Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Diane Ravitch / Alter / Brooks Debate

Education Historian Diane Ravitch is at the center of a dust-up that has been swirling around for a month now.

I've collected a series of articles that can help to give a flavor of the reform debate. For a better taste... follow this on Twitter (I'm on as @K12Reformer).

I'm not going to comment on it for now... there is plenty of reading below!

This chapter began with a New York Times opinion piece by Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch)

New York Times: Waiting for a School Miracle (05/31/11)

Jonathan Alter (@JonathanAlter), formerly of Newsweek, and now with Bloomberg, writes:

Bloomberg: Don’t Believe Critics, Education Reform Works (06/03/11)

The debate raged on the blogosphere for a month, and included a blog posting by Matthew Yglesias (@MattyYglesias) that has yet to be answered:

ThinkProgress: What Does Diane Ravitch Think We Should Do To Improve Education In The United States? (06/23/11)

The debate really intensified with this piece by Martin Brooks:

New York Times: Smells Like School Spirit (06/30/11)

Jonathan Chait (@JonathanChait) adds to the discussion:

The New Republic: David Brooks Is Slightly Too Nice To Diane Ravitch (07/02/11)

Valarie Strauss (@ValerieStrauss) attempts to minimize / neutralize the rebuttals:

Washington Post: ‘Ravitch Rage’ — cause, symptoms, treatment (07/05/11)

(Funny comment made on the Strauss article: "Oh, when I saw "Ravitch Rage" I just assumed it was the case of rabies Ravitch has seemed to develop over the past ten years.")

From my perspective, the rebuttals to Ravitch are not an illness, they are the antidote!

Anyway, Ravitch goes on to respond here:

New York Times: Letter to the Editor (07/05/11)

There are numerous teacher blogs that bash Brooks/Alter/Chait, etc, and numerous "reformer" blogs that comment on Ravitch. If you find'em, post'em in the comment section below.

Interesting debate, for sure!

==> Mike.


Two Steps forward, One Step Back.

Here's a follow up to a post I made in May, 2010, (found here) that addressed my concerns with dropping the Valedictorian / Salutatorian awards. The video tells it all; people comment to the school board, and the board responds in muted silence.

The Rochester Community Schools Board of Education eventually created a level of awards that makes sense. Honors are awarded based on GPA, ACT Score, and AP participation. I love it!

Two steps forward!

But the, then one step back: they took away the award for the very top achievers.

I write about that here:

Oakland Press: Schools wrong to drop top honor student designations (06/14/11)

Here is the full text of the article, in case the link does not work:


Schools wrong to drop top honor student designations
Published: Tuesday, June 14, 2011
By Mike Reno

Tis the season of graduation, and the Oakland University Meadowbrook amphitheater will be filled every night with high school commencement ceremonies.

Watch ’em closely this year, so that you can get a glimpse of an endangered species.

Many schools are ending the practice of recognizing the valedictorian and salutatorian. In fact, they are not only ending the practice of honoring those top students, they are even eliminating all “relative performance indicators,” such as class rank.

This does not just impact those few “eggheads” that earned perfect scores in every class. It’s bigger than that. Consider the message this misguided action sends to our children about drive, self-discipline and achievement.

It puts scholarship dollars at risk. But more importantly it speaks to the very core of how your school board views academic achievement — and the message isn’t pretty.

Rochester schools just changed
its academic recognition policy and will abandon the honors for the highest achievers. They have replaced it with a “grouping” of kids who meet certain criteria such as overall GPA and participation in Advanced Placement Classes.

It’s like the honor roll — on steroids.

Creating this award is great and students who achieve to these levels absolutely deserve recognition. But these “groups” could’ve been an honor supplement, it didn’t need to replace top honors.

Why take away the brass ring? Picture the Olympics, where a “precious metal pin” is awarded to the top three athletes instead of gold, silver and bronze.

School boards offer excuses to explain why they have decided to stop honoring the top achievers.

To rank high in a class, and be at the “top,” the school must rank the students. Imagine the ego damage to those who are not at the top, or rank near the bottom.

Some note that the valedictorian honor has become diluted now that it’s common to have more than one from the class. And some will argue that kids with really good grades may stop taking challenging classes for fear of lowering their GPA and losing their shot at the title. But those concerns can be addressed by giving additional weight to challenging classes. An “A” in an advanced placement class might be worth five points instead of 4. This way, the student who earns a 4.0 taking basket-weaving classes won’t tie with the one who earns a 4.0 in advanced placement courses.

Schools recognize their top athletes by awarding them varsity letters. Rather than eliminating winners, they instead construct trophy displays and hang record plaques on the gymnasium wall. Have you seen similar public recognition and celebration of top academic achievement?

But this is not just about public recognition. There are scholarships awarded to valedictorians and salutatorians. And class rank matters, too, with scholarships available to those placing in the top 10 percent of their class.

So, as you attend graduation ceremonies and graduation parties, be sure to give a sincere hat-tip to vals and sals in the class. They are a dying breed.

Mike Reno is a former trustee of the Rochester Board of Education.