Monday, June 13, 2011

Ravitch v. Alter

A very interesting conversation taking place in national education circles became heated last week when education expert Diane Ravitch took on columnist Jonathan Alter at a radio show in Denver, the culmination of days of back and forth.

Ravitch, an architect-turned-enemy of No Child Left Behind, took issue with President Barack Obama's mention during his State of the Union address of the Bruce Randolph school in Denver as one that has achieved impressive gains.In an editorial in the New York Times, Ravitch deplored the habit of some reformers of touting "miracle schools" when, in reality, the gains these schools have made are nothing to crow about (something Ravitch has been done for quite some time). At heart, Ravitch was criticizing the nouveau reformers, wealthy entrepreneurs and their philanthropic ventures keen on supporting the reforms they prefer -- such as promoting charter schools and linking test results to teachers evaluations.

(On a side note, the Nieman Watchdog noted that the Bruce Randolph school's progress was ill-measured and the children who are graduating are not really prepared to go to college)

Enter Alter, who sided with the nouveau reformers and said "nonsense." By beefing up accountability standards, the education reform movement works.

A flurry of commentaries ensued. According to former science teacher and respected blogger Antony Cody, Bloomberg shut the commentary period to Alter's piece after 24 hours of being up.

Ravitch and Alter had a mano a mano at the David Sirota radio show in Denver. While their dialogue was mostly focused on the Bruce Randolph school, the implications are far reaching.

Alter accused Ravitch of misusing and abusing statistics. Sirota asked Alter whether the calls for "accountability" were meant to demonize teachers and the unions that represent them.

"Why are the so-called reformers so focused on radically reforming schools as supposed to looking at neighborhood school model?" Sirota asked (Yeah, like the Bay View School model. That's one that seemed to work very well)

Alter's response: The model has not worked for this country. (We've) spent enough and are not getting enough for it.

And that's the bottom line. Reformers seem to want to get "a return" on the investment that's put into schools, as if they were listed in NASDAQ or the NYSE. As if education could only be measured through tests (oh, wait, we are already doing that.) So what's the appropriate return for a child who goes to school for 12-years? A job at a fast food restaurant? A path to the business world? Or another four or eight years of higher education so they can become engineers, professors, lawyers?

For those of you who have not been tuning in to the national debate in education, the conversation between Ravitch and Alter is a good start. There's so much to learn, and so much that's at stake.

1 comment:

  1. It gets very discouraging to listen to the many debates carried on in the ivory towers of school reform. The current politics surrounding education is distracting and at times counterproductive for those of us who are trying to bring equity and access to all students in the here and now. Diane Ravitch's voice is divisive and non productive. The last time I heard Diane speak I walked away disappointed, wondering how many hours of teaching she has completed in an elementary and/or secondary classroom to make her such an expert on effective school reform. Has she ever tried to lead a school that is under-performing to the highest possible levels of performance? I googled her background and found no evidence of any practical experience in schools. Am I wrong on this? I'm not sure I would go to a medical doctor if I knew they lacked experience with real patients. I find Diane's data interpretations to be fuzzy and self serving. At the same time I am cautious of private industry that believes that the 'efficiency' model is the answer to significantly improving our Public education system. Where's the answer? I believe it is simple and is rooted in the equitable distribution of resources. Every child in the United States deserves an excellent school facility, healthy meals, fine arts, physical education, luscious playing fields, highly effective teachers, vibrant principals and a community that's highly invested in their success, no matter what their zip code. The answer is political because access is highly dependent upon the allocation of state and federal tax driven resources. This ball of yarn seems to always be unraveling....