Education "Miracles" or Just Slight of Hand?

Posted on: Wednesday June 6th, 2012

A healthy dose of skepticism should really be the order of the day in this era of education privatization and the "inflated successes" of charter schools. In a New York Times op-ed, Diane Ravitch accuses policymakers of using clever public relations to cover up their unwillingness to tackle the real issues of poverty and inequality that are impacting and hurting students across the country.

"Educators know that 100 percent proficiency is impossible, given the enormous variation among students and the impact of family income on academic performance. Nevertheless, some politicians believe that the right combination of incentives and punishments will produce dramatic improvement. Anyone who objects to this utopian mandate, they maintain, is just making an excuse for low expectations and bad teachers.

To prove that poverty doesn’t matter, political leaders point to schools that have achieved stunning results in only a few years despite the poverty around them. But the accounts of miracle schools demand closer scrutiny. Usually, they are the result of statistical legerdemain."

Ravitch continues on to show just what kind of slight of hand numbers some charters are pushing, despite the fact that these schools are being upheld as examples of success by none other than President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. She concludes:

"What is to be learned from these examples of inflated success? The news media and the public should respond with skepticism to any claims of miraculous transformation. The achievement gap between children from different income levels exists before children enter school.

Families are children’s most important educators. Our society must invest in parental education, prenatal care and preschool. Of course, schools must improve; every one should have a stable, experienced staff, adequate resources and a balanced curriculum including the arts, foreign languages, history and science.

If every child arrived in school well-nourished, healthy and ready to learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income, many of our educational problems would be solved. And that would be a miracle."

Read the rest of Ravitch's column here!

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