Thursday, June 03, 2010

What honest education discourse looks like

I've written about Diane Ravitch's about-face on school choice and teacher accountability many times. Her courageous abandonment of right wing education prescriptions is not the stuff of whimsy - it was a change of heart many years in the making, borne of a true desire for quality education for American children. As the evidence rolled in of the failure of school choice and teacher accountability Ravitch had more and more doubts, finally resulting in a book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, in which she admits the error of her previous thinking, and recommends the dismantling of right wing education "reforms" and instead advocates investment in families with children.

In a piece appearing in next week's Nation magazine, Ravitch makes a straight forward apology:
Many people have told me that I should have known better, and they are right: I should have. But I didn't, and I am trying to make up for it now.
But Democrats' embrace of the right wing attacks on education has made her job more difficult:
Just at the point where I had made an ideological break from my past support of accountability and choice, the Obama administration came into office. I expected that Obama would throw out NCLB and start over. But, on the contrary, his administration has embraced some of the worst features of the George W. Bush era...

...The expansion of charters fulfills the dreams of education entrepreneurs and free-market advocates, who would dismantle public education if given the chance. Judging teachers by test scores is wrongheaded because students' scores are affected not only by what the teacher does but by such important factors as poverty, student motivation and family support. Yet only teachers will be held accountable.

...When Rhode Island authorities announced their intention to fire the staff at the only high school in Central Falls, their decision was hailed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama. I thought the decision was meanspirited and wrong. Last year the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education sent a team to the same school and said it was making progress. Why not build on that progress? Why fire the staff without evaluating anyone?
Ravitch concludes that the endpoint of current "reform" efforts is likely a worsening of education:
...Accountability, narrowly focused as it is, dumbs down education. Choice may enfeeble public education by draining away the best students and leaving what remains to the remnants of the public education system. 
None of the policies that involve testing and accountability—vouchers and charters, merit pay and closing schools—will give us the quantum improvement that we want for public education. They may even make matters worse.
If the education debate could really be forced to talk about the education of children, there would be no more "choice" and "accountability" policies. But education discourse is NOT about children - it is about the political fortunes of the attackers. Education discourse is a way for Republicans and wrong-headed Democrats to claim they care about education, while not doing anything to fix it and all the while gaining political advantage. The fact that Democrats engage in this charade is doubly depressing.

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