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Ravitch Recants and Readers Ruminate

The big news in education last week was Diane Ravitch's admission that she was wrong to support market-based strategies to reform public schools. Her decision took courage because of her renown. But what was most surprising was that it was so long in forthcoming..

For years, academics warned about the danger of running schools like businesses. The best book on the subject is "The Blackboard And The Bottom Line" by Larry Cuban (Harvard University Press, 2004). One of the points he stressed was "the century-long prickly relationship between educators and business leaders over school reform and their contrasting assumptions about what is needed to improve schools." In other words, there is nothing new about the attempt by corporate leaders to recast public schools in their own images.

It's hard to understand, therefore, why Ravitch, the nation's preeminent educational historian, allowed herself to be seduced by the forces of big business and their philanthropic allies. The best that Ravitch can come up with along this line is to claim that she was "swept away by my immersion in the upper reaches of the first Bush presidency... ." For someone with her intelligence and sophistication, this explanation is perplexing.

It's also an example of the danger of permitting non-practioners to play inordinately powerful roles in today's reform movement. As I wrote in my initial post, they are theoreticians. And while they deserve to be heard, their voices should not be allowed to drown out the voices of teachers who work with young people on a daily basis ("Teachers Are Potted Palms in School Reform," Feb. 16).

I continue to believe that everyone who opines about education should first be required to spend several months in a public school classroom. (Cuban passes that test because he is a former high school teacher and district superintendent.) Only that way can their writing have authenticity. It's called walking around in the other person's shoes.

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