Ravitch: Whose Children Are Left Behind?

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Otl-summit-bannerI thought testing would help diagnose the problem and help teachers identify kids’ needs and that charters would serve the underserved and collaborate with public schools — I was wrong on all accounts,” Diane Ravitch said in her Friday keynote speech at the Opportunity to Learn Summit, in Washington, D.C.

Ravitch, an education historian and former advocate for charters and standardized testing, examined some of the outcomes of a system that holds up testing and charters as holy grails and allows both to spread indiscriminately:

  • 80 percent of charters in Michigan are for-profit.
  • In Ohio, cyber charters get full funding with no facilities and 100:1 student-teacher ratios.
  • In Colorado, virtual schools have a 25 percent graduation rate.
  • Florida pumps billions of dollars into vouchers that support deregulated schools with terrible conditions.
  • After 21 years of vouchers and competition, black students in Milwaukee have the lowest scores across nation.
  • Under mayoral control since 2002, market reforms and choice have left the achievement gap virtually unchanged in New York City public schools.
  • In Washington, D.C., Hispanic, black, and low-income students have the largest achievement gap (a 65-point difference) of any city in the nation.
  • Chicago closed 100 neighborhood schools but is still one of the lowest districts in the nation. There have been no gains for black students since 2002 and none for Hispanics since 2005.
  • By 2014, all public schools could be labeled failures.

Profits and punishment seem to be the point of current education policies, Ravitch concluded. Although NCLB documents gaps, it does nothing to address the conditions causing these gaps, she added. “Congress is still patting itself on the back for identifying a problem (that we already knew) but doing nothing meaningful to solve it,” she said.

Ravitch attempted to inject some common sense into the education reform agenda:

  • NCLB is based on a phony claim: the “Texas miracle.” In reality, dropouts soared and Texas was in the middle of the pack on assessments.
  • Tests should only be used for diagnostic purposes, such as determining whether a student can read.
  • No achievement gap was ever closed by closing schools.
  • In high-achieving countries like Finland, testing takes a backseat to creativity, innovation, and whole child education.

She also asked some key questions:

  • Why are we racing to the top? (A: The top is occupied by the children of the 1 percent; they’re not going anywhere.)
  • Why would we give more credibility to standardized tests than to the judgment of educators and parents?
  • Why is there not enough money to provide the basic public services that every child needs?

When asking who gets left behind, Ravitch said we must look at the two gaps of race and income and consider what policies directly address disparities between these groups. Simply raising the bar and punishing those who do not clear it will not help kids already struggling to do math or speak English, she said.

“We need to stop investing in consultants and start investing in children!” Ravitch declared. She reminded the audience that the racial achievement gap was cut in half in the ’70s and ’80s, with gains largely attributed to desegration and expanding federal assistance like Head Start, Title 1, and early childhood programs.

“What were we doing then that we need to be doing now? That’s what we need to be talking about,” she said. Ravitch added that change won’t be easy or cheap, but we can make the first step by doing one simple thing: “Realizing that what we’re doing now is not working and never will.”

Do you agree with Ravitch’s critique?

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