Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Don’t Believe Critics, Education Reform Works

STOP THE PRESSES!!!!  Even Arne Duncan, who doesn't usually throw bombs, is so sick of Ravitch's lies and distortions that he SLAMS her in Jonathan Alter's brilliant column today: "Diane Ravitch is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day."  Hear, hear!


In the rest of his column, Alter demolishes Ravitch's tired arguments and her dopey NYT op ed:

Unfortunately, the forces of the status quo are still working overtime. Obstructionists with a talent for caricature are determined to discredit important progress under way in some of the poorest school districts in the country.

The leader of this rear-guard action is Diane Ravitch, a professor at New York University who was an assistant secretary of education in the administration of George H.W. Bush. She's the education world's very own Whittaker Chambers, the famous communist turned strident anti-communist of the 1940s. Ravitch moved the other way, from right to left, where she now uses phony empiricism to rationalize almost every tired argument offered by teachers unions.

Healthy Skepticism

While healthy skepticism is a virtue, Ravitch seems bent on extinguishing any hope that our teachers and schools can do better. In an op-ed in the New York Times on June 1, she derided the impressive progress made at three public schools as "a triumph of public relations" based on "statistical legerdemain."

…What's most infuriating to me about Ravitch is the way she assembles straw men. It's simply false for her to charge that political leaders are trying to prove that "poverty doesn't matter." No education reformer has ever challenged the idea that conditions in the home and in the larger society are hugely important. They merely insist that such conditions not be used as an excuse for inaction.

Ravitch and her allies specialize in sliming reformers by creating powerful myths. The most pernicious is that reformers aren't professional educators and therefore don't have the standing to criticize the status quo. This isn't true -- many reformers, including the heads of many charter schools, have education experience -- but what's wrong with business executives or other interested outsiders devoting time and money to public schools? Would it be better if they ignored them as they did for so long? That went well for this country.

Classroom Malpractice

Another caricature is that anyone critical of teachers unions must be bashing teachers. In truth, most reformers aren't Governor Scott Walker-types bent on ending collective bargaining but liberal parents (and even many teachers) who believe we can't afford to look the other way while a minority of teachers commit malpractice in the classroom year after year.

Earlier this year, I tangled with Ravitch after she referred to charter schools as "privatized" when she knows perfectly well that charter schools are in fact public schools. It's a gross distortion to claim that reformers think charter schools -- a tiny fraction of all public schools -- are the only solution for all the ills of the education system. Most reformers just want to replicate effective charter models.

What could possibly be her problem with that?

Measures of Performance

Ravitch has repeatedly fed the myth that reformers want standardized tests to be the only measure of performance. In truth, as Jon Schnur, the original architect of Obama's Race to the Top initiative puts it, "No serious reformer says accountability should just be based on test scores. We all favor multiple measures." In Colorado, Johnston is working with the unions to develop sophisticated evaluations that will help consolidate the number of tests students are required to take.

Don't expect Diane Ravitch to appreciate those efforts. She uses selective data to punch holes in the work of good schools and turn reformers into cartoonish right-wingers. Her view is that we should throw up our hands and admit that nothing will change until we end poverty in our time.

That is defeatist, wrong on the facts and the mother of all cop-outs.


Don't Believe Critics, Education Reform Works

By Jonathan Alter Jun 3, 2011 8:48 AM ET Fri Jun 03 12:48:46 GMT 2011 8 Comments

Bloomberg Opinion


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