How To Make Common Core Look Good

Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins Director, Senior Fellow, American Principles Project
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One of the lead drafters of the Common Core national math standards, Jason Zimba, admitted under questioning in 2010 that the math standards were not designed to help students succeed in “the colleges their parents aspire to.” Instead, he said, the standards were designed to prepare students only for “nonselective colleges” – i.e., community colleges. But what happens when these Common Core-“educated” students end up in four-year universities? Will their lack of academic preparation expose Common Core for the mediocrity it is and bring down the whole rotten structure?

The Obama administration has tried to forestall this result with the incentives in the Race to the Top program and the illegal No Child Left Behind waiver scheme, both of which pressure colleges and universities to accept these unprepared students and place them in credit-bearing courses. But the administration is now working harder to disguise the inevitable, woeful effects of Common Core. The next round of the deception game seems to be discouraging students from attending four-year universities, where their academic shortcomings would be more glaring.

Last week President Obama announced with great fanfare that federal taxpayers should pick up the tab for students to attend two years of community college. Much discussion has ensued about the economic and philosophical problems inherent in borrowing more billions from China to pay tuition. But seen through the wider lens of the Common Core scheme, this ploy makes perfect sense. What better way to mask the unpreparedness of students than to steer them away from the more demanding arena of a four-year university?

And if the “free community college” lure doesn’t work, try this: Change the tax laws so that parents are penalized financially for saving for college. Millions of middle-class parents now contribute to “529” plans, through which they can save and later withdraw money tax-free as long as it’s used for college tuition and expenses. The President’s new budget proposes snatching that safe harbor from parents and making them pay taxes on their 529 savings upon withdrawal, regardless of what the money is used for.

Is this beginning to make free community college look a little better?

What this appears to be is a larger plan to alter not only the K-12 education structure in America, but also higher education. Common Core is still in the early stages of implementation, so it’s too early for its deficiencies to be obvious in college. But that day of reckoning can’t be postponed forever. So the more students who can be herded into less-demanding community colleges – especially students from families of modest means who couldn’t pay for 12 years of tutoring to supplement Common Core – the less glaring the problem appears to be. If students make good grades in community college, because that’s what they were prepared for, then the creators and propagators of Common Core can declare victory.

But what of the elite universities? Won’t they realize over time that the pool of qualified American applicants is steadily shrinking? Certainly. Presumably they’ll continue to admit the students from the elite private schools that shun Common Core (such as Sidwell Friends, which the president’s daughters attend, and Lakeside School, chosen by Common Core financier Bill Gates for his children), but those schools can’t produce as many students as the elite universities need. Who will fill the rest of the seats? As retired Stanford University math professor Dr. James Milgram has said, the universities – especially in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math – will inevitably admit more students from foreign countries. The rest of our children can be found in the “free” community colleges.

Welcome to the stratified world of Common Core, where the privileged excel and the peasants settle for an education that’s “good enough.”

Emmett McGroarty is the Director of Education at American Principles Project in Washington, D.C. Jane Robbins is the senior fellow of APP Education of the American Principles Project, a conservative advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.