Dear Commons Community,
David Brooks takes on Diane Ravitch is his column today in the New York Times. Both are at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week and Brooks is responding to two speeches Ravitch made on school reform. The Aspen Ideas Festival is the annual gathering of the Aspen Institute where leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines “engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues of our times”. Ravitch at one time was one of the leading intellects behind the education reform movement — emphasizing charter schools, testing and accountability. Over the past few years, she has become that movement’s most vehement critic. Brooks describes Ravitch as adopting:
“the party-line view of the most change-averse elements of the teachers’ unions: There is no education crisis. Poverty is the real issue, not bad schools. We don’t need fundamental reform; we mainly need to give teachers more money and job security”.
“she is right that teaching is a humane art built upon loving relationships between teachers and students. If you orient the system exclusively around a series of multiple choice accountability assessments, you distort it”.
Brooks goes on to cite examples of excellent charter schools that go beyond teaching to the test and blames school leaders who give in to the pressures to fixate testing results. He concludes:
“The fact is that many [public] schools have become spiritually enervated and even great teachers struggle in an inert culture. It’s the reformers who often bring the passion, using tests as a lever.
If your school teaches to the test, it’s not the test’s fault. It’s the leaders of your school.”
I agree with Brooks to some extent. Leadership is one of the key elements for schools to be successful especially at the school level (principals and assistant principals). However, in the past decade of school reform we have had school chancellors and superintendents particularly in our large urban school systems such as New York and Washington that have been the major proponents of teaching to the test and have been crushing weights on the entire system and especially the principals to do the same. These same chancellors have taken an impassioned adversarial position with the teachers unions creating near toxic environments for any fruitful reform to take place.