Where Education Reformers Are Taking Us

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Where Education Reformers Are Taking Us


Byline: Max Eden, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Everyone from President Obama to Sen. Rand Paul agrees: education reform is the civil rights issue of our time. Americans today view education reformers with the same degree of moral deference we give to the civil rights reformers of the 1960s. Folks imagine that our starry-eyed Teachers For America (TFA) are shock troops in the war for social justice, that our charter schools are no longer letting poverty be an excuse and that the Department of Education is unleashing an unprecedented wave of entrepreneurship to close the achievement gap. According to Diane Ravitch, author of Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, folks are dead wrong. The education reformers are actually modern-day Jacobins, charging ahead with their high-minded convictions entirely insensible to the disaster they are leaving in their wake.

In Reign of Error, Ms. Ravitch plays an education Burke, exposing the intellectual follies behind the movement, taking a hard look at the facts on the ground and issuing dire warnings of where the reformers might take us. Her overall diagnosis rings true - there are many reasons to think that education reform is headed down the wrong path. But, unfortunately, her implacably shrill tone ultimately undermines her otherwise compelling argument.

According to Ms. Ravitch, the crisis in American education is a myth. The fact is, our test scores have been slowly but surely increasing. The reason we aren't narrowing the achievement gap is that both black and white students are seeing remarkable progress on their National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores. We've been hearing about a crisis of international competitiveness since the 1960s, and we're still No. 1. Contrary to President Obama, we don't need more college graduates; we are already producing more college-degree holders than jobs that require them. Yet reformers have declared a crisis and jumped in armed with a slew of policies such as merit pay, school-closures and charter schools, none of which had clearly compelling evidence behind them. A decade after No Child Left Behind, the evidence still isn't clear, but those who point this out are labeled reactionaries, and reformers cry, Once more into the breach! - this time with strong federal backup.

Where there was no crisis before, education reformers have brought our schools to the brink. The higher rate of teacher turnover threatens to disband the little platoons that hold a school together. The churn of young teachers breaks the traditional transmission of wisdom from veteran teachers to novices. Whereas in 1988 the modal teacher had 15 years of experience, in 2008 she had one. …

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