(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
The Nashville y’alternative band BR549 wrote a great song about a woman who used to be a punk rocker, but changes into a hardcore country and western enthusiast. The lyrics describe the conversion:
She done traded in her Doc’s for kicker boots
Safety-pinned tee shirts for Manuel Suits
Her hair’s grown out and it’s piled up high
She only shows her tattoos one at a time
She ain’t ashamed of the way she was
She hears old Hank, she can’t get enough
Her punk rock records are gathering dust
‘Cos little Ramona’s gone hillbilly nuts
This song involuntarily comes to mind every time I read a blog post by Diane Ravitch like this one. It could just be me, but Ravitch’s dislike for NYC Chancellor Joel Klein seems to have gone beyond the pale.
Let’s assume that Klein has spent gobs more money without getting much in the way of results. That is a matter of dispute, and I don’t have a dog in that fight. But even if it were true, Klein would have plenty of company: spending more money with flat academic achievement is about par for the course of American education over the last thirty plus years. For instance, the NAEP long term reading scale score for 17 year olds was precisely the same in 1971 and 2004.
Nationally, real spending per pupil doubled during that same period. As sorry as that record is, you could be rightly dismissed as nuts if you tried to argue that the nation’s public school leaders were out to destroy public education. Klein doesn’t support vouchers-so there’s no story there, even for inhabitants of the anti-voucher fever swamps. He does support charter schools, but charter schools are public schools and support for charters is well within the mainstream of the Democratic Party. And yet Ms. Ravitch writes:
So this is the strange new era we are embarked upon, in which the mantle of “reformer” has passed to those who would dismantle public education, piece by piece.
What seems strange to me is making such a charge against Klein, Booker, Rhee and Fenty without presenting a scintilla of supporting evidence. Stranger still to see someone accused of spending too much money on public schools and of seeking to dismantle public education in a single post.
I flubbed my first attempt at this comment, so here is another try:
Hillbillies are freinds of mine. I know hillbillies (remember I live in the foothills of the Ozarks). And Diane Ravitch is no hillbilly. : )
Now Jay, I didn’t call anyone a hillbilly! I simply find Ravitch’s recent transformation as stark as Ramona’s.
Diane Ravich waded through volumes of pretentious academicese in preparation for the composition of Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reform. We owe her a great debt. Could anyone read this work and not find horrifying the arrogance of academic theorists playing with lives of non-volunteers? Yet, she made clear in that work her predference for a classical education (History, Latin, Greek, Math). What then really separates Diane Ravitch from Dewey or Cubberly or today’s promoters of the latest curricular fad? Parent control would indeed “dismantle publuic education”, at least to the extent that “public” implies that a collective decision-making process and not individual parents or the students themselves determines the course of instruction.
I liked Left Back, Language Police, and much of her historical work. That’s why it’s so disappointing to read what she is writing these days.
From her earlier work one would never have guessed that she would accuse people who favor merit pay, reduction in teacher tenure rights, and charter schools of plotting to destroy public education. And for someone whose past work relied on rigorous scholarship, it is shocking to see these new claims made without any evidence that merit pay, weaker tenure, and charter schools harm public education, let alone detsroy it.
Other than the fact that Bloomberg and Klein support these policies, it is not clear why Diane Ravitch opposes them.
If I may continue that theme, I think in general the tendency to defend people when they say inflammatory things simply on grounds that they’ve done good work in the past creates perverse incentives.
Malcom, you offer one definition of how to understand what “public” means. But there are plenty of others, and people of good conscience can disagree about it. So even if I were to grant your definition of what counts as “public” – which in fact I strenuously deny, but we can have that discussion another time – Ravitch’s comments would still be unprofessional and inappropriate, because she’s not treating this as a debate over the meaning of “publicness” in which reasonable people of good conscience can disagree. She’s treating her opponents like they’re the barbarians at the gate.
She even uses guilt by association tactics, describing respectable education policy figures as “colleagues” of Al Sharpton just because Sharpton has come out for some of the same reforms they support. Has Michelle Rhee ever done anything to deserve being linked to Sharpton? Ever appeared with him, co-written anything with him, said a good word about him, done anything at all? Yet Ravitch doesn’t hesitate to describe Rhee and Sharpton, by name, as “colleagues.” Sorry, that’s out of bounds.
If Ravitch wanted to have this conversation in a more responsible way, she could start by saying what you’ve just said. At least you’re admitting that the meaning of “public” is subject to different interpretations. Has Ravitch done that? She seems to take it for granted that all decent people agree with her and all others are on par with Al Sharpton.
If public schools are not education children as well as they could why do some academics bother throwing around silly phrases and accusations about “destroying” public education?
No one can reasonably argue that “public education does not work” or that teachers unions are the cause of poor performance. Consider Cherry Creek High School, a suburban public school in Greenwood Village, Colorado. By all accounts – including comments from real estate agents who say parents regularly limit their housing searches to the surrounding neighborhoods – Cherry Creek is an extremely successful public school. Additionally, I have friends and family who attended New Trier High School and Stevenson High School in the Chicago suburbs. Anyone from Chicago knows there’s nothing wrong with “public education” in those neighborhoods. I’ve had students transfer to schools like Stanton College Prep in Jacksonville, Florida. Readers of Newsweek’s Best High Schools list will recognize that one. Scarsdale High School in New York and Bellevue High School in Washington are certainly not having any problems, despite being publicly funded.
All of these schools, as well as thousands of others, are phenomenal public schools, and all of them have tenured union staff. Thus, there is obviously another element at work. Clearly, the socioeconomic status of the community and the students is the key. Thus, while school funding goes up in many places, nothing can be done to influence the socioeconomics of the students. Thus, a myriad of social factors beyond the school’s ability to control are at work detracting from the 9% of a student’s life that he actually spends in schools. Am I saying that poor kids can’t succeed? Absolutely not. However, this is an explanation for how funding can go up and scores can remain stagnant.
The successful schools I mentioned are not failures of a government program. Nor do they support the belief that teacher’s unions and tenure are the reasons that public schools fail. Obviously, the success or failure of a school isn’t simply linked to public funding. Sadly, the issue is far more complex than that.
Why say “At least you’re admitting that the meaning of ‘public’ is subject to different interpretations”? It seems to me that the issue which advocates for parent control seek to emphasize is precisely the meaning of “public” (or, to put it another way, what is gained by collective decision-making). However we say it, the argument between, on the one hand, advocates for tuition tax credits, tuition vouchers, subsidized homeschooling, charter schools and (my preference), parent performance contracting, on the one hand and on the other hand, advocates for the prevailing policy which gives the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel an exclusive position in receipt of the taxpayers’ pre-college education subsidy is: “Who decides? Who better represents taxpayers’ interests: parents or bureaucrats?”
I discuss the structure of the US education industry with a lot of people who have not given the issue much thought. I get the impression that many support the current structure for no reason other than that they have not considered options and the current system is the default position. Empirical arguments which maintain that a State-monopoly system is necessary for democracy or economic progress fall quickly to evidence. Ravich is too smart for that. One argument that often arises after the “democracy” and “economy” and “equality” arguments lie in tatters goes something like this: “It’s very important that all children learn __X__ (fill in the blank).” X may be racial tolerance, environmental awareness, global citizenship, etc. People who make this argument fail to consider that their particular X might well not win the contest. This does not seem to matter. I believe that people endorse the State-monopoly school system for the same reason that they buy movie tickets or lottery tickets; for a few hours or weeks they get to enjoy a fantasy (being the hero, being rich). You cannot enjoy the fantasy of winning the lottery unless you buy a ticket. You cannot enjoy the fantasy of dictating some curriculum (in Ravich’s case, the classical lberal curiculum) unless the State-monopoly system responds to central control.
Very astute, Malcolm. It’s just a matter of who is going to be king, not whether we should have a monarchy.
Some prisoners survived Dachau. Their survival does not support the contention that Dachau was an extermination camp. None the less, Dachau was an extermination camp.
In the 1996 TIMSS 8th grade Math assessment, the 5th (fifth) percentile score (Singapore) was higher than the 50th (fiftieth) percentile score (USA). A few years ago, I looked at mean NAEP 8th grade Math scores, by State, by parents race and level of education. Guess which State was tops (children of college-educated white parents): Washington, DC. So I guess the DC system isn’t failing, right?
Honestly. Can you really make your point by drawing a comparison between surviving Dachau and surviving American public schools? The logical fallacies baffle me.
Clearly, as I pointed out, the success is linked to socioeconomic status, and the suburbs of D.C. are some of the wealthiest prime real estate in the country. The city schools are not. Check with Jay Matthews of the Washington Post on this, as he notes there is a huge difference between urban and suburban schools. 70% of the schools in this country are doing well. Most of the urban ones are not.
You can’t look at the scores by state; you have to look at the districts. This sort of misreading of data is why there is such a disconnect between how people feel about their schools versus the “nation’s education system.”
Some people thrive in US schools. Some passengers survived the Titanic’s maiden voyage. Some prisoners survived Dachau. These are still disasters. The fallacy is to suppose that the success of the few is a reasonable measure of aggregate performance.
The DC results I reported were for the Washington, DC school district.
NCES does not make available to unaffiliated researchers NAEP test results of individual students, schools, or school districts. The exceptions to that last are the DC school district and the State-wide Hawaii school district. I have used State-level 4th and 8th grade NAEP Reading and Math test results (proficiency scores, percentile scores, mean scores, and mean scores by parents’ race and level of education). I have used Math composite scores, Numbers and Operations subtest scores, Algebra and Functions subtest scores. I have used 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996 and 2000 results. I investigate the relation between the age at which States compel attendance at school and test performance (later is better). I investigate the relation between district size and State-level test performance. For this I use three measures of district size: (1) mean district size, (2) percent of percent of total State enrollment in districts over 15,000 (or 20,000 depending on which year of the Digest of Education Statistics you use), and (3) percent of total State enrollment in one or another of the nation’s top 130 largest school districts. Smaller is better. The coeficient of correlation is about -0.4, which is strong for data this noisy. Aggregation reduces 10th percentile scores more than it reduces 90th percentile scores. Aggregation reduces mean scores of children of high-school-educated black parents more than it reduces mean scores of children of college-educated white parents. Alaska subsidizes homeschooling (correspondence school). The mean score of homeschooled children of parents with no schooling beyond high school, on Alaska’s tests of their curriculum, is higher than the mean score of the students of the college-educated teachers in conventional schools. The median honeschooled studnt’s score is close to the 80th percentile of conventional students. Alaska’s 90th percentile (NAEP 8th grade Math) is (was, when I looked) the highest in the US I conjecture that the homeschools are responsible for this result.
From these and other lines of evidence, I conclude:
1) As institutions displace parents in the control over children’s education, overall system performance falls, and
2) Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically adept parents.
Again, it seems your generalized data agrees with me – the D.C. school district is a mess because of factors beyond the school’s control, but the schools of Fairfax County are outstanding. Realistically, there are many fundamental flaws of a one-size fits all education system that emphasizes college prep for all students, even though only one-quarter of the student population actually ever earns a degree. This discrepancy is where the United States’ noble goal of universal college education departs from every other industrialized country in the world. It is a problem.
However, it’s interesting that you note the progress of home-schooled students. My sister home-schools all six of her kids, and the reason for their success is obviously active parental involvement in the education. This is why, by the way, that kids in the socioeconomic areas where both parents are college-educated outperform poor, rural and urban populations. This is also the key ingredient in the success of private (mainly Catholic schools), and it is the key argument against vouchers. The parents who take an active role to choose the best school and even pay more for it are going to take far greater interest in their child’s education.
Your conclusion of institutions that displace parents in control of their children’s education begs the question of what to do with all these kids. It would be nice if we had an economy that would support one parent staying home to support the children’s education, but how is that feasible. Any parent who wants to home-school can, so I don’t understand the displacement point. Do you have a solution?
I’ll have to check out your website concerning home-schooling and other issues. However, keep in mind that we only moved to a required k-12 education system one-hundred years ago, and that was predominantly to keep kids off the street after the passage of child-labor laws (a good move in my opinion. In that time, as Mort Zuckerman’s column in U.S. News and World Reports noted that “education is another great American success story.” According to Zuckerman, “nearly 90 percent of adults today complete high school compared with 33 percent in 1947.” Additionally, nearly 30% of the American population today has a college degree compared with 5 percent in 1947. That seems like some rather impressive progress. It’s hardly a ruined education system. While Americans regularly cite concerns about public schools, Gallup polls show seventy-five percent of Americans are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their children’s school. An even greater percentage of Americans (85%) are satisfied with their own education.
Clearly, the United States does an admirable job of educating its populace, though I don’t deny there is much improvement still to be made.
I guess I didn’t make myself clear. Malcom, when I said “at least you’re admitting that the meaning of ‘public’ is subject to different interpretations,” I meant in contrast to Ravitch, who does not seem to be willing to admit that. I was saying that if Ravitch wanted to make her point in a more responsible way, she could start by saying the same thing that you said about how choice dismantles “public” education if by “public” we mean “collectively controlled.” At least that comment treats the meaning of “public” as something that is subject to different interpretations about which reasonable people can disagree.
And I second the motion that you only discredit yourself when you fall afoul of Godwin’s Law.
I “admit” that “public” has different interpretations and rhetorical consequences in the same sense that I “admit” thet 2+2 = 4. Don’t you? “Admit” is a rhetorical device. Do you “admit” 2+2 = 4? Can I assert ther Greg Forster “admits 2 +2 = 4+”?
What’s Goodwin’s law? I thought it was calling someone a Nazi. I didn’t. How does a correct argument (survivors don’t support that Dachau was a death camp. Noetheless, Dachau was a death camp) discredit my argument?
If this doesn’t make your hair stand on end, what will?
I’ll use the Soviet labor camps from now on when I need to use a stark example to make the same point. Okay? Wioth your permission, I guess.
I don’t understand your condescention. I have been in support of your position (pro-choice). All i get for this is contentless sniping. I wish you would stop.
We measure system success by measuring student success (how else?). This introduces a fundamental difficulty immediately: what do we measure? I believe we commonly use reading vocabulary reading comprehension, and mathematical fluency because we have fairly unambiguous (and cheap) measures, not because we have consensus that these are more important than other skills. Further, given some accepted measure, how do we choose between two different distributions (e..g., higher mean with greater variance, or normal versus bi-modal)?
Success, as determined by the measures we use (grades, standardized test scores) requires , broadly speaking, three factors: a competent instructor, a coherent curriculum, and a motivated student. Motivation is where homeschoolers have a large advantage. Children, especially young children, will work their hearts out for the love of parents. Schools cannot replicate this, and the attempt would entali huge risks.
Motivation and parent involvement also relate to the advantage of market systems (e.g., tuition vouchers). Vouchers give to the people who know individual children best and who are most reliably concerned for their welfare (parents) the power to match individual children’s interests and abilities to a the learning environment and to the curriculum.
The argument that a difference in parents and not a difference in institutions accounts for tthe success of homeschoolers and independent schools fails, for it implies that these succesfully concerned parents are systematically deluded. They would be the same people if they sent their children to the local government school and then they would have one more income (homeschoolers) or the private school tuition (Catholic school) to spend on supplementary materials at home and their children would have done even better. Therefore a contradiction: these parents are NOT successfully concerned.
School is a means, not an end in itself. On the job training is also “education”. Compulsory attendance laws, child labor laws, and minimum wage laws put the o-j-t option out of bounds. Society loses as a result.
Cyrus McCormick was homeaschhoed. His father was a farmer and blacksmith. Richard Arkwright was homeschooled. James Hargreaves had only a few years of schooling. Thomas Highs never learned to read. These people kick-started the industrial revolution. I believe people develop “fluency” with machinery (or most other skills) through early exposure. The academic curriculum, compulsory attendance laws and child labor laws, form an insurmountable barrier between young children and fluency in many valuable skills.
David Farragut joined the Navy at 9, went to sea at 11, and commanded his first ship at 15. Robert FitzRoy was homeschooled to age 12, attended the Admiralty school from 12 to 14, then went to sea. Thomas Edison was homescholed and went to work at 13. Hiram Maxim left school at 13 and apprenticed.
I don’t believe everyone should go to college, anymore than everyone should sleep in a bed in a hospital ward every day for four years. Hospitals are for people who need medical care. Schools (K-PhD)–should– be for people who need help with learning. Want to learn Russian History or to 19th century American Literature” Read a book or twelve. You don’t need to kiss some professor’s
It does not take 12 years at $12,000 per student-year to teach a normal child to read and compute. Much vocational training occurs more effectively on the job. State provision of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers would be (is, in totalitarian countries). In the US, the “public” school system has become an employment program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, a source of padded contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination. If this is not so, why cannot any student take, at any age, an exit exam (the GED will do) and apply the taxpayers’ age 6-19 education subsidy to any VA-approved post-secondary institution or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified (say, has filed W-2 forms on at least three employees for at least the previous four years) private-sector employer?
You conclude with a fascinating proposal. It seems incredibly impractical and a recipe for disaster in an industrial society, but it caught my attention.
There is a proposal out there called “Tough Choices, Tough Times” that discusses exams to be able to pass on to the next level. And I have been intrigued by the “un-schoolers” out there (world class skier and partier Bode Miller was a product of that). But a test to pass and then a check for $12000 – I wonder what I would have thought about that at fourteen.
The educated electorate upon which Jefferson said the republic depended would become rather precarious, but, like I said, I am certainly amused at your suggestion.
By the way, this came off sounding way more condescending than I meant, but I wanted to respond. Mea culpa
Government schools did not exist in most of the early post-revolutionary US States, so clearly, democracy does not depend on government operation of school to get up and running. Empirically, continuation of democracy does not depend on government-operated schools. In Hong Kong and Ireland, 90% of students take tax -generated subsidies to independent schools. I conjecture that the 10% are severe sp-ed. In the Netherlands and Belgium, over 60% of students take tax subsidies to independent schools.
Here’s my proposal, in full.
In discussions with students, parents, and neighbors I have occasionally tossed out the idea of eliminating public education and making each family responsible for its own kids. The feedback I’ve received is that it would never fly. The outrage was intense when I suggested – as some Missouri legislators have done – that high school sports should be turned over to the community. The problem I see with eliminating the system is that it expects all parents will do what is right for their kids, and that their choices will be right for the community. Sadly, far too many parents make incredibly poor choices or no choices in parenting. Have you seen Super-Nanny?
One of the reasons that experimental voucher programs in places like Milwaukee have been less than stellar in results is because far two many parents make uniformed choices or choices for reasons unrelated to their child’s success. Many parents will choose the school that is closest – to home or their work – without bothering to check the details. Parents have an expectation that all schools should be equal, and that’s not an unreasonable claim. Therefore, the danger has always been that the motivated parents move their kids to better schools, and the rest are left to struggle even more. Thus, opponents of vouchers do have a valid – though not perfect claim – that society should work toward improving all schools equally, especially by bringing substandard ones up.
I’m intrigued by your claims about foreign schools, and I will follow up on them. There is much we can learn from other systems, rather than continuing with our current status quo. Again, the problem with parents who inadequately raise their children – and there are many – is they create far more serious social problems that we must then deal with. Dare I say that society/the economy has become far too complex to argue that democracy survived in the early days of post-revolutionary society.
I am impressed by your ideas, but I think I’m too pragmatic to say they don’t need extensive vetting.
Why this dichotomy between vouchers and improving all schools? As it happens, vouchers are the only consistently proven way to improve all schools, especially by bringing the substandard ones up. See here:
In Germany, local sports teams are not organized around schools. I think society would benefit if we moved away from full-service institutions (Math-Science-History-English-Shop-PE) to boutique institutions which specialized. Does your local Jiffy Lube operate a beauty salon and garden store?
If parents cannot make informed choices of schools, how can they make informed choices of legislators who choose schools. Expertise is important, but it’s important that experts not choose the experts.
I recommend GT Kurian __Encyclopedia of Education__ (iirc) on international school organization. See also Postlethwaite (=??), and OECD __Education at a Glance__.
NB. The World Bank and OECD internet sources differ wildly from OECD’s __Education at a Glance__, Kurian, and Postlethwaite. I e-mailed the Hong Kong Minsistry of Education some years ago for information of the distribution of enrollment, by type, and a gentleman named Michael Lee gave me raw data which amounted to the 10% in government-operated schools versus 90% in aided (voucher-accepting) schools, so I trust the OECD dead tree version and not the World Bank and internet OECD versions (which supply exactly the same numbers, so that’s most likely ONE source, not two).
I am astounded by the puerile ad hominem attack on Dr. Diane Ravitch that appeared in Jay Greene’s blog.
Like all of us, Dr. Ravitch has a right for her opinion to be respected and discussed without opponents resorting to such a childish (and inaccurate) attack. Apparently, Prof. Greene and his band of acolytes can’t muster the intellectual arguments to counter those of Dr. Ravitch, so must resort to this denigration of her scholarship and beliefs.
And while Dr. Ravitch has the intellectual honesty to evolve her positions based on the facts on the ground, her conclusions over her long and distinguished career have been remarkably consistent. This includes her criticism of the Bloomberg-Klein “reforms,” unrolling and unraveling here in New York. No one can recognize the folly of education failure in Gotham better than Dr. Ravitch, who wrote The Great School Wars, the definitive history of previous reform gone wrong.
Despite the best efforts of the army of flaks and spinmeisters paid for with public funds to “sell” the Bloomberg administration’s efforts, supplemented by a $20-million marketing campaign to promote the “reforms,” her criticism resonates with the public here. The newspapers are catching on to the wild grade inflation on New York State standardized tests, upon which Messrs. Klein and Bloomberg base their claims of success, and legislators are now wondering whether we can afford hugely expensive reforms that do not deliver the goods in a time of severe economic peril.
Mr. Ladner’s equating the huge cost of Bloomberg/Klein regime with the mere doubling of education expenditures nationally between 1971 and 2004 is wildly off the mark. Between 2002 and the present, just six years, expenditures for education have risen in New York City by 79%, about nine billion dollars. I can assure you that this is of no small concern to this New York City taxpayer. And that huge increase has not been accompanied by any increase in academic performance, let alone a commensurate one.
Finally, it should be recognized that the involvement of Rev. Sharpton as the spokesperson for the “reforms,” is not a result of coincidence, but design. He was solicited for this by the administration. I won’t go into the historical record of Rev. Sharpton’s negative, deceptive and perhaps even criminal role in New York City’s civic life. But if this charlatan is who Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg choose to symbolize their “great civil rights initiative,” no stronger indictment can be made of the entire enterprise. As a journalist here in New York for many years, guilt by association with Rev. Sharpton is the kindest thing I can say about those who choose to cast their lot with him.
If it was, as Mr. Greene suggests, the choice of Dr. Ravitch. Sol Stern, Rick Hess and Mike Petrilli to jump off the train as Rev. Sharpton and and that other educational role model, Marion Berry, have gotten on, I say, “good for them.” They have avoided the train wreck sure to come.
I have made a substantive critique of Ms. Ravitch’s post, not an ad hominem attack. I am to understand that an accusation by Ms. Ravitch that Klein, Fenty and Booker are out to “destroy public education piece by piece” without presenting a single bit of supportive evidence is not an ad hominem attack? Or that somehow it represents intellectual honesty?
A long and distinguished career does not entitle one to make such reckless and unsupported claims.
Wolf: “Finally, it should be recognized that the involvement of Rev. Sharpton as the spokesperson for the ‘reforms,’ is not a result of coincidence, but design. He was solicited for this by the administration.”
By Michelle Rhee’s administration? In DC? Because if not, then what grounds does Ravitch have for smearing Rhee, by name, as a “colleague” of Sharpton?
I support the reforms in question, too. Am I also a “colleague” of Al Sharpton?
Perhaps Ravitch’s outrageous smears only count when they affect people who happen to live in New York City.
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