I just started reading Diane Ravitch‘s new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education. Ravitch has been very influential throughout the last few decades in shaping educational policy in the United States. A former supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act (the No Child Left Untested Racket), Ravitch has since decided that she was, in fact, wrong about NCLB and school choice. In her first chapter, as a response to readers wondering why she has switched her position, she quotes John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” She has always been a firm proponent of liberal arts, so she states, “Doubt and skepticism are signs of rationality. …It is doubt that shows we are still thinking, still willing to reexamine hardened beliefs when confronted with new facts and new evidence.” (See her interview with Jon Stewart. Funny!)
While I have not always agreed with her, I have always respected her willingness to attend to what’s actually going on in the real world as opposed to the ideological one. This book is no different; she amasses a great deal of evidence from real school systems, studded with historical insights and examples, to tell readers what those of us who are parents, citizens, and educators already know: modeling education on business principles does not work for anyone. Top-down decisionmaking, strong arm staffing, rewards based on spurious indicators (student assessment scores? really??), and “competition” among schools (i.e., “school choice,” charter schools) has resulted in…well, nothing. A lackluster educational system with overtested, underchallenged students and teachers constrained from exercising their professional knowledge by having to teach to the test.
I’m only halfway through the book now, but I’m hoping she connects the school system to the larger cultural system to talk about poverty and the income gap, declining neighborhoods, and weird sense of entitlement on the part of parents who want schools to do everything for their child but do not want to pay for it. I’m also hoping she clarifies how schools have changed since, for instance, I attended them. Inclusion policies, whereby a child is placed in the least restrictive environment, strain schools’ and districts’ budgets. Low-performing students with IEPs (individual education plans) are monitored by two teachers devoted just to that paperwork, for example, rather than being in a classroom. SBH (severe behavioral handicap) students are attended to all day, every day; in-school suspension runs all day, every day, supported again by one staff member dedicated to just that…. It’s actually quite startling the myriad of things that schools have to deal with. And now the budget in a rural school 5 miles from me is so strained that they’re doing away with art, music, physical education, recess, and lunch periods as well as laying off teachers and other staff (not administrators though).
Given the situation in my state, where today it’s likely that the legislature will decimate public unions and then accept a state budget that creates havoc for local districts…maybe connected, online learning is the answer. At least for adults. But my excitement about the potential of some of these online networks and tools is increasingly overshadowed by my despair about the direction of my state and country. Yes, it will directly affect me and my family, given that my husband is a well educated teacher with a dozen years’ experience in a very challenging district (after his stint as an Army Ranger in his younger years…yes, we’ve done everything the “right” way: education and hard work). But how can we seriously expect that the increasing gap between the rich and the poor makes for a stable society for anyone? The question of access to these amazing new learning tools isn’t one we can continue to brush aside if we are really interested in learning, unless we’re interested in learning only for those who can afford it—as my husband’s recent protest sign pointed out, under Governor Kkkasich, some pigs are more equal than others—while we leave behind the growing population of those who cannot.
Who’s Bashing Teachers and Public Schools and What Can We Do About It?
By Stan Karp
The short answer to this question is that far too many people are bashing teachers and public schools, and we need to give them more homework, because very few of them know what they’re talking about. And a few need some serious detention.