Diane Ravitch – Tea Party Darling

The last couple of weeks have witnessed unremitting and well-coordinated attacks on the Common Core academic standards. States from New Jersey to Michigan to Ohio to Alabama have all been targeted by “a grassroots rebellion” against the Common Core. This rebellion has the backing and encouragement of national pundits such as Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Phyllis Schlafly. It also seems to have considerable cash behind it (though nobody will say from where). The Fordham Institute team has been drawn into the national fray, and in recent weeks we’ve been drawn into the battle in our home state of Ohio. Just yesterday, we had a long conversation/debate with a group that included individuals from Citizens for Objective Public Education (a Phyllis Schlafly inspired group), Tea Party groups, Religious Right groups and hard core local-control groups that believe standards, curriculum and assessments should be set by only your own town’s board of education..

These critics contend, inter alia, that the Common Core:

  • is a national curriculum (critics of the Common Core confuse standards with curriculum);
  • is a takeover of education by the federal government and the beginning of the end of state/local control;
  • requires the mandatory collection of intrusive personal data about kids (including possible retina scans);
  • de-emphasizes handwriting skills;
  • favors “repair manuals” over classic literature; and
  • isn’t nearly as rigorous as current state standards.

Every single one of which assertions is flat wrong. To read more about these debates see here, here and here.

The most peculiar thing about these conversations, however, is Diane Ravitch’s emergence as a darling of the conservative right.  She is quoted and cited with affection and approbation by all manner of Common Core antagonists. A recent blog post from a group in New Jersey, for example, exclaimed, “Whoa! Beck, Malkin, Schlafley and Ravitch. Talk about your dream team.”

I first learned about academic standards, what they are and why they’re needed back in the 1980s and 1990s  from books written by Diane Ravitch like National Standards in American Education: A Citizen's Guide  and What Do Our 17-Year Olds Know?.

Fast forward to the present, and now my Fordham colleagues and I find ourselves struggling against groups that oppose not only the Common Core, but academic standards more generally. These groups use Ravitch quotes to support their cause. Meanwhile, Fordham has rated Ohio’s current academic standards in both English and math as a mediocre “C.” We rated the Common Core ELA standards a “B+” and the math standards an “A-.”

Who’d have thought it would be so hard to push for higher academic standards, or that long time advocates for higher standards would now fight their implementation? All of this makes my head hurt.

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