Ravitch unloads on school ‘deform’

Diane Ravitch, the education historian who has led a de facto national movement against current education policies — including standardized testing, charter schools, vouchers and teacher evaluations tied to student test scores — said Tuesday evening that “the White House’s obsession with data is sick.”

Ravitch was being feted at the American Federation of Teachers headquarters by the union’s president, Randi Weingarten.

The two spent some time on Capitol Hill Tuesday, meeting with lawmakers,including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “She was walking the halls of Congress, not to lobby a bill, but to lobby an ideology on behalf of children,” Weingarten told the gathering.

Asked about the latest reform trend — ideas around the importance of developing character traits like ‘grit’ and ‘determination’ in students to help them succeed academically — Ravitch said she didn’t think those traits in children could or should be measured.

“It makes me want to throw up,” said Ravitch, who is promoting a new book, “The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” “The White House’s obsession with data is sick.”


Diane Ravitch (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Constant measurement and reducing children to numerical scores are wrong, she told the adoring crowd of union activists and progressives. “My grandchildren are not global competitors — they’re children,” she said.

“I don’t know whether this is a period of madness or greed,” Ravitch said, calling her opponents ‘education deformers.’ “But what we’re doing is not helping children.”

Ravitch is well known for having a conversion of sorts, from conservative thinker who supported charters, vouchers and other right-leaning policies when she worked in the administration of President George H.W. Bush to progressive activist who is leading a revolt against those same policies.

She took a swipe at three of the conservative think tanks where she once enjoyed an association — the Manhattan Institute, Hoover Institution and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, calling them “belief tanks.”

“I found myself falling out of belief, looking at my own children, grandchildren and other people’s children and realizing that all this testing was wrong,” she said.

School closings in Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and elsewhere are nothing less than a dismantling of democracy, she said. “We are turning over school buildings and children to private corporations,” she said. “If we continue down this path, we will have places in this country where there are no public schools.”

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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