On Ravitch on Tough Choices
Diane Ravitch has mostly joined the chorus of voices speaking out against Tough Choices or Tough Times. See my earlier posts on this same subject, Letter to Jerry Bracey, and More on Tough Choices or Tough Times. Is she right? We’re going to look at some of the things she says.
In any case she’s a highly respected writer on Education and anything she does say is obviously important, and will probably be highly influential. She is a historian of education, a research professor at New York
University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the
Brookings Institution. Her books include Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, The Language Police, and, most recently, The English Reader, which she edited with her son, Michael Ravitch.
Ravitch doesn’t dispute the Report’s criticism of our present educational system. Instead, she looks at the Report’s prescriptions for fixing it. A number of these prescriptions or recommendations are non controversial, although perhaps too costly and therefore probably ultimately unacceptable, such as the recruitment of teachers from the top third of high school graduates going on to college, or universal pre-school. Actually we learn from David Leonhardt’s article in the NYTimes that universal preschool would have an annual cost of some $35 billion, not a lot of money alongside of Joseph Stiglitz’s $2 trillion estimate for the total cost of the Iraq War.
A number are probably too radical or simply by their very nature incapable of ever being realized, such as the recommendation that every school be operated by independent contractors instead of the local school board, or that testing be developed to measure creativity and innovation, teamwork, abstract thinking, self-discipline and other such qualities. Ravitch points out that the latter has never been done and won’t be done now.
So far Ravitch is probably right in her reservations regarding the Commission’s recommendations. Yet we know that a number of highly respected educators are behind this report, not simply the Report’s principal author, Marc Tucker, who by the way has his own parallel piece to that of Ravitch in the January 17th. Education Week. Among the Report’s authors are William Brock, David Driscoll, John Engler, Tom Payzant, and Richard Riley. These men represent vast working experience within or close to our public schools. Should we not listen to them?
Where might they be right, and Ravitch wrong? Or what recommendations contain reasonable measures that we might take to improve our schools? The Commission members are convinced that unless things change ("tough choices") our students won’t be able to compete with better schooled peers from other countries ("tough times"), and that not only our manufacturing but also our highly skilled or "knowledge" jobs will go away, and reappear in those countries where the pool of highly skilled labor is greater than ours.
This may or may not be true. I’m not knowledgeable enough to say. However, in regard to what I do know about the schools two of the Commission’s recommendations make perfect sense. One is that all students at the
end of 10th grade will take a board examination in the core subjects.
Those who score “well enough” will have the right to continue their schooling right then at age 16, at a community
college, these studies leading to either an associate’s degree and a job, or to further schooling at a four year state college.
Those whose exam scores are higher can elect to stay in high
school to order to prepare for a second set of exams of International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement difficulty. Doing well on
these exams will permit them to continue their education at a selective 4 year college.
It seems to me that this recommendation addresses the principal problem of our public schools, that of too many youngsters who, at age 16 and often earlier, lose all interest in school. The Commission’s recommendation by giving them something well within their reach has a good chance of restoring that interest.
On the other hand this recommendation has been subject to the harshest attacks by the Commission’s opponents. Why? Probably because it separates (tracks?) kids into "robins" and "starlings," into those who will take AP courses and those who won’t, into those who will need remedial work to gain admission to a community college, and those who will breeze through the SATS and go on to a four year college.
That which is politically correct today is that we keep the very best school outcomes open and available to all kids and for just as long as possible, regardless of their achievement in school. And that if we do draw a line it be after high school. The Commission, on the other hand, would draw the line, say, between those who will take AP classes and those who won’t, at age 16. Shame on the Commission, many are saying, for suggesting that all our young people aren’t capable of doing Advanced Placement work.
But the line is being drawn, the separation is being made, and well before age 16, by the kids themselves. The result is that as kids move ahead in school the number of further schooling and job opportunities become less, not more. This is what is happening. The Commission didn’t make it happen, merely wants to deal with it.
Why do we insist on keeping up the fiction that this is not the case? Many young people, at age 16 or even before, would like to give up the fiction of college preparation and instead begin preparation for a job and a career. Instead of being given the opportunity to do this they are required or otherwise pressured into remaining in general college preparatory classes with the result that they either drop out of school altogether (about half of the Latino and Black youngsters attending inner city schools) or they remain in school doing little or no work for their classes and doing themselves no favor in regard to their futures.
The other Commission recommendation that makes a lot of sense is the following. Local funding of education would be replaced by state funding. Dollars would be matched to the needs of individual students. Thus schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students, whose individual needs are greater, would have more funding than schools that serve a more affluent community. Ravitch finds little or nothing wrong with this recommendation and expects that it will probably happen.
According to Marc Tucker writing in EDWeek, "Schools would no longer be financed by their
local communities, but, instead, directly by the state. The United
States, almost alone among advanced industrial countries in relying for
school funding on the wealth of local communities, would join the ranks
of nations in which school funding does not depend on local wealth.
Schools statewide would be funded on a formula, with each student worth
a certain base amount, with increments on top of that for students from
low-income families, students from families in which English is not
spoken at home, students with mild disabilities, students with severe
disabilities, and so on."
That, along with the restructuring of our high schools so that kids at age 16 are given some real choices, would do much to make what kids are doing in school, or out, correspond more closely to what they are able to do and to what they want to do. That is not the situation at present.Explore posts in the same categories: Education