• <div class="header-image" style="background-image: url(/live/image/gid/4/3040_V7N1_header.rev.1549561230.jpg);"/><div class="header-background-color"/>

Education is the Civil Rights Issue of This Era – The Common Core

September 11, 2015

The achievement gap in academic performance throughout the United States has been one of the most pressing education-policy challenges for a long time. The “gap” between minority students, specifically African American and Hispanic students, and European American students has been researched since the Coleman Report in 1966, and studies have pointed out that those minority students still had significantly lower academic achievement than their peers, even in recent years (Rampey, Dion, & Donahue, 2009). While the achievement gap between ethnicities is prevalent within the country, U.S. academic achievement as a whole experienced another gap. 

By Yingkang (Paul) Wang, ENG’16

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a test given to samples of 15-year-old students from sixty-five countries for mathematics, reading, and science.  In 2009, students from the U.S. ranked 31st in mathematics, 17th in reading, and 22nd in science (NCES, 2010). 

It has been over a decade since No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which was enforced to close this achievement gap between the U.S. and other countries. It was also intended to make teachers more responsible for the learning progress of the subgroups of students that have struggled in the past, including minority students and students in poverty. NCLB had an overall goal of 100% proficiency on state tests by 2014 with yearly goals for schools to reach until the planned date. Over the past decade, however, a large percentage of schools failed to meet the yearly goals, and American education suffered in the process. NCLB made schools and school districts accountable based on test scores, and the ultimate penalty for failing to raise test scores was firing the staff and closing the school. Because of the high stakes, teachers began to teach the test instead of the material. Schools tried to game the system, and in the end, this policy gave schools and school districts more ways to fail than succeed (Duncan, 2015). NCLB did not significantly increase the average academic performance, nor did it significantly narrow any achievement gaps. In fact, American students made greater gains before NCLB (Guisbond, Neil, & Schaeffer, 2012).

As a result, in 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was to stimulate the economy but also invest in education. The Race to the Top fund included $4.35 billion to be invested in educational reform. Race to the Top created the Common Core Standards Initiative, which was launched in 2010, with the goal of preparing students to have the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed for college and careers no matter where they live (Porter, McMaken, Hwang, & Yang, 2011). Nebraska, Alaska, Texas, and Virginia were the only states to end up not adopting the program. The Common Core established standards for what elementary, middle, and high school students should know in the subjects of English, language arts, and mathematics at the end of each grade level.

Unlike NCLB, which had varying standards and tests to measure student achievement across states, Common Core promises that all states will have the same standards. A high school diploma in the U.S. can mean something radically different from state to state and from school to school, but it shouldn’t. Common Core standards are linked to what colleges and employers want young people to know so that families and students could find out if they were off track sooner. The standards are developed by several experts across the country. Those in Massachusetts, a state known to have one of the most rigorous standards in the U.S., set policies for literature and mathematics. Educators from Georgia, a state renowned for its education in technology, set standards for technical literacy (Ripley, 2013). In mathematics, the Common Core changes the system to cover more depth instead of breadth. For example, first graders across the U.S. were required to learn thirteen different skills on average. The Common Core requires them to learn only eight but at a more rigorous standard (Ripley, 2013). In language arts, the Common Core wants to expand the focus from classic literature to nonfiction text, since that is an area of weakness for students in the U.S. when compared with international peers. When the Common Core tests were implemented in the state of Kentucky, the teachers and administrators knew there would be high failing rates. At first, only half of the elementary students were proficient or better in reading, whereas with the old standards, three-quarters were proficient. Yet in 2013, the Kentucky high school graduation rate has increased to 86%, up from 80% in 2010. Also, 54% of high school seniors were considered ready for college or careers, as opposed to 34% in 2010 (Ripley, 2013).  

Despite this, many educators believe that the Common Core is not the reform that will push America to the top. Teachers and parents mainly feel that their students are being tested too much and that the new standards are inappropriate and too difficult. In Southside High School in New York, only 48% of first-time test takers achieved a passing score. In the Common Core’s context, that would mean over half the students of Southside are not college-ready. This is a good high school, which had no dropouts this year and a 98% four-year graduation rate. Each year, over 70% of Southside’s graduates also pass the International Baccalaureate exam in mathematics, and 92% of the Class of 2012 enrolled in college two years after graduation (Burris, 2015). Other schools have suffered worse. At Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School, only 24% of students passed the algebra exam (Campanile, 2015).

Perhaps the Common Core, just like NCLB, tests students too much. Or perhaps the critics just need to give it more time as the state of Kentucky did. It is expected that passing rates will plummet at first, but if the teachers and students can catch up to the new standards, the Common Core may be able to push America a little bit higher on the national rankings. If the bar is raised, fewer will reach it, but hopefully only for a while.


Burris, C. (2015). Principal’s Last Advice: Let’s Move Beyond the Rhetoric and Really Question the Common Core. The Hechinger Report. 

Campanile, C. (2015). Most Students at Basketball Powerhouse Flunk Common Core. New York Post. 

Duncan, A. (2015). It’s Past Time to Move Beyond No Child Left Behind: Addressing America’s Teachers and Principals. HOMEROOM.

Guisbond, L., Neil, M., & Schaeffer, B. (2012). NCLB’s Lost Decade for Educational Progress: What Can We Learn from this Policy Failure? National Center for Fair and Open Testing. 

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2010). Highlights from PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-year-old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context.

Porter, A., McMaken, J., Hwang, J., & Yang, R. (2011). Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum. Educational Researcher 40: 103-116.

Rampey, B., Dion, G., and Donahue, P. (2009). NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress. National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Educational Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

Ripley, A. (2013). The New Smart Set. Time International 182 (14): 32.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.


  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>