Diane Ravitch, 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. [...]
Among the topics on which Dr. Ravitch has reversed her views is the main federal law on public schools, No Child Left Behind, 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.
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.
“Accountability, as written into federal law, was not raising standards but dumbing down the schools,” she writes. [...]
[...] 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.”
If I had a nickel for every actual public school teacher who said these things two decades ago …