Ravitch still opposes Common Core: NYT

Diane Ravitch, one of this country’s most thoughtful education historians and policy wonks, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times last month, saying she still opposes the Common Core State Standards.

I clung to the hope that we might agree on national standards and a national curriculum. Surely, I thought, they would promote equity since all children would study the same things and take the same tests. But now I realize that I was wrong about that, too.

Six years after the release of our first national standards, the Common Core, and the new federal tests that accompanied them, it seems clear that the pursuit of a national curriculum is yet another excuse to avoid making serious efforts to reduce the main causes of low student achievement: poverty and racial segregation.

Let us overlook, for now, the errors of calling the tests that measure students’ progress on the Common Core “federal” and “new.” Neither of those terms are correct. But the gist of her argument—that tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced consortia have clearly distracted schools and educators at every level from their primary calling—merits a closer look.

We are, in almost every state, rising to challenges the Common Core has given us: students are learning to construct arguments using reliable evidence, they’re learning algebra 2 and geometry proofs, and they’re engaging in the practices of mathematics, research, writing, and the study of literature more than ever.

The PARCC and SBAC tests are only one measure of each student’s success, and—as Voxitatis has reported on these pages—not a very reliable, valid, or fair measure at that.

The Common Core standards came to us on the heels of the No Child Left Behind law, signed by President George W Bush in 2001 and largely followed to its bitter end by the Obama administration under Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Our policies have moved on from NCLB, but the law left an indelible mark on our schools: they are still required to report test results for individual subgroups, even under the new Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Judging teachers and schools isn’t an exact science, and it isn’t perfect, of course. In many ways, any job evaluation is subject to personal opinion, style, and tastes. But tools have certainly grown more sophisticated, thanks to NCLB, and large-scale studies in big school districts in New York, Los Angeles, and North Carolina have found that the tools are at least somewhat credible, though a mild debate still rages.

In reference to Ms Ravitch’s claim that more attention is needed for minorities and English language learners, I couldn’t agree more! I just don’t understand what eliminating the Common Core’s math and English standards will do for that effort, but I’m open to suggestions. As it is, though, the Common Core is just a straw man.

It was, in fact, NCLB and the testing that came with it that forced us to look at minority students and English language learners in a way we never could. Schools were no longer able to sweep these students under the rug and fudge the numbers to look good for communities of voters.

Our schools and corporations, looking to make a profit off of children, have clearly taken those tests and the standards in order to sell product. One of those products is standardized testing itself, and another is the curricula that they say are “aligned” to whatever will be on the tests and the computer equipment and Internet access they will need to access the curricula and tests. In that sense, Ms Ravitch is spot on: the Common Core laid the framework for test and curriculum publishers to make money hand over fist.

Before the Common Core, our standards were watered down. It can be argued that the Common Core sets the bar too high or too low, but it’s definitely more rigorous than the previous standards in Illinois or Maryland were. These higher standards challenge kids to reach for higher levels of performance, for deeper levels of understanding. They don’t make kids feel like “failures,” as Ms Ravitch claims.

Instead of studying facts, students are seeking out knowledge, reading independently, diving into different topics that may interest them. It takes patience for such a change to take root, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to chop down this movement before it has that chance.

Teachers I have talked to over the past few years are using the Common Core if they teach math or English. They seem to be very happy with it and seem to think it has energized their teaching and their students’ learning. And if we didn’t use these standards, what would we use? Probably something watered down, like we had before.

What good would it do for kids to succeed at a level that won’t set them up for success later in life? None.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.