David Brooks recent piece on Diane Ravitch has lead the New York Times to have Ravitch engage in a “Sunday Dialogue” where she answers reader questions. Whitney Tilson, a frequent Ravitch critic, writes in with a common complaint:
…while it’s very clear what Ms. Ravitch is against (she’s a vocal, clever and, sadly, effective critic of what we reformers are doing), I can’t for the life of me figure out she’sfor.
Saying you want a good teacher in every classroom and a well-rounded, rigorous curriculum is as trite as saying you’re for motherhood and apple pie. What would Ms. Ravitch say to John White and Cami Anderson, who just took over two of the toughest school systems in America, in New Orleans and Newark? What would be the top three to five things Ms. Ravitch would have them do in their first year?
There are two parts to Ravitch’s reply that are relevant, one addresses all of her correspondents, and the other addressed to Tilson specifically. I don’t think her response does much to defend herself against Whitney’s charges:
Good schools are no mystery. They have a dedicated principal, a stable staff with a mix of veterans and young teachers, and a strong curriculum that includes not only basic skills but the arts, history, civics, science, world languages, literature and physical education. And they engage parents and community leaders to support their goals….
To Mr. Tilson: Why expect schools alone to close achievement gaps that begin at birth, when those gaps can be prevented in the first place? Decades of research by the Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman and others have found that early intervention is the single most effective policy we can invest in. Start with prenatal care. Teach new mothers how to help themselves and their children. Add a strong pre-kindergarten program so that children start school ready to learn.