Donald Trump thinks the Common Core State Standards are a
disaster and so does education historian turned anti-education reform advocate Diane Ravitch. This puts Ravitch and Trump in opposition to millions of parents, classroom teachers, national teachers unions, the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton. In a July 24
essay in the New York Times renouncing the standards, Ravitch wrote:
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.
First of all, as Ravitch knows very well, the Common Core are not a set of “national” standards. They were created by governors and chief state school officers and adopted voluntarily by states. States can repeal them or amend them whenever they want and several already have. In fact, the federal government is prohibited by law from creating or mandating standards. Second, there is not now and never has been a “pursuit of a national curriculum.” Conflating standards and curriculum is a cynical, coded appeal to the local control zealots on both sides who reflexively oppose anything with the word “national” attached and insist against all evidence that public education will magically improve without oversight and accountability.
Fighting Poverty and Segregation
As for fighting poverty and segregation, America has been fighting on both fronts for decades while allowing schools to languish in mediocrity. Noble as both goals remain, who really believes that in today’s political climate Americans will support an expanded welfare state or renewed efforts to integrate schools? Our public schools are
more segregated today than they were 40 years ago when integration was an explicit policy goal. The plain, ugly truth is that many middle-class White parents—from
coastal liberals to
heartland Ohioans—just don’t want it. And, for the first time in history more than half of our public school students are children of color. Demographic math makes integration less and less likely. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to integrate schools but kids need and deserve a better education right now. If we really want to make good on that promise we should take to scale what we know works: high standards, more learning time, better teaching and technology—and stop pretending we can eliminate poverty or segregation.
There's Support for the Standards
In response to Ravitch, one
Nevada teacher wrote, “Higher standards don’t create a sense of failure. They create a sense of possibility that lifts children to their full potential.” Another New York teacher wrote, “Recognize and take steps to close the ‘opportunity gap’ that is the basis of [Ravitch’s] negativism, but retain the best measure of national educational competency, the Common Core.” Both national teachers unions—
National Education Association (NEA) and
American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—support the Common Core. The Democratic Platform explicitly states that, “All students should be taught to high academic standards.” Candidate Clinton is on record in favor of
high standards, even if she, like many others, criticizes the rollout of Common Core. Despite a withering left-right assault on the Common Core brand as “federal overreach,” only a handful of states have
repealed or changed them and
parents overwhelmingly favor common standards, if not the Common Core brand.
Repealing the Standards Is Counterproductive
Others have pointed out
all of the flaws in Ravitch’s argument but the real question is, what is she proposing to replace the Common Core? Lower standards,
like the ones we used to have in many states? We all know that when expectations are lowered, achievement drops. Does she want a new and different set of standards? She claims that adopting the standards has cost billions that could have been spent to reduce class size. If that’s true, changing them again will cost billions more and place enormous burdens on teachers, who are just now getting up to speed with new learning strategies. The new assessments aligned with the standards are also finally ready for prime time. The
results more closely match the “gold standard” NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) results, suggesting that the standards, the curricula and the assessments are a pretty good measure of whether students are on track for college. If well-informed educators and experts really believe the Common Core State Standards can and should be improved, nothing is stopping states from amending them. In fact, New York State has a
review process underway right now, as do several other states. But, repealing the standards is completely counterproductive at a time when teachers are working hard to implement them in their classrooms. Worse yet, repealing the standards plays into the hands of the true enemies of public education—the defunders. By eliminating standards, they will eliminate any meaningful system of accountability that is needed to make the case for more funding. If Ravitch really wants to see public schools fully and fairly funded, she should embrace high standards and robust accountability. And then she should join with progressives, unions, parents and teachers to fight for the education dollars our children need. On the other hand, if she wants to see the standards go away, she can hit the stump for someone who agrees with her: Donald Trump.
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with