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Second General Session

Ravitch Urges Reform Using Research, Not Punishment

One of the country’s leading education historians and authors, Diane Ravitch was a firm believer in testing, charter schools and vouchers, until she realized that those paths are a recipe for privatization of the nation’s schools, not for reform.

“If we’re serious about reducing achievement gaps, we should pay attention to what works,” she said, and that means using ideas that are proven and research-based. Among the ideas that don’t work, Ravitch said, are high-stakes testing, evaluating teachers based on student test scores, and merit pay for teachers.

Ravitch was the keynote speaker at Saturday’s Second General Session of the 2012 Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators and Illinois Association of School Business Officials.

Mark Staehlin, current Illinois ASBO president and moderator for the general session, urged that all school officials to share their successes so everyone can become “smarter, stronger and more efficient.”

That idea of efficiency was echoed by Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, who also addressed the crowd, praising the Classroom First Commission that she chaired for starting with the idea of consolidation and ending up with “inspiring efficiency” as a better answer.

Simon said her hope is that the commission’s recommendations will help speed up and remove the barriers from voluntary and virtual consolidations, instead of its original intent to plot a course for mandatory consolidation.

Simon eagerly took the podium, remarking, “I love hanging out with a crowd like this that is so passionate about education.”

Staehlin, controller in CHSD 99, Downers Grove, also introduced Emmert Dannenberg, recipient of the 2012 Ronald C. Everett Distinguished Service Award, which was presented by Michael Jacoby, Illinois ASBO executive director. Dannenberg is a past Illinois ASBO president, a former school superintendent and now statewide marketing director for ISLDAF+.

Also at the session, IASB President Carolyne Brooks introduced IASB past presidents, including: Joseph Alesandrini, Pekin, 2010-11; Mark C. Metzger, Naperville, 2008-2009; Raymond Zimmerman, Flanagan, 2004-2005; Dennis McConville, Peru, 2001-2002; Jay Tovian, Villa Park, 1996-1998; Robert Reich, Bourbonnais, 1992-1993; Joan Levy, Winnetka, 1984-85; and Jonathan T. Howe, Northbrook, 1978-1979.

Brooks also acknowledged Michael D. Johnson, recently retired as IASB executive director emeritus in July after serving 12 years, and Jan Sampson, wife of the late former executive director Wayne Sampson, who served as the Association chief executive from 1989 to 2000.

In her keynote address, Ravitch chastised the “millionaires and billionaires who don’t send their children to public schools but seem to know how to fix them,” as well as the monied interests that are crossing state lines trying to influence elections.

Ravitch cited a recent race in California where $250,000 was spent to try and oust a school board member who had voted against the authorization of a charter school. Even though the board member only had a budget of $6,000, she survived and retained her seat.

In Georgia, she noted, 90 percent of the funding that helped pass the recent charter school amendment in Georgia came from out-of-state sources.

Turning to the subject of testing, Ravitch said “the heart and soul of education is being sucked dry” by the current system.

“Parents know that testing doesn’t make their children smarter,” she added, and the “ Texas miracle and [George W.] Bush’s magic formula” that was the basis for the No Child Left Behind Act, doesn’t work. “All it has done is make a few testing corporations very, very rich.”

“Tests,” Ravitch said, “are a mirror of socio-economic status.”

Ravitch is no stranger to the political side of education policy. She served under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the U.S. Department of Education and for seven years was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board. She currently is a research professor of education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University.

While the United States has never held a top ranking since international assessments began, Ravitch now says “we have far surpassed other countries in creativity,” adding that “test scores do not predict the future of one’s economy.”

Instead of the current testing system, she offered the following seven ideas for improving education:

  • Provide good prenatal care
  • Fund early childhood education
  • Encourage regular medical check-ups
  • Reduce class sizes
  • Require a balanced curriculum
  • Stop ignoring segregation and poverty
  • Use tests for diagnostics, not punishment

“We need to rebuild our country by strengthening its public schools,” Ravitch said, “not to prepare workers but to help children develop into good citizens for themselves and for our society.”


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