There Are Big Ideas, and There Are Small Implementations
Diane Ravitch offers a wonderful example of a particular strategy for rebuffing education reforms:
As an education historian, I have often warned against the seductive lure of grand ideas to reform education. Our national infatuation with education fads and reforms distracts us from the steady work that must be done.
Our era is no different. 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.
Ravitch claims to have been a supporter of choice and accountability for some years, having now adjusted her view based on “empirical evidence.” But even as one espousing the concepts, she must not have had a very thorough vision for them.
I make that assertion because her empirical evidence against the broad concept of “choice” is the aggregate performance of charter schools across the countries. As has been readily apparent, in Rhode Island, even just establishing such schools can be an arduous process, and the union hounds are ever at the door. A more fair assessment of school choice would have to include private schools, as well. Indeed, implemented as many of us on the right would like, choice would encompass every accredited school to which parents might want access, including different public schools, because the idea isn’t just to give students a way out, but also to give schools a way to compete.
As for Ravitch’s argument against test-driven accountability treats the proposition as all or nothing. As I’ve said before, professional accountability in a field like teaching cannot be handled as if by formujla — assessing the number and quantity of something produced. Rather, educational results must be measured as improvements against difficulties, and for that, subjective measures are required. Standardized tests are a critical component of that process, but accountability must flow up the chain, with administrators examining scores in the context of other circumstances, observations, and institutional objectives and accountable to the people above them for their results. Of course, unions dislike such structures, claiming it lacks protection, while the opposition sees talent and performance as all the protection that professionals ought to require.
The impression that one gets from essays like Ravitch’s is that the intention isn’t so much to examine an experiment and explain lessons learned as to dismiss ideas that haven’t really be tried so that the principles on which they’re founded can never be proven successful.