Diane Ravitch sells the single most dangerous notion in these modern times: teachers cannot be accountable for teaching poor children.
The idea that deficiencies in students explain gross variations in academic achievement is a unionist liberal variant of other “scientific” explanations for differential life outcomes between races and classes. It is a first cousin to racial Bell Curve theories and other forms of biosocial apologies for social injustice in a tiered society unexamined.
It’s dangerous because it is an illiberal infection among people that should know better.
College educated leftist are so thoroughly enamored with Ravitch’s quasi-eugenicist ideas that they cannot see the implicit dehumanization. The idea that a child’s socio-economic status should predict their achievement supports apologies for their professional shortcomings.
It also conveniently ignores the abundant evidence that poor kids can learn. Kids of color can learn. Kids that start school behind others can catch up.
And, yes Diane, teacher effectiveness can make it so.
Effectiveness is the operative word here because Ravitch likes to have it both ways; she extolls the importance of teachers while deflecting accountability for gains in student performance:
“Certainly teachers are very important – the most important cause of student success within the school. But scholars agree that factors outside the school are even more important than the teacher, especially family income. Most economists estimate that teachers are responsible for about 10% to 20% of the variation in student scores, and that outside-the-school factors influence about 60% of student learning gains.”
Like all research and statistics it is possible to read in to it what you prefer. Certainly most studies point to the powerful importance of out of school factors, including birth weight, familial relations, neighborhood stress, and access to vital resources like health care and food.
There is no doubt that the presence or absence of developmental assets impacts student learning.
However, all brain research also points to elastic possibilities and huge variability in every human population, which should result in a varied outcome rather than a uniform failure.
Additionally, the same studies that elevate the importance out of school factors also indicate the mitigating potential of strong schools with effective teachers, curriculum, and cultures. Schools and teachers do make a difference.
One huge myth we should dispense with soon: there is no variability in the effectiveness of teachers. They are all equally situated to the needs of children and the best way to evaluate them is by the number of days they have been on the job.
Some teachers are effective, some are not. Some are capable of producing a desired effect with kids in poverty while others can’t do so with affluent kids. The broad brush is not suitable for illustrating the artful combination of students and teachers.
However, in Ravitch’s world poverty becomes a tidy justification for school failure. Poor kids are a singular entity and teachers (on the whole) cannot be judged by how effective they are with students in their classrooms. The defects of children cannot be overcome through instruction.
Parent bashing and blaming the victim might shield poorly performing teachers from accountability, but it does nothing for improving the lives of students that need it most.
Sadly, the adoption of this line of reasoning becomes a clear indicator of which educators should no longer be entrusted with the lives of our children. If you believe that student attributes condemn them to under-education and diminished lives then you clearly need another profession.
Ravitch’s one gift is assisting us in knowing positively which educators have given up on our kids.
Rather than dedicating themselves to the development of new schools and more creative educational structures that serve 21st centuryneeds they blame parents, kids, and society for bringing them students incapable of learning.
They fight for their own rights rather than for the rights of children to a functional system of education.
They look for research to support their poor results rather than for research that supports the humanity of children.
They cling to 19th century industrial unionism that carefully contracts their every duty and movement rather than seeking a child-first mentality.
In short, they miss every opportunity to be the change.
Unfortunately, Ravitch is their therapeutic fetish; their very own Ann Coulter. And, like Coulter, she enjoys providing her self-interested followers with everything they need to feel superior.
The bitter irony is that Coulter is more likely to be on the side of common sense in this debate.
That’s really sad.