundation including money for “general operating support”, for the reference study above, and to “develop supportive materials” for common core.

    Overseen by – Kathleen Porter-Magee: research fellow for Progressive Policy Institute (partially funded by Gates Foundation).
    ELA Primary examiner – Sheila Byrd Carmichael: Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project (created and funded by Gates Foundation)
    ELA Assistant examiner Elizabeth Haydel: Common Core Curriculum Mapping Project (created and funded by Gates Foundation)

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    Your refutation was more than a few sentences, which makes it meaningless to those in the bubble.

  4. seenbetrdayz says:

    Unlike most of his peers and many people in general, Young is a talented public speaker. But his research is flawed and most of his conclusions are factually incorrect.

    Sounds like he’s on path to become a future Democratic Party nominee for president.

  5. David Colburn says:

    Why is the emphasis all on politics & process?
    Does no one care about content?
    There are long lists of problematic revisionist history and partisan agenda – they are not hard to find.
    As for Huckabee, please. The former televangelist, philosophically-inconsistent governor, badly-flawed (sometimes McCain-allied) GOP presidential candidate, and now self-promoting talk show host is hardly a positive point of reference.
    Common Core is not only unnecessary it represents a further centralization of educational power – given the past five years of gross corruption & incompetence at the Federal level should frighten anyone who cares about children and freedom.
    Is the intent of Common Core proponents to declare that local & state citizens are too stupid to educate their children?
    This is odd given the inverse relationship between the increased role of the Federal Dept of Ed & student outcomes in America.
    Educational outcomes were vastly superior in the days of the small highly-localized one room schoolhouse. Most college grads could not pass an 8th grade content exam from the 1800’s. While the content needs to adapt to the times the facts suggest that we’ve moved, methodologically, in the wrong direction.

    • Harry says:

      Regarding Huckabee – I couldn’t agree more. He’s a political mercenary, a false flag. Any involvement of his is very suspect. I’m starting to believe that there are too many hidden agendas with Common Core. As a parent with one remaining kid still in public secondary school, I’m confused as to the overall effect of CC but leaning against, because I’ve been unable to get answers to some concerns:

      1) The outcome may not be better benchmarks but rather dumbing-down or dumbing-up to one-size-fits-all. This is an issue already in politically correct education systems both public and private, however would CC not further degrade the educational quality? The high schools at least have in place a program of quasi-tracking, with gifted students allowed to enroll in college prep courses, and academically challenged students allowed to compete in a more appropriate peer group. If CC is indeed one-size-fits-all, what effect would this have on the current status quo? The website opposing CC in Georgia says that states may allow only a small amount of additional content. Does this mean there will be an effort to put every student on the same playing field in the name of political correctness? I’d like to be reassured that Common Core does not attempt to eliminate multi tracking. One concern with Common Core is that it may try to install a one size fits all model. We’re not all created equal, but the PC folk have tried to ignore that reality for a while and may see Common Core as a means to an end.

      2) As even the proponents admit, CC is designed to place our students about two years behind their counterparts in high performing countries in reading comprehension and math skills. This could have some unintended consequences by driving more students to expensive private schools and leaving graduates of public schools at a competitive disadvantage with other countries.

      3) Why or in what way is CC providing better information than SAT or ACT which measure individual ability/achievement? If individual SAT/ACT results in a school can be summarized for purposes of comparing school outputs, then what is the need for an additional layer of complexity? What additional benefits can be obtained by implementing CC? National standardized tests have long been available at all grade levels to benchmark academic progress and assist in student placement, and they serve that purpose well. There is no need for more cost.

      • Eric The Younger says:

        For your first concern, the CCSS do not create a one sized fits all model. What they is create the educational equivalent of a price floor. The standards specify the bare minimum of skills that students should possess by the time they graduate. A common citation is Algebra I in the ninth vs the eighth grade. Massachusetts had it in the eighth grade but moved it to the ninth grade to fit with the CCSS. However, this DOES NOT mean that advanced students cannot take Algebra I in the eighth or even seventh grades. What it does mean is that by the end of ninth grade, every student should be proficient with Algebra I. There is nothing in the CCSS themselves that would eliminate the possibility of advanced students finding the intellectual challenge and rigor they need. That is up to the local schools and districts to implement.

        For your second concern, I have not seen this data. The data that I have seen shows that the CCSS are internationally benchmarked to be competitive. I believe the high school level standards are complementary of the International Baccalaureate program that can usually be found in several public schools around the state. I’ll look more into this and get back to you with more detail/another post.

        Finally, assessment is a very touchy issue and has been for a while. Different tests measure different things, and none of them particularly well. The exception is the NAEP test, it does things better but still far from perfect. The need for a different test with the CCSS stems from the fact that current tests do not necessarily reflect the content knowledge that is within the CCSS. Some states have grouped together to create a new test that reflects this. Others are modifying their own state tests. Others still are involved in either or both of the consortia, reworking their own tests, and will choose in the future which is actually a better fit for their state. There are a whole lot of possibilities for individual states when it comes to assessment.

        Oh and one more thing associated with the cost of the assessment. Initial estimates had the cost of testing significantly higher post adoption of the CCSS. From talking to a few people fairly involved with this subject, this was because the tests were not simply multiple choice scantron evaluations. Some of the assessments utilized short answer/essay questions which can’t be graded by a machine. Hence the increased costs.

        I hope this helps.

        • John Konop says:

          ……….What they is create the educational equivalent of a price floor. The standards specify the bare minimum of skills that students should possess by the time they graduate……….

          This is the part that does not make sense……this should be based on track which correlates to aptitude…..The track should be based on an end skills that correlates to a job…..Not a one size fit all bare minimum…..

          By focusing on skills many students learn high level math and reasoning skills because it correlates to the real world, and they get it based on interest…ie mechanics, welders…….We already have a testing system better than CC that certifies the students form vo-tech to a 4 year and or higher degree……Why would we need CC for students on a track like above?

          ……….The data that I have seen shows that the CCSS are internationally benchmarked to be competitive……..

          The problem we are comparing our self with countries that track like above….In China only the top 5 % go to college the last I looked….when you normalize the scores we are doing fine with the top 20% ie 4 year college bound group aptitude…we are falling miserably trying to get the other 80% with different aptitude to function like the above. Nobody in the world is trying to send all kids to college like NCLB……

          ………cost of the assessment………

          Since we have gone to the over testing system we are spending over 50 billion a year (2009 numbers) in testing. No wonder we have no money for class rooms, vo-tech…..how about test less, teach more and create more options based on aptitude…..

          • Charlie says:

            The obvious thing you seem to miss with your argument is that Georgia has implemented the various career tracks that are also receiving significant criticism from the far right at the same time we’ve implemented Common Core.

            Thus, Common Core doesn’t prohibit separate vo-tech tracks from college bound tracks. It’s clearly not “one sized fits all.

            The only thing that seems constant is that it’s easy to criticize change. It’s much harder to offer solutions, implement them, and not have the same people flipping their arguments – or worse, keeping the same ones despite the underlying issues being completely different.

  6. grc1 says:

    Your link to Foreign Affairs concludes with an opposite point from which you are trying to make.

    “But the government should not try to micromanage education from above, putting forward an endless array of requirements, regulations, and accountability targets, in the hopes that doing so will somehow force schools to improve. This approach has been tried before, again and again, and it has yielded what the sociologist Charles Payne has called “so much reform, so little change.” ”

    Your refutation has other flaws as well. One example would be the difference between “bribed” and “essentially bribed.” The idea of bribery is not that states lose money, but that they gain it. Only by adopting Common Core (CC) will they be allowed the opportunity for Federal funding from Race to the Top (R2T). Refuse CC, and you get no money. In a time where deficit is the norm for most state budgets, states will happily accept government funding when it is tied to a program touted to help the children.

    Secondly, Virginia did not receive R2T funding. The state applied for Round 1 funding but finished 31st. Governor McDonnell did not apply for Round 2 funding. Virginia is consistently in the top 10 of American education and has refused Common Core.

    The pros and cons of CC will be hashed out over time. An obviously brilliant young man who has experienced the system has doubts, and judging by the crowds reaction, he has public support. Kenneth Ye is from the same school district and had the same views. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPlB7KGVSD8

    His correlation with Chinese education is compelling for further research.

    I have neither the time nor the desire to make a big deal out of this because there are reasons to accept CC and reasons to deny it. Your refutation is lacking, however, and should not be used as a reason to accept.

    • Eric The Younger says:

      Thanks for catching a factual error. That was one I didn’t double check and seem to have misplaced the document it came from. I’ll fix it shortly and you deserve the credit. +1

      As for the FA piece. I would argue that the CCSS are not micromanaging education. Instead they are providing a base to build upon. The State, and certainly not the Feds, is not dictating how to teach or really even the majority of what content to teach (see the ELA standards, they are fairly open for content decisions to be made at a lower level). From the paragraph before the one you quoted “In particular, the state could assist in the creation of curricula, invest in research and development, screen teacher resumés, and provide expert technical assistance.” While the CCSS themselves are not a curriculum, this is where the government is able to provide that support. Which level of government may be different depending on the circumstances. The CCSS provide a direction for what skills a student needs to be functional for their chosen path (college or career).

      I’m intrigued by the Kenneth Ye observation and will look into it further.

      The CCSS is just a start to truly reforming our educational system that leaves many students unprepared for the rigor of college and some of the skills needed for many vocational careers. As a supplemental instructor at Georgia State University, many incoming freshman and some sophomores I worked with did not have a firm grasp of basic algebra or firm grasp of how to use the English language to express and explain the concepts from their course readings. By sending kids to college unprepared, we are only setting them up for failure.

      • Harry says:

        Eric the Younger, could you maybe comment on some of the concerns I raised above? I may possibly be persuaded to support CC, but nobody has addressed those issues.

      • John Konop says:


        A major flaw in our education system is we are working from the wrong direction. In basic product development a successfull company, organization.. works from the end user side and goes backward to see if you can produce the solution at a profit.

        In education we are working the opposite direction…..we have the education crowd telling the business crowd what we need for employees ie jobs…..We already have a system in place that certifies people via testing for most jobs from vocational to professional….This standard is excepted…..

        If we let the colleges, JC, vo- tech schools set standards for high school graduation to get a certificate, aim toward a degree program…. We could eliminate a lot of the testing starting as early as 7 th grade for some students….In Cherokee we have a national rank gifted program that allows students to start high school credited classes in 7 th grade….the students take the SAT at the end of 7 th grade…if a student is on this track why do we need CC testing? We have joint enrollment for students as well in high school with a SAT required based on the college why should we use CC testing on them? Btw the above group is performing at very high level in college.

        If we expanded the standard for vo- tech program why would we need CC testing for them? If we coordinated with chamber we could creat co-op, interns……for the above tracks…..

        Finally by working backwards in conjunctions with colleges and employers we could solve for what is really needed at the start. Just my 10 cents…

        • Ellynn says:

          The orginal and main stack holders in creating Common Core were not only k-12 teachers, but the national business community. CC is set up to make sure that the country has a workforce that meets the needs of business by setting up a minium bar that ALL should be able to meet. Having a group of students who exceed the standard is wonderful and CC does not discourage a local system from doing so – in fact I don’t of a single system that does not push a gifted program of some sort. Yet you also need to meet the needs of the other end of the curve of student achivement.

          • John Konop says:

            In all due respect you are missing my point……CC is not needed when a students is tracking toward a degree and or certificate…..the standard is already in place…….The early grades is a different story…..but that could be improved if you worked from the end backwards, not the way we do it today. Finally the local business community would be a logical connection for co-ops, internships, local business needs…….You do understand job needs vary by region….?

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