Diane Ravitch speaking at Indiana University

Mark your calendar for Tuesday, April 26, if you’re going to be in or near Bloomington, Ind. That’s the day that Diane Ravitch will give a public lecture at Indiana University, titled “Will Today’s Education Reforms Improve Our Public Schools?”

The timing could hardly be better. The Indiana General Assembly will be wrapping up its 2011 session, which is fairly certain to include approval of the laundry list of “today’s education reforms”: charter schools, vouchers, performance-based pay for teachers, and weakening teachers’ unions.

Ravitch is probably the nation’s foremost critic of those approaches. And what makes her story interesting is that she spent much of her policy career advocating conservative and Republican positions on public education. Has Ravitch changed, or have the reformers? Probably some of both.

A historian of education and a professor at New York University, Ravitch was assistant secretary of education in the George H.W. Bush administration and supported the No Child Left Behind Act. But she turned against testing-based accountability and, especially, the market-based reforms advocated by what she calls the “Billionaire Boys’ Club” of the Gates, Walton and Broad foundations.

Ravitch’s essential book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, is part memoir and part policy analysis but primarily a history of the education policy debates of the past 30-odd years. It is decidedly not a polemic – which may come as a surprise to fans who follow Ravitch on Twitter, where she polemicizes with the best of them.

She advocates high standards and a rich curriculum in the book, but cautions, “If there is one thing all educators know, and that many studies have confirmed for decades, it is that there is no single answer to educational improvement. There is no silver bullet, no magic feather, no panacea that will miraculously improve student achievement.”

For a taste of Ravitch’s writing, read “The Myth of Charter Schools,” her devastating review of the film Waiting for “Superman” in the New York Review of Books.

Ravitch’s talk at IU will be at 5 p.m. on April 26 in Whittenberger Auditorium in the Indiana Memorial Union. It’s part of the Branigin Lecture series sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study.

On April 27 at 10 a.m., Ravitch and Deborah Meier, the well-known progessive educator and founder of Central Park Elementary School in New York, will have a public discussion of education issues in IU’s Willkie Auditorium. It’s billed as a live version of their popular “Bridging Differences” blog in Education Week.


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