Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ravitch Ravages Reforms

Prof. Diane Ravitch has written a piece on education reform that has been reproduced in the Washington Post's blog by Valerie Strauss:

You'll find the original here:

There's much truth in what Diane Ravitch says and some exaggeration. She puts every single effort at improving our educational system in the same pot, tars them with the same brush. However, education is not so simple.

What's so bad about having some core standards that we can adopt nationwide? Only one thing -- that these might be the beginning of ever tightening national controls instead of a set of basic standards that can be adjusted periodically to allow for changes and to adjust based on feedback. We have to start somewhere. Our current Babel of standards is confusing to everyone and very costly. It's easier for states and districts to build on a foundation than to do all of the work themselves.

What about charter schools? These were intended by the most altruistic educators as laboratories for new ideas. They quickly morphed into a new way to make money. The average charter school has results similar to the average public school. Charter schools should remain a small percentage of the overall number lest our public schools be turned into places for our most challenged students to fail.

How about online education with ratios of 1:100 or even 1:200? I know of online teachers with 1:450. A high school teacher with five classes of 30 has a ratio of 1:150. The ratio of 1:100 doesn't seem so scary any more. Technology does allow more students per teacher without loss of quality, but not all technology delivers on this promise. Some even worsens the situation. There's no reason why education should not gain from advances in technology. It should free our teachers from much of the drudgery of teaching to become the inspiring mentors that most long to be. It should allow our best teachers to reach and influence and inspire more students. That outcome should be considered a good thing.

Teachers' unions have been demonized to a greater degree than they deserve. However, by the expedient of putting job security ahead of pay, they've contributed to this perception. There's no easy answer here, but neither removing teacher unions nor enshrining them is the answer. I'd like to see some try out a sliding scale of semi-tenure. You might give teachers longer contracts as they accumulate seniority, for example. At fifteen years, you could provide a ten-year contract, essentially until retirement.

Prof. Ravitch is right to raise the alarm about "reforms." These reforms are often about some political goal and have nothing to do with improving education. However, she should reduce the volume by a few decibels and not toss every possible change out. Doing as we have been doing is not the solution either.

© 2012 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A.
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