Diane Ravitch on reining in school reform
September 16, 2014 2:23 AM   Subscribe

 
Re charter schools, a related question recently in Ask Metafilter, with a very interesting answer from Old Man McKay :
"Former teacher here. I worked at a district school for three years, and at two different charter schools for two years apiece.

Charter schools generally come in two stripes: either they are 'highly performing' and they treat districts as dumping grounds, or they are dumping grounds themselves. That sounds very insensitive, but let me use my experiences to explain..."
posted by taz at 2:39 AM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


I was struck the other day by how schools in America--at least, the public and charter school systems, for paid private schools are probably another thing entirely--seems to have a problem very much like an eating disorder. It's not like they don't have imperfections, but they blow them completely out of proportion and pursue completely unreasonable methods because they've stopped seeing the whole and are only ever seeing the fat that needs to be excised, nutrients be damned. High-stakes testing is the education equivalent of "nothing tastes as good as thin feels".
posted by Sequence at 4:11 AM on September 16, 2014 [10 favorites]


Diane Ravitch is invaluable. She above anyone--certainly above the likes of Arne Duncan or Michelle Rhee--should be Education Secretary. Good interview.
posted by zardoz at 4:46 AM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


for paid private schools are probably another thing entirely

It's almost as though privatizing education is the entire point of the exercise.
posted by mhoye at 4:56 AM on September 16, 2014 [16 favorites]


Wait, is there anyone who is seriously pushing for Rhee as Sec of Ed.? I thought it had been pretty solidly established that she'd been cooking the books as the DC school chancellor. Even if she still has her fans in the let's-make-teachers-suffer camp, I thought the mainstream had wised up to her agenda.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:04 AM on September 16, 2014


Nowhere is it more critical than in EdReform than to watch what people do, not say. I appreciate Ravitch as a critic of one orthodoxy, but I am not sure she really is willing to get down to those brass tacks.

Some people like to tout tests, and criticize teacher unions ... but almost everyone with agency sends their kids to robustly unionized non-charter suburban schools that pay lip service to the tests, or private schools that don't test at all.

And when it comes to jobs, people love to talk about jamming ever more academically marginal kids into open admission colleges, what employers actually pay for is elite BAs and, for those lacking them, trade or business skills.
posted by MattD at 5:33 AM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


High-stakes testing is the education equivalent of "nothing tastes as good as thin feels".

It's important to keep in-mind that, for the most part, public school systems don't want all of this testing and evaluation. It's all largely being rammed down their throats by legislatures and parents. Both groups have conspired over the years to defund education to where it's practically a given that public schooling will fail. The maniacal emphasis on testing is merely the coup-de-grace.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:34 AM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Political arguments from liberal democrats often have a kernel of a paradox inside of them. In this case: how could the right possibly attack teachers?
I also think the attack on teachers is unprecedented. If you talk to teachers, so many teachers are leaving. We’re losing a lot of good veteran teachers, good experienced teachers. And the reformers’ rhetoric says that we’re going to have a great teacher in every classroom. Well, you’re not going to have a great teacher in every classroom if you continue to take away every shred of rights and due process that teachers have. If you make working conditions worse and class sizes larger, what kind of people will be attracted to teach?

Guernica: In your book, you mention that many charters don’t hire certified teachers.

Diane Ravitch: Yeah, there are some states where the charter teachers don’t need to be certified, or only a portion of them need to be certified. And then there’s Teach for America, which reformers love. As I said in the book, you’re not really ready to teach when you have five weeks of training. It’s a truism that people who are in their first year of teaching need help. They’re the weakest teachers, because they’ve never taught before. It’s not their fault; they need training, they need preparation...
I mean, it seems on the surface like attacking motherhood or apple pie, yet Republicans have been waging war on teachers, explicitly, for years now without any repercussion. How is this possible?

You'll notice here that she pivots from "who becomes a teacher" to certification. At the root of this, you have the teacher's unions caught in the same bind as other skilled-trade unions. On the one hand, they need to preserve their middle position with respect to, say, teacher's aides, assistants, student teachers, substitutes, etc. Part of this is about putting in barriers to entry in to being put into "teaching" slots, of which certification is the linchpin. But on the other hand they are looked down on by the higher-paid professional class, whose taxes may pay the salaries in question.

In much of white America, if you want a stable job it's: nurse, prison-guard, teacher, military. Who exactly becomes a teacher? Well, first you have to get a 4 year degree during which you have to have get classroom hours as an unpaid teaching assistant, pay for and take increasingly onerous licensing exams...

As usual, the right understands class politics in the US and exploits it while the left tries to pretend it doesn't exist.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:37 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Who exactly becomes a teacher? Well, first you have to get a 4 year degree during which you have to have get classroom hours as an unpaid teaching assistant, pay for and take increasingly onerous licensing exams...

Are... you... are seriously suggesting that teaching is a refuge of the idle rich? You have no idea what you are talking about if so. Plz advise.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:41 AM on September 16, 2014


Yeah, I'm not following what you're saying, either.

That's a weird take on both eating disorders and education, sequence. The issues with eating disorders aren't really germane here, but the problems with education aren't being blown out of proportion. America has an educational crisis; it's just that it's mostly a reflection of our underlying inequality crisis. Like Ravitz says: mainstream educational reformers never talk about poverty. We're not going to address our poor educational outcomes until we address things like income and wealth inequality, class and racial segregation, and our shitty social safety net. No amount of testing and privatizing and charter-building and teacher-bashing is going to change a thing until we improve the underlying problems, and there's pretty much zero political will in the US to do that. It's depressing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:15 AM on September 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


High-stakes testing is the education equivalent of "nothing tastes as good as thin feels".

It's always reminded me more of the prison system. You can use prisons to punish criminals and turn them into more hardened criminals or you can use it to rehabilitate criminals and turn them into more productive citizens.

If we assume for a moment that testing actually tells us what it claims to, we're using testing to identify which schools are full of dumb kids and bad teachers and then punishing them by taking away their funding which will only serve to make the kids and the teachers worse. If standardized tests were actually useful for quantifying that information we should be using it to identify under-performing schools and then shoveling money and resources at them until they get better.

Of course, that would encourage the high-performing schools to game the system too and we'd see schools all over the country totally bomb the tests on purpose until the whole thing was useless. Which is probably a better outcome than what we've got going now.
posted by VTX at 6:22 AM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Diane Ravitch is the only (widely read) person writing about these problems who understands what's really going on. My fiancée is a first-year teacher and it's worse than I thought (and I had a pretty pessimistic view before).
posted by LooseFilter at 6:51 AM on September 16, 2014


These damn tests.

I mean, I understand how they get there, how they get support. They're really an attempt by parents and voters to impose control.

They know what they want. It's rooted in the notion, right or wrong, that what students need is more multiplication table drills in elementary school, more doing of algebra problems on a blackboard in junior high, and so on. Date memorization. Sentence diagrams. Vocabulary drills. Less reflection papers and discussion. And none of it takes computers or nice buildings. But, they think, the teachers don't want to teach that. The teachers, they believe, want to teach what's fun for them, or what they think is important to teach vs. what they're hired to teach, or what will get them promoted.

So the test vendors and the privatization companies sell them on the idea that if they just test and make funding depend on it, they can force the teachers to deliver the sort of teaching they want.

And instead, they get a horrible mess where the testing companies have motives not at all aligned with theirs, and the educators game the system, and everything is twice as screwed up as before.

The goddamned law of unintended consequences.

And now, more people want to "homeschool." Great, just great.
posted by tyllwin at 6:53 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


and we'd see schools all over the country totally bomb the tests on purpose

I've come to think that rebellion en masse by schools and local districts is the only way to start addressing the problems our schools actually have instead of the problems we keep being told they have.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:54 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


And here in Canada, right-wing US funders promote the same kind of testing via the Fraser Institute and their peers. It seems like a truism of free-market propaganda that testing and ranking of schools will show those darn Librulls where they've gone off the rails.
posted by sneebler at 7:18 AM on September 16, 2014


There's also the fact that education "reform" dovetails quite neatly with the tech industry's pushing of the "STEM crisis" in order to a) push for expansion of H-1B and b) foist unproven tech-based education product, like MOOCs.

It should come as no surprise that the movement is awash in tech cash.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:37 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's almost as though privatizing education is the entire point of the exercise.

Well, it's probably an ideological point for some people involved. But I think it's more accurate to say that the purpose of public/private partnerships - not just in education but in general - is to allow private interests to loot the public treasury and soak up tax money from the citizenry. The actual impacts on actual education I suspect are mostly a secondary concern at best.
posted by Naberius at 8:24 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's all largely being rammed down their throats by legislatures and parents.

Legislatures, yes--but parents? In my experience most parents hate all the testing. It stresses their kids out and makes them not want to go to school, and that makes everybody miserable.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:02 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's also the fact that education "reform" dovetails quite neatly with the tech industry's pushing of the "STEM crisis" in order to a) push for expansion of H-1B and b) foist unproven tech-based education product, like MOOCs.

It's pretty much the skills gap for tots. Subtly deflect the responsibility for access to a job with living wage onto children, their parents, and overworked teachers. If "schools are failing our children," or "teachers are failing our children," it means that private industry isn't the problem...
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:03 AM on September 16, 2014


Some people like to tout tests, and criticize teacher unions ... but almost everyone with agency sends their kids to robustly unionized non-charter suburban schools that pay lip service to the tests, or private schools that don't test at all.

And when it comes to jobs, people love to talk about jamming ever more academically marginal kids into open admission colleges, what employers actually pay for is elite BAs and, for those lacking them, trade or business skills.


"I'll send my children to a place with lots of standardised tests to prepare them for a Business degree, that sounds like a better idea than a school with a robust arts programme and a classics degree," said no member of the upper-middle class in the history of ever.
posted by atrazine at 9:20 AM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


Well, it's probably an ideological point for some people involved. But I think it's more accurate to say that the purpose of public/private partnerships - not just in education but in general - is to allow private interests to loot the public treasury and soak up tax money from the citizenry.

That is privatisation.
posted by clockzero at 9:25 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I saw this FPP and immediately thought of a number of points I wanted to make on this topic. Then I RTFA and realized that Ms. Ravitch already said most of I think, and more eloquently and from a place of expertise to boot.

I heard an interesting piece on NPR the other day that looked at the current negative attitudes toward teachers and traced it in part to backlash against the successes teachers unions had in the 1960s and 70s. Sounded like an interesting book. I really dislike the current bashing of teachers that goes on; I summed up my feelings in this comment in the Sandy Hook thread.

In another, earlier comment I made this suggestion:
For years I have said there are two educational reforms that would make a huge difference. One; put a phone on each teacher's desk. It is ridiculous that the teachers in every school I attended had to go to the office and wait in line to make routine phone calls. Of course there wouldn't be much privacy most of the day, but it would still be good for teachers. The other reform would be to give each teacher (or perhaps every two or three) a classroom assistant/administrative aide/teachers aide or whatever in the classroom. That way there would be another adult there to help with paperwork (and from what I have seen there is a lot of paperwork in being a teacher) testing, discipline, or just so the teacher can go to the bathroom when they need to (teachers actually have an increased risk of kidney ailments due to holding their urine in for long periods, as do surgeons). We call teachers professionals, these are things other professionals take for granted at their workplace.
which I still endorse.
posted by TedW at 11:38 AM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I want to kiss Diane Ravitch. Everything she said in the article I said in a conversation just yesterday about "education reform."
posted by Mental Wimp at 4:18 PM on September 16, 2014


but almost everyone with agency sends their kids to robustly unionized non-charter suburban schools that pay lip service to the tests

Seems to me this has little to do with charters, unions, or tests, and everything to do with exclusivity. The promise of the suburban schools is that they're full of People Like Us, and the poor, minority, troubled students are not there.

Which is why they're pretty useless as a model to improve low-performing schools.
posted by alexei at 9:52 PM on September 16, 2014


I'm not sure why exactly I was surprised to learn just how corrupt charter schools can be, but hot damn -- that's a mess! If only more parents spent less time throwing money at problems that don't exist, and spent a bit of time actually thinking about what education really means for them and their children. But that would, you know, require introspection, and that costs extra.

(so unrelated, but thank you for spelling "reining" correctly in the title [yeah, I'm THAT person])
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 6:51 AM on September 17, 2014


If only more parents spent less time throwing money at problems that don't exist...

...all the while proclaiming that increasing tax-based education funding is throwing money at a problem.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:05 AM on September 17, 2014


thank you for spelling "reining" correctly in the title [yeah, I'm THAT person])

(In a thread about education, entirely appropriate [also, it made me happy to see properly nested parentheticals].)

posted by LooseFilter at 9:56 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


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