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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 09/ 8/2010

Ravitch: Welcome back to school "reform"

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch on her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website. The two took a break over the summer but this is Ravitch's return post.

Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.

Dear Deborah,
And so the school year 2010-11 begins. As seen from Washington, D.C., it is another year in which the U.S. secretary of education will push and prod the American education system and make it more "competitive" in the global economy, imposing incentives and sanctions aligned to produce higher test scores. As seen from the schools, it is another year in which teachers and principals will be blamed and punished unless their scores go up and up.

Now that the nation is experiencing the eighth full year since No Child Left Behind became law, we can anticipate that more punishments will be visited upon those whose schools failed to meet their annual targets for test-score improvements. More principals will be fired, more schools will be closed.

Now that the Race to the Top has gone through two rounds of competition, its close affinity to NCLB has become evident. Indeed, NCLB, Race to the Top, and President Obama’s plan to reauthorize the federal law, which he calls the Blueprint, are all variations on the same themes: accountability and choice. Since NCLB produced such meager improvement, the Obama administration has decided to tighten the reins of accountability and choice and make plainer the consequences of failing to raise test scores.

In our absence this summer, there were many important developments, and I hope we will discuss them all in detail.

Among the most notable were these:

a. The nation’s leading civil-rights groups issued a statement in opposition to the Obama-Duncan vision of school reform, expressing profound opposition to the idea that schools should compete for federal funding that they desperately need. Secretary Duncan persuaded their representatives to cancel their press briefing, and the document was quietly released.

b. The Los Angeles Times began a series of articles based on the value-added test scores of 6,000 elementary school teachers, which its reporters obtained from the Los Angeles school district. In their introductory article, the reporters published the names and pictures of teachers whom they described as ineffective because their student scores had not gone up. The articles produced a firestorm of controversy. Secretary Duncan lauded the L.A. Times for being brave enough to publish the data about teacher effectiveness. Most educators who commented in the blogosphere castigated the newspaper for naming and shaming individual teachers, or for making a pretense of caring about "multiple measures" while giving credence only to test scores.

c. The Economic Policy Institute released a paper co-authored by many of the nation’s leading testing experts [and others, including Ravitch] explaining why value-added test scores should not be a major factor in evaluating teachers. It is not likely to cause the administration to reflect on their favored cause, but maybe members of Congress who are worried about the schools in their own communities will pay attention.

d. Secretary Duncan’s Race to the Top identified the second round of winners of the government’s billions intended to reform schools by promoting more private management of public schools and more reliance on student test scores to evaluate teachers. Losers complained bitterly that states west of the Mississippi (except Hawaii, the president’s home state) were shunned. Conservatives groused that Colorado and Louisiana, two shining examples of Duncan-style reform, lost out. Duncan promised to get more money from Congress to spread his vision.

e. Catalyst, the Chicago-based publication that regularly examines the Chicago schools, reviewed the results of that city’s program called Renaissance 2010, which was the strategic plan of Mayor Richard Daley and then-Superintendent Arne Duncan. Renaissance 2010 may well be the template for Race to the Top and the Obama Blueprint. Catalyst summarizes the results: 100 new schools featuring "shaky budgets," "high teacher turnover," and "mediocre
test scores."

f. A recent Phi Delta Kappa-Gallup poll reported that public support for the Obama education agenda has dropped from 45 percent to 34 percent. The more the public sees, the less it likes what Obama and Duncan are doing.

In the weeks ahead, I will look at each of these developments more closely.

There are two observations that I draw from this brief sketch:

One, federal control and direction of education policy have largely replaced state and local control, a decisive and historic change that can be credited to (or blamed on) President George W. Bush and NCLB; two, the models for Race to the Top—Chicago and New York City—indicate that our schools will see a great deal of change in the years ahead, but not much improvement in the quality of education, if any.

To the contrary, the search for higher scores is likely to promote a significant narrowing of the curriculum, cheating, teaching to the test, and other negative outcomes. To the extent that our students learn less history, science, civics, geography, foreign languages, and the arts, their education will be far worse than it is today.



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By Valerie Strauss  | September 8, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Diane Ravitch, Education Secretary Duncan, Guest Bloggers, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, School turnarounds/reform, Teacher assessment, Teachers  | Tags:  diane ravitch, education secretary duncan, guest bloggers, no child left behind, obama and blueprint, obama and school reform, race to the top, race to the top winners, rttt winners, the death and life of the great american school system, top ooool reboamael  
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Great article. In addition, we need to tell the public the truth about Renaissance 2010 and the way it has harmed CPS. Perhaps that is one of reasons Daley is retiring.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 8, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Great synopsis of what FB group Teachers' Letters to Obama is calling the Summer of our Discontent. Thanks, especially, for noting the administrative lip service given to careful evaluation of teachers via multiple measures--while simultaneously praising the LA Times, who shamed teachers for unreliable test data.

On the Diane Rehm show this morning, Cindy Brown of the CAP claimed that the federal government had little influence over education, calling ed policy a "state and local issue"--while praising the Duncan ED for luring 28 states into making significant legislative changes, in hopes of getting some RTTT money. I believe Ravitch is right when she notes that the feds have exponentially increased their control over education policy, while maintaining their disingenuous "local control" rhetoric.

Posted by: nflanagan2 | September 8, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Whether control is local or national, the actual polcies are a disaster. RTTT was a bribe to pursue bad education policy, that is misguided and bad enough, but the fact that it was paid for with money that could have gone to struggling districts to actually improve education is a tragedy.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 9, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

You state: "To the extent that our students learn less history, science, civics, geography, foreign languages, and the arts, their education will be far worse than it is today."

This was all known at the beginning of NCLB, even before NCLB. Why then treat this as anything other than an intended consequence of NCLB? Critics of NCLB assail the logic behind it as nonsense, but it is only nonsense if you believe in the education of democratic citizens. The New Aryans of the corporate world have repeatedly stated that democratic government is the problem in their quest for domiance. The Powell Memorandum that began the corporate war against schools clearly stated it was because of consumerism and environmentalism that threatened corporate dominance.

That is part of the history they don't want people to know.

Posted by: zoniedude | September 9, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

NY City's new school year, indeed, looks dismal:

UFT president (NYC's teachers' union) Michael Mulgrew sold teachers out, back room style, by agreeing to a doubled charter increase and tying teacher evals to students' scores. How did he get to do that without membership votes, anyway?

Anyway, that green lit the albany Dems to scramble to vote those things into bills in time for Race to the Top's 2nd round. Gov. Patterson signed and now day school teachers are off to joy, joy, joy... (snark, snark, snark) in blame-the-teacher-hell that is your current school system. (RttT: Yes! We won! We won!!! ... meaning, we lost. Teachers in loser states, pop open the champagne. You lost, you won.)

I taught in the South Bronx in the eighties and nineties... with a much lower salary and fewer benefits and a paucity of supplies. I would rather teach there under those conditions than under the current lockstep punitive crap - the District 2 Alvarado model (meanspirited cult) that Bloomberg-Klein spread citiwide. The kids in the ravaged, rock bottom, poverty scourged SB, I could and did manage and manage to teach. This, I doubt I could stomach.

And the DC Rhee/Weingarten (Randi = sell out writ large!) horror show of a contract thing? A clueless 80% of the teachers who voted on it, voted for it. I feel sorry for the smart 20% who opposed it, who now have to suffer under it.

Well, as it says on the blue propaganda wall of slogans in Rhee's beloved IMPACT curriculum's intro:

"All children, regardless of background or circumstance, can achieve at the highest levels."

Translation: Work your magic, teacher/miracle worker, or you are fired!

Posted by: NYCee | September 9, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

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