August 9th, 2012
06:40 AM ET

My View: Rhee is wrong and misinformed

Courtesy Jack MillerBy Diane Ravitch, Special to CNN

Editor’s note:  Diane Ravitch is research professor of education at New York University. Appointed by President Clinton, she served seven years on the National Assessment Governing Board which supervises the NAEP tests. She is the author of the best-selling book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” and  blogs at

(CNN) - A few days ago, CNN interviewed former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee about American education. Rhee, predictably, said that American education is terrible, that test scores are flat, and that we are way behind other nations on international tests.

I disagree with Rhee. She constantly bashes American education, which is one of the pillars of our democratic society. Our public schools educate 90% of the population, and we should give the public schools some of the credit for our nation’s accomplishments as the largest economy and the greatest engine of technological innovation in the world.

It’s time to set the record straight. The only valid measure of academic performance in our schools is the federal test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP has been testing American students since the early 1970s.

The NAEP test scores of American students are at their highest point in history: for black students, white students, Hispanic students, and Asian students. 

They are at their highest point in history in fourth grade and in eighth grade, in reading and math.

As for the international test scores, which Rhee loves to recite to knock our public schools, she is obviously unaware that our nation has never had high scores on those tests. When the first international test was given in 1964, our students ranked 11th out of 12 nations.  Yet our nation went on to become the most powerful economy in the world.

In the 50 years since then, we have regularly scored in the bottom quartile on the international tests or at best, at the international average. Clearly, the international scores do not predict our future as we are the dominant economy in the world despite the scores.

Why are our international rankings low? Our test scores are dragged down by poverty. On the latest international test, called PISA, our schools with low poverty had scores higher than those of Japan, Finland, and other high-scoring nations. American schools in which as many as 25% of the students are poor had scores equivalent to the top-scoring nations.  As the poverty level in the school rises, the scores fall.

Rhee ignores the one statistic where the United States is number one. We have the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation in the world. Nearly 25% of our children live in poverty.

This is a scandal. Family poverty is the most reliable predictor of low test scores. How can we compare ourselves to nations like Finland where less than 5% of the children live in poverty?

Rhee and her fellow reformers say that poverty is just an excuse, but it is not. Poverty is a harsh fact of life.

Children who are homeless, who have asthma, who have vision problems or hearing problems will have trouble concentrating on their studies. Children who have a toothache may not do well on testing day. Children who don’t see a doctor when they are sick will not be able to perform well on tests. Children who live in squalor will be distracted from their schoolwork.

Of course, we should have great teachers in every classroom, but the negative rhetoric that now comes from Rhee and every media outlet and movies like “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” are demoralizing teachers and causing many excellent teachers to leave the profession.

Rhee believes in merit pay but she is unaware that merit pay has been tried again and again for nearly a century. It has never worked. It failed recently in New York City, Chicago, and Nashville. In Nashville, teachers were offered a $15,000 bonus to raise test scores. It didn’t make a difference.

Merit pay fails because teachers are doing the best they can with or without a bonus. Merit pay destroys teamwork and collaboration in the school. Teachers work together; they are not in an individual sport, trying to be first.

Merit pay fails, as does evaluation by test scores, because they both compel teachers to teach to the test and ignore whatever is not tested, like the arts and physical education. Such policies harm the quality of education. No elite school—not Andover or Exeter or Sidwell Friends—evaluates its teachers by the scores of their students on standardized tests. Nor do any of the high-performing nations.

Rhee and the corporate reform movement rely on the outdated behaviorist theories of the early 20th century. Modern cognitive psychology recognizes that intrinsic rewards are far more powerful than extrinsic rewards. People do their best when motivated by idealism and by their freedom to exercise their professional judgment.

The best organizations today recognize the importance of building a strong culture in the workplace—not with carrots and sticks—but with respect and collaboration. Andrea Gabor, the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College in New York City, recently wrote on my blog: “As W. Edwards Deming, a leading management expert and critic of merit pay, once put it: ‘The only reason an organization has dead wood is that management either hired dead wood or it hired live wood and killed it. Merit pay, by dividing and demoralizing employees, is a good way to erode initiative and overall quality.’”

Our teachers need our support. Let’s put an end to the war on teachers in general and on experienced teachers in particular. No profession can exist without experienced practitioners. Teachers need tenure so they have academic freedom to teach controversial issues.

Parents must be involved in helping their kids succeed. Research is clear that what parents do matters even more than what teachers do.  Parents affect their children’s attitudes, behavior, and willingness to study and learn.

Our students and families and communities need support too. If reformers really cared about children, they would build a health clinic in every school. That would do more to improve test scores than all the teacher evaluation schemes and merit pay plans that the reformers are now imposing, without a shred of evidence.

We can improve our schools. We can improve our society. We must work on both at the same time.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Diane Ravitch.

Posted by
Filed under: Diane Ravitch • Issues • Michelle Rhee • Policy • Practice • Voices
soundoff (1,069 Responses)
  1. Ray from Austin

    The problem I see in US schooling is parent involvement and the general culture around schools (it's everyone else's fault – read the teachers, funding, except me). I'm not saying everyone is like this but the ones who don't do well in schools typically fall into this category.

    The author of the article states that poverty is the reason and makes a correlation that as poverty increases, the scores decrease. Poverty definitely has a detrimental effect but does that necessarily have to be the case? I came from a childhood well below what is considered the poverty line here in the US (from the Philippines). However, my parents were heavily involved in my schooling growing up and always stressed the importance of education.

    At age 6 one of my parents had to work abroad (here in the US) and I was raised by a single parent from age 6-12. However, when we finally immigrated to the US, I was at least 2 years ahead of the average student in my class in math and science in the 9th grade.

    The author states that the US has the highest poverty rate of any developed nation. I'd like to know what it means to be impoverished in the US compared to another nation. I believe that a person that is impoverished here in the US should have a much better chance of doing better in school, than an impoverished kid in the Philippines, however, that chance is squandered because the parents either don't want to make the sacrifices or fail to prioritize their children's schooling over more trivial things.

    The US already gives it's students everything they need to do well in school and more.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  2. ac

    Wrong premise.
    the students of several countries doing very well in studies aren't from anywhere near rich countries.
    We keep kidding ourselves that money will fix our problems.
    First of all, most of our teachers come eventually from the lowest rungs of graduating high school seniors.
    Maybe we are best at producing "soldier kids" who are best-suited to enroll in and man our military for wars.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • KG

      First off. You're misinformed. I would have said you're a word that rhymes with "smidiot", but that would have been disrespectful. I would bet $1000 my high school, college, grad school (I would have said med school but you probably never went to med school.) grades are BETTER than yours. Talk what you know! And thank God and teachers that you have some place to send your kids to educate them. Ya ungrateful cretin!

      August 9, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  3. Jeff a classroom science teacher

    Thank you!

    August 9, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  4. Canopy

    Perhaps both are right. Its takes a well trained teacher to be able to appeal to students who may not be fully engaged due to their environment/home life. I grew up in poverty but had amazing teachers that used varied skills to engage students. It wasn't always about test scores and end of grade testing. Perhaps that is an issue as well.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  5. MarylandBill

    I agree that poverty is an issue... but even more of an issue is the culture of poverty. Not every person who lives in poverty is a member of the culture of poverty, but there is an awful lot of the poor who don't seem to care about whether their kids are educated or not (assuming they haven't become absentee parents altogether leaving them to be raised by grandparents or another relative). If the parents don't make sure the kids get to school every day, make sure they do their homework, and support the teachers disciplining their children when they are disruptive, then dealing with the other problems of poverty is like rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  6. jdoe

    Both sides miss the point. It's not an either/or issue. Bad teachers can be a problem, but that's only one part of the problem. And so is poverty, and this begs another question: Does poverty result in poor schooling, or does poor schooling cause poverty? The author doesn't address this, probably because it's a chicken/egg question with no good answer. The author blames poverty but doesn't provide a solution, so this becomes a blame game.

    Also left unaddressed in the whole debate, is the level of teaching in the U.S. In Asia and Europe, children are taught at least one grade level higher that in the U.S. They also spend longer hours at school and have more homework. Simply put, they are taught more and more is expected of them. This alone could be the reason why American kids do poorly in comparative testing. When kids are taught at a lower level they simply cannot compete against others who are ahead of them. It seems like the whole system has not changed since the industrial era.

    Some people bash public education, but the fact is that most middle class Americans use it. Private schooling is simply unaffordable for most. Instead of bashing it, seek to improve it. And one way to do this is to change the curriculum and make it more challenging.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • matt

      and lets not forget that most private school teachers are also on public assistance as they do not make enough to live.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:43 am |
      • Nadine

        Data, please????

        August 9, 2012 at 11:51 am |

      Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! She glossed right over the part that we have always performed worse than other countries. WHO's doing something about that? Sorry but both of these ladies have missed the point entirely. What they are focusing on is mostly irrelevant considering that the brightest of our students couldn't hold a candle to an Indian, or Asian student of the same age!

      August 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Alice in PA

      You make the assumption that private schools are better than public. PISA looked into this and found, after correcting for socioeconomic status, world wide private schools did not educate students any better than public. It is just that they have kids who are easier to educate because they come from a household where education is taken seriously. Call that poverty, culture or whatever.

      August 9, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  7. DBRO

    What is the evidence that bad teachers are a major part of the problem? How about the good quality charter schools that take the same children who live in poverty and create much better educated students? These kids are selected through a lottery system so there can be no argument that they are hand selected to pad the statistics. The proof is in the pudding. The kids are the same, the teachers and administrators are better and the outcome couldn't be more different. I agree that a significant part of the problem is that parents in poverty are not able or willing to put out the effort to make sure that their kids are well educated. However, a big part of the problem continues to be teachers unions and teacher advocacy groups who do not have the kids' interests at heart. The adults (like Ravitch) are only interested in the needs of the adults!

    August 9, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Todd

      DBRO – while there are isolated examples of excellent charter schools showing great results, when used as a widespread replacement for traditional public schools, they don't work. Look at Louisiana. They have a very widespread charter school program and have for years, and their educational system's state ranking has actually gone down since they adopted it (they're now 49 out of 50).

      Charter schools can be an option for some kids from very high-risk neighborhoods or situations, but when school systems try to use them as a widespread solution that's when they start falling down.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • matt

      They don't exist...its easy to say charter schools are better when you don't actually have to test those students.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • mpeto

      Students in charter schools DO NOT perform better than students in public schools, not even on those standardized tests. 37% actually perform worse in a charter school, while 12% do better and the rest basically perform at the same level. Here is evidence:

      August 9, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Alice in PA

      DBRO what are these charter schools? Stanford, among others, did a large study of charter schools and found that very few of them performed better than the public school and many performed worse, even though they had fewer ELL and IEP kids. Even if there is a lottery, you still need a family to sign up for the lottery. And several studies have found that the kids who are doing worse tend to be forced to leave the charter school. Charter schools are not the answer.

      August 9, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • JTL

      Charter schools do "cherry pick" students. Even if the students get in on a lottery, if there is an issue- academic, behavioral, emotional- the students can be sent back to the public school. Also, the are usually minimal requirements to be met to be in the lottery; requirements on attendance, lack of discipline issues, and /or lack of special needs. Most charters do no accept any student with a special education designation, be it ADD/ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or emotionally disturbed. Students who have parents who do not reinforce the education at home are also removed from the charter setting. THAT is why charter may do better in certain communities. They skim the top, and therefore there is no "deadweight" to hold the whole group back, and learning can go at a faster pace. When I had one student in a class functioning at a lower level than the others, the whole class got held up when that student asked questions that everyone else remembered from the month before. My only options are to stop class to answer the question, or tell the kids to see me later, which still holds up and detracts from the attention of the class. And if it is a question that the student needed answered in order to move with the rest of the class on group/ individual activity, it detracts from the time I have to spend with everyone else in class. In this top level Irene class, I have 48 minutes total. Spending 5-10 minutes with the lowest kid leaves less than 43 minutes to rotate amount the other 23 ion the class (if I am lucky with a class of 24), so less than 2 minutes each to check in with other students, who also have questions about the current material. This <2 minutes assumes tht the full time of class is available, not realistic considering usually 5-10 minutes are spent getting things started with the class/ groups. I am not complaining about this- it is my job to do this- I'm just string that one child behind the class does impact the whole class, and charter schools CAN and do ask students to leave when they can't educate the child with the group. Whatever the reason, including attendance issues, disability, lack of concern, bad parents who don't parent, charter schools can nd do ask kids to leave. And believe me when I tell you that when a parent realizes that the school is not a given, it motivates them to be more engaged in the education of their child. And I'd the prnt buy in to th school,usually the kids do, too.

      In addition,in many, many areas, the charter schools do not take the same state tests as the traditional public schools, so that you aren't comparing the two in any real, measurable fashion. Studies show that charter school student perform about the same as public school students when issued the same tests. Sitting that charter schools have better teachers is unfounded. Usually the teachers in charter schools did not get jobs in the public schools; for most, the charter is not their first choice. In addition, most teachers in charters leave within a few years to publi school jobs.

      August 10, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  8. Mike

    She's got a point about individuals (parents) taking on more responsibility when it comes to the education of children. However, I must point out a HUGE flaw in her argument. Just because we are the most dominant economy in the world does NOT mean our education system is good. We can be dominant DESPITE our broken education system. That is like saying look at all the rich musicians, actors, athletes. They didn't need school to succeed, so that means school is not important. It's the same kind of flawed argument. There are other factors that determine economic success other than the quality of the domestic education system.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  9. paul

    Another round of socialist kool-aid. Here's to the dumbing down of America!

    August 9, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  10. Terrence Dunn

    Both of my parents have recently retired after 30 year public school teaching/education careers in suburban VA. While Rhee is not right about everything, she is right about the fundamental problem of underperforming teachers. Teachers unions protect bad teachers from getting fired. They also won't allow science and math teachers to be paid more, which they should be. Anyone who denies that teaching math and scjence is harder than English and P.E. is delusional. Ravitch is right that more resources are required for public schools but they're needed to pay better teachers more money. Yes, it reeks of class division among teachers but it's simple supply/demand economics. It's harder to find good math and science teachers so more money is needed to attact them. Then maybe we would get more teachers like the Teach for America-types from top tier universities who are incredibly competent and bring creative solutions. Every other industry attracts top talent to wherever it is needed through competitive pay scales. Education needs to be treated the same way. The problem I don't know how to solve is to convince every state, since most educational programs are run at state/local level, to invest more money where it is needed–not just more money into the same broken system.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  11. Publicus1776

    We, as a society, will NOT address the real issues of poverty in realistic way. So, we choose to blame our schools (yes, there as some awful ones, but much more the exception than the rule) because they cannot make up for our corporate failure as a society. Literally, this is like the whipping boy. Can't whip our policy makers, so schools get whipped in their place.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  12. Melinda

    THANK YOU Diane Ravitch! You nailed it. I graduated magna cum laude in 1998 with a degree in middle grades education. I will not step foot in a classroom until massive reform takes place. Why? Because the focus on testing (and memorization) does not allow me to use my training to give the best I can to my students.

    We need to be teaching our children to learn, to be curious, to think outside the box, to THINK period! The PROBLEM with U.S. education today is that politicians and administrators are not allowing teachers to use research-proven practices of effective instruction. Basing evaluation of students AND teachers on "multiple guess" tests is ludicrous! On a 100 problem test, what are your odds of making a zero, even if you know NOTHING about the subject matter? What good does memorizing facts do if our students can't use them to solve real world problems? How many of you are evaluated in your work place via a multiple choice test??

    I put in 60 hour work weeks regularly and attended continuing education classes on weekends and during the summer. Merit raises as incentive are insulting and divisive.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  13. Taskmaster

    Rhee is 100% right on this point! Sub standard teachers are a blight on American education. When an english teacher speaks with the grammer of a 4 year old how can he/she be expected to teach high school english? Many math teachers cannot do the math themselves. If the answers to the probles were not in their bookc,they couldn't grade a test. I have seen this . EVERY teacher should be REQUIRED to take every test that they adminster to students,

    August 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Alice in PA

      Task, You are misinformed. Every certified teacher is already required to take a battery of tests in their subjects proving their knowledge of the subject. Perhaps you misinterpreted a situation in which a teacher was giving students the opportunity to figure out some math for themselves ( which we know is exactly how real deep learning occurs) instead of being asked to simply memorize a formula.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Will

      english = English
      grammer = grammar
      probles = problems
      bookc = books
      students, = students.

      Practice what you preach.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Amanda


      Also, please provide a source that confirms the statement that many math teachers having a problem solving math problems.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  14. Todd

    I used to be a big proponent of Rhee's ideas, but they proved to be a failure in the D.C schools and elsewhere. Widespread charter programs as a replacement for standard public school doesn't work (Louisiana, which uses this setup extensively and has for years, ranks 49 out of 50 in state educational systems). Looking at it now, I can see that all the countries with top-notch school systems have one big thing in common – none of them is extensively privatized.

    That said – Ms. Ravitch does a good job of explaining her why Rhee is wrong (and the results of Rhee's programs do that, as well) but what I'm not seeing is an alternative solution. Obviously what we're doing now isn't working and now that they've been tried, Rhee's ideas don't work either. But what SHOULD we do? I'd be interested to see what Ms. Ravitch proposes.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Alice in PA

      Todd She explicitly suggested increased healthcare for students, including health clinics in the schools. But instead, at least in my area, we like to put in huge new football fields.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • ranger555

      The article is...hogwash. This leftist union teacher has not watched "Waiting for Superman" about the problems within DC schools and the .. Utter lack... of teacher accountabilty. The left is supporting the tenure of poor teachers and thier lack of enforcing discipline and teaching standards. We will continue having poor schools with this type democratic party smoke screens that helps teachers unions.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  15. rla

    Do the following in this order and schools will be great: 1. Have discipline 2. get the lawyers and pols out of the decision process 3. get the teachers unions out of the political sphere 4. Get administrators who actually know what they are doing and give them the freedon to do it 5... Teachers are special and the vast majority don't need testing they need place conducive to learning

    August 9, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • KG

      Unions are necessary to protect the basic rights of teachers. They serve as a check against abusive/illegal actions of administrators. Do they sometimes protect teachers who shouldn't be? Yes. Is this USUALLY the case? Of course not. You can't throw the baby out with the bath water.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  16. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Poverty is sometimes a driving force in how we raise our kids but I don't believe poverty is the main reason why our kids are struggling in the classroom. I believe TIME is the issue here and the quality of time we spend with our kids would determine if they excell or not. Making sure your kids do their homework helps but homework alone won't do it. What makes a child an excellent student is determined by how much time the child spends at home going over the class material and understanding the subject during his or her spear time on school days and on weekends. For example, if the child has an algebra or arithmatic class, spending time at home practicing different formulas would help the child excell in that subject. Likewise, if the child has a history or english class and spends adequate time reading the material pertaining to this class, then that child would excell. As they say, practice makes perfect and preparation is the formulat to success. After all, you won't give a speech if you don't practice what you're going to say and you won't take a driving test until you know how to drive.

    And I believe you can compare the success of our kids in sports to their success in the classroom. Chances are if you practice hard in the gym and devote an adequate amount of time to improving your skills, whether basketball, football, baseball, etc the higher the chances you're going to excell on the playing field. You apply that same concept to the classroom, and the results are the same. Let's face it, most All-American student athlethes come from poor backgrounds where a significant number of them are raised by a single parent. However, they excell in sports simply because they spend more time on the playing field or court developing their skills. Liksewise, if this same commitment and dedication are applied to the classroom again, poor or not, our kids would excell in the class as on the playing field. Its that simple.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • rla

      Great but you need an environment and administration strong enough to set the standards- Sorry teacher bashing is not the answer

      August 9, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • S. Hardeman

      Parents who live in poverty often either don't have the time to spend with their children because they are working and trying to make ends meet, or they don't have the education to assist their children, or simply don't care because they were not taught better! Also, poverty is an issue because schools are funded by property taxes. In areas that are poor schools are poorly funded!

      Here is my solution to the education issue which I believe would also spur jobs: WE NEED MORE TEACHERS! There should NEVER be a class with more than 15 students per teacher! We also need to increase the academic standards of the teachers (require more learning on their part in college; maybe even some post graduate work) and SUBSTANTIALLY INCREASE TEACHER'S SALARIES!!! This would fuel the increase in teachers needed and ensure the best and brightest become teachers!

      EVERYTHING starts with education. Better educated people are healthier, more self-sufficient, more willing to participate in civic duties (voting), and better able to raise the next generation of children. Teaching is the most important job period, and the profession should be treated as such and paid accordingly.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • earlbowden

      "....I don't believe poverty is the main reason why our kids are struggling in the classroom. ..... homework alone won't do it. .... determined by how much time the child spends at home going over the class material and understanding the subject during his or her spear time on school days and on weekends.... practice makes perfect and preparation is the formulat to success. And I believe you can compare the success of our kids in sports to their success in the classroom. Let's face it, most All-American student athlethes come from poor backgrounds where a significant number of them are raised by a single parent."

      Quite the theories! Do you have anything at all to back up those statements – especially the All-American athlete part?
      Sure practice makes perfect, but it's hard to concentrate on school work when you're hungry, or you're panhandling for your supper, or your parents are having a crack party. Kids who don't get enough to eat, and don't get enough sleep cannot do well in school, no matter how good the teachers are – THAT is proven fact.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Chris

      As long as adults place more emphasis on SPORTS than ACADEMIC achievements, schools will continue to fail our children. I have attend BOE meetings where parents stand up and actually say "If you start Pay to Play athletic programs, my children will no longer attend your schools. The only reason they go to school is for the sports programs". Yes, apparently the parents are wrong to emphasize sports over academics, but the school administrators are also WRONG to buy into this philosophy. I believe it is morally wrong to fund school sports programs on the backs of academic programs. There are more academically talented students than there are athletically talented students.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  17. paul

    Nice defense of the dumbing down of America via socialization of public education. Not too difficult to distinguish between concerned parents and teachers protecting their turf in these comments. How about education and work ethic instead of socialization and entitlement.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  18. Greenspam

    Learning is 70% the learner, 15% the teacher, 15% the environment.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  19. pflatman

    Poverty, sure. How about utterly irresponsible and impoverished parents who continue to breed? That should be the biggest priority in America today: Incent men and women into permanent sterility.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Greenspam

      So are you advocating abortion? If those are not allowed to abort, then what's the end result?

      August 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  20. cWhatsNew

    Where you sow is going to be where you reap. Don't cheat yourself. We spend 27 cents per dollar of our tax revenue on "defense", versus that of 3 cents in Canada, 2 cents in Denmark and 8 cents in China. Other economies leave much more to education, health care and infrastructure for "nation building". We leave much meager to education, but much richer to build, sell and denote arms. Basic sense? Wait for interest group or those brain-washed by interest group to give you twisted logic that we should "defend" our freedom.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  21. bruisedfruittour

    Thank you for stating the case so clearly. It is frustrating to see how easily the media accepts corporate reform of schools as if it is a no-brainer. It is a "no brainer" but not in the way they think! If we want to compete with Finland for top ranking education systems internationally, we should follow their lead and value our teachers as highly as they do. Ms. Ravitch is correct in saying that many excellent teachers are leaving the profession because they are dismayed by corporate reforms. My sister, a nationally certified teacher, just resigned after many years of excellent evaluations working with the full spectrum of students from learning disabled to gifted. These reforms are not helping the best teachers thrive, they are causing low morale and angst.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Murph

      Ha, you have to be related to this fool in order to back up what she wrote. Either that or you've been hiding under a HUGE BOULDER!

      August 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
      • Will

        Insightful rebuttal.

        August 9, 2012 at 11:49 am |
      • MMB

        Murph, you likely don't even know who Diane Ravitch is. For your information, she was on George W. Bush's team who designed his FAILURE of a program, No Child Left Behind. After seeing what it's done to education, teachers, and children, she realizes what a mistake that program was and now speaks out against it and so-called "reformers" like Michelle Rhee. Let's talk about Rhee's "experience" as an educator. Teach for America "teacher" for 3 years; put duct tape on her students' mouths to keep them quiet on their way to the lunchroom; she got hives from the stress of teaching; she couldn't control her class during her first year of teaching. She reportedly LIED about her proported rise in test scores of her students, inflating them when the data showed different results. Rhee can't teach; therefore, she should keep her mouth shut and stay out of education. And please don't forget her organization, StudentsFirst, that took tens of thousands of dollars that were supposed to have gone to EDUCATION and instead donated them to the defensive of Republican Paul Scott's defense against the recall effort. Next time, try to post something intelligent, Murph.

        August 9, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  22. Murph

    Just another blow-hard academic trying to prop up a completely failed system. Anybody with a few extra bucks puts their kids in a private or charter school. Take a look around and see how dumb or public school kids are–few of them have more than the basic skills to even get a decent job! This is no secret...we are spending more, getting less, and pretty much dooming ourselves!!

    August 9, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Alice in PA

      so murph what is your evidence for this? Ravitch cited international tests, the nation's NAEP scores and other evidence. What is yours? All you have stated is the failing schools mantra that the corporate reformers have drilled into you.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
      • Murph

        @Alice.....are you seriously asking me what evidence there is that our public school system is sucking us try and churning out the dumbest generation of kids?? You've got to be kidding. Take some time off and look around. Go to any town or city and ask a random selection of kids some basic information about anything but video games and how to wear you pants down around your knees without them falling. Why do you think they can'f find jobs and sponge off their parents until their parents die--and then they sponge off the tax-payers by hook or crook. WAKE UP ALICE!

        August 9, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Gareth

      Murph, did you not read the article? The US is NOT behind other countries if you standardize for poverty. Nor has it 'got worse' over time. Dr. Ravitch is not the first person to point that out, either. The numbers say what they say. It's ok to have the opinion that the education system is broken in some ways (I'm sure we'd all agree on that), but it's not ok to simply deny the basic truths.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  23. peick

    I bet a lot of our problems come from self-defeating attitudes and an addiction to entertainment.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  24. marty in MA

    Good point. You can't teach a child who is not ready to learn, not ready due to family issues, poverty, medical reasons, etc.

    As for the rest of the American kids, they have "everything they think they'll ever need"- cellphone, computer, iPod. Why should they work hard.

    There is no simple solutio to a complex problem.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  25. JD

    Once again, Ravitch pretty much says it all. Way to go Diane... to bad so few listen to actual intelligent commentary.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Mark

      Poverty may be a predictor, but it is not the could give all those impoverished people $100,000/yr and they would still be that same lousy, irresponsible parents (and I use that term loosely!) that they are today.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:32 am |
      • Alice in PA

        Mark: And notice that throwing money at people is NOT what Ravitch proposes!

        August 9, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  26. ppedo

    To say that she is wrong is to deny the existance of "ineffective teachers." They are a part of the problem, not all however. Mostly it boils down to parental expectations, or lack thereof.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  27. Marc from Florida

    Ravitch is correct on all counts. Added to the difficult challenges public schools face are serious budget shortfalls, teacher layoffs, and the draining of public schopol money to often religious based charter schools. Home schooling also adds to the burden of the unprepared student. It's easy to scapegoat teachers and school adminitration for student failure. That's what conservatives always do on one hand, on the other ignore the problem of poverty and disfunctional families. I like to describe it as making it rain and then handing out unbrellas.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  28. CAMEO35

    .....................BEING IMPOVERISH IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR NOT HAVEING GOOD GRADES............................DON'T BLAME THE TEACHERS........................YOU CAN IEAD A HORSE TO WATER ,BUT YOU CAN'T MAKE HIM DRINK.........................................................

    August 9, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Will

      What's your excuse for being ignorant and uneducated? You have misspelled words, poor grammar, and a number of other issues in your posting. I find it interesting that those who lack educational skills themselves would criticize a well thought out and articulate article. And what's up with all the CAPITAL LETTERS? You realize, of course, this is akin to shouting!! You're an Ass!

      August 9, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  29. DJ

    The decline of the middle class will lead to the decline of education, et. all and this country !!

    August 9, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  30. Mary

    As this article pointed out, Ms. Rhee's policies and practices in the DC school system were a complete failure! Ms. Rhee
    is a self absorbed, want to be intellectual, who alienates people. I believe that we should listen to individuals like Ms. Diane Ravitch, who is far more experienced and accomplished than the self promoting Ms. Rhee.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • RaulSmith

      as a former student of the DCPS, I tell you that Ms. Rhee's intentions were justified. It did not work because the community opposed the changes. From my experience with DC public school system, I can tell, that at least 30 percents of the teachers are out of touch with reality and just show up to make a salary. There were good apples in there but the bad ones were contaminating them. Why should any teacher put extra time helping students when the one around the corner is doing nothing and is getting the same salary. Now the lack of parents involvements is another issue. If what this lady is saying is correct so why private schools in DC do a better job with much less fund.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  31. EMAH

    The problem is social programs that give and give yet require not productive output. My wife teaches special ed. in a rural elementary school. She sat on a committee that had parents wanting their children declared "special ed", sothat the child would have less homework. Empower the teachers to teach not just "instruct".

    August 9, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  32. JustSayNo

    Rhee is 100% right!

    August 9, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  33. Dead Man Blogging

    Assigning the problem of underperforming schools to any single factor is always going to be an incomplete answer. Poverty is certainly a factor. So are teachers' unions that support mediocrity and perpetuate incompetence. Excessive government interference and expensive "reporting requirements" add cost with no value, making it harder to apply education dollars to education.

    Where we have really fallen down, though, is in maintaining discipline so that classrooms are conducive to learning. The disruption in today's schools prevents the 95% of students who are ready to learn from doing so. It diverts resources from education to discipline and babysitting. It burns out good teachers who want to teach but find themselves acting more as police than educators.

    Poverty does no make people stupid. But, stupidity does make people poor.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • stormrider50

      Absolutely correct! Poor people aren't born dumber than anyone else. And there are a host of studies that demonstrate that poor judgement, lack of self-discipline and plain old stupidity are the real reasons behind poverty. Buying an expensive cell phone or pair of shoes, getting hair and nails done, playing the lottery or slots, and other money-wasting pursuits all contribute to remaining poor. There are many students in the DC public schools who have pulled themselves out of poverty by using good judgement and putting aside the desire to take the easy way out.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • ranger555

      You are Right! Rhee is right! Let us drop the poverty pimps and push for accountabilty from teachers and the individual student. Leave poverty and culture out of this discussion.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • Anibal

      Im a teacher for last 12 years. I think both Mrs. Rhee and Mrs. Ravitch hit on part of the truth in their analysis yet are also missing a part of the problem. 1st, yes there are bad teachers in the system that should be fired but are not or it takes a long time because of union rules. Yes seniority based hiring can at times force principals to let go better younger teachers especially at times of recession and cuts and keep older teacher who may not be as good. This is real and it does happen. That being said Rhee is wrong to blame the state of US education solely on that issue. Poverty is a huge cause of under performance for many students as well as lack of parental involvement and pressure put on the home to perform better. The constant cuts that schools have experienced over the last 10 years at least where I live has also taken an immense toll on our ability to keep up with some of the rest of the world on certain areas. These cuts affect more poor children who may need more support to be successful. What they both fail to address is that simply poverty is inevitable in our society. Capitalism is unable to provide us with full employment. Unemployment is inevitable in a capitalist system so poor families and poor children are inevitable. as an economics teacher in high school I always see how my students react to such a harsh reality. Some of us will be winners( have jobs, pursue our careers and actually get paid enough to pursue our goals and pleasures) some of us will be losers ( will fail to meet the requirements of society to be successful and thus will turn to lives that require dependency of gov. services like welfare and food stamps to survive or to crime to survive). Until we are honest about the benefits and negatives of the system s under which we organize our society we will never be able to have a holistic debate and conversation about potential solutions. The rights inability to leave behind the dogma of free market capitalism as the utopian dream where simple individual effort will always make everyone better. There are many families who work hard all their lives and who are smart yet live in poverty. At the same time the left's problem of at times rewarding mediocrity and not seeing that Waiting for Superman as incomplete and biased movie as it was does also have something to contribute to this dialogue slows down positive reform. Principals need more power to make better decisions for their schools. Especially in the area of who to hire and keep during budget cuts. I do agree with Professor Ravitch, the US is still the leader in the world in technology and economic growth and has been partly because of our great school system. For all the critics out there we actually don;t do that bad of job and would actually do better if our society who treat like we treat the Dallas cowboys and the Yankees. But we don't produce anything short term, we don;t sell flashy excitement. We slowly churn out the future human beings of the world who will take over 25 years until their brains are fully developed and are able to be productive members of society. This is a hard product to market in a society that loves flashy and fast and exciting. I have to teach 180 students economics and government for their senior year. This is no easy task yet it always surprises me how much my students actually want to learn and are interested in the material.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  34. Mark

    Anyone who has lived in cities like Washington DC and Baltimore knows that the AA children run wild in the streets with no parental teacher can overcome that reality.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Mack

      Get a life racist.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:33 am |
      • Gina

        Once that behavior enters the school, he is correct. So, he's only wrong because it can't be helped in the streets, but the minute those kids cross over the threshold into their school, the foolishness should be stopped. Period. I don't think he meant for that comment to be racist. The black man in our areas of extreme poverty has abandoned the family. Sure, there are many reasons, but it's true. Fathers are a major factor in a family. A good father can have more impact than a mother. A good man models how to be a man. A good man, who treats his daughters with respect and love, models how girls should expect to be treated....

        Some of my best students have been American Black kids, but the worst have been American Black boys–not having fathers in the home or the community is a tragedy.

        August 9, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
  35. Shawn Barat

    Excellent...right on...I wish more people would listen and believe.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  36. John

    Lots of silly ad hominem attacks against Michelle Rhee here – many of them from teachers.
    The problem with teachers is this. The vast majority of them have no idea how a real, normal job works. In the real world, you are judged by performance. You don't get lifetime tenure before age 30. You are forced to constantly improve your productivity as technology and ideas progress. I went to one of the top public high schools in California. Our teachers were nothing special as a whole but everyone I know can remember a few select ones who did a fantastic job. Teaching matters.
    Dr. Ravetch's column implies that external factors outside the school are responsible for the bulk of student performance. I agree. But it's irrelevant. Teachers aren't paid to affect the home life and socioeconomic status of students. They are paid to teach the students who happen to enroll in their class. What does all this other nonsense Dr. Ravetch speaks of matter?

    August 9, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • RJ

      Yes and in your normal job, do you pile on hours and hours of overtime for free? Yeah, I didn't think so. And these other factors do make a difference. My wife has given up countless hours of her life to work with her students after school, but she can't make them stay after the bell rings and if the parents don't care, why should the child? You are very ignorant on the subject to be giving such strong opinions.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • laurie

      You can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink. Even the best teachers cannot change that fact!

      August 9, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • prettythings46


      August 9, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Gina

      Although many teachers are not my favorite among professionals....I also know that in the real world, a police officer's evaluation is not going to be based on the crime rate. A firefighter is not going to be attacked because their community chooses not to use fire alarms. A doctor is not going to be attacked, nor are his evaluations going to be based on the number of obese patients....

      Try being a teacher before you judge. The majority are good. But, like any field, not all will be masters, and not all will be horrible... Every field has its floaters, swimmers, and sinkers.....

      The problem is teaching to a multiple choice test.

      August 9, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  37. CAMEO35

    ...........................HEY , NOT EVERY STUDENT GOING TO BE A DOCTOR OR ROCKET SCIENCETIST.....................................................THE WORLD NEED DITCH DIGGERS TOO,...................................

    August 9, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  38. Nick

    Gee, who should I believe: the person who actually ran the system, or an academic that was involved in creating the very assessment process she is now defending? Bottom line is we are spending 40% more on education than we were while enrollment has only increased 8% over the same time period. Bad teachers, waste, fraud, call it what you want, the system isn't working. And Obama wants to throw even more money we don't have at broken system.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  39. Anders Perillo

    She's joking, right? Is this a joke article? Am I reading The Onion? I'll take Rhee's word over Ravitch's any day.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Jay NYC

      I couldn't agree more. This woman is a moronic mouthpiece of the teachers union.

      The best line, which eliminated ALL of Ravetch's credibility for me, was this joke:

      "Merit pay, by dividing and demoralizing employees, is a good way to erode initiative and overall quality."

      Merit pay *erodes* inititavie? Seriously? God bless Michelle Rhee, and those like her.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  40. CAMEO35

    ................................................MAYBE OUR KIDS ARE JUST PLAIN ......................' NOT SMART '..................................

    August 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • J R Brown

      Considering that roughly half our taxpaying population isn't smart enough to figure out how to make enough money to actually have to pay taxes, I'd say you probably have a point. Dumb parents rarely bring smart kids into the equation.

      Our "social" policies, as a culture, are enabling those "less smart" to flourish like cockroaches. This is one of the dangers of liberal policy.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  41. Jim

    Thanks for this article. Rhee is a liar, and a shill for corporations who want to dumb down everything about primary education.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  42. us_1776

    Rhee was an idiot.

    The problem has always been the home problems that the kids bring to school with them.

    These problems of poverty, substance abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, etc. are problems that no teacher can control.

    Until we have rebuilt the middle-class in this country our educational system will continue to suffer the effects of these societal problems.


    August 9, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Crazy Train

      problems created by do-gooder liberals in the 1960's with welfare

      August 9, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Gina

      Teachers can't control all the chaos, but the system could ensure that every American classroom is safe and peaceful, sending the delinquents to a contained facility.

      August 9, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  43. A teacher

    I also would like to see Dr. Ravitch debate Rhee on CNN.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  44. Sam

    I agree with many of the post here that say parenting is the biggest problem but and equally big problem is the union structure. You can get rid of bad teachers. Sorry union parrots but not every teacher is a good one. The union system just demands more funding and refused to ever tie performance and pay. It's all about time served. It is broken and as long as it's union run it will stay broken.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Sharon

      Sam, there are some teachers that should have never joined the profession. But you are wrong to think that they cannot be removed from a system. They can and often are. If they manage to get through thei first few probationary years and then falter, with poor evaluations they can be removed. I have seen it happen under good administrators and school boards. I am the first to say that Unions have at times overstepped their bounds, but they have also done huge amounts of good for the teaching and learning in our country.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Alice in PA

      Sam So if unions are the problem,why do states with unionized teachers perform better on the NAEP test, the only test given across the USA?

      August 9, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • Mon

      I agree, Sam. While I believe there are more uninvolved parents than uninvolved teachers, this doesn't mean we can't hold the latter accountable as well. Case in point: In high school I thought I was born stupid when it came to math. My school had a ridiculous "progressive" system where instead of the books showing and explaining the equations, they present a bunch of theoretical questions and you work in groups to figure it all out. In reality it was the blind leading the blind. I reached out to my teacher who refused to help only telling me "work it out with your group". Thankfully I had involved parents who helped me after school as much as they could, but they grew increasingly frustrated hearing how my teacher refused to do the same during class. They finally brought it to administration who essentially said their hands were tied because he was tenured. I faked it enough to slip through the rest of my high school math requirements, but tested into remedial math once I got to college. (Fortunately when I started college I had a wonderful math professor who brought me up to speed and told me I wasn't dumb, just that the basic concepts weren't properly explained in the first place). We talk about poor math testing in the US, I was a case study of that. And I don't think my story is particularly unique one. I only feel sorry for other students who fall behind because of underperforming teachers and the districts that can't do anything about it.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  45. Keith

    People are correct that Rhee is misinformed. Rhee is Asian-American and cannot properly grasp how other Americans do not value education as highly. Asian-American parents will sacrifice almost ANYTHING for their child's education. They may be poor, but no effort or expense will be pass on if it will help their child's education. Asian-Americans do very well compared other groups in terms of education. It's not because they are smarter, it is because of the emphasis on education that starts at home. Rhee grew up in this environment and can't seem to understand that not all parents have this attitude.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  46. David

    i can understand your points but i really think that 1) parents simply need to inspire their kids to do better no matter what their economic circumstances and 2) we absolutely need to have a more effective avenue for identifying and firing bad teachers. The fact that they are so protected by the unions that you can't ever touch them is plain wrong and we all know its a real problem. if our public schools can't teach our kids (which they obviously can't) due to their focus on teacher pay and benefits above all else, it only makes sense to look to the private sector and give them a chance. common sense here folks.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  47. CAMEO35

    .................................... DON'T BLAME THE TEACHERS..........................BLAME THE STUDENTS FOR BEING LAZY........................................STUDENTS CAN REMEMBER 25 MINUTE RAP SONG LYICS BUT THEY CAN'T REMEMBER WHAT 12 X 12 = ......................................

    August 9, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Thezel

      Don't blame students or teachers, blame the parents. Most of these inner city kids failing in schools would have been better off if they were taken from their parent(s) on Day 1.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  48. solutions777

    The author is stupid. Follow the facts. Education in the United States is in very bad shape. How can ineffective teachers not be part of the problem? Of course, ineffective teachers are part of the problem. This means ineffective teachers are ONE thing that needs to be fixed. Just one thing. There are other things in the education system that need to be fixed.

    The author seems to be part of the problem. Read her bio. All this time relating to public education, and still believes that ineffective teachers are not part of the problem.

    The facts no one wants to read.

    Learn to think for yourself.

    Censorship is evil.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Jim

      You are high. Rhee is in the pocket of corporations. "Teach to the test" nonsense has destroyed primary education.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • fact lover

      For someone who espouses 'the facts' you present none. What are the facts that support your viewpoint?

      August 9, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  49. Mark

    Poverty is not the problem, poor parenting by the black community is the problem.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • BBBBB

      My wife is an educator. The skin color has nothing to do with it when it comes to parenting and parental involvement in the education system. Parents do not care! They are not involved. They are deadbeats! When they do get involved, in may cases it causes problems. In many cases our Nations Teachers are parents who nurture and shape students for future life. They are not paid for that. But, they do it!

      August 9, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • gatordave

      Only an idiot would limit problems to "black" parents. Believe it or not, Mark, there are bad white parents too. But I'm wasting my time trying to educate the un-educateable.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Kheli

      As a black parent and teacher, the biggest problem is poverty. Parenting is not a black problem, it is actually a nationwide problem along with poverty.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • Lope

      It's not just in the black community obviously.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Chris

      Mark – don't single out the black community to blame for poor parenting. I've seen examples of poor parenting skills in ALL ethnic/racial communities. No one community is any worse than the other.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  50. rick1948

    Teachers don't get paid squat for the work they have to do and the students they have to put up with. You have to believe that the ones who elect to be teachers – and stay teachers – are dedicated and not entirely interested in their paychecks.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  51. peick

    I'll agree that poverty is to blame if we can call it poverty to have no moral grounding, to live life with an entitlement mentality, to base our self worth on outward show, to lionize celebrities, and to believe that we are the product of random chance across billions of years. In such a milieu, how can we NOT become imbeciles?

    August 9, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  52. sane

    Two major issues with Ms. Ravitch's observations:

    1. She says: "Yet our nation went on to become the most powerful economy in the world." Yes...but because we recruited the best minds from other countries.
    2. She says our scores are higher than Japan and Finland if we take out the schools in areas of poverty. How about if we take out the same for Japan and Finland?
    Don't get me wrong, I do not blame teachers for the state of education. I actually agree that we provide a good education to those that want to learn. There is a correlation between poverty and education but there is also a correlation between poverty and intellect. I do not want to spend more resources on people that 1) do not want to learn; 2) do not value education and 3) are intellectually incapable of using the education to better themselves and the country.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  53. ajbuff

    Why does no one listen? She is absolutely correct. I can teach my well-fed and well-cared for students things that no one cares about (the Tariff of Abominations, etc.) because they have the energy and emotional space to absorb it. And they care that it may be on a test. You can't teach a kid who wonders if he will have food for dinner or who is going to take care of him about much of anything – their focus is on survival. It's easy to teach kids who have access to books and well educated parents. Who have parents who take them to libraries and the museums. Who see parents go to nice jobs every day have food and housing security. Try teaching a kid who sees neighbors killed and doesn't know anyone who can find a job and has never had a book. Poverty and basic personal insecurity undermine the valiant teacher efforts.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • beachgalone

      I'm under the impression that there are food stamp programs and after school care programs for all of these children. Am I incorrect?

      August 9, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  54. mathcs

    CNN: Please give Diane Ravitch air time! We've all heard enough from Rhee and Gates and Duncan and Bloomberg and the other reformers. It's time to give Ravitch and Stephen Krashen and Anthony Cody and John Kuhn and Gary Rubenstein equal time.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  55. Mark B

    The real problem is not the educational system. It is a problem with parenting. I have never worried about my kids getting a good education because I knew I would be with them every step of the way. All three have tested above average in standardized testing in a district that on a whole scores slightly below average. When is someone going to have the stones to say that all of the new programs, new buildings and new teachers are going to matter until as a society we hold education and intelligence above sports and good looks.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Ricke1949

      We are living on our laurels as a nation. Go to your kitchen and turn the appliances upside down and see where they are made. The reason is multi-factorial; entitlement. failing families(40% of middle class families are run by one parent) and a school system that does not honor achievement. ( Everyone is a winner and no #1 in the HS graduating class in Boulder!)
      We are losing ground and China is coming up fast. Point fingers if you like. No change =no future.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  56. James PDX

    You don't end up with ineffective teachers if you have an effective educational system. But if your system is underfunded and teachers are underpaid in overpopulated classrooms, you take what you can get, which is not likely to be the best candidates.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  57. Would You Look At That

    Ineffective teachers might be a slight problem... the biggest problem is in the home. Dead-beat parents and broken families are the root of the problem.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  58. j0nx

    Parents who have NO BUSINESS procreating and disillusioned teachers are the problem. Rhee is only half right. She knows the parents are the real problem but that would be racist to say and in this PC utopia that is modern America she knows it.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • James PDX

      Everytime some self-righteous, overly PC person corrects me, I want to punch them in the face. Really, what is the purpose of having a system of social etiquette in place that works to disguise who the real a**holes are? I personally want to know who they are, so I say, let them be the a**holes they want to be. Their names won't hurt me, and I'll be ready for anything greater than words they might choose to throw at me if I am able to recognize them in advance. PC is for fools and puss*es.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  59. jony

    Look at the number of teachers arrested every week for sex with students, obviously we have a great deal of bad apples in the profession and union rules keep many bad teachers on the job. Education should not have the same union rules as a factory, they are supposed to be professional and be judged on their abilities not their senority

    August 9, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  60. Thomas Covenant

    If poverty is the problem then how do immigrant children who can't even speak english do so much better? No, the problem is lack of parenting and lack of emphasis on educaiton. The government cannot fix that.

    August 9, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Jmacq1

      "Immigrant Children who can't speak English" DON'T do better. The "Immigrant children" that score higher tend to be Asian and Indian immigrants, who are usually from reasonably comfortable (financially) families and usually speak English just as well or better than the "born in the USA" students around them.

      It's a ridiculous generalization to assume that immigrant children can't speak English and are automatically poor. Nevermind that "lack of parenting" and "lack of emphasis on education" are natural by-products of...wouldn't you know it...POVERTY. When mom and dad have to work two or three part-time minimum-wage jobs to keep food on the table, they don't have a lot of time for "parenting" and when their vision of the future doesn't extend beyond "I want to make sure my child survives to adulthood" it doesn't exactly place a high priority on education, particularly beyond the primary school level. They're usually more focused on trying to make sure their child doesn't end up with an arrest record or getting stabbed or shot in gang violence to worry about College Prep. Basic survival first...everything else second.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  61. audhilly

    Oh... and equal airtime for Diane Ravitch. Isn't it about time?

    August 9, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Ray

      Excellent counterpoint to Rhee's never-ending drama. She bailed on the DC school system and is now trying to spread her tripe to other cities. All of this benefits her business, that's for sure.

      This piece by Ravitch is clearly based on rational thought and personal research and experience. Rhee is simply in it for the attention.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  62. Duane Swacker


    You really don't know what you are talking about. How many years have you been a part of public education? How many years have you taught. Do you personally know any public school teachers? Public school teacher are some of the most dedicated folk I know who work for what is a pittance in very trying circumstances.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  63. Mike

    CNN! How about giving an on air interview for Diane Ravitch!!!! Or better yet how about a live debate between Rhee and Ravitch.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  64. Duane Swacker

    future admin.

    Let me guess, you a TFAer, TNTPer or any of the other 5 week/summer program "teacher" originally. And now you're trying to become an "administrator" through similar non-accredited programs like the "Broad Academy" or something similar. The education deformers love to trot out the line "all you do is complain and you never offer solutions". It's not complaining it is rebutting and debunking false paradigms(NCLB, RaTT, vouchers, unregulated charters that get public monies with no accountability, etc. . . that cause great harm to many students of the educational deformers

    Let me give you a hint, pal. The purpose of Ravitch's article here is to debunk/rebut the lies that are wildly thrown about by the likes of the education deformers such as the rheeject. If you want solutions, read and follow her blog and listen to the true educational experts the teachers and administrators that are there day in and day out for the students.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  65. Arthur Goldstein

    I'm glad to see that you've given Dr. Ravitch an opportunity to respond in writing. In fact, I'd like to see her and Michelle Rhee debate their respective points, if possible. That would be a great service to your viewers. If that's not possible, her point of view certainly merits time on CNN.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  66. School Counselor

    Excellent piece. Now have Dr. Ravitch on the air. Her experience and credentials in education could lend substance to CNN coverage of educational issues.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  67. odojoe

    The US already spends more per student than any other country. I believe the problem is twofold, parents who don't give a damn and incompetent teachers that the system is chained to. Reducing class size is a bunch of crap. Catholic elementary schools when I was enrolled had 50-75 kids per class.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • A teacher

      Reducing class size is not a bunch of crap. It allows teachers to individualize to meet the needs of their students. As far as there being 50 students in your classes, that was a different time period where children did not come from poverty or near poverty levels. I work in a school where children come to school hungry or tired from not being able to sleep comfortably. I think you may have forgotten that times have changed and there are different challenges that teachers face today. I'm not only teacher but I'm a second parent to my students. Is that right? Should I have to be like a parent? No but I do my best to serve the children and neighborhood I work in.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Cosmic Tinker

      Apples and oranges. Private schools get children from motivated, involved parents and those schools can counsel out or expel kids who they think don't fit in, while public schools take everyone. Years ago, when I attended public schools with classes as large as you had, I just faded into the background. Teachers can't give much individual attention to children when classes are that big; just the squeeky wheels get the grease.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Remyson

      Yeah, and the nuns could smack you with a ruler when you were out of line. Today if a teacher looks cross-eyed at a kid, he/she could be subject to a lawsuit. Today's students are taught by their parents, probably someone like you, not to respect authority (i.e. teacher, policemen, etc.) and are much more difficult to discipline. Also, do you really want your child to be in a class where they are one of 50-75 vying for the teacher's attention?? That would like only one waitress in a restaurant having 50 customers at the same time and attempting to get them all fed in 40 minutes. Get real dude!

      August 9, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Alice in PA

      Where did you get that data from? Because you are dead wrong! Go to NCES for the real data

      August 9, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  68. Summer Carter

    Thank you Diane for such a factually based response. I am a 6th year teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools and frequent reader of your blog. I sincerely appreciate your candor and honesty. When I read your blog, I see my daily struggle. I am certainly not an expert, but I do have enough real-life experience to know poverty in our schools provides obstacles way beyond what "good teachers" can accomplish alone!! It startles me that teachers are constantly to blame for sub par schools when in fact it truly takes a village to raise our children. Thank you again Diane for making the voices of my colleagues heard!!

    August 9, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  69. Teacher1972

    What happens to students around the age of 13 or 14 in many other countries? They are grouped. The ones who display the ability for successful higher education continue to go to school for academic purposes and the ones who display an aptitude for manual labor are sent to trade school. Maybe that makes a difference in test scores when comparing our scores to those of other countries.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:37 am |

      Maybe we should do the same.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  70. shelli

    As a homeschooling parent, I have never blamed the teachers for what I dislike about our schools. If all parents could put time and energy into their children's education, the schools would be better, and it would be a more positive place for all children. Many parents are struggling to make ends meet, and I don't expect them to teach their children like I do. It puzzles me why anyone would try to get better results from merit pay, etc. If I were a teacher in public school, that would squash my enthusiasm for teaching. I wish I could help other families, but I can't. I can only help my children get the best education possible. At home they won't be pressured by test scores. They will get a better well-rounded education and they'll be more motivated to learn because they'll have plenty of time to study what interests them aside from learning the basics.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  71. Lilac0245

    This push to privatize education is a scam, destructive to our poorest, and a cesspool of waste of taxpayer dollars. President Obama, please get rid of Arne Duncan and get the "profiteering" out of education. Stop the propaganda of teacher bashing. This movement, based more on fiction than mathematical facts, has far reaching and devastating possibilities for our country. Comparing the statistical evidence of Rhea vs. Ravitch, it appears our politicians need a course in basic statistics.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  72. readingexchange

    CNN should definitely give Dr. Ravitch equal air time but let's go a step further in reporting the truth. How about an exposé about the real intentions of the "educational reformers", such as Rhee.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  73. audhilly

    Michelle Rhee has such minimal experience for the position she holds. She\'s an embarrassment. She massages her own statistics (which she gets called on regularly). She broadcast herself firing a teacher for what purpose? Her leadership style is an exercise in bumbling ego. I don\'t entirely blame her, though. She was offered high office with no experience or training and she grabbed it. Like some others in high office around the country, she\'s a talking head for privatization and merely the tool of real power. Her legacy will be to help to undermine the whole notion of public education and to put those dollars in the hands of private organizations whose goals are variable and suspect. How interested should we be as a society in turning our tax dollars into education for profit? How interested should we be in whole states ( Louisiana) using tax dollars to teach the notion that dinosaurs and humans lived together on the planet (as science), that the KKK was a reform based organization (as history)? Put the Rhees in their place and raise the heat on this issue. History will.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  74. audhilly

    Michelle Rhee has such minimal experience for the position she holds. She's an embarrassment. She massages her own statistics (which she gets called on regularly). She broadcast herself firing a teacher for what purpose? Her leadership style is an exercise in bumbling ego. I don't entirely blame her, though. She was offered high office with no experience or training and she grabbed it. Like some others in high office around the country, she's a talking head for privatization and merely the tool of real power. Her legacy will be to help to undermine the whole notion of public education and to put those dollars in the hands of private organizations whose goals are variable and suspect. How interested should we be as a society in turning our tax dollars into education for profit? How interested should we be in whole states ( Louisiana) using tax dollars to teach the notion that dinosaurs and humans lived together on the planet (as science), that the KKK was a reform based organization (as history)? Put the Rhees in their place and raise the heat on this issue. History will.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  75. jksuter

    I agree about the tenure giving me academic freedom.... but it does something more important that I don't think parents understand. It gives me the ability to confront the administration and advocate for my students. If parent had their way, and tenure was taken, who is going to stand up for their children when they are not getting the help they need. Without tenture I could lose my job for advocating for my students.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  76. jksuter

    I agree about the tenure giving me academic freedom.... but it does something more important that I don't think parents understand. It gives me the ability to confront the administration and advocate for my students. If parent had their way, and tenure was taken, who is going to stand up for their children when they are not getting the help they need. Without tenture I could lose my job for advocating for my students.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  77. Scott

    The real core problem, and this author is a part of that problem, is.... There is big money in salaries and positions wrapped up in making sure nothing ever changes. The education system, populated by people like this author, is CORRUPTED by vested interests making sure THEY get the money and as much of it as they can... Education is corrupted by self interest... very little interest in what is in the childrens best interests.

    August 9, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Cosmic Tinker

      Contrary to your unsubstantiated attack on Ravitich, it's Rhee who is the one who takes big money from both sides of the political aisle, and her support of the privitization of public education assures venture capitalists huge profits:

      August 9, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • sora57

      Scott, you just made her point. Merit pay makes things even worse by rewarding teachers who more selfishly promote themselves rather than working as a team to benefit the school. And merit pay has been proven to be useless. Look at the results where it has been implemented. More expensive, same results.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • dmantx

      REALLY the education system at least in Texas is corrupt by legislators trying to control and micromanage what is taught and how it is assessed. I am amazed at the amount of money spent to develop all these individual state mandated tests.......would be interesting to see who has those purse strings. I am all for revolutionizing education but ideas like bilingual education get met by right wingers as an affront to "english as a national language" lol.
      The research has been there for decades and recently reinforced with more research arts and early fluent second it....oh Texas we cut education and want vouchers....guess I should move to a blue state lol

      August 9, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  78. Catherine Pruett

    Brilliant and completely true. I am going to print ot and keep it forever. Diane ravitch is the voice of teachers

    August 9, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  79. TeacherFromTheWest

    CNN, please remember that good journalism examines both sides of an issue, not just the one that squawks the loudest. Give Diane the same airtime you gave to Michelle Rhee! If you do, maybe the rest of the nation will begin to wonder what I've been wondering all along: Why is Arne Duncan doing the job that should belong to Dr. Diane Ravitch?

    August 9, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  80. Ro Jensen

    So many great responses before mine. Here is what I will add. Rhee and the reformers, including Jeb Bush in my state, have destroyed any joy in learning. Because of the emphasis on high stakes testing, my children endure up to 40 days a year in testing. The rest of the year faculties discuss raising test scores ad nuaseum in SAC/SAF meetings, stress about the tests, and relay that stress and pressure to our CHILDREN. School is not a place of joyful learning or meaningful learning. I doubt that atmosphere exists in the President's childrens' school or any of the deformer's school to which they opt of of public school and send their children. I realize the media is solely owned by the corporate elite salivating on profiting off of public school dollars, but when will real Americans stand up for their neighborhood public schools and teachers who have done the hard work of teaching our children under these horrendous conditions?

    August 9, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  81. readingexchange

    CNN should go beyond allowing Dr. Ravitch to debate Michelle Rhee on the air. They should produce a documentary exposing Michelle Rhee and her supporters.

    August 9, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  82. Future admin

    Children in poverty have more of a challenge learning. This is factual due to external factors that are beyond their control, I get that. But the way I read this, home-girl is suggesting that we be ok with that. If you want to teach children that they can rise in their social class, then accepting those external factors and not doing anything to overcome them is BS.

    Also, I get that teacher tenure has it's place, and I do not think that merit based pay is simply the answer. I also don't think that standardized tests are the completely right answer. My question is, how does Ms. Ravitch think that teachers should be evaluated?
    I see complaints here of why Michelle Rhee is wrong, but I don't see any solutions.

    August 9, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • John

      U r wrong. Solution is plainly expressed in article, in comments. Small classes, adequate resourcing, equitable funding. You teacher bashers are enabling the racism of unequal school funding.

      August 9, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Jmacq1

      Ravitch doesn't offer solutions because solving poverty is not a teacher's job. All the teacher can do is try their best to teach despite the difficulties, which is what Ravitch proposes is happening.

      Of course, daring to suggest that the government do anything about it would immediately be decried as "socialist!" by the political right, who seem to believe that because a few rare, exceptionally talented or motivated individuals occasionally manage to drag themselves up out of impoverished backgrounds, it's the rule and not the exception.

      I do find it interesting here how many people seem to separate "lack of parenting" from poverty, as though the former isn't all-too-often a direct side-effect of the latter.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  83. Marie

    "No elite school—not Andover or Exeter or Sidwell Friends—evaluates its teachers by the scores of their students on standardized tests." This is true. What else to these elite schools do that public schools can implement? I'm guessing, small class sizes, state of the art facilities including air conditioners when it's 90+, up to date technology – I'd be happy to start with more than one outlet in a room, a variety of subjects including art, music and drama (we lost our drama teacher two years ago), plus an array of electives that really interest and engage students. Here's a radical idea, let's spend the money to copy exactly what these elite schools do and see if that makes a difference with public school students.

    August 9, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  84. Michelle Gerlt, 7th Grade CA Teacher

    I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you, Diane Ravitch!

    August 9, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  85. Don

    Rhee IS wrong! I resent her incessant attacks on teachers and public education. Thank you for this article!

    August 9, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  86. Reality

    Thank you, Diane Ravitch, for telling the truth. There is a clear plan from a few to run public education through the mud in order to privatize the educational system. No data supports such a move. I agree, let Michelle Rhee and Diane Ravitch debate, or at the least, bring Dr. Ravitch on the air. Both sides of this issue deserve equal time, as every community in the nation has children, public schools and an interest in seeing student succeed.

    August 9, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  87. Allison (teacher)

    Why isn't Dr. Ravitch allowed to speak on air? Why does CNN just allow people who have little experience in education to speak? She actually knows what she is talking about. This privatization of our public schools is a scandal! I think that if more people realized what is going on, it would be stopped. Please give Dr. Ravitch the opportunity to speak on air. We all have to work together to stop the corporate reformers from destroying our public schools. This must happen now before the public schools are privatized and ruined. Stop demonizing teachers who dedicate their lives to helping unfortunate students. What are Michelle Rhee's credentials? Why is she allowed to speak on the national level? How long has she taught (2-3 years)?

    August 9, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  88. theneworleansimperative

    Michele Rhee and other proponents of privatization of public education continually misinform the public for reasons other than children. These proponents use their unlimited resources to declare public education as a failure based on unsupported data or no data while recommending a unproven and failed solution that only benefits profiters who have no interested in educating children. New Orleans in the perfect example of a school system that for the last six years have used the market model approach recommended by Rhee and other proponents. The results have been dismal for the children, families and school communities. The New Orleans Public schools under state control using charters ranks 69th out of 70th school districts on state mandated tests taken by its students last spring. The results of the so called reforms advocated by Rhee and others have also been unsuccessful in school districts across the country that use charter schools and vouchers as the delivery model for public education. America needs to wake up and stop supporting these failed reforms.

    August 9, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Paying Attention in Louisiana

      Wow, your data isn't even close. Please show me where RSD run schools in N.O. are 69 out of 70. Please enlighten me.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  89. Vikki

    Amen! Let's see Diane on the air!

    August 9, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  90. Mr. A. Talk

    I think it's great that Ms. Ravitch has been given the chance to rebut the nonsense spewed by Michelle Rhee, but I'd really like to see them debate on CNN on the air. C'mon CNN–let's get this done!!!

    August 9, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  91. Juliet Marinelli, English Teacher, NYC

    Yes why isn't Dr. Ravitch given an opportunity to rebut ON-AIR??

    August 9, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  92. nuff said

    We are nearing a breaking point where Rhee and her minions will be exposed as the frauds they are. Money is their only driving force and their new arguments to raise class sizes and pay teachers more has truly shown they believe they can fool ALL of the people All of the time. The only supporters they have left are the non-parents and those with a financial interest-and they are substantial. But now it is clear theirs is a war not only against teachers but against children. Not all children , just those from the lower economic rungs, this truly is class warfare. We need a Leader willing to expose these carpetbaggers for what they are , but with the top of politicians all in Billionaire s pockets a champion has not emerged other than Diane Ravitch and she can not do it alone. Are there ANY Politicians left with the moral fiber to step up and tell the truth? I wonder?

    August 9, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  93. stsmith222

    Thank you for giving Dr. Ravitch this opportunity. However, I'd like to know why isn't she on television discussing public education? Instead you have Michelle Rhee, a failed chancellor, on as your "expert." I guess education policy is just like today's political system, only those who are funded by corporate billionaires like Rupert Murdoch have a megaphone.

    August 9, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  94. litbrit

    How much longer will the privatization-puppetry farce that is Rhee be given so much airtime and forum? Perhaps if we took all the reporters who cover education; took away their salaries, housed them five-to-a-thin-walled room in small, book-free apartments in crime-ridden neighborhood where the noise from traffic, neighbors, and other people's televisions was punctuated by not-infrequent gunshots; fed them with things purchased from the only food-purveyor that didn't require three hours and wo bus trips to visit–which is to say, Doritos for dinner and a Snickers bar for breakfast if they were lucky; and after having them live this way–with little sleep, poor nutrition, and no resources–handed them standardized tests and set a stopwatch, telling them "You have one hour: GO!", the utterly clueless media folk might gain enough human empathy to finally GET what the eminently wise and patient Diane Ravitch has been saying forever.


    August 9, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  95. leoniehaimson

    Thanks for letting Diane respond CNN. But don't you think you should also give her equal time by interviewing her on TV?

    August 9, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  96. okeducationtruths

    Education reform is a breeding ground for apples to oranges comparisons. Just as we don't have comparative data between public and private schools within states, we also don't have any true analysis of how the selection criteria for charter schools affect state test scores. Public schools are full of hard working people doing everything they can to meet state and federal mandates, which are a moving target. The data Diane Ravitch provides here gives some evidence that we're continuing to improve. Unfortunately, that message isn't very sexy – so the media won't run with that.

    August 9, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  97. Diana

    Thank you! I'm about to enter my 12th year teaching and am so appreciative of your thoughtful, educated insight. Thanks for setting the record straight.

    August 9, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  98. ehill

    "The challenge to public education today is not to reinforce the correlation between achievement and social class, but to sever it." Diane Ravitch 1995

    August 9, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • Speak up

      And if you read the article she explains how schools can do that and it doesn't rest solely on teachers.

      Education is the only industry in our nation that blames failure on the workers and not the leadership.

      Rhee is an embarrassment who crumbles when challenged. She only appears when the audience is controlled and where she gets a speaking fee.

      Watch the British smack down:

      August 9, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • dianerav

      I still believe that. But it will never happen by bullying teachers and principals as Rhee does, closing schools, and privatizing public schools. For-profit online schools get worse results than public schools, and charter schools get no different results. Why are we privatizing public schools and handing them over to the private sector? The best way to improve our schools is to give them the resources they need, respect those who do the hard work of teaching, reduce class size so teachers can individualize instruction when necessary, and improve the lives of children.
      Diane Ravitch

      August 9, 2012 at 9:26 am |
      • JP

        Great article!!!

        August 9, 2012 at 11:06 am |
1 2 3 4 5