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Reform: Ravitch Critique Lacks Humility, Political Savvy

image from farm3.static.flickr.com For a long time I was focused on how Diane Ravitch -- whom I like and admire -- had switched sides without anyone noticing until her book came out. It just amazed me that her positions had evolved so dramatically but no one noticed until book time, and frankly made me sort of skeptical about her changed views.  (Ditto for Ravitch's seeming lack of sufficient humility about having been so "wrong" for so long.  Now all of a sudden she was right and everyone else was wrong.)  These days, I'm mostly focused on the striking lack of political thinking Ravitch is showing.  Maybe that was never her strong suit, but in article after article (see this Q and A with Valerie Strauss) she seems to think that some sort of light switch is going to to go off if she keeps saying the same thing over and over again.  Who knows - she may be right.  But it would be a lot more helpful -- and persuasive -- to me if she had some viable ideas about how the public and politicians should proceed without undercutting support for public education.  Confidence in the current system is low enough that politicos on both sides champion changes that may or may not work.  I don't see how, barring a massive testing scandal, reformers step away from accountability -- flawed as it obviously is.  Ditto for charters and choice. And I'm not sure where the new money for education would come from if it wasn't attached to "new" ideas.  Do Ravitch et al really prefer a world in which testing and charters are de-emphasized, but public spending on education is flat or even declines?  Does she even consider it her job to reflect on how to affect the political and other forces that got us where we are, or is she just Wellstone/Kozoling?

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I think you're underestimating the extent to which the mass of teachers across the country, particularly outside NYC, Chicago, DC, LA, etc., are only now slowly coming to understand the full scope of the current reform agenda and people behind it. Parents and teachers nationwide are still a sleeping political giant waiting to be awoken.

Reformers don't have to step away from accountability, they need to redefine it - pace LDH - to be a continuing system of assessment of actual important learning outcomes.

And while charters make certain ideologues happy because they kill unions, the best reform models of our era are come out of the community schools model, which by the way is a model that Arnie D really liked in Chicago.

What does Wellstone/Kozoling mean?

Mr. Russo: I rarely comment on articles but felt I must respond to this.

First, the DOE and elected officials must listen to those in the trenches. They must acknowledge that their initiatives, which are aggravated extensions of a failed plan (NCLB), are simply not working nor will they work, if buy in is not gained on the front lines. The DOE cannot continue to ignore thousands of seasoned practitioners or a nationally recognized education expert. This will implode and the effects will be seen in upcoming elections.

In Dr Ravitch's must-read book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, she writes that she feels she is standing on tracks yelling 'Stop' to an high speed train headed for doom.

We must first stop this train! Cease and desist with high stakes testing (not testing but high stakes testing). Stop the plans to tie school closings to standardized tests, and plans to tie teacher's employment and pay to standardized tests, etc. When employment, salary, and food on the table are tied to these tests, you will have teaching to the test only and you will have gamesmanship and fraud. That educates no one. Stop the facade. (Was it Einstein who said, "Not everything that counts can be measured.")

Stop the proliferation of charter schools and focus on improving the public schools which must teach every child in our nation. We cannot afford to abandon poverty stricken children, E2L children, homeless children, disabled children, which some charters deem non teachable.

Re: Solutions--We must stop the path we are on first. Only when authentic dialog takes place between the DOE and all layers of stakeholders will we begin to develop workable remedies. Dr Ravitch offered solutions in her book which were reasonable and based upon experience. There are no magic elixirs for every state and there never will be. Every school, every District, every State will experience different issues and need to be able to identify and address those issues without being enticed by $4.5B contests dangling over their heads.

Re: Your comment re: "lack of political thinking on Ravitch's part," I say, thank goodness! Dr. Ravitch appears to be the sane voice of reason in this complicated world of 'education reform." Political thinking, I believe got us into this debacle to begin with.

Diane Ravitch is not a career politician. She dedicated her life to education--studying it, writing, drafting education policy, chairing committees and providing decades of research. Her expertise was tapped often as a Presidential appointee while both parties were in the White House. My money is on her advice over that of any politician any day of the week!

Re: Comments on Dr. Ravitch's insufficient humility in changing her mind-I find these words strikingly ironic. By courageously acknowledging her change of mind brought about by mountains of concrete evidence, she opens herself up to critiques of 'insufficient humility' such as yours!

She could have chosen to remain silent, look the other way, enjoyed stress-free golden years vs. being front and center for threatened politicians and Beltway staffers to critique her. She is a brilliant and brave woman. I admire her honesty, courage and tenacity.

Here's my take. Dr. Ravitch has no motives other than setting the record straight. All one has to do is watch an interview with her, listen to a speech, read one of her many outstanding books and you will know in a heartbeat she is integrity personified. If only our politicians could learn to do the same.

She is an expert in education policy and an historian. She is sought after throughout this nation and other countries for her intellect, wisdom and advice. We should never forget that and heed her warning.

I do not wish to put Dr. Ravitch on a pedestal. But I do wish to acknowledge her observations of what has become of the educational system since testing became a means of a school's survival.

We are wasting the precious time of discovery and curiosity. Our children deserve better. They deserve the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness....this was our promise to each other...this should be our promise to them.

Testing results, mandates, take-overs have resulted in children who are asking their teachers...Why?.....The only thing I can say to them when they ask is,"They want you to show them what you know." ....but what do I really want to say? "They are confused, they forgot how children learn, they forgot how they learn....I don't know why??????"

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