Ravitch vs. reform

Once an education reformer, Diane Ravitch has become the leader of the resistance movement, writes David Denby in the New Yorker.

Ravitch argues that the reform movement is driven by an exaggerated negative critique of the schools, and that it is mistakenly imposing a free-market ethos of competition on an institution that, if it is to function well, requires coöperation, sharing, and mentoring.

“I think the crisis in American education is that there is a concerted effort to destroy it,” Ravitch told The American Prospect. Here’s part two of the interview.

Ravitch: Field test new standards

Common Core Standards, now adopted by 45 states, should be field tested by teachers, writes Diane Ravitch, who helped draft standards in California, Georgia and Texas.

When the words on paper are brought to life in classrooms by real teachers teaching real students, we learn a lot. We find out that some expectations are too high for that grade; some expectations are too low. And some make no sense.

We learn what is developmentally appropriate. We learn what is realistic. We learn what works. Teachers know because they do the work of bringing the words to life. If the words don’t come to life, they know that too.

Ravitch is “agnostic” about the new standards. Maybe they’ll raise achievement, she writes. Maybe not. “How will we know unless we run trials to find out?”

Standards are goals that teachers will implement in different ways, writes Kathleen Porter-Magee on Flypaper. “They are nothing more or less than a simple list of knowledge and skills that students should learn at particular grade levels. You can’t ‘field test’ what a state should expect its students should learn.”

Wall Street and Charter Schools

Diane Ravitch has an illuminating, if somewhat overwrought piece up today on Bridging Differences that has an assertion and a question.

The assertion is that the charter school movement is dependent on, tied up with, and owes much of its success to the involvement of hedge-fund managers in New York City.   The question is what will happen when the money leaves?

Ravitch’s piece is implicitly hostile to the modern charter school movement, and sometimes explicitly critical:

Now the charter industry has become a means of privatizing public education. They tout the virtues of competition, not collaboration. The sector has many for-profit corporations, eagerly trolling for new business opportunities and larger enrollments. Some charters skim the top students in the poorest neighborhoods; some accept very small proportions of students who have disabilities or don’t speak English; some quietly push out those with low scores or behavior problems (the Indianapolis public schools recently complained about this practice by local charters).

Still, even putting side this sort of criticism (and one should always be careful with criticisms that rely too much on the word “some”), the question of finance for the charter school movement is an interesting one.  I wasn’t really aware of the close ties to Wall Street Finance that exist in the charter movement (and I’m still skeptical; Ravitch may be overstating the case).

And Ravitch is right to ask, will the cash go on forever?

It probably won’t if the goal is to create a better system of schools; charter schools don’t quite seem to be meeting that goal (for whatever reason).  Ravitch seems to think this is the case:

Wall Street understands success and failure. When companies fail, investors bail out. As studies continue to show that charters on average don’t get better test scores than public schools, will Wall Street continue to be bullish about charters? Will they support only the ones that skim and exclude? When will they cut their losses?

But the money might continue, though, if the goal is the destruction of certain aspects of public education, or the working of systemic sorts of changes.  The question is whether the charter schools are supposed to be the end (as Ravitch thinks) or the means to some other end.

In other words, in trying to guess at the behavior of hedge fund managers, it really matters what it is those hedge fund managers are trying to do in the first place.

N.B. - I know, I know.  I said the c-word.  I’ll say it again: “CHARTER SCHOOLS!”  Please be civil to each other in the comments.

Ravitch: Duncan deserves an F

Since Arne Duncan supports evaluating educators, Diane Ravitch grades his performance as education secretary:  F.  He fails respecting the federal government’s limited role in education and following the law, which bans the department from establishing a national curriculum.  And there’s more.

Have the policies promulgated by Duncan been good for the children of the United States?

No. Most parents and teachers and even President Obama (and sometimes Duncan himself) agree that “teaching to the test” makes school boring and robs classrooms of time for the imaginative instruction and activities that enliven learning. The standardized tests that are now ubiquitous are inherently boring. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, teachers should teach with “creativity and passion,” but they can’t do that when tests matter so much. Spending hours preparing to take pick-the-bubble tests depresses student interest and motivation. This is not good for children. Yet Duncan’s policies—which use test scores to evaluate teachers and to decide which schools to close and which teachers to pay bonuses to—intensively promote teaching to the test. This is not good for students. Grade: F.

Do Duncan’s policies encourage teachers and inspire good teaching?

No. Duncan’s policies demean the teaching profession by treating student test scores as a proxy for teacher quality. A test that a student takes on one day of the year cannot possibly measure the quality of a teacher. (Officially, the administration suggests that test scores are supposed to be only one of multiple measures of teacher quality, but invariably the scores outweigh every other component of any evaluation program, as they did in New York City’s recent release of the teacher ratings.) Nor do most teachers want to compete with one another for merit pay.

Ravitch ends by flunking just about everyone. “It is hard to find any leader of either party who stands forthrightly today as a champion of students, teachers, public schools, and good education.”

Just ‘another liberal hack’

Hoping for a thoughtful discussion, Darren went to hear Diane Ravitch speak in Sacramento. Ravitch fed red meat to her fans, he writes on Right on the Left Coast.

. . . she said that the only crisis in American education is that it’s under attack . . .  by “right wingers”  . . . whose hidden purpose is to privatize public schools.

In an interview with an alternative newspaper Ravitch talked about why she opposes No Child Left Behind. But her speech was pure zealotry, writes Darren. “Bottom line, she’s just another liberal hack.”

Bold dissenter — or burnable heretic?

The Dissenter in the New Republic (subscribers’ only) analyzes education historian Diane Ravitch’s turn against education reform ideas she’d once championed.

Author Kevin Carey seems to attribute Ravitch’s change of heart to her long-time partner’s rejection by Joel Klein. As a new chancellor, Klein started a training program for principals, ignoring the work of an existing and well-respected leadership academy run by Mary Butz, Ravitch’s partner.

Ravitch had good reason to distrust Klein and his reforms, writes Mike Petrilli.

. . . Diane had a point about Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein running schools as if they were “selling toothpaste.” The leadership academy was a perfect example. . . . like many reformers who distrust the reformers who came before them, he didn’t consider that Mary’s program might be worth building on, rather than replacing. And instead of recruiting experienced principals to run his new initiative, he went to corporate America for its funding and design.

Keep in mind that this was the same Joel Klein who was trashing the federal Reading First program for being too prescriptive, lavishing money on Lucy Calkins and her hare-brained “writing workshop” ideas, and arguing that the content of a particular curriculum didn’t matter; what was important was picking one and sticking to it. Klein was agnostic about the education side of education. And that (understandably) infuriated Diane.

. . .  she is right to be suspicious of a school reform movement that still, to this day, has little to say about matters of curriculum and pedagogy.

“Successful movements seek converts; unsuccessful movements hunt heretics,” responds Core Knowledge‘s Robert Pondiscio in an e-mail.
. . . Look, I disagree with Diane on choice and charters, among other things (lest I become the next heretic to be burned at the stake). But I remain deeply appreciative of her unchanged and unflinching support of a core curriculum, and enormously influenced by her overall body of work. The speculation that she would gainsay a life of scholarship merely for the cheap thrill of settling a personal grudge is just plain silly.
Indeed.

In a 1983 essay, “Scapegoating the Teachers,” Ravitch wrote:

It is comforting to blame teachers for the low state of education, because it relieves so many others of their own responsibility for years of educational neglect.

Ravitch was affiliated with the anti-communist left and was a friend of teachers’ union leader Al Shanker, Goldstein adds.

Both Goldstein and Alexander Russo raise the issue of sexism.

Brill v. Ravitch

Class Warfare author Steven Brill debated Diane Ravitch on C-SPAN. Ravitch blamed poverty for low U.S. scores compared to rival countries, saying affluent U.S. students do as well as Finns and Koreans.

Big deal, responds Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene’s blog. Our best students do as well as the average for all of their students.

No mention of how the very wealthiest schools in America compare to the very wealthiest schools in Finland and South Korea, or that our African-American kids score closer to the average score in Mexico than that in Finland.

The gap between high-scoring and low-scoring U.S. students is wide compared to most of our high-scoring competitors.

Respect teachers, blame cheaters

Show respect for educators by blaming the cheaters rather than the tests,  argues Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey in The New Republic. Blaming the recent cheating scandals on the pressure to produce results is like giving Bernie Madoff a pass because he was under pressure to make money for is clients, Carey writes.

. . .  every time news of cheating breaks, opponents of standardized testing and accountability in public education have been quick to deflect blame from morally challenged educators and aim it toward the tests themselves. When asked about Atlanta, noted school reform apostate Diane Ravitch pointed the finger at the federal No Child Left Behind law, saying that, when high-stakes incentives are attached to test scores, we are “virtually inviting” teachers to cheat. At the Daily Kos, readers were told that “the tests, and the stakes attached to them, are the issue. No rational person can look at cheating this widespread and decide its existence is about the individuals, however blameworthy their behavior may be.” One Atlanta-area teacher put it this way: “Anybody whose job is tied to performance, it is a setup.”

Testing opponents often invoke “Campbell’s Law,” which holds that “[t]he more any quantitative social indicator [e.g. standardized testing] is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures.”

As a way of understanding education policy, or anything else, Campbell’s Law is both inaccurate and banal. In reality, most people are quite adept at resisting corruption pressure, which is why the vast majority of teachers whose students take standardized tests do not cheat.

The good news, Carey writes, that “public schools finally care enough about student performance that some ethically challenged educators have chosen to cheat.”  It’s worth lying about.

Many students see citizenship as ‘stupid’

It’s not just that many U.S. students don’t know civics or U.S. history, writes Stanford Education Professor William Damon. Increasingly, they don’t care about citizenship.

“Being American is not really special,” said one high school student in a survey.  Another replied that citizenship is “stupid to me,” saying,  “I don’t want to belong to any country. It just feels like you are obligated to this country.”

Many influential educators believe “global citizenship” is the proper aim of civics instruction, not allegiance to the U.S., Damon writes.

As global citizens, it is argued, our primary identification should be with the humanity of the world, and our primary obligation should be to the universal ideals of human rights and justice.

Devotion to one’s own nation state, commonly referred to as patriotism, is suspect because it may turn into a militant chauvinism or a dangerous “my country right or wrong” perspective.

Schools with large immigrant populations neglect teaching students about “American identity and the American tradition,” he writes.

Educational critic Diane Ravitch observed this phenomenon when visiting a New York City school whose principal proudly spoke of the school’s efforts to celebrate the cultures of all the immigrant students. Ravitch writes, “I asked him whether the school did anything to encourage students to appreciate American culture, and he admitted with embarrassment that it did not.”

These and other American students are being urged to identify with, on the one hand, customs from the native lands they have departed and, on the other hand, with the abstract ideals of an amorphous global culture. Lost in between these romantic affiliations is an identification with the nation where these students actually will practice citizenship.

Adding to the dysfunction of this educational choice, as Ravitch writes, is the absurdity of teaching “a student whose family fled to this country from a tyrannical regime or from dire poverty to identify with that nation rather than with the one that gave the family refuge.”

Damon suggests civics instructors teach students to take pride in their country’s best traditions. In our recent history, students could learn about “the civil rights movement that extended rights to millions of citizens,” the victories over totalitarianism that “extended new freedoms to millions of subjugated people in Europe and Asia” and “the building of a middle class that offered economic freedom” to citizens and immigrants alike.

Damon is the author of Failing Liberty 101.

Many students see citizenship as 'stupid'

It’s not just that many U.S. students don’t know civics or U.S. history, writes Stanford Education Professor William Damon. Increasingly, they don’t care about citizenship.

“Being American is not really special,” said one high school student in a survey.  Another replied that citizenship is “stupid to me,” saying,  “I don’t want to belong to any country. It just feels like you are obligated to this country.”

Many influential educators believe “global citizenship” is the proper aim of civics instruction, not allegiance to the U.S., Damon writes.

As global citizens, it is argued, our primary identification should be with the humanity of the world, and our primary obligation should be to the universal ideals of human rights and justice.

Devotion to one’s own nation state, commonly referred to as patriotism, is suspect because it may turn into a militant chauvinism or a dangerous “my country right or wrong” perspective.

Schools with large immigrant populations neglect teaching students about “American identity and the American tradition,” he writes.

Educational critic Diane Ravitch observed this phenomenon when visiting a New York City school whose principal proudly spoke of the school’s efforts to celebrate the cultures of all the immigrant students. Ravitch writes, “I asked him whether the school did anything to encourage students to appreciate American culture, and he admitted with embarrassment that it did not.”

These and other American students are being urged to identify with, on the one hand, customs from the native lands they have departed and, on the other hand, with the abstract ideals of an amorphous global culture. Lost in between these romantic affiliations is an identification with the nation where these students actually will practice citizenship.

Adding to the dysfunction of this educational choice, as Ravitch writes, is the absurdity of teaching “a student whose family fled to this country from a tyrannical regime or from dire poverty to identify with that nation rather than with the one that gave the family refuge.”

Damon suggests civics instructors teach students to take pride in their country’s best traditions. In our recent history, students could learn about “the civil rights movement that extended rights to millions of citizens,” the victories over totalitarianism that “extended new freedoms to millions of subjugated people in Europe and Asia” and “the building of a middle class that offered economic freedom” to citizens and immigrants alike.

Damon is the author of Failing Liberty 101.