Date: Feb 27, 2013 4:14 PM
Author: Jerry P. Becker
Subject: [ncsm-members] Diane Ravitch: Why I cannot support Common Core Standards
From Diane Ravitch's blog, Tuesday, February 26, 2013. See
Why I cannot support the Common Core Standards
By Diane Ravitch
I have thought long and hard about the Common Core standards.
I have decided that I cannot support them.
In this post, I will explain why.
I have long advocated for voluntary national standards, believing
that it would be helpful to states and districts to have general
guidelines about what students should know and be able to do as they
progress through school.
Such standards, I believe, should be voluntary, not imposed by the
federal government; before implemented widely, they should be
thoroughly tested to see how they work in real classrooms; and they
should be free of any mandates that tell teachers how to teach
because there are many ways to be a good teacher, not just one. I
envision standards not as a demand for compliance by teachers, but as
an aspiration defining what states and districts are expected to do.
They should serve as a promise that schools will provide all students
the opportunity and resources to learn reading and mathematics, the
sciences, the arts, history, literature, civics, geography, and
physical education, taught by well-qualified teachers, in schools led
by experienced and competent educators.
For the past two years, I have steadfastly insisted that I was
neither for nor against the Common Core standards. I was agnostic. I
wanted to see how they worked in practice. I wanted to know, based on
evidence, whether or not they improve education and whether they
reduce or increase the achievement gaps among different racial and
After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that I can't
wait five or ten years to find out whether test scores go up or down,
whether or not schools improve, and whether the kids now far behind
are worse off than they are today.
I have come to the conclusion that the Common Core standards effort
is fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been
foisted upon the nation.
The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the
District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed
on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any
idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a
nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at
the same time.
Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster.
Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the
achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause
the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the
Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials,
no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?
President Obama and Secretary Duncan often say that the Common Core
standards were developed by the states and voluntarily adopted by
them. This is not true.
They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the
National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded
by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the
development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots
nor did it emanate from the states.
In fact, it was well understood by states that they would not be
eligible for Race to the Top funding ($4.35 billion) unless they
adopted the Common Core standards. Federal law prohibits the U.S.
Department of Education from prescribing any curriculum, but in this
case the Department figured out a clever way to evade the letter of
the law. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia signed on, not
because the Common Core standards were better than their own, but
because they wanted a share of the federal cash. In some cases, the
Common Core standards really were better than the state standards,
but in Massachusetts, for example, the state standards were superior
and well tested but were ditched anyway and replaced with the Common
Core. The former Texas State Commissioner of Education, Robert Scott,
has stated for the record that he was urged to adopt the Common Core
standards before they were written.
The flap over fiction vs. informational text further undermined my
confidence in the standards. There is no reason for national
standards to tell teachers what percentage of their time should be
devoted to literature or information. Both can develop the ability to
think critically. The claim that the writers of the standards picked
their arbitrary ratios because NAEP has similar ratios makes no
sense. NAEP gives specifications to test-developers, not to classroom
I must say too that it was offensive when Joel Klein and Condoleeza
Rice issued a report declaring that our nation's public schools were
so terrible that they were a very grave threat to our national
security. Their antidote to this allegedly desperate situation: the
untried Common Core standards plus charters and vouchers.
Another reason I cannot support the Common Core standards is that I
am worried that they will cause a precipitous decline in test scores,
based on arbitrary cut scores, and this will have a disparate impact
on students who are English language learners, students with
disabilities, and students who are poor and low-performing. A
principal in the Mid-West told me that his school piloted the Common
Core assessments and the failure rate rocketed upwards, especially
among the students with the highest needs. He said the exams looked
like AP exams and were beyond the reach of many students.
When Kentucky piloted the Common Core, proficiency rates dropped by
30 percent. The Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents has
already warned that the state should expect a sharp drop in test
What is the purpose of raising the bar so high that many more students fail?
Rick Hess opined that reformers were confident that the Common Core
would cause so much dissatisfaction among suburban parents that they
would flee their public schools and embrace the reformers ideas
(charters and vouchers). Rick was appropriately doubtful that
suburban parents could be frightened so easily. [See
Jeb Bush, at a conference of business leaders, confidently predicted
that the high failure rates sure to be caused by Common Core would
bring about a rude awakening. Why so much glee at the prospect of
higher failure rates?. [See
I recently asked a friend who is a strong supporter of the standards
why he was so confident that the standards would succeed, absent any
real-world validation. His answer: People I trust say so. That is
not good enough for me.
Now that David Coleman, the architect of the Common Core standards,
has become president of the College Board, we can expect that the SAT
will be aligned to the standards. No one will escape their reach,
whether they attend public or private school.
Is there not something unseemly about placing the fate and the future
of American education in the hands of one man?
I hope for the sake of the nation that the Common Core standards are
great and wonderful. I wish they were voluntary, not mandatory. I
wish we knew more about how they will affect our most vulnerable
But since I do not know the answer to any of the questions that
trouble me, I cannot support the Common Core standards.
I will continue to watch and listen. While I cannot support the
Common Core standards, I will remain open to new evidence. If the
standards help kids, I will say so. If they hurt them, I will say so.
I will listen to their advocates and to their critics.
I will encourage my allies to think critically about the standards,
to pay attention to how they affect students, and to insist, at
least, that they do no harm.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244