About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, July 12, 2010

#55 - The Death & Life of the Great American School System.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, by Diane Ravitch (New York: Basic Books, 2010)

Summary: "As an education historian and former assistant secretary of education, Ravitch has witnessed the trends in public education over the past 40 years and has herself swung from public-school advocate to market-driven accountability and choice supporter back to public-school advocate. With passion and insight, she analyzes research and draws on interviews with educators, philanthropists, and business executives to question the current direction of reform of public education. In the mid-1990s, the movement to boost educational standards failed on political concerns; next came the emphasis on accountability with its reliance on standardized testing. Now educators are worried that the No Child Left Behind mandate that all students meet proficiency standards by 2014 will result in the dismantling of public schools across the nation. Ravitch analyzes the impact of choice on public schools, attempts to quantify quality teaching, and describes the data wars with advocates for charter and traditional public schools. Ravitch also critiques the continued reliance on a corporate model for school reform and the continued failure of such efforts to emphasize curriculum. Conceding that there is no single solution, Ravitch concludes by advocating for strong educational values and revival of strong neighborhood public schools. For readers on all sides of the school reform debate, this is a very important book." (-Vanessa Bush, Booklist)

Table of Contents:
  1. What I Learned About School Reform
  2. Hijacked! How the Standards Movement Turned Into the Testing Movement
  3. The Transformation of District 2
  4. Lessons from San Diego
  5. The Business Model in New York City
  6. NCLB: Measure and Punish
  7. Choice: The Story of an Idea
  8. The Trouble with Accountability
  9. What Would Mrs. Ratliff Do?
  10. The Billionaire Boys' Club
  11. Lessons Learned
My take: Fascinating read, especially coming from someone with Ravitch's background. In short, she argues that current fads in school reform (specifically, high-stakes testing, teacher accountability, and charter schools) ain't all they're cracked up to be. Testing, she argues, tends to mean emphasizing those subjects on which students are tested (specifically, elementary math and reading), and neglecting the many others on which they aren't (social studies, arts, science, languages, et al.) Even within math and reading, the emphasis is on multiple choice drills, rather than real in-depth critical thinking and problem-solving. Similarly, teacher accountability (i.e., basing teachers' pay or continued employment on students' test scores) rewards those who teach to the test, is difficult to track anyway, and just plain leaves out anyone who teaches subjects or levels that aren't subject to standardized testing. And charter schools, according to Ravitch, are the very antithesis of accountable, spending public money with little public oversight; skimming off the choicest students and thus leaving the public schools poorer; and producing results (i.e., test scores) that, at best, are about equal to the public schools'. Real reform, she suggests, concerns itself less with the method by which students are taught, and more with the content. While Death and Life ... is more a critique than a prescription, she calls for national or at least strong statewide curricula, similar to those currently in place in Massachusetts.

Again, definitely worthwhile for those interested in public education issues.

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