Supplemental: Do higher “standards” produce more learning?

THURSDAY, JUNE 12, 2014

It’s funny you should ask, since it looks like no one else did: In last Sunday’s Washington Post, Lyndsey Layton offered a 3700-word report about the way Bill Gates has spread his billions around to create and promote the Common Core.

Has he really spent billions on Common Core? We’re not sure.

Amazingly, Layton reports that the Gates Foundation has spent $3.4 billion since 1999 to advance Gates’ views on education. About $650 million of that went to a project, long abandoned, to create smaller high schools.

That leaves $2.7 billion going somewhere else—and the Common Core has been Gates’ big project over the past six years.

Near the end of her report, Layton considers the possibility that Gates will exploit the Common Core to create new profits for Microsoft. We have no idea if that is the case, but the passage is worth reviewing.

Putting motive to the side, let’s consider a more primal question: Do “higher standards” necessarily produce more learning? That’s the whole theory of Common Core. At one point, Layton writes this:
LAYTON (6/8/14): Whether the Common Core will deliver on its promise is an open question.

Tom Loveless, a former Harvard professor who is an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said the Common Core was “built on a shaky theory.” He said he has found no correlation between quality standards and higher student achievement.

“Everyone who developed standards in the past has had a theory that standards will raise achievement, and that’s not happened,” Loveless said.
As a general matter, Loveless is the educational expert we would listen to first. In this case, it isn’t entirely clear what he’s saying—but it doesn’t sound good.

Offering a paraphrase, Layton has Loveless talking about quality standards rather than “higher” standards. When she quotes him, he seems to say that no one has ever produced more learning by “developing standards.”

We don’t know that Loveless means by that. Presumably, this is Layton’s fault (or her editor’s), not the fault of Loveless.

Later, a somewhat similar objection is made. In this passage, Layton cites an objection to the Common Core which has gained prominence in the last year or so:
LAYTON: The speed of adoption by the states was staggering by normal standards. A process that typically can take five years was collapsed into a matter of months.

“You had dozens of states adopting before the standards even existed, with little or no discussion, coverage or controversy,” said Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, which has received $4 million from the Gates Foundation since 2007 to study education policy, including the Common Core. “People weren’t paying attention. We were in the middle of an economic meltdown and the health-care fight, and states saw a chance to have a crack at a couple of million bucks if they made some promises.”

The decision by the Gates Foundation to simultaneously pay for the standards and their promotion is a departure from the way philanthropies typically operate, said Sarah Reckhow, an expert in philanthropy and education policy at Michigan State University.

“Usually, there’s a pilot test—something is tried on a small scale, outside researchers see if it works, and then it’s promoted on a broader scale,” Reckhow said. “That didn’t happen with the Common Core. Instead, they aligned the research with the advocacy. . . . At the end of the day, it’s going to be the states and local districts that pay for this.”
Reckhow complains about the lack of a pilot project, in which the Common Core would have been tried on a smaller scale. In a bit of comic relief, Hess, who took $4 million from Gates, complains that everyone else who took Gates money rushed ahead to adoption.

Suppose a pilot test had been conducted, perhaps with several school districts. Would adoption of the Common Core “standards” have resulted in higher academic performance?

We don’t have the slightest idea. For us, it’s the theory of this program which doesn’t parse, as we once again note down below.

At any rate, Diane Ravitch came out against the Core early last year, specifically citing the lack of a pilot program. Here’s a key part of her post:
RAVITCH (2/26/13): For the past two years, I have steadfastly insisted that I was neither for nor against the Common Core standards. I was agnostic. I wanted to see how they worked in practice. I wanted to know, based on evidence, whether or not they improve education and whether they reduce or increase the achievement gaps among different racial and ethnic groups.

After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that I can’t wait five or ten years to find out whether test scores go up or down, whether or not schools improve, and whether the kids now far behind are worse off than they are today.

I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation.

The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.

Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?
Oddly, Layton didn’t mention Ravitch in her report, even when she listed influential players who oppose the Common Core. Regarding Ravitch’s reasoning, we’ll make one complaint of our own:

We don’t see how the new “standards” could possibly be “great.” If they define a good course of study for one set of kids in a given grade, they will almost surely be inappropriate for others kids in that grade.

Our achievement gaps are very large. We don’t know how any single set of “standards” could work for all kids in a grade. If they define a challenging course of study for kids at the top end of the gap, they will surely be much too hard for the kids at the bottom end.

Final point about the lack of a pilot program. In her report, Layton cites the lack of such a test. Oddly, though, near the end of her piece, she quotes Gates saying this:
LAYTON: Now six years into his quest, Gates finds himself in an uncomfortable place—countering critics on the left and right who question whether the Common Core will have any impact or negative effects...

Gates is disdainful of the rhetoric from opponents. He sees himself as a technocrat trying to foster solutions to a profound social problem—gaping inequalities in U.S. public education—by investing in promising new ideas.

Education lacks research and development, compared with other areas such as medicine and computer science. As a result, there is a paucity of information about methods of instruction that work.

“The guys who search for oil, they spend a lot of money researching new tools,” Gates said. “Medicine—they spend a lot of money finding new tools. Software is a very R and D-oriented industry. The funding, in general, of what works in education . . . is tiny. It’s the lowest in this field than any field of human endeavor. Yet you could argue it should be the highest.”

Gates is devoting some of his fortune to correct that. Since 1999, the Gates Foundation has spent approximately $3.4 billion on an array of measures to try to improve K-12 public education, with mixed results.
Given his rhetoric about the need for careful research, what did Gates say about the lack of a pilot program? There is no sign that Layton ever asked him.

Her long report is very informative. But it does have a few holes.

52 comments:

  1. This is the best Supplemental since "D’Leisha Dent to Miles College!"

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  2. I certainly wish there had been a pilot program before we adopted the U.S. Constitution.

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    Replies
    1. Do you think the gaps might have been minimized if there had been a pilot program before the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation?

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    2. There was -- it was called the Magna Carta. And don't forget the Articles of Confederation -- the first try that didn't work out so well and was refashioned into the Constitution.

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    3. No. I think if there had been a pilot program before the Emanciapation Proclamation white draftees might have rioted in places like New York.

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    4. You aren't thinking that the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves are you?

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    5. No. And I am not thinking that the adoption of Common Core Standards by all 50 states is going to alter the lumbering trajectory of public education in the United States either.

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  3. How many supplementals will it take for Bob to say that Bill Gates is a vile, evil person trying to subvert American education?

    How many bloggers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

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    Replies
    1. We don't know. Your results may differ. Try screwing in the light bulb with a good faith effort.

      Delete
    2. How many bloggers will it take to screw Gov. Ultrasound in the ground when he goes to meet his maker? Not that we'd wish any ill to befall a guy whose crimes weren't all that heinous.

      And certainly not as heinous and cruel as Hannah-Jones, who wrote a story that launched 1,000 posts -- plus interludes and supplementals.

      Delete
  4. Education certainly lacks the research funding that Gates is providing because there is absolutely no national consensus to provide public money for education research.

    Why? Because everybody, including any idiot with a blog, is an "education expert" who has simple answers to complicated issues and we have read them all right here during this never-ending "series" -- bad parents, bad teachers, bad schools, too much money, not enough money, standards too high, standards too low, and D'Leisha finally got into college while two kids in Paris want to learn Croatian.

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    Replies
    1. One. Only one of the kids. And there is no indication of desire. Just intent to learn Croation. Poor kids both probably already had French rammed down their throats by parents too snooty to live in the good old USofA.

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    2. I stand corrected. Only one of the twins said he wanted to learn Croatian.

      That was no doubt the twin the mommy talked to the most.

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    3. Daddy talks to the other kid. He is reading Guns and Ammo at a fourht grade level.

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    4. This comment apply equally to Bill Gates -- anybody with a computer company (also Lou Gerstner at IBM) thinks he is an expert in education and can tap it as a market for technology.

      Also sounds like the commenter wants to discourage others from commenting, which is misguided because some of the people reading this blog are teachers and professors interested in education issues. Somerby's trolls no doubt want to discourage discussion among them, although I have no idea why.

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    5. Except for one tiny detail.

      Gates got rich by knowing what he didn't know and hiring the best people he could find who did.

      Somerby is still running a one-man vanity blog.

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    6. Gates got rich by stealing someone else's OS and selling software he didn't have, and that was just the beginning.

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    7. Or . . . like scientists have done for generations, he took existing research and built on it, creating the first most user friendly operating system for personal computers on the market, and one that IBM was eager to jump on.

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  5. OMB (Still Wondering What the Heck OTB is Writing About?)

    "Our achievement gaps are very large. We don’t know how any single set of “standards” could work for all kids in a grade."

    Actually we do. When the first state adopted a pilot program called Cumpulsory School Attendance it was very informative. But it did have a few holes. It created gaps.

    KZ

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    1. "We don’t know how any single set of “standards” could work for all kids in a grade."

      I have no idea what Bob is saying here.

      OK, say I'm a first grade teacher. I've got 15 kids of varying abilities sitting in front of me.

      Should I not try to teach them simple addition and subtraction, even though that might be something handy to know when they hit second grade?

      After all, expecting first graders to be able to do simple addition and subtraction by the the end of the school year would be a "single standard" that couldn't possibly work for all kids.

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    2. Math is cumulative -- you need certain concepts before you can understand others. If you try to teach addition (which requires symbolic understanding of what numbers mean) to children who have not linked the quantities to the numbers, they will not get it. So, you cannot teach addition unless the kids have foundational knowledge to learn addition. So, this standard will apply to some kids but not others because not all kids learn their numbers before first grade.

      Your problem may be that you've forgotten the learning it takes to do simply math. It may seem intuitively obvious to you so you may not appreciate that every kid needs to learn that stuff, just as every kid must learn to stand up and walk, something that probably also seems pretty basic to you now.

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    3. Oh, good lord. This isn't calculus, and you severerly under-estimate the ability of children to learn. Both you and Somerby obviously never had any.

      It doesn't take very long to teach a kid that three apples are more than two apples, and that when you add three apples to two apples, you get five apples.

      But no, we can't even try to teach them in first grade that three apples plus two apples equal five apples, and that if you eat one of them, you have four apples left.

      We must first teach them the very difficult concepts of one, two, three, four and five, which could take us years!

      And on top of that, we might have some kids who have no idea what an apple is!


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    4. I took a brief look at Common Core math standards for kindergarten and first grade, and the following is a simplification but close enough to make the point. A kid in kindergarten is expected to master the ideas of cardinality and counting. That is, that there's a common feature to groups of discrete things, which is the number of them, and that we have names for the different enumerations, which follow in a sequence from small to large. A kid in the first grade is expected to recognize that larger numbers can be made from smaller numbers and from that, master simple arithmetical operations.

      OK, let's say you're a first grade teacher, and you've got 15 kids of varying abilities sitting in front of you. Supposing they've all successfully graduated from kindergarten, you'll find they learn arithmetic at different rates. The slower will have trouble with combining large numbers (say, those over 19) while the faster will figure out the idea of zero from subtraction. But you can teach arithmetic to all of them. What do you do, however, when only half your class are successful kindergarten graduates? If they haven't mastered counting and number order, then they won't learn arithmetic at all.

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    5. It wasn't close and you missed the point. Plus you took too long.

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    6. It wasn't close and you missed the point.

      Can't dispute a well-reasoned argument like that.

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    7. Anonymous @4:40P,

      An implication of your comment is that you have had children. Given the ignorance you display, that's a depressing thought. I hope it's not true.

      Nobody says that it takes years to teach children the abstraction of enumeration. The Common Core says it takes no more than the one spent in kindergarten. But you do have to teach that the "more apples" of your example arises from three being a number after two.

      Who do you think says that "we can't even try to teach" first graders that three plus two equals five?

      [W]e might have some kids who have no idea what an apple is!
      Hahahahahahahaha! Funny stuff.

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    8. Ah, can't argue with the idea that even very young children can grasp the incredibly complex concept that "three is a number after two," so you throw out the gratuitous insult.

      Who says we can't even try to teach first graders that three plus two equals five? Well, Somerby for one, who seems to object to any "standards" at all that outline what children should be learning at each grade level.

      And since you haven't noticed, he's been saying that ad infinitum, ad nauseum for more than a month. In between ad hominem attacks on Bill Gates for having the temerity to fund research into what those standards should be.

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    9. Hmmmm, and I note that a few hours before you wrote this:

      "Who do you think says that "we can't even try to teach" first graders that three plus two equals five?"

      "OK, let's say you're a first grade teacher, and you've got 15 kids of varying abilities sitting in front of you. Supposing they've all successfully graduated from kindergarten, you'll find they learn arithmetic at different rates. The slower will have trouble with combining large numbers (say, those over 19) while the faster will figure out the idea of zero from subtraction. But you can teach arithmetic to all of them. What do you do, however, when only half your class are successful kindergarten graduates? If they haven't mastered counting and number order, then they won't learn arithmetic at all."

      So in further answer to your question, "Who do you think says that "we can't even try to teach" first graders that three plus two equals five?" well, by your own words, YOU DO!

      In fact, you got some sort of crazy notion in your head that it is extremely complicated and difficult to teach kindergarteners to learn how to count.

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    10. Anonymous @8:41A and again @8:52A,

      A gratuitous insult is one that's not warranted, so apparently you don't what that word means. Either that or you've overestimated your capability to read simple English sentences. So I'm gonna type even slower so you can follow.

      Nobody. Says. We. Can't. Teach. Math. To. First. Graders.

      I'll pause to let that sink in.

      OK, got it? It should be obvious that this sentence implies that TDH doesn't say we can't teach math to first graders and that I don't say we can't teach math to first graders. I hesitate to point this out, but you seem to have troubling following.

      This isn't so much about barriers to children's learning as it is obstacles for teachers in the classroom. When kids show up in first grade without having learned the kindergarten basics, can they learn arithmetic? Of course they can, and nobody says otherwise. Just to be clear:

      Nobody. Says. Otherwise.

      But their teacher is going to have some remedial teaching to do while his (or more likely, her) other students are bored silly. And the tools and materials and curricula or whatever developed in accord with Common Core likely won't help because they're all tuned to the first grade standards. In fact, it will hurt if the Common Core ruler is used not only to measure the teacher's effectiveness but to beat her for failing to teach to its standards.

      Despite your rolling your eyes about the fish-gotta-swim, birds-gotta-fly ease with which children learn mathematics, what mathematicians would call enumeration, cardinality, and succession are not innate. There are even innumerate cultures. Not ours, of course, but even if it's not complicated and difficult for us to teach kindergartners to count, it still must be done before they advance to the first grade where they're supposed to learn arithmetic. At least if first grade teachers are going to be successful in teaching to the Common Core.

      I don't know how to make that any clearer.

      Now TDH makes a number of implicit assumptions, all of which are open to question. He assumes that concentrating on gaps is more important than nation-wide standards. In fact, he assumes that we can concentrate on gaps without establishing nation-wide standards. He assumes that Common Core won't be implemented in a way that ignores gaps. He assumes that well-meaning rubes like Bill Gates will be taken to the cleaners by educationist scam artists. In all of these things, he might be wrong. After all, Gates gave us Windows. What could go wrong?

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  6. Ravitch says the entire nation being used as guinea pigs. That's bad enough. But, will Common Core be amended and improved if it has weaknesses? I'm not so sure. To improve CC based on results, there would have be a group of competent professionals who monitor it and who recommend changes. Does such a structure exist? Will it even be possible to tease out the impact of CC, when so many other things are changing simultaneously?

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  7. OMB ((Still Wondering What the Heck OTB is Writing About?)


    OK, We'll fess up. This cherry was so ripe and hanging so low we waited to see if anyone would pick it. BOB even took the trouble to highlight it for us. Apparently BOBreaders aren't hungry.

    "Supplemental: Do higher “standards” produce more learning?

    It’s funny you should ask, since it looks like no one else did:"

    “Everyone who developed standards in the past has had a theory that standards will raise achievement, and that’s not happened,” Loveless said.

    We presume Professor Loveless just blurted that out without being asked. Oh, you say, the key word is "higher?" How stupid of us to assume that "standards" would be inclusive of those which were higher, lower, or left the high jump bar at, where was it, six feet?

    We hope this comment does not, as another recently wrote, "discourage others from commenting....because some of the people reading this blog are teachers and professors interested in education issues." We hope it discourages them from remaining in their profession if they do not find this entire series a meandering pile of repetitive hooey.

    KZ

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    1. On the off chance that "some of the people reading this blog are teachers and professors interested in education issues," they are either laughing or crying.

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    2. "We presume Professor Loveless just blurted that out without being asked."

      Yes, now that you mention it, it is delicious irony that this professor conveniently supplied the answer to a question nobody is asking.

      I also find it quite ironic that Somerby would turn to none other than a professor to bolster his case after spending so much time and bandwidth informing his readers how useless college professors are on a wide range of issues.

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    3. It is not ironic. It is standard operating procedure.

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    4. Certainly is for Somerby.

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    5. The irony is that Professor Loveless wrote a whole report on the very question BOB says nobody asked.

      The irony is the report has a whole section predicting the impact of Common Core on achievement. It has another section on NAEP and the achievement gap.

      The irony is it was published in February 2012.

      You draw your own conclusions.

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    6. An additional irony is that I forgot to include the link:

      http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/newsletters/0216_brown_education_loveless.pdf

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  8. Higher standards might not be a bad idea depending on how many students have the aptitude and potential to learn more than they currently do in any particular grade. No, it makes no sense to say higher standards would help the laggers.

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    1. It also makes no sense to equate any attempt to reach a consensus on uniform standards as an attempt to impose "higher" standards.

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  9. I am not sure why Somerby say he is not sure if Gates has spent billions on Common Core based on a Lindsey Layton article he quotes at length, then leaves out the part of the article where Layton says how much he spent on Common Core.

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  10. It’s easy to say you want to give each child “a full education.” But what sorts of “full education” work best for kids who come from low-literacy backgrounds?

    Why isn't this question, and answers to it, the central organizing point of this whole series?

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    1. I'd settle for any central organizing point of this whole series.

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    2. How about this?

      <quote>
      Our achievement gaps are very large. We don’t know how any single set of “standards” could work for all kids in a grade. If they define a challenging course of study for kids at the top end of the gap, they will surely be much too hard for the kids at the bottom end.
      </quote>

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    3. How about this?

      Our acheivement gaps are very large. They always have been. They seems to have something to do with who your parents are, and once you get to school you will be humilated or bored to death if you are at the bottom or top end of the achievement scale. If you are in the middle you will be sent on a mindless pursuit of meeting standards and might enjoy some of the social activities organized while they compel your attendance.

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  11. I don't have a particular view about the Common Core.

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  12. Are all these anonymice the same? I can't tell.

    A couple things: first, there's very little evidence that the achievement gap is caused by access. If it were, the preschool studies would have happier news for us. Plus, as someone who grew up very bright in a working class family, I can attest to the fact that you don't need parents with knowledge or libraries or museum trips. The drive for information is a hunger. Cognitive ability is the driver, not access or exposure.

    Second, we don't usually field test standards. We field test assessments. The problem isn't the standards lack of field testing, it's the lack of any relationship to the ability level's of anything under the top 15% of kids. They are far too difficult and only in a world driven by lunatics who think the only thing causing the achievement gap and other "educational deficiencies" would anyone think that making standards harder would help low ability kids.

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    1. Once again, we have the Somerby script repeated:

      ANY standards ALWAYS, and INVARIABLY mean "higher" standards. And "harder" standards.

      And really. Do you think that the Common Core standards are designed to be attainable only by the top 15 percent of kids?

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  13. No. I think the common core standards are designed with the belief that kids can learn anything if they are taught, that the reason kids aren't learning is because the teachers don't know what to teach.

    They are designed, in short, by delusional well-meaning people without a clue.

    In fact, regardless of intent, the CC standards are attainable by only the top 15%. So the cut scores on the tests will drop, which will help in English but not in math.

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  14. "In fact, regardless of intent, the CC standards are attainable by only the top 15%."

    Bullshit.

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