Sunday Dialogue: What to Do to Make Our Schools Better
Today's NYT has a major piece of confirming evidence that Ravitch has NOTHING productive to say – just endless negativity. Here's the backstory: the Times published my letter today (a shortened version of what was in my last email), responding to Ravitch's response to David Brooks's column, in which I threw down the gauntlet and challenged her to say ANYTHING specific and useful to an urban district superintendent like John White or Cami Anderson (emphasis added):
I am the "education blogger" whom David Brooks mentioned in his column. I have been a longtime critic of Diane Ravitch in part because she makes disingenuous arguments by, as Mr. Brooks correctly notes, picking and choosing "what studies to cite," but even more so because, while it's very clear what Ms. Ravitch is against (she's a vocal, clever and, sadly, effective critic of what we reformers are doing), I can't for the life of me figure out what she's for.
Saying you want a good teacher in every classroom and a well-rounded, rigorous curriculum is as trite as saying you're for motherhood and apple pie. What would Ms. Ravitch say to John White and Cami Anderson, who just took over two of the toughest school systems in America, in New Orleans and Newark? What would be the top three to five things Ms. Ravitch would have them do in their first year?
In all her writings, I have not seen an answer to this all-important question.
New York, July 7, 2011
Ravitch responded to all of the letters – it's the first time to my knowledge that she's ever responded to anything I've written – so how did she respond to my direct challenge? She ducked, of course, offering more trite banalities:
To Mr. Tilson: Why expect schools alone to close achievement gaps that begin at birth, when those gaps can be prevented in the first place? Decades of research by the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman and others have found that early intervention is the single most effective policy we can invest in. Start with prenatal care. Teach new mothers how to help themselves and their children. Add a strong pre-kindergarten program so that children start school ready to learn.
Nobody believes that schools alone can close nationwide achievement gaps affecting millions of children (though a few hundred extraordinary schools are doing it with tens of thousands of kids), and nobody disputes the importance of good prenatal care and early childhood interventions and education. But that doesn't help John and Cami, which was my direct question to her – and which we now know she has no answer for…
July 9, 2011