Much more on Ravitch

The following came out on a listserv:

“There is another way. Finland, ranked by the OECD as having the world’s best education system, faced many of these same problems in the 1960s. In international tests, its students barely made the OECD average. Since then, Finland has devolved decision making from Helsinki bureaucrats to the schools themselves, setting only guidelines for what students should be able to do. Schools and teachers are monitored for quality, and constantly evolve in terms of curricula and methods. The old-fashioned sorting of kids into different-level schools has been abandoned. Now Finnish 15-year-olds not only score highest in a number of skills, but also show the least effect of class background on achievement, a key measure of meritocracy. Small wonder that Finland is today a high-tech powerhouse with high growth and low unemployment.”

And another with the following information about Finnish primary schools:

“Finnish primary-school teachers have an unusual level of autonomy over the curriculum, a noted difference to the centralized approach in Ontario. They may choose their own textbooks, as long as they adhere to the core national curriculum. Board authorities do not inspect classrooms.

Students and teachers receive a free hot meal daily. Classrooms and hallways are so clean many students walk around in their stocking feet. There is only a minimal amount of homework, and students call teachers by their first names, says George Malaty, a professor of education at the University of Joensuu in Finland.”

Quote from NY Times article about Diane Ravitch:
“Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for
eaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with
espect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study the arts,
istory, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and
ther subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good
ducation. We’re on the wrong track.”

My comments:
I find it so interesting that in all this there is no acknowledgement that the Finns have only one minority group: Swedes. Sweden is the other of the top two nations in the world in educational achievement. There is no mention that our middle-class White suburban school children make scores as high or higher than those of Finnish and Swedish students.

They have no group (other than Sami in the north) that fits the profile of so many groups in this country, from traditional victims of oppression (yes, people, the U.S. has oppressed large numbers of people for centuries – get used to it) like Native Americans and African-Americans to recent arrivals like Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, the Hmong, and so on. What groups make it in our society? Those who come from strongly literate cultures, starting with the Jews but extending to the Chinese, Japanese, and, more recently, Iranian Baha’is, Indo-Pakistanis, and so forth. The individuals do not have to be educated in their home country but merely to have come from a culture where literacy and education are prized.

Having lived a good deal of my life in the African-American cutlture among people from the deep South who had no encouragement toward learning and institutional organization other than the church, I realized early on that a fundamental reorientation was necessary for a successful exploitation of the riches this society had to offer. It was school integration, despite the horrible cost to Black families and Black neighborhoods, that allowed a significant number of African-Americans to insert themselves into the mainstream society. But even now I so often see Blacks occupying good positions in our society only to find out they are of Caribbean or African heritage, by-passing the heritage of not only slavery but of demeaning segregation. Jamaicans may have a history of slavery, but they did not experience being a minority under intense pressure with the ever present threat of violence that was a mainstay of Southern life.

Poor people in general lack the institutional resources and depth in family finance to take advantage of new opportunities. One no longer needs a “heritage alum” in the family to get into a good school but if you are raised in a neighborhood of blighted schools, you are not getting in anyway. If the school allows your absences to be excused by parents, having parents who don’t speak English or are afraid of the school cuts you out of that particular easement. This is called institutional racism when it affects racial minorities and institutional discrimination when it affects other disadvantaged groups. Thus you do not need racial animus to claim racial discrimination, you need only to find barriers erected which shut you out as a by-product of actions not intended specifically to keep you out. Sometimes these are done awares, such as the grandfather clause, others are done unawares.

In looking for a particular term I wanted to use in this entry, I looked in Andrew Hacker’s 1992 book Two Nations and found he cited Diane Ravitch as one of those authors people cite competing quotes from. So she has played a long and large role in these battles over our schools. She knows better. Unlike a Charles Murray, who has simply made up his mind that the measures he values are the be-all and end-all of human existence, Ravitch is looking at the effects and the causes in order to create the best educational system possible, and she finally discovered that the conservative strategy of setting up their own traditions and values as universal doesn’t reflect reality and their strategy of denigrating schools, teachers, unions, administrators, college educators and so forth does not reflect reality. IOW, she is not approached this with an ideological eye.

Once you’ve accepted the notion that some people are superior to others and deserve wealth and privilege just because they are who they are, then you are impervious to facts, to evidence. So it is easy to go into a school district that has been struggling with underfunding, overcrowding, great poverty, violence and drug abuse, and throw out teachers who have managed to survive in this hell. Point to some school with “a similar profile” that has successfully raised test scores and say, “See, all those factors don’t matter.” No, the problem is lazy teachers and lazy kids – the old curmudgeon reduction to fist-pounding punditry.

I did not hear Ravitch talk about the fact that many of these “scholars” have invested in private schools that essentially act as hatchet men: they take over schools, firing the staff, and then “work miracles” with teachers who will burn out within three years.

Here is a post of someone who is extremely active in the fl teaching profession and who strikes a balanced view in his posts on flteach. His reaction on reading her book is stunning to me.

I just finished Diane Ravitch’s book, The Death and Life of the American School System. It is a must read for every teacher, administrator, school board member, politician and policy maker. The really exposes the naked emperor of corporate school reform models. This is a stunning reversal of her previously articulated positions, but as a scholar first, Ravitch allows her exhaustive review of the facts to shape the inevitable conclusions to which the data led.

I am so convinced of the import of this work that I bought a copy from Barnes and and had it sent to President Obama at the White House. I would love to see the White House flooded with copies of this book so that the President couldn’t help but read it before his Education Stooge, Arne Duncan, is able to re-up the NCLB’s heinous reform model for another 10 years. Thankfully, New York will not qualify for this year’s “Reach for the Top” grants – based on the same flawed models that Ravitch eviscerates in his work.

To select quotes from the book would do it a disservice. This is not a work readily reducible to soundbites. She repeatedly mentions the importance of including foreign languages in any comprehensive curriculum. Read it as soon as you are able. -end

I do hope others respond to my blog entry and these posts.

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