How Will Diane Ravitch Explain This?

Two years ago, the Washington Monthly published a special report, “Fighting the Drop-out Crisis,” about three large urban school districts that were trying to apply the tools of the larger school reform movement–better data systems, higher standards, stronger accountability etc.–to the seemingly-impossible task of increasing high school graduation rates in lower-income communities. The big takeaway of the package, which was edited by Richard Lee Colvin and awarded a citation by the Education Writers Association, is that it is indeed possible to move the needle on such massive, intractable education problems when you have the right policies and sufficient political leadership in place.

But at about the same time we were making this optimistic case, the CW on both the left and right was turning sharply against the school reform movement, a shift personified by conservative education historian Diane Ravitch’s caustic assault on the movement she had once championed, and the acclaim with which her apostasy was received in some liberal circles.

These debates about what has or has not been achieved by school reform are perfectly legitimate, of course, and likely to continue. But more evidence that the the optimists may have a better case than the pessimists is revealed in a new report by a group of not-profits led by Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance. The report shows that the successes the Washington Monthly identified in a few big cities two years ago are in fact occurring in a dozen or more states–from Massachusetts to South Carolina to Wisconsin–with the result that the nation’s overall high school graduation rate increased three and a half percentage points from 2001 to 2009. You can read the full report here.

I hope this encouraging news prompts some of the folks having second thoughts about the current school reform agenda to have third thoughts.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.