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Reform Movement 'Wrong,' Educator-Historian Says

Published: Monday, October 31, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 12:11


     Education is in "crisis.

     That's the message that was conveyed Thursday night by education historian Diane Ravitch in a Distinguished Lecture Series appearance at William Paterson University.

     The crisis, she explained, "is not the one you hear on TV… [it is] the disinvestment of public education."

     Ravitch was introduced to the full-house audience at Shea Auditorium by WPU President Kathleen Waldron, who cited the university's historical ties to education, and by Dr. Candace Burns, dean of the College of Education.

     In her opening remarks, Ravitch thanked all the teachers present, noting that they do not receive enough messages of gratitude these days.

     "Public schools are not like franchises," said Ravitch. "It is a public service… free public school is one of our fundamentals in our democracy…"

     Ravitch said she opposed the No Children Left Behind Act introduced during the George W. Bush administration; the law continues to be supported by the Obama administration. The federal bill requires public institutions to measure children's basic skills by the use of standardize tests, in order to receive federal funds. Therefore, children's education solely focuses on reading and mathematics, while excluding the arts, science and foreign languages.

     "The reform movement is wrong, imposing ideas that don't work," said Ravitch in an exclusive interview before the event.  "Preparation on testing forgets what education is all about."

     Lawmakers and their counter-parts improperly use test results as an evaluation method for teachers, said Ravitch. If teachers do not meet a certain standard, they run the risk of losing their jobs, and the institution itself is subject to permanent closure, due to the withdrawal of government and corporate funding.

     Ravitch claims these methods are flawed and inaccurate, creating an imbalance within the system.

     "Students have the power to fire teachers," said Ravitch. "That's a terrible thing!"Tests, she said, are not scientific instruments, but are created by "human beings and are subject to poor wording and error."

     The problem, she noted, is that tests determine the grade level children belong in, often placing them in the wrong classrooms. Teachers then are blamed for their lack of students' abilities, she argued.

     "The belief is, if you threaten people, you get results," said Ravitch in the pre-lecture interview. "If you don't get high test scores, you're fired."

     Officials and corporate leaders also turn the blind eye to the actual cause of the achievement gap.

     "I think addressing poverty will raise achievement," said Ravitch during her lecture.

      Poverty is a topic that politicians and businessmen ignore, and instead uses excuses.

     "Child poverty in the United States is up 22 percent and growing," said Ravitch. "The achievement gap exists before birth…. [it is] the elephant in the room."

     Ravitch said corporate reform assumes schools will change on their own with incentives. 

     "Adults can take wrong turns, but children shouldn't suffer from our mistake," declared Ravitch.

     The ones who lose in the end are the children.

     The consequences of low test scores reduce funding, and therefore, teachers are laid off and civic classes are eliminated, reaching up to the severity of closing schools. In addition to that, a massive cheating scandal throughout the nation has recently been uncovered.

These are children's lives; it's not a competition or a race where one wins, exclaimed Ravitch.  Instead, she is in favor of treating every child as an individual.

     "Children need stability… experience teachers, not people of turmoil," said Ravitch. The "demoralizing trends…does not encourage critically thinking, innovation, creativity and independence."

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