Diane Ravitch, noted historian and research professor at New York University is a woman with a renewed mission since the publication of her provocative book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010). Last night she was in New Haven to participate in a panel discussion on education reform. The pundits, always itching for a good fight, predicted that sparks would fly. They really didn’t get to see the dog fight they expected.
I was struck by the difference between this discussion and the Connecticut Forum event a few weeks back where under the capable, if not at times jaded, guidance of NBC correspondent, Nora O’Donnell, sparks did indeed fly. New Haven has chosen a different path to reform. The discussion that occurred last night in New Haven, as one very articulate parent member of the panel indicated, might not have been possible just one year ago. New Haven has set a collaborative path to education reform and the system is headed by a professional educator, Dr. Reggie Mayo, who has been in it for the long haul. Tom Burns, the union president, a member of the panel underscored the fact that the process leading to the most recent contract was a collaborative one.
Reggie Mayo indicated that the reform really has just three goals: close the achievement gap, keep kids in school, and prepare them for college. (The last goal seems to have received a huge boost with the recent announcement of the New Haven Promise) It seems that Diane Ravitch was invited because many members of the community share her concerns. What are those beliefs?
She believes that the accountability movement in general and NCLB specifically have set us on a course of irreparable harm to our system of public education.
She believes that teachers have become scapegoats for the nation’s inability or unwillingness to confront the issue of poverty.
She believes similarly that teachers’ unions have been unfairly demonized in the current debate. She pointed out to the audience that, “the highest performing state currently, Massachusetts, is 100% unionized.”
She believes that the Obama administration’s Race to the Top and Blueprint for Reform is wrongheaded and will perpetuate the worst elements of NCLB. In fact, she congratulated Connecticut for losing its bid to get a RttT grant.
She believes that our preoccupation with standardized tests is shortchanging America’s children and turning our schools into test-prep factories.
On assessments she says you can’t do everything “by the numbers” that “human judgement” must be a significant part of the equation.
In short, Diane Ravitch, through her frustration and tenacity, is becoming the chief catalyst for a desperately need conversation about what we want from our education system and what the most appropriate role is for the federal government. She feels that the federal government should get out of the education reform business and back into its role of ensuring equity. What do you think?