Future of Schools

Diane Ravitch wins $100,000 education prize for her 2010 book

Outspoken education historian Diane Ravitch has won a $100,000 prize for her 2010 bestseller, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education,” which chronicled her sharp shift from school-reform champion to critic.

The prize, the University of Louisville’s 2014 Grawemeyer Award in Education, honors individuals who have proposed ideas “that have [the] potential to bring about significant improvement in educational practice and advances in educational attainment.”

Ravitch, a New York University research professor who served as assistant education secretary under the first President Bush, offered a high-profile repudiation in her 2010 book of reform policies she once favored, notably standardized testing, school vouchers and charter schools. She also detailed how New York City became a “testing ground” for some of those “market-based reforms” under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former-Chancellor Joel Klein.

In her latest book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” published this fall, she attacks what she considers a business-minded fixation on testing and accountability, which she argues ignores the impact of racial segregation and poverty on student learning.

Melissa Andris, the Grawemeyer Award administrator, said Ravitch’s 2010 book provides an “important historical perspective” on education-reform policies that gained widespread support even as they produced mixed results.

“Ravitch marshals an impressive body of evidence to show how, on the whole, these reforms are not working as promised and are leaving many schools in the same or even worse shape than before,” Andris said in a statement.

The University of Louisville grants four Grawemeyer Awards each year for work in music, composition, world order, psychology and education, and another, with the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, for a religious work. Each prize is worth $100,000.

Recent winners include Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish education official who wrote about that country’s much-admired school system, and Linda Darling-Hammond, an influential education professor who, like Ravitch, has at times attracted the scorn of those in the education-reform movement.

Last month, Ravitch shared on her blog that she had been hospitalized for blood clots and walking pneumonia, but yesterday she posted that she is “on the mend” and scheduled to speak in cities across the country next year. On Dec. 11, she will talk about her new book at P.S. 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, at 5 p.m.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”