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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

March 10, 2010


USA TODAY - Education historian Diane Ravitch can pinpoint the day when she realized public schools in the USA were racing down a perilous road, one that promised long-sought reforms but would never deliver - and probably make things worse.

It was Nov. 30, 2006.

That's the day, nearly five years after Congress passed the No Child Left Behind education reform law, when Ravitch found herself in the downtown Washington, D.C., conference room of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, listening to a series of presenters weigh in on the measure's "remedies" for low-performing schools. Many of the presenters that Thursday were ideological allies of President George W. Bush, who had pushed for more standardized testing and free-market competition among public schools.

A well-known contrarian and a life-long Democrat, Ravitch had long derided the national infatuation with education "fads, movements and reforms," which she says distract Americans from "the steadiness of purpose needed to improve our schools."

So it was significant that she supported No Child Left Behind, the sweeping reform law at the center of Bush's domestic agenda. But each of the scholars said essentially the same thing: None of the prescribed remedies was making a difference.

Thus began a "wrenching transformation" for Ravitch, a New York University scholar who has long been a fixture in Washington education circles. She advised the first President Bush as an assistant secretary and served both Bill Clinton and the younger Bush on the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees annual testing.

In her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch blasts No Child Left Behind, which she says promotes "a cramped, mechanistic, profoundly anti-intellectual definition of education" - as well as virtually every other recent reform effort that has sought to inject more free-market competition and accountability into education. She finds much to dislike: charter schools, high-stakes tests, corporate-style school management teams and the rising influence of foundation-funded reforms.

Over several decades, Ravitch says, American schools have essentially lost their way, forgetting to focus on giving students a solid curriculum and strong teachers. Instead, she says, we've bumbled through a series of crises that have left us with "vague and meaningless standards," an odd, antagonistic public-private competition and an "obsession" with test scores.

"If the goal of schooling is to produce educated people, we've lost sight of that goal," she says in an interview.

Ravitch says charter schools, privately run but publicly funded, cherry-pick a neighborhood's best students and kick out under-performers, forcing surrounding public schools to teach a depleted talent pool.

It's a far cry from the vision of Albert Shanker, the late American Federation of Teachers leader who championed charter schools in the late 1980s. Shanker, she says, envisioned charters as small "laboratories of innovation" within existing public schools. What they've become, she says, is a privatized sector that competes with the public school and in some cases wants to "kill" it.

As charters expand - and President Obama is rewarding states that lift their charter school caps - neighborhood schools will be left with larger shares of new immigrants, unmotivated students and those with disabilities, Ravitch says. . .

Looking ahead, Ravitch says, Obama hasn't learned from the mistakes of the younger Bush, the first president to explicitly tie school ratings to test scores. If anything, he has accelerated that effort: Obama's major education initiative rewards states that tie teacher evaluations to student test scores.


Blogger Randy said...

From my families experience I have to say that the goal to produce educated people is misdirected. Rather, i think that the goal should be to to produce people who know how to educate themselves and aren't afraid to learn new things.

March 11, 2010 11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

abolish state indoctrination.

March 11, 2010 11:34 PM  

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