Andrew Hacker replies to “Common Core Conflation Syndrome”

[Editor’s note: the following “letter” from Andrew Hacker is in response to Peter Meyer’s IdeaLab essay “The Common Core Conflation Syndrome: Standards and Curriculum,” published here on June 12. The letter has not been edited or cut.]


Dear CUNY Colleague:

Thanks so much for your thoughtful analysis of our New York Times article. The issues you raise go to the heart of the discussion.  Of course, we don’t agree.  But there are occasions when even Clarence Thomas and Anton Scalia part company.

(1) Claudia [Dreifus] and I know what a “curriculum” is.  Both of us are teachers, and are aware how instruction is structured.  In the case of the CCSS, though, the standards are so detailed — we counted 1,386 of them — that they specify the parameters for lessons in each K-12 class.  Here’s one we cited:

Represent addition, subtraction, multiplication, and conjugation of complex numbers geometrically on the complex plane; use properties of this representation for computation 

You can call that a “standard” if you like.  But it’s something very specific. Moreover, it had better be taught in every geometry class nationwide, if their students are to be found proficient on an SB-PARCC test.

(2) Thus far, a few “sample questions” have been distributed.  But sooner rather than later, teachers will come to see copies of the full multi-hour gamut their pupils will have to run. Regardless of the curriculum they use, considerable amounts of class time will be devoted to preparing for the sorts of test questions they will be facing.  The CCSS will make test-prep a central task of K-12 education. That, presumably, is how we embark on matching the Koreans.

(3) Here’s what we see as “radical” about the curricula which will emerge from CCSS. It is that students all over the country will be held to Winnetka-Brookline levels of college preparation.  As Secretary Cunningham writes, all those students in Alabama and Nevada will be told to “jump higher.”  And what happens to those who can’t?  Claudia and I regard that what will happen — willfully throwing a million and more young people overboard — is not only radical, but sadistic and immoral.  (Texas, a non-CCSS state, humanely offers several diploma options.)

(4) If you want to think we had the half-century-gone KKK in mind, when we alluded to an “invisible empire,” than may be how your mind works.  Each to their own. In fact, we were inspired by a 2010 movie, with that name.  We’re still bemused that CCSS hasn’t a telephone number.  It took us a lot of journalist digging to find real people to talk to.

Thanks again for your article.  Sincerely, Andrew Hacker.



Peter Meyer replies.  I appreciate Professor Hacker’s letter. And I need to quickly clarify the point about the “invisible empire.” The reference to the KKK was made by Peter Cunningham and I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear in my essay. In fact, while researching the question of Common Core social studies standards for the American Enterprise Institute, I made the same point as Hacker and Dreifus about the difficulty in tracking down the whereabouts of the CCSS authors (see my AEI paper here). As to the rest, I think Dr. Hacker raises perfectly valid points and they should be discussed.  For now, I would refer readers to some recent commentary apropos some of these issues: Rick Hess’ “Playbook for Common Corites,” which chides Common Core supporters for not taking the critics more seriously; James Shuls’ “You Can’t Have One Without the Other,” wherein he argues that the distinction between standards and curriculum is one of degree not kind; a strenuous defense of the CCSS in “Setting the Record Straight,” by Richard Laine and Chris Minnich, the education division director of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, respectively; and, finally, an evocative story told by New York State Commissioner of Education John King at our recent launch event (at hour 1:15:27), illustrating the importance of “close reading,” which the CCSS promote.  

Comments on this Post

Leave a reply

Recent Posts


Moynihan and the Modern American Family at 50

By Gerard Robinson | Senior Fellow, CUNY Institute for Education Policy “The gap between the Negro and most other groups in American society is widening. The fundamental problem, in which this is clearly the case, is that of family structure.” — Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1964) “If the misery of the poor be caused not by… Read More

Director's Perspective

An Open Letter On School Accountability

Below you will find the outline of some thoughts on educational accountability. The topic has become one of the central issues in contemporary reform efforts in American education, with particularly heated debate over efforts to measure the effectiveness of teachers through test scores as well as classroom observations. But the issue is wider than this,… Read More

Reports from the Field

Institutional Commitment to Civic Education: Public Montessori Secondary Schools

By Katie Dulaney | Lakewood Montessori School Even as we hold schools increasingly accountable for student achievement, we rarely seem to judge schools for their performance in citizenship preparation, an inauspicious “accountability gap” for a democracy. -Michael Johanek and John Puckett, “The State of Civic Education” (2005) Education leaders across the political spectrum – from… Read More