Education historian Diane Ravitch gave a speech at Rice University about school reform in which she directly challenged officials from Teach for America and the Knowledge Is Power Program who were present -- the very people who had invited her.
Ravitch, the author of the bestselling book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" and a former assistant secretary of education, spoke at Rice as part of a lecture series sponsored by The Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program (REEP), the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), and Teach for America.
Point by point, she picked apart school reform measures pushed by the Obama administration, leaving no topic untouched: charter schools, value-added teacher assessment, punitive sanctions on low-performing schools, No Child Left Behind, how Finland became an educational model by supporting teachers in ways the United States doesn't, the Texas educational miracle that wasn't, etc.
You can watch the video at http://www.vimeo.com/16479134.
Noting that most public charter schools are not any better, and often worse, than traditional neighborhood public schools, Ravitch addressed officials from KIPP, one of the country's most successful public charter school networks:
"What I want to say to KIPP, because I really really admire what you are doing. You have an excellect reputation, you get great results. Thousands of new charters will be created in the wake of your success. But your results are not typical. Warn President Obama and Secretary Duncan.... that the wonderful results you get are unusual they are not typical of the charter sector. You must disassociate yourself from the educational robber barons, dilettantes and incompetents who are following in your wake making false promises and delivering a low-quality education to poor and minority children."
That got a loud applause from the crowd.
Mike Feinberg, co-founder and superintendent of KIPP Houston, listened to the speech and participated in a discussion with Ravitch after the speech. He didn't mention the challenge.
She also spoke about Teach for America:
"If I were just graduating from college, which I wish were true, I would surely want to join Teach for America. I understand why tens of thousands of idealistic college students sign up for a two-year term as a teacher in a school serving poor students. I have met many many young people who are in TFA now and I have been impressed by their intelligence, their enthusiasm, their sincerity and dedication.
"But I would urge you please, stop claiming that TFA will close the achievement gap. That may be a nice slogan but nobody can teach for two or three years and close the achievement gap. Closing the achievement gap requires a lot more than really smart and dedicated young people with five weeks of training and a lot of enthusiasm. It requires highly skilled career professionals with deep experience who are willing to stick to the profession.... You send out a false message that your corps of young people is all that it takes and that's not true.
"The TFA message is supporting efforts to undercut professionalism in every part of education. Not only do we now have superintendents who were never educators but now we have many programs to train non-educators to be principals.
"TFA supposedly proved that no professionalism was needed, just really smart people. So now we have the George W. Bush Institute, allied with TFA, planning to train 50,000 new principals over the next decade, many of them drawn from business, the military, sports and other non-educational fields.
"As I was driving into Houston yesterday, my brother pointed out to me a billboard that said: texasteachers.org... 'Want to be a teacher?' As we were driving past, I got my cell phone. You just have to put down $395 [the full cost, according to the website, of getting alternative teacher certification is $4,195]...
"Does TFA want to be remembered in history as the leading edge of a movement that destroyed the education profession? "
Tough talk (that also drew applause from the crowd). Terry Bruner, Teach for America executive director for the Houston Region, listened and was part of the after-speech panel. He, not surprisingly, didn't reply.
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