Diane Ravitch, Historian of education, NYU, Hoover and Brookings:
In education, the new administration is as ruinous as the old
Education was not a big issue in the campaign, but it is a big issue for our society. Our future depends on having a strong and effective public education system, as well as excellent institutions of higher education and a variety of successful private institutions of education.
When President Obama ran for office, he promised sweeping change, and educators understood him to mean that he would reverse the Bush administration's ruinous No Child Left Behind legislation. I say "ruinous," because NCLB has been a costly failure. On national tests, given by the U.S. Department of Education, student achievement is either flat (as in 8th grade reading) or has improved less than in the days prior to NCLB (as in every other grade and subject tested). I say "ruinous" because NCLB is punitive, has caused nearly 40% of the nation's schools to be labeled "failing," and has set the nation on a course in which nearly all of our schools will be declared "failures" within the next five years.
NCLB's remedy for "failing" schools is harshly punitive. When a school is struggling, there is no help on the way, just punishment: Fire the staff; close the school; turn the school over to private entrepreneurs, etc.
So it was reasonable to expect that the Obama administration would throw out this harsh regime and replace it with a program intended to improve, help, support, and strengthen our schools.
But along comes Arne Duncan, our new Secretary of Education, and everything he has said to date might have just as well been said by Bush's Secretary Margaret Spellings. Duncan paid his visit to New York City and toured a charter school, not a regular public school. He declared that the nation's schools need more testing, as though we don't have enough information already to act on our problems. He declared his support for charter schools, where only 2% of the nation's children are enrolled.
The one educator close to Obama who actually has experience in the schools--his chief policy advisor Linda Darling-Hammond--was demonized by the new breed of non-educators and their media flacks, and she has returned to Stanford University. There was no room apparently in this administration for someone who had been deeply involved in school reform for many years, not as an entrepreneur or a think-tank expert, but as an educator.
It looks like Obama's education policy will be a third term for President George W. Bush. This is not change I can believe in.
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