GOOD

Q&A: Diane Ravitch Skewers Every Education Reform Sacred Cow

In part two of a two-part conversation, Diane Ravitch upends many commonly held assumptions about education reform.

Education expert, author, and New York University professor Diane Ravitch believes that students are more than just their test scores. Her bestselling book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, positions Ravitch as one of the most outspoken critics of the recent wave of education reformers. Her current viewpoints are a sharp departure from the beliefs she held in the 1990s when she served as Assistant Secretary of Education under both President George H. W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. Ravitch shared with us her recipe for improving academic achievement in our nation's schools.

Please note: This is part two in a two-part series. Read the first installment here.

GOOD: What do you say to reformers who say that poverty doesn't matter and teachers should be able to get the same results regardless of a child's income?


DIANE RAVITCH: People who say that poverty doesn't matter are just blowing smoke. When you look at the Harlem Children's Zone, it is a model that takes care of medical issues and social problems and family problems. Whether it has effects on test scores or not, that's great because human needs should be addressed. HCZ gets good results but not amazing results. On the last state tests, only 40 percent of the kids were proficient. In Geoffrey Canada's seventh grade where the kids had been there for three years, only 15 percent of them met the state standards.

By the way, HCZ proves that resources do matter because his organization has over $200 million in assets. I suspect that if any neighborhood public school in Harlem had the resources of Geoffrey Canada—if they too could have a classroom with 15 children with two teachers, they could get the same results, or even better.

GOOD: Why then the reluctance to talk about poverty's connection to educational achievement?

DR: ?It's a lot easier to talk about firing teachers than doing something about poverty. At least 20 percent of our kids live in poverty—which puts us up there with third world countries like Mexico and Turkey. Davis Guggenheim compares us to Finland. Finland has fewer than four percent of children in poverty.

To say that the schools are responsible for poverty—no, it's the economy, it's industrialization, it's the shipping of jobs overseas. We have some serious economic problems and somehow the entire onus is on teachers. For the past several months I've been on the road talking to teachers and they are deeply demoralized. We can't improve our schools by beating up on teachers.

GOOD: Are there adjustments needed in the way unions roll out tenure or react to teacher evaluations?

DR: Unions don't write the rules. Wherever you have a contract, it's signed by both parties. Management and unions sit together and negotiate the contract. If management doesn't like the contract, it should insist on changing the rules. Tenure doesn't mean you have lifetime employment. Tenure means after you've taught for a certain number of years—in most places it's three years and in some it's four—someone in management decides that you're good enough that you get due process rights.

Teachers don't give themselves tenure. Management gives them tenure. Management has three to four years to say, you're not a good teacher; you're fired. That's not what they do in other countries. What they do in other countries is they get teachers help—they get support, they get mentored.

We have a problem in this country. We have 3.5 million teachers and about 300,000 leave the teaching profession every year. Some of them retire, some of them are fired, some of them leave voluntarily because they think it's not for them. They don't feel successful. The working conditions are miserable and they haven't had any support.

One of the academic experts in Waiting for "Superman" says we should be firing six to ten percent more teachers every year. That would mean we'd have to find 500,000 new teachers every year. That's really hard because there are only 1.5 million college graduates every year. We're doing very little to create a strong and resilient teaching profession.

Instead we're creating a revolving door where we say if you're no good, you're out and let's bring in Teach For America. They'll send in 8,000 kids to stay for two years and then they're gone. This is no way to build a profession. What we'd do if we're serious about education—which I think we're not—would be to develop a strong teaching profession. That's what they've done in other countries that we look at enviously, like Finland and Korea and Japan.

GOOD: What should the average citizen be doing to advocate for public education?

DR: I was in San Diego last week and I'm very impressed with what's happening there. There's a partnership between the school board, the district leadership, and the teachers union. They're trying to develop what they call "community based school reform." In every school there'll be this same partnership between the principal, the teachers, the parents, the kids—and people will work in a collaborative atmosphere, not a confrontational one.

It sounds great, but the California legislature has proposed another $140 million in budget cuts and there'll probably be another 1,000 teachers losing their jobs and class sizes going up. Because of the atmosphere in the country, what we're hearing from Washington and from Davis Guggenheim and Waiting for "Superman," people are saying, well, we're spending enough on education, why should we tax ourselves for our schools? So instead of improving schools we're going to see budget cutting and a loss of experienced teachers all across the country.

GOOD: There's no silver bullet that can improve public education, but given everything you know, if you could change one thing, what would it be?

DR: I have asked in Washington and been rejected, why not require every school that receives federal funding have a full program of the arts and music and visual arts and performance arts. They said they can't do that. But those are things that bring kids together. Those are things that motivate kids to come to school—especially in the inner city. No Child Left Behind has so dumbed things down that large numbers of kids just spend their days preparing to take the next test.

Photo courtesy of Jack Miller

Articles
via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

At the age of 15, he was given to Thomas Auld, a cruel man who beat and starved his slaves and thwarted any opportunity for them to practice their faith or to learn to read or write.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Communities
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

Lifestyle

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet