Here is one of my favourite excerpts from Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error. Ravitch nails it by identifying the problems that are plaguing public education (and our democracy), while providing clear solutions:
In this book, I will show why the reform agenda does not work, who is behind it, and how it is promoting the privatization of public education. I will then put forward my solutions, none of which is cheap or easy, none of which offers a quick fix to complicated problems. I have no silver bullets -- because none exist -- but I have proposals based on evidence and experience.
We know what works. What works are the very opportunities that advantaged families provide for their children. In homes with adequate resources, children get advantages that enable them to arrive in school healthy and ready to learn. Discerning, affluent parents demand schools with full curricula, experienced staffs, rich programs in the arts, libraries, well-maintained campuses, and small classes. As a society, we must do whatever is necessary to extend the same advantages to children who do not have them. Doing so will improve their ability to learn, enhance their chances for a good life, and strengthen our society.
So that readers don't have to wait until the later chapters of this book, here is a summary of my solutions to improve both schools and society. School and society are intertwined. The supporting research comes later in the book. Every one of these solutions works to improve the lives and academic outcomes of young people.
Pregnant women should see a doctor early in their pregnancies and have regular care and good nutrition. Poor women who do not receive early and regular medical care are likely to have babies with developmental and cognitive problems.
Children need prekindergarten classes that teach them how to socialize with others, how to listen and learn, how to communicate well, and how to care for themselves, while engaging in the joyful pursuit of play and learning that is appropriate to their age and development and that builds their background knowledge and vocabulary.
Children in the early elementary grades need teachers who set age appropriate goals. They should learn to read, write, calculate, and explore nature, and they should have plenty of time to sing and dance and draw and play and giggle. Classes in these grades should be small enough -- ideally fewer than twenty -- so that students get the individual attention they need. Testing in the early grades should be used sparingly, not to rank students, but diagnostically, to help determine what they know and what they still need to learn. Test scores should remain a private matter between parents and teachers, not shared with the district or the state for any individual student. The district or state may aggregate scores for entire schools but should not judge teaches or schools on the basis of these scores.
As students enter the upper elementary grades and middle school and high school, they should have a balanced curriculum that includes not only reading, writing and mathematics but the science, literature, history, geography, civics, and foreign languages. Their school should have a rich arts program, where students learn to sing, dance, play an instrument, join an orchestra or a band, perform in a play, sculpt, or use technology to design structures, conduct research, or create artworks. Every student should have time for physical education every day. Every school should have a library with librarians and media specialists. Every school should have a nurse, a psychologist, a guidance councelor and a social worker. And every school should have after-school programs where students may explore their interests, whether in athletics, chess, robotics, history club, dramatics, science club, nature study, Scouting, or other activities. Teachers should write their own tests and use standardized tests only for diagnostic purposes. Classes should be small enough to ensure that every teacher knows his or her students and can provide the sort of feedback to strengthen their ability to write, their noncognitive skills, their critical thinking, and their mathematical and scientific acumen.
Our society should commit to building a strong education profession. Public policy should aim to raise the standards for entry into teaching. Teachers should be well-educated and well-prepared for their profession. Principals and superintendents should be experienced educators.
Schools should have the resources they need for the students they enroll.
As a society, we must establish goals, strategies, and programs to reduce poverty and racial segregation. Only by eliminating opportunity gaps can we eliminate achievement gaps. Poor and immigrant children need the same sorts of schools the wealthy children have, only more so. Those who start life with the fewest advantages need even smaller classes, even more art, science, and music to engage them, to spark their creativity, and to fulfill their potential.
There is solid research base for my recommendations. If you want a society organized to promote the survival of the fittest and the triumph of the most advantaged, then you will prefer the current course of action, where children and teachers and schools are "racing to the top." But if you believe the goal of our society should be equality of opportunity for all children and that we should seek to reduce the alarming inequalities children now experience, then my program should win your support.
My premise is straightforward: you can't do the right things until you stop doing the wrong things. If you insist on driving that train right over the cliff, you will never reach your hoped-for destination of excellence for all. Instead, you will inflict harm on millions of children and reduce the quality of their educations. You will squander billions of dollars on failed schemes that should have been spent on realistic, evidence-based ways of improving our public schools, our society, and the lives of children.
Stop doing the wrong things. Stop promoting competition, and choice as answers to the very inequality that was created by competition and choice. Stop the mindless attacks on the education profession. A good society requires both a vibrant private sector and a responsible public sector. We must not permit the public sector to be privatized and eviscerated. In a democracy, important social goals require social collaboration. We must work to establish programs that improve the lives of children and families. To build a strong educational system, we need to build a strong and respected education profession. The federal government and states must develop policies that recruit, support, and retain career educators, both in the classroom and in positions of leadership. If we mean to conquer educational inequity, we must recognize that the root cause of poor academic performance are segregation and poverty, along with equitably resourced schools. We must act decisively to reduce the causes of inequity. We must bring good schools to every district and neighbourhood of our nation. Public education is a basic public responsibility: we must not be persuaded by a false crisis narrative to privatize it. It is time for parents, educators, and other concerned citizens to join together to strengthen our public schools and preserve them for future generations. The future of our democracy depends on it.