The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch

Whit & Wisdom

The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch – This collection of 97 short essays from 2010 to 2018 offers a look at how her thinking evolved from the test and punish approach of No Child Left Behind to her understanding of how these federal policies pushed by corporate leaders like Bill Gates have had a very negative impact on public schools and students. Here are some of the high points. Be sure to grab a copy for your school’s professional development library. The chapters tend to repeat themselves a bit, but her points are sound.

2010 – Why She Changed Her Mind

  • She kicks off this book with the story of how she changed her mind on NCLB’s standardized testing regime and charter schools. The program was utopian and destined to show that all schools were failing. It gave no incentive to teach anything except basic language arts and math. It produced graduates who are drilled endlessly on basic skills and ignorant of almost everything else. Ironically there were no real gains on the tested subjects since it was implemented in 2002.
  • As for charter schools she saw that on the whole they did no better than public schools and they were able to exclude most of the students who were hardest to teach. Since the best predictor of low academic performance is poverty, it makes no sense to punish low performing schools. Reasons like these are why she changed her mind.
  • She notes that the reforms of the Obama administration are built on the shaky foundation of NCLB. The idea is that if students don’t get higher scores someone must be punished. This pointless strategy solves no problems. It’s ironic that Obama’s plan represents a wish list for the Republican Party with its push for more testing and charter schools.
  • Obama’s “Race to the Top” pushed states like New York to adopt the Common Core Objectives, test students in all subjects and grade levels, make schools use independent observers, and fire teachers who fail to produce good test scores. These bad ideas all came from the corporate sector where they had already failed. They also drive out work on skills business want like creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking.
  • While Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with public schools, 77% give their child’s school a grade of A or B. Reformers think that teachers are the most important factor in determining achievement when in fact their efforts are far outweighed by students’ backgrounds, families, and other non-school factors. This may be why charters, on the whole, fail to outperform public schools.
  • Ravitch traveled to Finland to see why their schools do so well. Their reforms are just the opposite of those in the US. There is no focus on academics prior to age seven, the only tests are those teachers give to inform their practice, all schools are public, and access to teacher preparation is highly selective. Their focus is on teacher preparation rather than testing and punishing.
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