Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Diane Ravitch Comes to Her Senses

For the last twenty-odd years, education historian Diane Ravitch has been a conservative voice favoring school choice, charter schools, and standardized testing as a means to improve public schools.

Now she's figured out that those methods don't work. Here's the best quotation from the Times article I'm linking to:
“Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with respect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good education. We’re on the wrong track.”
Well, duh. You don't need a doctorate in history to figure these things out. It's been obvious to me from the start that free-market methods aren't the right way to improve the public schools, which are a civic virtue, not a profit-making enterprise. No Child Left Behind has always looked to me like a way to eventually define every public school as failing, as a way to destroy public education.

If we paid teachers the salaries we pay software engineers, if we provided appropriate support and mentoring for new teachers, if we didn't isolate teachers from each other, if we paid for good buildings, good textbooks, and enough supplies, if we provided teachers' aids and reading specialists (California once did this, back in the days when we had the best public schools in the country)....well, we could have great schools everywhere. But take a look at the size of the defense budget and Americans' current views of taxation, and you'll see why we don't.


Dr.B said...

The path to better education lies in the love of learning, something that is never induced by standardized testing.

Anonymous said...

Amen. In fact, as worshipers in Black churches sometimes say: Teach!

Paul H. Muller said...

Even if we were to do everything that Finland and Japan have done the area needing the most improvement isn't the schools. As long as it takes two incomes just to survive parents are going to be too busy and too tired to give their children the support needed to study and succeed.

Ask a good teacher what is the thing they want the most for their students and it is more involvement by the parents.

Anonymous said...

The USA seems to want to be a third-world country, and not like Finland or Japan. Those countries are relatively civilized, and being civilized isn't what the USA is about. Pretending otherwise is a recipe for despair.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way as I did when Alan Greenspan confessed his surprise that Randian economics doesn't work. Or like Democratic senators who confess that Bush had bamboozled them over Iraq.

Why did it take them all these years to figure it out? In all three cases, I knew this all along. Unlike these people, I'm no expert; so why am I smarter than they are?

Lisa Hirsch said...

calimac, yeah. The answer: you're more driven by facts, less by ideology, more honest, and not inclined to be dishonest in service of ideology.

Joe Barron said...

Heard Ravitch on Philly public radio yesterday and liked much of what she had to say, especially about over-testing. The thing that keeps coming back to me about the debate over education in this country is that no one seems to talk about exactly what education is supposed to be for. Do we want well-informed, well-rounded citizens or happy robots for corporate America? When Obama talks about education, he seems to dwell on the need for productivity and international competitiveness, essentailly telling kids, "Your parents blew it. It's up to you now." If that's all school is for, why bother with the arts and literature? Languages and geography will help in dealing with the Chinese, but forget about the rest. We might as well put our money into trade schools.

Under this model, it is inevitable public schools will be treated as profit-making enterprises: they're essentially farm teams for other profit-making enterprises.

Lisa Hirsch said...

The tension you describe is an old, old one. When I was in high school, my instructor, a graduate of U. of Chicago, had us look at scholarly studies and books like "The Peculiar Institution," rather than using a h.s. textbook. One study we read was about a vote in the 1840s by the citizens of Beverly, MA, rejecting a proposal for public schools.

We eventually figured out that this was because the citizens of Beverly were shoemakers, and their kids (boys, I assume) were typically apprenticed to them and followed in the family business. They didn't want their kids spending too much time in school and then going to work in the then-new shoe factories.

What Obama is saying and what he's doing with his own kids do say a lot. Sasha and Malia go to Sidwell Friends and you can bet they get lots of art, literature, and languages.