A community of NPR critics monitoring NPR for its corporatist, Pentagon friendly, pro-US foreign policy coverage of the news.

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.


larry, dfh said...

By his same metric, the marketplace of journalistic ideals, those relying on the power of the cliche will end up pushing a broom in a warehouse.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I was very disappointed with the kid gloves treatment Ms. Ravitch received from Amy Goodman. Yes, this is all well and good that she see's things differently now, but she played "victim" through the DN interview.

Victim my eye. She was involved in CREATING the very situation she's now critiquing, yet seems to want to take NO responsibility whatsoever. There were educated people who predicted just what has happened with NCLB and the charters.

Yet does Ms. Ravitch have enough humility to acknowledge the former naysayers??? Nah, couldn't be bothered. And Amy let us down in not holding her feet to the coals.

I absolutely loathe Inskeep, yet much skepticism needs to be brought when examining Ms. Ravith's epiphany.

goopDoggy said...

Anon -

So much for accountability, huh?

There will be a part II to the interview, maybe Monday. Amy may yet get her to admit more complicity.

But she speaks fairly articulately now about what the troubles with NCLB, charters and RTTT are.
As recently as 2007, Ravitch was answering questions for AEI. I give her credit for changing her mind and trying to turn the tide she helped create. But, yeah.

Anonymous said...

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...."

That immediately brought to mind the criticism that has been made of the business model taught by the "top" business schools in this country: competition rather than collaboration.

It's the kill or be killed mentality and just look where it has led our economy: into the gutter.

It has led directly to the situation we see today where a few people at the top (the killer bankers) make off with the loot while millions of ordinary folks lose their livelihood and end up in poverty and/or on the street

As a former teacher myself, it really ticks me off when some free-market nitwit "business expert" pretends to say what is best for education.

From my personal experience (having worked with them directly), the Harvard MBA types are clueless, arrogant quacks.

This actually does not surprise me. When i was in college majoring in physics, the party animals were all "business" majors -- the stupidest, laziest people on the planet.

goopDoggy said...

Anon -

The business major is the most common of all. Sadly, the next most common major is education which, perversely, requires less education than any other major save business.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, the next most common major is education which, perversely, requires less education than any other major save business.

First, common does not necessarily mean "low" on the standards bar. It might, but it also might mean the major that offers graduates the most money (which may have little or nothing to do with competence).

Second, many teachers were not even education majors.

I majored in physics and the vast majority of secondary science and math teachers I worked with over the years had either a bachelors or more advanced degree in their discipline. many states actually require it.

I suspect that many of those who actually major in education are interested in teaching elementary school and one need not be a subject "expert" to teach that level. Just as (if not more) important is to understand child psychology, different learning modalities, etc.

Finally, my teacher collagues were some of the brightest, most competent people that i have worked with anywhere (and i have also spent over a decade working in the high tech industry writing software for scientific instruments).

I can not say the same for my experience working directly with business majors (including with two harvard MBA's, one of whom hired and fired within the span of 3 months from a high tech firm because she was incompetent. She attended the engineering meetings with the R&D group of which i was a part and it was clear after about 5 minutes that she had no f...ing clue what she was talking about -- and certainly no clue about what we were doing.

Anonymous said...


My brother in law is also a harvard MBA and my conversations with him have convinced me beyond any reasonable doubt that the "business" major attracts the mentally deficient.

he is supposed to somehow represent the "best o f the best", but it is clear to me that he would not survive more than a week in a freshman level science or engineering course.

I had a conversation with him not too long ago about the financial meltdown that occurred a little over a year ago.

When I mentioned the fact that bank fraud expert and S&L scandal clean up man William Black had said there was massive fraud at the core of the meltdown, my brother in law's response was disbelief -- denial, essentially.

He claimed (and i quote) that the entire meltdown was all simply a "giant cluster...k" and that no one was really responsible (or, more precisely that everyone is, so no one can be singled out).

he has spent most of his career as an financial investment analyst, so i was not really surprised by his answer.

But the clear implication that an investor who has been scammed by a gigantic Ponzi scheme (based on falsified books, etc) is somehow "responsible" for their own bad investments is either profoundly stupid, profoundly dishonest, or perhaps a little of both.

Based on my own personal experience 9and the fact that George Bush was also a harvard MBA), I would have to say that Harvard business school is not even close to what it is cracked up to be. it's graduates seem to be both stupid and dishonest.

goopDoggy said...

Anon -

I've been teaching math at a community college for 23 years. Before that I did some software engineering. My personal experience with colleagues has been mostly good - bright people keenly interested in what they're doing and quite talented in both doing math and science and teaching it. My wife teaches 4th grade and I'd put her and a few of her colleagues in that boat too, very much so - but...there had to be a but, didn't there? There are many students and teachers in the education programs at various public and private universities who are much more like your Harvard MBA types: profoundly ignorant and utterly unaware of their own stupidity - to the contrary, they believe themselves to be God's gift (literally, in many cases) to education. Students who say things like "I don't need to know arithmetic, I just want to teach at the elementary level." And teachers (especially on-line) who consistently use bad grammar to espouse religious edicts about the foolishness of Darwin, etc. Then at the market today I see the Newsweek cover: "How To Fix Education: Fire Bad Teachers" and I have this awful feeling of the walls closing in....

Anonymous said...


I guess what it really comes down to with me is hard evidence that bad teachers are "the problem with education" in the US -- and that firing teachers is the "solution."

Your anecdotal evidence (and mine :) ) are simply not enough to convince me.

But I do know one thing for certain: someone who has little or no background in education (whether a "business major", lawyer/politician or anyone else who has not both studied education at least at the level required for teacher certification in NY, for example AND taught in public schools) is in no position to weigh in on the subject - period.

Personally, I would put "education reform' in the hands of an elementary school teacher any day of the week over a business major like my brother in law or sister (who is also not the sharpest knife in the drawer, by the way, though I do love her dearly)

goopDoggy said...

"I would put 'education reform' in the hands of an elementary school teacher any day of the week over a business major..."

Amen, brothers and sisters. The mindset of the current ed leadership is all privatization and hurry up to hire people from industry as teachers without going through the usual training.

On the other hand, when I had a freshly minted MA in math from UC Davis and went to LAUSD to teach, they didn't want me. Well, they called me for substituting after a couple of months when I'd moved on to something else.

By the way, I just watched the second part of the interview with Diane Ravitch which is on line. She is pretty well on the money. Talks about RI. How charters devolved into an anti-union effort and how people like Gates and Broad are busy demolishing the teaching profession.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Ravich sher has changed HER tune. She was one of Bill Bennett's greatest academic boosters. Was in the pocket of Chucker Finn, raygunaut Ed assassin, and the Channel 1 guy, a regular apparatchik...

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Teaching was the first profession targeted for 'de-skilling.' Get teachers distracted by rigamarole that they don't have time to actually facilitate learning--which is what 'teaching' is, plain and simply. This is not an accident. Those who believe the US School system fails simply is ignorant of what the purposes of the school system are. Mainly they function to sort children into classes based on their presumed utility to the ruling class. Children who have little or no use are urged to, given very little reason not to, just drop out...

Anon, whomsoever you are, buddy, you're a friend of mine: "I would put "education reform' in the hands of an elementary school teacher any day of the week over a business major like my brother in law or sister (who is also not the sharpest knife in the drawer, by the way, though I do love her dearly), on the basis of that phrase alone!

Anonymous said...

Ravitch strikes me as a very reasonable -- and reasoning person.

"Obama's Education Reform Push is Bad Education Policy
One simple solution for our schools? A captivating promise, but a false one." by Diane Ravitch

After voting for Obama, I wish I could say the same about him: that he is a "reasoner".

Though touted as an "intellectual" (compared to Bush??), he seems very shallow in his thinking.

He seems to actually buy into the idea of "magical solutions" (to education (fire the bad teachers), health care (create 30 million more customers for insurance companies and ban government negotiated drug prices???), terrorism (drone wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan), war in Afghanistan (drone wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan), economy (throw money hand over fist at the big banks on Wall Street and pray that some of it trickles down to Main Street so that you won't be thrown out of office in 2012), financial reform (steady as she goes), etc, etc.

Obama is NOT a reasoner or even a thinker. He's a talker. A speechifier. I don't even think he writes most of his own speeches. He's basically a pretty parrot, a guy who got to the top based on smoke and mirrors rather than actual performance.

goopDoggy said...

Thanks for the tip to Ravitch's latest op ed. I'd be interested in her opinion on the national standards being proposed.

Today's story, Obama Proposes Dismantling No Child Left Behind is strangely fact free: "A draft released over the weekend would eliminate many of the law's most controversial features, including its name." Oooo...name change!