Diane Ravitch
Will School Reform Improve the Schools?
Thursday, March 22

Diane Ravitch, a historian of education at New York University and the author of the best-selling book "The Death and Life of the Great American Education System,"  opened the conference by offering the idea that the current school reform practices are meant to privatize education and intend to be the ruin of public education.

No Child Left Behind has created an environment where we measure a narrow set of skills on a norm test that is inherently made up to assure that half of those taking the test will be below the norm.  The important work that schools need to do in the area of arts and creating good citizens is not measured, and according to those driving the educational reform  movement, is not important. 

Diane Ravitch views this environment as the new Cold War, this time being waged against public education.  Policymakers don't concern themselves with the whole child.  They are concerned with the areas that fit into the "business model" being projected upon the schools. 

Schools are becoming "testing centers" instead of "learning centers." Teachers are being pitted against each other over merit pay instead of collaborating with each other for the good of each child. 

Projects like "Race to the Top" are increasing the competition and killing collaboration.  This policy increases the dollars for charter schools and voucher systems to be put into place.  The only charter schools that score higher on standardized tests are those who skim the cream of the crop of students from public schools and deny those with learning challenges from entering their schools, Ravitch asserted.  Voucher schools that have been in place in Milwaukee since 1990 are not scoring better then their public counterparts. 

The number one predictor of test scores is poverty.  Federal attention should be given to reducing the number of children living in poverty.  Educational reform should be left at the state and local control.  Funding special education at the 40 percent level would be a great place for the federal government to help education. 

One of the more important statements Ravitch made (among so many I can't include them all) is that those looking to reform education need to talk to the EDUCATORS.  So many well intentioned folks are trying to reform something they are not a part of.  Those in the trenches are the ones that need to have a voice and are most likely going to be able to lead public education back on the right track.

I think the overwhelming answer to the title of this session is NO, school reform will not improve schools. The current reform efforts will only limit the scope of and the effectiveness of developing a "whole child" who could be successful in today's world.

David M. Hanson, elementary principal, Wyndmere Public Schools, North Dakota


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