David Answers Goliath on Education Reform

In a Jonathan Alter Newsweek article on Bill Gates’ involvement in education reform efforts, Gates lists some questions he’d want to ask the woman Alter describes as his “chief adversary” in the education reform debate, Diane Ravitch. As WaPo education columnist Valerie Straus puts it:

It’s the world’s richest (or second richest) man vs. an education historian and New York University research professor.

In her column, Straus gave Ravitch an opportunity to answer those questions. It’s a good opportunity to hear responses from the side of the education reform argument that (so far) has had a much smaller megaphone. Here’s one interesting passage:

Gates: “Does she think all those ‘dropout factories’ are lonely?”
Ravitch: “This may come as a surprise to Bill Gates, but the schools he refers to as “dropout factories” enroll large numbers of high-need students. Many of them don’t speak or read English; many of them enter high school three and four grade levels behind. He assumes the schools created the problems the students have; but in many cases, the schools he calls “dropout factories” are filled with heroic teachers and administrators trying their best to help kids who have massive learning problems.

“Unless someone from the district or the state actually goes into the schools and does a diagnostic evaluation, it is unfair to stigmatize the schools with the largest numbers of students who are English-language learners, special-education, and far behind in their learning. That’s like saying that an oncologist is not as good a doctor as a dermatologist because so many of his patients die. Mr. Gates, first establish the risk factor before throwing around the labels and closing down schools.”

Washington Post’s “The Answer Sheet”: Ravitch Answers Gates