“The Chicago teachers strike was incredibly historic. They were not striking for money. They were not striking over of the length of the school day. They were striking for (better) teaching and learning conditions.” – Diane Ravitch, USA
In her 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education, Diane Ravitch lays out her disillusionment with charter schools and No Child Left Behind, approaches to education she originally supported. Ravitch, a Professor of Education and a former Assistant Secretary of Education, spent seven years on the national education testing board, and she’s convinced that high-stakes testing isn’t working. Ravitch says, “We have to de-emphasize high-stakes testing. Our schools have become far too obsessed with statistics and data and they’re forgetting that these are children and that every single one of them is precious and unique.”
Why are current reform efforts failing? According to Ravitch, the people behind them simply aren’t paying attention to the evidence. “Today’s reform movement is totally indifferent to evidence,” Ravitch says, noting that high-stakes testing, pay-for-performance and the growing charter school movement are not only failing to deliver results; they’re effectively creating a more unequal society. More important to reform efforts, Ravitch says, is ensuring that our policy-makers work to create real economic opportunities for young people. “High expectations alone are not enough,” Ravitch says. “We need to do something to improve the lives of children.”
In today’s Daily Edventure, Ravitch and I discuss her views on issues as wide-ranging as the recent Chicago teachers strike, the downside of online classes and her fear that the charter school movement is creating a dual school system society – one for the haves, and one for the have-nots. Ravitch makes compelling arguments for her views and demonstrates great passion for improving the lives of students and the prospects of teachers. I hope you find her as fascinating an interview as I did.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
I make people think. I insist on evidence.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
There is now a large pushback to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top coming from parents and teachers and principals and school board members and all others concerned about the future of public schools in the U.S.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
Demand evidence. Recognize the democratic purposes of schooling in creating citizens, not future workers.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I work at my computer about 15 hours a day.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Bad federal policies.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
Nothing. Our policies of testing and choice are harmful to children and teachers and the quality of education.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
We need to elect wise leaders as President and governors and legislators who care deeply about education.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Stop all high-stakes testing and concentrate on meeting the needs of each child.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Believe that you will make a difference. Be there when the bad ideas fail. Be there to take care of the kids.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
Positive: The stubborn belief of teachers in their students, which protects the students. The current emphasis on testing, metrics, turning everyone into a data point harms education and children.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
A free computer with Internet access so he or she would be able to continue their education with or without schools.
About Diane Ravitch, Historian of Education
Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She shares a blog called Bridging Differences with Deborah Meier, hosted by Education Week. She also blogs at dianeravitch.net and for Politico.com/arena and the Huffington Post. Her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines.
From 1991 to 1993, she was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. She was responsible for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education. As Assistant Secretary, she led the federal effort to promote the
creation of voluntary state and national academic standards.
From 1997 to 2004, she was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program. She was appointed by the Clinton administration’s Secretary of Education Richard Riley in 1997 and reappointed by him in 2001. From 1995 until 2005, she held the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution and edited Brookings
Papers on Education Policy. Before entering government service, she was Adjunct Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Ravitch is the author of:
- The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010)
- Edspeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon (2007)
- The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (2003)
- Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform (2000)
- National Standards in American Education: A Citizen’s Guide (1995)
- What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? (with Chester Finn, Jr.) 
- The Schools We Deserve (1985)
- The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945–1980 (1983)
- The Revisionists Revised (1978)
- The Great School Wars: New York City, 1805–1973 (1974)
- Birthplace: Houston, Texas
- Current residence: Brooklyn, New York
- Education: Houston public schools; Wellesley College, B.A.; Columbia University, Ph.D.
- Website I check every day: Dozens
- Person who inspires me most: Matthew Arnold
- Favorite childhood memory: Going to school
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Chicago (work)
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laughed when my cat woke me this morning and fell off the bed.
- Favorite music: Bing Crosby; Doris Day; standards
- Your favorite quote or motto:
My candle burns at both ends,
It will not last the night,
But ah, my friends, and ah my foes,
It casts a lovely light.