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Ravitch Lashes Teacher Bashers

Leading scholar and former NCLB supporter says, ‘I was wrong.’

By Alain Jehlen

A former important cheerleader for No Child Left Behind now says that she, and it, were wrong. Diane Ravitch, a leading education historian who was Assistant Secretary of Education under Pres. George H. W. Bush, says the test-driven accountability strategy of the law “has warped U.S. education in the pursuit of higher test scores, but not better education. Kids, especially in poor neighborhoods, are getting schooling that consists of test prep, test prep, and testing.”


Ravitch traced her turnaround on NCLB to session conservative American Enterprise Institute November, 2006, where after speaker reported that law not improving education. “It was like bolt of lightning,” she said this week at a packed forum sponsored by the same group in Washington.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who was on a panel to comment on her talk, backed her up with several stories from classroom teachers, including one who told him her principal announced all teachers must focus on the “golden band” of students—who had not yet passed the state test but were close enough that they could be pushed over the top.

Ravitch said she spends a lot of time with teachers, “and I’m impressed with how many incredibly smart people are teaching, who have the forbearance to put up with the bologna that’s being shoved on them by their state capitals and by the national government.

“We do them a tremendous injustice by continually disrespecting them, dragging them down, scapegoating them, and saying that everything that’s wrong in our schools is the fault of lousy teachers.”

She said she’s disturbed that the new Obama administration seems to feel the strategy embodied by No Child Left Behind has been proven successful, when actually, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, show little or no improvement.

“I don’t believe the federal government, or Congress, has a clue about how to reform schools. There are too many people with too much power all saying the same things, and almost none of them are educators, but they all know how to fix the schools,” she said.
Ravitch said the federal government should return to the role it used to play making sure the civil rights of students are respected, conducting research, funding efforts to level the playing field for low-income students, and offering aid to students who otherwise couldn’t afford higher education.

“We should stop beating up on teachers,” she said. “We are never going to get better schools by firing teachers.”

Teachers who really don’t know how to teach have to be gotten out of the schools, Ravitch said, “but that whole issue is a red herring—a phony issue.”

A major problem, she said, is poverty. “It has become a mantra among so-called reformers that poverty is an excuse for low performance, [but] we happen to have about 80 years of research that shows poverty hurts children. There will be kids who escape poverty, but there will be more kids who are dragged down because they don’t have enough to eat, they have bad health, their parents don’t have a job, they’re homeless.”

“We also have a lot very dysfunctional families including middle class families and upper middle class families, and then we have a popular culture that has nothing but contempt for learning.

“The Kaiser Family Foundation report says the average child from age eight to 18 spends seven and a half hours daily with a blinking screen. And you’re going to judge the teacher? The teacher is the sole determinant of whether the student learns? This is ridiculous.”

Ravitch tells the story of how she changed her view of education reform in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, which sold out its first printing in four days.


Learn more about NEA's position on Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization