April 2015 Issue
March 24, 2015

Ravitch: Governor's 'reform' plans are just plain wrong

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

Diane RavitchArmed with plenty of facts and acerbic humor, education historian Diane Ravitch said Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plans for public education aren't just demoralizing. They're just plain wrong.

Speaking before about 1,000 Hudson Valley activists at a forum at SUNY Purchase, Ravitch urged the educators, parents and community members to keep up the pressure and "forcefully resist" the governor's dangerous proposals.

"Preserving public education is the civil rights issue of our time," Ravitch said. "We're up against millionaires. They want to defeat you because you're the biggest thing standing between them and privatization."

Ravitch, a nationally known education reform critic who served in two federal administrations, urged the audience to stand strong against the governor's efforts to "terrorize and demoralize" teachers across the state. "The governor's angry NYSUT did not endorse him … In fact, he did not deserve NYSUT's endorsement," she said, to much applause.

Ravitch methodically poked holes in Cuomo's plans to ratchet up the pressure of standardized testing and crack down on teacher evaluations. "The governor thinks that if students fail, they must have bad teachers," Ravitch said.

She offered a telling analogy: "Well, when he became governor in 2010, 53 percent of students were proficient in English language arts, and now only 31 percent are proficient. In math, the numbers (dropped) from 61 percent to 36. See how the scores collapsed … Is it because he's a bad governor?"

A number of people in the audience roared back, "Yes!"

Ravitch didn't disagree, but she explained how test scores collapsed after the State Education Department rushed into "absurdly hard" testing on Common Core and set cut scores to ensure that 70 percent of the students would fail.

"None of what the governor is proposing is good public policy," Ravitch said. "Instead of providing extra help to schools that need it, (he) wants to impose a harsh and punitive evaluation scheme on all public school teachers, including those in successful schools. Instead of helping low-performing schools, he wants to close them and hand them over to entrepreneurs."

She said New York is not alone and shared some ridiculous examples of testing and measuring of student success, like in Massachusetts, where students need to show improvement in their BMI (Body Mass Index).

In Ohio, a 165-page physical education evaluation system is being used across the state. Ravitch quoted from a first-grade PE test question: "To throw a ball with your right hand, you should step forward with your left foot, true or false?" The audience gasped. "Well, first you have to be able to read," she said.

In Florida, teachers are being evaluated based on scores for students they never taught, she said. An art teacher might be evaluated based on reading scores, a PE teacher on math scores. "This is called 'shared attribution' and this is totally loony," Ravitch said. "A judge ruled it might be unfair, but it's not unconstitutional."

Even worse, she said the testing regimen is of no diagnostic value because tests are poorly designed and kept secret, and results are long delayed. "There's a good reason they want to keep the test questions secret," she said. "They don't want people to discover how many of the questions are nonsensical and how many were wrong."

At a time when the governor wants to more than double the weight of student test scores, Ravitch urged activists to join the opt-out movement. "In unity, there is strength. Refuse the tests! It's the most effective way to express opposition."

Ravitch made similar comments earlier in March when Southern Tier local unions hosted a live Skype event at Vestal High School. She will also be speaking at a "What Kids Need" Education Forum March 26 at Monroe-Woodbury High School in Orange County.