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.

Let me lay out my point of view on the so-called “reformers” whom DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee represents:

She, and the Washington Post, and various right-wingers in public policy positions, have no plan for actual REFORM of DCPS (or any other low-income public school system)- just a plan to:

  • demonize professional teachers, especially those who come from the local community,
  • prevent teachers from having any checks or balances or power on any level whatsoever; and
  • replace relatively well-paid, professional, career teachers who have dedicated their entire lives to working with the underprivileged, with teachers NOT from the local community who only intend to stay for a couple of years while they search for a real job.
Where are actual plans to **reform** DCPS by putting into practice better curricula? To train teachers in better methods of pedagogy? To begin after-school programs for at-risk students? Or any number of other actual reforms that might help?
And what kind of a successful teacher-training model gives teachers a mere 6 weeks of lectures and occasional practice teaching during summer school – which I assure you, is not the same as regular school – and then throws them, essentially unprepared and without guidance, into a classroom in some of the most difficult-to-deal-with schools in the nation? And then simply fires them, and publicly demonizes them, when they fail?
And all of this from a person who essentially failed as a teacher in a high-poverty, mostly-minority, for-profit “public” school in Baltimore? Who then repeatedly lied about her “accomplishments” on her official resume? Whose main route to power and riches is the fact that her master’s thesis purportedly proves that teacher unions are the main obstacle to achievement in urban school systems?
That, boys and girls, is my point of view.
Let me add a couple of other links to research and commentary by other bloggers, on Michelle Rhee’s career in Baltimore:

for short.
Also look at this series by “That’s Right Nate”:
And, as a long-time, recently-retired math teacher and a one-time history major, I know a little tiny bit about statistics and doing good research. Watch for details coming up.
Published in: on November 2, 2009 at 2:10 am  Comments (1)  
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First Post

Hello, everybody,

This is my first attempt at putting up and maintaining a blog.

My main interests here will be education, public policy, math, astronomy, and science.

Recently retired from DC Public Schools, I have been doing some research on educational progress (or lack thereof) in that school system before and after the reign of our media-darling school Chancellor, Michelle Rhee. A lot of people have been throwing around a lot of rhetoric about how they are trying to put children first, but there has not been nearly enough in the way of actual facts. I have been trying to remedy this imbalance.

Some of my previous entries on this topic were sent as emails to various email list-serves made up of people interested in bettering the schools, but in a rather different way than Rhee. I will try to collect some of my previous posts and publish it here. One of those list-serves is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/concerned4DCPS/

I also posted on http://realeducationreformdc.blogspot.com/ which is a good resource as well.

Warning: since we have lots and lots of schools in DC, a good bit of my data will be in the form of huge spreadsheets comparing schools where Rhee replaced the previous administrations with the schools that did not experience such changes. The data take a while to wade through, and the arithmetic that I had to do was tedious in the extreme, but the results are quite informative. If you can compare, add, subtract, multiply and divide two decimals, and if you understand the meaning of percents and can read a graph, you should have no difficulty in understanding the results. (No algebra, geometry, or calculus is needed!)

I will have to learn how to post the spreadsheets and, in general, how to set up and maintain this blog.

I have another website that I put up about five years ago. Most of the things on it are still valid, but I imagine most of the links are probably broken. FWIW, here is the URL:



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