UW-Milwaukee: Educator discusses policy, poverty and reform failures Feb. 10 at UWM

Diane Ravitch, an outspoken critic of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and other test-driven government education reforms, is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Urban Forum on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011. She will speak at 6:30 p.m. in the UWM Union Wisconsin Room, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd. The event is free and open to the public.

Ravitch, a research professor and education historian at New York University, is the author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” which was on the New York Times best-seller list in 2010. She was recently selected for the 2011 Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize from the American Academy of Political and Social Science for her work in urban education.

Ravitch has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations. She was an assistant secretary of education in the administration of George H.W. Bush. President Bill Clinton’s secretary of education appointed her to the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program.

Although she was an early backer of No Child Left Behind and charter schools, Ravitch later became disillusioned about these approaches.

“I no longer believe that either approach will produce the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for,” she wrote. In summing up the results of a major national evaluation of education, she noted that high-stakes testing, utopian goals, draconian penalties, school closings, privatization and charter schools didn’t work.

Both the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top programs place too much emphasis on charter schools and rely too much on a “frenzy of testing” in evaluating schools, students, principals and teachers, she writes.

Ravitch characterizes high-stakes testing as counterproductive because, she explains, it drives teachers away from schools with the most needs: high numbers of poor children, English-language learners, students with disabilities and homeless children. Each of these factors is likely to lower test scores.

Ravitch is particularly critical of mass-media portrayals of the education system and education reform – including the documentary “Waiting for Superman” and government “experts” who blame “bad” teachers and “bad” principals for the problems in education.

“The best predictor of low academic performance is poverty, not bad teachers,” she writes. “No nation in the world…has improved its education system by belittling and firing teachers and principals.

“Teachers today are so unjustly vilified, so little appreciated, and so eager for support,” she continues. “Their critics in the media and in ‘reformy-y’ think tanks are arrogant and ignorant.”

The Urban Forum, now in its 14th year, provides an opportunity for students, teachers, administrators, adult and community educators, counselors, policymakers and the community to discuss how education is impacted by urban social, political and economic issues.

This year’s topic is “Changing Times – Changing Minds.” Ravitch’s presentation is the second of a two-part program for the 2010-2011 academic year.

The Urban Forum starts at 6 p.m. and concludes at 7:30 p.m.

For more information and to register for this year’s Urban Forum, go to http://www4.uwm.edu/soe/departments/outreach/urban_forum/.