Diane Ravitch’s Switcheroo

03ravitch_CA0-popup “Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for
teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them
with respect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study
the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages,
the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way
to ensure good education. We’re on the wrong track.”

Diane Ravitch

28 thoughts on “Diane Ravitch’s Switcheroo

  1. It’s always so weird to see how things look from a different perspective. From the alarmist stories I heard in the press (and the bribery scandals, debates about whether exams are the best way to find teachers–particularly when the examiners could be bribed), I wouldn’t have come up with Japan as an easy example of the best school system. (From the point of view of the Japan press, they’d agree with Finland as a good example, but also maybe South Korea, since they’ve been winning on international assessments lately.)

  2. I’m all for the idea of recruiting better people and paying them more, if that were possible. But without some form of accountability, the most likely impact would be paying mostly middling teachers more and getting the same result.
    I agree with Ravitch on the importance giving all kids a broad education, even foreign languages. In fact, my son’s school requires foreign language instruction starting at age 4. I just don’t see how you could get that out of our city public schools regardless of how much money you put into them.

  3. Isn’t Finland where they start school at age 7? Also, don’t both Japan and Finland have extremely homogeneous populations?
    I’m not saying they have nothing to offer, just that there are other factors.

  4. I think this is a case of someone doing what Diane Ravitch actually seems to me to do, which is revise their opinions in the light of what the best evidence and their experience tells them. She has always struck me as being intellectually honest, and I admire that. Have you read the Ravitch/Meier blog at all?

  5. In Finland, formal schooling begins at age 7, but that doesn’t mean that Finnish children are at home:
    Finnish Education at the Globe & Mail
    But from the age of eight months, all children have access to free, full-day daycare and kindergarten. Finland has had universal access to daycare in place since 1990, and of all preschool since 1996.
    Primary-school teachers all have master’s degrees, and the profession is one of the most revered in Finnish society.

  6. Liz,
    I’ve seen people say that the Finnish preschool is largely social curriculum, however I share your suspicions. Russia also has a traditional start date of 7 years old for 1st graders, but their detskii sad (literally kindergarten, but functionally more like an American day care center) does school type stuff for the older children. My feeling is that reports of how things work in foreign countries (schools, health care, etc.) tend to be oversimplified or exaggerated.
    Another issue is that for countries with very phonetically transparent languages (like Russian), learning to read is simpler than in the US. The kids might simply not need as much time to get up to speed.

  7. I did find myself wondering how much the professions with which teaching competes for talent pay in Finland — my understanding is that they have a slighlty more progressive tax system than we do. (And my guess is that some of the caring professions pay somehwat less than here — I have students going off to be nurses who would be brilliant teachers, but want to be nurses partly because they expect better pay, but mainly because they see it as a real career, with collaboration and professional norms, and….). I also wondered how much easier it is to recruit people to teaching and then keep them there when you have a 3% child poverty rate than when you have a 20-30% poverty rate. Finally, I wondered how we would (here) get people to treat teachers with respect…

  8. Ravitch may be single handedly changing the education policy debate from testing and standards to teacher quality and professionalism. She is clearly one of the most influential people in education in this country. Really fascinating.
    re: respect and teachers. Professionalism has to go up. I find it hard to talk to my kids’ teachers as professionals, when they wear jeans and v-neck sweaters with their boobage hanging out. Some dress like Snookie. Or when my neighbor the gym teacher tells me that he’s calling in a sick day, so he can spend the day snow blowing people’s driveways. He has so much free time that he has a second job. Or when I hear about a teacher text messaging in class.
    All good questions, harry.

  9. I also wondered how much easier it is to recruit people to teaching and then keep them there when you have a 3% child poverty rate than when you have a 20-30% poverty rate.
    But, teachers used to have more respect when there was more poverty (in an absolute sense) than now. Years ago, my mom taught elementary school in a very poor area. She would tell stories of kids having hygiene issues because the family all slept in the same room, all the kids in the same bed. She never had trouble controlling the class. After a twenty-five year gap, she had trouble controlling the class in a normal public school population.
    On a related note, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that liberals and conservatives are both right only when they identify a problem, but that neither can see the whole issue (or neither will talk about it publicly). That is, the former are right when they point out the harmful effects of inequality and the later when the point out how many of society’s problems stem from moral decline but that working on either by itself won’t do much.

  10. Professionalism has to go up. I find it hard to talk to my kids’ teachers as professionals, when they wear jeans and v-neck sweaters with their boobage hanging out.
    This sounds to me like it might be as much a problem about you as about the teacher. At the very least it’s not obviously the teacher with the problem.

  11. Yes, I’m with Laura on this, as much as I am a big fan of v-neck sweaters. And I don’t understand why teachers would be allowed to wear jeans.

  12. Heh. I like your style, MH. Of course, I’m a 41-year-old guy, surrounded by khaki and jeans-wearing faculty colleagues, who wears a shirt and tie and jacket almost every day. I was old before my time, I guess.

  13. I don’t wear a tie or a jacket, but I would if I taught. In my first job (state government), I always wore a tie so that nobody would take me for one of the massive number of accounts payable clerks who worked on the same floor.

  14. I here was thinking about women grad students complaining about students not taking them seriously because of their dress. I’d rather that people dress fairly conservatively in public functions, but I’m willing to say that if the dress is acceptable to the district it should be acceptable to us. Furthermore, the teacher should then be judged by his or her performance. I assume that’s what Laura would want for herself.

  15. Of course, appearance a small component of overall professionalism. (When I talk about this in real life, I usually put in all sorts of disclaimers.) But appearance is still a factor. In that middle school study that I referred to earlier this week, one of the findings was that principals in successful schools enforced a dress code among teachers.
    The male equivalent of tight jeans and a plunging neckline is a muscle t-shirt and butt sagging jeans.

  16. “I here was thinking about women grad students complaining about students not taking them seriously because of their dress.”
    There’s an easy (although not inexpensive) fix for that problem. If you look like a peer, undergraduates will treat you like a peer. I don’t recall having any issues of the sort when I was a TA, but I was able to draw on a grown-up teaching wardrobe acquired when I was teaching high school in Russia. I taught mostly classes of 15-16 year-old boys in Russia and can only imagine what kind of grief I would have gotten from them and my principal if I had worn plunging necklines.

  17. I was able to draw on a grown-up teaching wardrobe acquired when I was teaching high school in Russia.
    Odd, as I was a bit shocked at first by what teachers in Russia of all sorts wore- many school teachers wearing only what might generously be called a long sweater, if by “long” you mean something other than what anyone else has ever meant by it, university teachers, of all ages, wearing shear clothes that showed their bras and even underwear right through them (or for students, the same but w/o the bra), etc. It was quite a different world. But amazingly, that didn’t seem to have any direct impact on whether they were effective teachers or not.

  18. Matt,
    The transparent blouse was also popular in the Russian Far East when I was there, although I never saw it deployed without proper undergarments. There are probably some regional peculiarities in play. I did a spring abroad in St. Petersburg the year before I went to the Far East, and the Petersburgers were notably different from Far Easterners in their approach to dress and personal hygiene.
    In my particular case, my principal (an absolutely terrifying woman) was an avowed Stalinist who had joined the party after the fall of communism. Under her direction, in our lycee classes, the boys had to wear a jacket and slacks every day and the girls had to wear skirts or dresses.

  19. Watch out for a fascinating piece in Sunday’s magazine on teacher preparation by Elizabeth Green — really, really good stuff about what is going on in various places including U of Michigan.
    I’m with laura and russell on what to wear. But, as my sister told one of my best friends recently, I’ve been wearing exactly the same outfit since I was 12 (plain shirt, shabby jacket, cardigan or v-neck, tie (tie disappeared for a few years, but is back for good).

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