New Mexico is no Land of Enchantment for its public school students, author and public education advocate Diane Ravitch told a crowd of avid supporters at the Lensic Performing Arts Center.
That’s because too many of those children live in the kind of poverty that stunts learning in an environment of educational reform programs — including a teacher evaluation system, reliance on standards-based assessment tests and an A-F school grading plan.
Neither New Mexico nor the United States, Ravitch said, is doing enough to fix the problem by attacking the root causes, such as poverty and poor health care.
New Mexico suffers from “bad policies, bad leadership and the highest rate of poverty in the nation,” Ravitch said near the start of a 70-minute presentation hosted by the Lannan Foundation on Wednesday night.
Ravitch, who turns 80 in July, has worked both sides of educational reform during the last quarter-century. In the early 1990s she was an assistant secretary of education for Republican President George H.W. Bush. Initially a supporter of his federal “No Child Left Behind” education program, she later turned against it and most of the policies it embraced, such as tying student achievement results to test scores.
She soon segued into becoming one of the most outspoken and fiercest critics of educational reform efforts led by both Republicans and Democrats, including former Democratic President Barack Obama’s federal “Race to the Top” education grants.
In a pair of books embraced by many educators, Ravitch has advocated for less testing, raising teacher salaries, reducing classroom sizes and addressing challenges such as poverty and hunger among children so that they can better learn.
Wednesday’s crowd was clearly not disappointed by Ravitch’s fast-paced, get-to-the-point delivery as she blasted corporate backers and creators of standardized tests. She also said many charter schools engage in segregation tactics designed to weed out bad students and called New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s tenure a “reign of error.”
Ravitch called the state’s A-F grading system — built upon a complex measure of weights, including student achievement and attendance, standardized test scores and graduation rates — “one of the dumbest ideas ever.”
Such comments earned her applause time and again from a near-capacity crowd clearly in tune with her message.
Ravitch provided a list of potential remedies for the ills enveloping the state’s public schools, including ensuring pregnant women have proper medical care from the earliest stages, providing early childhood education programming to all students, reducing class sizes, hiring full-time nurses, librarians and counselors to deal with students’ social and emotional well-being, and offering a full curriculum of arts and sciences.
Most of these initiatives would likely cost money but Ravitch did not address that challenge.
Ultimately, she said, the public must set up its own accountability system — starting with holding the country’s and state’s leaders responsible.
“How do you get that kind of leadership? Simple. Vote for it,” she said at the end of her talk.
Activist, author and Seattle history teacher Jesse Hagopian introduced Ravitch and then, following her presentation, engaged her in a brief question-and-answer period following her speech. When he asked her what she thinks of the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, Ravitch surprised Hagopian by saying she hopes DeVos never goes away.
“She is like a walking advertisement for what is wrong with educational reform … a paradigm for destroying public education … and she doesn’t try to hide it,” she said.
As a result, she said, opposition to President Donald Trump’s education policies and corporate reform is growing quickly, as demonstrated both by mass teacher walkouts in some states and student protests.