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Last modified: Monday, April 18, 2011

Education historian Diane Ravitch to deliver Branigin Lecture, appear with blogging partner Deborah Meier

April 18, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Education historian and outspoken education policy analyst Diane Ravitch will deliver a lecture as part of the Branigin Lecture Series, presented by the Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study in cooperation with the IU School of Education, on Tuesday, April 26, at 5 p.m. in Whittenberger Auditorium at the Indiana Memorial Union in Bloomington.

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

The next day, Wednesday, April 27, at 10 a.m., Ravitch will take part in a moderated conversation with her Education Week blogging partner Deborah Meier, who is recognized as a leading advocate for personalized and intellectually-challenging schools. The program titled "Bridging Differences Live" is presented by the IU School of Education and the Meier Institute at Harmony Education Center in Bloomington, and will take place in the Willkie Auditorium, 150 N. Rose Ave. (across from the IU School of Education's Wright Education Building). Both events are free and open to the public.

Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University (NYU), is the author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, a New York Times bestselling book that directly challenges many of today's popular educational reforms.

"Simply stated, she believes (K-12 education) should recapture the strengths of the traditional public school system, incorporate a vigorous common curriculum and renounce many of the theories, practices, policies and programs that have constituted America's major education-reform emphases in recent years," wrote Chester E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in a review.

Ravitch's stance has earned special attention because as assistant secretary of education and counselor to the U.S. Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush, she advocated for many of the reforms measures she now questions. She also supported school choice and accountability measures implemented under "No Child Left Behind," the signature education reform measure of President George W. Bush. But last year, she wrote in the Wall Street Journal that she became disillusioned and changed her mind.

"I no longer believe that either approach will produce the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for," Ravitch wrote. She's appeared on numerous media outlets to discuss her ideas, including "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Comedy Central, "Tavis Smiley" on PBS, and "Morning Edition" on NPR.

Her turnaround has been particularly public because of her Education Week blog with Meier, senior scholar at NYU. The blog "Bridging Differences" started in 2007 as a discussion between two scholars and advocates often on opposite sides of education reform ideas. The morning after the Ravitch lecture at the IMU, Meier will join Ravitch on stage at Willkie Auditorium for "Bridging Differences Live," a discussion hosted by IU School of Education Communications and Media Relations Director Chuck Carney.

For nearly five decades, Meier has been a teacher, writer, and advocate for "small schools," schools she has said should be self-governing, democratic schools where most decisions are made by the families, teachers and parents in their schools. Her latest book is Playing for Keeps: Life and Learning on a Public School Playground, co-authored with elementary teachers Brenda Engel and Beth Taylor, which examines the consequences of eliminating most recess time for young students.

Her previous books include The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons to America from a Small School in Harlem and Many Children Left Behind. Meier founded, taught in, and directed a network of highly successful public elementary schools in East Harlem. She also served as co-director of the Coalition Campus Project, which successfully redesigned two large failing New York City high schools, and created a dozen new small Coalition schools. She later founded and was principal of the Mission Hill School, a K-8 Boston Public Pilot school serving 180 children in the Roxbury community.

Meier is senior advisor for new initiatives at the Harmony Education Center based in Bloomington, which operates Harmony School, a pre-K-12 school, but also houses the National School Reform Faculty and other resources for school transformation. Harmony has created the Meier Institute, an organization dedicated to the preservation of her legacy and to continuing her fight for social justice, equity, and democracy in schools. Meier has donated her personal papers to the Lilly Library at Indiana University, where they are being processed and digitized for scholars and others to study.

She has consistently fought for considering the circumstances of students in their schools, writing recently in her blog that too often standardized testing overlooks many other factors.

"We are expected to believe that young people growing up in such intensely poor communities will not be damaged by it unless we have 'low school expectations,'" Meier wrote.

The Branigin Lecture will be available by live streaming video and archived afterwards at "Bridging Differences Live" will be available on streaming video starting on May 4 at