A reader writes:
I read your quote from Diane Ravitch, and I have to say that while I appreciate her forthrightness in admitting the error of her ways, I find even her admission to be maddening. I have taught middle school English for the past 8 years, so my entire career has been dominated by the presence of NCLB. What is so angering to me is that even as a 22 year old rookie, fresh out of college, it was clear to me that NCLB was always about dismantling the public education system.
The way that proficiency is determined through normed testing (which Ravitch fails miserably to properly explain) means that essentially, all the students in the state take the test, and a mean score is determined. Proficiency then means achieving at or above that score. So by definition, a huge section of the state population will always be below proficiency ... like, 50%. Even the best schools or school systems could easily have 20-30% of their population "below proficiency." Those who designed this bill clearly knew this and cynically set up a system that would lead to failure and a crisis of confidence in public education. Anyone who claims they did not is either dishonest or not competent to discuss the matter.
On a side note, I saw that you mentioned the disparity between state test scores and performance on NAEP. A large part of this discrepancy can be explained by the fact that we are dealing with children, not robots. Unlike a robot, into which you feed a set of commands and out comes some action or another, children stubbornly have minds of their own. When you tell a kid that today, instead of being with your friends in class, you are going to go to the library and sit with a very nice Test Administrator whom you've never met and will never see again, and who will give you an endless, boring test, that will have no bearing on your grades or your life, and the results of which you will probably never see, let's not fall backwards of shock when the students put forth less than maximum effort...
I am progressive Democrat, but Diane Ravitch is wrong. Charter schools aren't just a good idea; charters work. I live in Los Angeles and founded the most diverse, high-performing charter school in the city. I can tell you the power of charters.
Urban education is a disaster, driving families with any means to the suburbs and destroying our cities. If we want to rebuild them, we need a decent public school system for middle-class families. I have seen die-hard liberals rail against charters -- until they walked into their local public school to enroll their child and realized why charter schools are saving our cities. Charters are making a difference -- for the kids who go there, and for the schools they "leave behind."
In 2005, our local school was failing, overcrowded, and had a year-round schedule. We proposed opening a charter is the neighborhood. Within a year, the district brought in a new principal to the failing school, it was able to switch a traditional calendar, and it was no longer overcrowded. In five years, the test scores went up almost 100 points. Our charter inspired two other community groups to open two more schools, with two more hoping to open next year.
That is competition in action -- helping all kids. It's a movement of concerned parents who want diverse, excellent public schools. And it's where liberals meet conservatives; the liberals care passionately about public education, diversity, and serving low income kids; and conservatives believe that competition will force districts to improve. With charter schools, they are both winning.
Diane Ravitch is sorely misguided -- she is not on the ground, with kids in school. The idea that we can wait for the system to somehow self-correct is naive. Charters are working and serving low income kids. But they have the power to bring the middle class back into the public school system and keep the middle class in cities, instead of taking all their energy (and money) to the suburbs.