Common Core: The Least Common Denominator

Julianne Bozzo /

Glowimages Glow Images/Newscom

Glowimages Glow Images/Newscom

Common Core proponents have long argued that the push toward national standards promotes “college and career readiness.” Not so, argues a new report by the Boston-based Pioneer Institute for Public Policy.

According to Pioneer, Common Core does not prepare students for admission into highly selective four-year universities and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs. Rather, the standards are more akin to standards that would prepare a student for a community college or non-selective university.

Stanford professor emeritus of mathematics James Milgram, who authored the Pioneer report, argues that the two Common Core–aligned exams—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and SMARTER Balanced—fail to test any math material above Algebra II, limiting students’ ability to pursue selective, four-year universities.

In addition, among the eligibility requirements for states applying for Race to the Top competitive grants tied to the national standards is that the states’ public universities exempt students who have passed the Common Core–aligned tests from remedial courses and place them automatically into credit-bearing courses.

That could mean Common Core would water down the first-year academic offerings of many public universities and force them to offer lower-level introductory courses to accommodate these students.

Professor Jason Zimba, the lead writer of Common Core’s math standards, stated that Common Core helps prepare students “for the colleges most kids go to, but not for the colleges most parents aspire to.”

Highly selective universities look for students who have taken advanced courses in all subjects, including math. High school students who have not taken courses such as trigonometry and precalculus are at a significant disadvantage when applying to competitive colleges.

Indeed, according to the Department of Education, students whose last high school math course was Algebra II have a less than 40 percent chance of obtaining a four-year college degree. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that “only 2.1 percent of STEM-intending students who had to take pre-college mathematics coursework in their freshman year graduated with a STEM degree.”

Milgram states that “if this country is seriously interested in 21st century mathematics and science, then there is even more reason to question Common Core’s mathematics standards.”

By failing to test any math concepts above Algebra II, Common Core falls short of ensuring that students who aim to be proficient in STEM-related fields are able to achieve that goal. If states truly wish to prepare students for selective colleges and STEM-related careers, they should start by pushing back against national standards and tests.

Julianne Bozzo is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.