Diane Ravitch is shaking up the debate on school reform, says the New York Times in a profile linked to the scholar’s new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System.
Once outspoken about the power of standardized testing, charter schools and free markets to improve schools, Dr. Ravitch is now caustically critical. She underwent an intellectual crisis, she says, discovering that these strategies, which she now calls faddish trends, were undermining public education.
Once a supporter of No Child Left Behind, Ravitch “now says its requirements for testing in math and reading have squeezed vital subjects like history and art out of classrooms.”
“School reform today is like a freight train, and I’m out on the tracks saying, ‘You’re going the wrong way!’ ” Dr. Ravitch said in an interview.
Many of her former allies are angry, notes the Times, while backers say Ravitch hasn’t changed her crusade for a strong core curriculum and her belief in the importance of the public schools.
In a Los Angeles Times review, Peter Schrag stresses Ravitch’s fierce commitment “to high standards, including the teaching of good behavior, but particularly to the Western cultural canon, the common vocabulary essential to all good education and the capable, dedicated teachers who can impart it.”
Fordham’s Checker Finn, Jr., writing in Forbes, agrees with Ravitch on the problems but thinks more radical reform is the solution.
Standards, in many places, have proven nebulous and low. “Accountability” has turned to test cramming and bean counting, often limited to basic reading and math skills. That emphasis, in turn, has diverted what was already weak-kneed attention to history, literature, art, etc. Efforts to rectify the “basic skills” problem have led to the folly of “21st-century skills” rather than a solid liberal arts curriculum. Textbooks, by and large, suck. No Child Left Behind has brought as many problems as solutions. Technology has wrought no miracles. Teacher education, with rare exceptions, is still appalling. Charter schools are uneven at best.
But can we trust the public system to tackle these problems?
In the New York Sun, Andrew Wolf focuses on Ravitch’s warnings letting education policy be directed or “captured” by private foundations which aren’t accountable to voters or anyone else.
“If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. They are bastions of unaccountable power.” Ms. Ravitch questions why we’re allowing the relatively small financial contributions made by the foundations, dwarfed by the hundreds of billions America spends on public education, to leverage the entire investment?
The Gates Foundation’s drive to create small high schools is a shining example of failure, Wolf adds.