In an interesting, but unusually contentious discussion for NPR, Tom Ashbrook interviews Diane Ravitch about her new book Reign of Error. I just bought my copy this afternoon.
This from NPR's On Point:
|Listen here: 48 mins.|
Education icon Diane Ravitch championed education reform from vouchers to charter schools. Now she champions against all that. Calls it a mistake. We’ll ask why.
For years, Diane Ravitch was a big voice in hard-nosed school reform. Working under President George H. W. Bush and after, she wanted teacher accountability. She wanted school choice. She wanted charter schools. In the years that followed, we got No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Common Core — and lots of charter schools. But Diane Ravitch has jumped ship. Reform has become an attack on public education itself, she now argues. A Trojan horse for privatization. And the real problem is poverty.
Diane Ravitch Responds To Questions at NPR.
Q: Here in Chicago, 50 schools were closed yet CPS plans to open 50+ more, staffed mostly by Teach for America – with public funds but with no accountability. Meanwhile, public schools are being held more accountable than ever. How is this acceptable?
It is outrageous that Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, closed 50 public elementary schools. This is unprecedented in the history of US education. Every school that closed was a dagger in the heart of the community. In most communities, the public school is the most stable institution in the community. Why didn’t CPS help the schools that needed help instead of closing them? Having claimed that the schools were “underutilized,” CPS now plans to open 52 charter schools under private management. These schools will be staffed by teach for America, and very likely will be non-union. Thus, CPS will cut costs by laying off experienced teachers and replacing them with poorly trained temps who will leave within 2-3 years. The responsibility of the board of CPS and the mayor is to improve public schools, not to destroy them.
Q: How are the statistics by state affected by square miles and population of each state?
In my book, I document the performance of states and the nation. The single most reliable predictor of test scores is family income. The widest achievement gaps are between the haves and the have-nots.
Q: How do you rate a teacher? Better yet tell me what the mission is for a school?
The best way to rate a teacher is not by test scores — which say nothing about teacher quality but everything who was enrolled in the classroom–but by informed professional judgment. By that, I mean that those best qualified to do know if the teacher is doing a good job is the teacher’s principals and peers. There is actually an outstanding evaluation program in Montgomery County, Maryland, called “peer assistance and review.” Every new teacher gets a mentor teacher who helps the teacher learn the ropes; every tenured teacher who gets a low rating from his or her principal is assigned a mentor teacher to help them improve. The mentor teachers report to a committee made up of principals and teachers; they recommend whether the teachers are improving, or whether they need more support, or whether they should be terminated. The committee decides. It has terminated over 200 teachers. The system works. It has the trust of teachers and principals. It is professional.
Q: Don’t the wealthy already have a huge advantage in education? The parents are usually well educated, a major advantage to their children, they can send their children to private schools of their choice, they can live in communities with the best schools.
Of course the wealthy have huge advantages. Not only can they pay for private schools, they can pay to live in rich suburbs with public schools that can afford every advantage for their children. Meanwhile, when state budgets hit, the wealthy districts can raise their local property taxes to make up for any cuts, but the urban districts lay off teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, nurses, eliminate the arts, increase class sizes. We have a deeply unequal means of funding our public schools, based mostly on property taxes. We also have a higher degree of income inequality than at any time in the past century. The children with the low test scores need smaller classes; they need schools with guidance counselors and social workers; they need highly experienced teachers; they need health clinics; they need libraries; they need the arts. Instead, schools in urban districts are losing everything that kids need. This is a disgrace. What do we give them instead of what they need? Tests, test prep, and more tests.
Q: I do not understand why having the ability to choose a school that fits an individual personality, learning style, and skill set and the ability to walk away from a school if it is not working for them (or not working period) can be anything but good.
When you walk away from the public responsibility to maintain a good public school in every neighborhood, you abandon the civic mission of public school. You abandon an institution that is a pillar of our democratic society. You turn citizens into consumers who feel no obligation to other people’s children, only to themselves. Many people look enviously at the high-performing nations of Finland and Korea. There are no charter schools or vouchers in Finland or Korea. They have built a strong education profession and strong schools in every neighborhood. The more choice, the more inequality, the more segregation. Do we really want to go in that direction?
Q: Would Diane make private schools illegal if she could?
Absolutely not. I have a basic principle: if people want to pay for private schools, go right ahead. It is a free country. Private money for private schools; public money for public schools. If the philanthropists decided to support catholic education, it would be handsomely endowed. Instead the Walton family foundation is pouring hundreds of millions into campaigns to divert public money to privately managed schools and religious schools. We need a strong publicly funded public school system and a good public school in every neighborhood.
Q: Why can’t students be educated like athletes? Have business come in & recruit the best for jobs!
Business doesn’t know best how to educate children, we have many examples of that. Business operates on the basis of profit and loss. They engage in “risk management.” they throw out the slow learners; they exclude the ones with low test scores; they keep out the kids with disabilities and the English language learners; and that is how they can produce high test scores. Read “the blueberry story” in my book. American schools have to educate all, not just those who are likely to get high scores. Furthermore, as an aside, if you knew how flawed the tests are, you would not put so much stock in scores. The main thing you learn from test scores is the income of the students’ families. Some poor kids get high scores, and some rich kids get low scores, but they are outliers.
Q: Where is the middle of the road argument? Let’s improve traditional public schools AND fix how charters operate.
Charters started as a means of helping and collaborating with public schools. Over the past 20 years, they became a vehicle for libertarians and others who hate public education and who want to transfer public funding to private management. Read in my book about ALEC, about the Walton family foundation, and the extremists in Tennessee, North Carolina, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other states who are attacking public education and want to replace it with vouchers and for-profit entrepreneurs. The middle of the road is when those who support a vibrant and successful public school system agree that charters must agree to accept the same proportion of English language learners and students with disabilities as the neighboring district. The middle of the road will be reached when charter supporters agree that collaboration is better than competition and that they must be both transparent and accountable and play by the same rules as public schools.
Q: What about busing and destroying the integrity of community in public schools?
I believe that integration is important but that it is best promoted by providing federal incentives for housing integration and attracting children from diverse communities to go to school together. The federal government, state governments, and local governments created segregation (I document this in my book). Today, the federal government could offer incentives and rewards to districts and schools that promote integration to overcome the effects of past policies. Imagine if the $5 billion that was wasted on Duncan’s “race to the top” program had been spent to incentivize districts to show how they could promote integration? It would have had far better impact on communities, schools, and children than blowing those billions away to encourage more testing and more school closings and more privatization.
Reviews of Reign of Error
From Jersey Jazzman: "Ravitch’s book is firmly planted in the here-and-now: she is a devastating social critic who is well aware of the current political environment in which what she calls “corporate reform” exists. But I got the sense while reading Reign of Error that Ravitch is able to skewer this agenda so efficiently because she’s seen it all before: “corporate reform” is merely the latest iteration of the age-old practice of blaming America’s schools for problems that they didn’t create and won’t be able to solve on their own."
From Amazon: "From one of the foremost authorities on education in the United States, former U.S. assistant secretary of education, “whistle-blower extraordinaire” (The Wall Street Journal), author of the best-selling The Death and Life of the Great American School System (“Important and riveting”—Library Journal), The Language Police (“Impassioned . . . Fiercely argued . . . Every bit as alarming as it is illuminating”—The New York Times), and other notable books on education history and policy—an incisive, comprehensive look at today’s American school system that argues against those who claim it is broken and beyond repair; an impassioned but reasoned call to stop the privatization movement that is draining students and funding from our public schools."From The Atlantic: "The survival of the school-reform movement, as it’s known to champions and detractors alike, is no longer assured. Even a couple years ago, few would have predicted this turn of events for a crusade that began with the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, gathered momentum as charter schools and Teach for America took off in the 1990s, and surged into the spotlight with No Child Left Behind in 2001. As a schoolteacher, I know I didn’t anticipate this altered landscape. If one person can be credited—or blamed—for the reform movement’s sudden vulnerability, it’s a fiercely articulate historian, now in her 70s, named Diane Ravitch."From Jose Vilson: "Anyone with a sharp eye for societal dynamics understands that our current wave of education reform is code for “getting the Black and Latino kids educated,” and Diane Ravitch spends an appropriate amount of time speaking about the dynamics of race, speaking on the effects of segregation and immigration in a way that makes her sound, yes, reasonable and hip to the way the education landscape currently operates. In fact, she makes the case that all children can succeed and have raised their success rate across the board, but the gaps exist due to poverty and not race."From EduShyster: "The hoax in the book’s subtitle refers first and foremost to the deception that our public schools are in decline. As Ravitch documents in detail, test scores are at their highest point ever recorded, while high school dropouts are at their lowest point and more students are graduating from high school than at any point in American history. But the best hoaxes are impervious to facts and the one about our failing schools is no exception."From Imagine Wisconsin: "Public education advocates will also not be surprised to see the free market reformers lash out with well-funded, emotional messages attacking Ravitch. Reign of Error outs the reformers trying to raze public education. Their typical defense is to speak loudly and attack the messenger. This is, after all, just part of the free market process. For market-focused reformers to get ahead, government-run education must not succeed. Free marketeers pretend to be reforming when they are actually focused on destroying. Sadly, America’s neediest kids get pinned under the rubble."From Nicholas Tampico: “Ravitch believed otherwise in the 1990s and early 2000s when she allied with conservative politicians, scholars, and institutions, but she changed her mind about market-based education reforms after she examined their early results. Ravitch once endorsed voluntary national education standards; her modified position now is that state education departments should provide curriculum frameworks. A critique of Reign of Error is that state control still means that people in faraway places can determine how our children are educated.”From Deborah Meier: "Reign of Error lays out step by step the relentless thirty year drive to either centralize the education of the young—on one hand—or divest it entirely into privatized hands on the other. Finally, the two sides have joined forces on a strategy that simultaneously does both. While this coalition has many old roots, in its current form it began with the fanfare around the publication of A Nation at Risk (1983). Ravitch was, at that time, a supporter of this bold statement that more or less accused America’s teachers and school boards of a plot to undermine American health and welfare of the international scene."From Seattle Education: "Dr. Ravitch breaks down the amount of money spent on students in charter schools as opposed to students in public schools. Charter schools spend significantly less on their pupils than their public school counterparts and instead spend more money on administration, not teachers."
From OpEdNews: "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools' 'Dr. Ravitch shatters one corporate reform myth after another with clarity providing excellent background information in the Notes and Appendix. This book is a reference guide to all things ed reform. Don't understand much about test scores? Check out the chapters 'The Facts About Test Scores' and 'The Facts About International Test Scores'. Don't know the history of Michelle Rhee? Go to 'The Mystery of Michele Rhee'. How about the Parent Trigger? Read the chapter 'Parent Trigger or Parent Tricker'."
From Random House: "In Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch argues that the crisis in American education is not a crisis of academic achievement but a concerted effort to destroy public schools in this country. She makes clear that, contrary to the claims being made, public school test scores and graduation rates are the highest they’ve ever been, and dropout rates are at their lowest point. She argues that federal programs such as George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top set unreasonable targets for American students, punish schools, and result in teachers being fired if their students underperform, unfairly branding those educators as failures. She warns that major foundations, individual billionaires, and Wall Street hedge fund managers are encouraging the privatization of public education, some for idealistic reasons, others for profit. Many who work with equity funds are eyeing public education as an emerging market for investors.Anyone with a sharp eye for societal dynamics understands that our current wave of education reform is code for “getting the Black and Latino kids educated,” and Diane Ravitch spends an appropriate amount of time speaking about the dynamics of race, speaking on the effects of segregation and immigration in a way that makes her sound, yes, reasonable and hip to the way the education landscape currently operates. In fact, she makes the case that all children can succeed and have raised their success rate across the board, but the gaps exist due to poverty and not race. - See more at: http://thejosevilson.com/im-diane-ravitch-im-tired-shit-review-reign-error/#sthash.Ep35mfAB.MidDSdaO.dpufAnyone with a sharp eye for societal dynamics understands that our current wave of education reform is code for “getting the Black and Latino kids educated,” and Diane Ravitch spends an appropriate amount of time speaking about the dynamics of race, speaking on the effects of segregation and immigration in a way that makes her sound, yes, reasonable and hip to the way the education landscape currently operates. In fact, she makes the case that all children can succeed and have raised their success rate across the board, but the gaps exist due to poverty and not race. - See more at: http://thejosevilson.com/im-diane-ravitch-im-tired-shit-review-reign-error/#sthash.Ep35mfAB.MidDSdaO.dpufAnyone with a sharp eye for societal dynamics understands that our current wave of education reform is code for “getting the Black and Latino kids educated,” and Diane Ravitch spends an appropriate amount of time speaking about the dynamics of race, speaking on the effects of segregation and immigration in a way that makes her sound, yes, reasonable and hip to the way the education landscape currently operates. In fact, she makes the case that all children can succeed and have raised their success rate across the board, but the gaps exist due to poverty and not race. - See more at: http://thejosevilson.com/im-diane-ravitch-im-tired-shit-review-reign-error/#sthash.Ep35mfAB.MidDSdaO.dpuf
From Accountable Talk: "I'd like to just briefly recommend this book to teachers everywhere. The book is a thorough excoriation of the reform movement. Starting with who the major players are and how they stand to benefit financially from their "reforms", Ms. Ravitch unravels, one by one, all the myths spun by the corporate raiders looking to cash in on public education dollars. She lays bare the truth about all the favorite tropes of the reform movement, such as test scores, the achievement gap, PISA, high school and college graduation rates, merit pay, and many others."
From Daily Koz: "To be clear, it is not that Ravitch believes our schools are fine as they are, or were before the recent generations of "reform." Far from it, she points at many places where changes are needed. But she starts from an understanding that seems to escape many on the other side of the educational debate."
From the New York Post: "The book veers between argument and rant. Ravitch seems scarcely able to stop sputtering out meaningless and irrelevant buzzwords that she hopes will inspire ill will towards school choice. Again and again — hundreds of times — she tosses out words meant to stir up irrational hatred. I refer to words like “privatization” (which no one is proposing), “entrepreneurs,” “corporations,” “profits” and (most hilariously) “creationism,” which she claims is one of the hidden agendas of school reformists."
From Ed Notes Online: "Ravitch covers a lot of ground, using lots of charts and graphs to show how the claims by education deformers (Ravitch refers to them as “corporate reformers”) that our nation’s schools are in crisis and are failing and declining compared to other nations is not only not true but part of a design by people tied into the educational-industrial complex to get their mitts on a large chunk of the billions spent on education in this country."
From AlterNet: "Now, with Reign, we have Ravitch 3.0, displayed in a comprehensive work that in many ways echoes not only her own blog, but the growing arguments among educators and scholars that much of the reform agenda lacks evidence and that alternative commitments to education reform need to address poverty, equity, and opportunity."
From Leonie Haimson: "Her book shows that within the historical context, student performance across the country has never been better if measured by test scores and graduation rates, and that even as the achievement gap stubbornly persists, the problem should be addressed by narrowing the opportunity gap. This can be done by directly addressing poverty and by providing more equitable school conditions, with resources invested in reforms that have actually been proven to work, including preK, smaller classes, a well-rounded education and wrap-around services. These are the programs and conditions that the wealthy demand for their own kids. Poor and disadvantaged children need the same things – only more so. She also explains how schools, especially those with high-needs students, will only be further undermined by the corporate reform agenda of test-driven accountability, weakening of teacher tenure, merit pay, and online learning."