Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters

Page 2

  

June 16, 2010

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I read your article last evening. As a classroom teacher with 30+ years experience, I just completed the absolute worst year in the classroom I have ever endured (and it was NOT the fault of my students—they were great). This year I was told what to teach, when to teach, how to teach, how long to teach, who to teach, who not to teach, and how often to test. My students were assessed with easily more than 120 tests of one shape or another within the first 6 months of the school year. My ability to make decisions about what is best for my students was taken away by an overzealous attempt to impose “consistency” within my grade group. My school hired an outside consultant who threatened us with our jobs, demanded that everyone comply, and required us to submit data on test results on a weekly basis. If your class didn’t do well, you were certainly going to be in trouble. In addition, my class was visited at least twice a month by the consultant, two superintendents, principal, assistant principal, reading coach, math coach, and sometimes even more people. If I was not teaching exactly what they wanted to see, I was in trouble. My ability to have any academic freedom was completely taken away and my students were denied the best education I could provide for them. Please understand, my credentials are impeccable. I am board certified, have a master’s degree in educational leadership, have been documented with the highest scores on my team, and absolutely love what I do. I want to be a teacher, but just can not continue within this toxic educational environment.

This year I have tried to speak out against these many disgusting practices of testing, teaching to the test, or as you called it, “institutionalized cheating.” I have felt like a voice in the wilderness. The response has been: “Get used to it. It is what is coming down the pike.” We are in desperate need of voices like yours to bring sanity back to education. Please, please, please continue to speak out about this debacle and help us restore the focus of education back to the child and NOT the test score. I will enthusiastically share your article with fellow educators in an effort to save the future of public school education. I just wish I could do more. If you have any other positive suggestions as to what I can do to help, please let me know.

Thank you for speaking out. Let’s hope it is not too late.

Respectfully submitted,

Gary A. Groth


 


May 3, 2010

Anyone who cares about our country would do well to read this book. Anyone who wants to know about the challenges that the teaching profession has faced in these last decades will be enlightened by this book. I have been reading Diane Ravitch for almost 30 years, and I have admired and have been encouraged by her “teacherly” wisdom all this time, especially in the way that she regards the importance of teachers well educated in their subject matter, a high-quality curriculum for all students, and the inextricable link between the best that our way of life has to offer and our public school system. This book is one of the finest and may certainly be the most timely that she has written. It is a thoughtful, steady gaze that articulates what many educators have believed and felt in these dark decades of education “reform” where teachers and principals have been reduced to managers on an assembly line system. Thank you, Dr. Ravitch, for expressing your belief in and support for teachers and principals! You have given us courage and heart. You have begun a new conversation where our thoughts are being raised back above the minimum standard to the high goals of what an education is truly meant to be.

Dr. Claudia Allums
Associate Director and Teachers Academy Director
Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture


 


May 20, 2010

Hello Diane Ravitch,

Using “Measure and Punish,” Bellevue East Senior High and 51 other Nebraska schools were recently labeled Persistently Low Achieving Schools by the Nebraska State Department of Education and the Governor by speeding up deadlines and making stricter No Child Left Behind measurements.

The graduation rate requirements for high schools was changed from 65 percent to 75 percent, and lack-of-proficiency reading and mathematics subgroup test scores were used earlier than required by NCLB to produce the 52 Persistently Low Achieving School designations.

School districts are being bribed with American Recovery Act funds. The school districts have about a month to apply, if they wish, for these funds for their PLAS and to accept the NCLB punishments that come with the funds.

These are the NCLB punishments which you have discussed so well.

Attached is an issue of Education News which I started 44 years ago and still write for and edit for the Bellevue Public Schools. Also attached are three stories that I could not fit into this issue. Because we only have one more issue before school closes this week for the summer, only one or two of these three will be printed.

Thanks for your words and thoughts in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

This Old Teacher tried to use your valuable words and thoughts fairly and accurately in Education News.

I enjoy your Mrs. Ratliff. I taught English for 50 years, 41 at Bellevue East Senior High and 15–20 years (part time) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I also enjoyed one year on a teaching Fulbright at government College for Men in Peshawar, Pakistan. Teaching has been fun.

Your writings uplift the spirits of educators depressed by attacks on American education.

If you would like updates on NCLB in Nebraska, I would be happy to send them to you for your national collection.

Best wishes to you and your staff as you make your important contributions to American education.

Phil Kaldahl


 


March 30, 2010

Hi Dr. Ravitch,

I’m sure you have been thanked for many things in your life, but I would like to personally thank you for getting me through my 60-minute workout on the elliptical this morning. The US Postal Service was kind enough to deliver your latest book yesterday afternoon. I decided learning from the past to pave the way for a better future was a suitable read in my quest toward a healthier lifestyle. :-) I haven’t been able to put the book down since.

As someone who is writing a dissertation at Ohio State in educational leadership and a full-time high school administrator, I cannot thank you enough for your continued dedication to the field of education. I’m bursting at the seams to share some of your sentiments with our faculty and my fellow colleagues. You, simply stated, are just what the doctor ordered. Thank you, thank you, and thank you!

All my best,

Dustin W. Miller


 



July 24, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I am a high school English teacher in Pittsburgh, PA. I am taking graduate courses to renew my certification and stumbled across your article while researching for an annotated bibliography in a course on research methodology. I found myself nodding in agreement to everything you were saying about choice and accountability. Though I have only been teaching for five years, I have followed a similar course of thought in the past decade, from undergrad through my first five years of teaching.

Our school district and teachers’ union ratified a contract this month that probably qualifies us to pursue “Race to the Top” funds, and I believe the contract will result in irreparable damage to our district and perhaps even to other teachers throughout the country. Among other things, this contract places all newly hired teachers on a merit pay plan based on student scores and links current teachers’ salaries to student scores at least on some level. I believe this contract is basically the result of Washington’s leveraging funding based on high-stakes testing and that the contract will negate many of the positive changes that have been occurring in Pittsburgh.

All this to say thank you for trumpeting your opinion about the incredible flaws in NCLB’s ideology and implementation. I assure you that there are many classroom teachers, myself included, that (though we feel powerless against them) would love to challenge the “think tanks” in Washington and take back our profession.

Thank you,

Anonymous


 


April 16, 2010

Diane,

I rarely contact people out of the blue, but I’m compelled to write to thank you so much for your interview on KPFA this morning. Your insight, experience, perspective and articulate presentation of the the state of public education nearly brought tears to my eyes. How refreshing to have someone who has spent a lifetime fully engaged in their profession, and STILL willing to reflect with integrity (not positioned in ideology).

As an advocate of youth community engagement, I was so inspired to hear an educational leader affirm that America’s public schools should prepare our students not only with academic proficiency, but with the skills necessary for civic leadership—love of learning and critical thinking.

Nancy Vogl


 


April 1, 2010

Hello Dr. Ravitch,

I just finished reading your wonderful book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I work in a school that is considered exemplary in its focus on data and accountability. The teachers (mostly very talented and intelligent young women) are justifiably fearful of speaking out against the leadership, and are silently miserable and questioning whether or not they can continue in this career choice.

Are you optimistic about the future of American public education, i.e., that this movement may turn around or at least put in balance with other theoretical orientations?

What do you think is the best way for school staff to invest their energy in making a difference toward ending the overemphasis on data and blindly applying business models to education?

Anonymous


 


April 28, 2010

Dear Ms Ravitch,

My copy of your latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, finally arrived at my home in Melbourne Australia two weeks ago. It took me two days to read but much longer to absorb its message and its importance for educators generally. I congratulate you. I found it a deeply thoughtful and even moving work. Your defense of the American Public School system and your summation of the way forward for schools in the U.S.A. is quite masterly.

I spent 40 years in secondary education in Australia as teacher, principal and acting inspector. I have been retired from teaching now for nearly fifteen years but the pain of seeing a once proud public education system in my country progressively decline to the point where public schools are under attack from many sections of society has been difficult to witness. I feel for the many former educators in your country who regularly contribute to discussions on educational reform. Their collective observations and wisdom, gleaned from (collectively) thousands of years of classroom experience seems to hold the key to the way forward if only their voices can be heard.

In Australia we seem to be at a watershed in school reform. On the one hand we have seen the recent release of the key elements of a truly national curriculum for discussion and consultation. This has been years in creation and offers in my opinion a real way forward. As an old history teacher I’m delighted to see this subject restored to its rightful place in the curriculum and I’m delighted to see some real effort made in the curriculum to give teachers real direction and guidance.

However as from 2009 we now have national testing in English and Mathematics in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in all Australian schools. The Australian Government at the beginning of this year created a website which summarizes the English and Mathematics results from the 2009 national tests for 10,000 public, private and Catholic schools in Australia. This release has also coincided with a visit to Australia of Chancellor Klein from NYC to consult with and advise leading educational decision-makers in this country. As a marker of English in this national testing program I hope that the results will be used diagnostically to improve English (and Mathematics) in our primary and secondary schools and not merely to ‘name and shame’ underperforming schools. It is not yet too late here to avoid the testing excesses evident in many states in the U.S.A.

Finally I strongly support your notion outlined in DLGASS that our schools need leaders who are experienced and strong master teachers. In the state of South Australia where I taught, most observers agree that the ‘golden age’ of public education extended from the late 1960s and 1970s until the early 1980s when an appreciable decline in public schools began. Twice a year the principals from this era continue to meet for lunch. Many are now in their seventies, eighties and even nineties. All had a strong, extended and successful teaching background before their appointment as principals and the majority also had a history of curriculum leadership in their chosen teaching field. Unfortunately I see too many school leaders today coming to the profession with a history of educational faddism rather than expertise in classroom methodology and curriculum development.

Best wishes as your continue in your travels to ’spread the word.’ I truly believe DLGASS has the potential to initiate real change for good in all American schools.

All the very best,

Brenton George

 

P.S. (July 11, 2010): We have a new Prime Minister here in Australia (our first woman to hold this post and a graduate of my old high school!). I have forwarded a copy of your book to the newly appointed Education Minister (Mr Simon Crean). It would be wonderful if at some time in the future you could personally spread your message to educators and politicians here in my country.


 


March 3, 2010

Dear Diane,

I fight everyday to maintain the highest academic standards in my inner-city math and science magnet school classroom. I sometimes wonder why I keep fighting, because my opponents are formidable and many: the local school administration, the education advocacy group whose lawsuit resulted in the decision that established our school and which is ostensibly pushing to better prepare the community’s students for college, all levels of government, the students, and their parents! You’re my new hero! Thank you!!!

Teacher in Connecticut


 


March 20, 2010

Your editorial in the Los Angeles Times on March 14 was like music to my ears. Someone other than me knows the truth. As a Los Angeles teacher it has been frustrating and heart-wrenching to watch public education being given away in pieces to private charters. I have never understood why the decision makers never want to spend any real time doing real research talking with real “in the trenches” teachers to find out what the realities are in schools today. Why are we the adversaries? Why are the only good teachers the “young energetic ones” with less than 8 years of experience? What happened to the value of experience? We want to have our students be successful too. We want them to have a real education, not a test-driven one. It is so depressing to sit in the lunchroom and hear my colleagues voice out loud “after next week (when testing is over), I can finally do some real teaching. I can finally spend time on science, art, and social studies.” These are comments from the least experienced to the most.

In public schools we take all comers, as you stated in your article. We can’t ask for students’ test scores before admitting them or turn away those with special needs, partly because it’s against the law. Why is it legal for the charters? Why don’t they have to comply with IDEA? Why is it legal for them to exclude the behavior problems? We don’t get to mandate parent participation like charters and private schools either. These are issues my school and I personally have experienced. If I could just have 10 less students in my class that in itself would make a difference. Giving teachers paid time to collaborate and work in PLCs would make a difference not test-based teaching. For the sake of kids every where I hope your words reach some decision maker’s ears. Their educational lives are at stake.

Elementary School Teacher


 


March 3, 2010

I agree wholeheartedly with your newer beliefs, but I am motivated to write because of the joy I felt seeing that someone with your incredible background could change positions and do it with such clarity and class. Thank you, thank you. And thanks to NPR. I will read this book.

Anonymous


 


March 3, 2010

Thank you so much for rethinking the issues of education reform. As a retired teacher and former principal of a charter school, I agree with you—we have lost our way. Teachers have seen this for years. Standardized testing is the most negative influence we face, but there are others.

I look at my two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter and her passion for learning as play and I could not send her to what so many schools have become. She would wither.

I really have decided that anyone who makes decisions about schools should do so as if their grandchild would go there. I am a veteran of the math reform effort. What the original NCTM Standards proposed offered so much. The mathematics we teach now, driven by one-dimensional tests, has gotten so far away. I saw this so well in my AP Calculus and AP Stats classes, as kids had lost passion as well as the inclination to explore and to think deeply. It was not the content they lacked, it was the context. For the record, the charter school I helped start in 2008 is Charleston (SC) Charter School for Math and Science. I retired in January (Yes!). Most all of my career has been in traditional and magnet public schools.

Glaser is right—we have lost all semblance of quality and excellence, much less student responsibility for learning. And we did it ourselves by drinking the Kool-Aid.

Ironically, we have better teachers than ever, but they are giving up the fight.

Some charter schools, particularly conversion charters, have made progress, but the charter concept mostly only gives false security at best, and at worst—is sad.

So please continue to raise your voice.

Thanks,

Peter Smyth

All letters have been reprinted with the permission of the writers.

 

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