Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters

Page 20

  

April 3, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

Thank you very much for being a voice of sanity in the madness that seems to be accelerating all around us. I have been at this for 27 years now, teaching and coaching, the last 22 in a rural district in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It has been hard to watch the effect the economic downturn has had on our district, and it’s been hard to put up with the rising wave of “reform” as we are made to focus on testing more and more. Young administrators certainly don’t want to hear about a time when small but tight-knit districts sent well-prepared kids to all kinds of outstanding schools and solid jobs and solid careers, all without the intense emphasis on testing and “accountability” we live with today. I want to make sure I express how appreciative I am for your most recent book for its historical perspective on how the current landscape took shape, and for your support of public schools and teachers. I often wonder how different things might be today if actual positive reforms had been put in place over the last few decades. I remember working as part of our district’s original Compact for Learning committee in the 80s. I thought it was a positive thing, people from many different interest groups coming together to work on what our students should know, what they should be able to do, and even what we wanted them to be like when they finished with us. One change in state government later, and that was over and done with.

I am attaching the newest document we have received, which is basically how the Race to the Top plan will be executed as we pursue College and Career readiness for all. You have probably seen it already, but just in case. As an English teacher, I can tell you that the thought of testing several times a year for every grade from 3-11 is not something I look forward to, and I would seriously consider a retirement incentive and the chance to come at this battle from a different perspective. And that’s just one of the disturbing aspects of the document.

Again, thank you for your efforts on behalf of students and teachers and public schools. You have made it easier to keep plugging away.

Bill Mullarney


 


April 2, 2011

Ms. Ravitch,

Perhaps I am jumping the gun here (I have not yet finished your book) but I want you to know that as a teacher, retired, of 34 years I truly appreciate your efforts to get a message out there. Your book is much needed. I taught Earth and Space Science to freshmen at Warwick High School, Lititz PA. I enjoyed nearly every (but not every) day very much.

In my mind perhaps one of the most important things we can help students to experience is the feeling of “Hey, I did that!” For me to experience some of my most academically challenged students showing some of my best students how to light a bunsen burner was a thrill and fun. In an age of testing and teaching for tests it is just those kinds of experiences that have to be forfeited. Larger classes and tighter time schedules just do not allow for the time and patience it takes to allow kids to try, fail, try, and succeed at those kinds of lab experiences. The student who helped light burner, the student who allowed him to help, and I are really the only people who knew what happened in those kinds of incidents and we all benefited. But how do you test any of us for that?

So, thanks, Ms. Ravitch, for getting the message out there that there is a heck of a lot more to education than testing and much more than most people will ever realize.

Sincerely,

Tom McKinne


 


March 31, 2011

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I wanted to take a moment to send a thank you for your wonderful book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. As a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, a district that has bought into the philosophies of both Broad and Gates, I read your book with a sense of personal interest. Indeed, it seems that almost everything you wrote about San Diego and New York City are becoming fashionable in districts like mine. The strange attraction to merit pay (initially for administrators and now with a select teacher population) is dividing our district. We recently approved a teacher contract with so many logistical holes in it that most people couldn’t believe it actually passed (and can’t remember voting for it!); we were told to trust our union leaders and district administrators as they filled in the blanks (merit pay, teacher assessment, student assessment, etc.) I guess that I am one of the luckier ones; I teach AP/Honors seniors and for the most part I am unaffected by most of the new rules and regulations, the Gates-funded blood money, and state standardized tests. Still, I work in a district where we are led by Broad graduates in both central and school administration, and even though it doesn’t (yet) affect my job security, it does transform school climate and creates systemic changes that will undoubtedly have negative affects on how our students learn (curricula built around standardized tests and not standards and texts), how our teachers instruct (where teaching literally stops for test-preparation), and how our administrators lead (through data-driven means of assessment). Our new governor and his budget cuts and unabashed support for vouchers isn't helping matters either.

All of the above also affects me as a college instructor. I have served as an adjunct professor of Education at [omitted] University (a small liberal arts school) for the past eight years and teach courses on Multicultural Education and English Methods. I see my students go out into local districts (to student teach) afraid to apply the theory and discourse we use in our classrooms due to the popularity of scripted (“managed”) curricula throughout many of the disciplines (Pittsburgh has bought into this concept wholeheartedly at many levels). In addition, Pittsburgh has started a “teacher academy” that gives the impression that our teacher education programs are not preparing pre-service teachers for life in an urban school setting and offer (require?) an additional semester or year of (paid) internship in a lab school. This teacher academy also seems to be a way for Pittsburgh to recruit uncertified teachers (i.e., professionals who want a career change), by tempting them with good pay and quick study.

So, thank you again for your well-written, well-researched, and honest appraisal of NCLB and people like Gates and Broad and their unfortunate effects on the American education system. Thank you for being a strong and positive voice for public schools. I hope that enough of the “right” people read your book (and your blog) and take a bit of advice from someone who’s actually an educator (and not in business or law). In the spirit of Paulo Freire, we need to find a way to reclaim education, in both theory and practice.

Yours,

Anonymous


 


March 29, 2011

Ms. Ravitch,

I am a teacher in California. I was a visual arts teacher for many years until our district decided to pull the funding and now am teaching kindergarten. I just watched your speech to the AASA National Conference and it brought me to tears. Having someone put into words the frustration and demoralizing feelings we have as teachers in the working in the classroom day in and day out is so encouraging. I am thankful that you are willing to be our voice. I just wish the people making the policy decisions that affect us in the classroom would listen as well. If I thought they were, it would give me some hope that teaching could be what we know it should be. As it is I am not optimistic. Thank you for being willing to express our feelings and concerns.

Sincerely,

Anonymous


 


March 27, 2011

Thank you for writing The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It is a compelling account of how the current reform efforts have damaged education. It is also a shining example of a scholarly, researched-based and integrative work that would not be the product of students coming out of the narrow, low-quality schools our choice and testing advocates envision.

These are two points you make so well, and must be understood before we can move forward:

1. There is a notion that we can try anything in education, because our current system is a complete failure. While we need to do better, we are far from a complete failure.

2. The on-going reform efforts by non-educators have incurred a tremendous opportunity cost. We have not been able to improve education in sensible ways because implementing the nonsensical reforms has taken all available time and resources.

As an educator who entered the profession inspired by “A Nation at Risk” twenty-five years ago, it has been hard for me to see what a young person would find appealing in the teaching profession today. Your book will inspire many young people that the future of education may be brighter if the voice of reason can prevail.

Chris Hinze


 


March 20, 2011

Dr. Ravitch,

I listened to your interview on “To the Best of our Knowledge” today. I’d like to get a copy of your book and read it so that I might better respond to you and possibly help.

I am currently an underemployed librarian. Four years ago, I was laid off from Harcourt Assessments. For most of my six years as the Corporate Librarian and Archivist, I was working solo. You’d have thought that a company so firmly rooted in research and development would know the value of scholarship and research resources, but alas no. I worked all that time putting together one of the finest research collections of educational and psychological testing, and was never to see better facilities than a cage in the warehouse. I often wondered when tour groups of State Educational departments were brought out to the warehouse and passed by my cage, seeing my hand-lettered sign for the corporation’s library, what they thought. In spite of my best efforts to bridge the many “Ivory Silos,” the executives managed to implode the company, even though their lobbyists had helped write No Child Left Behind.

Harcourt trumpeted the passage of NCLB as their ticket to 15% revenue growth per year and fabulous profits. Those of us in the trenches were far more realistic, but had no power to reign-in the “irrational exuberance,” plus many of us had children already suffering under the onus of excessive, misguided testing.

My daughter told me of how the teachers stopped their TAKS test in progress and coached them on the correct answers. My son, condemned to an entire school career in “Behavior Modification” is paying the price to this day. His “group” was kept in a holding tank where their grades wouldn’t impact the school’s exemplary rating. Physically handicapped students were displayed front and center to show the world how inclusive the school was.

Before being a corporate librarian, I served 9 years in a public library. One of my most rewarding times was as a library assistant, staffing a part-time outreach project in the black neighborhood in Denton, Texas. You speak of poverty and there was certainly some to be found in Denton, but when we were there, you could see glow in the kids.

Things I see going wrong in education today point to the “over professionalization” of the process. Many teachers in elementary insist on kids sitting still and absorbing knowledge and demand that children who can’t be medicated. The first thing to be taken away is recess. Recess, when it occurs is not kids playing among themselves and developing executive functions, but strictly supervised by coaches and physical education teachers. The folly continues on through middle and high school. If you aren’t participating in organized sports you don’t get any physical activity or education. Obesity is rampant. Of equal concern is the excessive amount of administrative staff and Ph.D. administratos, squeezing out funding for actual teachers.

I’m sorry to go on. I’m sure I could write a book as well. I do feel that greed has claimed another victim in the Education of our children. I hope that the course can be reversed. My grandmother was a teacher in as one-room school... a model with valid lessons even for today. I would welcome a dialogue and wish you well.

Respectfully,

Bruce Mergele


 


February 22, 2011

Your recent editorial piece makes some great points. Let’s assume that collective bargaining will be a thing of the past for teachers. The next logical question would be, what should teachers be thinking about to advocate for that will help them remain successful without the union umbrella. Other industries have survived without unions and are well paid and well treated. The difference with teachers is that so many things impact their students’ performance that are out of their control.

I think that teachers need a way to call out the parents that hurt their students’ progress. What might that look like? Maybe each teacher should be able to publish on a district web site the names of parents that either don’t support good learning habits, don’t read with or to their children (I’m of course assuming the parent is capable of this) or parents that don’t teach their children to respect adults — particularly their teachers.

I’m all for evaluating and paying for performance but only for the things that teachers can actually control. Ill-mannered children who watch TV or play videos all night instead of doing homework are not a teacher’s responsibility.

Susan B. Tripi


 


February 21, 2011

The Governor [of Wisconsin] is just going to pass the bill and everyone will take it like good surfs and will have to go home because they are poor and can’t afford to stay and protest.

They sure were not protesting while everyone’s jobs in the private sector have been been outsourced the last ten years. Only when their little pocket books and rights are going to be stolen do they get motivated.

Once the bill passes it is just the first step. The second step will be to start laying them off to save money and hire illegal aliens to replace any of them they can. Sound familiar?

As Eric Holder stated on national television last year, this is a “Nation of Cowards.”

Americans sit and watch Desperate Housewives and American Idol and sports while the government passes laws against them like the Patriot Act and trade agreements while voting for corporations over the best interest of the citizens.

I am shocked these people have the guts to protest at all.

Although it is way too late, their state has been ripped off by Wall Street and outsourced by corporations and is BROKE. Their pension funds raided by Wall Street and invested in Goldman Sachs financial theft investment schemes.

Why were they not protesting the past two years while the budgets were known to be in trouble? Johnny come lately rings a bell and complaisant does as well.

This is only the beginning of the end for the United States. We are not in a recession, we are and have been in a DEPRESSION since 2008 when the banks collapsed due to FRAUD. Of course NO indictments or prosecutions for the rich guys and the media will not dare say the word “depression.”

The stock market is rising faster than anyone has ever seen it. Just as it did before it crashed in the 1920�s.

The teachers think they have it bad now, they have seen nothing yet. Wait until all the schools are closed like the Great Depression. Except we have a 1,000 times more people now that are heavily armed. Northern California has already stopped all athletics for the school district.

Michigan school district is going to close, they have no money and the state is broke and people fleeing the state. More people have fled Ohio than any time in American history.

The signs are all there. If we choose to ignore them, everyone will pay a very high price very soon.

Bryan Stevens


 


February 18, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I just finished reading your interview in Principal magazine and felt compelled to send you a personal, heartfelt THANK YOU. Your closing sentence left me, an elementary principal, in tears; specifically, “Being an elementary school principal is one of the most demanding tasks in our society; it is not a job for amateurs.”

Can I tell you, that is the single most affirming statement I think I’ve ever read about my role as a principal. I’m a 31.5 year veteran educator — 22 of those as a principal at all levels K-12 — and I love every single day of my work and my life. How refreshing to read an expert’s opinion that so succinctly nailed the issues.

I hope and pray for your continued success. Please continue to use your influential voice for the good cause of public education within a reasoned, rational system! I’m working towards that end and it sure sounds as if you are too! Sister warriors.

Teresa Robinson


 


February 20, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

It is with great interest that I read your article today on the CNN website, “Why America’s Teachers Are Enraged.”

To paraphrase a famous gentleman, America’s public schools are, indeed, the last best hope of mankind. I have been both fortunate to have been a teacher for many years and unfortunate enough to witness the manner in which our society has chosen to label teachers as the scapegoats for America’s ills.

I taught high school and college for 37 years. Even today I feel the pull of the classroom and had to resist the call of a local high school to “bail them out” when their AP American History teacher chose to leave. It was very hard to do so. I love teaching and I love the children. It is most distressing to watch as the American people tear our teachers apart like piranhas in a river. It is agonizing to read one superintendent after another write seemingly erudite articles in the New York Times describing what is wrong with education and they could not be more off the mark if they intended to do so.

It is with little modesty that I tell you I have seen it all in our schools. I have been New York State Teacher of the Year, a White House honoree for teaching excellence, and have won more awards than any other teacher I ever heard of. I would trade them all in a second if America would agree to regain its sanity, venerate its teachers, and allow us to educate children properly. For goodness sake.

Thank you for your work,

Eliot Scher


 


February 20, 2011

Ms. Ravitch,

Thank you for all of your hard work in exposing the myths of modern school reform. I am a history teacher at Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ. Monday will be my fifth anniversary there. We now have our third Superintendent, chosen by the state, in that time. Each year that I have been there we undergo a new and different school model, every year a new initiative different than the previous year. There is no continuity for students. We are a nine-year failing school, so now we risk being shut down. We also lose our highest achieving students every year to Passaic County Tech, and eleven other academies in town. Now the governor has approved a new charter school. I don’t know how we can be expected to succeed in such a scenario.

I don’t know why I’m writing you, but I want to be more active and I don’t know if my union or political reps are fighting it as hard as they ought to. If we voucher or charter our best students out of public schools we’ll have no positive peer role models left for the average student. And each year we’ll be held accountable to raise scores for all the students that get counseled out of private or charter schools. Your review of Waiting for Superman and your op-ed in the Wall Street Journal were wonderful to see and inspiring. We need that message to get out more in my state and turn the discourse back to reality. Here in NJ we’re the entire reason that the state is broke and we’re lazy and no good. Well, we also have one of the top school systems in the country too, but no one sees that.

I look forward to more of your articles and any advice you can offer.

Thanks again,

Salvatore Balsamo


 


February 19, 2011

Ms. Ravitch,

Thanks so much for coming to Tucson to deliver your message, which I enthusiastically endorse.

I teach English at a high school in Tucson’s poorest neighborhood. We scored so low on the state-mandated test a few years ago, that we were in danger of being “restructured.” In numerous in-services, we were essentially told to “teach to the test,” which we willingly did, because we love what we do.

Then, I was given an Honors class (Alexis Huicochea, the reporter who wrote the article about your talk in the Arizona Daily Star was in that first class!) and I had an epiphany: why couldn’t I teach ALL of my classes as if they were Honors classes? So I did, and the kids responded. For the past couple of years, more than 90% of my low-income, dysfunctional, stressed-out, and absolutely wonderful students passed the state reading and writing exams (and many exceeded) on their first attempt. The district average was about 55% at the same time.

Why were they so successful? Because I didn’t teach to the test. I aimed my kids at Bloom’s highest levels (which I didn’t know at the time), and assumed that they could get there. And of course, they did — they are just as smart and driven as students at the best schools. I started incorporating AP prompts into my sophomore classes, and was not at all surprised to find that my students ate it up.

We need to challenge our students, not to reduce them to test-takers. College and the real world are looking for thinkers.

By the way, Alexis Huicochea graduated summa cum laude from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications in just three and a half years. But she’s no more amazing than so many other of our graduates, who are now teachers, psychologists, lawyers, etc.

Stacy Haines

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

 

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