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We Must Out-Educate and Out-Innovate Other Nations

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

My fellow Americans, I have said in previous addresses on this occasion that the key to our future success is to make sure that the education we provide our young people is the best in the world. I have said that we must out-educate and out-innovate other nations.

Over the past four years, I have learned what we need to do. First, we must end the pressure on teachers to teach to the test. I have said it before and I will say it again: We want teachers to teach with creativity and passion. I call on states not to pay bonuses to teachers to produce higher test scores and to stop evaluating teachers based on the test scores of their students. We now realize that this causes teaching to the test. That must stop now. Of course, teachers should be evaluated, but they should be evaluated by other professionals, not by their students’ test scores.

Too much testing crushes creativity and innovation, and that’s why we must stop it — now.

Second, we must strengthen and improve our public schools. We must end all efforts to privatize them. I am firmly opposed to vouchers. I will cancel federal subsidies to any charter school that does not seek out and enroll students with disabilities and students who have dropped out. I call on the states to prohibit for-profit schools and for-profit management of schools. Every dollar taken from taxpayers must go to classrooms, not to investors.

Let us recognize here and now that public education is an essential institution of our democratic society. We must make it better, not privatize it.

We will improve education by improving the lives of children. The United States leads the advanced nations of the world in child poverty. This is a scandal, and we must dedicate ourselves to reducing

We are #24 in the world in providing early childhood education. We must extend early childhood education to all children, especially those who are poorest.

A study last year by the March of Dimes said we are #131 out of 184 nations in assuring prenatal care for pregnant women. Women who don’t get prenatal care are at risk of having children with developmental deficiencies. That is unacceptable.

When all our children start school healthy and ready to learn, we will be a better society with better schools. Let’s start now.

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. From 1995 until 2005, she held the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution and edited Brookings Papers on Education Policy.She has written 10 books, including The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education . She blogs at

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  • ben chichester

    why must we be the best in the world, useing phrases like out innovating other countries is nothing short of wierd to me.

  • CSWJane

    Perhaps you should be president–great scripting for POTUS–will he see it?

  • concerned educator

    I hope Mr. Moyers can get these important thoughts and words on our presidet’s radar. Diane Ravitch, again, has hit it out of the park.

  • avwitherspoon

    I love it!

  • Steven T. Warcholak

    Well stated.. I and members of my family teach special education students in NYC public schools. Creativity is what engages students on all levels and when approached in this way all students can be educated to their highest potential.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you Diane. How can we arrange a meeting between Diane and Obama?

    YOU have listened to the real teachers of the USA.

  • E.A. Madden

    We need 2 stop looking 2 r multi-national corps. 4 innovation & shift emphasis 2 increasing funding 2 r research universities & home-grown manufacturing.Help r small bus. grow & stay in the US.Raise taxes on large corps.They’re just sucking the life out of our country.

  • E.A. Madden

    Forgot 2 mention; Read my book It’s the Jobs, Stupid for details. Avail frm Amazon.

  • Diane Aoki

    Oh how I wish he would say that. At least, I hope he reads your post.

  • brutus2011

    Thank you for your activism and commitment to public education. I believe our social-money-banking system is at odds with what public education should be as articulated so well by you here. I don’t believe that President Obama or the various gov’ts can resist the machinations of what I can only describe as the ‘corporatocracy’ that seems to manipulate our society. Supply and demand, cost efficiency, the religion of markets, etc., all work against the egalitarian roots of public education. The question is: can the people wake up in time to mobilize and stop the onrushing myopia of corporate reform?

  • WordsMatter

    A wise woman, Diane Ravitch. Perhaps President Obama, you should listen. Our children deserve more. Our teachers deserve more. Our country deserves more. Make your legacy count.

  • JoJoFox

    use +ing = ‘using’ not useing

    ‘weird’ not wierd

    People who can not spell 3rd grade vocabulary should not tell educators how to write essays. Innovate: Get your spelling straight.

  • Anonymous

    I love your blog, and all the writings I come across. Keep up the effort to give our kids, not investors the best chance for future success.

  • Prof W

    Diane was quoting Obama, including his 2011 State of the Union address, when he said, “We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world,” and I don’t think Ben was telling Diane how to write. Many of us agree with Ben and believe that competing and racing to be #1 at virtually everything is sorely misguided, as well as a terrible model for education.

    Aiming to out-do everyone else on the planet is also bad for foreign relations. Cooperation and collaboration should be the primary focus, in both cases, not world domination. No wonder so many people in other countries hate us. Of course, they like our universities, but given a little more time, our current leadership is sure to destroy higher education as much as it has taken the ax to lower education, in the name of “reform”, aka corporate “free market” interests.

  • Tami C. Elton

    Mr. Madden–With all due respect, I cannot imagine reading a book written by someone who posts sentences like ” . . . 2 r multi-national corps. 4 . . . ” This is a public forum and those who know how to write well should do so.

  • Nathaniel Smith

    How much better off our country would be if Diane had been appointed secretary of education in 2008 (and Robert Reich as secretary of the treasury)….

  • Anonymous

    Read my book, “Yes, We Are STUPID in America!” .

  • Lisa Smith

    I agree, especially because this is a posting about what we need to do for education in America. In all honesty, I had great difficulty reading the post because I had to stop and translate the 2s, 4s, and 4s into standard English; I lost the point of the post.

  • Ed Bradford

    0. “I have said that we must out-educate and out-innovate other nations.”

    I don’t think we have to be better. I think education excellence should

    be enough.

    Then those educated will excel because America has the best

    and most free society for business and America fertilizes innovation.

    We are simply better at valuing the individual. {NOT!} Our society is

    becoming more ruled by regulations and government mandates. All the

    excellence in education in the world won’t save America if we continue

    to take away the motivation to succeed. Doctors? Guitar Makers?

    Oil Companies? Insurance Companies? the list is endless. Talk to

    a valedictorian today and they will see far less in their future

    than valedictorians of my era saw when I (and you) graduated.

    You recommend:

    1. “end the pressure on teachers to teach to the test”

    I agree without qualification.

    2. “they should be evaluated by other professionals”

    I agree without qualification.

    3. “Second, we must strengthen and improve our public schools. We must

    end all efforts to privatize them. I am firmly opposed to vouchers. I

    will cancel federal subsidies to any charter school that does not seek

    out and enroll students with disabilities and students who have dropped

    out. I call on the states to prohibit for-profit schools and for-profit

    management of schools. Every dollar taken from taxpayers must go to

    classrooms, not to investors.”

    You start with a statement I couldn’t agree with more. Then

    you go into your personal solutions without any evidence or

    compelling proof of their merit.

    There is a lot in this. Opposition to vouchers without explaining

    doesn’t tell me anything. Are you opposed to the DC Opportunity

    Scholarships? Are Charter schools for kids and parents that want

    the best for their kids OK? Can any public school ever be successful

    if the parents of the kids in the school are uninvolved? There are

    way too many questions for such simplistic black and white

    solutions that you suggest. Your “students with disabilities”

    statement is curious. What about the schools for the deaf,

    blind and other disabilities? “students who have dropped

    out” – are they the ones that cause trouble? I think your

    “second” paragraph deserves a lot more expansion.

    Are specialized schools (public or private) useful for dealing

    with disabilities or recalcitrant kids?

    4. “Let us recognize here and now that public education is an essential

    institution of our democratic society. We must make it better, not

    privatize it.”

    Why do you believe this? I was in public education. My kids were.

    Public education is great for those who want an education. It’s

    not successful for those kids who do not want an education. I

    don’t believe it is the teacher’s role to do family therapy in a

    dysfunctional family trying to convince a kid he needs an

    education. Teachers must teach. Some kids from dysfunctional

    families will be inspired by them. I know one who went from a

    boy’s industrial school to a genuine, graduate school text

    producing, computational fluid dynamics Ph.D. professor. There was

    a memorable teacher who was the inspiration, but the school and

    society did not accept the responsibility of curing this person.

    5. “We will improve education by improving the lives of children.”

    This is absolutely true, but the Dept of Ed, and the schools

    have no place or responsibility in ‘improving the lives of

    children’. You are conflating your progressive views with

    the goals of education. Your progressive views are excellent

    but they belong in another venue, not education.

    6. “The United States leads the advanced nations of the world in child


    I don’t believe this. What statistics are you citing?

    “We are #24 in the world in providing early childhood education.”

    So what. USA has produced 60% of Medical Nobel Prizes in past

    60 years. How does “early childhood” education relate to

    economic independence of adults? Are you saying we need to

    expand “Head Start”?

    7. “When all our children start school healthy and ready to learn”

    But this is not an education problem. Why do you conflate

    education with child welfare?

    I agree with the statement, though.

    How to nurture children from dysfunctional

    families is not a teacher issue. It is a societal

    issue. Is the problem worse in the 20-teens than it

    was in the 19-teens?

    I think I like your views. I just don’t think all of them belong in the

    Department of Education.

  • George

    It’s an age thing. Don’t worry too much about it, you’ll be able to keep up in other ways.

  • George

    So, only people who can spell up to a level that you deem acceptable are allowed to have a voice? Hope that you are the one who will take those rights away in person. Something tells me you wouldn’t be so ignorant and rude in person. Get your soul straight.

  • NotARedneck

    Fat chance. Unlike in the past, when America actually did this, today it has one of the worst education systems, not one of the best.

    Furthermore, Ronald Reagan and his RepubliCON followers have probably permanently shifted the advantage to the wealthy speculators over the productive sectors of society. Nearly all wealthy no longer have the ability to make real investments – what is needed to be innovative and more productive. They only understand speculation, financial shenanigans and outright corruption – all funded by the opportunities that they have been given to evade their taxes.

    The horse has left the barn.

  • Reddoor2

    In a President, we need leadership, a clarion vision of the future we are working toward for our nation, it’s families and children. We need “the story” of how all of us make the contributions toward that effort-how each individual is a valued member of the greater good- that happiness comes from working toward worthy goals and finding success in even the small steps toward those goals. The President is the man that tells us where we are going, and why-what we are trying to accomplish- He made an effort at this in his second inaugural, but we need him out of the diversional dramas of weeds, and focused from the mountaintop, on organizing the complex struggles to get the nation back on course. This means Wall Street must be called out, and the Justice System must work. This means the nation cannot try to “indoctrinate” through education, but must educate and grow Americans capable of critical thinking. This means that all media must try to be as informed, as unbiased and as committed to the truth, the goals of the nation to rebuild the nation’s character. Honor, courage, commitment are the goals we set for our military servicemen. Can we not ask that of the public figures we celebrate. Wealth no longer has any relationship to the social contribution of it’s owners, it is simply love of money, social status and power. We need to disconnect wealth from power, by reconnecting to the things in life that do matter. Honor, Courage and Commitment to do what is best for all in this nation, not just the fortunate few.

  • Eva SC

    Over-testing affects the most vulnerable students the most. My high school ESOL students miss about 8 days a quarter due to testing that is completely unrelated or marginally related to what I am teaching. My district has granted these students extended-time accommodations, but the effect is that they miss twice as much instruction as other students due to testing. It’s worth noting that these students come to this country to access the American Dream, but it is becoming farther and farther from their reach. I hope Mr. Obama listens to the voices of teachers and education professionals like Diane Ravitch.

  • Kris Alman

    Corporations see $$$ when they look public education. Label growing income inequality as achievement and skills gaps; blame that on teachers, and more specifically unions; demand accountability by more and more intrusive, inaccurate and costly measures; replace teachers with unproven virtual innovations in a digital revolution that flips teachers out of the classroom; and create databases and student information systems for the digerati to collect and sell BIG DATA from cradle to grave. Commercial enterprise and surveillance in one fell swoop!

    Never mind that the flip side of the equation is never asked. WHERE’S THE JOBS?

  • Anonymous

    WHY must we out-educate and out-innovate other nations? What’s wrong with fostering both in all countries? Wouldn’t that be a much finer legacy that trying always to outstrip everyone under the sun? Haven’t we had enough of the propaganda of “American Exceptionalism”?

  • Lee Barrios

    I think if you understood this essential statement “Let us recognize here and now that public education is an essential institution of our democratic society,” you would have the answer to most of your questions. As for the details of the plan, which are not typically included in the context of a state of the union address, you can read Diane’s books. As for the Department of Education, I don’t believe there was reference to it other than stopping subsidies to charters that neglect special education services. That subject is possibly for another speech.

  • Lee Barrios

    seems to me that promoting anything other than striving for “the best” would be to imply there should be a ceiling or level of achievement set that is less than the best. That reeks of standardization to me.

  • Standardized Testing

    If we want teachers to teach with creativity and passion, we must also explore the ways in which standardized tests undermine and devalue the teaching profession… Check out our video on standardized testing – it’s meant to inspire and generate a dialogue on the question of accountability in education systems:
    It can be interpreted in myriad ways, and the hundreds of details it playfully features are hoped to serve as springboards for discussions. Enjoy!

  • readingexchange

    ” Every dollar taken from taxpayers must go to classrooms, not to investors.”
    True “Edu-Reform” would provide authentic learning opportunities for our students NOT opportunities for the “Edu-Profiteers” and the politicians they are bank rolling.

  • Bob Gilvey

    Regarding Diane’s comment: “Too much testing crushes creativity and innovation, and that’s why we must stop it — now.”

    Some people have been hoping for the end of standardized tests for ages.
    But most people would agree that high school graduates should show
    proficiency in reading, math, writing, and argument analysis. Don’t
    you? Here’s just one of my thoughts about the Anti-Test people and
    why I think that they are occasionally misguided:

    Both sides in this debate have legitimate views, but the anti-test folks
    are becoming increasingly rabid, especially against The SAT. I think
    that some of these folks have never given The SAT a real study as to
    what the test actually tests. For example, is it possible that the
    skills necessary to perform well on SAT reading are more important
    than those that many teachers are teaching in our schools? That
    learning how to do SAT reading is an important skill, one necessary
    for success in college and afterward? I have always thought that many
    students find SAT Critical Reading so difficult because SAT reading
    requires a kind of reading that students simply don’t do in school.
    SAT Critical Reading is not reading in the sense that students have
    come to understand in school. We all know that many teachers are
    adamant about not “Teaching to the Test”. However, SAT designers
    test for the lack of important skills in reading comprehension, and
    they do this quite well. (Don’t the colleges want to know whether
    their incoming students have these skills?) There is no easy fix for
    this lack of reading skill. Most students neither read nor study
    reading in school in the manner required for SAT reading. Most
    students talk and write about how they “feel” about a passage.
    Unfortunately, the SAT doesn’t give a darn about what a student feels
    about a passage. The SAT cares only for the “argument” in the

    Understanding the argument is a universally important skill.

  • TK

    You speak of innovation? What subjects lead to the most innovation? Or rather, what types of innovation most directly lead to a stronger, wealthier country? What types of innovations transform the world? I believe the answer to that would be science, a subject backed by a strong foundation in math. So, why are teachers against “teaching to the test?” What would lead someone to say that “teaching to the test” lacks creativity? Let’s take a look at Algebra.

    First, before we have a test, we need a good curriculum. I’m not saying I think that any particular Algebra curriculum is perfect, nor am I saying that all of the standardized tests have necessarily been well written tests. But, I think we can agree that at the conclusion of a course in Algebra, a student should be able to solve 49 = 7(3x+5). I don’t care if they can sing a song about it, write a poem, or do some sort of mime. If they can’t answer that question, they don’t deserve to pass Algebra, period. You show me any student who would be considered good at Algebra, and I’ll show you a student for whom a standardized test in Algebra is no problem. Students, (and the teacher) can employ a wide variety of methods to solve that problem – distribute the 7 on the first step. Divide by sides by 7 on the first step. Subtract the 49, set it equal to y, and find the x-intercept after graphing. Trial and error (which leads to this question – can we refine the trial and error method in a manner which more quickly leads to a solution? (Newton certainly did, though for more difficult problems.) Starting with 49-7(3x+5)=0; try 1. Too high. 0. Too low. 0.5? Etc. Is there a faster trial and error way? Heck, while there are many methods to get an exact solution, do students even learn that for some problems, the only methods are numerical methods? (Google solving the quintic.) There is plenty of room to explore these ideas when there’s a good curriculum that does not overwhelm class time with “we’ve got to move on, so much to cover, so little time, so do it my way or it’s wrong.” Mastery of many topics in algebra, geometry, and math courses beyond is essential to being able to do meaningful work in many areas of science. There’s nothing wrong with a *well written* standardized test as a yardstick to measure this mastery.

    And, please, don’t insult me by implying that because I teach “to the test”, I don’t teach with creativity and passion. Our profession is attacked enough by the outside; we don’t need people inside the profession attacking us too.

  • Raf Feys

    University of Helsinki – Faculty of Behavioral Sciences,
    Department of Teacher of Education Research Report No 347Authors: Jarkko
    Hautamäki, Sirkku Kupiainen, Jukka Marjanen, Mari-Pauliina Vainikainen and
    Risto Hotulainen

    Learning to learn at the end of basic education: Results in 2012 and changes from 2001 – Finnishstudents’ achievement declined significantly (Onderzoek van universiteit

    Summ.: The change between the year 2001 and year 2012 issignificant. The level of students’ attainment has declined considerably. The
    difference can be compared to a decline of Finnish students’ attainment in PISA
    reading literacy from the 539 points of PISA 2009 to 490 points, to below the
    OECD average. The mean level of students’ learning-supporting attitudes still
    falls above the mean of the scale used in the questions but also that mean has
    declined from 2001.

    Since 1996, educational effectiveness has been understood in
    Finland to include not only subject specific knowledge and skills but also the
    more general competences which are not the exclusive domain of any single
    subject but develop through good teaching along a student’s educational career.
    Many of these, including the object of the present assessment, learning to
    learn, have been named in the education policy documents of the European Union
    as key competences which each member state should provide their citizens as
    part of general education (EU 2006).

    In spring 2012, the Helsinki University Centre for
    Educational Assessment implemented a nationally representative assessment of
    ninth grade students’ learning to learn competence. The assessment was inspired
    by signs of declining results in the past few years’ assessments. This decline
    had been observed both in the subject specific assessments of the Finnish
    National Board of Education, in the OECD PISA 2009 study, and in the learning
    to learn assessment implemented by the Centre for Educational Assessment in all
    comprehensive schools in Vantaa in 2010.

    The results of the Vantaa study could be compared against
    the results of a similar assessment implemented in 2004. As the decline in
    students’ cognitive competence and in their learning related attitudes was
    especially strong in the two Vantaa studies, with only 6 years apart, a
    decision was made to direct the national assessment of spring 2012 to the same
    schools which had participated in a respective study in 2001.

    The goal of the assessment was to find out whether the
    decline in results, observed in the Helsinki region, were the same for the
    whole country. The assessment also offered a possibility to look at the
    readiness of schools to implement a computer-based assessment, and how this has
    changed during the 11 years between the two assessments. After all, the 2001
    assessment was the first in Finland where large scale student assessment data
    was collected in schools using the Internet.

    The main focus of the assessment was on students’ competence
    and their learning-related attitudes at the end of the comprehensive school
    education, but the assessment also relates to educational equity: to regional,
    between-school, and between- class differences and to the relation of students’
    gender and home background to their competence and attitudes.

    The assessment reached about 7 800 ninth grade students in
    82 schools in 65 municipalities. Of the students, 49% were girls and 51% boys.
    The share of students in Swedish speaking schools was 3.4%. As in 2001, the
    assessment was implemented in about half of the schools using a printed test
    booklet and in the other half via the Internet. The results of the 2001 and
    2012 assessments were uniformed through IRT modelling to secure the
    comparability of the results. Hence, the results can be interpreted to
    represent the full Finnish ninth grade population.

    Girls performed better than boys in all three fields of
    competence measured in the assessment: reasoning, mathematical thinking, and
    reading comprehension. The difference was especially noticeable in reading
    comprehension even if in this task girls’ attainment had declined more than
    boys’ attainment. Differences between the AVI-districts were small. The impact
    of students’ home-background was, instead, obvious: the higher the education of
    the parents, the better the student performed in the assessment tasks. There
    was no difference in the impact of mother’s education on boys’ and girls’
    attainment. The between-school-differences were very small (explaining under 2%
    of the variance) while the between-class differences were relatively large (9 %
    – 20 %).

    The change between the year 2001 and year 2012 is significant. The
    level of students’ attainment has declined considerably. The difference can be
    compared to a decline of Finnish students’ attainment in PISA reading literacy
    from the 539 points of PISA 2009 to 490 points, to below the OECD average. The
    mean level of students’ learning-supporting attitudes still falls above the
    mean of the scale used in the questions but also that mean has declined from

    The mean level of attitudes detrimental to learning has
    risen but the rise is more modest. Girls’ attainment has declined more than
    boys’ in three of the five tasks. There was no gender difference in the change
    of students’ attitudes, however. Between-school differences were un-changed but
    differences between classes and between individual students had grown. The
    change in attitudes—unlike the change in attainment—was related to students’
    home background: The decline in learning-supporting attitudes and the growth in
    attitudes detrimental to school work were weaker the better educated the
    mother. Home background was not related to the change in students’ attainment,
    however. A decline could be discerned both among the best and the weakest

    The results of the assessment point to a deeper, on-going
    cultural change which seems to affect the young generation especially hard.
    Formal education seems to be losing its former power and the accepting of the
    societal expectations which the school represents seems to be related more
    strongly than before to students’ home background. The school has to compete
    with students’ self-elected pastime activities, the social media, and the
    boundless world of information and entertainment open to all through the
    Internet. The school is to a growing number of youngpeople just one, often
    critically reviewed, developmental environment among many.

    The change is not a surprise, however. A similar decline in student attainment has been registered in the
    other Nordic countries already earlier. It is time to concede that the
    signals of change have been discernible already for a while and to open up a
    national discussion regarding the state and future of the Finnish comprehensive
    school that rose to international acclaim due to our students’success in the
    PISA studies.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. Education should not be an industry for technology moguls to make money. That it’s off the backs of chIldren, is especially egregious.

    The most obvious and proven way to improve learning in the classroom is to reduce class sizes. I wish the money spent on education software was instead going into small class sizes, hiring teachers ( stimulating the economy) and more teacher training. The NYTimes Magazine article “Why Americans Stink at Math” shows yet another example of how important teachers and teacher training are in Education. I don’t understand why our politicians can’t get that.

  • Máté Wierdl

    Outeducate? Outinnovate? Perhaps it’s worth noting here, that many outsiders think, this is the root of the problems with the US education system: as in politics, economics, Americans always want to compete, and want to end up on the top. Education is a gentle, cultural adventure, like playing music. Make music, not tests.