Good Riddance to Common Core Testing

tags: education, Common Core, testing



Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education.

A few years ago, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, David Coleman, and a merry band of policy wonks had a grand plan. The non-governmental groups like Achieve, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Coleman's own Student Achievement Partners would write the Common Core standards (paid for by the Gates Foundation); Duncan would require states to agree to adopt them as a condition of eligibility for a share of the billions of Race to the Top funds at a time when states were broke; the Feds would spend $370 million to develop tests for the standards; and within a few short years the U.S. would have a seamless system of standards and assessments that could be used to evaluate students, teachers, and schools.

The reason that the Gates Foundation had to pay for the standards is that federal law prohibits the government from controlling, directing, or supervising curriculum or instruction. Of course, it is ludicrous to imagine that the federally-funded tests do not have any direct influence on curriculum or instruction. Many years ago, I interviewed a professor at MIT about his role in the new science programs of the 1960s, and he said something I never forgot: "Let me write a nation's tests, and I care not who writes its songs or poetry."

So how fares the seamless system? Not so well. Critics of the standards and tests seem to gathering strength and growing bolder. The lack of any democratic process for writing, reviewing, and revising the standards is coming back to bite the architects and generals who assumed they could engineer a swift and silent coup. The claim, often made by Duncan, that the U.S. needs a way to compare the performance of students in different states ignores the fact that the Federal National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) already exists to do precisely that. In addition, critics like Carol Burris and John Murphy have pointed out that the Common Core tests agreed upon a cut score (passing mark) that is designed to fail most students.

As Politico reports, support for the federally-funded tests is crumbling as states discover the costs, the amount of time required, and their loss of sovereignty over a basic state function. The federal government pays about 10 percent of the cost of education, while states and localities pay the other 90 percent. Why should the federal government determine what happens in the nation's schools? What happened to the long-established tradition that states are "laboratories of democracy"? Why shouldn't the federal government stick to its mandate to fund poor schools and to defend the civil rights of students, instead of trying to standardize curriculum, instruction, and testing?

So far, at least 17 states have backed away from using the federal tests this spring, and some are determined not to use them ever. Another half-dozen may drop out. In many, legislators are appalled at the costs of adopting a federal test. Both the NEA and the AFT, which have supported the standards, have balked at the tests because teachers are not ready, nor is curriculum, teaching resources, and professional development...




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