Ravitch: Right Now We're "Dumbing Down" Education

Articles by Diane Ravitch, GSBA Summer Conference Keynoter, Provide Insight Into Radical Shift in Philosophy Away from Focus on Choice to Focus on Poverty

Diane Ravitch will speak at the GSBA Summer Conference and Delegate Assembly the morning of June 17 in Savannah. Dr. Ravitch wants our country to have a great public education system, but thinks we're going about it the wrong way by focusing on the wrong things.

She has had more experience than most in studying our education system and working at the highest levels of government to try to reform public education. A one-time advocate for NCLB, national standards and school choice, Dr. Ravitch now believes that if we are to truly reform our schools that we will have to strike at the heart of the root causes of poor performing schools -- poverty and other community ills. She is also a strong advocate for focusing on putting a strong teacher in every classroom.

Reading her own words gives the most clear picture of her philosophy (all articles may be accessed on Dr. Ravitch's website at the following link - http://www.dianeravitch.com/articles.html):

"Many teachers hold Duncan's policies accountable for the public disrespect now directed at teachers in the media. Consequently they can't find it in their hearts to trust Arne Duncan when he thanks them for their service. They've learned to respond to what he does, not what he says." The Daily Beast (blog), May 10, 2011

"[Michelle Rhee's] celebrity results from the fact that she has emerged as the national spokesman for the effort to subject public education to free-market forces, including competition, decision by data, and consumer choice. All of this sounds very appealing when your goal is to buy a pound of butter or a pair of shoes, but it is not a sensible or wise approach to creating good education. What it produces, predictably, is cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum." The Daily Beast (blog), March 29, 2011

"There has recently been a national furor about school reform. One must wonder how it is possible to talk of improving schools while cutting funding, demoralizing teachers, cutting scholarships to college, and increasing class sizes...The real story in Madison is not just about unions trying to protect their members' hard-won rights. It is about teachers who are fed up with attacks on their profession." CNN.com, February 21, 2011

"I don't hear any of the corporate reformers expressing concern about the way standardized testing narrows the curriculum, the way it rewards convergent thinking and punishes divergent thinking, the way it stamps out creativity and originality. I don't hear any of them worried that a generation will grow up ignorant of history and the workings of government. I don't hear any of them putting up $100 million to make sure that every child has the chance to learn to play a musical instrument. All I hear from them is a demand for higher test scores and a demand to tie teachers' evaluations to those test scores. That is not going to improve education." with Valerie Strauss, The Answer Sheet (blog), Washington Post, November 30, 2010

"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. "Ravitch on Teachers and Her Critics," The Answer Sheet (blog), Washington Post, July 8, 2010

"As the number of charters grows, public authorities must ensure that charter operators are responsible. We have seen stories in the press, especially the New York Daily News, about charters that produce astonishing profits for entrepreneurs and investors, while storing children in trailers with meager facilities. This is not right. Just last month, on March 9, the New York Times described how public schools in Harlem now must market themselves to compete with charter schools for new students. The regular public schools have less than $500 each to create brochures and fliers; the charter firm with which they compete has a marketing budget of $325,000. That's not fair. We have seen stories about nonprofit entrepreneurs who are paid $400,000 a year or more to run charters for 1,000 children. That's more than the Chancellor of the New York City schools is paid, and more than the U.S. Secretary of Education. That's not right. The New York Daily News reports today that charter schools, unlike other public schools, are not subject to public audits or to rules prohibiting nepotism and conflicts of interest by their board members or staff. That's not right." "Testimony of Dr. Diane Ravitch, Public Hearing on Charter Schools," Senate Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions, Albany, NY, April 22, 2010.

"So, what is the Obama administration now doing? Its $4.3 billion "Race to the Top" fund will supposedly promote "innovation." But this money will be used to promote privatization of public education and insist that states use these same pathetic tests to decide which teachers are doing a good job. With the lure of all that money hanging out there to the states, the administration is requiring that they remove all restrictions on the number of privately-managed charter schools that receive public dollars and that they use test results to evaluate teachers.
This is not change that teachers can believe in. These are exactly the same reforms that President George W. Bush and his Secretary Margaret Spellings would have promoted if they had had a sympathetic Congress. They too wanted more charter schools, more merit pay, more testing, and more "accountability" for teachers based on those same low-level tests. But Congress would never have allowed them to do it.
Now that President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan have become the standard-bearer for the privatization and testing agenda, we hear nothing more about ditching NCLB, except perhaps changing its name. The fundamental features of NCLB remain intact regardless of what they call it." "Obama's Awful Education Plan," Huffington Post, August 23, 2009.