Diane Ravitch: Testing and Vouchers Hurt Our Schools. Here’s What Works
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Milwaukee has had very unimpressive, if not dismal, results, yet Gov. Scott Walker is actually expanding the voucher program to a larger geographical area and lowering the threshold for getting in so that more families can have it. Bobby Jindal in Louisiana – last year he passed a voucher program which was found unconstitutional, its funding was unconstitutional, by the Louisiana courts — and he’s now on a tear, publishing Op-Eds in the Washington Post and various other newspapers saying any effort to stop vouchers hurts children. Well, that’s ridiculous. Why do people continue to advocate things that have been proven over more than 20 years to have made no difference? Merit pay is an even better example. Merit pay has been tried for almost 100 years. It has never made a difference and yet politicians continue to say, “This is what we’ll do it: merit pay.”
Teachers want to make enough money to survive and be comfortable in the cities in which they live, but they don’t go into it to make money.
Anyone who expects to get rich by becoming a teacher, you have to wonder about their basic sense of judgment because it’s not a high-paying profession. People go into teaching in the first instance because, what they always say is, “I want to make a difference in the lives of children.” Some of them turn out to be really good at it, and some not, but that’s their motivation. It’s not “I’m going to become a teacher so I can make a lot of money – I want merit pay.” I’ve just seen very little support.
In fact, when I go out speaking to teacher audiences and I go through the failure of merit pay, I get huge applause because teachers don’t want merit pay. The reason they don’t want it is not because they don’t want more money – sure they’d love more money. They don’t want to be placed into competition with their colleagues. They understand that when you work in a school you’re working in a collaborative environment and you’re not there to just hide what you’re doing that works and not let anybody see it. Rather, you’re all working for the same goal – you’re trying to help these children do better in school by a whole lot of different measures. The only way that’s going to work is if people work together.
You were a big proponent of testing, at first, and you liked charter schools. Can you trace your evolution in that? Why at the beginning did you think they were going to work, and what changed your mind? What were some red flags that things were going horribly wrong?
I had been involved in three different very conservative think tanks in the 1990s and I worked in the first George Bush administration and I thought, “Geez, testing is good because it’ll get kids focused on what they’re supposed to learn and what you test is what gets taught.” That seemed like a good kind of incentive structure. And then accountability just seemed to follow from that – that if teachers weren’t getting results, they should be fired and then the charter school idea came along and I thought, “Well, this sounds like a good idea. There will be competition; we all believe in competition.”
In theory, it all made a lot of sense, but the reality started to kick in when I saw the results of No Child Left Behind after the first five years. In my last book, I described going to a conference where a dozen scholars at a conservative think tank reviewed the evidence and they said, “Well, it’s not working here, it’s not working in California, it’s not working in Florida, it’s not working in New Jersey, it’s not working in rural areas,” and they just went on with paper after paper. There was nobody that reported that No Child Left Behind was having a positive effect.