Thursday, March 11, 2010


A new book by Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System; How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, is very relevant to the present turmoil in Louisiana Education. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who truly believes in making our public schools more effective and relevant to our children’s future. Dr Ravich is a highly respected scholar and a historian of American education.

After serving as Assistant Secretary of Education in the first Bush administration Dr Ravich became a strong proponent of the current Accountability movement with its mandatory testing, school transformation efforts and the encouragement of Charter Schools to replace underperforming traditional schools. However after careful examination of the results of school transformation efforts, she began to change her mind. Finally in 2006, after hearing discouraging reports from other researchers, she “came to the conclusion that No Child Left Behind was a failure”. The following are some of the study findings that turned her into a vocal opponent of NCLB and particularly of the current school privatization movement.

  • Authoritative Studies cited in her book show that none of the restructuring mandates of the No Child Left Behind law have worked to significantly improve instruction.
  • Sanctions utilized in NCLB are resulting in growing privatization of public schools. This trend is contributing to an actual reduction in opportunities for “at risk” students.
  • The obsessive emphasis on state and federal mandated testing in a few subjects is changing teaching into a dull relentless, irrelevant, drilling of students in skills that are not preparing them for real life.
  • The biggest flaw in NCLB is that the law mandates that all students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Using the current definition of “proficient” results in an unrealistic goal that has become “a timetable for the demolition of public education”. (Many educators in Louisiana do not need to read this book to know that 2014 marks a deadline for chaos as our schools are blindly forced to close down, restructure, and privatize into Charter schools)
  • Dr Ravitch documents extensively throughout the book that practically all the reported successes of the school takeover programs and privatization of schools have been greatly exaggerated and distorted or have been outright shams. That includes the fabricaed “gains” in the Chicago schools that have brought fame and fortune to the likes of Arne Duncan and Paul Vallas.
Comment and Opinion:This authoritative book should serve as fair warning to educators and parents in Louisiana that the path we are on right now in Louisiana education will only lead to disaster for our schools and further damage to the future of our students! If you thought that excessive emphasis on testing with resulting demoralization of dedicated teachers and administrators by our present accountability system was bad, get ready for Accountability on Steroids!

That’s what we are about to experience as Louisiana implements the major elements of Supt. Pastorek’s Race to the Top scheme. This new accountability will base school principals’ evaluations almost entirely on students test scores. The object as stated by Pastorek in a conference call with local Superintendents late last year, is to remove and replace “ineffective” principals and teachers based primarily on improvements in test scores.

Some local Superintendents have been lulled into believing that this scheme will be fairer than the old Accountability because it will focus more on “value added” goals rather than equal goals for all schools. It is assumed that it will be easier for low performing schools to raise student scores than those that are already near the top, but my preliminary studies of Accountability results show just the opposite! Schools serving low income “at risk” populations will probably have more difficulty with mandatory “value added” goals than will schools serving more affluent populations.

What about transferring highly effective teachers to the schools that are most in need? Would this not finally provide ‘at risk” students with the formula for success? Dr Ravitich points out that some “experts” have “calculated” that if highly effective teachers were moved to low performing schools that those students could actually catch up within 3 or 4 years! My prediction is that the teachers moved there will soon be reclassified as “less effective” and the teachers moved out (if they are not fired but instead transferred to the affluent schools) will magically become more effective! That’s because the main flaw in the calculation is something experienced educators in Louisiana have long known. The most important factor in the performance of students is their out-of-school environment. If kids do not have proper support and encouragement from parents and the community as a whole, or if their lives are damaged by dysfunctional families and violence, they will continue to under perform.

The more we beat up on teachers and principals instead of supporting them as professionals and providing for real accountability and cooperation of parents and the entire community, the more we will contribute to the damage to our educational system.