Ravitch Critiques the Current Education Privatization Movement and Offers Suggestions for a Different Way

For a clear summary of the evidence showing that not a single one of the currently fashionable methods of ‘reforming’ public education has worked, then read the first twenty chapters of the latest book by Diane Ravitch, “Reign of Error”, published today by A.A. Knopf.

This book gratifies me because it lays out in a concise and organized manner much of what I and a number of other education bloggers have been trying to point out for the last four or five years. Ravitch’s clear prose is a masterful summary of the evidence that the bipartisan “reforms” being committed against public education are not only ineffective by the yardsticks held up by these ‘reformers’, but are also resegregating our schools and foisting an inferior education onto our poorest kids.

On the other hand, if you prefer to see a clearly-laid out set of suggestions for a more sensible way to fix our school system, then this is still the right book to read! In chapters 21 through 33, she lays out a logical and sensible way to really fix our schools.

Keep in mind, as you read the book, that the “reformers” of public education have been in charge in some of our largest cities for about 20 years now. For example, Paul Vallas ran Chicago Public Schools from 1995-2001, and Arne Duncan ran them from 2001-2009; since then they are under the control of mayor Rahm Emanuel. They did such a WONDERFUL job that Chicago just found it necessary to close down dozens of schools and fire thousands of teachers and other employees. Joel Klein ran New York City’s public schools from 2002 to his departure to head Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. Michelle Rhee and her crony Kaya Henderson have run DC Public Schools since 2007.

Those school systems remain in crisis, despite the claims of our wealthiest citizens (Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, the Walton family and a bevy of hedge fund managers) that those leaders were producing piles of ‘excellence’ while having almost no teaching experience or school leadership credentials.

If you doubt my claims, all you need to do is look at the graphs and tables in Ravitch’s appendices.

It stokes by own vanity to find a couple of my own blog columns cited on pages 150-151, wherein I had delved into the data on Michelle Rhee’s mythical successes in Baltimore from 1992-1995.

(Rhee has since admitted making the numbers up, but chuckled that they didn’t matter. She has no shame! I also discovered that a possible reason for the increases that were noted at her school and grade level may have been due to two facts: (1) Her school and her grade had one of the greatest attrition rates over those two years of any of the schools in the study; and (2) her grade at her school also had one of the largest percentages of students who scored so low on the CTBS that their scores weren’t even counted!)

Here are the headings and summaries for chapters 5 – 20 of Reign of Error:

5: The Facts About Test Scores

Claim: Test scores are falling, and the educational system is broken and obsolete.

Reality: Test scores are a their highest point ever recorded.

6: The Facts About the Achievement Gap

Claim: The achievement gaps are large and getting worse.

Reality: We have made genuine progress in narrowing the achievement gap, but they will remain large if we do nothing about the causes of the gaps.

7. The Facts About the International Test Scores

Claim: We are falling behind other nations, putting our economy and our national economy at risk.

Reality: An old lament, not true then, not true now.

8. The Facts About High School Graduation Rates

Claim: The nation has a dropout crisis, and high school graduation rates are falling.

Reality: High school dropouts are at an all-time low, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.

9. The Facts About College Graduation Rates

Claim: Our economy will suffer unless we have the highest college graduation rates in the world.

Reality: There is no basis for this claim.

10. How Poverty Affects Academic Achievement

Claim: Poverty is an excuse for ineffective teaching and failing schools.

Reality: Poverty is highly correlated with low academic achievement.

11. The Facts About Teachers and Test Scores

Claim: Teachers determine student test scores, and test scores may be used to identify and reward effective teachers and to fire those who are not effective.

Reality: Test scores are not the best way to identify the best teachers.

12. Why Merit Pay Fails

Claim: Merit pay will improve achievement.

Reality: Merit pay has never improved achievement.

13. Do Teachers Need Tenure and Seniority?

Claim: Schools will improve if tenure and seniority are abolished.

Reality: There is no basis for this claim.

14. The Problem with Teach for America

Claim: Teach for America recruits teachers and leaders whose high expectations will one day ensure that every child has an excellent education.

Reality: Teach for America sends bright young people into tough classrooms where they get about the same results as other bright young people in similar classrooms but leave the profession sooner.

15. The Mystery of Michelle Rhee

(no sub-headings for this chapter)

16. The Contradictions of Charters

Claim: Charter schools will revolutionize American education by thei freedom to innovate and produce dramatically better results.

Reality: Charter schools run the gamut from excellent to awful and are, on average, no more innovative or successful than public schools.

17. Trouble in E-Land

Claim: Virtual schools will the promise of personalized, customized learning to every student and usher in an age of educational excellence for all.

Reality: Virtual schools are cash cows for their owners but poor substitutes for real teachers and real schools.

18. Parent Trigger, Parent Tricker

Claim: If parents seize control of their school, they can make it better.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

19. The Failure of Vouchers

Claim: Students who receive vouchers for private and religious schools will experience dramatic success.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

20. Schools Don’t Improve if They Are Closed

Claim: Schools can be dramatically improved by firing the principal, firing half or all of the teaches, or closing the school and starting fresh.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

Next, I’ll give the headings of the chapters laying out solutions.

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  1. […] taught in the DC public schools for many years. He also has a star turn in “Reign of Error.” Here is his review And here is part […]

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