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November 27 2014

A Thanksgiving Gobbler: Donna Shalala on Common Core

Vicki E. Alger

There’s a lot that’s broken in American higher education today, including the cost.

Yet post-election, proponents are trying to resuscitate the sputtering Common Core agenda as a solution to the essentially non-existent problem of the female gender gap in college.

According to Donna Shalala, University of Miami president and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Clinton Administration:

Despite the progress we have made, many women, in particular women of color, still face struggles in their pursuit of higher education. That awareness is a big part of why I support for the Common Core State Standards. …

These uniform, more rigorous K-12 education standards have the potential to reduce gender-based inequities by ensuring that every young woman receives the educational foundation she needs to be successful in college and career. …

That can help remedy a situation where women represent 57 percent of all four-year undergraduate degrees, but just 48 percent of majors in business, 19 percent in computer/information science, 18 percent of engineering, 43 percent in math and statistics and 40 percent in physical sciences.

Never mind that overall female college enrollment overshadows male enrollment by a wide margin, or that no serious person has ever credibly denied that individual women’s preferences—not the absence of some government program or funding—explains why they choose some majors instead of others.

Even if that weren’t the case, Common Core isn’t magically going to convince more women to choose engineering, and it certainly won’t help prepare them.

Common Core standards have repeatedly been shown to be geared toward minimal competencies such as graduating high school or avoiding remedial classes at two-year community colleges—not the world class standards used in top-performing countries.

The math standards in particular have been vilified by real-world practitioners and professors for their lack of rigor and politicization (see here, here, and here, for starters). So it’s unclear how they’re going to be of much help to anyone.

As the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey sums up:

Sadly, superficial argumentation for the Core is widespread, if rarely quite so egregious as [Shalala’s]. More common is proclaiming that “higher standards” will, simply by virtue of being higher, drive greater achievement and make the country economically triumphant.  This despite what the research actually says about national standards. …

In the case of Shalala, at the very least she signed the Shanker Institute’s “manifesto” applauding the Core – and calling for an explicit national curriculum – in 2011.

Defense of the Common Core has too often come in the form of platitudes and ungrounded assertions.

This latest effort hasn’t improved upon that.

Exactly, and in the words of Marina Ratner, a prize-winning mathematician from UC Berkeley, who grew increasingly frustrated helping her grandson complete his Common Core math homework:

…the teacher required that students draw pictures of everything. … This model-drawing mania went on in my grandson's class for the entire year, leaving no time to cover geometry and other important topics. … It became clear to me that the Common Core's "deeper" and "more rigorous" standards mean … [s]imple concepts are made artificially intricate and complex with the pretense of being deeper—while the actual content taught was primitive.

Yes, this sort of approach will certainly reduce the gender gap alright…If by “ending” Shalala means no one will be prepared for college-level work.

 

 

 



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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