Teachers’ conference speaker: ‘Teaching to the test’ is ruining public education

/ 18 October 2012 / eunice

Megan Boldt, Pioneer Press, October 18, 2012 – Education historian and author Diane Ravitch once raved about school choice, private-school vouchers and performance pay for teachers.

Now, she rails against overuse of standardized testing and using scores to evaluate teachers, arguing corporate America’s push for education reform is undermining public schools. To scores of beleaguered teachers and their union leaders, she’s a hero.

And Minnesota teachers got a chance to meet their champion at their union’s annual professional conference at the St. Paul RiverCentre on Thursday, Oct. 18. Ravitch told teachers that the testing craze isn’t producing better results. Instead, it means teaching to the test, narrowing curriculum and using scores to determine whether schools live or die.

“High-stakes testing is sucking the life out of American education,” Ravitch said. “High-stakes testing is driving every aspect of the corporate reform agenda.”

About 8,000 educators attend the two-day professional conference hosted by Education Minnesota. The event is commonly known as MEA, for the Minnesota Education Association and has been synonymous with “two days off” to generations of students.

Ravitch’s message was a welcome one for teachers.

“She has become an outspoken defender of public education,” said Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota. “She’s taking on the forces that seek to punish teachers and turn schools into private businesses.”

Ravitch published her first book, “The Great School Wars: A

History of the New York City Public Schools,” in 1974. It was an instant success and quickly propelled her into the role of go-to education historian in the United States.

Then she worked to support the reform efforts she now criticizes.

It was the early 2000s when Ravitch started publicly deriding New York City’s plans to reform public schools. Her popular blog posts now bear titles such as “How the Testing Industry Ate Public Education” and “The Latest Charter Scam.”

Educators around the nation forward links to her writing in social media such as Twitter, where she has more than 37,000 followers.

Ravitch criticizes groups that believe more testing, charter schools and weeding out bad teachers will miraculously turn around student performance. She says they ignore the impact of poverty and parents — two of the biggest factors in student success. “They say, pay no attention to poverty. Anyone who talks about poverty is just making excuses for bad teachers. Wrong again,” Ravitch told the Minnesota teachers Thursday. “They say the solution to all our education problems is to keep firing bad teachers until they’re all gone.”

Daniel Sellers, executive director of the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now, or MinnCAN, said Thursday that it concerned him to hear Ravitch downplay the influence teachers have in the lives of their students.

“I worry about the message it sends to teachers, especially young teachers going into the profession,” Sellers said. “I think we need to recruit teachers who believe they can make a difference.”

Two teachers from central Minnesota walked away energized and smiling after they talked with Ravitch and had her sign her latest book. Both have taught elementary school for more than 20 years and are feeling the burden of increased testing and scrutiny.

“Testing is fine. But it’s out of control. Like she said, enough is enough,” said one. “Why should we be rated on societal problems? If we need to be accountable for how students perform, so should the parents.”