Too little too late

Tom Dunn

December 10, 2013

For anyone who has read my previous articles on education, it is not a revelation when I say I’ve been extremely critical of the politicization of public education at both the state and national levels. From the time Governor Voinovich hijacked the Ohio Department of Education by changing its board from one consisting entirely of elected members to one that combines elected officials with those appointed by the governor, intelligent discourse ceased. It became just another partisan agency bogged down by politics, and we all know how effective those are.

Before that happened, educators could at least expect the members of the state board of education and the state superintendent to bring some sanity to the discussion, but Voinovich squelched that concept. Now, politicians come up with harebrained ideas and instead of pointing out how foolish they are the Ohio Department of Education blindly falls in line with its support, because it is run by political appointees who dare not question those who put them there. The result has been hundreds of indefensible mandates that have been bad for kids.

I’ve sat across from political leaders and told them how crazy their ideas are and how there isn’t a shred of evidence that supports what they are doing. But, they don’t listen, because, after all, they are smarter than the rest of us.

Two decades ago Diane Ravitch was one of those people. She was a political appointee who was in charge of the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement under President Bush. (Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?) She was one of those loudly clamoring for educational reform through accountability, school choice, and testing. She was also one of many political leaders who was constantly ensuring us the sky was falling with respect to education. As a result of the power she had been handed, she led the charge in creating political policies like No Child Left Behind.

But, Ms. Ravitch has had an epiphany. In an interview with District Administration magazine in which she discusses her latest book, A Reign of Error: the Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, she admits just how wrong she was. You can read her interview at: www.districtadministration.com/article/diane-ravitch-changing-education-grassroots. Additionally, if you simply Google her, you can find multiple interviews where she shares her newly found wisdom in an effort to promote her book.

She now acknowledges that what she fought for sounded good in theory (no, it really didn’t), but there wasn’t a shred of evidence that any of it actually worked. She also talks about “the big lie,” which is the political assertion that public education is horribly broken, and we need politicians’ wisdom to help us dig out of the hole. In other words, it was all hogwash. I could have told her that twenty years ago.

Now, if one is cynical (which I am) one might point out how convenient it is for Ms. Ravitch that she only came to this realization after she had forced her ill-conceived concepts upon millions of America’s youth, but just in time to make a bunch of money on her newly found wisdom. Frankly, it makes me sick.

While she is no longer in a position of power, fear not, as many others have taken her place. Members of the Ohio legislature and the state board of education, along with our state superintendent proudly carry the banner she once toted as they pass a multitude of mandates that are as poorly conceived as No Child Left Behind. Similarly, when you sit across from them and point out the folly of their ways, they will do just as Ms. Ravitch did twenty years ago. They will ignore you and proceed unabated, because they know better.

The problem is they don’t. That is why eliminating them from the discussion is the only real solution to improving public education.

Tom Dunn is superintendent of the Miami County ESC.