Opinion

The Great Debate

The reform movement is already failing

By Diane Ravitch
The opinions expressed are her own.

Reuters invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Ravitch’s reply. Here are responses from Joel Klein and Deborah Meier as well.

In my nearly four decades as a historian of education, I have analyzed the rise and fall of reform movements. Typically, reforms begin with loud declarations that our education system is in crisis. Throughout the twentieth century, we had a crisis almost every decade. After persuading the public that we are in crisis, the reformers bring forth their favored proposals for radical change. The radical changes are implemented in a few sites, and the results are impressive. As their reforms become widespread, they usually collapse and fail. In time, those who have made a career of educating children are left with the task of cleaning up the mess left by the last bunch of reformers.

We are in the midst of the latest wave of reforms, and Steven Brill has positioned himself as the voice of the new reformers. These reforms are not just flawed, but actually dangerous to the future of American education. They would, if implemented, lead to the privatization of a large number of public schools and to the de-professionalization of education.

As Brill’s book shows, the current group of reformers consists of an odd combination of Wall Street financiers, conservative Republican governors, major foundations, and the Obama administration. The reformers believe that the way to “fix” our schools is to fire more teachers, based on the test scores of their students; to open more privately-managed charter schools; to reduce the qualifications for becoming a teacher; and to remove job protections for senior teachers.

The reformers say that our schools are failing and point to international test scores; they don’t seem to know that American students have never done well on international tests. When the international tests were first launched in the 1960s, our students ranked near the bottom. Obviously these tests do not predict the future economic success of a nation because we as a nation have prospered despite our mediocre performance on international tests over the past half century.

The parents: the force that can’t be beat

By Joel Klein
The opinions expressed are his own.

Reuters invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Klein’s reply. Here are responses from Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier as well.

Like Ronald Reagan, Steven Brill believes “facts are stubborn things.” That’s why he found his two-year immersion in the world of edu-politics enormously frustrating. There, ideology and spin often matter most.  As Brill puts it, the world of public education “give[s] new meaning to the notion that if you repeat something that is plainly untrue enough times it starts to seem true, or at least become part of the debate.” It’s maddening but, sadly, as Brill demonstrates, even the mainstream media often go along for the ride.

In Brill’s essay above, as well as his just-released book, “Class Warfare”, he doggedly chases down the facts and repeatedly punches holes in the current protagonists’ talking points, especially those of the “school reform deniers” — i.e., the unions and their academic supporters — though he takes a few shots at the reformers as well. When he says the facts show that “public education is failing our children,” and “[t]his is not a matter of money,” or “not about class size as much as it is about who is in front of the class,” he’s demonstrably correct but, rest assured, that won’t stop the deniers from attacking him with cherry-picked data and flawed analyses.

If only the unions were the problem

By Deborah Meier
The opinions expressed are her own.

Reuters invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Meier’s reply. Here are responses from Joel Klein and Diane Ravitch as well.

As I read Brill’s opening paragraphs I was cheering. Aha, he’s going to apologize for his New Yorker attack on the teacher unions! He’s going to acknowledge the difficulty of finding honest data for his students to use when it comes to education.

I’ve become such a habitual skeptic about virtually all school data for over 30 years.  But democracy depends on us trusting some common sources of data.  Yet, Brill’s attack on teachers and unions, and his defense of the new “reformers,” rests largely on anecdotes.

The school reform deniers

By Steven Brill
All opinions expressed are his own.

Every year I tell students in a journalism seminar I teach about the junior reporter for The American Lawyer – the magazine I founded and edited –who committed a classic error when he submitted a draft of a profile about some lawyer in the news who had made it big. Midway through the article, the young reporter described a showcase this lawyer had in his office that displayed a bunch of combat medals. The reporter declared, matter-of-factly, that our legal hero had won the medals for his heroics in Vietnam, which was relevant, he added, because the lawyer made his war record and his lock-n-load approach to his work part of his pitch to potential clients.

In the margin next to the statement about the lawyer having won the medals I wrote, “Who says?” When the reporter came to ask me what I had meant, I told him to check with the Pentagon about the supposed medals. Which the reporter did, and which caused a mini-scandal after we reported in our otherwise positive profile that our hero hadn’t won them.

The story has three points. First, that reporters should believe nothing told to them by a biased source, especially when what they are being told is a checkable fact. Second, that while opinions deserve balanced reporting of both sides’ views, facts are facts. They are knowable. The guy either got medals or he didn’t. Third, the best way to test facts that you think you know is to put them in front of the person with the greatest stake in refuting them. In this case when we confronted the lawyer with the Pentagon’s records that he had not won any medals, he produced no evidence to the contrary and, in fact, ultimately confessed his deception. Case closed.

The myth of the rational education market

By Peg Tyre
The opinions expressed are her own. 

In this excerpt from “The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve,” author Peg Tyre explains how the educational “free market” created by the charter school system doesn’t guarantee parents will pick the best schools for their kids. In fact, with objective information hard to come by, even more pressure is on parents to gain — and exploit — data about school quality in order to outperform the educational market.

The idea that school choice is automatically better than no choice has recently been reinforced again, with the “Parent Trigger” in California. Under a law passed there last year, parents whose children attend underperforming public schools can get together, and if 51% of them sign a petition, they can demand their district change the school administrators or convert the school to a charter. So far, a parent group from Compton “pulled the trigger,” but parents from poor urban schools and well-funded suburban schools have been seeking information on how to use the Parent Trigger law to improve their schools.

Similar bills, which are supported by education reformers on both sides of the political aisle, have been passed in Connecticut, Ohio and Mississippi. About a half dozen state legislatures—including New York — are expected to consider Parent Trigger type bills this year.

from Reuters Money:

What the CFPB should be doing with private education lenders

The following is a guest contribution from Mark Kantrowitz, founder and publisher of finaid.org and fastweb.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which starts operating on Thursday, has oversight and enforcement authority over private education loans and most private education lenders.

The Private Education Loan Ombudsman within the CFPB will respond to complaints about private education loans by students and their families and will help mediate borrower disputes with education lenders on an informal basis. Here are my recommendations to improve the private loan process.

High unemployment and the education deficit

graduation photo USE THISThe following is a guest post by Bruce Yandle, distinguished adjunct professor of economics with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and dean emeritus of the College of Business & Behavioral Science at Clemson University. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Last month’s report on U.S. employment growth brought no cheer to job-seekers with a high school education.

In June 2010, the unemployment rate for adults 25 or older with a high school diploma was 10 percent. Whereas unemployment among college educated adults was 4.4 percent. (Overall unemployment was 9.5 percent.)

Bill Gates is optimistic about the future

USA/The following is a post by Stephen Adler, editorial director of Thomson Reuters professional, that was taken from one of his blog posts at aif.thomsonreuters.com. Adler is a moderator at some of the panels at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Thomson Reuters is one of the underwriters of the event. The opinions expressed are Adler’s own.

Bill Gates, the former tech-nerd-genius, seems increasingly comfortable in his post-Microsoft role as philanthropist, humanist, and Big Thinker. Once awkward in public, he now speaks with warmth and authority about health policy, education, energy, and global innovation. His air of sincerity, hyperlinked to his extraordinary intellect, has turned him into a crowd favorite –- perhaps the crowd favorite –- at events such as the Aspen Ideas Festival.

In his hour onstage inside the giant Benedict Music Tent Thursday afternoon, before the largest audience I’ve seen at the Festival, Gates insisted he was optimistic about the future. He got a big laugh by adding the caveat that to stay optimistic you have to “avoid getting exposed to U.S. politics.” In particular, he cited enormous improvements in healthcare, education, and women’s rights over the past 50 years. The most startling statistic: Deaths of children under five declined globally from 20 million in 1960 to 8 million last year, mostly due to vaccines and better malaria prevention and treatment.

Quality early education: Good for kids and the economy

Joan Wasser Gish– Joan Wasser Gish is a consultant in the Boston area. A former senior policy adviser to Senator John Kerry, she recently testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship. The views expressed are her own. –

When the toys are put away and the last youngster is picked up for the day, early childhood education providers like all other entrepreneurs sit down to assess their revenues, account for expenses and make difficult business decisions. And though their services are rife with hugs and games and songs, their work has serious implications for the economy. The child-care sector is a critical driver of economic growth and workforce development. That is why financial leaders and policymakers should do more to support providers as both educators and small-business entrepreneurs.

There are more than 400,000 licensed child-care facilities across the country. They span the economic sectors, with the majority run as sole proprietorship home-based businesses, and the rest split between for-profit and non-profit centers offering early education and care. Most are run by women, and a significant proportion are owned and operated by members of minority groups. Because of the early education and care services they provide, they contribute to both short- and long-term economic growth.

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