Given the weight of studies, evaluations and federal test data, I concluded that deregulation and privately managed charter schools were not the answer to the deep-seated problems of American education. If anything, they represent tinkering around the edges of the system. They affect the lives of tiny numbers of students but do nothing to improve the system that enrolls the other 97%.
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.
What we need is not a marketplace, but a coherent curriculum that prepares all students. And our government should commit to providing a good school in every neighborhood in the nation, just as we strive to provide a good fire company in every community.
On our present course, we are disrupting communities, dumbing down our schools, giving students false reports of their progress, and creating a private sector that will undermine public education without improving it. Most significantly, we are not producing a generation of students who are more knowledgable, and better prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship. That is why I changed my mind about the current direction of school reform.
Ms. Ravitch is author of "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education," published last week by Basic Books.
On the same day that the above comments were published in the Wall Street Journal the Dallas Morning News published an editorial titled "DISD must act now to fix or close failing high schools." That editorial went on to list 10 high schools, some on that list due to out of date information.
That editorial was a perfect illustration of the dangers Dr. Ravitch is addressing. Anyone who claims they support the Dallas Morning News editorial must be able to address the issues Dr. Ravitch addresses. One of the most basic is to ask where it is proven that closing schools, or other plans being presented, helps children?
The Dallas ISD track record only indicates that closing a school and forcing the transfer of hundreds of students, as was done at Spruce High School, increases the potential for a higher dropout rate. The constantly raising promotion rate for the 6 Southeast Dallas high schools suddenly dropped 5 percentage points in 2008-2009 when Spruce was closed and reopened only for freshmen and sophomores. Allegedly the seniors and juniors were transferred to other Southeast Dallas high schools. Many students never made that transition. Who did that move help? See the graph at http://www.studentmotivation.org/dallasisd/#graph .
Yes, something must be done. Credibly connecting students with their own futures, and acknowledging that they themselves are in charge of that future, may be a first step.