Diane Ravitch on being wrong about No Child Left Behind

Diane Ravitch is an education expert I’ve long respected. As assistant secretary of education under George H. W. Bush and a member of conservative think-tanks, she was a strong supporter of No Child Left Behind. Now she’s come to believe the reliance on test-based “accountability” is a failure:

KS: What do you think about the role of wrongness in education? It seems to me that making mistakes is crucial to learning, yet by and large mistakes are discouraged and punished in our schools.

DR: We have reshaped the education system — largely through federal legislation — to an approach of “right answers, right answers, right answers.” But life’s not like that. We’re putting a tremendous amount of value on being able to pick the right one out of four little bubbles. But this turns out not to be a very valuable skill. You can’t take this skill out into the workplace and get paid for it.

I love hearing a policy-maker admit that she changed her mind and talk about how she got there. If you care about public education (or wrongness in politics), I encourage you to read the whole thing.

The interview is a year old, part of Kathryn Schulz’s series in Slate The Wrong Stuff, in which she interviews people about being wrong. It’s kind of brilliant, and I definitely plan to read her book, Being Wrong.

(Irritatingly, Slate’s formatting doesn’t distinguish between when the interviewer and the subject are speaking. I added the “KS” and “DR” above to make it easier to follow.)

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2 Responses to Diane Ravitch on being wrong about No Child Left Behind

  1. Sam says:

    Has she really recanted 100% of everything? This interview was mostly about accountability testing, and I haven’t read enough other stuff to be able to say whether it’s as complete an overhaul as all that.

    I do have a fascination with people saying “I was wrong,” especially when they do it when they’re still in a position in their career to stand behind it. Mostly, I think, because Americans (people?) do it so rarely. I respect her for looking at NCLB and admitting its failure, which almost no one in the federal government seems willing to do.

    But yeah, I was very interested in the bit of the interview about people who change their minds being given more credence than people who knew something was a giant mistake to begin with. That is an impulse we should be suspicious of.

  2. deborah says:

    The thing that drives me absolutely batty about Ravitch is it back in the day she had a whole suite of ideologies and beliefs. Some of them I thought were smart, some wrongheaded, some untested. And because of her position in the government, she pushed them all through.

    Now she has recanted 100% everything she believed about education before, which, honestly, is thoroughly suspect. I still think some of her opinions are smart, and some thoroughly wrongheaded, and some worth further exploration via real-life testing.

    We have such a fascination with people saying “I was wrong in the past”, but the fact is she has such a wide set of beliefs about education that we should hold deep deep suspicion about the ease at which she is saying “everything I used to believe was wrong.”

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