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Monday, March 8

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The Mechanics
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Education Thu Mar 04 2010

Ravitch's Volte Face

Albert Shanker, for all his many faults, was a powerful voice for public education as a necessity for a democratic society. Shanker believed a public system accessible to all was necessary for meritocracy to function. Shanker was also an exponent of charter schools as a part of a public school system to allow for innovation in curriculum development.

Diane Ravitch, the leading public intellectual on education, has undergone a transformation that has brought her back closer to Shanker. She has come to realize that the privatization of public education is actually reactionary, not forward looking; that a strong public school system with highly-paid professional teachers are common features to all of the world's best schools systems, while private and religious schooling is common to the most dysfunctional. And she has come to see what "traditionalists" have been saying all along: that the cry for "accountability" in practice amounts to little more than standardization and rote curricula.

Ravitch--among the architects of No Child Left Behind--had her realizations come just as the privatization movement is being foisted on America as a whole by a cynical administration and incompetent Secretary of Education. Apparently the Magical Free Market Unicorn so many prayed to in the heady days of the 1990s has proved itself to be just as made up as the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

These and other experiences left her increasingly disaffected from the choice and accountability movements. Charter schools, she concluded, were proving to be no better on average than regular schools, but in many cities were bleeding resources from the public system. Testing had become not just a way to measure student learning, but an end in itself.

"Accountability, as written into federal law, was not raising standards but dumbing down the schools," she writes. "The effort to upend American public education and replace it with something that was market-based began to feel too radical for me."

 
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