The Common Core Emperors Have No Clothes

Has anyone actually read the Common Core Standards? Not advocacy of the standards, or criticism of them, but the standards themselves? Have even those speaking out most loudly in their favor examined them closely?

Bill Gates And African Leaders Launch Joint Initiative At UNFor the past two years or more, we have heard different personages—from state school board members to state school superintendents to state legislators to experts in various think tanks to former governors to soon-to-be former governors to the arch-funder of the Common Core, Bill Gates, hit all the talking points about these “standards” in English and math. We have been told that they will lead to “college and career readiness,” though no college says they will. We have heard that such standards are absolutely indispensable in a 21st-century global economy, though no one has ever told us why the study of English or mathematics should change just because we use computers or live in a different century.

Has the introduction of calculators into elementary classes over the last 40 years made students stronger or weaker in arithmetic? Are today’s elected representatives more or less literate than was Thomas Jefferson, who penned the Declaration of Independence with a quill and ink? Has America at any point in her long history been unaffected by international trade? (Hint: When in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, it was a quest for a quicker route to Asia in the 15thcentury global economy!)

We have heard the phrase “raising the bar” so many times that the bar itself must have joined the Mars Rover by now. Yet when have we ever heard an “expert” or pundit or elected official say, “By golly, if we don’t have Common Core ELA Standard RL-7.7 in our schools, then we are setting up the next generation for failure”? I have yet to hear any advocate of the standards say anything that is concrete. The proponents praise the Standards—plural—to the hilt. They spend no time advocating or explaining a specific standard.

There may be a reason for that. The standards are unreadable. They are written in an almost impenetrable education-ese, churned out by educrats for educrats. Many people have tried to make sense of the standards, but when they cannot, they most often give up. They wonder whether the standards are over their heads and involved in some deep mysteries that only educators can unravel. Thus, the strategy of the Common Core advocates (particularly in those states that are taking Governor Huckabee’s advice of “rebranding” them) has been to turn the standards’ greatest failing into their greatest defense: critics are asked to point to a specific standard they do not agree with and explain its shortcomings. It’s an effective strategy. How can honest people criticize what they cannot understand? Or, put another way, how can they criticize what was written so as not to be understood?

For the past couple of weeks I have been conducting my own exercise. I have taken a couple of the standards—written for the kindergarten level, mind you—and asked very bright people what they can make of them. I have not asked regular folks off the street but rather those intimately involved with education: teachers, the heads of successful schools, and people with degrees in languages. One of these standards I addressed in the article from last Friday; it suggests there are several ways to spell the vowels. Here is another—RF-K.3a, to be precise—on consonants:

Demonstrate basic knowledge of one-to-one letter-sound correspondences by producing the primary sound or many of the most frequent sounds for each consonant.

I love watching a person’s reaction when reading this standard. He begins thinking that it is easy: it’s for kindergarten, after all. He recognizes a few phrases and skims through it happily. Then he gets to the end and realizes something is not right. He may say under his breath, “Wait” or “What?” Then he begins to read it again but may only get through half of it. He begins yet again, reading it aloud, slowly: “by producing the primary sound or many of the most frequent sounds for each consonant?” Then the person laughs. He gets it. The standard is utterly absurd.

The standard is absurd because English consonants don’t have many sounds. The letter “b” has exactly one sound: /b/. The letter “d” has one sound: /d/. Most consonants, in fact, only have one. A few, like “c” and “g,” have two sounds, often referred to as hard and soft. A letter like “c” may have a third sound, such as in the word cello, used rarely and usually with words imported into the language. The /sh/ sound of “s” in sugar and sure is a perfectly regular albeit uncommon usage.

Which consonants have so many sounds that children can only learn some of them? They plainly do not exist. And in which cases would children learn only “the primary sound” rather than “many of the most frequent”? Should the students only learn the hard “c” on the one hand, but the first five pronunciations of “d” (which do not exist) on the other? The standard simply makes no sense. Whoever wrote it either does not really understand the English alphabet or—and this is entirely possible—is committing a massive educational fraud to the tune of 45 states across the land and untold billions of dollars.

So what is the defrauded public to do? The public must go through the “brain damage” of reading these standards and breaking the code in which they are written. To that end, I have written a book on the English Standards and will continue to expose this nonsense. I invite others to join in the fun. More important, rather than being told that We the People must express our objections to the Common Core by citing specific standards, we should turn the tables and require the lawmakers to defend this monstrosity, standard by standard.

Can you imagine your state representative, senator, or governor—who supports the Common Core, or who has failed to get rid of it entirely—being asked how many ways there are to spell the letter “a” or which consonants have many pronunciations? And that’s just the beginning of the Common Core absurdity. How about this “speaking and listening” standard for kindergarten:

Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

“Governor, are kindergarteners really capable of carrying on ‘collaborative conversations’ with other kindergarteners?” (Correct answer: No. Anyone who has ever been in a kindergarten class knows that if you turn the conversation over to them, what begins as a lesson on George Washington will end up with ninjas.)

“Governor, what is a diverse partner? Does that mean ethnically diverse? Or does it mean intellectually diverse, so that through group work everyone can make the same grade? Why is there so much emphasis on diversity in the standards?”

“Governor, what is a kindergarten topic? This standard is inexcusably vague. Won’t the biased textbook publishers end up determining those topics? Tell us in your own words what kindergarteners should learn.”

“Governor, tell me why we must have this standard in our state in order to ‘raise the bar.’ This just seems like a bunch of kids talking to each other about nothing in particular. Hasn’t that already been going on for the last 40 years, which is why the academic level of our schools is so low to begin with?”

What 98 percent of our elected officeholders prefer to do is hide behind talking points and strategies given to them by consultants on how not to take a stance on anything, indeed how not to know anything. It’s time we say the obvious thing—that every child who has had a few lessons in phonics should know: the Common Core emperors have no clothes. All we have to do is stand up in public, read a standard to them, and see if they are smart enough finally to get the joke.

Reader Discussion

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on March 12, 2014 at 14:32:41 pm

If only Richard Mitchell were still around the vivisect the Common Core.

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Nicolas Martin
on March 13, 2014 at 00:02:34 am


I spent about an hour wandering through the Core Standards for the kindergarden and first grade sections of what now goes by the label "Language Arts." Your examples seem to come mostly from the section on "phonological awareness," and I find your assessment of them hard to argue with. But many other sections--the reading comprehension sections, for example, looked to me to be lucidly written, jargon free, and commonsensical. I did what you suggested--went to look at them for myself--and walked away, on the one hand, not especially impressed, but on the other, not especially alarmed either. Is the problem isolated to the phonological sections from which you too your examples? Or do you wish to argue that there are problems elsewhere too?

Some examples--pretty representative, I think--of the kind of thing I found. Under "English Language Arts Standards-- Reading Foundational Skills," for Kindergarden, I find such things as "follow words from left to right, top to bottom, and page to page." Based on my own children's education, this seems about right for Kindergardern (well, really, pre-K, but K seems unobjectionable). Similarly: "Understand that words are separated by spaces in print." Seems OK--straightforward, no edu-babble, lucid, jargon-free. Similarly, under "English Language Arts Standards--Reading: Informational Text," I find: "with prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text." Based on teaching my daughter to read, this sounds pretty much right--and it too is expressed in straightforward, jargon-free language.

I can multiply the examples--I found lots and lots of basic, commensensical, and clearly expressed sentences. Most of it struck me as unexceptional and unobjectionable. I just am not seeing anything to get excited about here, one way or the other.

I am willing to believe that in my cursory examination, I have missed the many egregious standards that I presume are the basis for your book. But on a moderately quick pass-through read, I did not find many of them. Am I looking in the wrong sections?

Many thanks,

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on March 13, 2014 at 12:15:22 pm

[…] are some highlights from yet another great piece by  Dr. Terrence Moore featured over at Liberty Law Blog.  Not tough to discern why the folks at Fordham, as well as Emperor Brenner’s wife, […]

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The Common Core Emperors are Buck-A$$ Naked | Education Freedom Ohio
on March 14, 2014 at 13:42:35 pm

[…] Read more […]

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The Common Core Emperors Have No Clothes #stopcommoncore | Stop Common Core Illinois
on March 14, 2014 at 15:40:11 pm

I have read through the standards as I belong to a group of concerned parents who realize what these really mean for the next generation. Some of them are readable, most are confusing and when we questioned our State School Superintendent about some specific MATH standards, he could not answer. I compared the Common Core math standards with those of a private Catholic Diocese in VA where Congressman and Senators send their OWN children and found those of the Catholic school to be clear, concise, readable and more advanced than those of Common Core. To complicate matters, regarding the math standards, they introduce "new" concepts that I have seen demonstrated by teachers which are very confusing, time-consuming and - according to one teacher - a complete waste of time. I have also seen reading lessons, reading assignments, math lessons, etc. based on the Common Core standards that are full of political correctness, SEXUAL language, social justice, and other topics which are NOT appropriate for elementary students. The standards are not the only problem with Common Core. The agenda is much deeper and will not raise the level of education of ANYONE.

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on March 14, 2014 at 20:47:12 pm


I do not doubt that there are badly framed and poorly written standards--Dr. Moore has given some indisputable examples, at which he rightly is indignant.

But when I went looking for more of them, I did not find *any*. Now maybe I looked in the wrong place, and maybe there are more to the standards than I have been able to find. I certainly did not look at all of them. But it is the case that in the sections I did look at, I could not find *any* badly written, unclear, or inappropriate standards.

Here, in their entirety, are the First Grade Reading Literature Common Core Standards. Please point out the ones that you think are unclear--or poorly written--or inappropriate?

Of the ones I looked at--more than a few, many less than all--I found almost all to be similar to what I have pasted below.

So far, in other words, there seems to a lot of fuss over nothing much. Please do prove me wrong--I am open to being persuaded. But so far I just am not seeing what the fuss is about.

Key Ideas and Details:
Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
Retell stories, including key details, and demonstrate understanding of their central message or lesson.

Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.
Craft and Structure:
Identify words and phrases in stories or poems that suggest feelings or appeal to the senses.
Explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information, drawing on a wide reading of a range of text types.
Identify who is telling the story at various points in a text.
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:
Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.
(RL.1.8 not applicable to literature)
Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories.
Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:
With prompting and support, read prose and poetry of appropriate complexity for grade 1.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on March 14, 2014 at 20:59:03 pm

A quick followup--the standards I posted above don't look especially *new* to me--they look a whole lot like what I learned in first grade, 40-odd years ago. They look like what my daughters learned when *they* were in first grade, some years ago. They look like what I suspect all of us would hope to find in any decent first grade English class.

I find a great many things about contemporary America to be upsetting and depressing. But *so far* in this conversation, save for some examples and anecdotes, and for some unsupported allegations that the sky is in imminent danger of falling, I have not seen anything all that threatening in the Core Standards.

It is easy to damn something by cherry-picking examples. Nothing that is the product of human endeavor is perfect--so of course one can *always* point to imperfections. But that is not sufficient to make the case that that these things are irreparably bad.

I am NOT writing to reject Dr. Moore's thesis--but I am suggesting that, when I went to look for myself, I found nothing to support it.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on March 15, 2014 at 16:59:46 pm

Kevin, thanks for being level headed about the issue and looking more deeply into the matter. I wonder if you will get a reply.

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Robert Park
on March 15, 2014 at 19:45:30 pm


Just took a cursory look at Math Standards.
In a nutshell: It strikes me that they are needless (verbosely) complicating rather simple arithmetical problems - taks which I learned almost sixty years ago without the bluster and (your term) "edu-babble" of the initiated.
This also seems apparent in the earlier Reading tasks that you listed.
Why is it necessary to make it a "task" to assure that a child knows that one reads from left-to-right and top-to-bottom. My experience, at least with English, is that children pick this up intuitively AND from having been read to by their parents. (Of course, that is a separate problem).

No, the problem as I see it is the tendency to obscure that which is relatively straightforward in order to fit the educator's narrative - in the process wwe confuse our children such as when (in a Seattle teaching manual) a child is asked "if you were a triangle what kind and color would you be?"
Heck just show them the different kind of triangles - when they get older, teach the formulas for determining area, etc. Seemed to work for countless millions of my compatriots. we did pretty well launching an entire new technological world (although politically we were quite deficient).

take care

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on March 15, 2014 at 23:36:47 pm


First--I really appreciate your taking the time to write, since up to now my pleas for clarification have fallen on deaf ears.

I think part of the point is to analyze what it is we think we are doing with something like teaching a child to read for content into discrete steps--analysis is, after all, about breaking something down into its constituent pieces and showing how those pieces relate to each other. But the idea is to allow comparison between what goes on in one class room and what goes on in another. I don't see the readings standards that I looked at as being especially obscurantist in this particular--it all seems pretty straightforward to me, and pretty familiar too. The processes they are breaking down look a whole lot like what I learned in the late 1960s. I don't see how this should confuse anyone.

I also think you may be a bit optimistic concerning what goes on in some classrooms. I do a fair bit of academic work in support of teachers--and I've met teachers who have horror stories to tell about the illiteracy of some of the students passed on to them from lower grades. I think it is generally pretty obvious when a particular class fails--but having these processes broken out into the very basic steps that comprise the finished task (reading with comprehension, for example) can be helpful in holding particular schools accountable, and likewise for diagnosing what and where is going wrong. So I don't see the analysis of the process of learning how to read (that is, breaking it down into its constituent pieces, as I perceive the reading comprehension standard to be doing) to necessarily be a bad thing. I don't think it will help the good class room instructors, but it may very well be useful for holding the bad ones accountable.

Now all this said, I followed Dr. Moore's post above fairly closely--he restricted his original post to the "language arts" standards, and so I did the same. I did not look at the math standards, but will do that when I get the opportunity. And I have to agree with Dr. Moore that the phonological standards looked problematic in a number of places. Still--the language arts standards encompass a fairly wide range--and outside the phonological ones, they all looked pretty much like what I posted above, which is to say pretty commonsensical and straightforward.

I also don't see the verbosity that you do. When I look at the sentences that comprise the standards, they look to me to be simple sentences in which every word is pulling weight. They seem to me, frankly, to be pretty decent models of good and concise writing. Consider RL 1.6: "Identify who is telling the story at various points in the text." "At various points" is a bit vague, but I can appreciate why the authors would chose to write at that level of generality. And I don't see any obvious way of revising that sentence to make it shorter or more concise. There is no jargon in that sentence, no edu-babble. Compared to the stem-winders that some academic writers are capable of producing (and let's not even get into the multitude of examples of bad technical writing) I am not detecting much here about which to complain.

As you mention above, this does not look all that innovative or exciting. But on the other hand, I don't see any devious or covert agenda here either. I did not see any evidence of an "educator's agenda" beyond what we would hope all educators would want to do, which is to teach people stuff that hopefully matters (like how to make sense of stuff that they read.) That does not mean that there is not some malevolent hidden agenda in play, but merely that I did not see any evidence of it.

Anyway, I guess I just don't see how breaking the process of teaching someone to make sense of a story into its constituent parts obscures anything. It strikes me as a bit obvious, and very mundane. But it does not strike me as in any way deliberately making anything *unclear.* If the authors have in fact properly identified all of the things one must do to teach a beginning reader to make sense of a story, then that may be a bit pedantic, but its hardly obfuscatory. Isn't the whole point of analysis to clarify--to make explicit what we may be assuming? That may be boring--but even the boring can be *useful*, especially if what we are after is creating a rubric by which we hold educators accountable. Accountability strikes me as a very good thing--and I can readily see how these standards could be used for that purpose.

Apologies for being long-winded--its been a long day.

All best wishes, as always,

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on March 16, 2014 at 13:08:30 pm


I don't see much in your comments that I would disagree with. Your point about the need for simplicity / constituent elements is certainly valid AND would appear to have some validity in those instances in which the students to be educated are rather unfamiliar with basic language arts. As I indicated in my post, there is certainly some evidence to suggest that far too many parents are neglectful of their duty to "educate" their own children and / or to provide an example of a literate life.
Thus, there may be a real need to provide instruction in the most basic tasks.
My point however was not that educators are obscure in these delineating these instructions but rather that they tend toward a "cultlike" language in some of the more advanced tasks AND in the stating of goals. Couple this with some rather bizarre approaches to teaching math and one begins to wonder how any of this can be effective. as I earlier indicated, it seems presumptuous to believe that one can instruct 1st and 2nd graders in logic BEFORE those children have sufficient life experience and / or "book learning sufficient to provide a base of logical comparison.
As to "boring," I am all for it. As a child, I had to memorize the multiplication tables, language rules and exceptions and rather importantly, I think, diagram and construct sentences. This served as a basis for later discussion / learning. Boring - Yes! But it seemed to work for me and my little buddies and my generation - with the exception of our political follies - we did not do all that poorly.
Consider that against the present output of our schools.
Also, and i think this may apply to some of the other commenters here, it is rather difficult to "get over' some of the downright silly "pronunciementos" of the ed establishment. The example I cited about triangles is only one of many . So perhaps we are biased against the new standards - not without some reason.

More than anything, however, this will soon devolve into simply another "teaching to the test" exercise - or perhaps I am wrong and THAT IS the objective.

take care

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on March 16, 2014 at 20:57:36 pm


Many thanks again for your continued engagement here. I think your points above are pretty much all spot on--so as in so many other things, I think we are in fundamental agreement. I take this as a good thing, since I am fully aware of the degree to which someone like me--pretty much autodidact on the topic we are discussing--can easily go astray in their thinking, simply by not being familiar with the larger and fuller context of the conversation. Until Dr. Moore raised the issue here, I was largely ignorant of the Common Core movement--in my state, we have the State Standards of Learning, which at least for history are inexcusably bad, and filled with one egregious error after another. (I can go on at length about this, as it is a matter to which I have attended--but the CC is another matter entirely).

Anyway, when I read them, following up on Dr. Moore's suggestion, what I thought I saw was a tool for improving accountability. And I take this to be a very good thing indeed. But if the CC does indeed have other purposes, then I may be way off base indeed.

I do think that it is often a useful first step when one tries to improve something, to break that something down into its constituent pieces and then examine how those pieces relate one to another. This too was what I thought I perceived in the relatively few CC "themes" that I read carefully.

I would venture to guess that as in so many other things, there are multiple agendas and purposes in proposing the CC standards. It would be a very useful conversation to have to try to suss out just what those are. What do the CC people themselves have to say about the matter?

Thanks, as ever.

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on March 16, 2014 at 20:59:09 pm

You know, I *really* wish that this blog software permitted me to go back and edit my posts!

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on March 16, 2014 at 23:15:20 pm


I just looked at the first grade math standards. Yikes! I see precisely what you mean about them being verbose. Consider this one:

Add within 100, including adding a two-digit number and a one-digit number, and adding a two-digit number and a multiple of 10, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; relate the strategy to a written method and explain the reasoning used. Understand that in adding two-digit numbers, one adds tens and tens, ones and ones; and sometimes it is necessary to compose a ten.

Unlike the English language standards, which I found to be fairly straightforward, this one--and there are many like it--strikes me as being overly lengthy. Frankly, it looks to me like something written by an academic mathematician--not someone with an Ed.D. (all to often a kind of faux Ph.D.) but rather someone who specializes in talking about math from one mathematician to another.

But whatever--trying to decipher just what this means is non-trivial.

I recently had the experience of boning up on 8th grade algebra, in order to assist my daughter with her homework. Math really does have a specialized language to it--I don't use it routinely, save for statistical analysis--so I have it turns out I have forgotten rather a lot. What I am seeing here looks a whole lot like the prose I find in entry level mathematics textbooks. It probably makes a modicum of sense to someone who does math for a living--but for the rest of us, its not especially useful or illuminating.

I am not sure whether this is a bad thing or not. But it does not surprise me in the slightest that, as Robin suggests, school administrators can't explain what it means--they are in the same boat I am, I would guess. They last used this stuff in middle school or high school, just like most of the rest of us. That does not mean its bad or inappropriate--but it does mean that it is written in a particular kind of jargon, that is pretty hard for most of us to decipher. Where are the math teachers when we need them?

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on March 21, 2014 at 09:31:18 am

And now for the "piece de resistance"(sp).
How is this for edu-babble? Is it any wonder that our children can neither read nor write - much less perform simple arithmetic calculations:

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