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We welcome Dr. Diane Ravitch to our blog. Dr. Ravitch is a Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor under Education Secretary Lamar Alexander’s leadership in the early 1990s. Her latest book, Reign of Error, is a New York Times bestseller.
1. Tennessee leaders have proposed linking teacher pay to value-added scores. Does this practice hold promise or peril for students and teachers?
Doing this has no basis in research or experience. It has failed wherever it was tried. It causes teaching to the test, which is unprofessional. 70% of teachers do not teach tested subjects, so either the state will spend millions to create new tests for every subject or teachers will be evaluated by the scores of students they never taught. Teachers in affluent districts will get high ratings. Teachers of English learners, of students with disabilities, of the gifted will get low ratings. This methodology doesn’t work. It appeals because it is simplistic. But it is ineffective at identifying the best and worst teachers. It shows who you taught.
2. Some legislators are proposing a voucher system for Tennessee students. What has been learned about the effectiveness and impact of voucher systems in other areas?
Vouchers have failed wherever they were tried. Milwaukee has had vouchers since 1990. Voucher students get the same scores as students in public schools. Meanwhile, on federal tests, Milwaukee is one of the lowest performing cities in the nation. Why should taxpayers pay for children to attend religious schools? Voters have never approved vouchers, not in any state. They were decisively rejected last fall by the voters of Florida.
3. Tennessee consistently ranks near the bottom of all states on tests like NAEP and ACT. What’s the best way for policy makers to change this?
Read my latest book. Early childhood education works. Health clinics for every school work. The arts raises student motivation to attend school. After school programs and summer programs work. Raising standards for entering teachers works. Set high standards for all educators, including the state commissioner, who has never been a principal or a superintendent and lacks the qualifications to be state commissioner.
4. Typically, state departments of education employ people with a variety of backgrounds; some have teaching experience, but others come from academic and policy backgrounds. What is your take on having many Teach for America corps members moving into state policy positions?
Teach for America demeans the teaching profession by perpetrating the myth that teachers are qualified with only five weeks of training. Who would go to a doctor or lawyer with only five weeks training? Or fly in a jet whose pilot had five weeks training? TFA is destroying professionalism.
5. You are a frequent critic of Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. What are the good and bad things that Commissioner Huffman has done since taking the job?
He gives the erroneous impression that a state commissioner need have no administrative experience. He lacks the basic qualifications for the job. He has punished the city of Nashville’s children by withholding $3.4 million, punishing the board for not granting a charter that he favored. He does not respect local control. He pushes privatization through charters and vouchers. He has no ideas that are constructive for public education, which is an essential democratic institution. He has demoralized teachers. If I think of something good he has done, I will let you know.
6. It’s perhaps not-so-common knowledge that legendary union leader Albert Shanker was an early fan of the charter school concept, though his vision was of teacher-run schools authorized by a school district, in contrast to most modern charter schools. What was it that Shanker liked about the concept, and are there kernels of practice and/or organization that you like in the charter universe?
Shanker advocated for charters that sought out the weakest students, not the best ones. He thought that charters should be approved by their union and their local district.
Whatever they learned about how to help dropouts would be shared with the public schools.
This is a very different vision from charters today, which boast of their high scores, and often push out the weakest students who might pull down their scores.
7. The recession starting in 2008 hit states and local governments hard, and continuing debates in Washington leading to stalemated battles certainly don’t help the funding situation for districts and schools. Putting aside the argument of whether states and local governments have funded schools, anti-poverty campaigns, healthcare, etc. sufficiently, what strategies do you find most promising that don’t require new funding? Are there such strategies?
Better schools require adequate funding.
8. The education debate has lately taken an outsized role in public discourse, and includes many efforts, on both sides, to use coordinated messaging, public relations efforts, and branding efforts. The “Reform” movement, writ large, has an easily-recited list of policies associated with it, including vouchers, charter schools, pay-for-performance, teacher evaluations using student testing data, and ending seniority rules. For those on the opposite side, what are the list of marquee policies to point to? What’s the alternative policy agenda?
Read my book. A thriving public school system that meets the needs of children. No privatization. No high-stakes testing. Money for arts and reduced class size, not for consultants, corporations and the testing industry.
9. In a recent interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, you talked about how our education system is actually a lot better than people make it out to be. Can you explain your views on this topic?
Read my book.
Test scores for whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians are at their highest point in history.
Graduation rates at their highest point in history.
Dropout rates at lowest point in history.
These are 40-year trends.
Where scores are low, there is poverty and racial segregation.
None of the “reformer” ideas address the Root causes of low academic performance.
10. You have recently released a book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Can you tell us why you wrote this book? How is it different than your previous book?
I explain in the book. One, to give realistic solutions that would improve schools and society. Two, to demonstrate using graphs from the US Dept of Education website that the reformy claims of failure are untrue. Our American public schools do a great job, but they cannot overcome poverty without changes in our social and economic structures.
For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow us @TNEdReport.