Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Diane Ravitch on Disruption’s Educational Carnage

No Child Left Behind was a disaster and school choice has failed. A new book points the way forward from the wreckage.
 January 29, 2020

Photo: Jack Miller

It’s been 10 years since education historian and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch became the school choice movement’s most vocal apostate by detailing its fallacies in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System.
Her tale of how a onetime charter school true believer from within the corporate-reform think-tank establishment could no longer ignore the contrary evidence of her own eyes came as a wake-up call. It gave authoritative voice to the anger and frustration of the over 3 million public school classroom teachers whose hands had been tied by the country’s destructive disinvestment in its children. And it contained Ravitch’s own vow to devote the rest of her life to trying to make up for her error.
That mea culpa thrust the New York University research professor into the center of the national public education debate and elevated her to a role as a revered leader of the groundswell of political resistance that followed. With 2013’s Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, she further documented the failure of charters and the carnage wreaked by high-stakes testing, while inventorying evidence-supported and cost-effective reforms that had been sidetracked by the school-privatization movement.
Now, Ravitch completes the arc with Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools, which was published last week.
The completed trilogy bears all the Ravitch signatures: her mastery of the rapier epithet and incisive metaphor; her lucid and authoritative marshaling of the evidence; and, most of all, the page-turning, first-person power of her own dramatic conversion that formed the heart of Death and Life.
Slaying Goliath charges that, after 20 years of having wholly hijacked education reform with destructive high-stakes testing and standardized test scores, and by demonizing teachers, the school choice movement — whose members Ravitch pejoratively redubs “the Disrupters” — has not only failed at reform, it has awakened a sleeping giant. Ravitch identifies and deconstructs the aims and the rhetoric of the Disrupters, along with their manifold scandal-tainted failures. But Slaying Goliath is primarily the story of the anti-privatization resistance and its culmination in the 2018-19 Red for Ed teachers’ strikes, and in this year’s 12-person field of 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidates, of whom only one (neoliberal billionaire Michael Bloomberg) is running as a charter school booster.
Capital & Main spoke to Ravitch by phone as she prepared for a cross-country book promotion tour that will bring her to California with a stop in Menlo Park on February 6 and in Los Angeles February 9.

Capital & Main: Why Slaying Goliath, why now?
Diane Ravitch: I started writing the book in February of 2018, inspired by the West Virginia teachers’ strike. West Virginia changed the national narrative, which was a huge accomplishment, because we’ve had at least 20 years of teacher-bashing, and public school bashing and appeals funded by billionaires for privatization, making outlandish promises about how if the schools were in private hands, they would accomplish X, Y and Z. And it took time to figure out that they hadn’t fulfilled any of their promises.
No Child Left Behind has required that we would have 100 percent [grade level] proficiency [in reading and math], and nobody made that goal. The things funded by Bill Gates and Eli Broad and all the other [billionaire charter promoters] had made outlandish claims about closing the achievement gap. And as I point out in the book, it’s literally impossible to close the achievement gap because if you’re using the standardized test as your measure, the gap is structured into it. So that’s really the focus, which is to say this behemoth, this Goliath, has not succeeded. And I boldly predict that the resistance will ultimately prevail because the billionaires have nothing to offer but disruption, and disruption is very bad for children.

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