Diane Ravitch, who was assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush and then became a national spokeswoman against the so-called education reform movement, says that Chicago has taken the lead on education reform – and the revolt against such policies.
Now a professor at New York University, Ravitch told reporters at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters Monday that the strike gave “vicarious exhilaration” to teachers across the nation that were “beaten down” by evaluations based on standardized tests and charter schools.
Ravitch says Chicago is distinctive on education issues because of a “more militant” teachers' union, noting that in much of the south, west and now to an extent in northern states such as Wisconsin, “Teacher collective bargaining rights are eliminated.”
Ravitch joined the chorus of those in opposition to the education programs of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but is sympathetic to Barbara Byrd-Bennett, his latest choice to lead the Chicago Public Schools. Byrd-Bennett, former interim CPS chief education officer, takes over for Jean Claude-Brizard, who resigned Thursday, the district's chief executive officer.
“Barbara is a very smart woman,” Ravitch said, adding that Byrd-Bennett has a history of working collaboratively with the teachers' union. CTU President Karen Lewis, who joined Ravitch Monday, has called Byrd-Bennett “a warm and delightful person.”
Ravitch was also critical of a rumored CPS plan to close 60 to 120 neighborhood schools, though she did say that schools should close down if there is significant under enrollment.
Mainly, though, Ravitch sounded as if she could be a teachers' union delegate, repeatedly taking aim at merit pay for teachers (“I don’t know of any other profession that has such a negative attitude to people in the profession”), charter schools (“a privatization movement”), and standardized tests (“All of this testing is crazy”).
Ravitch would like education policymakers to instead focus on combating poverty and desegregation, a former central tenet of national and local education policy that has arguably been cast aside. “We have not talked about segregation in our society for at least 20 years,” Ravitch argues.
The irony of these views is that, as a Bush political appointee, Ravitch helped move education policy from broader questions of social inequality into more specifically evaluating teachers and schools. But as these ideas became part of an establishment consensus – through federal policies like the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law and the Obama administration's 2009 Race to the Top grant program – Ravitch dramatically reversed her views, which are now articulated on her blog and books, such as 2010s the Death And Life of the Great American School System.
Ravitch told reporters that Chicago has been a “Petri dish” for education reform policies, first under former CPS head Paul Vallas, who took over the system in 1995 for seven years, and then Arne Duncan, the current U.S. Secretary of Education. “Now Arne Duncan is saving the nation,” Ravitch sarcastically said.