The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch

2012 – More On Finland, Bashing Obama, and What’s Wrong With TFA

  • Thanks to Obama’s Race to the Top, states were pushed to adopt the Common Core Standards largely funded by the Gates Foundation. They were also forced to evaluate teachers based on student test results even though most testing experts acknowledge that this idea is seriously flawed. States had to come up with a way to test students beyond grades three and eight. Independent evaluators were required as the politicians didn’t trust the principals. While Obama said that teachers shouldn’t teach to the test, his policies made sure that teachers did just that. For these reasons Ravitch gives Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary, failing grades on all counts.
  • Now we look at the focus of the reformers on using teacher evaluations as the primary ingredient of school reform. Even though standardized tests are prone to measurement error, sampling error, and other statistical errors, the reformers seem unaware of the bad things they have caused.
  • Ironically, Finland took many of its reform ideas from Americans like John Dewey. Their focus was on improving the teaching force by being selective and requiring a masters degree and a full year of internship. They do not hold students back or label them as failing. Teachers train to teach all kinds of students. They are given a great deal of autonomy regarding how to teach and how to test their students.
  • Finland stands outside the “Global Education Reform Movement” (GERM) adopted by the US and others. This model sees students as products and teachers as compliant workers. All schools in Finland are public and all teachers and principals are in the same union. The reformers in the US are a cabal of corporate-friendly Democrats, right-wing Republicans, Tea Party governors, Wall Street executives, and major foundations. As a result, experienced teachers are fleeing American public schools. The modal years of experience for teachers is one and standards for new teachers are low.
  • In 1989 Wendy Kopp proposed Teach for America. This program takes new graduates who commit to teach in distressed urban and rural school for two years and gives them . They claim their young teachers are better. There is no evidence for this and no reason to believe that a profession of three million will be transformed by a few thousand college grads.
  • The attack on public school teachers by reformers has been echoed by the media. As a as result, the public at large sees the schools as failing. They complain about the gaps between poor students and their wealthier peers, while such gaps exist in every other nation that sports this type of inequality. The idea that charters and private school vouchers can fix things is at the heart of the reform movement, but this has not been the case.
  • 19th Century Skills: With all the talk of 21at century skills, Ravitch points out that many of the skills we all need are not new. They include love of learning, persistence, curiosity, imagination, optimism, communication skills, initiative, courage, self-discipline, respect for others, and self-respect.
  • Obama’s reform policy started in Chicago with his former aide Rahm Emanuel and Rahm’s education boss Arne Duncan, a non-educator who would become Obama’s secretary of education. It’s clear after many years the focus on testing and charter schools has been a failure in Chicago.
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