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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Diane Ravitch Repents

by folkbum

This interview with Diane Ravitch about her new book is interesting to me for a number of reasons. For one, I was taught early on that everything Diane Ravitch said was actually the opposite of reality. (Although lately I have found myself quoting her, unironically.) For another, the Milwaukee Public Schools is now at the end of the rope that is No Child Left Behind, and running into exactly the kind of consequences Ravitch used to advocate but now says are dangerous:
Ravitch writes that she came to believe that [NCLB] “ought to be ended rather than mended” at a 2006 conference in which researchers presented studies showing that parents with children in failing schools weren’t taking advantage of provisions of the law that would have enabled them to transfer their children out of those schools or get free tutoring.

Later, she also came to blame the law—the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was first passed in 1965—for putting too much emphasis on testing, narrowing the curriculum, and leading some educators to try to game the system by teaching to the test, lowering proficiency standards, or even cheating. [. . .]

[New York City's] reform efforts, she adds, became a sort of blueprint for the NCLB law under President George W. Bush, which imposed consequences on schools and districts that failed to boost students’ test scores.

Parents and local schools also lost some control as major philanthropies, such as the Gates Foundation, the Los Angeles-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Bentonville, Ark.-based Walton Family Foundation, began pouring unprecedented amounts of money into schools to underwrite initiatives that they favored, Ms. Ravitch argues.

“The money expended by a foundation—even one that spends $100 million annually—may seem small in comparison to the hundreds of millions or billions spent by public school districts,” she writes. “But the offer of a multimillion-dollar grant by a foundation is enough to cause most superintendents and school boards to drop everything and reorder their priorities.”

The “hijacking” of public education continues now, Ms. Ravitch writes, with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top Fund, through which states enhance their competitive status for a share of $4 billion in extra federal aid by putting in place education measures that the Department of Education favors.
What has happened--and we've seen it in the last decade over and over again in Milwaukee--is that local and state education agencies, strapped for cash, are scrambling in all directions after any promise of cash from anyone. For example, when Gates was funding small high schools, MPS did small high schools. When Gates realized that was a 20-sided Fail, MPS stopped doing small high schools and moved on to what Gates was funding next. Look at the contortions otherwise-sane folks wanted Wisconsin and MPS to do to get "Race" funds--something that was always going to be a long shot anyway.

This kind of follow-the-money dance is not good leadership, it is not good practice, and it is not good for the students and professionals dragged along for the ride. Some of us were warning about it way back when, and we're still waving every red flag we've got now. It's nice to see Ravitch come around.

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