Common Core’s Language Arts

It is often said that scientific writing is dull and boring to read. Writers choose words carefully; mean for them to be interpreted precisely and, so, employ vocabulary that may be precise, but is often obscure. Judgmental terms—particularly the many adjectives and adverbs that imply goodness and badness or better and worse—are avoided. Scientific text is expected to present a neutral communication background against which the evidence itself, and not the words used to describe the evidence, can be evaluated on its own merits.

As should be apparent to anyone exposed to Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC publications and presentations, most are neither dull nor boring, and they eschew precise, obscure words. But, neither are they neutral or objective. According to their advocates, Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC are “high-quality”, “deeper”, “richer”, “rigorous”, “challenging”, “stimulating”, “sophisticated”, and assess “higher-order” and “critical” thinking, “problem solving”, “deeper analysis”, “21st-Century skills”, and so on, ad infinitum.

By contrast, they describe the alternatives to Common Core and Common Core consortia assessments as “simple”, “superficial”, “low-quality”, and “dull” artifacts of a “19th-Century” “factory model of education” that relies on “drill and kill”, “plug and chug”, “rote memorization”, “rote recall”, and other “rotes”.

Our stuff good. Their stuff bad. No discussion needed.

This is not the stuff of science, but of advertising. Given the gargantuan resources Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC advocates have had at their disposal to saturate the media and lobby policymakers with their point of view, that opponents could muster any hearing at all is remarkable. [1]

The word “propaganda” may sound pejorative, but it fits the circumstance. Advocates bathe their product in pleasing, complimentary vocabulary, while splattering the alternatives with demeaning and unpleasant words. Only sources supportive of the preferred point of view are cited as evidence. Counter evidence is either declared non-existent and suppressed, or discredited and misrepresented. [2]

Their version of “high-quality” minimizes the importance of test reliability (i.e., consistency, and comparability of results), an objective and precisely measurable trait, and maximizes the importance of test validity, an imprecise and highly subjective trait, as they choose to define it. [3] “High-quality”, in Common Core advocates’ view, comprises test formats and item types that match their progressive, constructivist view of education. [4] “High-quality” means more subjective, and less objective, testing. “High-quality” means tests built the way they like them.

“High quality” tests are also more expensive, take much longer to administer, and unfairly disadvantage already disadvantaged children, due to their lower likelihood of familiarity with complex test formats and computer-based assessment tools.

Read, for example, the report Criteria for high-quality assessment, written by Linda Darling-Hammond’s group at Stanford’s education school, people at the Center for Educational Research on Standards and Student Testing (CRESST), housed at UCLA, and several other sympathizers. [5] These are groups with long histories of selective referencing and dismissive reviews. [6] The little research that supports their way of seeing things is highly praised. The far more voluminous research that contradicts their recommendations is ignored, demonized, ridiculed, or declared non-existent.

Unlike a typical scientific study write-up, Criteria for high-quality assessment brims with adjectival and adverbial praise for its favored assessment characteristics. Even its 14-page summary confronts the reader with “high-quality” 24 times; “higher” 18 times; “high-fidelity” seven times; “higher-level” four times; “deep”, “deeply”, or “deeper” 14 times; “critical” or “critically” 17 times; and “valuable” nine times. [7]

As Orwell said, control language and you control public policy. Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC proponents are guilty not only of biased promotion, selective referencing, and dismissive reviews but of “floating” the definitions of terms.

For example, as R. James Milgram explains:

“The dictionary meaning of “rigorous” in normal usage in mathematics is “the quality or state of being very exact, careful, or strict” but in educationese it is “assignments that encourage students to think critically, creatively, and more flexibly.” Likewise, educationists may use the term rigorous to describe “learning environments that are not intended to be harsh, rigid, or overly prescriptive, but that are stimulating, engaging, and supportive.” In short the two usages are almost diametrically opposite.” [8]

Such bunkum has sold us Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC. The progressive education/constructivist radical egalitarians currently running many U.S. education schools can achieve their aims simply by convincing super-naïve but well-endowed foundations and the U.S. Education Department (under both Republican and Democratic administrations) that they intend “higher”, “deeper”, “richer”, “more rigorous” education when, in fact, they target a dream of Rousseau-ian-inspired discovery-learning. They crave the open-inquiry, students-build-your-own-education of Summerhill School, even for the poor, downtrodden students who arrive at school with little to build from.

So many naïve, gullible, well-intentioned wealthy foundations dispensing money to improve US education. So many experienced, well-rehearsed, true believers ready to channel that money in the direction that serves their goals.


[1] For example, from the federal government alone, PARCC received $185,862,832 on August 13, 2013. ; SBAC received $175,849,539 to cover expenses to September 30, 2014. A complete accounting, of course, would include vast sums from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, other foundations, the CCSSO, NGA, Achieve, and state governments.

[2] This behavior—of selective referencing and dismissive reviews (i.e., declaring that contrary research either does not exist or is for some other reason not worth considering)—is not new to the Common Core campaign. It has been the standard operating procedure among U.S. education research and policy elites for decades. But, some of the most prominent and frequent users of these censorial techniques in the past are now high-profile salespersons for the Common Core, PARCC, and SBAC. See, for example, Richard P. Phelps. (2012, June). Dismissive reviews: Academe’s Memory Hole. Academic Questions, 25(2), pp. 228–241. ; Phelps, R. P. (2007, Summer). The dissolution of education knowledge. Educational Horizons, 85(4), 232-247. ; and Phelps, R.P. (2009). Worse than Plagiarism? Firstness Claims & Dismissive Reviews, Nonpartisan Education Review / Resources. Retrieved August 29, 2015 from

[3] Ebel, Robert L. 1961. “Must All Tests Be Valid?” American Psychologist. 16, pp.640–647.

[4] “Constructivism is basically a theory — based on observation and scientific study — about how people learn. It says that people construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world, through experiencing things and reflecting on those experiences.” Here are two descriptions of constructivism: one supportive, and one critical,

[5] Linda Darling-Hammond, Joan Herman, James Pellegrino, Jamal Abedi, J. Lawrence Aber, Eva Baker, Randy Bennett, Edmund Gordon, Edward Haertel, Kenji Hakuta, Andrew Ho, Robert Lee Linn, P. David Pearson, James Popham, Lauren Resnick, Alan H. Schoenfeld, Richard Shavelson, Lorrie A. Shepard, Lee Shulman, Claude M. Steele. (2013, June). Criteria for high-quality assessment. Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education; Center for Research on Standards and Student Testing; & Learning Sciences Research Institute, University of Illinois at Chicago.

[6] See, for example, Richard P. Phelps. (2012). The rot festers: Another National Research Council report on testing. New Educational Foundations, 1. ; (2015, July); The Gauntlet: Think tanks and federally funded centers misrepresent and suppress other education research. New Educational Foundations, 4.

[7] CCSSO. (2014). Criteria for procuring and evaluating high-quality assessments.

[8] See Dr. Milgram’s observation is expressed in R.P. Phelps & R.J. Milgram. (2014, September). The revenge of K-12: How Common Core and the new SAT lower college standards in the U.S. Boston: Pioneer Institute, p. 41.

This entry was posted in Common Core, Education policy, Education Reform, Ethics, K-12, research ethics, Richard P. Phelps, Testing/Assessment, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Common Core’s Language Arts

  1. christel says:

    this article is very interesting…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *