David Brooks in today’s New York Times considers the views of educational historian Diane Ravitch, once one of “the leading intellects behind the education reform movement” and now “its most vehement critic.” On the one hand Brooks looks dimly on Ravitch’s adoption of “the party-line view of the most change-averse elements of the teachers’ unions: There is no education crisis. Poverty is the real issue, not bad schools. We don’t need fundamental reform; we mainly need to give teachers more money and job security.”
On the other hand, Ravitch is right to point to the “inherent tension” in teaching between the human and the mechanistic, between educating and testing. And it’s easy to overemphasize testing. However,
The places where the corrosive testing incentives have had their worst effect are not in the schools associated with the reformers. They are in the schools the reformers haven’t touched. These are the mediocre schools without strong leaders and without vibrant missions. In those places, of course, the teaching-to-the-test ethos prevails. There is no other.
The reform movement is most famous for tests and assessments. But the untrumpeted and undeveloped secret of the reform movement is the content — the willingness to develop character curriculum or Core Knowledge curriculum, the willingness to infuse the school with spiritual fervor.