Diane Ravitch’s recent LA Times op-ed (“The Big Idea — it’s bad education policy“) opposes “Big Ideas” in education policy, but what it is really saying is that the educational establishment is running out of ideas. “We now face a wave of education reforms based on the belief that school choice, test-driven accountability and the resulting competition will dramatically improve student achievement.” She argues that none of this is working:
Today there is empirical evidence, and it shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working. But with confidence bordering on recklessness, the Obama administration is plunging ahead, pushing an aggressive program of school reform — codified in its signature Race to the Top program — that relies on the power of incentives and competition. This approach may well make schools worse, not better. …
On the federal tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, from 2003 to 2009, charters have never outperformed public schools. Nor have black and Latino students in charter schools performed better than their counterparts in public schools.
When charter schools have performed well, it’s because of selection: Better, more motivated children attend them, and this does nothing for the masses of Black and Latino children. Holding teachers accountable doesn’t work either.
But if course, Ravitch can’t really come to grips with the problem. In pointing to things that could affect student achievement besides teachers, she comes up with this list: “students’ motivation, the schools’ curriculum, family support, poverty and distractions on testing day, such as the weather or even a dog barking in the school’s parking lot.”
No mention of IQ — 16 years after The Bell Curve placed IQ and the intractability of changing became front and center for the American public. Coming on the heels of the finding that the Head Start pre-school program has no demonstrable effects on IQ or academic achievement, one would think that at long last it would start to dawn on people that there are no easy solutions because no one has come up with a way to improve IQ. The result is that race differences in achievement are going to be here long into the future. And that means that importing millions of low-IQ people is a long term disaster for the country.
Ravitch herself seems to have given up the fight. There are no Big Ideas that will work, so she advocates returning to a well-rounded curriculum rather than the Obama Administration’s focus on math and reading. If you can’t teach them to read or do math, you might as well entertain them by having them do art and music.