Education Reform: Bill Gates Versus Diane Ravitch
In his most recent Newsweek column, Jonathan Alter discusses a speech that Bill Gates gave to the Council of Chief State School Officers about his disagreement with the use of seniority to determine "pay and promotion of teachers" in schools. After conceding that Gates has made previous missteps in his enthusiasm for revamping the American education system, Alter praises the former Microsoft CEO for at least giving it the ol' college try. Then he introduces Diane Ravitch, NYU's outspoken—he calls her "jaundiced"—education researcher as Gates' foil in the fight for education reform.
When I asked Gates about Ravitch, you could see the Micro-hard hombre who once steamrolled software competitors: “Does she like the status quo? Is she sticking up for decline? Does she really like 400-page [union] contracts? Does she think all those ‘dropout factories’ are lonely? If there’s some other magic way to reduce the dropout rate, we’re all ears.”
Well, since Gates asked, Ravitch has answered, via The Answer Sheet blog on The Washington Post's website. As Gates was clearly piqued when Alter asked about Ravitch, Ravitch is clearly impassioned in her written responses to Gates' queries. She focuses her ire on Gates' (and other reformers') laser-like focus on teachers, arguing that the standardized tests designed to gauge a student's progress—and, thus, a teacher's effectiveness—are causing a narrowing of the curriculum.
I don't hear any of the corporate reformers expressing concern about the way standardized testing narrows the curriculum, the way it rewards convergent thinking and punishes divergent thinking, the way it stamps out creativity and originality. I don't hear any of them worried that a generation will grow up ignorant of history and the workings of government. I don't hear any of them putting up $100 million to make sure that every child has the chance to learn to play a musical instrument. All I hear from them is a demand for higher test scores and a demand to tie teachers' evaluations to those test scores. That is not going to improve education.