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Ravitch: Turnaround is a national failure

By Helen Gym on Feb 10, 2011 01:26 PM

Turnaround is a failed measure that’s led to instability in schools and “massive demoralization” among teachers and school officials, said New York University professor and author Diane Ravitch Monday night in New York City.

Ravitch was the featured speaker along with a dynamic panel of parent activists from across the country in an event sponsored by Parents Across America to launch a new national network of parent leaders.

Ravitch, who has risen to significant prominence in the last year in the wake of her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, remained a sharp critic of current education reform fads, including turnaround, which is a major focus of the Ackerman administration.

She said policies thrust onto urban education - including privatization, school turnaround, standardized testing, and test-based merit pay for teachers - are unproven, while choice for parents is an "illusion."

With their deep pockets, “venture philanthropists” like Microsoft founder Bill Gates and billionaire Eli Broad have driven "corporate reform," she said, creating a “perfect storm” that has resulted in the slashing of education budgets nationwide, the narrowing of curriculum, elimination of enrichment activities and social supports, and, ultimately, privatization or school closure.

“Literally, it’s insane,” Ravitch said.

Ravitch emphasized that such misguided efforts have eaten up billions of dollars in funding and wasted precious resources and time chasing after elusive gains in test scores. She noted that test scores deeply misrepresent what’s happening in schools and with students. For example, while typically unreliable state test scores have increased, more consistent national testing shows much smaller gains for students. A third of U.S. schools don’t make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), a number which will surely rise over time, according to Ravitch.

“They have confused testing with education,” Ravitch said. “To them your child is a datapoint on a graph ... We are in the midst of an education frenzy [which] is not based on education or research. [The emphasis on] testing and accountability has corrupted the test and cheapens education.”

Ravitch wasted no time in saying that the notion of restructuring schools through turnaround is “totally unproven” and has made “no difference” in schools other than “massive demoralization of teachers.”

Good schools require stability; therefore introducing instability makes no sense, Ravitch said.

She cited Chicago’s Renaissance 2010, initiated by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan when he was in Chicago. Renaissance 2010 created massive disruption and upheaval without producing academic gains or better choices for displaced students and families, she said. The greatest knowledge gained has been that failing schools have a direct correlation with the number of low-performing students in them, Ravitch added.

The schools’ solution?

“Get rid of the low-performing students,” Ravitch said, noting that many low-performing students were pushed out of schools and became lost in the system.

Ravitch minced no words in declaring vouchers and merit pay as failures, pointing  out that Milwaukee’s 20-year voucher experiment has shown no measurable differences in academic gains among the city’s public, charter, and voucher students, with negative impacts on African American students in particular. We are pouring money into a “failed strategy” while at the same time, cutting public education, Ravitch said.

Merit pay for teachers is the latest fad, she said, one in which the federal government and others have poured a billion dollars in the last year despite the fact that recent studies have shown merit pay has little if any impact on school performance.

“Merit pay has never worked,” Ravitch declared. “Good schools depend on collaboration ... not on people competing with one another.”

Ravitch said the result of these failed reforms is “massive demoralization” among the teaching force at a time when only 50 percent of teachers stay in the profession. Instead the “corporate reformers” are relying on the deprofessionalization of the industry, relying on “eager amateurs” through programs like Teach for America that provide non-educators with short-term teaching stints.

At the end of this process is the closing of schools, a policy she criticized for "destroying the social capital" in poor communities that serve large numbers of high needs students.

“No school was ever improved by closing it,” she said, adding that waves of school closings reflect the failure of federal, state, and district leadership to provide schools with the necessary support and resources.

Ravitch called upon the audience of parents and education advocates to fight for “what works:" quality education programs, class size limitations, investments in teacher development, and an organized and active parent base.

“Parents are the sleeping giants in this debate,” Ravitch said. “If the sleeping giant awakens, you can take back American public education.”

A follow-up panel featured parent activists from New Orleans, Seattle, Chicago, New York City, and San Francisco, who shared stories about educational struggles across the nation. New Orleans parent Karran Harper Royal, who made news recently when she confronted former Philadelphia CEO Paul Vallas, wrote about the mythology of choice in a school system which has been largely converted to charters.

Sue Peters, a parent and writer from Seattle, denounced the role of the Broad and Gates Foundations in bribing districts to accept their superintendents and high-level personnel and eventually adopt a nationally homogeneous model of "corporate" education reform. Former Philadelphia CEO Vallas and former interim CEO Tom Brady were Broad Fellows. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman lectures at the Broad Foundation Academy and has sponsored Broad fellows in her current administration.

“As parents, we need to ask why do Eli Broad and Bill Gates have more say about what goes on in my child’s classroom than I do?” Peters said.

Parents Across America is a new grassroots organization advocating for a national agenda around positive and progressive educational reforms. PAA advocates for strengthening public schools rather than closing them, providing smaller classes and a well-rounded curriculum, and increasing parent involvement. They oppose the nationwide move toward policies that favor privatization and punitive test-based accountability. 

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Comments (18)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 10, 2011 4:56 pm

**standing ovation**

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 10, 2011 5:13 pm

Does Parents Across America support equity of access for ALL students to current and adequate school library resources with a certified school librarian? Exemplary school library resources and programming managed by a certified school librarian are vitally integral to a well-rounded education, especially for low-income students.

Submitted by Anonymous teacher (not verified) on February 10, 2011 6:11 pm

Hooray hooray for Diane Ravitch! And to anyone who hasn't read her book, I recommend it. We have completely lost our way with all the testing, drilling, and the reduction of education to rote processes. I hope that the American public wakes up before the know-nothing corporate privatizers take over the whole system of public education.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on February 12, 2011 2:06 pm

Let's make a movie from this one - just to compete with Waiting for Superman. This one at least makes sense.

Submitted by lovetoteach (not verified) on February 10, 2011 8:57 pm

Kudos to Diane Ravitch!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 11, 2011 9:18 am

Why not do to public education what has been done to private health care?

Why not allow the market to simply ration some out with higher prices?

Let the miracle happen to public education.

You will NEVER hear this from the privatizers.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 11, 2011 10:19 am

What can the public do to support these changes? Write to our Senators? Say what? I want to do something to make change happen other than continue to be informed about the atrocities that are taking over our public school system. What can I do? What should we do to make a difference?

Submitted by sjmmuh (not verified) on February 11, 2011 3:46 pm

Surely Diane Ravitch is on the payroll of the teacher's union. Always opposed to change and clinging to the failed policies of the past in order to protect teachers who can't teach, don't care and don't want to work. Last in, first to go is over. Let teachers prove they can teach or get fired. Certainly Diane has tenure whether she deserves it or not. Go Christie!!!, maybe he can run Philly schools as well?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 11, 2011 5:15 pm

Surely, you haven't checked the coffers of the unions. D. Ravitch is NOT in their pocketbooks. You may want to read her book and truly listen to what she has to say.
She is only stating the facts: testing is not helping the children, the teachers, nor the schools. Ask ANY teacher..... there is more to teaching a child than test scores!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 12, 2011 9:45 am

Perhaps you would like to walk in the shoes of a teacher before you go saying how easy it is. Once you start working with students that don't speak English well, come from families that don't care about education, or are overwhelmed with just being able to pay for tomorrow's meals, we'll see how effective you'll be. Then we'll have to say, guess you were the last in and the first to go!

Submitted by youngphillyteacher (not verified) on February 12, 2011 2:05 pm

You are either completely ignorant or intentionally misrepresenting the situation. Anyone who taught one day at an urban school knows how demanding the job it is, and how hard ALL teachers work day in and day out. Your provocative comments are insulting.

Submitted by Meg (not verified) on February 12, 2011 2:40 pm

I would LOVe to prove I can teach - I have for over 20 years, but when my hands are tied into scripted progams and the kids placed in these wrong - How do I prove anything? I will happliy teach Johnny to read - Leave me alone to do this and keep my class size down to around 20. Shove my class into Imagine It!, insist I stick to the word for word script and add 10 more kids to the mix and no one will learn anything.

Submitted by lovetoteach (not verified) on February 13, 2011 12:36 pm

Christie is not doing anything to reform education; he is simply trying to balance the budget in New Jersey that has been out of whack for years.
Educate yourself about Diane Ravitch before you make blanket statements without supporting evidence. It's what I TEACH the students in my English class everyday.

Submitted by musichudson (not verified) on February 21, 2011 9:54 am

sjmmuh submitted an idiotic response. To understand education in the public schools, one must spend a few days assisting teachers. Castigating teachers, Ravitch on the union's payroll, failed policies of the past, tenure, etc., etc., simply shows ignorance of the realities of the current problems. Christie? He also has taken an idiotic approach by scapegoating the very people that must be given much more support. Any reasonable person would be much more aware before making stupid comments.

Submitted by Angela Chan on February 12, 2011 11:00 am

Here's a link to a video of this event.

Submitted by Helen Gym on February 12, 2011 5:41 pm

Thanks for linking Angela!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 17, 2011 1:17 am

Ravitch hits the nail on the head -- so well put and thank you Helen for writing this article. Is the answer to the question "what to do"? -- to get involved with Parents Across America and TAG (I think that's the name of the other organization)?

Submitted by krav maga melbourne (not verified) on April 23, 2011 1:40 am

I work out of town and my shift is 10 days on and 4 days off. They are asking me right now to work through my turnaround and I really don't want to, as well as the fact that I have things I absolutely need to do and plans I have to follow through with. I want to know if they can legally fire me just because I have declined working through my days off? If there is any information you can give me it would be greatly appreciated.

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