1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036
Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University and renowned education historian, has long been at the forefront of national discussions on education policy and politics. In her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Basic
Download Audio as MP3 Books, March 2010), Ms. Ravitch charges that school reform is on the wrong track. She further argues that charter schooling and test-based accountability will not improve American education and that there are multiple reasons for low achievement, including the absence of a sound and coherent curriculum. Her stark indictment and own change of heart on many of these issues offers a chance to assess the assumptions and evidence that undergird today’s most visible education debates.
Please join us to hear Ms. Ravitch present the ideas in her new book. Immediately following her presentation, AEI resident scholar and director of education policy studies Frederick M. Hess moderated a discussion featuring William A. Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; AEI visiting scholar Mark Schneider, former national commissioner of education statistics and currently vice president at the American Institutes for Research; and Dennis Van Roekel, president of the 3.2-million-member National Education Association.
|4:00||Presentation:||Diane Ravitch, New York University|
|Panelists:||William A. Galston, Brookings Institution|
|Mark Schneider, AEI and American Institutes for Research|
|Dennis Van Roekel, National Education Association|
|Moderator:||Frederick M. Hess, AEI
||Adjournment and Reception
WASHINGTON, MARCH 1, 2010--Esteemed education historian Diane Ravitch spoke to a full audience on her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, decrying "the passion for test-based accountability" that "threatens to undermine education" and warning against simplistic "miracle solutions." AEI's director of education policy studies, Frederick M. Hess, noted that this new way of thinking represents a sharp break from views Ravitch previously endorsed, particularly in regards to the importance of accountability and reform efforts like charter schools. Indeed, as both Hess and Ravitch pointed out, it was at another AEI conference in 2006 when Ravitch's views on education policy first started to shift toward their current position.
The book, and its stark conclusions, is quickly and dramatically shaping the discussion on education policy. Ravitch contends its themes are resonating with educators across the country, many of whom are frustrated at failed reform efforts and the perpetual quest for the "silver bullet" solution to problems in the country's education system. She voiced clear doubts about the reliability of such popular reforms like vouchers, charter schools, and other private-sector approaches. "I don't believe the private sector or markets will serve us any better," she argues. Instead, she advocates for a broader K-12 curriculum, including such efforts as a federal mandate that every child have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, and a renewed emphasis on neighborhood public schools that serve their local community.
After Ravitch spoke, a panel of experts discussed her findings. Dennis Van Roekel, president of the 3.2-million-member National Education Association, agreed with Ravitch on a number of points, particularly her view on the vision and purpose for education and her support of a broad curriculum, concluding that Ravitch "honors the role of education in America." Mark Schneider of AEI and the American Institutes for Research shared Van Roekel's opinions of Ravitch as a scholar, calling her "the best historian of education the nation has." However, Schneider also argued against what he termed the "hopeless romantic" tendencies of her book, saying Ravitch's view of public schools does not comport with reality as he sees it. Specifically, Schneider pointed out the ability of charter schools to provide equal or greater educational opportunities, better facilities, and increased safety over many low-performing neighborhood schools. According to William Galston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, it is not accurate to judge the current school system as failed. He contends, "This reform movement has set in motion a tendency to ask more of the right questions more of the time," concluding after a look at K-12 national testing data that "we're on essentially the right track."
Ravitch's remarks and the robust panel discussion offered keen insights into many current education topics. While disagreeing on the current state of America's schools and the right way forward, the panel nevertheless gave voice to a wide range of education debates and added to the important discussion on issues like accountability, common standards, No Child Left Behind, charter schools, and the role of the federal government in education.
William Galston is the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in Governance Studies and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Formerly the Saul Stern Professor and dean at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Mr. Galston specializes in issues of American public philosophy and political institutions. A former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, Mr. Galston taught for nearly a decade in the department of government at the University of Texas. In the 1990s, he also served as deputy assistant for domestic policy to President Bill Clinton. He is the author of eight books and more than one hundred articles on questions of political and moral philosophy, American politics, and public policy, and he is currently working on several high-profile projects pertaining to core questions of American public philosophy.
Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of education policy studies at AEI, executive editor of Education Next, and author of the Education Week blog "Rick Hess Straight Up." His many books include Education Unbound (ASCD, 2010), Common Sense School Reform (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Revolution at the Margins (Brookings Institution Press, 2002), and Spinning Wheels (Brookings Institution Press, 1998). His work can be seen in scholarly and more popular outlets, such as Teacher College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, U.S. News and World Report, Washington Post, and National Review. He serves on the review board for the Broad Prize in Urban Education and on the boards of directors for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the American Board for the Certification of Teaching Excellence. A former high school social studies teacher, Hess teaches or has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University, and Harvard University.
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education, research professor at New York University, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. A prolific author, she has written eight books, edited fourteen books, and published more than five hundred articles. She served as assistant secretary for research and improvement in the George H.W. Bush administration from 1991 to 1993. Secretary of Education Richard Riley appointed her to the National Assessment Governing Board in 1997 and reappointed her in 2001. She is also a co-chair of Common Core, which advocates for the liberal arts and sciences.
Mark Schneider, a visiting scholar at AEI and a former commissioner of the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics—the primary federal office that collects and analyzes data relating to education—writes about a broad range of education issues: charter schools, consumer choice in education, the relationship between school facilities and academic outcomes, and higher education policy. He also studies and writes about urban politics and public policy. He is the author and coauthor of numerous scholarly books and articles, including the award-winning Choosing Schools: Consumer Choice and the Quality of American Schools (Princeton University Press, 2000). From 2000 to 2001, he served as vice president of the American Political Science Association (APSA) and simultaneously as president of APSA's public policy section. He is currently vice president for new education initiatives at the American Institutes for Research. Mr. Schneider's research at AEI focuses on higher education, in particular the issue of accountability in postsecondary education.
Dennis Van Roekel is the president of the 3.2 million-member National Education Association (NEA). As NEA president, he leads the nation’s largest labor union and advocate for quality public schools. A twenty-three-year teaching veteran and longtime activist and advocate for children and public education, Mr. Van Roekel is committed to improving student learning and enhancing the professionalism of education employees. He is guided in his work by his belief in the NEA mission and vision; consistent with the mission, he is inspired to fulfill the promise of public education and ensure that every child in America, regardless of family income or place of residence, receives a quality education. A former high school math teacher from Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, Arizona, Mr. Van Roekel served two terms as NEA vice president and secretary-treasurer, and has held key positions in all levels of the association, including as president of the Arizona Education Association and Paradise Valley Education Association.