Thursday, March 04, 2010

The nation’s educational system is on the wrong track

Many people would agree that the American public education system is lacking in meeting the needs of this nation and its citizens in the 21st Century. Our current agrarian era educational structure divides funding and accountability in a confusing manner between local, state and national governments and enrollment depends on where a student lives rather than what school best meets the child’s particular needs. It is a structural organization that worked just fine in 1910 but makes little sense in 2010. Streamlining all the bits and pieces of our schools scattered across the country into a single national system would, for example, seem a logical first step.

Yet rather than address fundamental issues such as organizational structure the whole effort at reform became sidetracked by the cult of testing and free-market ideologues who believed schools should compete with one another like supermarkets. The result was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Four years after praising President Bush and Congress for passage of No Child Left Behind former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch is now argues those very policies have put this nation’s educational system on the wrong track and is harmful to public education.

This from the New York Times:
Diane Ravitch, the education historian who built her intellectual reputation battling progressive educators and served in the first Bush administration’s Education Department, is in the final stages of an astonishing, slow-motion about-face on almost every stand she once took on American schooling.

Once outspoken about the power of standardized testing, charter schools and free markets to improve schools, Dr. Ravitch is now caustically critical. She underwent an intellectual crisis, she says, discovering that these strategies, which she now calls faddish trends, were undermining public education. She resigned last year from the boards of two conservative research groups.


In January 2001, Dr. Ravitch was at the White House to hear President George W. Bush outline his vision for No Child Left Behind, which Congress approved with bipartisan majorities and which became law in 2002.

“It sounded terrific,” she recalled in the interview.

There were signs soon after, however, that her views were changing. She had endorsed mayoral control of New York City schools before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg obtained it in 2002, but by 2004 she had emerged as a fierce critic. Some said she was nursing a grudge because close friends had lost jobs in the mayor’s shake-up of the schools’ bureaucracy.

In 2005, she said, a study she undertook of Pakistan’s weak and inequitable education system, dominated by private and religious institutions, convinced her that protecting the United States’ public schools was important to democracy.

She remembers another date, Nov. 30, 2006, when at a Washington conference she heard a dozen experts conclude that the No Child law was not raising student achievement.
These and other experiences left her increasingly disaffected from the choice and accountability movements. Charter schools, she concluded, were proving to be no better on average than regular schools, but in many cities were bleeding resources from the public system. Testing had become not just a way to measure student learning, but an end in itself.

“Accountability, as written into federal law, was not raising standards but dumbing down the schools,” she writes. “The effort to upend American public education and replace it with something that was market-based began to feel too radical for me.”


…. She told school superintendents at a convention in Phoenix last month that the United States’ educational policies were ill-conceived, compared with those in nations with the best-performing schools.

“Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with respect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good education. We’re on the wrong track.”
You can read the entire New York Times’ piece here. You can also read an except from her book and hear her interview on NPR here.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

The problem, among others, is that Obama put one of his Chicago supporters at the helm of the Department of Education, who has continued the bad policy decisions of the Bush years.