As Assistant Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration, Diane Ravitch was an early advocate of No Child Left Behind, school vouchers and charter schools. In an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air recently, Ravitch explained that her attitude has changed. She now sees these strategies as a threat to the future of public education. In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch criticizes the emphasis on standardized testing and closing schools as well as the practice to replace public schools with charter schools.
The No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top programs have put too much emphasis on standardized testing and made teachers the scapegoat. Student academic achievement is a complex process that is not limited to what happens in the classroom. It is dependent on the home environment, parental support, student health, family structure, economics, and so many other factors. Ravitch points out that “dysfunctional” schools exist in “dysfunctional” communities. Should we expect anything different given the circumstances?
I once heard Bob Keeshan (TV’s Captain Kangaroo) say, “For every complex problem there is a simple answer-- and it is always wrong.” The state of education in our country is the result of complex circumstances. Rather than blame teachers, we should thank them that the situation is not worse that it already is. Considering the support, resources, and cooperation they have been given, they have done a rather remarkable job.