08/08/2013 09:57 am ET Updated Oct 08, 2013

Are Common Core Standards 'Dumbing Down' Education? No!

It's hard to keep track of all the half-truths and untruths swirling around the new Common Core State Standards that 45 states are putting in place. One complaint that seems to have risen to the top of every Common Core opponent's talking points is that the standards will "dumb down" education in the U.S.

Give me a break!

How can anyone make claims that are so estranged from reality? Many of the people who mouth this talking point have apparently never even looked at the standards, much less evaluated their rigor. Those who do know about the standards are simply muddling the issue.

Here's the truth:

  • In the vast majority of states, Common Core replaced less rigorous standards. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which has long campaigned for high standards, found that the Common Core was more rigorous than standards in 46 states and on par with standards in another five.
  • Common Core expects every student to learn at least Algebra 2. If you think that's "dumbing down" education in the U.S., then you haven't looked at states' high school graduation requirements recently. A study by Change the Equation and the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association found that only 11 U.S. states have graduation requirements that rise to Common Core's expectations. Common Core assumes that every student will, at the very least, take math in each year of high school and master most of the content typically taught in Algebra 2 courses. Thirty-two states stop short of requiring Algebra 2, and 29 require three or fewer years of math. States may well be raising their requirements as they implement the Common Core, but in many cases their current requirements reflect a history of low expectations.
  • If high school students want to study calculus, they can. Some critics of Common Core have argued that the standards prevent students from taking algebra in eighth grade or calculus in high school. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The standards' authors have offered explicit guidance on different trajectories -- including accelerated pathways -- students can take through their coursework. In fact, if states do a good job of implementing Common Core, many more students should be ready for the accelerated path and, therefore, calculus in high school.
  • Common Core prepares students for college and careers. A recent argument making the rounds is that Common Core standards aim to prepare students for community college but not for four-year college. Not true. In fact, a recent study of community colleges found that none of them required students to know the kinds of sophisticated math in Common Core. That study's recommendation -- misguided, in our view -- was to require even fewer high school students to study Algebra 2 than currently do. In fact, Common Core aims to prepare many more students for success in challenging college math courses.

By adding the "dumbing down" talking point to their repertoires, many anti-Common Core zealots are contradicting one of their other greatest hits: namely, that the Common Core standards usurp a state's right to set its own standards. You can't have it both ways. Either we yearn for the days when every state had different standards -- most of them a good deal lower than Common Core -- or we value high standards above our nostalgia for the old days.

In fact, neither critique of Common Core Standards holds water. States have voluntarily -- and courageously -- adopted the standards, knowing full well that, at least in the short term, far fewer students will meet the higher bar. For that, they deserve kudos and support.

Change the Equation (CTEq) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, CEO-led initiative that is mobilizing the business community to improve the quality of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning in the United States.