Ravitch critiques education reform

April 15, 2010, 1:00 a.m.

Diane Ravitch, the former assistant U.S. Secretary of Education and onetime supporter of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), spoke candidly on Wednesday about her change of heart concerning the education policy of former President George W. Bush and charter schools in a question-and-answer session with Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor in Stanford’s School of Education.

Ravitch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and former assistant Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush, had strong words for the Obama Administration and its “Race to the Top” fund, as well as glowing praise for teachers around the country.

“No Child Left Behind has failed<\p>.<\p>.<\p>.<\p>it has become a philosophy of ‘measure and punish,’” Ravitch said. She said proponents of NCLB are “destroying education and calling it reform.”

Ravitch focused on moving the dialogue in education reform away from “measure and punish” and toward helping schools and teachers deal with difficult problems. She discouraged policymakers from seeking blanket solutions to define and address failing schools and offered an analogy: “NCLB is like promising to keep cities crime free and then firing police officers in cities that don’t meet this impossible goal.”

Once a steadfast supporter of standards, she now believes that “high stakes testing has encouraged teachers to teach to the test and states to cheat the federal government.” Ravitch said standards are important but that “the language of education should be a language of education, not punishment.”

On charter schools, Ravitch urged teachers in charter schools to return to “serving children with the greatest need” instead of playing into the “game” of high-stakes testing.

Linda Darling-Hammond, an advisor to President Obama in the 2008 election, asked Ravitch what she would say to the president if she had five minutes. Ravitch responded by saying the federal government should “remove NCLB sanctions that are encouraged by the ‘Race to the Top’ fund” and “pay for special education mandates” to remove burdens from public schools.

Although sometimes a controversial figure in education policy debates, Ravitch broke her speech several times to receive overwhelming applause. In a brief interview with The Daily afterward, she described the question-and-answer session as a “two way exchange of electricity.”

Mark Kushner, a lecturer in the School of Education, offered slight criticism. “Her presentation was lacking empirical evidence, which may be present in her book, to back up some of her claims about charter schools,” he said.

Jenna Queenan ’11, who attended the lecture, found the presentation very informative.

“It was nice to hear a substantive talk about ideas I agree with, but which aren’t normally in the mainstream,” she said.

Ravitch ended her remarks with one request: “If you have the chance, thank a teacher,” she told the audience.

The lecture was put on by Stanford’s School of Education Spring Cubberley Lecture series.

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