Education Funding Opinion

An Unlikely Hero Breaks Through the Blackout: Diane Ravitch

By Anthony Cody — February 27, 2011 2 min read
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A decade ago if you had come across the work of Diane Ravitch, you would have placed her squarely in the conservative camp. She served as Assistant Secretary of Education under president HW Bush in the early 1990s, and was a supporter of accountability through testing. She served on numerous conservative foundation boards and worked with the Hoover Institution to promote charter schools. When No Child Left Behind came along, she was a supporter.

But something happened that changed her mind, as she explained last year in an interview with me:

My epiphany around NCLB occurred in November, 2006, when I went to a meeting at the American Enterprise Institute to hear a series of studies of how NCLB was working. AEI is a conservative think tank and I assumed the papers would be celebratory. They were not, and at the end of the day, I concluded (and said publicly) that NCLB was not working. That had a big impact. My guess is that most people just go along with the conventional wisdom; it takes a lot of time and energy to arrive at a divergent opinion. Critics of NCLB must be wiser in making their case and must be clear in explaining its baneful effects, its lack of success, and the ways in which it undermines education.

There have been others who have distanced themselves from No Child Left Behind, and acknowledged its weaknesses. Even President Obama campaigned against it, and Secretary Duncan has abandoned the name in his efforts to get Congress to reauthorize the law. But Dr. Ravitch has zeroed in on the fundamental weaknesses in its approach, and applied a razor sharp critique to current policies as well.

in the Wall Street Journal last March she wrote:

The current emphasis on accountability has created a punitive atmosphere in the schools. The Obama administration seems to think that schools will improve if we fire teachers and close schools. They do not recognize that schools are often the anchor of their communities, representing values, traditions and ideals that have persevered across decades. They also fail to recognize that the best predictor of low academic performance is poverty--not bad teachers.

This outspokenness has placed Dr. Ravitch at odds with some very powerful people. An article in Newsweek last November called her Bill Gates’ “biggest adversary.”

At NBC’s weeklong Education Nation extravaganza she was represented in a thirty second-long clip, and otherwise completely blocked from participating. Waiting For Superman director Davis Guggenheim refused to share the stage with her on any program.

Last year when I interviewed Dr. Ravitch, I asked her: “As someone who was once “inside” the administration, how would you suggest those of us concerned about this direction take action?”

Educators who see the handwriting on the wall must work through their organizations and urge them to make their collective voices heard. Alone, we are all powerless. Organized, we will be heard.

Many of us have responded to her call and are organizing the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action. Dr. Ravitch has endorsed this event and will participate in the conference preceding the march.

Recently she has spoken passionately about the many teachers who have been writing to her as a result of her advocacy. She has truly given us a voice in places where we have been silenced. And she is tireless in her advocacy. Here is a recent talk she made in Colorado:

Diane Ravitch will make a special appearance on The Daily Show in New York City this Thursday, March 3. Teachers and parents are invited to greet and support her in the street in front of the studios between 4 and 5 pm, 11th Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets in Manhattan. This is a rare chance when our voices may break through the media blackout. Please tune in at 11 pm on Comedy Central, and if you are in New York City, drop by and show your support.

UPDATE: Diane Ravitch’s CNN Editorial led to this NPR piece, Op-Ed: Rage Simmering Among American Teachers.

What do you think of what Dr. Ravitch has been doing? Is she your hero as well?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.