National Writing Project

Five Questions for Diane Ravitch on the State of Public Education Today

Date: April 11, 2011

Summary: Renowned education scholar Diane Ravitch is hosting #engchat, a weekly Twitter chat put on by the Philadelphia Writing Project's Meenoo Rami. Rami interviewed Ravitch to get her take on the current state of public education policy—and professional development for teachers.


Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, has made a name for herself as an outspoken critic of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a policy she helped create. So it's a big event to have this well-known education scholar host the weekly Twitter chat #engchat, where many Writing Project teachers congregate each Monday.

Ravitch, who is a prolific speaker and author, shares an Education Week blog called Bridging Differences with Deborah Meier, a senior scholar at the Steinhardt School. She also blogs for and the Huffington Post . She recently published The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education .

Meenoo Rami, a teacher-consultant with the Philadelphia Writing Project who started #engchat, interviewed Ravitch to get the #engchat discussion buzzing.

Meenoo Rami: You were originally a proponent of NCLB. What made you change your mind?

Ravitch: Over time, I came to realize that NCLB was doing incalculable harm to students, teachers, schools, and the learning process itself.

We must provide excellent teacher preparation for teachers so they are masters of their subjects.

In my book, I describe a specific conference about NCLB, held at a conservative think tank in DC. I was asked to summarize the day's proceedings. There were about a dozen papers by scholars, each explaining that NCLB was not working—not in cities, not in rural areas, not in this place or that one. Choice wasn't working, and supplemental services had turned into a bureaucratic nightmare for many districts while funneling federal funds to providers of dubious quality.

I concluded by day's end that the law was not working. As time went by, I became firmly convinced that NCLB had turned into a timetable for the destruction of public education.

Rami: You've said that education reform should not focus on finding the bad teachers. What should we do to make sure we have good teachers?

Ravitch: We must provide excellent teacher preparation for teachers so they are masters of their subjects and knowledgeable about pedagogy and classroom management. New teachers need support and mentoring, and high-quality professional development should be available to keep teachers intellectually and professionally engaged. If teachers need help, they should get it without fear of being considered weak.

Rami: What role should professional development play in the federal government's educational priorities?

Ravitch: At the present time, I am not sure, because the federal government has become so entranced with test scores that I fear the kind of professional development it would support or require.

Rami: Writing and the arts aren't among the often-prioritized STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, so where do you see the importance of them in education?

Ravitch: Writing and the arts are critically important forms of self-expression. Our education system cannot thrive without making them part of every student's education.

Rami: In his recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama asserted that we must encourage innovation, imagination, and creativity so we can "win the future." How can we win the future?

Ravitch: We can't "win the future" by the present course pursued by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education is incentivizing more and more testing and encouraging states to evaluate teachers by test scores. This is wrong. This will actively restrict innovation, imagination, and creativity.

The tests now in use were not designed to measure teacher quality or school quality. The policies of this administration are built on the flawed foundation of NCLB. They assume that all educational decisions should rely on testing and data. There is a belief in data that is simplistic, naive, and deeply anti-intellectual.

If we continue down this path, many teachers will be deeply discouraged, and the teaching profession will not be a profession but a job for temporary workers.

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