What I Did Not Recant or Abandon
This has been an amazing week. The book came out on March 2 and immediately was the best-selling education policy book on Amazon.com. Its wonderful reception is due not to any unusual talent or insight of my own, but to the fact that what I am saying resonates with teachers, administrators, and all who are engaged in the daily work of public education. Teachers feel, with justification, that they are being scapegoated and blamed whenever test scores don't go up. My book appeared at a time when there was only one narrative about school reform, which privileged the views of businessmen, lawyers, politicians, foundation executives, and government officials who are imposing their ideas without regard to the wisdom and experience of those who must implement them.
A couple of news stories say that I have abandoned almost everything I ever believed, a view that stems from a profile in The New York Times on March 3. A correction to that article was posted the next day, and it read: "An article on Wednesday about a surprising reversal by the education historian Diane Ravitch of almost every position she once took on American schooling misstated the number of books she has either written or edited since leaving government in 1993. It is 18, not 5." This characterization of my views was simply wrong. I did not do a "U-Turn" (as the New York Times headline had it) nor did I "recant" (as the Education Week headline had it) almost everything I had ever advocated.
I have not changed my fundamental belief that all children should have a great education that includes not just basic skills, but history, literature, geography, civics, the arts, science, foreign languages, and physical education. I have never changed my wish that all children should have well-educated teachers who love their subjects and are well prepared to teach them to their students. I have never changed my skepticism about fads, miracles, and silver bullets, which come and go with great frequency in U.S. education. I have never abandoned my respect for the men and women who teach children and do the daily work that others (including me) talk and write about. I am not opposed to testing, but to the misuse of testing to punish people and close schools.
What did I abandon? The hope that choice and accountability could magically achieve the ends that I believe in. I am not opposed to choice—everyone should be free to choose another school if the school their child attends is not right for the child. And I do not oppose accountability, so long as it is used to help teachers, principals, and schools do a better job, not to punish them.
I would also like to make clear that I was not an architect of No Child Left Behind. As I peruse the blogs, I continue to encounter the claim by critics that I played a key insider role in designing NCLB and am eight years late in renouncing my handiwork. But I had no role in creating NCLB, none whatever. I welcomed it when it was approved, as did nearly 90 percent of Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Its main Democratic sponsors were Senator Ted Kennedy and Congressman George Miller, whose staffs helped to draft the law.
Also, my opposition to NCLB did not happen just now. I wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times on Oct. 3, 2007, ("Get Congress Out of the Classroom") in which I said that NCLB is "fundamentally flawed." And I have repeatedly criticized it since then, for instance, in a debate with John Chubb in Education Next and in a Commentary for Education Week ("Time to Kill NCLB").
All of this is to set the record straight. On the whole, I am staggered, astonished really, by the response to the book. I am especially gratified by the warm reception it has received from teachers. Nothing good can come of any reform that teachers do not embrace: That is one of the lessons of my book.