Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ravitch on teachers and her critics

I did read the book and I'm feelin aesthetic not authentic.


By Valerie Strauss | July 8, 2010

I am publishing an email I received from Diane Ravitch, the New York University education historian and author of the best-selling "The Death and Life of the Great American School System." Ravitch, once a supporter of No Child Left Behind and now a fierce critic of its impact, is traveling the country meeting thousands of teachers as she critiques the Obama administration's education policies. In the last few months I have written a lot about Ravitch, and published a number of her pieces not because I agree with her every word but because I think she is the most forceful voice right now speaking out for sane policy and our public school system would be far better off if administration policy better reflected her research and concerns.

By Diane Ravitch
Last Tuesday, I received an award from the National Education Association as its “Friend of Education” for 2010 and had the amazing experience of speaking at its convention in New Orleans to 10,000 teachers. In my talk (see above), I briefly described how high-stakes testing is corrupting education, how choice is being oversold, why NCLB [No Child Left Behind] is a disaster, and how NCLB and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top are tightly linked together. I got the most thunderous applause when I asked why the idea of a “race to the top” had replaced the idea of equal educational opportunity.

Almost immediately, Education Week posted a blog by one of its veteran reporters saying that I was singing to the choir and that some observers considered my evidence to be “selective.”

I responded to the post by wondering what was “selective” about the Stanford [University] CREDO study of charter schools—which found that only 17% of them outperformed a matched regular public school—or scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which since 2003 have never shown an advantage for charter schools as compared to regular public schools. Or NAEP scores for Milwaukee, which I cited in my speech, which reveal that African American students in that city—after two decades of choice-- have lower scores than African American students in Mississippi and Louisiana. Nor have I seen any evidence to contradict my conclusions about the predictable effects of high-stakes testing: narrowing the curriculum, cheating, gaming the system, systematic inflation of scores, etc.

The reporter, Stephen Sawchuk, pointed out that I am not in total agreement with some of NEA’s policies, and he is right. I have been a strong critic of so-called “21st century skills,” but that didn’t stop NEA from selecting me as its honoree. I certainly haven’t changed my view that the push for these “skills” is a weak refrain of the same activity-based approaches that have been popular in ed schools for a century. And, to the extent that it is about pushing more technology into the schools, it is pointless, as technology will never take the place of good teachers. Would NEA teachers disagree?

Sawchuk also says that the NEA doesn’t agree with my stance on the importance of a rich, balanced, coherent curriculum, but I didn’t see any evidence of that when I spoke. In fact, when I talked about the way that test prep was reducing time for the arts, history, civics, science, foreign languages, and even physical education, I was drowned out by cheers and applause before I could get through the list of subjects that are minimized by the pursuit of higher scores in basic skills.

These are important issues, and it’s useful to get them out front for discussion. So, I say, thank you to Stephen Sawchuk for doing so.

What I have observed these past few months is people from different camps are coming together to support public education. The privatization movement has driven one-time ideological foes into the same camp. It turns out that debates about bilingual education or whole language or progressivism pale in comparison to the importance of maintaining public education and the principle of equal educational opportunity.

CORRECTION: This was initially published with the first name of Stephen Sawchuk spelled incorrectly. It is now correct.


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