Education historian Diane Ravitch blasted the education-reform movement as a "well-funded, well-coordinated campaign to privatize as many schools as possible" during a sold-out speech in Seattle on Thursday night.
Education historian Diane Ravitch blasted the education-reform movement as a “well-funded, well-coordinated campaign to privatize as many schools as possible” during a sold-out speech in Seattle on Thursday night.
During an hourlong appearance, Ravitch criticized teacher-evaluation systems as “crazy,” called the No Child Left Behind Act “the death star of American education” and argued charter schools “divide communities.”
“American public education is under attack,” Ravitch said. “False claims are made about achievement. False claims are made about teachers. False claims are made about what’s needed to improve the schools.”
Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education for President George H.W. Bush and an early champion of education reform, eventually concluded the reform movement was misguided and led by corporations.
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Her recent best-selling book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” has made her a hero of the anti-reform movement.
About 800 people came to Town Hall to hear the speech, sponsored by the Washington Education Association, the state teachers union. Many strongly supported Ravitch’s positions — alternately applauding and hissing.
Some of the largest ovations came when Ravitch said a fundamental problem of the education-reform movement is that it does not trust teachers to educate students.
Ravitch pointed out problems with evaluating teachers based on student test scores, something many education reformers advocate as a way to winnow out ineffective teachers.
Ravitch said she believes bad teachers should be fired but argued that teacher-evaluation systems lead to “teaching to the test” and reduce the focus on subjects that are not tested. She said such evaluation systems would be a “bureaucratic and political nightmare” to administer.
As for the related solution of paying teachers more based on test scores, Ravitch said “it has never worked. Never, never, never.”
Ravitch is the second prominent member of the national-education debate to come to Seattle this month. Her remarks differed from those made by author and education-reform promoter Steven Brill during a Nov. 1 panel discussion sponsored by the League of Education Voters.
Unlike Brill, Ravitch did not comment specifically about the education system in Washington state.
And though she called the status quo “intolerable,” she offered few solutions. Prompted by Seattle School Board candidate Sharon Peaslee, Ravitch said schools should rely less on standardized tests and unproven methods.
She said the system will only improve if the government devotes more money to public education and addresses child poverty.
“The root cause of our problems is that almost one in four children live in poverty,” said Ravitch, noting that family background matters more to a child’s education than teachers or schools.
Despite what Ravitch referred to as “dark days for American education,” the historian ended her speech on a positive note.
“There are cycles in history. There are good times, and there are bad times. Bad times don’t last forever,” she said. “We must stand up for public education. … We must stand up for the future of our democratic institutions.”
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org