Friday, March 19, 2010

Is Education on the Wrong Track?

Here's Andy Rotherham:

Unfortunately, while it's heavy on scrutiny, Death and Life doesn't add up to a whole in terms of where you want us to go based on your analysis. In other words, outside of a call for better curriculum, this book falls short as a policy agenda. And make no mistake: Despite your protestations that you don't want to view things through the prism of policy, given the state of play in the education debate today, your work is being taken as a policy prescription.

More specifically, it's being taken as the antidote to the Duncan-Obama direction on education policy and the ideas taking hold in an increasing number of states and localities. Yet, while it's a powerful cri de coeur, it is neither granular nor forward-looking enough to serve as a blueprint for policymakers.

For instance, you are selective about the evidence on charter schools, ignoring the contributions from the many high-performing charters across various geographies.

…Likewise on testing and accountability. You paint a broad portrait of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as "test and punish" but ignore the complexity of the policy and its implementation. States, for example, have made an astonishing number of poor implementation decisions that have done more to turn the law into a caricature than anything in the statute has. Meanwhile, after two decades, the experience of states and school districts with standards, testing, and accountability is highly varied As with charter schools, these policies are not monolithic, and there are clear inferences policymakers can draw, particularly about the experience of poor and minority youngsters.

And the same is true, of course, of philanthropy or school leadership. In both cases, the experiences, outcomes, ongoing learning, and changes are highly varied and complex.

I could go on, but the point is obvious: The book offers plenty of legitimate critiques in all these reform areas, and others. Yet painting with a broad brush does much to arouse the passions of advocates, and little to shed light on the issues. It merely fans the flames of today's mostly unproductive debates.

…Similarly, given what we know about the tortured politics of our education system absent a robust accountability regime, how do you expect to see change enacted? Regulatory capture--meaning that the ostensibly regulated actually control the regulators--is more rampant in American elementary and secondary education than in any other policy domain.

You couldn't be more right that there are no panaceas. Unfortunately, though, Death and Life offers too many panaceas of its own. So, while your change of heart on some key issues and your criticism of many of today's reforms and reformers is a soothing balm for those resisting radical changes to our low-functioning system of education, it is not a way forward from where we are today.


Is Education on the Wrong Track?

A TNR Symposium.

From: Andrew J. Rotherham

To: Diane Ravitch

Subject: Death and Life is being debated as a policy prescription. That's a problem, because it doesn't offer an agenda.

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