The Wisdom and Wit of Diane Ravitch

2017 – Trump, DeVos, and Mostly More of the Same

  • Democrats have lost their way when it comes to education. Thanks to donations from rich people many support testing and charter schools. Obama even made testing more onerous by using them to evaluate teachers. With president Trump and his education secretary, you get more of the same except that they also want vouchers that can send public funds to private schools. In these pages, Ravitch reveals a lot of pro-left political bias and even engages in some over the top Trump bashing.
  • She then takes on the budget cuts proposed for the Department of Education. Eleven specific programs are listed. One that caused a lot of fuss was cuts to the Special Olympics. This is one they put back after this book was published. Trump also wants to promote open enrollment, which would allow students to enroll in public schools not in their neighborhood. Some proposed incentives look a lot like Obama’s Race to the Top effort. From NCLB on programs had to be “evidence-based.” Unfortunately, some of the evidence was bogus. It seems like the only idea is choice, which hasn’t worked out.
  • Ravitch takes PBS to task for running a three-hour “documentary” titled School, Inc. She sees it as propaganda supported by conservative donors and foundations that is designed to promote vouchers and school choice. It doesn’t make sense that PBS would run a piece put together by people who want to cut their government funding.
  • Next we have several chapters devoted to the shortcomings of Bridge International Academies. It is a for-profit operation that runs a number of schools in Africa and India. Ironically, it is promoted by New York Times opinion writer Nicholas Kristof who should know better. It is funded by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and other tech sector luminaries. The schools are low cost, but they often charge more than poor families can pay so the drop out rate hovers around 50%. Teachers are expected to teach from scripts on tablet and have little freedom. Facilities are thrown together metal shacks without proper sanitation.
  • We are reminded that the top 0.5% make 60% of political donations. They also control lobbying groups that actually write a lot of legislation that they hand to politicians. Those on the right want less government and less regulation, which explains the push for privatization of schools. She mentions a video titled Backpack Full of Cash that pushes back against the privatization of schools. You can watch it on YouTube here. Detroit and the state of Michigan have been experimenting with school choice since 1993. Ravitch presents evidence for how this effort has failed.
  • Campbell’s law states that more you use a metric for social decision making, the more it will corrupt and distort what it is intended to monitor. Ravitch concludes that this has been the case with the scores on standardized tests. Reason why the tests are bad are repeated here.

2018 –

  • The only new material from this year deals with teacher strikes in red states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. Since the economic downturn in 2008 states like these and others have not increased school spending and some have even reduced it. Teachers on strike are asking for higher pay, smaller class sizes, and funding for other things like school maintenance. It’s also worthy to note that the top spending state per pupil New York spends about three times as much as the bottom state.
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