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"Common Core" School Standards Roll On Without Supporting Evidence

Despite Obama administration claims, research finds no link between achievement scores and academic standards

Contact: William J. Mathis - (802) 383-0058;

BOULDER, Colo., and TEMPE, Ariz. (July 21, 2010) -- Very little evidence supports the contention that establishing national academic standards for K-12 schools will improve the quality of American public education, and the standards push may distract attention from other vital reforms necessary for our schools, concludes the just-released policy brief The "Common Core" Standards Initiative: An Effective Reform Tool? The brief, authored by William J. Mathis, was published today by Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC), at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU), at Arizona State University.

"Without addressing both the in-school and out-of-school influences on test scores, common core standards are not likely to improve the quality and equity of America's public schools," Mathis explains.

President Obama has embraced "common core" standards and has pressured states to adopt them, stating to the National Governors Association (NGA) that it will withhold federal Title I aid from states that do not adopt standards such as those being developed by the NGA and the Council of Chief State School Officers. In addition, adopting the standards gives a state a major advantage in the administration's Race to the Top application.

Standards advocates argue that common standards are necessary for keeping the nation competitive in a global economy. But Mathis points out that research does not support this oft-expressed rationale. No studies support a true causal relationship between national standards and economic competitiveness, and at the most superficial level we know that nations with centralized standards generally tend to perform no better (or worse) on international tests than those without. Further, research shows that national economic competitiveness is influenced far more by economic decisions than by test scores.

Mathis also raises questions about the rapid development of the common-core standards, the lack of field testing, and the overarching need for any high-stakes consequences to be "valid," pursuant to established professional guidelines. Given these concerns, he says that the prospect of positive effects on educational quality or equality "seems improbable."

Find William Mathis's report, The "Common Core" Standards Initiative: An Effective Reform Tool?, on the web at

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The Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at Arizona State University collaborate to produce policy briefs and think tank reviews. Our goal is to promote well-informed democratic deliberation about education policy by providing academic as well as non-academic audiences with useful information and high quality analyses. This policy brief was made possible in part by the generous support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

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EPIC and EPRU are members of the Education Policy Alliance