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Education historian lashes out against Common Core during Syracuse visit

James F Clay

As public school students in New York state sit at their desks today taking the Common Core based English Language Arts tests, a nationally known opponent to the core is in Syracuse. Education Historian Dr. Diane Ravitch spent the day Tuesday at Syracuse University.

Ravitch, who has written about the issues and is the author of a very popular anti-Common Core blog, doesn’t have anything good to say about the new, more rigorous curriculum that’s taken over New York state classrooms. First there’s the way it was conceived.

"The process was extremely secretive, it was done behind closed doors," Ravitch explained. "There were few, if any teachers. I don’t think there were any teachers on the writing team.”

Then there’s the way it was funded through the Gates Foundation.

"It’s been estimated by people who study the Gates website that they spent $2.3 billion to create the Common Core,” Ravitch said.

And because the experts weren’t at the table, the curriculum is flawed.

“I’m talking about people with knowledge of disabilities. I’m talking about people with experience with early childhood education, so many of the standards are completely developmentally inappropriate,” Ravitch said.

So what are the results of the Common Core? She says there's an over reliance on testing.

“They don’t have time to play, they don’t have time to socialize, it’s just all academics all the time," Ravitch explained. "It’s totally inappropriate. Other countries just don’t do this.”

She adds that the tests currently going on in classrooms across New York state are hurting education, because of a big focus on standardized testing.

“School has to be not just work, work, work," Ravitch said. "We do not live in just a Confucian society, we live in a society that was gloried in creativity and imagination. And all that joy of learning is being stamped out in this effort to crack down on kids and throw them in the pool and all that nonsense we hear coming from our state leaders.”

Teachers are also leaving the profession.

"Veteran teachers are leaving; young people are seeing teaching as a stopgap until they find something else today. What’s going on in this country is the distraction of the teaching profession,” she said.

And there's a deepening of the division between rich and poor.

"The children who will be left behind are the children in poverty, the children who need the most help will get the least help, and the children who are the winners, will be winners yet again," Ravitch said.

Ravitch noted that one of the big problems with this new curriculum is that it treats all children the same.

“The assumption here is that all children are like molten metal, and they can be shaped and made exactly the same," she explained. "And the assumption is wrong. I find myself wondering, first of all there were no teachers involved in writing the standards, but I do wonder if any of the people involved do have children or if their children are bound for Harvard, Yale and Princeton, so they think all children are like theirs.”

And she’s not impressed by a portion of the state budget passed this week which delays inclusion of tests on student records for two years.

"It’s simply to get through the elections," Ravitch said. "To calm down the parents, your child won’t be punished this year. Two years from now your child will be punished."

Ultimately, the way to improve education in this country is to attack the root of the problem, poverty and segregation, and she’s encouraged by the growing number of parents who are refusing  to let their children take the test

"Gosh, it took 70 years to get rid of the Soviet Union, lets hope it doesn’t take 70 years to get of this nonsense," Ravitch said. "This is child abuse, this is wrong, this doesn’t improve education."

Listen to Ellen Abbott's full interview with Diane Ravitch

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.