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The testing, accountability, and choice strategies offer the illusion of change while changing nothing.  They mask the inequity and injustice that are now so apparent in our social order.  They do nothing to alter the status quo.  They preserve the status quo.  They are the status quo.
Those words appear on p. 225 of Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, the new book by Diane Ravitch. The words are a summary of what has been wrong with recent educationl They appear in Chapter 21, titled "Solutions: Start Here" which is where Ravitch begins to offer a different vision for how to improve public education.

Ravitch's last, blockbuster, book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education thoroughly exposed the emptiness of the so-called reform movement and what it is doing to American education, as I noted in this review.

While the first part of this new volume, officially published on September 17, Constitution Day, revisits the problems with the approaches of the "reformers" and adds to what she had previously written, this volume has a different purpose.  As Ravitch begins in her introduction, on p. xi:

The purpose of this book is to answer four questions.
  First, is American education in crisis?
  Second, is American education failing and declining?
  Third, what is the evidence pf the reforms now being promoted by the federal government, and adopted in many states?
  Fourth, what should we do to improve our schools and the lives of children?
I believe that Diane Ravitch is uniquely qualified to answer those questions.  First, she is America's foremost educational historian.  Second, having served on the National Assessment Governing Board (which oversees that National Assessment of Education Progress, often called America's education report card), she is well-positioned to explain what the data from NAEP really means, which is not how it is (mis)used by many of the "reformers."  Further, she writes clearly, enabling the non-technical reader, the person who not a professional in education or policy or statistics, to understand what the data means. As a careful scholar, she provides copious citations. As one who has attempted to stay up with the literature in both the professional and general press, I am amazed by how much she has consumed, processed, and presented - CLEARLY - to enable the reader to grasp what the situation really is.

That was true of her last book, at least as far as diagnosing what was happening and what it foretold for American education.  What is different about this book is that she offers in her answer to the fourth of the questions she poses, solutions to the REAL problems confronting our schools, our teachers, our students, and thus our society.  Just as she provides copious citation for her analysis of the wrongness of much current "reform" policy, what she suggests is evidence-based:  it has been tried and has succeeded.  

To be clear, it is not that Ravitch believes our schools are fine as they are, or were before the recent generations of "reform."   Far from it, she points at many places where changes are needed.  But she starts from an understanding that seems to escape many on the other side of the educational debate, an understanding also found in the introduction, on p. xii:

Schools need freedom from burdensome and intrusive regulations that undermine professional autonomy.  They need the resources to meet the needs of the children they enroll.  But they cannot improve if they are judged by flawed measures and continually at risk of closing because they do not meet an artificial goal created and imposed by legislators.
Let's examine the book more closely.

Ravitch does not deny that there are  problems with American education:  she titles her first chapter "Our Schools Are At Risk."  She explores the narrative that has become the foundation for so much of the public discussions and making of educational policy in the past three decades, a narrative that has appeared in statements by politicians and the wealthy (Pace Bill Gate), in movies, in editorial statements, and has resulted in policies designed to fix "broken" public schools. But as Ravitch writes on p. 4

    There is only one problem with this narrative.
     It is wrong.
 To be more specific, she writes on the same page
Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.
 In this first chapter she lays out her purpose in writing:  
In this book, I will show why the reform agenda does not work, who is behind it, and how it is promoting the privatizing of public education.   I will then put forward my solutions, none of which is cheap or easy, none of which offers a quick fix to complicated problems.  I have no silver bullets - because none exists - but I have proposals based on evidence and experience.  (p. 6)
She tells the reader that she offers a summary of her proposals so that they will not have to wait until later in the book, starting with the assumption
schools and society are intertwined. The supporting research comes later in the book. Everyone of these solutions works to improve the lives and academic outcomes of young people. (p. 7)
Since Ravitch offers a brief exploration of her proposals up front, allow me to summarize them now:

- access to medical care, nutrition for all pregnant women

- pre-kindergarten for all children, more to learn basic social skills, the opportunity to begin to develop background knowledge and vocabulary through the integration of joyful learning and play

-  in early elementary grades, teachers setting age-appropriate goals

- in upper elementary and middle school, a balanced curriculum that includes science, literature, social sciences and foreign languages, with a rich arts program and access to physical education every day

- teachers who write their own tests, and limiting standardized tests primarily to diagnostic purposes

- a commitment to building  a strong education profession

- schools having "the resources they need for the students they enroll" (p.8)

- as a society, committing through goals, strategies and programs to reducing poverty and racial segregation

On this last point Ravitch notes something critical:  

Those who start life with the fewest advantages need even smaller classes, even more art, science, and music to engage them, to spark their creativity, and to fulfill their potential. (p. 8)
The thrust of her argument is outlined in a series of blunt statements that begin in the middle of page 8 and continue through the conclusion of this chapter on page 9.  Allow me to offer several of those:
There is a solid research base for my recommendations.
My premise is straighforward: you can't do the right things until you stop doing the wrong things.
Stop doing the wrong things.  Stop promoting competition and choice as answers to the very inequality that was created by competition and choice.
Public education is a basic public responsibility: we must not be persuaded by a false crisis narrative to privatize it.
I noted above that the publication date is the anniversary of the adoption of our national Constitution by the Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.  As I look at the last of the "blunt statements" I have just offered, I think of words from another, older American constitution, that of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, written in 1779 and into effect in 1780.  Ravitch offers two quotes at the beginning of her book, one by John Dewey about what the best and wisest parent wanting for his child being the standard of what he should want for all children.  The other is by John Adams, author (along with his cousin Samuel and James Bowdoin) of that oldest continuous written constitution in the world.  The quote Ravitch uses, from 1785, is about the responsibility of the whole people taking upon themselves the education of the whole people.  Now place that quote about education in the context of this broader statement about public good from the Massachusetts Constitution, Part the First, Article VII:  
Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.
It is tempting as a reviewer to want to go through the book in great detail.  Since my purpose is to persuade people to read the book, I will pass on that temptation, even as I acknowledge that this review will be longer and in far more detail than are most book reviews.

I will also limit my comments about Chapters 2-20, which include identifying the context of corporate reform and who the reformers are, through providing facts about test scores, achievement gaps, international test scores, graduation rates in high school and college, and the impact of poverty on academic achievement.  That takes the reader through Chapter 10, and in each chapter Ravitch provides detailed, clear explanations of the relevant data.

She then proceeds to examine the various proposals of the "reform" movement and deconstruct them, often with devastating effect, primarily by summarizing what the research actually shows.  Allow me simply to list the titles of the relevant chapters:

11.  The Facts About Teachers and Test Scores
12.  Why Merit Pay Fails
13.  Do Teachers Need Tenure and Seniority
14.  The Problem with Teach for America
15.  They Mystery of Michelle Rhee
16.  The Contradictions of Charters
17.  Trouble in E-Land
18.  Parent Trigger, Parent Tricker
19.  The Failure of Vouchers
20.  Schools Don't Improve if They Are Closed

I suspect that the strongest push-back against this book from those on the side of what has been the "reform" movement in education will be because of the material in these chapters.  Even before I finished writing this review that process had begun, as one can see in this vitriolic piece in the New York Post, which I note is inaccurate (Ravitch was never a Neo-Conservative although she shared SOME views with SOME people who were part of that movement), offers nothing which provides a basis for dismissing the extensive evidence Ravitch has marshaled in support of her criticisms, and relies heavily upon ad hominem attacks.  It bespeaks a panic that if people truly examine not merely Ravitch's dissection of the agenda of the "reformers" but also the data that supports it, the willingness of people to accept that agenda will quickly begin to diminish.

Let's take the example of the Parent Trigger laws (where a majority of parents currently with children in the school can vote to turn it over to a charter operator), which were proposed as a mean of bypassing the normal reluctance of parents to see their schools taken away from local control.  Ravitch notes that a major mover in this effort, Parent Revolution, is heavily funded by among others the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation  (all organizations that heavily fund the agenda of the reform movement, and in the case of Gates apparently attempts to undercut opposition by also funding some initiatives of the teachers' unions).  Parent Revolution succeeded in getting a trigger law through the California legislature.  In one school where it was attempted, the effort wound up in court, and when the charter chain behind the effort opened up a nearby charter school, only about 1/3 of the parents who had actually signed the parent trigger petition enrolled their children there.  In the other, while the effort succeeded, when it came time to choose a charter, only those parents who signed the petition were allowed to vote, and ultimately

Only fifty-three parents in a school with more than 600 hundred students chose the new charter operator. (p. 200)
The parallel attempt in Florida did not get that far.  No Florida parent organization backed the effort.  Ultimately, an equally divided state senate (in a legislature where both chambers are heavily Republican) killed the effort.  They had similarly defeated an effort to privatize prisons, and Ravitch notes that a major newspaper (the Miami Herald had written that they were
"a band of renegade senators"  who "argued that public education, like public safety, is a core mission pf government and shouldn't be outsourced to private vendors."  (p. 202)
The force of Ravitch's writing is not only does she support her arguments with data, but she expresses it in a common sense fashion that will speak to ordinary people.  For example, on Parent Trigger laws, when she questions why some mayors seem to support such legislation, she writes
Would they feel equally enthusiastic about encouraging the tenants in public housing to seize control and privatize their buildings?  How would they react if riders on a public bus decided to seize control and give the bus to a private company?  What about the patrons who use a public park and are organized by a private park-concession corporation to demand control so they can turn it over the concessionaire? Or the patrons of a public library?  Would the mayors support them too?  (p.203)
Or as she notes later on the same page:  
The theory of parent empowerment makes no sense.  If the cure rate in a hospital were low, one would not expect the patients to seize control and fire the staff.
Ravitch notes that the public seems to understand this far better than many politicians.  After all, Won't Back Down, which glorifies parent trigger laws, was heavily promoted by NBC's Education Nation, shown at both national political conventions, had its stars Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal appearing on the talk show circuit, yet it bombed at the box office.

A real strength of this book is the detailed evidence Ravitch offers for the effectiveness of the proposals she does make.  The very first of these is to Begin at the Beginning, to provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.  Ravitch writes

It is far less expensive to prevent learning disabilities at the beginning of pregnancy than to remediate those disabilities for many years into the future (p. 228).
Related to this are the issues of providing quality age-appropriate early childhood education to all children and providing wrap-around services (including medical) as well.  When writing about early childhood education, Ravitch notes:
Early intervention not only enhances the life prospects pf children but also has a high benefit-cost ratio and rate of return for society's investments.  (p. 231)
When I read those words, I immediately thought of former US Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings of SC, who was the proud co-author of WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which is describe by the US Department of Agriculture as providing
Federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.
Hollings, who had a reputation as a very blunt speaker, used to opine that is was "better to feed the child than to jail the man."

A further parallel to this can be seen in the arguments over class size.  Ravitch relies on evidence, citing among other things a report from the Institute of Education Sciences of the U. S. Department of Education

which had identified class size reduction as one of the few evidence-based reforms that has been proven effective. (p. 245)
  She also notes that
Longitudinal research shows that the benefits of having smaller classes in elementary school last into adulthood. (ibid.)
 This last quote comes at the end of a short paragraph of 7 lines that also discusses higher test scores, better behavior, a greater likelihood of graduating from from high school and of attending college.  For those 7 lines she cites more than half a dozen studies, allowing the readers to determine for themselves if she is fairly representing their conclusions.

I said there was a parallel - on the same page, a bit earlier, we read

Schools and districts have a choice:  they can reduce class sizes now and reap the benefits for years;  or they can increase class sizes and pay the cost of remediation, disruptive behavior, and failure for many years.  Both routes are costly, but one involves spending to produce early and lasting success, and the other involves spending to compensate for failure.
I have noted that both in criticizing the current approaches of reform and in advocating for solutions that work, Ravitch relies upon evidence.   Beyond the more than 320 pages of text, Ravitch provides 25 pages of an appendix full of charts that demonstrate that American schools are NOT in total crisis, as well as 24 pages of detailed notes for the research upon which she relies.  She is a thorough and careful scholar.  These parts of the book give her powerful prose the underpinning that is sure to drive her critics more than a little crazy:  I seriously doubt that any one critic, or even group of critics, has read and processed all that Ravitch has, nor can I imagine the likes of a Michael Bloomberg, a Michelle Rhee, an Arne Duncan, having the grasp of the issues and the knowledge of the data that Ravitch demonstrates in this book.

What Ravitch also demonstrates is her commitment to the democratic ideal.  That includes notions such as local control of public schools.  As she writes in her conclusion on p. 323,

Democracy functions most effectively when people from different backgrounds interact, communicate their interests, and participate in shaping the purposes by which the live.  Perhaps Abraham Lincoln put it best when described American democracy as that "government of the people, by the people, for the people."
America has become ever more diverse as a society in the 67 years I have trod this earth.  I have seen that increase in diversity especially in the schools in which I have spent my teaching career.  Thus I strongly affirm an additional statement also found on p. 323:  
The public schools have taught us how to be one society, not a collection of separate enclaves divided by race, language and culture.
Two more quotes from the next page also caught my eye as presenting clearly how Ravitch views our current situation:
But no matter how much we improve our public schools, they alone cannot solve the deeply rooted, systemic problems of our society
   When public education is in danger, democracy is jeopardized.
     We cannot afford that risk.
I find myself very much in tune with the thrust of this book.  As important as her previous book was, Ravitch has outdone that with this magnum opus.  

In the beginning, she laid out what she intended to do.  As should be clear, I believe she more than achieved her goals.  It is the opinion of this reviewer, me, a retired teacher who returned to the classroom to make a difference, in part at the urging of Ravitch, that this book is by far her finest work, and is something with which everyone truly concerned about education should read.

I am going to allow Ravitch to close this review, by quoting in their entirety her final three paragraphs, while noting that her final sentence is clearly a push-back at the rhetoric used by some in the "reform" movement.

If you care about the future of public education, and if you care about the future of American democracy (because the two are inextricably intertwined), read this book.

And now, some last words from Diane Ravitch, from p. 325:

Yes, we must improve our schools.  Start now, start here, by building the bonds of trust among schools and communities.  The essential mission of the public schools is not merely to prepare workers for the global workforce but to prepare citizens with the minds, hearts, and characters to sustain our democracy in the future.

Genuine school reform must be built on hope, not fear; on encouragement, not threats; on inspiration, not compulsion; on trust, not carrots and sticks; on belief in the dignity of the person, not a slavish devotion to data; on support and mutual respect, not a regime of punishment and blame.  To be lasting, school reform must rely on collaboration and teamwork among students, parents, teachers, principals, administrators, and local communities.

Despite its faults, the American system of democratically controlled schools has been the mainstay of our communities and the foundation for our nation's success.  We must work together to improve our public schools.  We must extend the promise of equal educational opportunity to all the children of our nation.  Protecting our public schools against privatization and saving them for future generations of American children is the civil rights issue of our time.

Originally posted to teacherken on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 01:29 PM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I realize how long this review is (95+ / 0-)

    after all, I wrote it

    I decided I could not do the book full justice with anything shorter.

    if you decide after the first few paragraphs of what I have offered that you are going to read the book, then I will have accomplished my purpose and you will not need to read more.

    I have read, and reread, portions of the book.  I have followed the sources on things I had not known.  

    I found myself nodding my head in so many places.

    I hope this review has served a purpose.

    I hope that Diane Ravitch feels that it fairly represents her work.


    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 01:13:10 PM PDT

  •  for what it's worth, Ravitch liked the review (32+ / 0-)

    and just featured it in this post at her blog.

    I hope people may offer some comments after reading this review - that might help draw some more eyeballs to it.

    Thanks for whatever you do.

    My key purposes were to fairly present the book, and then to encourage people to read it.


    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 02:16:05 PM PDT

    •  I read it all (7+ / 0-)

      I will most likely read the book, even though I have no stake in education except as a citizen and taxpayer who will most likely lose her home, given Ohio's unconstitutional and unequal system of school funding coupled with our governor's decision to slash public school funding to reward his donors who run failing for-profit charter schools.

      The entire system of education, especially its funding, in Ohio is so broken. We need to get our Rhee-worshipping governor out of office to have any hope of turning things around.

      Ed FitzGerald for governor Of Ohio. Women's lives depend on it.

      by anastasia p on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 04:05:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  She was a chief proponent of the education reforms (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mettle fatigue

    that she now criticizes and played a key role in implementing those "reforms" when she worked for the Bush administration. I guess her reversals are her way of doing penance for her past sins, but she still was responsible for destroying the lives of untold children. So I find her to be a poor messenger for the problems with current reform efforts.

    •  misrepresentation (23+ / 0-)

      she was a supporter but once the evidence came in that they were not working turned against them.  That was a number of years ago.

      It is precisely because she knows many of the players on the other side that she is very effective - that was true of her last book

      and this book is evidence based.  The message is the evidence.  If you choose to ignore it or dismiss it you are very much off target

      I will tell you that since her last book came out she has become a major hero to professional educators.

      I have known her for a number of years.  As she put ito me once, when the evidence proves she is wrong she admits it and changes her mind.  

      What is true of most of those attacking her is that they do not want to deal with what the evidence shows.

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 02:54:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  but she was clearly on the wrong side (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mettle fatigue

        in the 80s and 90s and a lot of us remember it.

        she was horrendous on multicultural issues, just horrendous.

        i am glad she has changed her tune but am wondering what she would say about those issues now.  

        she was allied with the most reactionary forces.

        and i am uncomfortable with lionizing her as we don't know what she will do in the future, especially on those issues.

        this book seems to be quite good for a number of reasons.

        we barely have a democracy right now.  if these 'reforms' continue, we certainly won't be able to restart democracy in this nation.  we won't even have a nation but rather a collection of regions, each with its own cultural/economic structure.  this might happen no matter what we do.

        •  you should ask her (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I think she's consistently really been for quality education;

          my guess is  just some bits sortof sounded reasonable - but she has now seen how quickly the 'reforms 'were politicized and idealized and privatized.

          The "national crisis" is a  classic, manufactured crisis

          but ask her - she can handle nonsense from the Post, what harm is there in politely wondering if she sees her positions as having evolved and when and why did they evolve?

      •  Ravitch's evidence (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Actually, the evidence came in pretty early, and Ravitch turned a blind eye to it.

        The central theme of A Nation at Risk was that a "rising tide of mediocrity" threatened American national security and "economic competitiveness," there was no truth to the claim.  

        The Sandia Report (Journal of Educational Research, May/June, 1993), published in the wake of A Nation at Risk, examined carefully its specific claims.  The Sandia researchers concluded that:

        *  "..on nearly every measure we found steady or slightly improving trends."

        *  "youth today [the 1980s] are choosing natural science and engineering degrees at a higher rate than their peers of the 1960s."

         “average performance of ‘traditional’ test takes on the SAT has actually improved over 30 points since 1975...”

        *  “Although it is true that the average SAT score has been declining since the sixties, the reason for the decline is not decreasing student performance.  We found that the decline arises from the fact that more students in the bottom half of the class are taking the SAT than in years past...More people in America are aspiring to achieve a college the national SAT average is lowered as more students in the 3rd and 4th quartiles of their high school classes take the test.  This phenomenon, known as Simpson’s paradox, sows that an average can change in a direction opposite from all subgroups if the proportion of the total represented by the subgroups changes.”

        *  "business leaders surveyed are generally satisfied with the skill levels of their employees, and the problems that do exist do not appear to point to the k-12 education system as a root cause."

         "The student performance data clearly indicate that today's youth are achieving levels of education at least as high as any previous generation."

        The allegations are, that while at the DOE, Ravitch helped to suppress the Sandia report.  And, a few years later she was brought into Virginia as an expert to give blessing to conservative governor George Allen's new standards and testing regimen.  Allen was an ALEC favorite even then.

        Yes, she's changed.  And she's helping to make the case against corporate-style "reform."  But simultaneously, she's championing STEM education, which is as mythical as the claim that public education is in"crisis," and which is also very much a part of corporate-style "reform."  Sort of like telling a dog to "sit" and "fetch" at the same time.  

        She can't have it both ways.

    •  No (8+ / 0-)

      She was in the first Bush Administration, not the second. The reforms then are very different than the reforms now.

      "H.R.W.A.T.P.T.R.T.C.I.T.G -- He really was a terrible president that ran the country into the ground."

      by Reino on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 03:36:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  On the Contrary (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cville townie, Mostel26, Larsstephens

      Her past support of "reform" efforts makes her an excellent messenger.  No one can argue that she has not carefully studied these issues, or that she was biased against privatization from the start.  

      Like the Biblical Prodigal Son, we should welcome all to our side who are willing to join in the struggle for justice.  If we limit ourselves to only those people who have never taken the "wrong" stance on an issue, then we will quickly run out of supporters.

  •  I preordered the book months ago... (9+ / 0-)

    and can't wait to read it. Thanks, teacherken.

    "Can I be quoted as yawning?" --Eric Jotkoff, Florida Democratic Party, on the shocking news that Democrats want to expose Republican corruption.

    by Susan S on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 02:49:46 PM PDT

  •  I will read it and weep (12+ / 0-)

    because I think it may be too late, Ken. Friday I opened my check envelope to discover that, despite a salary increase, my pay had gone down. A lot. The result of Christie and his Dem allies ( to be sure Dems like Buono stood against it, but enough Dems went along with the Repubs to pass the bill ) and their Pen/Ben "reform" ( ruled a pay cut when it was done to the state judges ) along with cumbersome new evaluations ( I am a social worker and no one is even sure how to evaluate me now; Christie's comm. of ed said " we'll fix the plane when it's in the air" ) and new Big brother type security cards that track us all over the district and how much time we spend on the toilet ( ya gotta swipe the card to get in the bathroom 0 I have had it. 25 years come Feb, and then I will sit down and see what my options are. the wife has an offer in Boston, and maybe they can hire me in their EAP dept.

    •  in the review I mention that Diane (16+ / 0-)

      is in part responsible for my being back in the classroom.

      In 2012, when I had decided to retire, and after I failed on two fellowships/opportunities that possibly could have given me the opportunity to amplify my voice on education, I wrote to her that I thought that the war to save public schools might already be lost.  She responded that I might be right but she intended to go down with all guns blazing.  I came to realize that I am at most effective as an advocate when I am based in the classroom, where the immediacy of policy upon the lives of the young people before me fuels my passion.

      We see changes

      we see school board elections in LA and Bridgeport

      We see Bill DeBlasio, who was the severest critic of Bloomberg, not only on stop and frisk but on co-location of charters, winning the primary big  (worth noting he won a higher percentage of black votes that did Black candidate Thompson, and a higher percentage of women and gay voters than did City Council President (meaning she had been elected city-wide) Christine Quinn who is in a same-sex marriage.

      we see increasing numbers of parents opting out

      we see rejection by parents groups of the parent trigger

      we see hope

      there will be pain along the way

      I am not diminishing what happened to you

      but I do not yet think it is too late

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 03:01:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Is it too late? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ChuckInReno, AndrewOG, Larsstephens

        Oh, I suspect that the barn door of education "reform" is wide open indeed.  And the horses and cows are long gone.

        I'd very much like to believe otherwise.  But Common Core is on the verge of implementation.  Value-added measures are becoming more established.  Far too many public school "leaders" are, in fact, not leading at all, but blindly following, and calling themselves "visionaries."  

        Here's but one example:  

        In the article, Norm Augustine is portrayed as some kind of education expert.  He's not.  He's one of those who pushes v hard for a corporate-style –– and corporate friendly ––  "reform"  agenda based on the notion that American "competitiveness" is dependent on "improving" public education.  The "brain trust" in this central Virginia school system invited Augustine to visit and share his “expertise.”  In turn, Augustine praised the schools “leadership” for focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education, calling it vital to the “future of our economy.”
        Let’s examine more closely.

        As CEO at Martin Marietta, Augustine brokered the merger of that company with Lockheed to produce Lockheed Martin. Taxpayers subsidized nearly a billion dollars of the merger cost, including tens of millions in bonuses for executives (Augustine netted over $8 million).  And then the merged company laid off thousands of workers.  The promised efficiencies and cost savings to the government (and taxpayers) have yet to materialize.

        Lockheed Martin is is now the largest of the big defense contractors, yet its government contracts are hardly limited to weapons systems.  While Lockheed has broadened its services, it is dependent on the government and the taxpayers for its profits.  It's also #1 on the " 'contractor misconduct' database" which tracks contract abuse and misconduct.  While Norm Augustine touts the need for more STEM graduates and STEM teachers for public schools,  Lockheed is laying off thousands of engineers.  Research studies show there is no STEM shortage, but Augustine says (absurdly) that it’s critical to American economic “competitiveness.”

        Regarding STEM, Beryl Lieff Benderly wrote this stunning statement recently in the Columbia Journalism Review  (see: ):

        “Leading experts on the STEM workforce, have said for years that the US produces ample numbers of excellent science students. In fact, according to the National Science Board’s authoritative publication Science and Engineering Indicators 2008, the country turns out three times as many STEM degrees as the economy can absorb into jobs related to their majors.”

        As I've noted elsewhere, the World Economic Forum evaluates and ranks countries on economic competitiveness each year.  The U.S. was typically ranked 1st or 2nd each year, but recently has started to slide down;  it dropped to 4th last year (2010-11) and to 5th last year (2011-12).

        When the U.S. dropped from 2nd to 4th in 2010-11, four factors were cited by the WEF for the decline:  (1) weak corporate auditing and reporting standards, (2) weak (poor) corporate ethics, (3) big deficits (brought on by Wall Street's financial implosion) and (4) unsustainable levels of debt.  

        More recently, major factors cited by the WEF are a "business community" and business leaders who are "critical toward public and private institutions,"  a lack of trust in politicians and the political process with a lack of transparency in policy-making,  and  "a lack of macroeconomic stability" caused by decades of fiscal deficits, especially deficits and debt accrued over the last decade that "are likely to weigh heavily on the country’s future growth."  

        It's interesting that the WEF cites the top economic competitors –– those ranking higher than the U.S. –– for  efficiency, trust, transparency, ethical behavior, and honesty. Corporate "reformers" like Norm Augustine seem to take absolutely no notice.

        Apparently, neither do those who “lead” public school divisions.

        And Ravitch?  She recently extolled STEM education on her blog.

        •  the whole thing with the engineering jobs (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mostel26, Larsstephens

          is that the companies don't want to hire recently graduated US engineers that they have to pay decently and/or train. And then they whine, whine, whine about not having qualified applicants.

          It's much better to get people from overseas on VISAs, and then they are willing to do whatever the employer wants for much less pay

          This has been going on since at least early 00's when I graduated with my engineering degree.

          As for the common core, it's being fully implemented in many states along with punitive teacher evaluations. The terminology that we use with regards to that is that we are building the plane as we are flying it.

          "I'm a hopeless're just hopeless." -Bouncing Souls

          by AndrewOG on Mon Sep 16, 2013 at 03:27:57 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  STEM (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Beryl Lieff  Benderly continues:

            “Simply put, a desire for cheap, skilled labor, within the business world and academia, has fueled assertions—based on flimsy and distorted evidence—that American students lack the interest and ability to pursue careers in science and engineering, and has spurred policies that have flooded the market with foreign STEM workers. This has created a grim reality for the scientific and technical labor force: glutted job markets; few career jobs; low pay, long hours, and dismal job prospects for postdoctoral researchers in university labs; near indentured servitude for holders of temporary work visas.”

            Benderly reports that an engineering professor at Rochester Institute of Technology told a Congressional committee last summer this:

            “Contrary to some of the discussion here this morning, the STEM job market is mired in a jobs recession…with unemployment rates…two to three times what we would expect at full employment….Loopholes have made it too easy to bring in cheaper foreign workers with ordinary skills…to directly substitute for, rather than complement, American workers. The programs are clearly displacing and denying opportunities to American workers.”

            So, how can someone (Ravitch) be opposed to corporate  "reform" and in favor of STEM?

            •  i wouldn't say she's an extreme supporter of STEM (0+ / 0-)

              in fact recently, she was taken to task by a teacher for saying that STEM was be taken over by the ed reformers.

              I read her blog a lot so my opinion (which could be wrong) is that she believes that STEM is an important subjects, as well as ELA, arts, etc.

              "I'm a hopeless're just hopeless." -Bouncing Souls

              by AndrewOG on Mon Sep 16, 2013 at 05:41:38 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Ravitch and STEM (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Larsstephens, leftangler

                Yes, Diane Ravitch has said that she believes in a rich, broad curriculum.  But she has extolled STEM on her website.  Flat out.  

                One of the teachers who commented on STEM on her blog, and to whom she dedicated a post lauding STEM, says to that he went into STEM training of teachers because it provides a broad, rich, hands-on curriculum.  However, this very same teacher says he "loves" his state's (Nevada) definition of STEM, which, after the perfunctory verbiage of "active learning" and "critical thinking," states the purpose of STEM education is "to expand Nevada’s STEM-capable workforce in order to compete in a global society."

                As I note in my comments (above), this is demonstrably farcical.  First, there is no STEM "crisis."  Second, the U.S. already IS globally competitive, and when it drops in competitive rankings its because of stupid economic and political decisions and policies, not public education.

                STEM already has been taken over by the corporate "reformers;"  it's part of their whole schtick.

                Ravitch should say so, and call it what it is.

                And so should other educators.

                •  My wife has an MS in biotech (0+ / 0-)

                  and just found a temp position after two years; no bennies or paid sick days, and my health premiums are through the roof due to Christie, not Obama. We are told the state can't afford teachers 'Cadillac" benefits anymore, and that the wealthy in NJ needed a tax cut or they would leave the state...sniff sniff, cause it was just getting too hard to pay taxes for all those public employees.....what a crock of shit and only now, when it is too late, does the paper of record in NJ the Ledger, admit the guy is a fucking disaster. Too late.

  •  This extensive post is an eduction on education (7+ / 0-)

    in the USA.  Thank you, we will grow by our educational work or decline by not supporting change.

  •  Diane is Terrific (4+ / 0-)

    Besides being incredibly smart, she has put together tons of resources and information, and she has lots of specific ideas about what proponents of public education can do.

    If you need help articulating what is wrong with so-called reforms and their champions, please visit her site and read her blog.

  •  Here's an excerpt from Reign of Error: The (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Reino, Mostel26

    Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools by Diane Ravitch posted to Salon.. It really exposes and sums up the entire privatization scam.

  •  "The Illusion of Change" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Stude Dude, Matt Z, Mostel26

    "The Illusion of Change" is a phrase I'm accustomed to reading in the context of comic books.  It is truly sobering to realize how many important elements of our society are being controlled by people with the same mindset that has Peter Parker make a deal with the Devil to undo his marriage so that Spider-Man can go back to basics.

    Read my webcomic, "Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine" at

    by quarkstomper on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 04:26:58 PM PDT

  •  So much of what I hear about 'reform'... (5+ / 0-)

    ...seems to be about turning schools into factories, churning out interchangeable, disposable drones for business and nothing more. It's one more way in which the subservience to business has perverted the public good.

    Schools should be about creating fully-empowered citizens, giving them the tools they need to fully develop their potential as human beings and members of society.

    The big problem underlying so many others is simple: inequality. Fix that, and so many other things will improve, people won't believe it.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 05:07:56 PM PDT

    •  it would be a start, but not enough (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      read the book and you will see why on both counts

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 05:42:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Read the book I linked to, and (0+ / 0-)

        you'll find a lot of evidence-based reasons why tackling inequality as a starting point would make not just education but so many other issues a lot more tractable. More bang for the buck if one starts there.

        Better yet, you can find a lot of material here at the web site that's come about because of the original research. The nickel summary of what authors  Wilkinson and Pickett found when they compared developed societies in terms of how much inequality they had is this:

        People in more equal societies live longer, have better mental health and have better chances for a good education regardless of their background. Community life is stronger where the income gap is narrower, children do better at school and they are less likely to become teenage parents. When inequality is reduced people trust each other more, there is less violence and rates of imprisonment are lower.
        emphasis added

        However, I also take your point about the problem with education in the context of Ravitch's book: an infrastructure operating on false or incorrect assumptions, pushing answers not backed up by results, for motives that don't bear close examination.

        I seem to recall one of Kauffman's Rules saying something about it's not what you don't know that hurts you - it's the stuff you know that isn't so that really gets you.

        "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

        by xaxnar on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 08:39:14 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  This review is a service to our community (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Mostel26

    The Reign of Error is an urgent call for us to take a stand, before it's literally too late to save our greatest democratic institution, public education.

    Diane is speaking out against an enormous industry established and funded specifically to "advocate" for every aspect of the agenda she exposes.

    Billions of dollars in tax-exempt advocacy "grants" have gone out,  from the very financial interests that seek to turn our schools into profit centers.  The people they've hired don't necessarily see the big picture, and part of our job now is to be patient and firm in getting this solid and important book onto their radar.

    Most of our job, though, is to get this information into the hands of the American people.  Thanks for putting up this outstanding review , Ken.

    It is the power of action that calls reason into being - John Dewey

    by chemtchr on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 05:41:43 PM PDT

  •  Terrific review, Ken. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Mostel26, Larsstephens

    Thank you for this wonderful analysis. Ravitch is so on the ball, as are you.

  •  school choice to exclude (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    In the US parents with money move away from school districts that include the poor. Public education works great in Wilmette, Illinois and Gross Pointe, Michigan, but not as well in Chicago and Detroit. The American system is based on real estate and for the rich it's about choosing to live where the poor don't. So worshiping government run schools without addressing the moral disgrace of the current system is a cop out.

    The Republicans don't like unions, especially teacher unions. Shame on them. But the US public education system based on real estate location is not working for America's poor or working class. School Choice thrives in Canada and Western Europe, including Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Unions there support choice because the unions are as likely to organize private school workers as government school workers. Public education in the US is a refuge for education unions, but it's not producing great results for low income kids.

    The solution could be to strengthen private sector labor law- the Wagner Act. And allow children to move freely among public, private and parochial schools.

    Cities are good for the environment

    by citydem on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 07:29:26 PM PDT

  •  You know the saddest thing about this? (4+ / 0-)

    When you mention towards the beginning of your diary what Ravitch is proposing as a solution, about 80% of it reflects my actual experience as a student in New York City public schools in the 1950's and 1960's. And let me say before anyone questions it, the student bodies of the schools I attended were from families than ran from the somewhat poor to the reasonably well-off; my own neighborhood could best be described as lower-middle-class. We certainly weren't privileged; we were simply fortunate to live in a city that at the time was committed to giving its children (at least in my experience) a quality public education.

    - access to medical care, nutrition for all pregnant women
    This was true in many senses, though not in all.
    pre-kindergarten for all children, more to learn basic social skills, the opportunity to begin to develop background knowledge and vocabulary through the integration of joyful learning and play
    Pre-school was limited to non-existent but at the same time parents were more likely to provide this at home for their pre-school kids in the '50's than they apparently are today.
    in early elementary grades, teachers setting age-appropriate goals
    In my experience we had that back then.
    in upper elementary and middle school, a balanced curriculum that includes science, literature, social sciences and foreign languages, with a rich arts program and access to physical education every day
    For the most part, yes. My public school was nothing special and in fact I was not offered it but at least in grades five and six we had elementary French and Spanish. We had literature, we had arts, we had physical education, we had exposure to science and age-appropriate exposure to political history (even if it was sometimes a bit sanitized. we always discussed "current events" in my elementary school classes and were given free copies of local newspapers).
    teachers who write their own tests, and limiting standardized tests primarily to diagnostic purposes
    It's true that, in high school I was subjected to the New York State Regents exams in some subjects; teachers found having to teach to the standardized tests objectionable even back then and they freely admitted that to their students. Still those tests were somewhat circumscribed and for the most part, tests were written by the teachers themselves. I know this to be true at least in some cases because at one point I was a volunteer "service aide" for one of my teachers and he and I sat down together and composed quizzes for his other classes (not my own of course).
    a commitment to building  a strong education profession
    If that wasn't the case when I was a kid, you could certainly have fooled me. The teachers I had in my classes were, almost without exception, consummate professionals.
    schools having "the resources they need for the students they enroll"
    As far as I could discern this was the case throughout my public school years. Teachers having to buy supplies for their students was, when I was a child, simply unheard of.
    as a society, committing through goals, strategies and programs to reducing poverty and racial segregation
    This was then, at it is now, a work in progress. To be honest my elementary school was 99% white and the immediate neighborhood I lived in was integrated only by court order in the mid-60's, following the passage of the Johnson administration's civil rights laws. However my junior high school and high school were both racially integrated by means of busing. And while that presented problems of its own (and l have no doubt there was a good deal of political fighting about it) it served a truly valuable purpose for everyone.

    So what's saddening about Ravitch's proposals is that they are NOT NEW IDEAS. It is pretty apparent to me that the reason schools shifted their focus from the late 1970's onward was not because schools were failing; the problem was that they were accomplishing the very goals Ravitch describes and someone, somewhere, found that to be incredibly threatening.

    •  what Ravitch is proposing is evidence-based (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sfbob, Mostel26

      by contrast, what evidence there is for the current "reform" proposals argues against them

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Mon Sep 16, 2013 at 01:52:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Salon is running a lengthy excerpt, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mostel26, Larsstephens

         read it here ☛ Salon

    If the American public understood that reformers want to privatize their public schools and divert their taxes to pay profits to investors, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If parents understood that the reformers want to close down their community schools and require them to go shopping for schools, some far from home, that may or may not accept their children, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If the American public understood that the very concept of education was being disfigured into a mechanism to apply standardized testing and sort their children into data points on a normal curve, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform.

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Sun Sep 15, 2013 at 11:01:06 PM PDT

  •  Atlantic Monthly (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mostel26, Larsstephens

    Atlantic monthly also reviewed Reign of Error, and I would describe it as a glowing review.

    The Architect of School Reform Who Turned Against It

    Like your post, Ken, I found it pretty informative, if more detached than yours. (You have a lot more classroom experience than the writer at the Atlantic, I suspect.)

    It sounds like Ms Ravitch is quite rational and assertive. And apparently, not afraid to switch positions, when facts indicate that is what's required.

    -5.38, -2.97
    The NRA doesn't represent the interests of gun owners. So why are you still a member?

    by ChuckInReno on Mon Sep 16, 2013 at 02:39:45 AM PDT

  •  She was on NPR (0+ / 0-)

    The On Point show last night (Wednesday) and being drowned out by the talking head eviscerating (or badly attempting to) her book. She was also cut off by the host as they ran out of time. I think the voucher crowd is scared to death of her....

    No star is lost once we have seen, We always may be what we might have been. Adelaide Proctor -7.25/-5.64

    by mikejay611 on Thu Sep 19, 2013 at 11:55:09 AM PDT

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