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

Monday, November 07, 2016

The Alexander-Ravitch Policy Era Grinds On

Valerie Strauss is publishing interviews by oddball and Disruptor Foundation Fellow, C. M. Rubin, who is in the process of interviewing six "potential" candidates for Secretary of Education under the next President Clinton. 

Diane Ravitch's is the most recent interview offered at Valerie's WaPo blog.

Ravitch begins her first response to the first question by labeling our sordid modern history of racist standardized testing the "Bush-Obama policies." Even though the standardized testing ideology has been around for over a hundred years, Diane would have been much more accurate to label the modern-day fixation on testing as the "Alexander-Ravitch policies," as Lamar and Diane provided the foundation upon which Bush II and Obama built their shaky edifices.

After all, it was during the mid-to-late 1980s that Lamar gained national prominence as the nation's first "Education Governor" by instituting some of the first high stakes grade-level tests in Tennessee and by initiating bonus pay for teachers based on evaluations. 

In 1991, Alexander leveraged his bullshit reforms in Tennessee into the Secretary of Education slot under Bush I.  With recommendations from Checker Finn, Lamar hired Diane as his Assistant Secretary in charge of research at ED, even though Ravitch had never even written a doctoral dissertation.  But that did not matter: Diane had attended elite colleges, had never trained as an educator, had never been a teacher, and she marched to drummers at the Hoover Institution.  

In the years leading up to her post at ED, however, Diane had already gained lot high-level experience in using test scores to demonize public schools.  She was part of Washington's inner circle of former Reaganites and corporate enemies of public education who pushed through a set ridiculous cut scores for NAEP in 1992, in order to exaggerate the weaknesses of public schools:
In 1993, the National Academy of Education argued that NAEP’s achievement-setting processes were “fundamentally flawed” and “indefensible.” That same year, the General Accounting Office concluded that “the standard-setting approach was procedurally flawed, and that the interpretations of the resulting NAEP scores were of doubtful validity.” The National Assessment Governing Board, or NAGB, which oversees NAEP, was so incensed by an unfavorable reportRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader it received from Western Michigan University in 1991 that it looked into firing the contractor before hiring other experts to take issue with the university researchers’ conclusions that counseled against releasing NAEP scores without warning about NAEP’s “conceptual and technical shortcomings.”
In addition, NAGB absorbed savage criticism from the National Academy of Sciences, which concluded in 1999 that “NAEP’s current achievement-level-setting procedures remain fundamentally flawed. The judgment tasks are difficult and confusing; raters’ judgments of different item types are internally inconsistent; appropriate validity evidence for the cut scores is lacking; and the process has produced unreasonable results. ... The results are not believable.”
Oh, did I mention that Diane was a member of NAEP's governing board from 1995 to 2004?  Did she help to fix any of the preposterous benchmarks while she was a Board member? No, she did not.
As recently as 2009, the U.S. Department of Education received a report on NAEP from the University of Nebraska’s Buros Institute. This latest document expressed worries about NAEP’s “validity framework” and asked for a “transparent, organized validity framework, beginning with a clear definition of the intended and unintended uses of the NAEP assessment scores. We recommend that NAGB continue to explore achievement-level methodologies.” In short, for the last 20 years, it has been hard to find any expert not on the Education Department’s payroll who will accept the NAEP benchmarks uncritically.
In all of her truth-telling about corporate ed reform since her 2009 reprogramming by Randi Weingarten and Richard Rothstein, has Diane ever admitted that NAEP benchmarks are a joke?  

Nah, in fact she holds up NAEP as the gold standard, and in her interview with Rubin she pretends to advocate, even though her support for ESSA shows otherwise, for a national testing policy that emphasizes tests "only for diagnostic purposes."  With cut scores like NAEP's "diagnostic tests," who needs anything more, right?

The most troubling aspect of the latest Ravitch interview, however, comes when Ms. Rubin asks her what the role of education should be in solving the problems of income inequality.  
Q) What should the role of education be in solving our income inequality problems? 
A) Education is opportunity. For some children, it will be their path out of poverty. For many others, schools are unable to overcome the burdens of poverty. We most certainly have far too much income inequality. 
The best way to solve it would be for government to provide children’s grants so that no child grows up in abject poverty. 
That, plus investing in the rebuilding of our infrastructure so that there are jobs for those who are able and willing to work. As Bob Herbert demonstrated in his book “Losing Our Way,” we need to rebuild our bridges, tunnels, highways, and other parts of our infrastructure. There should be enough work for all.
Education should offer equality of educational opportunity to all children. Schools in every neighborhood, regardless of zip code, should offer an excellent education, including the arts, foreign languages, play, technology, history, literature, the sciences, mathematics, and opportunities to create and make things.
Education is opportunity?  Really, Diane?  Not only does she show a thorough lack of imagination in advocating for what amounts to a child poverty voucher that would would be applied to remove "abject" from the poverty that children struggle in, but she ignores the Coleman research and the half-century of research since on the power of socioeconomic integration.  

Does Diane really believe that a poverty voucher and an enriched curriculum in a high-poverty segregated school is what education can do to address income inequality? Does Diane remember that the Supreme Court agreed unanimously over a half century ago that separate education is inherently unequal? Can she be so out of touch with the research and the social realities on the ground? 

If she does believe this backwards nonsense that she is espousing, then she is truly qualified to be the next Secretary of Education, since that is exactly what Hillary Clinton will be looking for.

But don't count on Ravitch leaving her present position any time soon.  She is much too valuable as a dependable shepherd for the Washington establishment, patiently leading her sheep into a box canyon by talking tough and pretending to advocate against policies that she and Lamar have supported for a long time.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:28 PM

    I have not conducted any research, but I have plenty of anecdotal evidence. As a child, I had Hebrew school, art, piano and swimming lessons. My parents took me to museums, historical sites and plays. They had minimal income, but their focus was on providing educational experiences for their children. Much of my home life revolved around reading and discussing issues of the day. My students have none of the aforementioned extracurricular activities. There is no substitute for wide cultural exposure. Testing children from morning to night is valid and reliable in measuring social class. How many more times must this exercise in futility be performed?

    Abigail Shure