In response to my Ravitch profile, Matt Yglesias has written a characteristically pointed post asking, "What does Diane Ravitch think we should do to improve education in the United States," and answering, "I have no idea."
I obviously cannot speak for Ravitch, but I can point to a few things she's written and said on this question, and offer some of my own thoughts.
This past Monday, Ravitch tweeted the following: "I wish KIPP would take over a complete urban district so people would stop suspecting them of skimming, attrition." This gives a hint as to what Ravitch would do if she were an urban superintendent. She respects KIPP's focus on providing disadvantaged students with a traditional academic curriculum and a structured day, but she is curious to know if the high achievement that follows is transferable to all poor children, not just the ones whose parents are motivated enough to enroll them in a lottery.
I think that as a superintendent, Ravitch would hire principals who really care about what students learn in a history lesson, which books they read in English class, and whether they learn to play a musical instrument. She'd be less concerned with student test scores than with portfolios of their writing. She would would want children to memorize poetry (Auden is Ravitch's particular favorite), learn to make oral presentations, and internalize the rules of grammar and syntax.
On June 18, she tweeted, "I know many think grammar unimportant, but I think it made me a better writer and has stayed with me always." She also wrote, "I was lucky to go to public school in an age without standardized, multiple choice tests. We were graded by written work and oral reports."
Ravitch would also make it more difficult for charter operators without a clear record of success to open a school, and she would probably entirely ban for-profit entitites from operating public charter schools, which they are allowed to do in some cities and states. Speaking in front of KIPP and TFA officials last year at Rice University, she said:
"What I want to say to KIPP, because I really really admire what you are doing. You have an excellect reputation, you get great results. Thousands of new charters will be created in the wake of your success. But your results are not typical. Warn President Obama and Secretary Duncan…. that the wonderful results you get are unusual; they are not typical of the charter sector. You must disassociate yourself from the educational robber barons, dilettantes and incompetents who are following in your wake making false promises and delivering a low-quality education to poor and minority children."
In his post, Matt also suggests there is a contradiction between Ravitch's critique of teacher "accountability" rhetoric and her support for making college free for prospective teachers. I disagree. Ravitch has never argued that the teaching profession can't be improved; rather, she points to the limits of the current bipartisan policy agenda, which relies heavily on reforming the way in which teachers are evaluated, but has much less to say about how to improve teaching practice, in a detailed way, among the current teacher corps.
Ravitch's theory of change goes something like this: If we make teaching much more attractive, by making college free for prospective teachers and giving teachers much more autonomy in the classroom, we will be able to attract more talented candidates to the job. But simultaneously, we know the current teacher corps can't be overhauled overnight, so we need to focus on helping teachers get better at their jobs.
(By the way, these are basically the ideas of Linda Darling-Hammond.)
For an idea of how to do all this without overrelying on standardized tests or engaging in all-out war with teachers' unions, look to Ontario. The province created a peer-mentorship program for every beginning teacher and gave all teachers more time to work outside of the classroom with their peers, whether writing lesson plans or attending a conference. Simulatenously, Ontario elevated highly-skilled teachers to a number of different leadership roles, including creating several panels of teachers that assist in education policy-making. The idea is not only to take advantage of good teachers' expertise, but to encourage good people to stay in the classroom by recognizing their skills and leadership.
For more ideas on how an education progressive would run a school district, consider a man who's actually done it: Jerry Weast of Montgomery County, Maryland.