Friday, February 26, 2010

A reformed reformer

Well, wouldn't you know. A well-respected school reformer with ties to the Reagan and both Bush administrations, who once applauded "No Child Left Behind," is now cheerleading for common sense.

Check out the Washington Post story today titled, "Business principles won't work for school reform, former supporter Ravitch says."

Diane Ravitch has a new book coming out next week called, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System."

The article states that "... Ravitch, an education historian, now renounces many of the market-oriented policies she promoted as a former federal education official with close ties to Democrats and Republicans."

She even challenges President Obama's education policies.

"In choosing his education agenda, President Obama sided with the economists and the corporate-style reformers," Ravitch writes in her book.

The piece points out that Ravitch, "stoutly defends teachers unions, questions the value of standardized test data and calls the president's affinity for independently operated charter schools 'puzzling.'"

"Is Arne Duncan really Margaret Spellings in drag?" Ravitch asked in a February 2009 blog item, suggesting that the education secretary's policies are not much different from those espoused by Spellings, who held the office under President George W. Bush, the article says.

Ask any teacher if they like the direction of education today. You'll likely get an earful. But who bothers asking teachers what they think. They belong to UNIONS! Gosh.

Still, teachers will tell you that there is so much focus on testing and the core subjects of math and reading, that there isn't much time (not to mention money) for things such as art, P.E., music or anything fun. Teachers are noticing burnout, not just among fellow teachers, but in the kids themselves. And we're talking primary grades here.

The upshot is that more dropouts are likely and at lower grade levels, particularly in middle school.

The irony is that more children will be left behind, not fewer. And, more teachers will leave the profession, not fewer. Better go back to the chalkboard.

In her book, Ravitch writes: "I wanted to believe that choice and accountability would produce great results. But over time, I was persuaded by accumulating evidence that the latest reforms were not likely to live up to their promise. The more I saw, the more I lost the faith."

Good for her to have the courage to challenge her own assumptions. She checked out the real world and found that students aren't widgets.

As I wrote in an earlier post, until they become widgets, businesses will be businesses and schools will be schools.

She says major education philanthropies, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, rely too much on business principles to improve schools.

You can't run a school like a callous corporation. Ravitch has seen the light, finally.

Will it matter in the long run? Not likely.

The extreme Republicans want to destroy public education, while misguided Democrats claim they want to improve education. If both sides employ the same strategies -- more charter schools, more testing leading to more accountability -- schoolchildren are bound to lose.

That's what happened with the charter school focusing on the arts in Sisters. It was a glorified coloring school that didn't teach students the fundamentals of reading or arithmetic. That charter is closing with the students returning to the public school knowing less than their classmates.

If public schools lack accountability, what about charter schools? They have no accountability.

This isn't to say that all public schools are wonderful. But the core issue is socio-economic. The rich do better than the poor. A recent study shows how some public schools in high income areas in the Portland area, are really more like private, elite schools. The poor are excluded. And that's the way it is.

You can be sure that folks on Bend's westside would like to exclude "the unwashed masses" from Summit High School. In a sense it's already happening. Many lower and middle income students just don't feel welcome there and transfer to Bend High or Mountain View.

It's always been about exclusion and exclusivity. That's how we roll as a nation. But that's why public education is so essential. It aims to reach and teach the "unwashed masses." It's one of the major reasons why so many flock to our shores.

No comments:

Post a Comment