CCSS = Cargo Cult State Standards

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over the transom this weekend came the latest “research” from Common Core advocates:

New Research Links Common Core Math Standards to Higher Achievement

Pretty amazing since CC hasn’t even been implemented yet! I’ve seen some impressive research design accomplishments in my time, but this is a whole new level. This is “pre-search!”

So how’d they manage to pull off this amazing feat?

Schmidt’s work focuses on the strong resemblance of the CCSS for mathematics to the standards of the highest-achieving nations; the improvement in focus, coherence and rigor of the CCSS for mathematics beyond the state standards they replaced; and the link between higher National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) mathematics scores and states with standards closely aligned to the CCSS for mathematics.


And now, on a totally unrelated topic:

The term “cargo cult” has been used metaphorically to describe an attempt to recreate successful outcomes by replicating circumstances associated with those outcomes, although those circumstances are either unrelated to the causes of outcomes or insufficient to produce them by themselves.

But wait – it gets better!

The metaphorical use of “cargo cult” was popularized by physicist Richard Feynman…[who] coined the phrase “cargo cult science” to describe science that had some of the trappings of real science (such as publication in scientific journals) but lacked a basis in honest experimentation.

Or as Jay put it just the other day:

There is a cynical habit in the education policy world to fund and promote analyses that people know or should know to be faulty as long as those analyses advance their cause.  Shaming those who engage in this cynical practice by revealing the obvious flaws in Tucker’s work was the purpose of my review.

Image HT Roy Spencer

9 Responses to CCSS = Cargo Cult State Standards

  1. Ughh. More best practices nonsense.

  2. […] folks is what we call fuzzy research or as Greg Forster would put it […]

  3. davestuartjr says:

    Hi Jay and Greg,

    Fuzzy “pre-search” aside, do you think the CCSS are worthwhile in any way? I’m a sixth-year teacher, so obviously a bit inexperienced, but they do seem a great step forward to me compared to the exhaustive standards I was expected to use as a beginning teacher six years ago.

    I’m not saying I like trumped up “research proves this is awesome” claims; I am saying the CCSS seems like a huge step forward. Your thoughts?

    • Ze'ev Wurman says:


      Content-wise, CCSS represent a significant step forward for some states, a smaller step forward for others, and a step backward for yet others. With the exception of giving up on Algebra in grade 8, which is a significant backward step for some states. Oh, and in all probability they are about as “exhaustive” as whatever you currently have in your state.

      But as Tom Loveless recently reminded us, the precise quality of the standards’ content has little to do with educational achievement and is heavily dependent on implementation. All states have spent by now at least ten years aligning the various implementation components (curriculum development, teacher training, instructional materials, assessment) and invested large sums on money in that implementation. Common Core forces the whole system to effectively restart those efforts; to make it worse, states are supposed to do it in a time of economic recession and without extra federal money. Consequently, the chance that all the implementations across the land will be at least as good as the existing ones is rather slim, even if for some states the inherent quality of the standards may represent some improvement.

      But whatever the quality of the implementation, we will also be left with the legacy of Washington’s bureaucrats telling each school what to teach.

      • davestuartjr says:

        I appreciate your time in making this response, Ze’ev — I learned a lot from it. It is easy for me to get caught up in my History / ELA / Michigan bubble and forget that not all states have the same issues as mine, and not all schools have the same issues as mine.

        Also, I agree that, though they are a significant step forward in my state, they are also rather exhaustive in some places.

        The most troubling insight I gained from what you shared is the high cost and low resources available for ensuring proper implementation. And, as if that hurdle wasn’t big enough, the refrain I often hear is, “Let’s just wait 10 years until it changes again.”

        I’m going to choose to be optimistic, focus on the significant step forward that the standards represent, and make the best of this transition period. I pray that, in states where the shift is happening, my fellow educators will do likewise for the sake of our students.

        Again, your insight has been enlightening. Thanks Ze’ev.

  4. […] CCSS = Cargo Cult State Standards ( […]

  5. […] CCSS = Cargo Cult State Standards ( […]

  6. As I watch the CCSS situation, including the hype, unfold, I get eerie premonitions of having seen this all before — because as a Kentuckian, I have.

    All the promises, all the higher order thinking claims, the process over content, are old hat to those of us in the Bluegrass State who endured the past 23 years under the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.

    If you want to read how this will probably all turn out, go to this 20-year review of Kentucky’s reform:

    Click to access KERAReport.pdf

    Kentucky tried it all before. It didn’t work. Repeating the same experiment probably isn’t going to create different results.

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