“Public education itself is at risk,” is how Diane Ravitch began her assertive address at the Ed MN conference on Friday. With a mixture of educational statistics, headlines with the background stories, and attack lines worthy of a Presidential debate, Ravitch called attention to “the agenda of deceptively named groups including Students First, MINNCAN, Democrats for Ed Reform, who are privatizers. They want to turn it [American education] over to amateurs who stay two years and leave.”
Citing NAEP statistics, she describes the nations’ achievement now to be at the highest level in 40 years, the drop-out rate to be the lowest, and in the 18-24 year old age bracket 90 percent have a HS diploma, which is the highest it has ever been.
Looking at international comparisons, she stated that among the developed nations, the United States is #1 in child poverty, #24 in quality early childhood education and near Somalia on pre-natal care for every women. “Other nations have figured out how to address child poverty. We don’t even talk about it,” she said.
She shared her take on every educational reform over the past decade:
- Standardized testing — Crushes ingenuity [in kids]… and is sucking the life out of American education.”
- NCLB and school takeovers — A “remedy never proven to work.”
- RTT — “NCLB on steroids… and no one has ever demonstrated that [basing] teacher evaluation on student test scores (value added assessment) works. Tennessee, which has had it the longest, is not soaring on state comparisons.”
- Merit pay—“never worked and never dies. It is the vampire of education reforms.”
In a similar vein, she decries charter schools, virtual schools, and vouchers. “The free market is not good for education. Education is not a product or a race. It is about equal opportunity for everyone,” she said.
Given she had only an hour to speak she was short on solutions, but referred people to her blog. MREA highly recommends her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The book, released in 2010, recounts both her professional journey as a historian turned policy maker over the past 30 years, and the historical forces and figures that have brought us to this point in American education. Thanks go to Ed MN for bringing Diane Ravitch to Minnesota.