by Max Brantley
Diane Ravitch, the reformed school reformer who, at 73, has become a one-woman truth squad against the gospel of the Billionaire Boys Club, points me to an early look at a valuable and balanced article on school reform in the coming New York Times magazine.
Ravitch has been savaged recently by cheerleaders for the "reformers" — pro-testing, pro-charter, pro-merit pay, anti-union, anti-teacher generally — for noting that the great success stories they cite in poor neighborhoods (Bruce Randolph in Colorado and Urban Prep in Chicago) still score very low by all the usual metrics that reformers value so much. In short: Poverty is a helluva hurdle to overcome and charters and merit pay and all the rest haven't demonstrated any replicable model for overcoming it on a broad scale. In fact, some of the success stories aren't successes at all. But it is SO unfair, the reformers whine, for Ravitch to hold schools with majority black, poor populations to the same standards as privileged suburban schools. Really? From the article:
To point out the obvious: These are excuses. In fact, they are the very same excuses for failure that the education-reform movement was founded to oppose. (If early reformers believed in anything, it was that every student is an apple.) And not only are they excuses; they aren’t even particularly persuasive ones. By any reasonable measure, students at Bruce Randolph are doing very badly. The average ACT score at Randolph last year was 14, the second-lowest average of any high school in Denver, placing students in the bottom 10 percent of ACT test-takers nationwide. In the middle school, composite scores on state tests put students at the first percentile in reading and writing (meaning that at 99 percent of Colorado schools, students are scoring better), and at the fifth percentile in math. As for Urban Prep [beloved example for Obama's education secretary]: demographic data show that the school’s students are not, in fact, disadvantaged grapefruits among well-to-do apples when compared with the city’s student population as a whole; 84 percent of its students are low-income and 99.8 percent are nonwhite, while in Chicago public schools, 86 percent of students are low-income and 91 percent are nonwhite.
... So why are some reformers resorting to excuses? Most likely for the same reason that urban educators from an earlier generation made excuses: successfully educating large numbers of low-income kids is very, very hard. But it is not impossible, as reformers have repeatedly demonstrated on a small scale. To achieve systemwide success, though, we need a shift in strategy.
The author lists a number of strategies in a balanced look at the subject. In short, he says, consider the kids first, not the billionaires' anti-public school agenda. I hope all will keep this in mind when the state weighs another flood of applications to functionally privatize public education in Arkansas (particularly Pulaski County) through publicly financed charter school operations.