Listen: In Louisville, Education Instigator Diane Ravitch Shares Concerns About School Reforms

She’s against high-stakes testing, big business in schools, and doubts charters are the answer to improving public education. But Diane Ravitch, a New York University research professor who has become an influence voice in U.S. education, didn’t always feel this way.

“It’s very difficult once you become embedded in a point of view to step back from it,” Ravitch said Wednesday. “And I found that to be true because all your social networks tend to agree with you.”

Ravitch spoke at WFPL studios Wednesday morning to an audience that included people who agreed and disagreed with her beliefs on how to improve public education. Ravitch won the 2014 Grawemeyer Award for Education from the University of Louisville for her book, “The Life and Death of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.”

She explains how she worked on reforms for the U.S. Department of Education under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, but changed her mind on the policies she supported then.

She now says those policies now hurting students, teachers, and schools.

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Does she thinks our understanding of the way children learn has changed?

“I think what we understand is that there is no single understanding, that children are very different, and what we’re trying to do today is to create standardization and it doesn’t work,” Ravitch told the audience in WFPL’s studio.

“That children are so different and I hear this from teachers all the time and I know this from my own experience, that the sophistication about learning is to recognize that you have to be, as a teacher, flexible enough to respond to the children in front of you, which is why when you get non educators making policy, they don’t understand that.”

Ravtich also said the Common Core Standards, which Kentucky and a majority of states have adopted, will not answer public education’s single biggest problem, the “vast inequality in our society.”

“The standards will not change that. Where they could be helpful to teachers is, if there’s a common guideline I think that’s a good thing,” she said. Ravitch argues that many of the standards are developmentally inappropriate for younger kids, and many non-educators were involved in the independent group that created the Common Core.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday will also consider revisions to the standards, which he said isn’t a response to backlash the Common Core has seen elsewhere.

Ravitch also dismisses the idea of using standardized test scores to measure teachers’ performance. But the Kentucky Board of Education just adopted a new teacher evaluation system that will use test scores to consider student growth among students who perform similarly. The Professional Growth and Effectiveness System also uses many other indicators such as observations, student surveys and personal growth plans to measure teachers. 

But when asked about the accountability that test scores provide for public education, Ravitch said other accountability models that don’t use test scores exist.

“I think about a program that has been tried very successfully now for 25 years in New York City where a group of high schools got an exemption from the state test,” Ravitch said. “It was 1995 or so. And they said we think we will get better results if we rely not on the state’s standardized test but on our own performance assessments. It’s called the New York Performance Assessments Consortium.

“So, there are 25 high schools that have had generation after generation of young people, they mirror the proportion of students with disabilities and English learners that are in the public schools. Their kids tend to graduate at a higher rate. They go to college at a higher rate. They persist in college at a higher rate and it’s been a big success.” 

Ravitch will speak again at 5 p.m. Wednesday at UofL’s University Club Ballroom Wednesday.

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama host middays for WFPL and reports on education and other Louisville issues.

@DevinWFPL

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