Privatization Will Not Help Us Achieve Our Goals: An Interview with Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is a prominent historian of education, the author of a dozen books including Edspeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords and Jargon (2007), The Language Police (2003) and Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms (2000).  Diane Ravitch

Diane is not a political type, but neither is she afraid of controversy.  In recent years she’s become a lightning rod for controversy.  She has been embroiled in an ongoing battle in the press with Joel Klein, the Chancellor of the New York City public schools, about academic achievement.  Here she takes on both Arne Duncan and NCLB!

The Interview

The Obama Administration and nearly every state have now endorsed national or common standards.  Is this a good thing?  Or is now the time to get worried, the logic being that, when ‘everyone’ is for something, the rest of us should watch out?

I have favored common standards for a long time. When I worked for Bush I in the early 1990s, I helped to launch federally funded projects to develop voluntary national standards in the arts, English, history, geography, civics, economics, science, and other essential school subjects. Some of the projects were successful; others were not. The whole enterprise foundered because a) it was not authorized by Congress, and b) it came to fruition during the transition between two administrations and had no oversight, no process of review and improvement. So, yes, I believe the concept is important.

However, I worry about today’s undertaking, first, because it will focus only on reading and mathematics, nothing else; and second, because I don’t know whether the effort will become a bureaucratic nightmare. But I won’t prejudge the outcome. I will hope for the best, and hope that today’s standardistas learned some lessons from what happened nearly two decades ago.

If we have common standards, are national tests likely to follow?

Not necessarily. If the standards are worthy, then any testing organization should be able to develop test specifications that are aligned with the standards.

On balance, has No Child Left Behind done more harm than good?

I would say, sorrowfully, that NCLB has failed. Continue reading

“I want schools small enough to fail as they learn on the job”: An Interview with Deborah Meier

Deborah MeierDeborah Meier is the founder of the modern small schools movement. After teaching kindergarten in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, Meier founded Central Park East elementary school in 1974.  This alternative but still public school embraced progressive ideals in the tradition of John Dewey in an effort to provide better education for inner-city children in East Harlem, within the New York City public school system.

She then served as founding principal for two other small public elementary schools, Central Park East II and River East, both in East Harlem. In 1984, with the assistance and support of Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools, Meier founded the Central Park East Secondary School. The story of these schools is told in David Bensman’s Central Park East and its Graduates: Learning by Heart (2000), and in Frederick Wiseman’s High School II (1994). In 1987 Meier received a MacArthur ‘genius’ Fellowship for her efforts.

I’ve known her for at least 20 years and have admired her for more. Now 78, Deb is still going strong, as this recent interchange proves.

Continue reading