In what more and more appears like a reverse Renaissance -- aka self-inflicted Dark Ages -- those in power seem to be seeking the destruction of public education, so that the reflective thought necessary to question and hold accountable the greedy leadership of this country will no longer exist. In The Death and Life of the Great American School System - How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, Diane Ravitch concisely analyzes the very real threat to a viable constitutional democracy that consciously chooses to vest power in an educated citizenry. From 1991 to 1993, Diane Ravitch was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. Ravitch is a research professor of education and education historian at New York University."She was responsible for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education. As Assistant Secretary, she led the federal effort to promote the creation of state and national academic standards."
Beyond the strength of the arguments she makes in questioning the much touted educational reform we constantly hear about in the media is the fact that this politically conservative educator is coming up with the same critiques that politically progressive people have leveled at constantly changing public education reforms that never seem to come to fruition in any measurable way, except in the profits that these reforms seem to generate for everyone except the students.
Throughout most of her career in education Diane Ravitch had been "enthusiastic about -- testing, accountability, choice and markets," but now has come to the belief that these once thought of indicators of academic success appear "hijacked," by the same forces that seek privatization of healthcare, the military, or anything else that could lead to a profit without any consideration as to there effectiveness or societal consequences. Professor Ravitch is particularly concerned with the unfair advantage that publicly funded charter schools have on public and parochial schools. While I would agree with her conclusion that charters are drawing off the most motivated parents and their children with the aid of well-endowed foundations, I would go a step further in explaining why this is possible: when all education reform refuses to address the continued existence and failure of public school districts in their present form, motivated parents and students are offered no viable alternative to charter schools or other reform models that only exist, because it is not possible to hold public school districts responsible for their ongoing failure.
Professor Ravitch no longer sees "testing, accountability, choice and markets as anything more than unsuccessful indicators as to whether longstanding academic failure has been redressed," because it has shown itself to be a series of "panaceas and miracles cures." If a charter school like Green Dot's Locke High School in South Central Los Angeles could turn around the damage that has been done to its predominantly minority student population in one intensive year as founder Steven Barr has asserted to us, then one might logically ask why we spend 12 years in school in the first place. Even Mr. Barr is honest enough to recognize that charters are not a long term solution, as the school districts must be compelled to start doing their job.
The reality that politicians seem unwilling to deal with is that longstanding failed schools do irreparable damage the longer students have the misfortune to remain in them. In positing a real model for public education, the first challenge will be to honestly face up to the difficult task of salvaging as much as we can of the students that are presently in the system as they should not continue to be sacrificed to clearly failed policies. In doing this, we will gain the expertise to assure that their little brothers and sisters will not have to suffer the fate that they have.
It is only in a Hollywood movie about education that "all students -- including those with learning disabilities and English learners" can be brought to "proficiency in reading and math by 2014." While clearly many teachers have been burned out by the insanity that inner city school districts allow to continue, it is a dishonest and simplistic notion to lay the blame for this failed system at the feet of teachers alone, who have had no say in its structure. Ravitch mentions "statistical misreading, illusory achievement" and "morale-destroying coercion of teachers and principals" as existing public education policies that totally preclude real pragmatically driven reform. How can one reform education, if these policies are alive and well?
But ideas like this appeal to the pedagogically naive Broad and Gates Foundations that are being told this lie by their only point of entry into public education -- the same entrenched public education leadership that is responsible for the problem in the first place. This weekend I met with a group of conservative Republicans and another group of historically Democratic Latinos. There was no disagreement that both groups had to actively get involved with public education, if there was to be any real reform.