Saturday, April 03, 2010

Diane Ravitch Has Certainly Changed Her Tune

Whether you agreed with her then or now, she certainly makes for compelling reading:

I used to be a strong supporter of school accountability and choice. But in recent years, it became clear to me that these strategies were not working. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program enacted in 2002 did not produce large gains in reading and math. The gains in math were larger before the law was implemented, and the most recent national tests showed that eighth-grade students have made no improvement in reading since 1998. By mandating a utopian goal of 100 percent proficiency, the law encouraged states to lower their standards and make false claims of progress. Worse, the law stigmatized schools that could not meet its unrealistic expectation.

Choice, too, has been disappointing. We now know that choice is no panacea. The districts with the most choice for the longest period -- Cleveland and Milwaukee -- have seen no improvement in their public schools nor in their choice schools. Charter schools have been compared to regular public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, and have never outperformed them. Nationally, only 3 percent of public school students are enrolled in charters, and no one is giving much thought to improving the system that enrolls the other 97 percent.

It is time to change course.

From there she lists several "we needs", most of which reasonable people wouldn't disagree with. I'm not convinced that those "we needs" are in conflict with accountability and school choice, though, both of which I support.

One of her suggestions is for state-level "inspection teams that spend time in every low-performing school and diagnose its problems." That sounds great in theory, but honestly I can't see it working in practice. California used to have external evaluators as part of its Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program but they didn't identify too many silver bullets. Additionally, California reserves the privilege of taking over lousy school districts, and its record in Oakland isn't one of success and acclaim. Put simply, I don't have much confidence that teams can be assembled that would be able to have any significant impact on improving schools. Good lord, can you imagine the political machinations, fads, and general loopiness that would accompany such teams here in the Golden State? The mind boggles at what might occur.

But go take a look at her suggestions. What might we do? And how might we afford it?


Ellen K said...

They can spend 24 hours of every day trying to diagnose what is wrong with low performing schools, but they would be looking at the wrong venue. When you have parents that do not value education, who do not include any sort of positive feedback or structure in the home, it is almost impossible for their children to perform at grade level. Teachers can produce entertainment and spending millions on technology but nothing will change until education is important to the students and their families.

Anonymous said...

Another compelling read is the book "The Saber-Toothed Curriculum" by J. Abner Peddiwell. Although it was written in 1939 it is perfectly applicable to today's educational system and its overabundance of redundant and conflicting theories and applications of pedagogy, and the impracticality of the educational theorist. A more current adaptation of the same line of thought is "Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work" by Matt Crawford. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Physics he supported himself by working as an electrician (no real jobs for a BS Physics). After earning an MA in Philosophy and a PhD in Political Philosophy he became a motorcycle mechanic and opened his own shop, again because there are very few jobs for professional philosophers.

MTheads said...

Choice may not improve the overall success of public education, though that is debatable, but it works great for individual families. And that's the point of choice. Let the experts work to improve the schools. Let parents decide how and where to educate their children.

I suspect Ravitch is against choice now because she wants fewer variables to deal with in trying to reform the ed system.