It may not be well known among our (probably millions of) readers, but this blog takes its name from a Diane Ravitch line. I like Ravitch, for the most part. I often agree with her, especially when she’s railing against charter schools and faux-liberal nonsense like “Waiting for Superman“–which puts as much faith in the all-curing power of stone-cold statistical analysis that Michael Lewis did in Moneyball. And I agree, too, with her larger critique of neoliberal “reform” in the field of education. Education is a market (like healthcare) quite unlike the generic market studied in economic classes, for neither its “consumers” nor its “profits” can be quantified in a typical sense. Measurement–or accountability–is hardly the cut-and-dry issue that it is in, well, baseball.
Still, I have some major problems with Ravitch. She often goes too far, makes spurious legal arguments, and articulates a faith in federalism that betrays an ideological tension with many of my left-leaning friends who similarly support her education arguments. Check this out:
[Arne Duncan] seems not to know that education is the responsibility of state and local governments, as defined by the Tenth amendment to our Constitution. States and local school districts now look to Washington to tell them how to reform their schools and must seek permission to deviate from the regulations written by theU.S. Department of Education. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) created the template for this growing federal control of education, but Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top has made it possible for Washington to dictate education policy across the nation. Grade: F
I loathe NCLB, but my problems with it stem not from an ideological revulsion towards federal power but, rather, from a skepticism towards testing and the misguided presumption that teachers’ accountability will solve all, or even any, of the nation’s education problems. I loathe it, in other words, because it’s a system predicated upon universalist notions espoused by non-educators who know little or nothing about education. Ravitch however complicates this critique by promoting a localism that, as Scott Lemieux also notes, has been crucial to the resegregation of American schools. In the excerpt above, she sounds far more like Ron Paul than someone concerned with social justice.
I have to admit, I don’t know if you can take “the substance” but leave the tentherism here. I fear that the tentherism is the substance, or at least a crucial part of it, and I’d caution those out there who similarly loathe NCLB to formulate a criticism that’s more ideologically capacious than this one. Indeed, it shouldn’t be hard to note that the trend towards testing makes for bad policy at all levels of government–full stop. Let’s leave the federalism to the other guys. Anyone even remotely familiar with “Brown V. Board,” Little Rock, and (really) the entire civil rights era should see the problems inherent in Ravitch’s argument.