Three years ago, Grover “Russ” Whitehurst made the bold claim that the caliber of a state’s standards had no bearing on that jurisdiction’s student achievement. More recently, fellow Brookings scholar Tom Loveless used Whitehurst’s work to argue that the Common Core standards won’t move the needle on student achievement. There is, however, one small problem with applying the Whitehurst findings to the present situation: The Common Core standards didn’t exist in 2009. Enter this analysis by Michigan State University education professor Dr. William Schmidt (admittedly, a Common Core booster): After comparing states’ previous standards to those of the Common Core, Schmidt analyzed how students from each state fared on the 2009 NAEP math exam. The upshot? States whose own standards were closer to the Common Core boasted higher NAEP scores than those states with unaligned standards. (Schmidt also compared the Common Core standards to those in other high-performing nations and found them to be of similar substance and quality.) These correlations suggest that Common Core may be getting something very right in the way the standards are written and that spending the time and money necessary for smart implementation may well be exactly what our students need. But they’re only correlations. As Schmidt himself cautioned: “This does not prove anything…it’s a reasonable approximation of what might be possible.”
Dr. William Schmidt, Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation and Student Achievement (Lansing, MI: Michigan State University, 2012).