Influential education expert Diane Ravitch was once a champion of reform policies such as vouchers and charter schools. Now, she has emerged as a leading defender of public education. We talk to her about the state of schools in California and across the country.

Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University, historian of education and author of books including "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education"

  • SourcesSaid

    Maybe the predictive policing technology talked about yesterday can be used to identify where bad teaching is going to happen in California next.¬† ūüėČ

    Reports are surfacing that some bad teaching happened at UC Berkeley in a John Woo class…

  • Amy Zimmer

    Hi There,

    I teach HS Math in Windsor, Ca. I will have had 6 furlough days BEFORE STAR testing this year…I barely have enough time to cover my curriculum, yet we will still lose 4-6 days for STAR testing…sheesh. Amy Zimmer, Windsor Ca

  • Dmagyari

    Too bad these conversation always take place when the teachers are working and cannot comment themselves.  Someone should really think about getting them in the conversation, and creating an opportunity for them to listen to these conversations as well.  Really unfair to always have them eliminated from this discussion.

    • balletlines2

      your point was responded to by reiterating that the show could be accessed anytime (later, obviously, after it was too late to participate live). that response was more than a little disingenuous it seemed….

      similar to not having a holiday for election day so that Working class citizens could participate without endangering their jobs.

  • Guest

    Without tests how can we make sure students get sufficient exposure to all the important topics?  Who will police the individual schools on what they teach? 

    • James

      The issue of being “exposed to important topics” has to do with curriculum or what is taught.¬† Curriculum is **highly** political and often killed by politicians.¬† (Ravitch has a great chapter on this in The Death and Life of the Great American School System.)

      The “tests” that are shoved at teachers now cover only math and English (there are many more important topics) AND the tests are being used to evaluate THE TEACHER, not THE STUDENT.

      Tests, whichever are used, should be diagnostic tools to find out which students need what intervention, not as a weapon against teachers.

      That said, Finland has no standardized testing.  They have put their money into actually educating the students.

  • Guest

    In our free market world, shouldn’t parent make the choice of where they send kids using their tax dollars, private or public?¬†

    • James

      And do we get to choose our police officers? Our firemen? What about park rangers?

  • Janettefulde

    Please, try to tell us some thing positive! I am a K-6 teacher looking for work. I love teaching and want all our kids in CA to have great schools! What can we do! Please tell us how to talk to our local gov and lets talk solutions.

    • Fredrick

      The hero is you, Janettefulde.

      Start talking with your fellow teachers/teachers to be.¬† Read Ravitch’s book.¬† She has many positive suggestions at the end of it.

      Teachers : Get involved in your union. Talk with parents. Occupy your school!

      If you are a parent yourself, check out

      Get educated: See The Inconvenient Truth About Waiting for Superman.  Host a house party.

  • Ben

    Excellent forum today.¬† Ravitch is right on!¬† Funding is our largest problem for schools.¬† There just isn’t enough.

    Quality is directly related to funding.  Think of the best universities which depend on big endowments for their success.  Why should our public schools be any different?  To slash funding and then blame the schools is just wrong headed.

  • guest

    The attempt by the right wing to dismantle the public schools is one of the ways they will succeed in turning the U.S. into a true oligarchy.

    We are lucky to have Diane Ravitch speaking for teachers. All the teachers I know spend hours preparing for their classes and helping students to become literate and educated citizens. They do so for relatively low pay and are the true idealists in our society.

    • You mean instead, we should stick with the current system where the rich can choose to send their kids to the best schools while the poor have no choice but to wait until through some miracle the public education system improves?

      • taught_10_years

        OR the rich could put their children along with their money and their influence where their mouth is and send them to public schools.  Can you imagine how that would change public education? Instead too many wealthy philanthropists disparage public education, if not teachers, and donate to charter schools (while sending their kids to elite private schools).  These efforts are misdirected in my opinion. 

        • For the same reason I wouldn’t go buy my food from the government supermarket. Because if you are not held accountable by your customers, you are not held accountable at all. Maybe you’ll do a good job, maybe you won’t. No way to know and I for one would prefer to not be at the mercy of the goodwill of someone I’ve been randomly assigned to.

          • guest

            I noticed that Karl Rove is one of your followers on twitter. LOL.

          • I follow a number of political figures both on the left and right. If you follow Karl Rove, he automatically follows you back. Given that I almost never tweet, I can’t imagine he follows me for agreeing with me.

        • Eric

          The notion that public schools (particularly in California) went into decline because they were “starved” for funds is pure mythology.¬† For decades public schools in New York and New Jersey were among the highest spenders per pupil yet they had nothing to show for it, in terms of test scores, graduation rates, or anything else.¬† Too many public school districts have become sclerotic bureaucracies, weighed down by micro-management from state and federal mandates, teacher union contracts that mandate lock-step pay increases no matter how bad their performance.¬† Enough of this, bring on the charter schools.

          • I have never seen a failing government program which was not defended with: “We just need more money/power and then everything will be fine.” If public education wants more of my money, they should first show that they can use what they have to good effect. Then, we’ll talk.

          • Jenny

            I was in Middle school when prop 13 hit. We lost nearly all of our sports, most of our after-school programs, and many of our elective classes — art, wood shop, etc.¬†¬† Our yearbook was cut by 2/3.¬† Our academic classes suffered as well due to a shuffling of teachers around.¬†

            No one who experienced the loss of revenue to the school system can say there was no effect.

          • X NJ Principal

            I can only speak to NJ’s spending. ¬†It depends where in NJ a student lives. ¬†If it is in down trodden urban areas and they are poor then yes the money spent doesn’t match the results. However, in more affluent districts the results are off the charts. ¬†There are 600+ districts in NJ and only about 40 that are doing poorly. ¬†Those doing poorly are causing all this mess because the are economically poor as well. ¬†Suburban kids go to Disney, NYC theaters, europe in summer and have all the advantages their parents can bestow on them. ¬†Poor kids rarely leave the block or their ¬†homes because the streets are no place to be. ¬†Schools can teach they can’t improve society’s or politician’s screw ups.

      • Jenny

        It is ridiculous to assume that when one criticizes the “reforms” handed down from above, that one supports the “status quo” or “poor education.”¬† One can easily argue that these “reforms” ultimately support the status quo : keeping the rich rich and the poor poor.¬†

        Read Ravitch’s book for an excellent critique of these so-called reform and the history of them. (Some of these “reform” ideas are not new : read merit pay – “The bad idea that never works and never dies.”)

        Learn what actually works in public education and in educating the poor.  Go to

        Get beyond the rhetoric.  Learn that public schools students in America who are not poor actually do very well on international exams.  Learn the difference between test scores and education.

        • I didn’t say anything about merit-pay. Standardized tests are a very poor measure of both student and teacher performance. (especially when you start using them to hand out money or promotions) My point is that because schools get everything they get through the political process, they are accountable to political processes which have little to do with how effective they are at achieving student goals.

          • Jenny

            One could wish the more for charter schools, since they a) don’t teach ALL the kids (disabilities, English language learners, etc) b)¬† don’t have to follow the same rules and regulations¬† c) take money from the districts and even take out lots of loans that they are not accountable for and d) perform WORSE 37% of the time on tests (the standard **we** the public have determined is the basis of “good” and “bad”).

            Read for news accounts from across the country.

          • “a) don’t teach ALL the kids (disabilities, English language learners, etc)”

            Indeed. Given the small number of charter schools, they can afford to be picky about who they admit. If there were more charter schools, they wouldn’t be able to turn down students quite as easily.

            “b)¬† don’t have to follow the same rules and regulations”

            I agree. I think it’s terrible that schools are burdened by such ridiculous regulations which deny them the ability to innovate and try new ideas.

            “c) take money from the districts and even take out lots of loans that they are not accountable for”

            Well, as bad as that is that is exactly what public schools do. So I’m not sure what your complaint is. If you advocate just using vouchers and letting private schools compete for students, that will indeed resolve all those accountability problems. Charter schools are a step in the right direction, but they obviously don’t have as strong an accountability framework as private institutions.

            “d) perform WORSE 37% of the time on tests (the standard **we** the public have determined is the basis of “good” and “bad”).”
            So first, there is no “we” the public that have decided on those criteria. It was decided by some people through a convoluted process that resembles nothing reasonable.

            But setting that aside, that means they do at least as good if not better 63% of the time. Also, assuming that what you mean is that 37% of charter-school students score lower than the median public-school student, a full 50% of public-school students perform worst than the median public school students. Seems to me charter school performance is pretty amazing. Either way, it’s pretty clear that parents think that charter schools are better given that they fight tooth and nail to get their kids in charter schools. Are they just all misled?

            The point of competitive forces is not that people always make good decisions. It is that over time, those who make good decisions prosper while those who make bad decisions wither away.

    • Anonymous711117

      Wake Up Guest!¬† Most teachers in this country are incompetent, overpaid and¬†underworked.¬† Are you serious – relatively low pay?¬† Compared to whom???¬† They get more time off than congress and get paid plenty for moving kids through the system like wigets on an assembly line.¬† Many, many graduates these days, can barely read and write.¬† Seriously, our TEACHERS are turning out kids who only know texting.¬† Ask them to write a paper and their lost.¬† It’s pathetic and our teachers and school systems are responsible.

      • guest

        Why then do some schools perform well and others not? I think the kids in both types of schools know how to text. 

      • Ewoz

        You are breathtakingly ignorant on this subject.  You are just ranting worthless opinions that are emotionally based. You need to do a little research on the subjects you choose to comment on.

        What you present is a ridiculously simplistic argument about a complex issue that involves multiple variables. 

        When was the last time you interacted with real teachers or their classrooms?  Have you spent time observing students at any K-12 level?  What experiences form the basis for your conclusions that students are being churned out in robotic fashion with texting being the only mastered skill?

        By the way, “In total, Congress will hold 109 workdays in Washington this year, out of a total of 199 weekdays in the period.”¬† I just pulled this from CNBC.¬† The time period is for last year.¬†¬† Teachers work 180+ days not including time for prep, grading, and curriculum planning.¬†

        It would appear that your educational experience was less than adequate, but you need to accept some responsibility for the failings in your life.

        This response is to all those who have shamelessly ranted their unsupported (by actual facts) opinions today.

      • Teacher

        I worked too hard as a teacher to continue, once I became a mother Рat least 10 hour weekdays, and most of my summer was spent in workshops and working up curriculum.  Most of my fellow teachers did the same.  

        I taught in one school with children from desperately low socio-economic households. ¬†The level of stress these children experienced on a daily basis couldn’t be addressed by the teachers, in their 5 ¬†hour/day allotment. ¬†No amount of teacher led intervention could combat the alcohol abuse, emotional abuse or worse, the ignorance of parents, the poor diet riddled with soda and candy, the constant teevee with uncensored violence, the habituation to distraction with video and nintendo, and the general lack of organization at home. ¬†

        Parents worked either multiple low paying jobs and relied on an ignorant grandma to put the children in front of a teevee and serve McDonalds, or were basically incapable themselves and proceeded similarly. ¬†I had one boy dropped off for his school day going through withrdrawals from his ADHD medicine because his parents didn’t get the refill ordered. ¬†I had another boy show up smelling of urine all year because his grandmother was too depressed to change his clothes and he hadn’t learned to hold his bladder at night.¬†

        These children and these teachers need more from our society. ¬†It is a public good to invest more, and better resources. ¬†I’m inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone – early intervention, with support for the family and student from preschool through college graduation. ¬†

        It is a public good to intervene in these lives effectively. ¬†Teachers are tremendously idealistic and care deeply, and need our support to actually make other’s lives work.

      • Peabodyroom13

        Who taught you how to read and write?

      • guest

        One of my friends is a teacher and tells me that the kids who do their homework do well, and those that don’t bother do not. You need to do your homework and find out what a teacher’s life is really like.¬†

        You are right that there are teachers who are not competent in their job as there are in every profession. Just because a doctor kills a patient we don’t say that the whole medical profession is bad.¬†

        • Penny

          I would like to see the number of CA teachers who have been fired for incompetency.  My children have been taught by wonderful teachers and a drunk.  But it was impossible to get rid of the drunk.

      • Maddiesmommie

        “Ask them to write a paper and THEY’RE lost…” Just sayin’…

        A dedicated English teacher of over 20 years

  • James S Kim

    ms ravitch stated that charter schools do not perform better than the local public school, and used test scores to support that claim. seems odd that she’d identify test scores as the metric of comparison here, while declaring them flawed elsewhere. ¬†

  • Mindy

    Prof Ravitch is a wonderful advocate for the importance of public schools.
    Just to keep the facts straight for California– tenure in California is is required to be determined in the Spring of the teacher’s second year. Thus most teachers are awarded tenure based on their first year of teaching and three months of the second year. Studies in LA showed that going through the complete due process for letting a teacher go cost $500,000. A district can accomplish a lot for a half million dollars, so it is not worth the effort to get rid of. them.
    Testing is not a perfect measure, but neither is democracy a perfect system– just better than the others. Self regulation doesn’t work for pharmaceutical companies or banks, and while teachers are more civic minded, it does not work well for that either.

  • The problem with public schools is that the incentives are just not there. That’s why vouchers and charter schools can help. Under voucher systems, parents can take their kids out of bad schools and put them into good schools. In turn, bad schools will then go out of business or learn from the better schools and be able to attract students.

    Sure, if you happen to have a dedicated teacher in a good school, it’s wonderful. But what if you don’t? Well, you’re stuck. Unless you have money to pay for your own private education of course. Public education harms the poorest among us. Vouchers give the poor the ability to make the best choice for their kids.

  • Gene Hamm

    Basing grades on tests is misleading. Taking a test only uses short term memory. Students stay up all night to cram for a test. After they take a test, they forget it. If you ask them any question on a test a week later, they couldn’t remember the answer. Acing a test doesn’t mean you have the knowledge.I grade on projects to see if students can problem solve. Teaching students how to think and problem solve will serve them throughout their life. Learning doesn’t stop when school ends. You have to learn all your life.Gene Hamm

  • I do not hear a single constructive proposal from Dian Ravitch. If the system was working great “no child left behind” or “race to the top” would never happen. If teachers (as a group) have ideas of how to improve the system, by all means, let’s hear them! And, pelease, teachers are people too, so they respond to the same incentives as the rest of us. They are not a group of selfless idealists who don’t care for anything in the world but the welfare of the children.

  • Penmealine

    I agree with our guest. ¬†In India, often the teachers may not be good. ¬†Rich kids often go for tutoring. But now even many poor kids are showing outstanding achievement – who have no money to go for tutoring or time. ¬†This shows it has less to do with teachers and more to do with home climate. ¬†Now in India there is burning desire to achieve and do well in education since it is a ticket for more….. ¬†Teachers should be expected to be good here AND we should focus on system and home.
    Darshana Nadkarni, PhD

  • Dwlippi

    The popular reforms like “No Child Left Behind” reflect a simplistic view that privatization, or a more free market approach will solve all of educations problems. However, the proponents forget that the free market produces at least an equal number number of losers as winners. Is that what we want from our education system?

  • MPruiett

    As a new parent who has personally benefited from good public schools, I am eager to learn how parents can champion the cause of public education in California–and to improve the prospects of my child and others to receive a good public education.

  • Jansmith6348

    Additional victims of testing are social studies and science. Many schools do not address these much needed subject due to “lack of time”. Every precious minute of the school day must be spent getting studnets ready for the “test” rather than their life. After many years of teaching, this I believe is the biggest crime of NCLB.

  • Lyfong

    Diane Ravitch is making the right points to empower teachers and increase public school funding.  The problem is that socioeconomic class differences are exacerbated by parents who choose and can afford private and charter schools.  Also, the Texas-based corporations which are in the business of selling textbooks and testing materials are making profits while making our kids into widgets!  Beware of rivatization and the neoliberal New World Order agenda!

  • Guest

    If teachers are against testing, do they have an effective way to self police and improve eduction that we can believe in?  Also has anyone looked into why of all government employees, teachers among the least paid?

  • We have been trying to make bad public schools good for a long time. It doesn’t look like that has worked. Maybe it’s time to realize the problem is that nobody knows how to fix bad schools and what we need is to allow people to pull their kids from bad schools.

  • Jerry

    We live in a period where people feel entitled and any sense of personal responsibility is on the decline.  Blaming teachers for the poor performance of their children is for the most part passing the buck for poor parenting.  Look at the schools that do well and you will see strong parent involvement.

  • Karlx1

    Why does the subject responsibility of parents (or lack thereof) never get brought up in discussions of poor student performance.  This seems like a key point of responsibility the public wants to avoid accepting. 

    • guest

      You raise a good point. I am old enough to remember that when if we did badly on a test we were told it was our fault. Parents told their kids to study harder next time. Now, it is somehow 100% the fault of the teacher if the student does not perform up to standards. 

  • Dmagyari

    Michael, the teachers can listen with time-shifting, but they cannot comment.

  • dean liman

    What does diane think about the Khan Academy model? Youtube for lectures, and class time for problem solving.

  • It seems to me to be a show of extreme hubris for your guest to claim to know what all kids in the entirety of this country should learn. Maybe we should trust the people who know and care about the kids most: parents.

  • Guest

    Computers should be utilized to provide a basic education while teachers should move from lecturing to to providing practical experience and connecting lessons with the real world.

    • Guest

      This would allow all children to have the same basic education and free up teachers to be more creative with their teaching methods

  • Sheri Morrison

    I agree that we need to make teaching a more prestigious profession and need to attract the best and the brightest. If we increase the requirements for entering into teaching, how do we make this transition from current staffing?

  • Sharon

    One positive outcome of standards-based testing in California has been that all students are being exposed to grade level content and skills.  Prior to standards-based, this was not the case.

    Also, how does Ms. Ravitch respond to the recent reported finding that students who have had one year of “value-added” teachers have higher rates of college attendance and higher income earnings 20 years out of school?

  • Dan

    Isn’t there a large elephant in the room?
    With so many children in private schools in the bay area why is there any issue with funding of public schools and paying for good teachers?  I don’t get a property tax credit because my daughter is in private school.  I effectively have to pay more than twice just give a reasonable education to my Fourth grader.  This is money that otherwise would go to savings for her higher education.
    The intersection of parenting and public education has never been more strained.

  • The big difference between bad lawyers or bad doctors and bad teachers is that I can choose to not hire a bad lawyer or bad doctor. But if your kids gets assigned to a bad teacher, what choice do you have? None! Give parents the choice to not send their kids to bad teachers the same way they wouldn’t send their kids to bad doctors.

    • Venkitac

      Yes! Vouchers!

      I am absolutely no fan of bobby jindal, he seems as crazy as the rest of them out there, but I am all for vouchers.

    • guest

      And there are many excellent doctors and lawyers to choose from because those are high status professions. If teaching was taken seriously as a great profession then maybe more excellent people would want to become teachers

      • There are plenty of supermarkets to choose from and supermarket-manager or supermarket-clerk are not exactly high-status professions are they?

  • Karen

    I’m reacting both positively and negatively to Diane’s comments. ¬†Yes, yes, yes– support teachers. Fix testing, as she claims. ¬† Unions, however, create inefficiency that provokes the ire of free markets and encourage the rally cry for charter schools. ¬† ¬†Teachers unions minimize the opportunity for principals to observe teaching practices. ¬†Limiting teacher reviews to once every two years. ¬†This allows teachers to work in isolation and not benefit from feedback from their superiors and colleagues. ¬†Where is 360 degree evaluation? ¬†Not allowed because the unions won’t permit it. Union comments limit the number of staff meetings so that teachers cannot be asked to collaborate. ¬†No for profit can function successfully without collaboration. ¬†How can teachers?¬†

  • Skv1234

    You say testing should be only for diagnostics purposes. That may be nice to help kids with special needs but you know that sooner or later all students have to face the standardized tests to get into universities. what is your position on universities (mainly such as UCs) basing their admission on GPA and SAT scores?

    • Jenny

      The huge difference is that the STUDENT is accountable for their score on the SAT.¬† Somehow, the politicians and the rich have turned the dialog, so that TEACHERS are “accountable” for the kid’s test scores.¬† That is wrong.¬† The tests are NOT a diagnostic to find students who need help (e.g. the poor), but a tool to DEMONIZE the teachers in those schools and PRIVATIZE schools in poor districts.

  • Darshana Nadkarni, Ph.D.

    Learning is a deeply personal activity and requires motivation. ¬†The reason online learning often works well is because of self-selection of motivated students. ¬†Three reasons why schools in this country are lagging behind has nothing to do with teachers. ¬†One, when there is growing income disparity and a broad resultant message that how well you will do in life is because of how rich your parents are, that is de-motivating. ¬†Second, when the society puts more money into wars and less into education, that sends a broad message about what is deemed more important. ¬†Third, our society often puts a lot of emphasis and value on outer packaging and children are often distracted with looking good, wearing brand name shoes, remaining slim, opposite gender liking them — some of these things kids in other countries do not deal with for a long long time.

  • Tokuko

    In Japan, the teachers are very respected and the position is stable.
    These two elements are very important, more important than the wages.
    If the teacher has to worry if she/he has a job tomorrow or not, how the teacher can focus on teaching during the class hours. Job security is “must.

  • Della

    This sounds like the same old argument. ¬†Why isn’t anyone talking about the dismantling the “great american school system” that has not kept up with technology and has turned out generations of mediocre performance? ¬†Why are we not looking at other countries that have great schools and much better outcomes? ¬†Not Japan or Korea. ¬†Sweden or Finland. ¬†
    Does she have children? ¬†I have raised three kids and all went to different schools. Traditional, ¬†traditional with alternatives and radical alternative. The Sudbury School has miraculous outcomes. I have witnessed first hand the capabilities of human beings. ¬†I know the argument about cost and elitist elements, so why can’t we have public choices???? We tried to get this program in public schools. We were successful for two years and then the religious right stopped it.¬†
    Please talk about a brand new system that can address the current technology and true history of this world.  This is not a good system. It has been proven over and over again.

    • Jenny

      Finland–the system you suggest looking at– does not offer “choice” per the current American notion.

  • Steve

    I don’t think blame is useful in fixing this system. We do need to look for creative solutions and provide funding to test and implement those systems. I’ve watched the I3grant program and it seems that the money is simply flowing to the same old organizations with simple non-integrated solutions. There seems to be a lack of foundational reform.

    Thank you for advocating children are placed at the center of this discussion. It is about the children. I would also urge you to visit the North Bay and look at  whats happening there in the Charter School movement.

  • Ilservice

    To romanticize how our children have been traditionally regarded seems amazing.¬† When¬†was this a¬†societal norm?¬†¬† From having many children just to keep the family going, to child labor and abuse to “Seen and not heard” to how important they are is a recent leap.

    • Venkitac

      Not to mention child labor being valid till like 1910.

  • Jessica

    You say testing and pushing the kids academically is not nurturing enough. But are you surprised that India/China and other countries who aggressively train their children are moving ahead in the economy? ¬†I think the nurturing and playing can be done at home by the parents who should take an active role in the kids’ lives…and schools should really help to train the kids for the real world. The real world is not ever going to get laid back and peaceful like 30 yrs ago. It’s going to be even more of a rat race in future! If people want the kids to not be part of that, they can always turn to alternative education systems like homeschooling etc. where kids can pick their own pace.

  • Ray_magiore

    I’d li

  • Garyscottmiller9

    How about the teacher training.
    Shouldn’t it be as competent as in Finland.
    How about how easy it is to teach a child to read.
    Please Ask Diane to recall Marva Collins.

  • Anonymous711117

    Diane Ravitch is not an expert.¬† In fact, she’s quite clueless.¬† She certainly knows nothing about the real world and our education system¬†and she is¬†obviously a lobbiest for teachers.¬† Come on Michael, quit acting like a¬†whimp and ask some tough questions and then hold this foney down to answer the¬†question.¬† It’s time we held teachers accountable.

    • guest

      Please note: foney is spelled phoney

    • Jenny

      And if you learned to spell, someone might think you credible.

      • Anonymous711117

        I’m a product of the education system – see!

        • Jenny

          And you were likely a poor student.¬† Don’t blame teachers for your lack.¬† I was a student in the public school system too, and I was taught that I have to put the effort into my work to write well, learn math, play music well, learn a foreign language, etc.

          Don’t blame others for your bad spelling.

        • guest

          Maybe you should have stayed awake during reading and spelling class.

    • Your credentials to make such a vapid assertion? Read the Atlas Shrugged graphic novel or something like that? Professor Ravitch is the foremost expert, while your hiding behind anonymity says as much about your credibility as it does about your character.

  • David_magee1

    public school is free baby sitting. parents would respect and appreciate teachers more if they had to pay something directly for their children to attend classes. Also parents would expect more from their children. It would benefit both teachers and students if there were some nominal fee. If parents can not afford to pay there can be accomidations. 

  • catherine L

    There is a recent effort by California Community College Chancellor’s Office to redefine student “success” which is exactly ¬†what Ravitch is suggesting is happening in K-12. ¬†

    Instead of defining student success at the community college as enrollment and gaining of knowledge, they want to redefine success as a full time student who is pursuing a transfer to a 4-year or an AA or a certificate. ¬†These are good goals, but it’s also the Taylorization of the the California Community Colleges – student as widgets to be moved through the system on the way to a job. The measurement is all important and they’re framing the measurement by defining “success” to exclude part time students, working students who seek skill upgrades, knowledge upgrades, better communication skills through ESL, etc. ¬†Community Colleges serve a ton of older adults (not all taking enrichment programs) and knowledge seekers who already have degrees. ¬†

    How do we stop this tide of foundation-funded attack on public access in continuing public education?

    The “Task Force on Student Success” program was approved in early January even though they received thousands of comments: objecting to the¬†marginalization¬†of part-time students, and the excess weight put on an education plan limited to their “success” metrics, and the power moving to Sacramento for community college decisions instead of at the local level.

    If we contact our local government officials in Sacramento and tell them we value community college classes which are open to all, can we turn the tide to embrace good public education for adults – or is this a futile fight?

  • Holleran Karen

    In the 90’s I tried out teaching science, my passion. The environment was toxic. No collaboration, teachers depended on scantron testing, whereas iwas engaging in project based classes, wet lab sessions weekly, collaborative learning, along with the standard biology book. It is too much work for one perso to teach 5 sections, grade lab books, set up labs, find funds for materials etc. Teachers burn out. I am sure the crusty old souls that I shared a dept. With once were inspired teachers, I have no doubt. But the demands are just too much in the long term.

    I now teach as a consultant in elementary school, organic gardening and nutrition. Our kids need this knowledge and crave the information. our school is improving due to a wide range of contributing partners beyond the teachers, whoo are extremely dedicated. We have social workers teaching parents about their roles (we have 95% immigrants) and a volunteer Corp. Of retired professionals who tutor 1:1. and a visionary principal, it takes a village and a long term plan. It’s a struggle every year for our team, and we are improving due to extreme dedication. it’s working, not perfect..we need to rethink the pressure on the ONE teacher and realize there are amoretti factors that come into play. Get the parents on board, create a community and get civic organizations to pitch in.

  • Jessie Jianwei Lin

    We all know evaluating teachers on test result is not best way to evaluate teachers. It’s just one easy measurable way.
    Why don’t let kid and parents decide who the love? And who they don’t like as such? Who to keep or who to let go? Customer satisfaction has been used in industry for long. Company uses 270 or 360 evaluation. How about letting kids and parents voice who they’re happy with and who they want to keep?

    • Jenny

      No–“we” don’t know this.¬† The Obama administration under Race to the Top is heavily dependent on test scores and pushing test scores to “measure” results.

      Customer evaluation can be one diagnostic for a teacher, but there are many others that should and can be used. Go to a national teacher union website and you are sure to find examples of evaluations that teachers would like to see.

  • JulieKen

    One of the problems with our current use of test scores as a means of measurement, is that it only test for factual knowledge at a specific moment in time. It does not test for mastery of skills, critical thinking, and application. Ideally, a student learns a concept and then is able to apply it to a slightly different situation, recognizing how to use the tools he or she has learned to solve the problem.

    Everything in education is a building block; a student who hasn’t master multiplication will never master division and so on. Eventually, the student loses interest because the classroom is moving along and they don’t understand the material. This is not laziness, this is the system continuing to pass along students with minimal comprehension. And ultimately this student will drop-out. No amount of testing or firing of teachers will solve this.¬†

    Further impacting this situation is English-learners. If a child can read a math problem, how can we expect him or her to be able to solve it? A discussion about improving education cannot happen without that discussion addressing poverty and immigration.

    On the other side of the spectrum, we’ve completely abandoned those students who are ahead of the curve. We spend less than 1% on gifted education and nearly 20% on special needs. We have far more gifted students that special needs. We need to have an open and honest discussion about how to best address the needs of all students, and get away from this current one-size fits all ideal. Maybe designing classrooms based on needs and ability is one way we can more successfully meets the needs of all students. Let’s stop trying to ram the round peg through the square hole. And let’s definitely stop bashing teachers and pointing to them as the root of the problem. The real root of the problem are our elected government officials who are too weak to stand-up to the almighty dollars being dangled in front of them by large corporate interests who are salivating over our public funds.

  • Guest

    I am a history teacher in a large urban high school, and would like to add to this conversation a glimpse into our day: My colleagues and I routinely work 8 hours with no breaks (a student once commented to me, “Everyone knows that teachers don’t have a lunch break.”), spending 5 hours of that time actively performing in front of a 30+ person audience.¬† Once we make it home, we usually bring more work with us. I don’t know a single teacher who also doesn’t work on Saturdays and Sundays.¬† Rather than see an extra digit added to my salary, the solution that people who don’t seem to know much about education often suggest, I would much rather see the national conversation shift to examining teacher workload, a load that certainly incentivizes lazy practices that I have occasionally succumbed to myself. The pressure we feel to correct to ills of poverty is immense, and not something that teachers are equipped to do.¬† Cutting class sizes and radically altering the schedule of the day (for example teachers taking on a load of¬† 3 classes rather than 5) would be a significant step in the right direction because it would allow teachers to assign real assessements and provide us with the time to give valuable feedback to our kids.¬† Let’s not forget, these are the kids who will inherit the future. It matters what we give them.

    • I think that’s a very good point. We need teachers and schools to have more flexibility to try new things and see what happens. That’s why we need to move towards a competitive private system so that schools that adopt more reasonable schedules, attract better teachers and support better teaching practices will be able to boast about their success, bring in more money and be able to teach more students than the schools that stick to poor practices.

      • Jenny

        To learn what works in public education, to go :

        To see what has worked in Finland, go to :

      • timholton

        You should check in with the reality of schools today and our actual experience with NCLB, high-stakes testing, charter schools, etc, well-described in Ravitch’s eminently reasonable book. Market ideology, market utopianism, is a delusion. This is a realization Ravitch came to the hard way. It would be good to learn from it. Markets are crucially important in providing for human needs, but they are no all-purpose substitute for adults being responsible and measured in their efforts to raise children, behaving like adults by facing facts and realities. Privatizing education would mean surrendering our children to unaccountable billionaires and large, remotely based corporations. It would lead to a servile condition for children, parents and communities‚ÄĒnot the autonomy libertarians like you promise in some imagined perfectly functioning free market world. I suggest you not advocate the servile approach but take responsibility by participating in the education of children through local democratic institutions.

        • Eric

          Your criticisms are way overblown, you are a pyromaniac in a field of straw men.¬† Nobody is proposing that we shut down all public schools and “privatize” them.¬† Proponents of charter schools and vouchers would simply like to give parents alternatives to public school systems that chronically fail their students.¬† I suspect you would take offense (for example) if the government forced you to see only government physicians for your medical care—what is so evil about giving parents alternatives to traditional public schools?¬†

          • timholton

            Speaking of straw men, we are not facing a shortage of private schools. But there is and has been for some time — especially since Reagan & Milton Friedman (see latter’s paper, “Public Schools: Make Them Private”) — a vigorous school privatization movement. Ms Ravitch discusses this in both the book and the interview. Again, this is my point: reality matters. Pay attention. There is a history of school reform, including the school privatization movement, from which to learn. Don’t ignore history. And don’t surrender your responsibility as a citizen in a democratic society to private business.

          • Eric

            We are facing a shortage of high quality public schools, you seem to be quite comfortable with this status quo.

  • Jenny

    An excellent talk.  Love how Ravitch is unflappable and has facts and figures at her finger tips.

    What’s missing?¬† How to turn the tide and support measures that actually work in public education.¬†

    For parents who want to get involved: go to
    There are links to some local chapters from there.

    For teachers : get active in your union!

    The public at large: do read Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School system.

  • timholton

    If you read Ravitch’s book, you’d be appalled at the financial waste of recent school reform efforts‚ÄĒfrom outright criminality on the part of charter school founders scooping up public funds, producing nothing with it and finally skipping town; to growing reliance on computers; to aimless flailing around experimenting with questionable teaching fads. I agree that spending does not equal quality. But school reform, blind faith in so-called market solutions, has been very, very costly.

    The fundamental problems are
    1) the pervasiveness in the U.S. of market ideology, a utopianism that blinds us to the facts that schooling is a very imperfect market and that big business is very unsuited to serving children and communities; and
    2) the natural tendency for schools to become a conduit for all of society’s anxieties‚ÄĒa burden they can’t reasonably be expected to bear.

  • Venkitac

    I don’t understand what is wrong with vouchers. It gives parents the freedom to choose, I’m not locked into the one place where the county thinks I should send my kid, and why does a school board (or anyone for that, matter) think they know or care more than a parent about the child’s education. Diane gave the example of Milwaukee when I asked this question, but the answer was not satisfatory. For example:

    РThe example (against vouchers) she  gave was a single sample from
    one school in milwaukee. One data point validates little if anything. No?

    – If indeed vouchers don’t make a difference, I still have to ask: what
    is wrong with vouchers? Atleast parents have the freedom, and if
    vouchers don’t make things *worse*, why not do vouchers?

    – She
    mentioned Milwaukee spent a billion dollars in vouchers in 30 years. How
    much does a similar size city spend in funding public schools in an
    equivalent period? If they are comparable, again, why not vouchers?

    • What’s wrong with vouchers? To start with, when you’re spending the community’s money, you’d think they should have some input as to how it is spent as well. Or do you think your tax burden alone covers the whole cost of your children’s education?

      If you are indeed well heeled enough that the answer is yes, then you already have the “choice” of private school.

  • L Cuttler

    The real issue is not public or private schools. Rather the critical question is to ask what is the preparation of the teachers with an eye particularly on general and special education teachers of reading. Schools of education must start to prepare teachers with methods consistent with evidence based research.  When 20% of the population are dyslexic (NICH statistic), we are creating a pipeline to the prisons by clinging to methodology appropriate for an agrarian economy Рnot a global village dependent on science and math.  We must give teachers tools appropriate for the task.  Would we ask a plumber to fix a leak with only a  plunger?  Why do we wait for licensure reform of teachers of reading?   Lucille Cuttler   Ssan Francisco

    • Jenny

      There are other critical issues to examine:
      – Research shows that the single biggest factor of a child’s success in school is determined by the parent’s income.
      – Research shows that the effect of the teacher on a child’s education is somewhere between 7% and 20%.¬† The other 80% – 93% factors are income, medical care, etc.
      – We need to remove the political from education and base our decisions on research-based improvements, such as reduced class size, healthy lunches and breakfast programs, dental care, early childhood education, etc.

  • balletlines2

    Diane Pravitch tiptoed into another role of a public school system – proper socialisation skills and the introduction of arts. After entering professional school, it was shocking to encounter college graduates without any familiarity with (let alone grounding in) arts, literature, or grammar. Professional middle class healing arts graduates are now entering their careers without even a passing acquaintenance of the world beyond that of a technician.

    Even a small introduction to arts can open worlds to someone to explore – even later in life. What may be considered an average teacher can make the world of difference to a child in need who is living in chaos. The children Ms.

    What’s the big deal? Well, we as a society pay the high price in the form of increased crime, difficulties of a growing underclass to assimilate, and a general public living with unrealized potential. Not to mention bad manners, diminished financial prospects, and resulting alienation that can manifest itself politically.

  • balletlines2

    My apologies for the cut/paste problem.
    Simply trying to say our existing infrastructure is not well-equipped to handle all of the externalities that arise from this short-sighted “savings”. ¬†It seems a very good investment in our national security to restore public education to something on a par with what our parents and grandparents knew to be a given in a robust, civilized and well-functioning society.

  • Wsaraj

    I think Ravitch’s book is very compelling, but in regards to Charters I think she overlooks the fact that one reason many parents choose Charters and that teachers want to work at Charters is that many Charters DO allow time for the arts and other enrichment. Charters have the flexability to design a rich program that does not exclusively focus on reading and math.

  • Beth

    The woman is totally ignorant when it comes to homeschooling, since top universities seek out homeschooled students so Diane Ravitch is totally ignorant on the topic.

    Sadly, a public schooled child will be fortunate to have four great teachers during the twelve years in school. Finland takes the top 10% of their graduates for teaching, whereas here in the states it’s the bottom 30% in my view.

    And if someone has a bad doctor, lawyer, they can find a new one, or sue. Not so with public schools. Add in the fact its our tax dollars paying for these white elephants.

    Lastly, name one other area in life where we stick all humans the same age in a learning environment like they do in public schools?

    • James

      I had approximately 65 teachers in my pre-college education. (We swtiched teachers every semester in high school, which likely accounts for a higher # of teachers than most kids have.)¬† I can honestly say that 3 of them were bad.¬† One hit kids (and was taken out for a “rest” by the administration).¬† One was an alcoholic who sat in the corner and called us names.¬† (Why wasn’t he fired?¬† Why didn’t we have a PTA?)¬† And the other one was mostly sick, and I believe, he was asked to “retire early.”¬† Were the other 62 teachers that I connected with personally?¬† No, but that’s not how I determine a good or bad teacher.¬† For the most part, they knew the material, treated kids respectfully, kept discipline problems to a minimum, and imparted what they knew to the best of their ability.¬† The excellent teachers made learning fun.¬† Not all teachers can do that and no teacher can do that for every kid.

      How and when did education become equated with mechanics, doctors and “services to choose from?”¬†¬† Equating such things makes no sense.¬† Do you choose the cop who comes to your door?¬† Do you choose the meter maid?¬† Do you choose which fireman is better?¬† How about a paramedic?¬† And the construction workers who fix the roads?

      Public education is tasked with: educating the public.¬† It is a mission.¬† It is NOT a service to pick and choose from.¬† Public schools don’t get to turn you away based on the color of your skin, your religion, your dyslexia, your ADD, your discipline problem, your inability to speak English, or your low STAR scores. Charter schools can and do get rid of kids with the low test scores and learning disabilities.¬† How is it that they get PUBLIC money, but are not tasked with educating the PUBLIC?

      The argument that the rich can choose between schools is the same as the rich get to choose which car to buy.  They can choose between an HMO and a private practice.  They can buy TONS of services that the poor cannot.  And anyway, public schools are not cars.

      And writing as a public school parent — you can get involved in the school and make changes, including moving your kid to another class, get special services, etc.¬† It happens at our school every day.¬† The one thing we haven’t been able to get rid of yet : the testing, which is frankly hampering education.

      • Eric

        We don’t have a national crisis with police departments or meter maids.¬† We do have a national crisis in public education in large urban areas, e.g., high drop-out rates.¬† Too many large urban public school districts have a legacy of failure that spans decades.¬† This is why charter schools deserve a chance to succeed.

        • Jenny

          Charter schools and voucher schools have been given 20 years in Wisconsin.¬† They are a huge failure. Black kids in Wisconsin charter schools score as low as black kids in Mississippi (which I think attempted to “pioneer” vouchers in 1962? 1963? as a way to keep white kids from attending school with black kids).

          Isn’t 20 years enough of a “chance”?¬† We already **know** what works in public education based on research. That is:

          1) good, early pre-school
          2) small class size
          3) experienced, professional teachers
          4) social skills in middle school

          We **know** based on research, what helps from a societal perspective:

          1) parent income
          2) medical care of parents and kids
          3) prenatal care
          4) dental care

          The problem is we as a society don’t want to spend the money — it takes TAXES, people.¬† We are deluded into thinking there is a superman or miracle cure that comes at zero cost.

          Learn more at Parent Across America.   

  • Joanbrownstein

    If a school has any teachers who are not doing well, it is up to the principal to evaluate the teachers and then find the help those teachers need to improve. In California teachers can be let go if properly evaluated and helped but still have not improved.  This is a problem that is not a union problem but an administrative one.

  • Beth

    Then why did you become a teacher?  You chose the profession, and all it involves.

  • Beth

    And why is it that the parents who are taking responsibility,demand a lot from their child(ren)  and have chosen not to use a public school, are criticized? 

    • Perhaps because they are subsidized using public money, so the public should have some oversight as to how that money be spent. Charters have no mechanisms for oversight, aren’t really subject to the Public Records Act or Brown Act in any meaningful way. Have unelected boards that don’t answer to the public.

      The list of charter scandals is so long, that it is somewhat staggering:

      If these parents, in your words, “have chosen not to use a public school” and they are using their own money, then more power to them. But when you are using the community’s resources and tax money, then the community more than deserves a right to have a voice.

      Charters are great get rich quick scheme, but as a substitute for the public commons, they are lacking in every manner.

      • Nick

        Charters are lacking, but so are public schools by far. Spending on schooling in America since the 70s has skyrocketed, yet performance remains flat. Public schooling is overfunded and its 1 size fits all model is a terrible way to teach kids. Charters are just another piece of the problem, as they are still mostly public. Private schooling is at least efficient, does not force people to be taught what they do not want to learn, and spending per student is on average less than for public schools. Plenty of homeschools get by on shoestring budgets, as average homeschool spending is a mere $600/student.

        • What one size fits all model? In LAUSD we have a variety of public schools that differ in culture and methodology. We have a variety from Magnet schools to schools like the¬†UCLA Community School at RFK.

          Charters are not public schools.¬†Charters are privately managed entities whose only claim to the word public is the fact that they drain public funds. Dozens of court cases have ruled that charter schools are not “public entities.” Two well known examples include the following:

          The California Court of Appeals (2007-01-10) which ruled that charter-voucher schools are NOT “public agents.”

          The 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals (2010-01-04) which ruled that charter-voucher schools are NOT “public actors.”

          Moreover, the US Census Department expressed difficulty in obtaining information from charter-voucher schools because the aren’t public entities.

          I know in the light of all the scandals and bad press (http://charterschoolscandals.b… that supporters of lucrative charters are desperate to paint them as public schools, but outside the corporate spin cycle that is the the school privatization camp, charters have been found to be anything but public.

        • James

          It has gone up, but I don’t think the expenditures on K-12 classrooms has gone up.¬† The items that have really skyrocketed are transportation, TESTING, and services for disabled students. In addition, adult schools and community services are often paid out of the school district budget. Also paying debt on loans is also figured into the total amount, so if you have a charter school that is taking lots of loans–the school district, not the charter school administration or board is held liable.¬† It would be interesting to get a breakdown of what money actually goes where per school district.¬†

      • Eric

        It is pure mythology that charter schools have no public oversight.¬† Charter schools must operate within the provisions of state and federal law. They must abide by health, safety and civil rights laws, and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex or national origin. Charter governance bodies are subject to various business regulations, such as ethical financial practices, and public body rules, such as open meeting laws. Charter schools also have oversight from their authorizers (usually the local school district, county office of education or State Board of Education). In fact, the very name charter refers to the “contract” that the school enters into with their authorizer. Authorizers review financial reports, have the authority to conduct audits, determine if the school is to be renewed at the end of the charter’s term (usually every five years) and can revoke a charter for certain reasons within charter law if the school is not meeting the terms of its charter.

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