Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education under George W. Bush, has come out with a new book explaining that the Bush education agenda was flawed.
Of course, this is one in a long line of such books. Cheney seems to be the only one who thinks everything went just fine.
I read an excerpt the book in a recent American Educator. I was shocked (shocked!) to discover that apparently, making tests the only test for whether education is working is a bad idea. It leads to people teaching only to the test, to cheating, and to students knowing how to fill in bubbles while their little minds are unfilled. It leads to an incomplete understanding of whether a teacher is successful or not.
And under George Bush’s plan, it leads to rich schools getting richer and poor schools getting poorer, as schools are punished for low scores. It leads to putting all of the blame on our low-paid and ill-respected educators when the scores don’t turn out right. It leads to a perpetuation of class stereotypes–rich people are just better and smarter and poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy and stupid–if they all take one test, surely we can see that (never mind that they are starting off on a teeter-totter rather than a level playing field due to the money coming from property taxes rather than fair allocation).
Wow. Who would have thought that No Child Left Behind would have left children behind? Well, any of us who opposed it from the beginning. Ravitch basically says that everyone in the administration was well meaning, that these were honest mistakes. I will buy that they were well meaning. And some of these mistakes might have been innocent. I mean, all of the consequences were totally forseeable, but not everyone is smart enough to actually think things through. I would guess that some people were fine with letting certain children fall behind–because it defended the class and power status quo, because it might have ultimately led to the dissolution of public education, etc.
Ravitch is good when talking about what went wrong; she is less effective in talking through what needs to be fixed.
Here’s what needs to happen. 1. The ideologues need to look at the reality and to see that this policy is flawed. People on both the right and the left need to make sure that Obama doesn’t keep this policy in place.
2. We need to level the damn playing field–all children have a right to equal education. We will all be stronger if we are all literate.
3. We need to think about the mental infrastructure of this nation. If I want a nation of smart, educated, critical thinkers, which I do, I need to be as supportive of mental infrastructure as I am of the other kinds. Our current economic crisis has meant that banks and car companies and airlines have gotten bailouts, even when those companies have been spending and making money willy-nilly. We have invested a lot of stimulus money in public works–even while the schools in my district (including the university for which I work) are struggling, we have tons of crews working on the roads downtown and the down the street.
Why don’t we consider our schools too big to fail? Wouldn’t giving stimulus money to educators to create smaller class sizes be a good idea that would pay off a thousand times? How many teachers could we hire for what one bank CEO makes? How many decent textbooks could we buy, so that each child has access to one (one of my friends knows a teacher who has 25 books total for six classes of 35 students)?
America is all about investment. Why aren’t we investing in our children? Why aren’t we investing in ourselves?