Sunday, August 16, 2009

Diane Ravitch Comments on Race to the Top (And A Teacher's Proposal for Obama and Duncan to Submit to Nationally Televised Debates)

Great comments from Diane Ravitch:

Dear DOE,

I wish to register a strong objection to these regulations. As a former
federal official (I was Assistant Secretary of Education in 1991-92), I
object to the coercive nature in which the federal government is dictating
education policy to the states. But of great importance, the policies you are
dictating are not based on evidence.

You want states to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, but you present
no evidence that doing so improves achievement; instead you rely on economists
who project that it might do so. To achieve this goal, you tell states that they
must roll back laws they have passed. This oversteps the bounds of federal
authority in education.

Similarly your pressure to open charter schools goes beyond any evidence
that charter schools are superior to regular public schools. The recent Stanford
study by Margaret Raymond found that only 17% of charter schools were better
than nearby public schools. Why then should schools eliminate their caps on

I think the DOE should respect the requirements of federalism and look to
states to offer their best ideas rather than mandating policies that the current
administration likes, even though there is no evidence to support them.

Humility is sometimes the best policy, especially when you are not on firm
ground with your remedies.

Diane Ravitch

Thank you, Diane.

On a related note, I believe we should be joining forces and publicly challenging Obama and Duncan to submit to nationally televised debates about the merits of their recipe for education reform. Since it is highly unlikely that they would concede to participating in debates where they could not control and frame the debate, I think we should present the challenge to them under the condition that they submit to fair and DEMOCRATIC debates in which neither side is allowed to control or frame the debate. If they refuse, that alone would say a lot.

I proposed this challenge on a listserv to which I belong (arn-the assessment reform network). Jerry Bracey responded that to "publicly" challenge Obama/Duncan would present a daunting challenge, mainly getting the media's attention and "getting it in a big way." He's right, but he offered that he's open to ideas.

So I submitted another idea. As some of you already know, the Standing Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures recently issued statements about its position on lifting charter school caps and the imposition of national standards. It seems they oppose both. Here's the link (if you visit the link you have to scroll down a bit to get to the statements about lifting state charter school caps and national standards):,22,634#Public_Charter

I suggested that perhaps we try appealing to and through the NCSL to call for national debates. I notice that Jerry then sent our discourse on the matter to Arne Duncan and other officials at, as well as to various journalists, including Sam Dillon of the NY Times and Jay Mathews of the Washington Post.

Don't know if this idea will go anywhere but would appreciate any ideas out there to add to the discussion.


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