Diane Ravitch

Sometimes people make it too easy to respond when they attack my opinions or those of others. That happened last week with Jonathan Alter’s diatribe about Diane Ravitch’s comments regarding tests and test results in her Op Ed piece published last Sunday in the New York Times. I have been reading the responses to Alter’s attack and the blog posts, from the eloquence of Jim Horn’s piece in Schools Matter, to the matter-of-fact post by Douglas Massey and Leonie Hamison’s post with the facts and a challenge to Alter and others. Well, just for the fun of it, I decided to throw in my two cents. Mr. Alter needs to understand that there are a lot of people who know a heck of a lot more about public education than he or the other pundits do who take on the subject of education without educating themselves to the reality that is facing our students today.

What I have learned as I started to speak up two years ago about what was happening in Seattle and around the country, is that when I get close to the core of the matter, basically the truth, I begin to receive a barrage of insults regarding my intellectual capabilities, caustic remarks about me as a person or just nasty comments that have no meaning. At that point I know that I am hitting home. I have noticed that particularly with the TFA gang who like to lurk around our blog and pounce whenever we post information about Teach for America or the leader of that enterprise, Wendy Kopp.

Jonathan Alter

What seemed to be an errant attack by Jonathan Alter against Diane Ravitch leads me to several questions. I use the term “errant” because prior to this rambling piece by him, I had not come across any essays, treatises or articles written by the author in the last two years. His name has not come up in my Google searches on education and I have not heard him quoted on the subject of education. This then begs the question of why now and why Diane Ravitch? It is interesting that he is now writing full time for Bloomberg, one of those wealthy billionaire reformers who not too long ago thought it would be a really good idea to appoint Cathie Black as New York City Schools Chancellor. Hmmm.

This is mere conjecture on my part, about Alter’s motives somehow being tied to his employer’s agenda, so I will move on to the facts or lack thereof in Alter’s piece. He is here to tell you that “Education Reform Works” and that’s the long and short of it as far as he’s concerned. I say “Hold on there Kemo Sabe!”, what are you basing this statement on?

Well, first you have to trip over the sports analogy regarding MVP players which in itself is fairly mindless, and oh yeah, some reference to a communist, to try and find the meat of his article.

I love it when the reformists and their shills describe anyone as an “obstructionist”  who; thinks that testing students over their limits is cruel and a waste of time and money; who believes class size really does matter; who understands that we need more funding for our schools, less testing, more critical thinking and less KIPP-style militaristic drilling. You just have to laugh sometimes. So Alter is saying that you are an “obstructionist” if you disagree with the corporate takeover of our schools by way of charter schools and expensive and excessive testing? Because you believe that teachers are still a far better conduit than computers and that tests only reflect a minute portion of a child’s learning? Well then, let me say that I am the first one in the road with Dr. Ravitch and hundreds of other educators, parents and informed citizens, saying there is a better way.

Now if Alter, et al ever start talking about using what has worked and developing that, if they start talking about funding education properly and ensuring that all students have a fair chance in school with the support in place that is required for them to succeed, if they even broach the subject of smaller class sizes, then I would not stand in their way but unfortunately these privateers and their pundits have yet to come up with a solution that works. Alter refers to charter schools, merit pay, and high stakes testing as “important progress”. Hmmm.

And all of this ranting by Alter is in response to Dr. Ravitch’ Op-Ed piece in the  New York Times. In the Op-ed, Dr. Ravitch cautions the reader to the fact that test scores do not tell the entire story or even the truth and she gives as an example what occurred during Bloomberg’s time as mayor when he and others pushed for all things ed reform.

To be sure, the hyping of test-score improvements that prove to be fleeting predated the Obama administration.

In 2005, New York’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, held a news conference at Public School 33 in the Bronx to celebrate an astonishing 49-point jump in the proportion of fourth grade students there who met state standards in reading. In 2004, only 34 percent reached proficiency, but in 2005, 83 percent did.

It seemed too good to be true — and it was. A year later, the proportion of fourth-graders at P.S. 33 who passed the state reading test dropped by 41 points. By 2010, the passing rate was 37 percent, nearly the same as before 2005.

In Dr. Ravitch’ final paragraphs she says:

Families are children’s most important educators. Our society must invest in parental education, prenatal care and preschool. Of course, schools must improve; everyone should have a stable, experienced staff, adequate resources and a balanced curriculum including the arts, foreign languages, history and science.

If every child arrived in school well-nourished, healthy and ready to learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income, many of our educational problems would be solved. And that would be a miracle.

What this has to do with communists or MVP players, I’m not sure, but it certainly gets to the heart of what is needed for all children to succeed whether Bloomberg, Alter or anyone else chooses to believe it or not.


Post Script: Diane Ravitch and Jonathan Alter will be debating on air this Wednesday in Colorado. Details to follow.