Ravitch Blasts So-Called 'Reforms'

By Alain Jehlen

NEA Friend of Education award winner Diane Ravitch electrified the Representative Assembly Tuesday with an impassioned call for the defense of public education and the teaching profession.

“The current ‘education reform’ movement is pushing bad ideas,” she said. “It wants to end tenure and seniority, to silence teachers’ unions, to privatize large sectors of public education. Don’t let it happen!”

Ravitch, an eminent historian of education who served as Assistant Secretary of Education under the President George H. W. Bush, supported some of those “bad ideas” for years but changed her mind when she saw the damage they caused put into practice in No Child Left Behind.

Ravitch blasted high-stakes testing, saying it might lead to higher test scores but not to real learning. She attacked merit pay because it undermines team work and has no support in education research. She warned that public school choice and more charter schools could split the public school system into one system for haves and one for have-nots, because many charter schools skim the best students. And she noted that national studies have repeatedly failed to find charter schools do a better job.

Introducing her to the RA, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel noted that her book, The Death and Life Of the Great American School System, has caused a sensation. He said the reason may be that it is so rare for someone to change their mind based on evidence.

Ravitch said NCLB set an impossible standard when it declared that 100 percent of children will be proficient. “Thousands of schools have been stigmatized as failing schools because they could not reach a goal that no state, no nation, and no district has ever reached,” she said, so NCLB has “created a rhetoric of failure and paved the way for privatization.”

“Public education,” Ravitch declared, “is the backbone of this democracy, and we cannot turn it over to privateers.”

Ravitch told the delegates that the nations whose students perform best in international comparisons “recognize that the best way to improve schools is to improve the education profession.”

“We need expert teachers [and] experienced principals who are themselves master teachers, not a wave of newcomers who took a course called ‘how to be a principal.’”

The NEA’s Friend of Education award is given each year to someone who has significantly contributed to the improvement of public education. Last year’s winner was education policy writer and researcher Linda Darling-Hammond.

Previous winners include U.S. Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and William Jefferson Clinton; U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley; and the late Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Photo: Calvin Knight/NEA

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  • Karen Yoho

    Diane Ravitch was phenomenal! I want her to be our next Secretary of Education. She actually gets it.

  • Chuck Howell

    Diane Ravitch is rigth on target. Charlotte Iserbyt has also researched much about and fought hard for good quality public education. Her findings are shocking. Read her book “the deliberate dumbing down of america” which can be downloaded as a pdf.

  • hus4154

    I’m not teaching Shakespeare any more because it’s not on “the test.” Why it is we all know “teaching to the test” is NOT best practice, but the government–and apparently NEA–thinks it’s a great idea. Guess what: NEA no longer represents me.

  • Laura Gonzalez

    Is the video of her speech available on this site? I can’t find it. Thanks!

    • Cynthia McCabe

      Hi, Thanks for visiting. Highlights of Diane Ravitch’s speech are available on our site http://ratodayonline.org/. (At right under “NEA on YouTube.”) Enjoy!

  • Nancy Wildermuth

    In her August/September 2010 excerpt from her book, “Death and Life of t Great Ameriacn School System”, she blasts the current fad ofa “business” model that will destroy public education. She asks “Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?” Educators have been trying to do that for years! But no one listens to mere educators because we are a bunch of whining unionists who just want to hang on to our cushy jobs. I hope she and others with some political clout will corner Obama and Arne Duncan and make them listen.

  • Ravitch is right on, too bad she’s singing to the choir!

  • Diane Ravitch’s book should be required reading for all politicians. President Obama and Arne Duncan should not receive another another dime of their government salaries until they’ve read it.

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