Nine Times Diane Ravitch Was Wrong About Common Core in the New York Times

It was no surprise when, this weekend, education historian and vehement Common Core-opponent Diane Ravitch railed against the standards and assessments – again – this time in a New York Times op-ed. While she admits to numerous times she’s been completely wrong in the past, we’d like to take this opportunity to point out nine additional times that she’s completely wrong in this single piece:

ednext-july2016-blog-mann-commoncore1. and 2. Ravitch repeatedly refers to Common Core State Standards as national standards, and as a curriculum.

Common Core State Standards are state-chosen standards, not adopted or mandated nationally in any way. Standards and curricula are completely different things. It’s surprising that an education “expert” is willfully ignoring the difference between standards and curricula.

States and districts have always created their own curricula and reading lists using their state standards as the guide. As a result, what happens in classrooms varies school to school, and state to state even among states that share the same academic standards.

In fact, objective analysis has time and again rejected claims that the Common Core dictates what teachers teach or how they can teach it. In fact, by setting rigorous and consistent learning goals and giving local authorities full control over how best to help students achieve those targets, the Common Core fosters creativity and flexibility in the classroom.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports under the Common Core, “the curriculum and teaching methods are decided locally.” Likewise, US News & World Report points out, “School districts design the curricula, and teachers create their own methods for instruction, selecting the resources best tailored to their lessons.” That hardly sounds like a national curriculum…

3. She claims the standards are “another excuse to avoid making serious efforts to reduce the main causes of low student achievement: poverty and racial segregation.”

National civil and human rights groups have repeatedly stated the value of the standards and assessments for students of color and low-income students. In fact, the civil rights community has publicly united to oppose opting students out of annual tests. Despite the civil rights community’s agreement about the importance of state assessments, Ravitch continues to support opting out.

Refusing the test aligned to high standards robs all students of a quality education, particularly children from underserved communities that have fought to be counted. Data from these statewide assessments provide valuable information, not only to schools and policy makers who use it to inform and improve education policies, but just as importantly, to parents – especially parents of color – who deserve transparent information about their child’s performance.

4. She claims “the people who wrote the Common Core standards sold them as a way to improve achievement and reduce the gaps between rich and poor, and black and white. But the promises haven’t come true.”

A set of standards will never be, and were never intended to be, the silver bullet that will close gaps in achievement between groups of students. The Common Core State Standards were designed to ensure that low-income students and students of color were no longer being short-changed with lower expectations that mask the reality of gaps in performance across racial and socio-economic factors.

5. Ravitch claims the Common Core State Standards ignore “children with disabilities, English-language learners and those in the early grades.”

The Common Core was developed with all K-12 students in mind. They represent an unparalleled opportunity for students with disabilities, provided that they receive access to the curriculum and the supports/accommodations they need to reduce barriers to learning. During the development of the standards, the writers also produced a brief to specifically help states with these issues – read it here. Special educator Chelsea Miller even discusses how the standards have worked in her classroom here.

Same goes for English language learners. In the past, states that had lesser expectations for English learners were doing them a disservice and the authors of the Common Core took the first steps to ensure students had equal access to rigorous curriculum with this brief.

Students in early grades also benefit from the high standards. In a joint statement, the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in States issued a joint statement publically expressing their support for the standards.

6. She concludes Common Core isn’t working.

It’s way too early to make conclusions about whether the standards are working or not. Although the Common Core is still in the early stages of implementation—most states have only fully taught to the standards for two or three years—evidence indicates the standards are having a positive impact. Early adopters, like Kentucky and Tennessee, have achieved some of the biggest academic improvements in the country.

7. Ravitch claims computer glitches while administering tests is a big problem.

While testing glitches occurred last year in a few states – during the first year of test administration –we’ve seen far fewer of these glitches than Ravitch alleges. As we noted in a Washington Post article earlier this year, “Regardless of whether a test is aligned to Common Core, technical issues are just that; they are not issues with the content or implementation of the Common Core State Standards in the classroom. What’s important is that students take assessments aligned to their state standards so that parents and teachers received valuable and honest information about their academic performance.”

8. Ravitch laments that the “Common Core tests” are harder and that “predictably depresses test scores, creating a sense of failure and hopelessness among young children.”

Yes the tests are harder, but the state’s old assessments were not accurately depicting achievement expectations and were just multiple choice bubble tests. The downward shift in student scores in the first years of the new, Common Core-aligned assessments results from that new bar – aligned to the higher standards. Teachers have been working hard to ensure that students felt supported as they took the new tests for the first time – and have prepared students for these new assessments through regular classroom instruction, rather than the “teaching to the test” of the past. It’s unfair to make a blanket statement that these new assessments create a sense of “failure and hopelessness” among children.

Last week, Nevada Assistant Principal Ben Dickson wrote about his experience, and how positively student felt about the assessments, “Students were not scared, stressed or overwhelmed by the assessments. Each section was rigorous and pushed students to work their hardest, but many students expressed that they were excited to see how well they did.”

9. She claims that “if we really cared about improving the education of all students, we would give teachers the autonomy to tailor instruction to meet the needs of the children.”

By setting high, clear learning goals and giving teachers and local officials full control over how best to achieve those, the Common Core ensures educators have autonomy over what is taught, and how it’s taught, in their classrooms.

The Common Core is designed to foster critical thinking and creativity in classrooms by establishing rigorous education standards consistent for all students. Case in point: California teacher Elizabeth Little applied Common Core standards to teach her students to make a banana calculator.

To ensure that her students were engaged, New York teacher Lauren Leigh Kelly also designed a Hip-Hop Literature and Culture class, “to engage students in the study of hip-hop texts, including songs, films, and music videos, as a means to develop media literacy and critical-analysis skills.”

Those sound pretty autonomous and creative to us!

—Blair Mann

Blair Mann is director of media relations at the Collaborative for Student Success. This post originally appeared on their  blog

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College