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Diane Ravitch: Testing and Vouchers Hurt Our Schools. Here’s What Works

Education reformers have it all wrong, says Diane Ravitch, and keep pushing policies that make schools worse.

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Technology is a very important tool and I certainly couldn’t live without it — I don’t think many of us could. It’s what I spend my days and nights working on, but I don’t think it substitutes for human interaction. In the case of Los Angeles, what was shocking was that Los Angeles decided to take a billion dollars of money that had been appropriated for school construction bonds. Voters approved a referendum for school construction. The bonds will be paid off over 25 years and they’re buying iPads (and they forgot to buy the keyboards, so now they’ll need for money for the keyboards). It will cost a billion dollars, and this was money that was supposed to be spent fixing up the schools. It’ll be paid off over 25 years, but the iPads will be obsolete within the next three to four years. That, to me, is, I don’t know, I think it’s almost criminal. It’s crazy that people are going to be paying for these machines in 25 years when the machines are going to be absolutely obsolete in the next few years. We know that there’s going to be a new generation of iPads probably in the next year or two years and three or four years from now, these machines will be really not that useful compared to the new ones. But you can’t take construction funds – it seems to me that the voters’ wishes were ignored.

The writer of the book “The Smartest Kids in the World” [Amanda Ripley] goes to these classrooms with these incredibly high-performing kids – they do not have high technology. No iPads, no smart boards, no laptops. These kids do well without it. The idea following that is if they have a good foundation, they’ll learn to use technology eventually, the way we did. 

As I understand the argument in that book is that teachers matter a great deal, and I agree, teachers do matter a great deal, and Finland, which was one of the countries that was studied, only accepts one out of 10 applicants into teacher programs. The teachers programs last five years, so by the time someone becomes a teacher, they’ve had five years of preparation. They’ve had not only study and research and student teaching, they are ready to become teachers. We, on the other hand, are allowing people to become teachers, in the case of Teach for America, with only five weeks of training. That wouldn’t be permitted in Finland, I doubt it would be permitted in the high-achieving Asian nations, and we allow people to come in with degrees that were earned online, which is ridiculous.

So we do need to raise our standards for entry into teaching, but ultimately that’s only part of the solution. The larger part is to address the fact that so many of these kids are living in desperate poverty and they’re already behind — there’s already an achievement gap on the first day of kindergarten.

What’s your argument against Teach for America, aside from the lack of training? It seems like a good idea – you’re going to pair these bright, enthusiastic people with kids at underperforming schools and won’t they just give the schools a jolt? Isn’t it a great thing to get people from outside of the system in to let people inside see how they can do things differently?

Well, first of all, I don’t think five weeks of training is adequate for anyone to be a teacher. I think they could come in as an assistant teacher and they might learn something about teaching, but the idea that — for example, in what other profession would you bring in an untrained person, someone with only five weeks of training, to be a doctor and to show people in the operating room how to do it better? I mean, that doesn’t make any sense, and in the case of sending them into schools with the highest needs, I would argue that the schools with the highest needs really need the teachers with the most professionalism, the most experience and the most successful in teaching, not young kids who are just a few months away from their college graduation.