Educational Reform Movements

“Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms” is a book by Diane Ravitch. On September 11, 2000, the Brookings Institute invited Ravitch for a discussion and public forum. Introductory remarks by Donna Shalala, then Secretary of HHS, and William Bennett, former Secretary of Education, preceded Ravitch’s presentation, and the question/answer session that followed. Here
The basic premise of the book, an in depth study of the history, is that the reforms moved away from traditional rigorous academic standards, into social reform, causing the schools to fail for all kids, and therefore society. She also illustrates the how political labeling such as “liberal” and “conservative”, “reform” and “traditional” have played an important role in school’s failures.
Shalala’s opening remarks should be familiar to those of us who followed her tenure as UW-Madison Chancellor. She emphasizes “we are not fair or honest with American kids about how hard learning is”, citing her view that teacher should learn from coaches, who understand the role that practice, repetition, and small corrections play in achievement and reaching perfection.
Bennet’s remarks are, from my view, the typically political “liberal v conservative” tripe that he is famous for, even as the issue of political labeling in the reform movement has been a contributing factor in educational quality failures.