Good Q & A with Diane Ravitch on School Reform
Not a lot of time to post this morning, but thought you might find this interesting, I did:
Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University, says people like Chris Christie and Barack Obama are wrecking American schools. A leading thinker on education reform for a generation, she believes the bipartisan consensus around school reform is all wrong.
She discussed her views with editorial page editor Tom Moran at the New Jersey Education Association convention in Atlantic City last week.
Q. Tell us first about your changing views. As a senior official in the first Bush administration, you were big fan of charter schools and testing, and now you are a skeptic. What happened?
A. At the time I support those ideas, they hadn’t been tried. Now I see, because it’s been applied across the board, that there are all kinds of negative consequences. I hadn’t thought of the possibility that the stakes would get so high people would cheat, or that states would game the system like New York did by lowering the passing mark every year. Or that districts would feel so pressured, they cut everything but math and science. For me, there came a point where I had to admit it’s not working.
Q. What about charters?
A. The same thing. The idea was they would pick up the kids on the streets who were dropouts, and recruit the lowest performing kids. They could be laboratories of innovation. I never thought they’d skim off the top students. I’m still for charters that serve the neediest children. I oppose their expansion into successful districts because it will take away funding from existing schools. In Englewood (Calif.), so many charter schools have opened, they’ve lost a third of their student population and the remaining district is imploding, about to go into bankruptcy. That’s a way to destroy public education.
Q. What about tests? When you criticize the performance on charter schools, you rely on test scores, right?
A. I’m not against the use of tests. I’m against attaching rewards and punishments to it. When you do that, you destroy the measure.
Q. Then how can we tell if a teacher is succeeding?
A. You tell by having supervisors who are experienced and make informed judgments. There is a basic rule on testing, that they should be used only for what they’re designed. So a fifth-grade reading test tells you what a fifth-grader can read. It’s not a test of teacher quality. Family income accounts for about 60 percent of the outcome, and the teacher is between 10 and 15 percent.
Q. New Jersey’s Legislature is about to take up tenure reform. How important is that? And what advice to you have for them?
A. I don’t think anyone who is failing should be guaranteed a job. But this should be done by people who actually observes their performance.
Q. Do you think too many bad teachers keep their jobs under existing tenure rules?
A. I don’t know. But if bad leaders gave tenure to bad teachers, then you have bad leaders.
Q. What’s your assessment of the role that teachers unions are playing in the reform movement? Are they blocking needed reforms? Is the NJEA?
A. The unions, if anything, are being too pusilanimous. I am very much opposed to evaluating teachers by test scores, and the NEA (National Education Association) just passed a resolution saying they would go along with that. I don’t think they should.
Q. What’s your reaction when you see international comparisons showing American kids lag behind other advanced countries?
A. Americans, for various reasons, have never done well on international tests. But when you look at affluent schools, they top Korea, Finland and Japan.
Q. What about poor districts?
A. We need to make sure children have early childhood education, so they arrive ready to learn. And for the teaching professions, we need much higher standards for entry. It should be hard to become a teacher. We change the recruitment practices and give greater support for teachers, and we need to work on retaining them. Recruitment, support, retention.
Q. Why do so few teachers come from the top of their classes?
A. It’s a low-paid profession that’s always under attack. Why would that attract the best and the brightest?
Q. What do you think of Gov. Christie’s approach?
A. He’s disrespectful. He belittles teachers and makes them feel disrespected. I don’t see how that helps education.