By: Robyn Gee
Professor Diane Ravitch is a big voice in education policy and a huge critic of No Child Left Behind.
Yet, as former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush, she helped promote the same policies she's now criticizing.
Ravitch's latest book is called, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. In the book, she details why she drastically reversed her position on school reform. While she used to push for testing, charters and privatization, now she's worried these efforts are making things worse and hurting students.
As an education reform veteran, Ravitch can tell you change isn't easy, and it isn't kind.
Ravitch: What we call reform right now, is really a very anti-teacher movement, a very cruel movement that says poverty doesn't matter. If you look at test scores - SAT or ACT or national or international test scores, the clearest correlation between test scores is family income. Kids from affluent homes have higher scores than kids from poverty. The people who call themselves reformers, say, poverty is just an excuse. Well that's nonsense - anyone who's poor can say, it's not an excuse.
People who live in poverty don't have good health care, they get sick more often, they don't have economic security, they don't have good nutrition - all these things are burdens of poverty, and to say they don't make a difference, and that the schools alone can change society, is simply a way of evading the responsibility that grown-ups have to fund our schools adequately, to give our teachers the resources they need to do a good job.
In Finland, where we often say we would like to be like Finland, less than four percent of the kids are in poverty, more than 20 percent here.
Youth Radio: While you were working in the White House, did you see any strategies that you really believe in - in terms of populations of students for whom traditional education isn't working?
Ravitch: For many years I was a supporter of charter schools. And the reason I supported them is because the original concept of the charter was that it would be created by teachers to address the needs of the kids who weren't making it in the regular public school. That the charter schools would be create dby teachers that then went out into the community and identified kids who had dropped out, or go into schools and see the kids who had their heads down on the desk or their eyes were closing. They were the low performers, the hard-to-reach. Teachers would then have the opportunity to try new strategies, to be completely innovative, and to collaborate and to help the public school by saying, this is what we've learned.
Some charters still do that, but they suffer terribly because the have low scores. And this is the great tragedy of No Child Left Behind - that is that every school is incentivized to get the highest scores, and to avoid the kids who need help. Because the kids who are the low performers are the kids who are going to drag your scores down, so there are many charters, most charters today, want the higher performing kids, they don't want the dropouts, they don't the kids who put their heads down on the desk and don't pay attention. So the very reason that charters were created has been pushed aside and instead we now have charter chains that boast, we have higher scores than regular public schools.
YR: We've also seen a focus on "college only" as the way to success. We're curious about your thoughts on vocational education, and career and technical education -- do these have a place in the future of the American system?
Ravitch: I think the college for all is a ridiculous goal. I think on the one hand, everyone should have a full rich curriculum - everyone should learn history because that's important to be a citizen in this country, and to understand where we came from and to make some independent judgements about who you vote for in the future. Everyone should have civics, everyone should have a command of the English language. All these things are necessary whether you intend to go to college or you don't intend to go to college. The arts are necessary just to be a human being. Having said that, I think there are still kids who don't want to go to college, and that's their right, they don't have to go to college. If everyone in our society had a college degree, we still wouldn't have jobs for everyone and it would be a hoax.
YR: What advice do you have for new teachers for them to stay in the profession?
Ravitch: I believe that if you intend to make a career of teaching, you should take a year of teacher training ad teacher preparation. I admire the people in Teach for America, I've met many of them, they're bright, they're idealistic --I don't think they're prepared to be teachers. Five weeks of training is not enough.
I don't admire the organization of Teach for America, because it makes boast about the success of its students, and they claim to have the answer to educate every child. They haven't done that, they can't do that. In two years time, no one turns around a school, no one closes the achievement gap.
YR: In a couple years, over half of our teachers will retire, is that scary to you?
Ravitch: That's a frightening thought. The question I pose to some of my friends who think all this turnover is good, is this, 'When you go to a hospital, do you want to be treated by an intern or a doctor?' And somehow they never say I want an intern - they want a doctor.
Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
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