Friday, December 03, 2010

A Case of Senioritis- Gates tackles education’s two-headed monster.

Jonathan Alter with a great interview with Bill Gates, who underscores the urgency of fixing our schools – and gives Ravitch a well-deserved smackdown (saying slightly more diplomatically exactly what I've been saying: that she's a defender of the indefensible status quo, craps on every reform, no matter how successful, and has ZERO ideas of her own about how to improve the system):

"If there's one thing that can be done for the country, one thing," Gates says, his normally modulated voice rising, "improving education rises so far above everything else!" He doesn't say what the "else" is—deficit reduction? containing Iran? free trade?—but they're way down toward the floor compared with the arm above that multibillion-dollar head. With the U.S. tumbling since 1995 from second in the world to 16th in college-graduation rates and to 24th place in math (for 15-year-olds), it was hard to argue the point. Our economic destiny is at stake.

…But you've got to give Gates credit for devoting so much of his brain and fortune to this challenge. His biggest adversary now is Diane Ravitch, a jaundiced former Education Department official under George H.W. Bush, who changed sides in the debate and now attacks Gates-funded programs in books and articles. Ravitch, the Whittaker Chambers of school reform, gives intellectual heft to the National Education Association's campaign to discredit even superb charter schools and trash intriguing reform ideas that may threaten its power.

When I asked Gates about Ravitch, you could see the Micro-hard hombre who once steamrolled software competitors: "Does she like the status quo? Is she sticking up for decline? Does she really like 400-page [union] contracts? Does she think all those 'dropout factories' are lonely? If there's some other magic way to reduce the dropout rate, we're all ears." Gates understands that charters aren't a silver bullet, and that many don't perform. But he doesn't have patience for critics who spend their days tearing down KIPP schools and other models that produce results.

There's a backlash against the rich taking on school reform as a cause. Some liberals figure they must have an angle and are scapegoating teachers. But most of the wealthy people underwriting this long-delayed social movement for better performance are on the right track. Like the rest of us, they know that if we don't fix education, we can kiss our future goodbye.


A Case of Senioritis

Gates tackles education's two-headed monster.

Jonathan Alter, Newsweek, 11/28/10

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