Monday, April 04, 2016

Diane Ravitch explains exactly why education is in crisis here in America.

Courtesy of HuffPo: 

It has become conventional wisdom that “education is in crisis.” I have been asked about this question by many interviewers. They say something like: “Do you think American education is in crisis? What is the cause of the crisis?” And I answer, “Yes, there is a crisis, but it is not the one you have read about. The crisis in education today is an existential threat to the survival of public education. The threat comes from those who unfairly blame the school for social conditions, and then create a false narrative of failure. The real threat is privatization and the loss of a fundamental democratic institution.” 

As we have seen again and again, the corporate education industry is eager to break into U.S. public education and turn it into a free marketplace, where they can monetize the schools and be assured of government subsidization. On the whole, these privatized institutions do not produce higher test scores than regular public schools, except for those that cherry-pick their students and exclude the neediest and lowest performing students. The promotion of privatization by philanthropies, by the U.S. Department of Education, by right-wing governors (and a few Democratic governors like Cuomo of New York and Malloy of Connecticut), by the hedge fund industry, and by a burgeoning education equities industry poses a danger to our democracy. In some communities, public schools verge on bankruptcy as charters drain their resources and their best students. Nationwide, charter schools have paved the way for vouchers by making “school choice” non-controversial. 

Yes, education is in crisis. The profession of teaching is threatened by the financial powerhouse Teach for America, which sells the bizarre idea that amateurs are more successful than experienced teachers. TFA — and the belief in amateurism — has also facilitated the passage of legislation to strip teachers of basic rights to due process and of salaries tied to experience and credentials. 

Education is in crisis because of the explosion of testing and the embrace by government of test scores as both the means and the end of education. The scores are treated as a measure of teacher effectiveness and school effectiveness, when they are in fact a measure of the family income of the students enrolled in the school. The worst consequence of the romance with standardized testing is that children are ranked, sorted, and assigned a value based on scores that are not necessarily scientific or objective. Children thus become instruments, tools, objects, rather than unique human beings, each with his or her own potential. 

Education is in crisis because of the calculated effort to turn it into a business with a bottom line. Schools are closed and opened as though they were chain stores, not community institutions. Teachers are fired based on flawed measures. Disruption is considered a strategy rather than misguided and inhumane policy. Children and educators alike are simply data points, to be manipulated by economists, statisticians, entrepreneurs, and dabblers in policy. Education has lost its way, lost its purpose, lost its definition. Where once it was about enlightening and empowering young minds with knowledge, exploring new worlds, learning about science and history, and unleashing the imagination of each child, it has become a scripted process of producing test scores that can supply data. 

Education is in crisis. And we must organize to resist, to push back, to fight the mechanization of learning, and the standardization of children.

Typically blogging etiquette suggests that I simply sample a portion of what somebody has written, link to the source, and then add my own thoughts and possibly other links as I feel necessary.

However as I read through Diane Ravitch's post I found that all of her points were important to share, and that I could really not add anything more relevant than what she had already written.

Therefore I share this post in its entirety, and if Diane Ravitch takes offense I will reluctantly take it down.

However considering her passion for getting this information out I doubt that will happen.


  1. Anonymous6:40 AM

    "Where once it was about enlightening and empowering young minds with knowledge, exploring new worlds, learning about science and history, and unleashing the imagination of each child,..."

    This did not exist in my parochial primary school nor in my public high school. Maybe as a girl in the 50s-60s, it was just my perception that school existed to ensure I was as subdued and silent as possible. But I am certain teachers existed to get my parents to punish me.

    I think it's a fantasy that there was ever a time when schools attempted to enrich and enlighten pupil's minds.

    1. Anonymous7:04 AM

      Not in the 50s and 60s according to my parents who had the same experience as you.

      I was in elementary school in the 70s and early 80s and I think we had some of that enrichment and enlightenment.

      My kids are in public elementary school now and I have to say their teachers are creative and encouraging and do try and give the kids as much enlightenment as possible while also having to meet the state requirements. And now it's even more challenging because teachers are required to post their lesson plans and daily homework online.

      It's a lot of work and we are very lucky to have teaches willing and able to meet the challenge and still love the kids.

    2. Anonymous7:21 AM

      As, yes, that golden age of education, in the glow of the post-Sputnik era, 1966 Trigonometry class... "Come on, fellas, are you going to let a girl give all the answers."

    3. My father thought the schools were teaching us to be good little communists.....because suggesting thinking for yourself was just silly.

  2. abbafan6:45 AM

    It is truly sad how far these fuckin' corporations' tentacles have reached into every cornice of American society. Schools, colleges, health care, judicial, penal, the list is endless... Ms. Ravitch is correct on ALL points - students are merely statistics, not people. Corporatization corrupts the very core of democracy. The mechanics are already in place - computers, gadgets, "smart" phones - these devices are programming students to become too reliant on technology. Give a kid a paper and pen, and ask them to compose a paragraph without idioms or text-speak. It is time to start rejecting these lazy technologies, and return to the roots of learning through time-tested methods. People must act upon this now, before it is too late. Otherwise, we will all be held hostage and become subservient to these fuckin' corporations.

    1. Anonymous7:13 AM

      "...roots of learning through time-tested methods..."

      I agree. Anything that helps to eliminate "fuckin'" as a mindless additive has my full support.

    2. cornice ? did your spell check not like crevice?
      Minor point. Agree with your argument, even the fuckin' corporations bit.
      My schooling was so far back (1950-60s) that when I heard (years ago) "cursive" was not taught anymore, wondered how young people would sign documents: by p r I n T i n G their names like a middle-schooler? How soon before it is an "X" and a witness (who signs HIS "X"?)

      I know teenagers who cannot decipher notes in cursive (called "hooked up lettering") from their parents.

      I know this is a minor thing: same as teaching algebra (who ever uses it?) but it is Learning that is the key here, not what you learn. Exposing your mind to hard things and Learning them! That is what sets you up for later life, whether you use it or not.

    3. Anonymous11:42 AM

      " algebra (who ever uses it?) "

      Penmanship is SO much more valuable than basic mathematics.

    4. Anonymous12:19 PM

      "algebra (who ever uses it?)"

      I hope you're kidding.

    5. abbafan2:54 PM

      Barbara - thank you for the clarification. No, I do not use spell-check, as I find these things too intimidating. I'm old school, still do everything in my head. As I stated earlier, when the gadget batteries are dead, this generation which relies on these devices are sunk!

    6. Anonymous3:14 PM

      @2:54 Using a sundial to tell time. That's the real old school generation.

    7. abbafan 6:45 AM wrote: It is truly sad how far these fuckin' corporations' tentacles have reached into every cornice of American society.

      It's certainly possible for tentacles to reach into corners, or (thank you, Barbara!) crevices, but reaching into cornices can get rather tricky. As an architectural feature, a cornice is generally pretty solid. As an overhanging mass of hardened snow at the edge of a mountain precipice, it could be downright dangerous to penetrate.

      abbafan 2:54 PM wrote: No, I do not use spell-check …

      Fortunately, I refreshed the page one more time before copying in my comment, so I've removed my accusation of spell-check usage. Instead I ask, do you not keep a dictionary near your computer? (Merriam-Webster Third New International, in my case)

      … when the gadget batteries are dead …

      I do use a “smartphone” but my “personal digital assistant” is folded-up sheets of 8½x11 in my shirt pocket.

    8. Anonymous3:29 PM

      "..return to the roots of learning through time-tested methods. "

      Here's the problem. A lot of those time-tested methods don't prepare students for today's world, if they ever did. I was an honors student in the 50s-70s (K-grad school) but when I graduated I really didn't know how to function in the real world I had spent years studying (physics/chemistry). Book knowledge does not equate to "real world" knowledge (especially in STEM where oversimplifications are rampant), and it took years of figuring things out for myself on the job.

      It's even more important today for students to work on actual problem-solving than it was in the 60s because knowledge is accumulating far too quickly for anyone to keep up with, and employers are less willing to allow new employees time to figure out how to be productive. Or, as one employer told me, kids know the facts but they don't know what to do with them. Better they should use their electronics devices to look up facts and use their brains to make sense of them.
      -meh, MHS class of '67

    9. abbafan5:33 AM

      I appreciate and respect everyone here who dissected my post and offered their opinions. This is why I enjoy being here with fellow IM'ers who are willing to engage in thoughtful, meaningful discourse! Most of us here probably grew up in a time where there were very little technological aids in the classroom. Hell, I did not see my first computer until college! I guess the point I'm trying to make is, if we rely too much on technology to communicate or solve problems, and cannot do it either on paper or thought, it could be a real problem. It's always good to have a back-up plan!

  3. Anonymous7:16 AM


    It is so important to "reach 'em before you can teach 'em". Those who need the special help of caring adults will be thrown on the trash heap when for profit corporations take over education.

  4. Anonymous7:37 AM


  5. Anonymous7:55 AM

    Teachers unions are bad.

    1. Not necessarily.

    2. Teachers unions are good.

    3. Anonymous10:37 AM

      Teachers unions are required because there are plenty of irrational people in the community who hate teachers.

    4. The onus is on you. You don't need to name names. Share the specifics of your experiences with not one, but all teachers' unions in all schools in all states.

    5. abbafan2:47 PM

      Anon @ 10:37 A.M. - remember what the uneducated palins did to the poor schoolteacher in AK! No wonder they are ignorant, lazy, lay-about couch slackers!

  6. Great call to post this in full. I'm glad the message finally seems to be getting out, at least a little bit, after the more-than-decade long corporate takeover/heist or whatever you want to call it. I'm so frustrated that my kids are stressed (as much as we try to relieve the stress..don't put any investment in testing/grades, etc. it's hard to avoid, in teh culture, etc.). Your blog is the best blog out there. I've checked it almost daily since 2008 when I first found it. Thank you thank you.

  7. Anonymous8:38 AM

    Thanks Gryphen for this thoughtful piece. It was the high school teachers I had who provided the scholarship I used for nurses training that formed my career and enriched my life.

    Home was a disaster with a drunken step-father and disinterested mother. However, early on, first grade on, teachers took an interest in me, brought me in to "help" them when I was out on the cold playground early, mentored me, encouraged me and made up for the lack of interest my "parents" had in my welfare.

    My behavior was always exemplary (fear?) and I was always on the top of the honor roll, not that my "parents" ever noticed.

    Someone to believe in you is such a powerful encouragement. As a single parent I was able to pay for my two sons to get engineering degrees and further my own nursing credentials with a degree. I hope I made the investment worthwhile that the teachers sought for me.

    The scholarship was $1200 in the early 1950's. I gave back half of it and asked the school to give it to another student who could get through a three year nurses program on $600. They did so.

    Yes, I owe so much to those loving, caring public school teachers who nurtured this poorly dressed, skinny, be-spectacled youngster throughout all her school years and supported her further education after 12th grade.

    1. A great story! Important that it is told.

  8. I think this election cycle and all the stupidity related to it is a direct example of our poor educatiinal systems.

  9. Anita Winecooler5:15 PM

    Thanks for posting this. Every word she says is true. The public high school our kids went to happens to be in the suburbs of Philly, it's a mega high school that's fed by five grade schools. It's run like a business, kids are tested to "measure" the progress of the teachers in "keeping up" with the busy work expected, which translates into more homework. The administration is also affiliated with these entities called "learning centers" Huntingdon, Kumon, etc to name a few, As they near their junior year, they have "remedial sat/lsat courses which cost extra. And for the "honor" the parents have to bust their asses to get in the right zip codes so their kids get a chance, that is IF the parents get and stay involved with their school and their education.
    We belong to an organization called "the sunshine foundation", where inner city kids get to live in the burbs, play in playgrounds with the other kids, go fishing, camping, day trips etc, and we were met with racism and hatred more times than I can count. The almighty dollar trumps good public schools, and we're losing a lot of great teachers because of it.


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