"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, March 05, 2010

Ravitch On NCLB Corruption, Charters, and the Billionaire Boys' Club

My favorite parts of Ravitch's interview with Democracy Now:

JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the things that you’ve pointed out many times is that the entire testing system of the country right now is rife with corruption and with fraud—


JUAN GONZALEZ: —because you basically have every state deciding its own test standards, and they keep reporting that their kids are doing better. But then every time the national government does a national assessment test, these same states are not improving.

DIANE RAVITCH: Well, this is the great legacy of No Child Left Behind, is that it has left us with a system of institutionalized fraud. And the institutionalized fraud is that No Child Left Behind has mandated that every child is going to be proficient by the year 2014. Except they’re not, because no state and no nation has ever had 100 percent of the children proficient. Kids have all kinds of problems. And whether it’s poverty or a million things, there’s no such thing as 100 percent proficiency.

But every year we get closer to 2014, the bar goes up, and the states are told, “If you don’t reach that bar, you’re going to be punished. Schools will be closed. They’ll be turned into charter schools.” That’s part of the federal mandate, is that schools will be privatized if they can’t meet that impossible goal. So in order to preserve some semblance of public education, the states have been encouraged to lie, and many of them are lying, and so we see states that are saying, “90 percent of our kids are proficient in reading,” and then when the national test comes out, it’s 25 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: Diane Ravitch, we said at the top of this segment that the Department of Education announced sixteen finalists for its first round of the “Race to the Top” competition. They’re going to deliver something like $4.35 billion in school reform grants. And the Washington Post is reporting almost all of these finalists got money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In your book, chapter ten is called “The Billionaire Boys Club.” Explain.

DIANE RAVITCH: “The Billionaires Boys Club” is a discussion of how we’re in a new era of the foundations and their relation to education. We have never in the history of the United States had foundations with the wealth of the Gates Foundation and some of the other billionaire foundations—the Walton Family Foundation, The Broad Foundation. And these three foundations—Gates, Broad and Walton—are committed now to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores. And that’s now the policy of the US Department of Education. We have never seen anything like this, where foundations had the ambition to direct national educational policy, and in fact are succeeding.

The Obama administration appointed somebody from the NewSchools Venture Fund to run this so-called “Race to the Top.” The NewSchools Venture Fund exists to promote charter schools. So, what we’re seeing with the proliferation—with this demand from the federal government, if you want to be part of this $4 billion fund, you better be prepared to create lots more charter schools. Well, it’s all predetermined by who the personnel is. And, you know, so we see this immense influence of the foundations.

And I think that with the proliferation of charter schools, the bottom-line issue is the survival of public education, because we’re going to see many, many more privatized schools and no transparency as to who’s running them, where the money is going, and everything being determined by test scores.

So the whole picture, I think—I just wish that people wouldn’t refer to this as reform, because when we talk about “Race to the Top,” we’re talking about a principle that is antithetical to the fundamental idea of American education. The fundamental idea, which has been enshrined at least since the Brown decision of 1954, was equal educational opportunity. “Race to the Top” is not equal educational opportunity. It is a race in which one or two or three states race to the top to have more privatized schools, more test-based accountability, more basic skills, no emphasis on a broad curriculum for all kids, and no equal educational opportunity. I think that’s wrong. I think it’s also not the role of the federal government to do what’s being done and to call it reform.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Diane Ravitch. This is part one of our conversation. Diane Ravitch is professor of education at NYU, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her book is called The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. And she didn’t always feel that way.

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