This afternoon, Diane Ravitch spoke to a packed auditorium in Gaige Hall at Rhode Island College. What a breath of fresh air! I’ve come to appreciate Diane Ravitch as a genuine education researcher who honestly believes in what is best for education—and not, as some have cast her, as a conservative-turned-liberal/left critic of school reform. I actually think she’s looked at things from a fairly consistent education perspective—and not in a way that denies the importance or role of politics. And she can actually appreciate (I’ve used that word way too much today) and understand the transformations of her own thought, based on where she’s been and who she’s been working for at any given time. Hers is now the most important public voice on our side, and in large part because she thinks independently—independently of both political parties, and independently of teacher union leaders and their bureaucratic mindset. What follows are some of the notes and quotes I took from today.
On the debate over education reform: “There is no debate—we only hear one side.”
She calls the movement the “corporate reform movement”: “It’s not about improving education, but about taking power.”
“What started here in Rhode Island has exploded into a full-scale national assault on teachers.”
“Good leaders don’t boast. Only bullies boast.”
“Student tests test students—they are not measures of teacher quality.”
Quoting a Finnish education official: “In the Finnish language we don’t have a word for ‘accountability’.”
She discussed a bit, in this connection, the PISA, the international standardized test that is the main measure used to compare educational achievement in different countries. Obama in his State of the Union Address bemoaned the US’s position in the middle of the list; but, it turns out, the US started dead last when the test first came out in the 1960s, and rose only slowly to the mid-point. She also ridiculed Obama’s assertion that we were at this generation’s “Sputnik moment”—she said, roughly, that her generation’s Sputnik moment was in 1957, when the USSR sent up the Sputnik satellite. At the time, the hype was all about revamping the education system so that the US could compete militarily. “But the Soviet Union’s gone—they had great test scores, by the way.”
Quoting Linda Darling-Hammond: “We can’t fire our way to Finland.”
“Resources don’t matter if you have them.”
“The teacher evaluation issue is a red herring.”
And lastly, she was asked who she might vote for in 2012. The question was a bit unfair, and started with “your conservative credentials”, an assertion she first took issue with and corrected. She responded, briefly, that she didn’t know who she would vote for yet—she’s an independent. She’d probably vote for Obama, like many in the audience, but she was very angry with him for what he’s actually done to education. And, she’d like to see the teachers’ unions, his base, take him to task. She encouraged people to write paper letters and to deluge him and other politicians with said letters. I thought this was most interesting—the political approach of someone who knows what’s right in education, who thinks about it independently of the political parties, but who does not see an alternative to them (because there currently isn’t one on offer). It strikes me that this is precisely why we need to build not just a movement for public education, but more broadly, a political alternative to the two parties that pushes back against the corporate invasion of every sphere of life. I hope we can fight off these attacks now; I believe that we won’t be fully successful in so doing until we have broad political organization of our own, large and deep enough to be able to challenge the two parties at the ballot (where we won’t win) and on the picket line (where we will win).
Diane Ravitch, thank you.