Monday, March 29, 2010

Diane Ravitch on Educational Reform

The Economist interviews educational reformer Diane Ravitch, who was once a big supporter of No Child Left Behind but has now turned against it:

DiA: Regarding No Child Left Behind and charter schools you've written, "I no longer believe that either approach will produce the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for." What will? Or is it unrealistic to hope for a "quantum improvement"?

Ms Ravitch: I believe that we need improvement across the board. We need a larger and more humane vision of what education is, to begin with. It is more than scores on multiple-choice, standardised tests of basic skills. The data we use now to judge "quality" is itself flawed and easily gamed. We need a vision of education that recognises that it consists of not only basic skills, but knowledge of history, geography, civics, the arts, science, foreign languages, and literature. We need better educated teachers, better examinations for incoming teachers, principals who are themselves master teachers, superintendents who have some experience as educators, rather than as businessmen or lawyers or military officers. We need more professionalism, not less. We need curricula that reflect the education we want. We need assessments that gauge understanding, not just guessing skills.

All of this will take time, but less time than has been wasted on NCLB and that will be wasted on Barack Obama's proposals to close thousands of schools with low scores.

DiA: Do you think Barack Obama's proposed changes to No Child Left Behind are adequate?

Ms Ravitch: No. They are too deeply rooted in the flawed assumptions of NCLB. There is no evidence that closing schools, firing principals and teachers will magically produce better schools. There is no evidence that there are 5,000 outstanding principals waiting to be called to lead these schools, or that hundreds of thousands of "great" teachers will leave their jobs to teach in stigmatised schools. This is the same punitive approach embedded in NCLB. It rests on a fundamental belief that schools need incentives and sanctions, a whiplash to improve. It is based on test scores, and it will do nothing to lift education in those schools or in any other schools.

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