Winter 2014
Ravitch and the Schools

To the editor:
Is Sol Stern seriously suggesting that Diane Ravitch’s advocacy for “smaller class sizes, universal prekindergarten, after-school programs, and comprehensive health and nutrition services” is a mistake? [“The Closing of Diane Ravitch’s Mind,” Autumn 2013]. Is he suggesting that not providing these things and instead privatizing schools and feeding students a Common Core will solve the education problem?

This strikes me as disingenuous in the extreme. What Ravitch argues against is the same problem that has turned the once-proud Cato Institute into a tool of the Koch brothers’ self-enrichment propaganda: the promotion of Common Core curriculum as only possible in a privatized approach to public education.

Bennett Graff
New Haven, CT

To the editor:
Stern seems naive about the bedrock political reality grounding Common Core: it is an illicit transfer of power from the states to the federal Department of Education. The DOE is already channeling curriculum materials (not the Hirsch curriculum) to the states, and at every step, the mechanisms of decision making are being removed from local control and transferred to unelected, unaccountable private foundations.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is the primary unelected, unaccountable source of funding for promoting Common Core, gave the Manhattan Institute at least $328,000 between 2002 and 2005 to explore “college readiness”—the foundational argument being used to promote Common Core. Though the grants were made prior to Common Core bursting onto the public scene, the research they created became a part of Gates’s Common Core campaign. We all gotta eat. But it is very, very important to be transparent about who is feeding us, or promising us our next meal.

Tina Trent
Dahlonega, GA

Sol Stern responds:
Tina Trent’s and Bennett Graff’s letters reveal the ignorance and malice of the more rabid Common Core opponents. There is no “illicit transfer of power from the states to the federal Department of Education,” as Trent claims. Forty-six states voluntarily adopted the Common Core standards, while four states declined. More states may now withdraw from Common Core adoption, as is their right. But this actually proves that there was nothing “illicit” or coercive about the process. Moreover, the selection of curricula aligned to the standards is totally controlled by the states, not the federal government. The federal DOE has not recommended or sent a single page of curriculum to any state. Trent also makes the absurd implication that my support of Common Core was purchased because the Manhattan Institute received a grant from the Gates Foundation, a grant that ended years before the standards were even written.

Graff claims that I am for “privatizing schools and feeding students a Common Core [which] will solve the education problem.” I can’t imagine a more ignorant reading of my article. Here’s another little revelation for Mr. Graff: the Cato Institute is resolutely against the Common Core, precisely because it is in favor of privatizing American schools.