Diane Ravitch responds to David Brooks in letter to NYT

Historians in the News

Editor's Note: NYT columnist David Brooks criticized education historian Diane Ravitch in his July 1 column for being too harsh on charter schools and her harsh critique of their testing regimes. Ms. Ravitch responded in a letter to the NYT on July 9.

Re “Smells Like School Spirit,” by David Brooks (column, July 1):

Mr. Brooks has misrepresented my views. While I have criticized charter schools, I am always careful to point out that they vary widely. The overwhelming majority of high-quality research studies on charters shows that some are excellent, some are abysmal and most are no better than regular public schools.

Some charters succeed because they have additional resources, supplied by their philanthropic sponsors; some get better results by adding extra instructional time. We can learn from these lessons to help regular public schools.

Others succeed by limiting the admission of students with disabilities and those who can’t read English, or by removing those with learning problems. These students are then overrepresented in regular public schools, making comparisons between the two sectors unfair.

I don’t want to get rid of testing. But tests should be used for information and diagnostics to improve teaching and learning, not to hand out bonuses, fire teachers and close schools.

When high stakes are attached to tests, people often act in ways that compromise educational values. High-stakes testing incentivizes narrowing of the curriculum, gaming the system, teaching to bad tests and cheating.

Poverty has a strong influence on academic achievement, and our society must both improve schools and reduce poverty.

Top-performing nations like Finland and Japan have taken the time to build a strong public school system, one with a rich curriculum and well-educated, respected teachers. Our desire for fast solutions gets in the way of the long-term thinking and the carefully designed changes that are needed to truly transform our schools.

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