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[xmca] Fwd: Diane Ravitch, Chester Finn, & Mark Kleiman on school "reform" and charter schools

If you have not caught up with this story, its well worth reading.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Jeff Weintraub <jweintra@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Mar 9, 2010 at 12:16 PM
Subject: Diane Ravitch, Chester Finn, & Mark Kleiman on school "reform" and
charter schools

 *Diane Ravitch, Chester Finn, & Mark Kleiman on school "reform" and charter

The big story here is the way that current debates over school reform have
been shaken up by the recent arguments of Diane Ravitch, who has long been a
major voice on these issues. Ravitch has decided that many policies of which
she used to be a strong and influential supporter have turned out, on the
basis of experience, to be bad ideas. A *New York Times*
this last week opened as follows:

Diane Ravitch<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/r/diane_ravitch/index.html?inline=nyt-per>,
the education historian who built her intellectual reputation battling
progressive educators and served in the first Bush administration’s
Education Department, is in the final stages of an astonishing, slow-motion
about-face on almost every stand she once took on American schooling.

Once outspoken about the power of standardized testing, charter schools and
free markets to improve schools, Dr. Ravitch is now caustically critical.
She underwent an intellectual crisis, she says, discovering that these
strategies, which she now calls faddish trends, were undermining public
education. She resigned last year from the boards of two conservative
research groups.

“School reform today is like a freight train, and I’m out on the tracks
saying, ‘You’re going the wrong way!’ ” Dr. Ravitch said in an interview.

Dr. Ravitch is one of the most influential education scholars of recent
decades, and her turnaround has become the buzz of school policy circles. *

Among the topics on which Dr. Ravitch has reversed her views is the main
federal law on public schools, No Child Left
which is up for a rewrite in coming weeks in Congress. She once supported
it, but now says its requirements for testing in math and reading have
squeezed vital subjects like history and art out of classrooms. *[....]*

The rest of the article does a good job of spelling things out, so it's
worth reading in
Some highlights:

In her new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,”
she describes the bipartisan consensus that took root in the early 1990s,
with her support, and has held sway since.

“The new thinking saw the public school system as obsolete, because it is
controlled by the government,” she writes. “I argued that certain managerial
and structural changes — that is, choice, charters, merit pay and
accountability — would help to reform our schools.”

It might be noted, incidentally, that this agenda combined two elements that
should, in principle, have seemed in tension. For public schools, the
emphasis was on tightening up top-down administrative control and
rationalization, with increasing systemic centralization and the imposition
and enforcement of uniform standards and "accountability" by city and state
governments and, eventually, from Washington. For non-public schools, and
semi-public hybrids like charter schools, the idea was to use government
funds (though vouchers and other devices) to provide increased "choice" and
"diversity," an approach framed and justified by a rhetoric of market-like
competition. Of course, even though there's an obvious tension between these
two sets of themes, they might be complementary in practice. But what's
striking is that most proponents of this agenda, as well as most outside
analysts I have read, didn't even seem to notice that there *was* any
tension or potential inconsistency here.

In January 2001, Dr. Ravitch was at the White House to hear President George
W. Bush outline his vision for No Child Left Behind, which Congress approved
with bipartisan majorities and which became law in 2002.

“It sounded terrific,” she recalled in the interview.

However, doubts and disillusionments gradually accumulated. Among others:

In 2005, she said, a study she undertook of Pakistan’s weak and inequitable
education system, dominated by private and religious institutions, convinced
her that protecting the United States’ public schools was important to

She remembers another date, Nov. 30, 2006, when at a Washington conference
she heard a dozen experts conclude that the No Child law was not raising
student achievement.

These and other experiences left her increasingly disaffected from the
choice and accountability movements. Charter schools, she concluded, were
proving to be no better on average than regular schools, but in many cities
were bleeding resources from the public system. Testing had become not just
a way to measure student learning, but an end in itself.

And so on. These passages, it seems to me, zero in on the key thread of
continuity running through her positions over time:

Admirers say she is returning to her roots as an advocate for public
education. She rose to prominence in the 1970s with books defending the
civic value of public schools from attacks by left-wing detractors, who were
calling them capitalist tools to indoctrinate working-class children.

“First she angered the Marxist historians, and later the fans of progressive
education and the multiculturalists,” said Jeffrey E. Mirel, a professor of
education and history at the University of Michigan. “But she’s always
defended public schools and a robust traditional curriculum, because she
believes they’ve been a ladder of social mobility.” *[....]*

She told school superintendents at a convention in Phoenix last month that
the United States’ educational policies were ill-conceived, compared with
those in nations with the best-performing schools.

“Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for
teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with
respect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study the arts,
history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and
other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good
education. We’re on the wrong track."

Basically, all that sounds pretty good to me. And Ravitch is someone whose
views on education have always deserved great respect, whether or not one
fully agreed with them. But the issues involved here are complex and
difficult as well as very important, so rather than trying to pursue them
further now, I'll put that off to another occasion.

=>Meanwhile, we can treat the foregoing as background and introduction to
the following (characteristically perceptive) item from Mark

Reading a rejoinder to Diane Ravitch by one of her former
comrades-in-arms, Chester
Finn <http://www.hoover.org/bios/finn.html>, Mark picked up on a very
interesting and probably very significant point. See below, and ponder.

--Jeff Weintraub

*Mark Kleiman (The Reality-Based Community)*
March 4, 2010
*Chester Finn on charter

Chester Finn isn’t happy with Diane Ravitch’s apostasy from the conservative
vision of “school reform,” but he makes a fascinating point about charter

Not all charters are created equal. The quality of the schools fluctuates
widely by state. (Our ability even to evaluate charters varies greatly, too,
depending on who performs the evaluations, what methods they use, and which
schools they examine.) A few jurisdictions — Massachusetts, New York,
Illinois — are sparing in their distribution of charter contracts and, for
the most part, check carefully to determine whether organizations that get
the green light have what it takes to succeed. As a result, these states
have relatively few charter schools, but their performance is impressive.
Meanwhile, states like Arizona, Ohio, Texas, and California confer charters
on nearly everyone who applies; as a consequence, they now have many charter
schools but also wide discrepancies in charter quality and performance
(tending, however, toward the mediocre). So even as Stanford economist
Caroline Hoxby reports solid gains by charter pupils in New York City,
Ohio’s school-rating system for academic year 2008-9 showed that just 16% of
Buckeye charter pupils were in schools rated “excellent” or “effective,”
while 55% of them attended schools on “academic watch” or in “academic
emergency.” And Texas is home to some of America’s strongest charters —
Houston is ground zero for KIPP and the “YES Prep” network — but also dozens
of the weakest.

In other words, in liberal states where the teachers’ unions have clout and
charters are greeted warily, the charter schools that do exist are
excellent. In conservative states where charters are greeted with open arms,
they’re mostly mediocre. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
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