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Ravitch, unpredictable, still likes NCLB basics

Everybody (okay, everybody among the few thousand education obsessives who might read this) is talking about Diane Ravitch's new book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education."

Some of us who also write books are envious of the news stories in both the Post and the New York Times about Ravitch's new work. But she is one of the grande dames of education commentary, like her fellow Bridging Differences blogger Deborah Meier. When she significantly shifts her view of what we should be doing for schools, that's news.

But did she really change her mind that much? I am not so sure.

Any commentators who suggest Ravitch was a captive of the Republican view of education policy, given her work for the first President Bush, and now has broken free, does not know her well or read her often. Few writers about schools are as resistant to stereotypes as Ravitch. Even when she was routinely counted among the defenders of federal government efforts to set standards and impose accountability for all schools, her pieces were lively and unpredictable, and never stuck to any party line.

Her book is being promoted as a big break from the past. That is certainly what her subtitle suggests. But you can't judge books by their titles. When I finished hers, I was delighted to see such an erudite analysis of where the education policy debate is right now. She left some blood on the floor, sure, but she also, in vintage Ravitch style, blessed some good ideas from all sides.

She says at the beginning of the book that she used to think "that certain managerial and structural changes--that is, choice, charters, merit pay, and accountability--would help to reform our schools." At the end of the book she still accepts efforts by people she admires to pursue choice, charters, merit pay and accountability, as long as they do it better than it has been done the last several years. The big change she suggests, a greater emphasis on a rich and well-planned curriculum at every school, fits into just about everyone's master plans.

Ravitch is our best living historian of education. In my view she is the best ever, since those who preceded her, including some of her mentors, did not write nearly as well. Her
"Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms" is a masterpiece. I was surprised then that she wasn't more patient in this book with the American way of improving education.

Many education reforms have gone badly in the last 20 years, but there never has been a golden age of school improvement. No Child Left Behind had many flaws, but it left us better off than than we were before, with more attention to low-income and learning disabled children, and some gains in lower grades, particularly in math. We bumble along, doing our best, hoping that our next idea will produce big gains but knowing that all we can expect is to be a bit better than before.

There are some crazies out there who disagree with this and say an education revolution is possible. They know who they are. They don't include the weary legislators and White House aides who put together No Child Left Behind, making the compromises that are necessary in the democratic society that Ravitch celebrates throughout her book.

Still, she trashes educators and commentators who, she says, put their faith in one-step solutions. She said a 2009 pro-charter study "suggested to editorialists at the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and other national media that charter schools were the silver bullet that could finally solve the most deep-seated problems of urban education." She kindly footnoted the editorials, so I went and read the one in the Post. It was a typical endorsement of charters as an improvement, not a panacea.

"The desperation of poor parents whose children are stuck on waiting lists for charter schools is well-founded," the editorial said. It did not say that reform was going to save the inner city.

Ravitch scores some well-aimed shots at billionaires' foundations, often clumsy and clueless, that don't seem to achieve the results one would hope for from their big spending. Her sense of the importance of teaching, and how best to stay out of the way of its practitioners, is keen and convincing. My favorite chapter, "What Would Mrs. Ratliff Do?," uses the methods of her senior year high school English teacher to steer a course toward changes that will enrich rather than stifle learning. Ravitch is careful here not to reach conclusions the research cannot support.

The book's only major flaw is Ravitch's acceptance of the notion that charters, as she puts it, "siphon away the most motivated students and families in the poorest communities." This is a widely-held view, but I expected someone as resistant to untested assumptions as Ravitch to see the holes in it.

As I said in an online comment yesterday during a discussion with readers about a new study of a KIPP charter school, "there is NO data that I have seen proving that parents who apply to charter schools are smarter, more motivated, more on the ball, whatever, than parents who put their kids in regular public schools. It is in my view an ill-informed insult to parents who put their children in their neighborhood schools.

"I have talked to such parents and many are very motivated. They know well which are the good teachers. They want the school to succeed. They feel a part of that community. And putting your kid in a regular public school requires plenty of motivation. You can't just point the kid in the right direction and say 'bye bye'. You have to fill out forms, you have to present proof of residence, and proof of vaccinations. If the kid gets into trouble, you have to come to the school talk about it.

"Many charter parents I know made no effort to research the charter school. They just figured since it's not DCPS, it must be better, in many cases an erroneous assumption. At KIPP they are under less pressure to help because the kids have the teachers' cell phone numbers to call with homework questions. The notion that charter school parents are better parents must remain in the urban myth category until somebody does some research to prove it, and I bet that study will be full of surprises."

Wikipedia claims Ravitch is older than I am, but she doesn't look it or write like it. This is the one book to read if you want to understand the state of our public schools now. Ravitch will also be a splendid guide for what happens the next 10 years, at least.

Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.

Follow all the Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page, http://washingtonpost.com/education.


By Jay Mathews  | March 9, 2010; 5:36 AM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  Diane Ravitch, Ravitch is unpredictable, Ravitch the best educational historian, Ravitch's new book, charter parents not better than regular parents  
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Comments

Jay,

A very good piece.

"No Child Left Behind had many flaws, but it left us better off than than we were before, with more attention to low-income and learning disabled children, and some gains in lower grades, particularly in math."

This is the most accurate summary of the often flawed federal legislation who's origin can most appropriately be credited to a Republican president. Yes it had enormous bipartisan support but it was the bumbler, George W. Bush, who in the end gets credit for its passage in the long run. With all its problems, NCLB finally attached quantitative data to a long theorized problem; inner city poor/minority students were performing well below their white suburban peers. And yes, Virginia, there is indeed an achievement gap. SO let's finally do the right thing and get these kids the help they need.

Posted by: phoss1 | March 9, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

Jay,
as having been a reporter in another country, why do the minority and the poor students in, say Japan, get a better education than American minorities and poor in public schools?
Do the teachers of Brixton get better results than those of Detroit, NYC, or Anacostia?
I know the scope of this blog isn't enough to answer that question, so perhaps you can provide suggestions for further reading.

Posted by: edlharris | March 9, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Ravitch's book is still on order - hurry, Amazon! - but she's made similar arguments about charter schools on Bridging Differences. Though I tend to nod my head in enthusiastic agreement with everything Ravitch writes, something she fails to acknowledge that there is something valuable in the prospect of the move from a public to a charter at the level of the individual family. The neighborhood public school may be a failing one, but many parents stay in it - the default mode of education - just because there are no other options. Yes, charters may pull talented students and caring families from neighborhood schools, but what about the situation where the presence of the charter thrusts upon the parent a decision - go or stay - forcing him/her to critically evaluate both options? This act of evaluation might involve and empower the parent, making him/her more likely to play an active (rather than passive) role in future decisions pertaining to the child's education.

- The Ed Skeptic
http://theedskeptic.blogspot.com/

P.S. I just posted an original animated short featuring scathing social commentary about high stakes testing culture. Not gonna lie - I'm quite proud: http://theedskeptic.blogspot.com/2010/03/jimmy-goes-to-school.html

Posted by: -JP- | March 9, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

“But did she really change her mind that much? I am not so sure.”

Is this what those in the writing biz call planting the seeds of doubt?

Here’s a passage from the intro to Ravitch’s book that I think your readers should know about to get a good sense of her thinking:

“What was the compelling evidence that prompted me to reevaluate the policies I had endorsed many time over the previous decade? Why did I now doubt ideas I once had advocated?

The short answer is that my views change as I saw how these ideas were working out in reality. The long answer is what will follow in the rest of this book. When someone chastised John Maynard Keynes for reversing himself about a particular economic policy he had previously endorsed, he replied, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’ This comment may or may not be apocryphal, but I admire the thought behind it. It is the mark of a sentient human being to learn from experience, to pay close attention to how theories work out when put into practice.”

---
In case you missed it, here is the key phrase: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

As for your question, Jay – it just hangs there - a question, like any other provocative question, for instance: Is Jay Mathews trying to diminish the impact of a whole book that presents carefully documented evidence for the reasons Diane Ravitch changed her mind? I am not so sure.

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

"The book's only major flaw is Ravitch's acceptance of the notion that charters, as she puts it, "siphon away the most motivated students and families in the poorest communities.""

This is not a notion, Jay. Charter schools can expel troublesome kids, who then go back to the public schools. Kids who don't like charter schools because they require higher behavior standards can leave. Attrition in charter schools is a well-documented fact. Your failure to acknowledge that charter schools are able to expel without legal action and what this means (basically, what Ravitch describes) is, frankly, inexplicable.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | March 9, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Jay said

As I said in an online comment yesterday during a discussion with readers about a new study of a KIPP charter school, "there is NO data that I have seen proving that parents who apply to charter schools are smarter, more motivated, more on the ball, whatever, than parents who put their kids in regular public schools. It is in my view an ill-informed insult to parents who put their children in their neighborhood schools.


I think this statement was successfully rebutted and discredited. The only real debate left is to decide if this practice which Ravitich describes is ok or not.

Posted by: mamoore1 | March 9, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I think it's commendable to give motivated families in poor neighborhoods a good educational alternative. So, it seems, does Ravitch. Her concern about charters like KIPP is their ultimate effect on public schools:

"Thus, while the KIPP schools obtain impressive results for the students who remain enrolled for four years, the high levels of student attrition and teacher turnover raise questions about the applicability of the KIPP model to the regular public schools." page 136

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

What are the policies of NCLB?

"Test them until they drop" and "teach to the test". And we wonder why public education is becoming mediocre.

Then there are columnists and the politicians with their screams that the blame is the teachers and the teacher's union.

Yes there is a problem with public schools in poverty areas but you do not solve this with a shotgun that affects every public school in the nation. This type of approach will only adversely affect public schools that are not troubled because of poverty.

Massachusetts from national tests have the highest scores in the nation. Massachusetts also leads the nation in the highest number of students that score above proficient on national tests. Do the politicians and the columnists look to Massachusetts for models for the nation. No they look to failing school systems and scream for more firing of teachers and calls for getting rid of the teacher's union.

In DC which policies or methods have been set up to directly address the problems of students in poverty schools who have a difficulty in learning? None.

The children who have a difficulty in learning are placed in the same classrooms with children who do not have a difficulty in learning. The children who can learn are dumbed down in these classes with "test them until they drop" and "teach to the test" and there is no surprise when these children quickly join the children who have a difficulty in learning since they see no point in learning.

Like it or not universal policies totally geared to the students who have a difficulty in learning only prevents those who might have escaped from the effects of poverty.

If a school system had a large number of students that had a difficulty in hearing should the school combine these students in classes with students with no hearing problem and have the teacher yell louder. No the answer would be separate classes and separate methods of teaching.

The problem of public schools in poverty areas will be addressed when students with a difficulty in learning are early on identified and placed in separate classes where their problems can be addressed.

The shotgun approach of NCLB does not and will not work. It has only degraded public school education in America.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

for mamoore1--- where is this rebuttal? i would love to see it but i don't. which commenter made it? If you are accepting Cal's comment, then note this for Cal:

for Cal---Wow! I hope you also teach debate. this is a great trick if you don't have the text in front of you. You cite my statement that there is no data showing that charter parents are smarter and more motivated than regular school parents, and then you rebut an entirely different assertion I did not make, that charters can dump kids and regular schools can't. My initial assertion remains unrebutted. Try again.
(I don't accept yr rebuttal of the point you are trying to rebut either. Regular schools can expel without legal action too. It is called transferring the kid to the alternative school for behavior problems. Show me some data that shows that charters remove kids more often than regular schools in their neighborhoods. It is certainly not true of KIPP. I am willing to accept the possibility that it is true of other charters, but I haven't seen any numbers. So where are they?

for efavorite---As I said in the review, you have to read the whole book to the end. She says at the beginning she has changed her views because the facts have changed, but when she sums up her views at the end, she is still in favor of testing, of charters, of choice and of accountability. She raises good questions about all those things in the book, but at the end she says, well, sure, they got problems, but I am not saying we get rid of them because I am an intelligent adult and I know we have to have them, and (she doesnt quite say this but it is the message I get) getting rid of them would be political suicide.

and for edlharris, who had the most difficult and important question. I don't think there has been much research on this. What I have seen suggests that it is a cultural difference. In our worst neighborhoods, the cultural toxins of poverty appear to be worse than in the countries you name--our poor neighborhoods have more single parent households, more crime, less social cohesion, and less social support in the neighborhood for listening to your teacher, doing yr homework and having some faith that hard work will yield results. That was certainly the case in China, the one foreign country I can speak of with some confidence. But I don't believe i have read anything good on point lately. Why dont you do a google search, see what you find, and let me and us know.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 9, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

"she is still in favor of testing, of charters, of choice and of accountability"

I haven't gotten to the end yet, but I could say the same. I think you'd find few people serious about education who want to do away with testing, charters, choice and accountability. It's a matter of how they are used and national policy being set up around aspects of testing, charters, choice and accountability, as implemented in NCLB, that have been proven to be ineffective.

Talk about debating techniques!

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

for Jay Mathews
You should learn how to read.

The comments of for Cal_Lanier have almost nothing to do with Cal_Lanier wrote.

Cal_Lanier wrote:
.........................
"The book's only major flaw is Ravitch's acceptance of the notion that charters, as she puts it, "siphon away the most motivated students and families in the poorest communities.""

This is not a notion, Jay. Charter schools can expel troublesome kids, who then go back to the public schools. Kids who don't like charter schools because they require higher behavior standards can leave. Attrition in charter schools is a well-documented fact. Your failure to acknowledge that charter schools are able to expel without legal action and what this means (basically, what Ravitch describes) is, frankly, inexplicable.
.............

Mr. Mathews you totally failed to respond to the comment of Cal_Lanier.
You state "You cite my statement that there is no data showing that charter parents are smarter and more motivated than regular school parents," which is totally incorrect and not the comment of Cal_Lanier. Your response totally avoids the comment that you actually made and Cal_Lanier wrote about.

One tires of Mr. Mathews and his childish parlor games.

Only a hack could write "Ravitch, unpredictable, still likes NCLB basics".

Perhaps Mr. Mathews should write articles for the Washington Post entitled "The Taliban likes American basics".

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

for Jay Mathews

Thank you for your crystal ball responses.

for efavorite---
... she says, well, sure, they got problems, but I am not saying we get rid of them because I am an intelligent adult and I know we have to have them, and (she doesnt quite say this but it is the message I get) getting rid of them would be political suicide.

"(she doesnt quite say this but it is the message I get)"

The writer does not write it but Mr. Mathews gets the message. This is Mr. Mathews who on statement that he does not like claims that there is no hard data to validate the statement.

One would be interested to hear about the messages Mr. Mathews gets from fortune cookies.

At some point even the Washington Post must recognize that Mr. Mathews is an embarrassment in writing about any serious subject and should be moved to the psychic column where he tell readers about the messages from the stars.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Thanks bsallamack, I'll add this to my file of examples of how Jay Mathews misrepresents his readers’ comments.

I've seen it many times, but just started collecting quotes a month ago, so unless he keeps it up, I'll have to do some archival work before I have a substantial list that demonstrates a pattern.

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

for bsallamack and efavorite: I have read yr responses, and I must be particularly dumb today because I don't understand them. Please treat me like a 4 year old (I mean this, I really want to understand) and tell me what in Cal's response was relevant to the point I made about Ravitch saying that charter parents were more motivated than regular school parents. I see no connection between the two. She is talking about a different issue, charters throwing out kids. Please tell me which exact words in her response to me was relevant to my point. That will help me.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 9, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Diane Ravitch asked me to post this message she just sent me:

Dear Jay,

I loved almost everything about your column, but I didn't love the headline. There is not much to like about NCLB. I tried to demonstrate in the book that the law failed. Its goal was utopian and caused many good schools to be unfairly labeled failing. The law introduced a punitive approach to schooling that continues to damage schools and teachers. I concluded that the NCLB remedies didn't work, the sanctions didn't work, and there were few or no test-score gains after seven years of test-test-test. On balance, I think the law did more harm than good. I would like to see Congress go back to the drawing boards and stop stigmatizing schools and teachers who in most cases are working as hard as they know how. I think it is sad that the Obama administration has built its approach to "reform" on this poor foundation.

Diane Ravitch

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 9, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Thanks bsallamack, I'll add this to my file of examples of how Jay Mathews misrepresents his readers’ comments.

I've seen it many times, but just started collecting quotes a month ago, so unless he keeps it up, I'll have to do some archival work before I have a substantial list that demonstrates a pattern.

Posted by: efavorite
.....................
I wish the Washington Post would start taking note of Mr. Mathews.

Imagine an article in a reputable newspaper regarding an important document on national security where the writer of the article disagrees with the consensus regarding the conclusions of the writer of the document. The writer of the article provides no quotes to substantiate his alternate statement regarding the conclusions of writer of the document. He simply claims the writer of the document is saying B and not A.

The editors of the newspaper would recognize that a writer of an article might disagree with the author of the document but is totally false in making unsubstantiated claims about the thoughts and ideas of the author as presented in the document that can not be supported by quotes from the document.

This would be equivalent to a newspaper claiming that a document calling for war with a nation is in actuality a call for no war with that nation.

Mr. Mathews has played fast and lose with his job to present news and comment about education to readers. Mr. Mathews is paid to write articles on education and is not an opinion writer of the Washington Post where he can freely ignore or distort facts.

Mr. Mathews should be removed from the Education section of the Washington Post and moved to the Opinion section. Articles such as this of Mr. Mathews would not be acceptable in the National section or Business section of any reputable newspaper.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

for Jay Mathews in response to
for bsallamack and efavorite: I have read yr responses, and I must be particularly dumb today because I don't understand them.
....................................
My first post to you indicated that you distorted the post of Cal_Lanier.

Cal_Lanier posted "This is not a notion, Jay. Charter schools can expel troublesome kids, who then go back to the public schools."

Charter schools clearly have an important advantage over public schools in the ability to get rid of disruptive students by sending them back to the public school. Your response totally ignored this issue.

We would all like to hear from you whether charter schools have an important advantage in the ability to get rid of disruptive students by sending them back to the public school.

If you claim that this is not an important advantage then charter schools should not be allowed to send back disruptive students to the public school.

If this is an important advantage of charter schools then the focus on teachers is totally incorrect since the problem is disruptive students and there should be public policy to address this problem.

It is time for you to let us know your opinion on this matter since it has important ramifications in public education.

......................
In my second post to you I mentioned your response to efavorite "she doesnt quite say this but it is the message I get)". The "she" being Ms. Ravitch.

This is crystal ball reading when you can not provide any quotes from the book to substantiate the "message you get".

And by the way you totally ignored in your response to efavorite the comment that efavorite was making regarding your statement “But did she really change her mind that much? I am not so sure.”

You provided no quotes from the book to validate your statement.

The comments of efavorite is totally correct with the the question "Is this what those in the writing biz call planting the seeds of doubt?"

efavorite provided direct quotes from the book while you have failed to provide quotes to substantiate your statements.

We are all waiting to hear your opinion about whether or not charter schools have an important advantage over public schools in being able get rid of disruptive students by sending them back to the public school.

I am sure efavorite is also interested in the quotes from the book that support your statement “But did she really change her mind that much? I am not so sure.”

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Last month, I said this: “While I’m glad they are getting good academic instruction in their native language, it’s somewhat disingenuous to count it as a great achievement, when their skills are already much higher than what the test is geared to.”

You responded: “why then are we denigrating them for taking "just" AP Spanish, as if that was a waste of time for them? Isn't the purpose of education to produce a more effective person?”
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2010/02/rhees_bad_polls_should_she_go.html

I did not denigrate students for taking AP Spanish and did not imply it was a waste of time.

Today, Cal_Lanier said:
[Quoting Jay:] “The book's only major flaw is Ravitch's acceptance of the notion that charters, as she puts it, "siphon away the most motivated students and families in the poorest communities."

“This is not a notion, Jay. Charter schools can expel troublesome kids, who then go back to the public schools. Kids who don't like charter schools because they require higher behavior standards can leave. Attrition in charter schools is a well-documented fact. Your failure to acknowledge that charter schools are able to expel without legal action and what this means (basically, what Ravitch describes) is, frankly, inexplicable."

Jay responds: "You cite my statement that there is no data showing that charter parents are smarter and more motivated than regular school parents,"

Cal did not cite a statement of yours about a lack of data regarding charter parents.

Jay, I hope this helps.

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

"there is NO data that I have seen proving that parents who apply to charter schools are smarter, more motivated, more on the ball, whatever, than parents who put their kids in regular public schools”

Jay: How about KIPP parents being more educated? HERE is that data, so now you can say you've SEEN some! Or will you find some way to rationalize it and say it doesn't qualify?

These are the average Parent Education Levels (PEL) for the past four years at the three middle schools in the community of West Oakland, California, as reported by the CDE. The neighborhood is primarily served by KIPP and two traditional public middle schools, Cole and West Oakland Middle (formerly Lowell). PEL is the average of all responses where "1" represents "Not a high school graduate" and "5" represents "Graduate school."

2006 PELs: KIPP = 2.92, Cole = 2.26, Lowell = 2.66

2007 PELs: KIPP = 2.71, Cole = 2.15, Lowell = n/a

2008 PELs: KIPP = 3.27, Cole = 2.20, West Oakland Middle = 2.15

2009 PELs: KIPP = 3.18, Cole = 2.00, West Oakland Middle = 2.21

The PEL at this KIPP is closer to the PEL of our district's most affluent public middle school, Montera, which hovers around 3.37.

I'd say that more micro-communities need to be evaluated for the same phenomenon. I'm not naïve enough to think that what is going on in Oakland is some sort of anomaly. Are you?

Posted by: pondoora | March 9, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Diane Ravitch is speaking next week in DC. I know I'll be there. And for the record, I finished the book and never got the impression that she still likes NCLB. Of course I'm not a Post education reporter, I'm just a mother at a Title I school where the education of children suffers from the stupidity of this law.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | March 9, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

There are some crazies out there who disagree with this and say an education revolution is possible.
.........................
Public education in poverty areas is a disaster.

It may not be politically correct but early on the children that have not been destroyed from the disease of poverty have to be separated from the children that have been destroyed from the disease of poverty.

This is actually done in middle class school systems where there are two public schools systems in place and disruptive children are moved to the shadow public school system.

At an early age the disruptive children are identified are moved to the shadow public school system. This is expensive but probably no more expensive than public charter schools for poverty public school systems.

The current public school system in poverty areas simply ignores the problems. Every year a large number of the children that could benefit from education are lost in public schools that tolerate violence and mayhem.

The majority of children that may have been saved in the primary school enter the middle schools no longer able to be saved by education but simply part of the problem as they contribute to the violence and mayhem that are tolerated.

The well behaved child that entered the 1st grade in most cases will simply become part of the problem when that child enters the 6th grade.

The public school systems in poverty areas only contribute to more poverty and more problems.

Either the federal government needs to radically change the dynamics of the public school systems in poverty areas or simply see the problems grow worse.

At some point Mr. Mathews should recognize that he is supposed to write about public education and not simply what is or is not politically correct.

Mr. Mathews is not a politician and should leave the politically correct to the politicians. Mr. Matthews should start writing the truth about public school systems in poverty areas or stop writing about education.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

I think I get it. Thanks efavorite. She did not cite my statement that there was no evidence of charter parents being smarter and more motivated. She cited my statement that Ravitch was wrong to think that charter parents were smarter and more motivated. But i still think her sudden jump to the expelling kids issue was not relevant to what i said.
I am very grateful to pondoora's data on KIPP parents and neighboring school parents, but i don't consider education levels a good measure of intelligence or level of motivation to help one's children.

And in the clarification of my job, bsallamack said:

Mr. Mathews is paid to write articles on education and is not an opinion writer of the Washington Post where he can freely ignore or distort facts.


I am indeed an opinion writer for the Post. My contract says I am to write three columns a week for the paper and the web site. In our terminology, column writers are opinion writers. I don't think any of us opinion writers freely ignore or distort the facts. I in particular show all of my columns to my sources before publication to make sure they are accurate. But you the readers have the right to let us know when we fail to meet your standards of accuracy. That is what makes these comment sections so lively, and I think so useful to all of us.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 9, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews we are waiting for your answer.

We would all like to hear from you whether charter schools have an important advantage in the ability to get rid of disruptive students by sending them back to the public school.

You write extensively about public charter schools instead of public schools in poverty areas.

Since you believe public charter schools are better than public schools would it not make more sense to send all the disruptive students to charter schools since the public charter schools have the better teachers than the public school system. job. Let the public schools deal with the students that are not disruptive.

This sounds like the best way to use resources.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Jay:
Ravitch's "Left Back" is a tale of recurrent hope and disappointment, so this latest work is not a surprise.

You (and we) have access to College Board data on PSAT,SAT, and AP test performance of students who live in DC, by race / ethnicity and public vs private. How could you have been reporting from DC for so many years and not read the selection of relatively precocious minority students to private schools as grades advance and they demonstrate achievement and promise, whether their precociousness was in academics or athletics? Just look at the differences in student performance on these tests between publics and privates.
Ravitch believes the same selection and even recruitment is going on in charter schools. Do you really believe the "diagnostic and placement" data from required school transcripts and pre-enrollment summer sessions are not signals to less qualified students that they likely can't cut it at charter schools with tough curricula, just as at other publics with similar data requirements? If a school offers mandatory extra classes into the evening and on weekends for students who have attended all the regular school-day AP classes and who are nonetheless headed to likely failure, the school has met the requirement of open access, but signalled the difficulty of the courses and implicit selective entrance requirements for future cohorts. Word gets around.

One way that some charters increase their selectivity is by growing up, adding later grades for those who remain. I am not saying this is sinister, in permitting the appearance of higher and higher quality through selective attrition. But, I will say that growing downward in grades, when less and less is known about students at intake is NOT a strategy many schools employ.

Taking this back to public schools in DC, I am sure that longitudinal data on individual students would show that the appearance of decline in total student performance as grades advance has always in part due to selection out of the academically most-successful, leaving behind an academically needier population.

Posted by: incredulous | March 9, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

From Mr. Mathews
I am indeed an opinion writer for the Post. My contract says I am to write three columns a week for the paper and the web site. In our terminology, column writers are opinion writers.
...........................
Does this mean that the column writers who write for Business, Technology, Nation, and World are not dealing with fact but are only opinion writers.

Should we expect that the article "AIG sells Alico unit to MetLife for $15.5 billion" in Business to be fact or simply opinion where the writer simply uses a crystal ball and ignores documents to giver us his opinion.

The New York Times has an education section but no one expects that this section contains opinion columns that may have no basis in fact or reality. They save those articles for the Opinion section.

In reality since you have an opinion column there really is no need for you to respond to the comments of readers. As an opinion column your articles do not have to be based upon fact or reality. I guess that this is why you never respond directly to questions such as whether you believe charter schools have an important advantage over public schools in be able to send disruptive students back to the public schools. Since your articles may be all make believe it does not matter.

Now that I understand that you are an opinion writer it is understandable that statements such as “But did she really change her mind that much? I am not so sure.” do not have to be based on facts or reality.

It would help the Washington Post if they started marking the opinion columns. I like most readers do not know the contract terms of writers.

I hope the New York Times does not take this approach and start mixing fact with fiction.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Thanks bsallamack, I'll add this to my file of examples of how Jay Mathews misrepresents his readers’ comments.
Posted by: efavorite
........................
Do not bother. It appears that Mr. Mathews is an opinion writer and not a writer that specializes in covering the area of education.

Mr. Mathews does not see his role as writing articles based upon fact or reality but simply writing articles that contain his opinion. As an opinion writer facts and knowledge are really a hindrance since there is far more freedom in the make believe. Facts and reality are such downers.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

You're welcome, Jay. I notice that you commented on the Cal_Lanier example, but not on the example involving me. Could you comment on that, please?

For instance, when you say, “I get it” what do you mean?

Posted by: efavorite | March 9, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

From the horse's mouth:

What I Did Not Recant or Abandon
http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2010/03/what_i_did_not_recant_or_aband.html

Why I changed My Mind About School Reform
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704869304575109443305343962.html

Posted by: edlharris | March 9, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Interpreting Mr. Mathews as an opinion writer and not an educational reporter.

"there is NO data that I have seen proving that..."

a. There is no data.

b. There is data but Mr. Mathews has not seen it.

c. There is data but Mr. Mathews does not believe there is data.

d. There is data but Mr. Mathews believes it proves nothing.

e. There is data but Mr. Mathews believes it is irrelevant.

The real beauty of being an opinion writer.

g. to infinity where "believe" is being added from 1 to n times
There is data but Mr. Mathews believes he can ... believe it proves nothing.

h. to infinity where "believe" is being added from 1 to n times
There is data but Mr. Mathews believes he can ... believe it is irrelevant.

Remember Mr. Mathews is an opinion writer and not a reporter.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse

I like this column and find it interesting and well informed. I also enjoy the comments. I don't know much about charter schools ,though.

I do suspect that the other countries that edlharris mentions don't put up with the kind of disruption that teachers in the US put up with. Sometimes students here say things like "My mom/dad will sue you" and there are parents who think their child can do no wrong. The kids cannot learn if they do not respect the teacher.

Many countries do not allow students to disrespect teachers. Also, in other places, poverty does not equal bad schools.

I heard a report recently about Japan or Korea. The point was that there were many workers who had come in from another country who didn't understand the main culture's emphasis on education and didn't speak the same language. The schools were finding it a challenge to work with the newcomers. (I think it was on NPR-sorry I can't remember, did anyone else hear the report?)

Posted by: celestun100 | March 9, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Since Jay Mathews believes in the value of opinion here is my opinion of the real letter Diane Ravitch wanted to write to Jay Mathews.

DEAR SIR,
I think you are a dolt.

THERE IS NOT MUCH TO LIKE ABOUT NCLB.

I tried to demonstrate in the book that the LAW FAILED. Its goal was utopian and caused MANY GOOD SCHOOLS TO BE UNFAIRLY LABELED FAILING.

The law introduced a punitive approach to schooling that CONTINUES TO DAMAGE SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS.

I concluded that the NCLB REMEDIES DIDN'T WORK, the sanctions didn't work, and there were FEW OR NO TEST-SCORE GAINS AFTER SEVEN YEARS of test-test-test.

On balance, I think THE LAW DID MORE HARM THAN GOOD.

I would like to see Congress go back to the drawing boards and STOP STIGMATIZING SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS who in most cases are working as hard as they know how.

YES THE DOLTS WHO BELIEVE IN FAKE TEST GAINS AND BASHING TEACHERS AND TEACHER'S UNIONS HAVE ONLY HINDERED EDUCATION IN THIS COUNTRY.

AND ANY DOLT THAT BELIEVES ANY GOOD CAME OUT OF NCLB IS AN IDIOT.

P.S. PERHAPS YOU SHOULD HAVE LEARNED HOW TO READ BEFORE YOU DECIDED TO COMMENT UPON MY BOOK.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Looks like a great book. Thought I'd pass along this documentary about alternative schools made by Chicago youth to anyone interested:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDZQSxcX9uo

Posted by: ctvnetwork | March 9, 2010 9:08 PM | Report abuse

I like this column and find it interesting and well informed. I also enjoy the comments. I don't know much about charter schools ,though.
Posted by: celestun100 | March 9, 2010 7:00 PM
..........................
In the bad old days children that were disruptive in the public schools were placed in special schools that were in many cases reform schools.

Now disruptive children remain in the public schools and have turned the public schools of poverty areas into schools of mayhem and violence where many parents do not want to send their children. Many parents recognize that even though their children are well behaved in the 1st grade, that their children will become a problem since the system simply tolerates any degree of disruptive behavior. If children see disruptive behavior that is tolerated they quickly start to mimic that disruptive behavior.

Politicians came up with the idea of public charter schools where there is a lottery for the children that will go to a public charter school instead of the public school. The important advantage of the public charter school is that it can dump any child that is disruptive back into the public schools.

Because of this advantage the public charter schools these schools are considered desirable by parents in poverty areas and there are never enough spaces available for the parents that want to send their children to these schools.

Columnist like Jay Mathews expound on how great is the idea of public charter schools. It is true that most parent would rather send their children to a charter school without mayhem and violence instead of a public school with mayhem and violence.

But columnist like Jay Mathews and the politicians like to pretend that the problem in the public schools in poverty areas is the teachers and not a system that totally tolerates mayhem and violence.

Of course the real solution would be for the public school teachers to send the disruptive children to the public charter schools with the proviso that these students can not be returned to the public school system.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 9, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

More from Ravitch's book:

"...the authors of the [NCLB] law forgot that parents are primarily responsible for their children's behavior and attitudes. It is families that do or do not ensure that their children attend school regularly, that they are in good health, that they do their homework, and that they are encouraged to read and learn. But in the eyes of the law, the responsibility of the family disappears. Something is wrong with that. Something is fundamentally wrong with an accountability system that disregards the many factors that influence students' performance on an annual test - including the students' own efforts - except for what teachers do in the classroom for forty-five minutes or an hour a day."

Posted by: edlharris | March 9, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

"...the authors of the [NCLB] law forgot that parents are primarily responsible for their children's behavior and attitudes. It is families that do or do not ensure that their children attend school regularly, that they are in good health, that they do their homework, and that they are encouraged to read and learn.
Posted by: edlharris | March 9, 2010 9:59 PM
......................
The above is correct but parents are only responsible for their own children.

The head of schools systems are responsible for all of the children and these heads of school systems in poverty area turn a blind eye and tolerate the minority of children that are disruptive and will turn the school system into a place of mayhem and violence. Many parents that care for the well beiong of their children are powerless when their children daily learn that the disruptive behavior is totally accepted and the tolerated because of head of school systems that ignore the problem.

The Secretary of Educations states that teachers must be taught class management for teaching at schools in poverty areas, since the policy is to do nothing with disruptive children and simply allow them to remain in normal classes.

Posted by: bsallamack | March 10, 2010 12:31 AM | Report abuse

The above is correct but parents are only responsible for their own children.

The head of schools systems are responsible for all of the children and these heads of school systems in poverty area turn a blind eye and tolerate the minority of children that are disruptive and will turn the school system into a place of mayhem and violence. Many parents that care for the well beiong of their children are powerless when their children daily learn that the disruptive behavior is totally accepted and the tolerated because of head of school systems that ignore the problem.


Posted by: bsallamack
***************
Some antidotal evidence of your point was printed in the Post about 10 or 15 years ago.
They were writing about the history of busing in PGCPS.
The reporter interview Mark Davis, former of WRC98AM and since then with ABC in Texas.
He was a student at Crossland High School in Temple Hills when busing started and according to him, the African American students bussed in would do things (like shooting dice) and the mostly white teachers looked away.

Posted by: edlharris | March 10, 2010 1:02 AM | Report abuse

and for edlharris, who had the most difficult and important question. I don't think there has been much research on this. What I have seen suggests that it is a cultural difference. In our worst neighborhoods, the cultural toxins of poverty appear to be worse than in the countries you name--our poor neighborhoods have more single parent households, more crime, less social cohesion, and less social support in the neighborhood for listening to your teacher, doing yr homework and having some faith that hard work will yield results. That was certainly the case in China, the one foreign country I can speak of with some confidence. But I don't believe i have read anything good on point lately. Why dont you do a google search, see what you find, and let me and us know.

Posted by: Jay Mathews

I think it will require more than a google search, but I'll look into it.
One factor to consider is this:
200 years of this country's history saw the destruction of the family structure of slaves, followed by another 100 years of undermining of a certain racial group's involvement in the democratic foundations and social structures of our country.
A monstrous tragedy that hasn't quite occurred anywhere else in the world.

Posted by: edlharris | March 10, 2010 1:25 AM | Report abuse

Jay, I think you were too kind to Ravitch. For years she has been ignored things that contradict her opinions, provided questionable assertions and led in the wrong direction. A few examples:
a. She ignores elite quasi private high schools like Stuy... in NY City that screen out the vast majority of students - by design, but criticizes charters as not dealing with low income and students with special needs.
b. As you point out, the cited she reported as saying that charters are a silver bullet says no such thing. As a person who helped write the first charter law and has testified extensively on this issue (and read many reports on this), I've not yet found a person who thinks charters or any other single thing is a panacea.
c. She suggests that reforms won't work if teachers don't believe in them. Oversimplification. Minnesota passed a law in 1985 allowing high school students to take college courses with state funds following them, paying tuition, book and lab fees. Teacher unions hated it and tried to block if from being passed, then tried to repeal it. But more than 110,000 kids have used it, and one result is a lot more teachers have been given the chance to do AP, IB and College in the Schools courses.

We should expect more accuracy from a historian.

Joe Nathan, former public school teacher and administrator, parent of 3 students who attended urban public schools, k-12, and director, Center for School Change, Macalester College

Posted by: jnathan1 | March 10, 2010 3:17 AM | Report abuse

I currently live in Japan. My children attend a private IB school in which there are many Japanese and other Asian students. We live next to a Japanese MS so I have the opportunity to observe and have made friends with many Japanese families.

Acting with integrity, working hard, doing your best at the job you are assigned, conformance to societal rules, and acting in the best interest of the group are all important values in Japanese culture. Japanese children who attend public school go to additional educational programs after school in order to study more. Japanese children walk along the streets and take public transportation, unaccompanied when they are as young as 5 or 6. They are well-trained and well-behaved.

In general Japanese people are industrious and conscientious and live a good life because of their efforts -- this work ethic and sacrifice appears to be missing in many citizens of the U.S.

Posted by: mpmiles | March 10, 2010 4:39 AM | Report abuse

I hope bsallamack has time to catch a breath occasionally. Opinion writers in all those sections, what we call columnists, deal in facts. That is why I check mine with all sources by showing them the columns before we print them. When I get a fact wrong, I correct it. The notion that students are scared off by the high standards of charters has no basis in fact. I have interviewed tons of charter kids, non charter kids and their families and this issue never came up. They are all looking for the best teachers, they tell me, and I believe them. You can find good teachers at both charter and regular schools. I have never said charters are better than regular schools. I offer a list of top high schools every year for this area in which the regular schools, even in DC, like Columbia Heights, are triumphant. I have said that SOME charter schools are better than the regular schools, such as KIPP< for which I have presented the data. If efavorite will remind me of the question efavorite had, i will address it. I am having trouble keeping track, obviously.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 10, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse


Good morning Jay –As a journalist, working simultaneously on multiple assignments, I’m sure it’s hard keeping track of readers’ comments. I’m very impressed at how well people like you and Valerie Strauss and Bill Turque keep up with all the news. Below, I’ve tried to reconstruct our conversation to make it easy for you to address.
-----

Jay says: “If efavorite will remind me of the question efavorite had, i will address it.”

In my most recent post (6:28 PM), I asked two questions:

1) “Could you comment on that, please?” [referring to “I notice that you commented on the Cal_Lanier example, but not on the example involving me.”]

2) “For instance, when you say, “I get it” what do you mean?”

For clarity, “the example involving me” was in my post of 4:25 PM, in which I copied from your Feb 1 column in which I commented, “While I’m glad they [Hispanic CHEC students] are getting good academic instruction in their native language, it’s somewhat disingenuous to count it as a great achievement, when their skills are already much higher than what the test is geared to.”

And at that time, you responded: “why then are we denigrating them for taking "just" AP Spanish, as if that was a waste of time for them? Isn't the purpose of education to produce a more effective person?”

Then in this column, I commented that, “I did not denigrate students for taking AP Spanish and did not imply it was a waste of time.”
-----

You responded (5:04 PM) at some length to Cal’s example in that post, but not at all to mine. When you said “I think I get it” (sorry, not “I get it” as I originally posted) I’m not sure that it’s directed to my example, or what it is you get, thus my request for you to comment on my example.

Posted by: efavorite | March 10, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse


Good morning Jay –As a journalist, working simultaneously on multiple assignments, I’m sure it’s hard keeping track of readers’ comments. I’m very impressed at how well people like you and Valerie Strauss and Bill Turque keep up with all the news. Below, I’ve tried to reconstruct our conversation to make it easy for you to address.
-----

Jay says: “If efavorite will remind me of the question efavorite had, i will address it.”

In my most recent post (6:28 PM), I asked two questions:

1) “Could you comment on that, please?” [referring to “I notice that you commented on the Cal_Lanier example, but not on the example involving me.”]

2) “For instance, when you say, “I get it” what do you mean?”

For clarity, “the example involving me” was in my post of 4:25 PM, in which I copied from your Feb 1 column in which I commented, “While I’m glad they [Hispanic CHEC students] are getting good academic instruction in their native language, it’s somewhat disingenuous to count it as a great achievement, when their skills are already much higher than what the test is geared to.”

And at that time, you responded: “why then are we denigrating them for taking "just" AP Spanish, as if that was a waste of time for them? Isn't the purpose of education to produce a more effective person?”

Then in this column, I commented that, “I did not denigrate students for taking AP Spanish and did not imply it was a waste of time.”
-----

You responded (5:04 PM) in some detail to Cal’s example in that post, but not at all to mine. When you said “I think I get it” (sorry, not “I get it” as I originally posted) I’m not sure that it’s directed to my example, or what it is you get, thus my request for you to comment on my example.

Posted by: efavorite | March 10, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

For efavorite--I am very sorry I responded in that misleading way to your post about learning Spanish. I probably read it too fast, answered too fast, and messed it all up.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | March 10, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Apology accepted.

While I have your attention, I ask that you watch out for that kind of misinterpretation when responding to readers. I don't have any more evidence to show at the moment and don't intend to go on a hunt, but I do recall seeing it happen with others. I recall they resented having their words misconstrued (most people do) and I don’t recall that you ever acknowledged it.

You still haven’t addressed my question: what about it (the examples of Cal and me) do you get? But the apology is plenty. I think you take a big chance when you interact with readers as much as you do and I admire your willingness to do that.

Posted by: efavorite | March 10, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I just heard Diane Ravitch on the Dian Rehm show on NPR. She sounded so logical! What a breath of fresh air.

Posted by: celestun100 | March 11, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

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