March 11, 2014

Common Core: An International Failure

Cordell J. Asbenson
Congressional Program Director
HSLDA Federal Relations Department

Cordell J. Asbenson assists with formulating policy and lobbying efforts on the federal level.

With the arrival of 2014 has come the full implementation of the Common Core State Standards (Common Core). Supporters of the Common Core have made the claim that the standards are beneficial not just to children, but to the United States as a whole. They have stated that the standards are internationally benchmarked and will help the United States become more academically competitive in math and language arts.

This claim, however, has come more and more in question, and proponents’ cries of the standards being internationally benchmarked have become a whisper and begun to fade into silence.

Jim Stergios of the Pioneer Institute wrote in August of last year how supporters of the Common Core had begun to water down their language regarding the Common Core’s international potential. Indeed, the language used on the Common Core site is now quite ambiguous. Instead of saying that the Common Core is intended to replicate the standards of nations which are leaders in mathematics and language arts, the website for the Common Core uses language that says the standards are “informed” by or “consulted” international standards.


A study done by a pro-Common Core organization, Achieve, compared the Common Core math standards with Singapore’s mathematics syllabus. The study claims that the two are comparable. Yet, even in this study the “Major Findings,” show that there are discrepancies in the two standard’s grade placement that puts U.S. students a year behind Singapore’s students. While the study does show that the syllabi focus on many of the same things, the degree in which they focus on certain subjects is quite different. This is discussed by Andrew Porter in his 2011 article, Common Core Standards: the New U.S. Intended Curriculum.1 While Porter’s article primarily focused on comparing the methods of the Common Core to state content standards, the final pages of his article focused on comparing the methods of the Common Core to other international standards.

Andrew Porter found that countries frequently seen as having the most literate students in mathematics, such as Finland, Japan, and Singapore, focused roughly 75% of their content on “Perform Procedures” (pp. 113-114). This means they focused on things such as reading graphs, table usage, and how to make measurements, among other things (p. 109). The Common Core standards, on the other hand, only dedicate roughly 38% of their content to “Perform Procedures” (pp. 113-114). Also, while the Common Core standards for mathematics dedicate almost 5% of student time to “solve nonroutine problems,” (e.g., problems like applying and adapting appropriate strategies in order to solve different types of problems, and generating and creating patterns (p. 109)), none of the other countries mentioned earlier even dedicate 1% of student time to such problems in their own standards (p. 114).

Ambiguous Claims

These differences between the Common Core and standards from nations which lead the U.S. in student progress make it hard to claim that the Common Core standards are indeed “internationally benchmarked.” Yet, using terminology such as “informed by” or “in the spirit of international models” is ambiguous enough to sound as though the standards are internationally competitive while in fact the opposite is true. Thus, while informed by international standards, the Common Core are not internationally benchmarked, nor are they adequate to make United States education standards competitive with standards like those in Finland or Singapore.

The Common Core standards cannot be expected to improve the international competitiveness of U.S. students, which was one of the main reasons advanced by supporters of the Common Core for why states needed to adopt them. Supporters of the Common Core cannot claim that they are internationally benchmarked or in any way internationally competitive when they fail to follow the methods proven to work in other nations. This is just one additional reason for why HSLDA continues to oppose the Common Core. Instead of choosing a one-size-fits-all approach to education, education policy makers should turn to the people who actually know their pupils: parents, teachers, and local school districts.

For more information on why HSLDA opposes the Common Core visit our website.

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1. Andrew Porter, Jennifer McMaken, Jun Hwang, and Rui Yang, Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum, (Educational Researcher, April 2011 vol. 40 no. 3) accessed February 18, 2014,