Wednesday, March 3, 2010

More Layoffs, Bad Advice, and Ravitch's U-Turn

It has been quite a week for education in America and California. And it is only Wednesday.

On Monday, the story broke in the Los Angeles Daily News that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is prepared to layoff “nearly 4700…teachers, administrators, counselors and nurses…as they work to close a crippling $640 million budget deficit.”

These steep cuts “would virtually eliminate school nurses and librarians, increase all class sizes, including a high of up to 44 students in middle school, and boost counselor loads to 1000 students each,” according to Connie Llanos, a staff writer for the paper. Also included are “1000 janitors and maintenance workers.”

Los Angeles schools Superintendent Ramon Cortines said “some layoffs are inevitable, as are cuts to services.”

The piece goes on to state that district officials believe the layoffs and cuts “could be avoided if employee unions approve other cost-cutting plans like implementing furloughs or reducing the school year by a week.”

No matter how we slice it, there are only so many pieces in the pie. The result is always the same: the students end up hungry for a decent education. And now we are going to reduce the school year by a week when we already have one of the shortest school years among industrialized nations?!

Buried toward the end of the piece are the words of the teachers: “School-based employees…fear that these cuts will severely inhibit their ability to meet the most basic needs of students.”

A second article in The New York Times paints a bleak picture of the value of high school guidance counselors. “Most people who graduated from high school in the last dozen years believe that their guidance counselors provided little meaningful advice about college or careers.” The study was done by Public Agenda, a nonprofit research organization. According to those polled, “the best advice on their futures came from teachers.”

The article states that in California’s schools there is one counselor per thousand students. I do not envy the poor counselor responsible for dishing out advice about college, work, social issues, mental health issues, and personal problems to one thousand students. How could a counselor be effective with that many kids in his care?

The third article of the week, also from The New York Times, explains how education historian and supporter of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation, Diane Ravitch, has reversed her course and now has done an “about-face on almost every stand she once took on American schooling.”

“Once outspoken about the power of standardized testing, charter schools and free markets to improve schools, Dr. Ravitch is now caustically critical,” says writer Sam Dillon. “She underwent an intellectual crisis,” he writes, “discovering that these strategies, which she now calls faddish trends, were undermining public education.”

The No Child Left Behind law is due to be renewed in the coming weeks in Congress. Although Ravitch recognizes that she once supported it, she “now says its requirements for testing in math and reading have squeezed vital subjects like history and art out of classrooms.”

This is the same person who supported the creation of state and national academic standards. The standards were created, and schools have been scrambling ever since to graduate students who can meet these standards. Teachers lost their jobs for being ineffective based on exit exams and standardized testing. Other instructors threw out curriculum and simply taught the test. This shortsighted mentality has left us with students who are not prepared for the challenges of higher education, the job market, and life beyond the classroom. But all the focus on the test did, in some cases, raise scores a few percentage points.

Now Ravitch concludes that “Testing had become not just a way to measure students learning, but an end in itself.” And for the teachers who did not focus solely on a test and attempted to educate for the future, the testing statistics became an end to a career. No child was left behind, but I am sure a number of good teachers were.

Thanks, Dr. Ravitch. It is nice to know that after all the crap you have put us through, your assessment of American education today is that “We’re on the wrong track.” And it was you who helped put us on this track.

The poor condition of American education is nothing short of cultural suicide. We have blown the collective foot off of the body of our country, and now we are bleeding to death.

When the mind life of a culture dies, and most certainly that is what’s happening in American education today, the death of the body, the downfall of the country itself, cannot be far behind.

With all the pink slips, budget cuts, shuttered libraries, wastelands of classrooms crowded with students, jettisoned programs, missing art and enrichment activities, the question must be asked: where the hell are we going? Cortines, Ravitch, and a host of other “leading educators” across the country aren’t sure. They have no money, no ideas, no vision. The system is bankrupt and broken, and students are the victims.


  1. This writing intrigued me. It doesn't take long for one to realize that "testing had become not just a way to measure students learning, but an end in itself."

    Even the students realize that after a few years of schooling and it took her several years to spot that distinct flaw in education nowadays.

    After the test, we all burn our notes and forget everything that has been taught. Thats the problem with portraying tests as the final judgement of your intelligence. Once it's over, learning's over. The grades will do the speaking from then on.


  2. Diane Ravitch in The Death and Life of the Great American School System ( who refuses to be an ideologue captive of her prior beliefs, says what seems to be most difficult thing to do in looking at the failed policies Obama and Duncan are still blindly pursuing- they don't work. Professor Ravitch say,"What should we think of someone who never admits error, never entertains doubt, but adheres unflinchingly to the same ideas all his life, regardless of new evidence." Sounds like a pretty accurate description of LAUSD administrative culture. This approach more reasonably explains the present inability to stop "1.2 million students [from] drop[ping] out of school each year."

    Ironically, she goes on to make the same point by pointing out the genesis of big city school districts like New York City (1905) and Los Angeles (1903) was to address the problem of small charter-like school districts that were wildly corrupt.

  3. Thank you both for your comments. The LA Times reviewed Ravitch's book last Sunday. Now I guess everyone will scramble to find the next cure-all trend. And don't get me started on the school back east where they fired all the teachers!

    We are at a crossroads in the country with education, and the decisions we are making today cannot be shortsighted, yet I fear the lack of leadership in education will do just that, sell ourselves and our students short.

  4. Educating just for the sake of passing a test is a bad idea. It leaves students undereducated on a broad range of topics.

  5. And it would seem more and more people agree with you, DegreeFinder. Since Ravitch's u-turn last week, a number of No Child advocates are beginning to plot their own u-turn.

    Thanks for the comment.


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