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Did We Bridge Our Differences?

Dear Deborah Meier,

When we started this blog, the assumption was that we had long argued, but that we now saw some common ground around the central issues of the day. I still find this a compelling reason to continue our dialogue. As the issues of our day grow sharper, people who used to be adversaries are finding common ground. The disastrous policies of the No Child Left Behind Act and now the Race to the Top have succeeded in ending old animosities.

I now freely concede that I was wrong to support the expansion of testing and accountability. I believe that this approach has created a major national fraud, as the more we rely on testing, and the more we emphasize accountability, the less interest there is in anything that you or I would recognize as good education.

I now freely concede that I was wrong to support choice as a primary mechanism for school reform. It has become a mechanism to promote the privatization of public education and to create a cash flow of government funding for clever entrepreneurs.

These are terrible ideas. They do not reflect what is done in any of the world's most successful school systems. They represent a power grab by people who believe that the private sector always knows best. People often ask me why President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are in the camp of the privatizers, and I have to say that I don't understand it.

What I have seen these past few years is that old animosities over pedagogical issues fade to insignificance when compared with the present struggle for the future of public education. And in that battle, we stand together.
—Diane Ravitch


Overestimating Affluence, Underestimating Poverty

Thanks to high levels of residential segregation by income and what is elsewhere called "the near-total disenfranchisement of genuinely poor people in American politics and American political media," poor people are largely invisible to many middle-class people, leading folks to underestimate how many really are poor or low-income.

When "Waiting for 'Superman' " came out, there was a lot of commentary along the lines of "America's schools are pretty good on the whole; they just don't work all that well for poor kids." But more than 20 percent of American kids are poor, and more than 40 percent are low-income and fall under the poverty measure commonly used in education policy debates. A school system that works "pretty well" but fails one out of five kids is not working all that well. And one that doesn't effectively serve 40 percent of children is a catastrophe.

Americans like to think of ourselves as a middle-class nation, and that is reflected in our education policy debates, but in fact, a very large percentage of our children are not middle class.
—Sara Mead


The 2010 Election Results Raise Questions for Common Standards

It's in headlines everywhere, so you certainly don't need me to tell you that the 2010 election shifted the political landscape. As my colleagues Sean Cavanagh and Alyson Klein report, a number of Republicans claimed governors' and state superintendents' offices with campaigns that included arguing for more local control of education, and a heaping dose of hairy-eyeball for federal intrusion into school policy.

This is a theme I've heard over and over while covering the development and adoption of the common standards, so it will be interesting to monitor whether the new powers in statehouses manage to roll back their states' embrace of the new standards.

In states that won Race to the Top money, how easy will it be to get out from under a common-standards-and-assessment promise that formed part of the basis for getting the money to begin with? Republicans' new influence in Congress will likely mean a slimmed-down federal role in education policy, too, and that matters to common standards, since a number of advocates of the standards have been hoping that the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act could be shaped in ways that support their costly implementation.
—Catherine Gewertz

Vol. 30, Issue 11, Page 10

Published in Print: November 10, 2010, as Blogs of the Week
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