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Education policy analyst talks reforms in campus visit

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch -

Diane Ravitch, who served as Assistant Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, speaks to crowd at Kane Hall on Thursday night. 

Photo by Anastasia Stepankowsky

Former Assistant Secretary of Education and Education Policy Analyst Diane Ravitch spoke to a packed Kane Hall on Thursday night to discuss her newest book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”

During the talk, Ravitch primarily explored the failures of charter/virtual schools and of reforms such as Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind. The visit was sponsored by the UW College of Education and hosted by Director of Teacher Education Kenneth Zeichner.

Since finishing her tenure as Assistant Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, Ravitch’s views on education policy have changed dramatically. Her new views, specifically regarding the privatization of public schools, are expressed in her new book. Because of her age, 75, Ravitch said this may be her last book so she is not holding back.

“There are a lot of things being said about public education that are simply not true and we have to preserve public education because it is a pillar of our society,” she said. “We are supposedly engaged in an era of school reform, but somehow reform has begun to mean firing teachers, librarians, and shutting down schools. Sometimes it seems the elimination of public education is the goal of reform. But that can’t be the goal.”

Ravitch named the No Child Left Behind Act, a 2002 Act of Congress, as an example of failed reform which she described as a “hoax.” She said the act, which was signed into law by Bush, indeed left many children behind. She also asserted that Race to the Top, part of President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and the common claim “the American school system is failing” are also hoaxes.

Reign of Error seeks to dispel the myth that the American school system is failing.

Zeichner says it’s a very thoughtful, reasoned, and scholarly book.

“She has a major voice in American public education, hopefully people will learn things, and be open to being influenced by her,” Zeichner said. “Public education is so important to the idea of a democratic society, I think these efforts are intended to raise the visibility of these issues. Generally the public is not that informed even though many of them have kids in public schools.”

Another issue in education Ravitch discussed is the new invention of virtual charter schools. Charter schools are an academic model in which the school is funded by the state but run privately. Ravitch said these schools do not benefit the students because they receive little to no interaction with other students or a real teacher, but instead benefit the founders because of their immense profit. There are now 16 virtual charter schools in Pennsylvania, where students pay up to $11,000 for virtual courses.

She also mentioned traditional charter schools, and the process of charterization, which has occurred in New Orleans, where 80 percent of schools are now charter schools. According to Ravitch, approximately two-thirds of the schools are rated D or F.

“They are very low performing schools in a very low performing state, but that’s not what PBS will tell you when they talk of the rebirth of American education,” she said. “They (charter schools) are destroying teaching as a profession,” she said.

Ravitch suggests that rather than continuing with these failing ‘reforms,’ the United States should follow Finland’s education model, wherein only one in 10 applicants are accepted into one of the eight schools of education where they then spend five years studying to become a teacher. After completing school, they are given immediate tenure and placed in unions.

Some of Ravitch’s works are assigned in several courses in the UW College of Education, such as “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” which also delves deep into many of the aforementioned issues in current education.

“We present students with different points of view and perspectives to help them make up their mind about these issues,” Zeichner said. “The opinions she expresses are not available through the mainstream media, who mostly report on the government’s agenda; she is raising questions about that agenda.”

Ravitch concluded by saying that the tide is beginning to turn.

“Teachers, parents, students, we don’t want to go back to the 19th century, we don’t want to go back to the 20th century, we want to build new schools for the 21st century.”

Reach reporter Kate Clark at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @kateclarkuw

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