Ravitch calls the issue: Will public education survive?

May 1, 2010

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 - IMGP3872  Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell

Diane Ravitch in Dallas, April 28, 2010 – Copyright 2010 Ed Darrell (you may use freely, with attribution)

Bill McKenzie, editorial board member and writer for the Dallas Morning News, wrote briefly about the rekindled controversy over standards a year ago — but did he listen to Diane Ravitch on Wednesday night?

He should have.

I first met Ravitch a couple of decades ago when I worked for Checker Finn at the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.   Ted Bell’s idea of a commission to look at education quality, and it’s 1983 report, saved the Reagan administration and assured Reagan’s reelection in 1984.  She was one of the most prodigious and serious thinkers behind education reform efforts, then a close friend of Finn (who was Assistant Secretary of  Education for Research) — a position that Ravitch herself held in the administration of George H. W. Bush.

Ravitch now criticizes the end result of all that turmoil and hard work, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the way it has distorted education to keep us in the crisis we were warned of in 1983.  Then, the “rising tide of mediocrity” came in part because we didn’t have a good way to compare student achievement, state to state.  Today, the mediocrity is driven by the tests that resulted from legislative efforts to solve the problem.

Conditions in education in America have changed.  We still have a crisis after 27 years of education reform (how long do we have a crisis before it becomes the norm), but for the first time, Ravitch said, “There is a real question about whether public education will survive.”  The past consensus on the value of public education and need for public schools, as I would put it, now is challenged by people who want to kill it.

“The new issue today:  Will we have a public education system bound by law to accept all children.”

Ironic, no?  The No Child Left Behind Act has instead created a system where many children could be forced to the rear.

I took an evening in the middle of a week of TAKS testing — the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.  With ninth through twelfth grades, we had four days of testing which essentially requires the shutdown of the education for the week (we had Monday to review for the test).  It was a week to reflect on just how far we have strayed from the good intentions of public education advocates who pushed the Excellence in Education Commission’s report in 1983.

Ravitch spoke for over an hour.  I’ll have more to report as I get caught up, after a month of meetings, test prep, testing, and little sleep.

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