Diane Ravitch examines new tests results from Illinois, which have been released with dire warnings about “failure.” Ravitch puts this story in the context of current trends in education. She is very strong as an advocate for teachers in a time when many forces are attacking some of our country’s most talented and dedicated employees. Is the test (PARCC) a true measure of what students are learning and teachers are teaching? Or is it a tool to promote education “reform”?
One of the blogs I read daily is written by a real education reformer, Diane Ravitch. Today she cited an article in Huffington Post that describes a teacher shortage in Kansas and what caused it. Many conservatives and pseudo-education reformers (Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, Secretary Duncan) argue that education promote choice through charter schools. They point to unions as a cause of poor education outcomes.
What’s happening in Kansas tells a different story. Teacher pay in the state is low, hours are longer, and the legislature has made it easier to fire teachers. The result is exactly what any sane person would expect. Teachers are retiring as soon as they can. Others are changing careers, and college students are choosing majors other than Education. Schools will be forced to rely on substitutes to cover classes.
In the past, I’ve asked who will want to teach if the pay is low, there is no union protection, and working conditions are poor. Market forces work in career choices just as they do in purchasing. If teaching is a difficult and disrespected profession, fewer and fewer people will pursue careers as teachers. Kansas proves this point. I expect we’ll hear similar stories from other states very soon.
Diane Ravitch reports bad news about education in Detroit. 26 schools will be closed, and teachers’ pay will be cut by 10%. What angers me about this report is that Governor Rick Snyder and his allies preach the school “reform” line. They put the blame for poor education outcomes on teachers. Then they take measures that make good teachers want to leave the profession. The decision to make the cut was made by the city’s Dicta. . . Emergency Manager, who is a puppet of the Governor. Best wishes to the parents and children in Detroit. What is happening in your city is a crime against democracy – and common sense.
Writing in Huffington Post, education historian and public school advocate Diane Ravitch condemns the Vergara decision, which endangers teacher tenure in California. The judge based much of his ruling on popular notions presented by education reformers. Ravitch argues that no student will benefit by this decision. The real winner will be the “reformers” who want to break teachers unions.
The problem I have with the reform movement and its attack on teachers is that it is making teaching, which is already a difficult job, even harder. Tenure on the K-12 level simply gives the teacher the right to due process. Once this is taken away, principals will be able to target teachers for any reason. The Vergara decision, along with the growth of charter schools, will make fewer young people want to pursue a career in teaching. Who would want a difficult job with lower pay and fewer protections? That is what the reform movement is trying to achieve. Thankfully Diane Ravitch and her allies are fighting to preserve teaching as a profession.
Anyone familiar with Diane Ravitch’s writing knows she is on the political left. That said, her latest article does a great job of showing how our political and economic decisions are linked to education. Whatever your political views, I recommend that you consider her views and how they impact both students you care about and how they impact your tax dollars. As Ravitch points out, jobs are also at issue. As long as Americans are competing with workers in developing nations that earn much less, jobs will continue to outsourced. Ravitch, like a good teacher, helps us connect the dots.
Laura Clawson of Daily Kos reports some of the latest news regarding “education reform.” Charter schools in New York City are not meeting the needs of special education students. 17 charters have closed in Columbus, Ohio. Meanwhile, Michelle Rhee, a lobbyist for the charter industry and former school superintendent in Washington D.C. bends the facts to claim that schools in Louisiana are outperforming schools in Connecticut. Beyond Clawson’s reporting, anyone who reads the Chicago Sun-Time will see that many charter schools in Chicago are connected to insiders who are making money as contractors, landlords, and administrators.
At its root, “education reform” is all about busting teachers unions. Many politicians of both parties love charters for this reason. What they don’t consider is that young people will not pursue teaching as a career if it doesn’t offer decent pay, benefits, and security. Executives claim they need high pay to attract and retain the best and brightest. Why don’t we apply the same logic to teachers?
Writing in Common Dreams, Jim Horn, a Professor of Education at Cambridge College, examines Diane Ravitch in the light of her new book, Reign of Error: the Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Horn notes that this book has been widely reviewed and focuses on the author instead, calling her a whistleblower and truth teller. Ravitch, once a champion of education “reform,” has turned against corporate-based philosophies of education “reform.” Horn calls Ravitch, “the single individual who most influenced the eventual outcome if parents and teachers and students continue to heed the call for the restoration and renewal of public schools free of high stakes tests for all children who choose a high quality and free education.”
Horn’s critique underscores Ravitch’s importance not just to education, but to democracy and workers’ rights. A free society needs school systems that will be responsive to citizens, not the corporate elite. It also needs schools that promote more meritocracy, not selective schools or charter schools that cherry pick those students deemed to be “winners.” If we are to live up to the promise of America, we need schools that will be of the people, by the people, and for the people. Diane Ravitch has shown that, for all its flaws, the best vehicle to promote fair education is the public school.
[On Sundays, this blog looks at issues beyond careers and jobs in “Sabbath.”]
Fighting for Justice and Public Schools
The primary role of public schools has been to give every child a chance to improve his or her life. Americans claim to value meritocracy and opportunity. However, when we look at the state of public schools in big cities, it seems like they really want a fixed game where a few students are trained for Ivy League schools and the rest are prepared to work at low wage jobs.
Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities called out this problem more than 20 years ago. More recently, Diane Ravitch challenged current education “reform” in The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I value both of these books for opening my eyes to a system that helped me. I graduated from Cleveland South High School in 1979. Most of my teachers were excellent, and their lessons have stayed with me over many years. Today, the common attitude is that big city schools are “failing.” People with little to no background in education have proposed solutions that often do more harm than good.
Barbara Miner’s book Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City looks at her home town of Milwaukee and how it has grappled with urban education. Miner is not a disinterested scholar. She grew up in the city and sent her child to its public schools. She has lived through battles over desegregation, charter schools, and vouchers.
Miner writes in a casual manner, yet she guides the reader in understanding complex problems that are too often simplified in today’s debates over public education. From the 1950s into the 1970s debates over public education focused on fair access related to racial segregation. Since the 1980s, the language has changed. The key word has become choice. Miner outlines economic and political factors that drove this change. Cities like Milwaukee lost their industrial base at the same time that white families left the city for the suburbs, where no one complains about paying for quality schools.
As city schools faced greater challenges, many of which were related to poverty, reformers offered answers like charter schools and vouchers, reforms that promised to let families choose better education options for their children. These mechanisms have done little to improve the quality of urban education. Instead, they transferred public wealth to private hands. The story of the voucher program is especially instructive of this “reform” model. Starting as a way to give poor families the option of sending their children to private schools, the voucher program has been expanded to provide public funds that let families of greater means send their children to religious schools that offer no accountability for performance.
While Miner writes about a city she knows well, she frequently puts Milwaukee’s story in a national context. She examines key Supreme Court decisions, including Milliken v. Bradley that have gutted Brown v. Board. She also looks at the roles of American billionaires and their foundations in reshaping the debate over education so it focuses on the stereotype of bad teachers, rather than factors like poverty and racism.
I strongly recommend Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City to anyone who cares about American public education. Miner provides great local examples that supplement claims of reform critics like Diane Ravitch. What both of these writers demonstrate is that some of the loudest voices claiming to want to make public education better are actually planting the seeds of its destruction. If we believe in a country where every child has a chance, if want America to be a true meritocracy, we need to listen to people like Diane Ravitch and Barbara Miner who value public education.
On this said day, when the mayor of Chicago has closed nearly 50 schools, Daily Kos links to a great profile of education reformer Michelle Rhee. The former head of Washington D.C. schools, Rhee makes strong decisions that seemed based on belief rather than fact, especially the belief that teachers’ unions are the biggest problem facing public schools. Instead, she favors an unproven market model that depends on charter schools. There is no clear evidence that charter schools perform better than traditional public schools. In other cases, as Diane Ravitch documents in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, reforms have clearly failed, only to have billionaires pour more money into some new model as well as funding union-bashing PR. Is this reform really about children or busting unions?
[On Sundays, this blog explores diverse issues in Sabbath.”]
School Closings in Chicago – Reform or A Trojan Horse?
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a great analysis on school closings in Chicago. A chart that accompanies the article shows that students from over 1/3 of the will be moved to schools that are ranked no better or even worse than the ones they are leaving. The chart also indicates that several of the schools have met performance goals. Is this how education is “reformed”?
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is featured in a separate article in the paper. Unlike those officials who say the schools are being closed because they are “underutilized,” the mayor only talks about giving students more opportunity: “We look at it and viewed it as what we can do to have every child have a high-quality education regardless of their neighborhood, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of where they live.”
If the mayor is sincere in these words, he should be very troubled by the information put forth by the Sun-Times. While some students will be moving to much better schools, many more are moving to schools with similar performance ratings. There is also a question of cost. According to the mayor’s most vocal critic Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, it will cost the system $1 billion dollars to close the schools, which is the same amount the system claims is its current deficit. Lewis and her colleagues contend that this round of school closing is a Trojan horse that the mayor and his allies are using to open even more non-union charter schools.
No one wants children in poor performing schools. No one wants to waste money heating and maintaining schools that are half empty. However, it’s hard to trust politicians in any city when we see how charter schools can be new tools for the connected to wash each other’s hands. Over the past few months, the Sun-Times has published several articles about conflicts of interest at Uno, Chicago’s largest charter school organization. Uno’s head was a key player in Mayor Emanuel’s campaign. Will Uno benefit from the school closings? That would be an interesting question to have answered.
Here’s another question: Why can’t Chicago fund its schools? I grew up in Cleveland and saw that great city’s decline first hand. Over the last two years, I’ve been to Detroit twice and have experienced to a small degree that city’s challenges. Those cities have an excuse to close schools. They embody the rust belt and millions of lost jobs that have left northern industrial cities. Chicago doesn’t have that excuse.
I attended a production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater yesterday. Before going to the play, a friend and I rode Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel, which offers a magnificent view of the skyline, a panorama of skyscrapers that are filled with business that are making money. I could also see large condo developments in the south Loop, all of which were built in the last 10-15 years. How can schools be poor in a city that is so rich? Why can’t we have schools with small class sizes if our city has so much wealth circulating in it? We need to ask the mayor and his staff some of these questions. All children do deserve equal opportunity. Whacking at schools with an axe doesn’t seem to be the best answer, just the most simple answer.
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