[Susan notes: Read these letters carefully.]
Published in New York Times
Re Ă˘€śLeading ScholarĂ˘€™s U-Turn on School Reform Shakes Up DebateĂ˘€ť (news article, March 3):
Diane RavitchĂ˘€™s views are finally coming into line with the views of most of those who work in public education. No Child Left Behind fails to address the structural problems in our educational system, and its harsh penalties for underperforming schools only push them further to the bottom.
Charter schools drain the more successful students from their neighborhood schools, which then see their scores plummet further. The emphasis on Ă˘€śteaching to the testĂ˘€ť erodes the importance of subjects other than English, math and science, and has undercut a broader education in exchange for a focus on rote problem solving and correct sentence structure.
We need broad-based reform that focuses on student motivation and improving the conditions that lead to low achievement. I hope that Dr. RavitchĂ˘€™s turnaround will lead more scholars to question their support for surface-level improvements and to work toward real solutions to the fundamental problems in education.
Philadelphia, March 3, 2010
The writer is a former public school teacher.
To the Editor:
It is heartening that Diane Ravitch has felt compelled to acknowledge the gloomy results of accountability and school choice policies that she previously enthusiastically propounded.
Responding to empirical realities, however belatedly, is an appropriate stance for a research scholar. Less heartening is that numerous scholars years ago predicted the same negative outcomes that Dr. RavitchĂ˘€™s advocacy helped to bring about, and that she ignored their cautions.
Michael R. Olneck
Madison, Wis., March 3, 2010
The writer is professor emeritus of educational policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
To the Editor:
Diane RavitchĂ˘€™s self-described intellectual U-turn is a case study in how some ideas, however bad, are created and perpetrated in the service of power, while other ideas, however truthful, rarely see the light of day.
Dr. Ravitch fashioned herself into the Ayn Rand of educational policy and rose to fame as a result of a free-market ideology that came into fashion in George W. BushĂ˘€™s administration.
No Child Left Behind held that what schools taught or children learned could be reduced to a standardized test score. But while Dr. RavitchĂ˘€™s ideas were legitimized and perpetuated by Bush ideologues, other scholars and writers, including me, were trying, often in vain, to call attention to the considerable evidence that the school accountability movement was built on a house of cards, and was doomed to crumble.
My 1999 book, Ă˘€śStandardized Minds,Ă˘€ť and a handful of other books and reports at the time eviscerated the intellectual foundations of the accountability movement in Texas, Massachusetts and other states Ă˘€” well before the Bush-Ravitch team peddled the policy on a national scale. Mostly, we were ignored and dismissed as leftist cranks.
Dr. Ravitch had access to the same evidence that the rest of us had, but chose to ignore it. I wonĂ˘€™t be the only scholar who will feel embittered by the whole Ravitch affair.
Boise, Idaho, March 4, 2010
To the Editor:
Thank you for the intriguing story of Diane Ravitch. She has coolly applied John Maynard KeynesĂ˘€™s dictum: when the facts change, I change my mind.
It is not at all surprising that a generation of Ă˘€śchoice, charters, merit pay and accountabilityĂ˘€ť has served only to dumb down schools. These so-called reforms deprive teachers of professional judgment and thus the incentive to commit to a lifelong pursuit of professional excellence. Students are no longer individuals led into full membership in society but mere statistical effects used for political purposes.
The comment from one of her critics that a thoughtful regret about her previous positions was Ă˘€śnot very helpfulĂ˘€ť demonstrates the Ă˘€śfreight trainĂ˘€ť approach to school policy that Dr. Ravitch regrets.
Neil J. Liss
Salem, Ore., March 3, 2010
The writer is a visiting professor at the Williamette University School of Education.