Friday, March 5, 2010
Ravishing Ravitch vs. Hearing Her Out - A Comparison Study
There is no transcript of Inskeep's recent interview with public school advocate Diane Ravitch, so I've provided one below. I encourage the reader to observe this 5 minute interview in which Inskeep treats Ravitch like a hostile witness who will nonetheless be given a short while to explain how her views are so far out of the official media mainstream - Ravitch gets in some good licks, especially the smackdown at the end - and to compare that interview with the 17 minutes of "part I" of the interview airing on Democracy Now with Ms. Ravitch wherein she is invited to "bring us some of that history" about how Lynn Cheney attacked the history standards and incited "a huge national brouhaha back in 1994, 1995, about whether the history standards were politically correct."
Former 'No Child Left Behind' Advocate Turns Critic
Steve Inskeep: Diane Ravitch is the author of a new book called The Death and the Life of the Great American Public School System [Omits subtitle: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education]. The other day she came by our New York Bureau to say that she thinks No Child Left Behind misuses standardized testing.
Diane Ravitch: The basic strategy is measuring and punishing. but it turns out that as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there's a lot of cheating going on, there's a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it's actually lowered standards because many states have dumbed down their test or changed the scoring of the test to say that more students are passing than actually are. There are states that say that 80 to 90 percent of their children are proficient readers and proficient in math. But when the national test is given, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the same state will have not 90 percent proficient by twenty five or thirty percent . You know Secretary Duncan often says we're lying to our kids, and we are lying to our kids, it's a kind of institutionalized fraud that's been going on these past few years.
SI: The threat of failure is so great because the schools can lose funding?
DR: It's because there's punishment attached with the testing. I have no problem with testing. The problem is that when we, or when the state or the district attaches high stakes to the test and says that teachers will get rewards or they'll lose their job, or the principals will get bonuses or their schools will be closed. This then corrupts the value of the measure, because everyone is striving to meet the measure and they meet the measure but it's usually fraudulent.
SI: But aren't there some states like, Massachusetts for example, that have imposed very high standards and have been successful with them?
DR: Yes Massachusetts has the best standards in the country. But Massachusetts is an exception. There are only a handful of states, with Massachusetts in the lead, that really had excellent standards. Most of the states don't.
SI: You also trace a little bit of history here in which you seem to argue that there was a time when schools were broadening the curriculum and giving students far far more choice about what to take and went to far in one direction and now we've gone too far in the other direction?
DR: Well, I wouldn't make an argument that the schools in the past were so much better. I was very critical of the quality of public education and I still am. But I would say if we went back to uh the 1960s when criticism was very keen, the critics didn't say public education itself is fundamentally flawed and we should get rid of it. This is what's new about our current rhetoric. We now have critics saying public education in itself is fundamentally flawed and has to be replaced by privatization of the schools. It's coming obviously from very ultra-conservative sources and what's happened with the Race to the Top is that we're on the wrong track and we've accelerating the pace of being on the wrong track.
SI: What do you mean by Race to the Top?
DR: Well the Obama administration had 100 billion dollars in stimulus money for education. And they set aside about 5 billion of that and they said to the states, if you want to compete for this 5 billion dollars then you must do several things. One of the things is that you must get rid of any limits on the number of privately managed charter schools. This is, I think, advancing privatization.
SI: What's wrong with charter schools?
DR: They remove students from the public sphere and turn them over to private management. They're...
SI: (interrupting) Although, in some sense, they're public, right? They're under the auspices of the local government even though it might be local parents or someone who manages the school.
DR: No. Not really. Because there's very little transparency with charter schools. You really don't know who's going on or what their salaries are. The basic point about charter schools is - there're about five thousand of them today and they range across the board from very very fine schools to absolutely horrible schools and the only national study that's been done said that 17% of the charter schools did better than the local public school with which they were matched and 83% were either no different or worse. So, we don't have any evidence that this is going to make it any better.
SI: You know there's also placed into this bill, No Child Left Behind, the notion of competition between schools because of course schools are being compared to the test scores of other schools and that's of course competition a cherished American idea. Is there something wrong with inserting some competition into the education market place if you want to call it that?
DR: Yes. There should not be an education marketplace. There should not be competition. Schools should operate like families. The fundamental principle by which education proceeds is collaboration. Teachers are supposed to share what works. Schools are supposed to get together and talk about what succeeded for them. They're not supposed to hide their trade secrets and try to have a survival of the fittest competition with the school down the block.
Update: The second part of the Ravitch interview is well worth seeing.