It's an important exchange of ideas. Gates is representative of a group that apparently wants to support public education, and has the appropriate liberal credentials, yet winds up siding with right wingers whose goal is the privatization of our schools. It's an area explored by Strauss in an October column discussed in EdLog.
In her interview with Strauss, Ravitch demolishes several of Gates' canards about public education, teachers and their unions.
Answering the argument that opposing corporate reform is tantamount to endorsing the status quo, Ravitch succinctly criticizes the business model's bean counting approach:
"I don't hear any of the corporate reformers expressing concern about the
way standardized testing narrows the curriculum, the way it rewards convergent
thinking and punishes divergent thinking, the way it stamps out creativity and
originality. I don't hear any of them worried that a generation will grow up
ignorant of history and the workings of government. I don't hear any of them
putting up $100 million to make sure that every child has the chance to learn to
play a musical instrument. All I hear from them is a demand for higher test
scores and a demand to tie teachers' evaluations to those test scores. That is
not going to improve education."
Ravitch is an important truth-teller and diagnostician. The real problem with so-called "failing schools" lies in the growing gap between rich and poor in American society:
The single biggest correlate with low academic achievement (contrary
to the film Waiting for Superman) is poverty. Children who grow up in poverty
get less medical care. worse nutrition, less exposure to knowledge and
vocabulary, and are more likely to be exposed to childhood diseases, violence,
drugs, and abuse. They are more likely to have relatives who are incarcerated.
They are more likely to live in economic insecurity, not knowing if there is
enough money for a winter coat or food or housing. This affects their academic
performance. They tend to have lower attendance and to be sick more than
children whose parents are well-off.