I enjoy watching Public TV as there’s always something interesting to learn. I had heard of Diane Ravitch before, but I had not really paid much attention to what she was saying. Her latest book however, has kinda made me rethink that.
It’s always interesting to see someone adapt their opinions and thoughts when they get ahold of new information, and Ms. Ravitch is a classic case of such. As a former assistant secretary of education under the first president Bush, she used to champion policies relating to charter schools and school choice programs. Now, she’s written a book exposing the things that are wrong about the things she once thought were the right direction for American education.
Here’s two things I read from an excerpt of her most recent book Reign of Error which is sub-titled The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools:
The “reform” movement is really a “corporate reform” movement, funded to a large degree by major foundations, Wall Street hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs and the US Department of Education. The movement is determined to cut costs and maximize competition among schools and among teachers. It seeks to eliminate the geographically based system of public education as we have known it for the past 150 years and replace it with a competitive market- based system of school choice — one that includes traditional public schools, privately managed charter schools, religious schools, voucher schools, for- profit schools, virtual schools and for- profit vendors of instruction. Lacking any geographic boundaries, these schools would compete for customers. The customers would choose to send their children and their public funding wherever they wish, based on personal preference or on information such as the schools’ test scores and a letter grade conferred by the state (based largely on test scores).
Some in the reform movement, believing that American education is obsolete and failing, think they are promoting a necessary but painful redesign of the nation’s ailing schools. Some sincerely believe they are helping poor black and brown children escape from failing public schools. Some think they are on the side of modernization and innovation. But others see an opportunity to make money in a large, risk- free, government- funded sector or an opportunity for personal advancement and power. Some — a small but important number — believe they are acting rationally by treating the public education sector as an investment opportunity.
Those who assume the people wanting to reform our educational system are all a bunch of far-righties would need to rethink their stance based on who she points out as being part of the reform movement.
The reformers are Republicans and Democrats. They include not only far- right Republican governors but some Democratic governors as well. They include President Barack Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as Democratic mayors in such cities as Newark, Chicago and Los Angeles. Elected officials of both parties have signed on to an agenda that threatens the future of public education.
The aims of the corporate reform movement are supported by a broad array of think tanks, some purportedly liberal, some centrist, some on the right and some on the far right. These include the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for American Progress, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Education Sector, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Goldwater Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution and Policy Innovators in Education Network, as well as a bevy of state- level public policy think tanks that support privatization. Many of these think tanks — both liberal and conservative — work closely together, co- sponsoring conferences and publications to advance their shared agenda. Major foundations handsomely fund the think tanks that promote the corporate reform ideology.
The problem with our education system is two-fold. First, we’ve allowed politicians to tread too deeply into the actual mechanics of the system instead of simply doing what they’re required to do which is fund and oversee the functioning of the system. By overloading the system with politics, there is less time and effort spent on actual education and more time and energy is wasted dealing with political issues that we shouldn’t have to deal with. Second, the influx of politicians has also created an opportunity for the money chasers to take something else and turn it into their personal profit machine.
There are some things that should not be profit-focused, and education is one of them. This country educated some of the greatest minds this world has ever seen. Some of the greatest achievements in the past two centuries were generated by brains that were educated in the public schools here in America. How can a system that produced engineers that put man on the moon suddenly be inadequate to teach the next generation? Science and technology hasn’t progressed to the point where we’re unable to teach it. However, there is far more political crap going on in education now than there was in the 60s, and that’s including the whole desegregation of the system.
I’m going to get this book to see what she says. I give her credit for bringing these things to light now, but where was she when all this stuff was being sold to the American public as something completely opposite of what it truly represents? I can’t give her a complete pass on her past mistakes, but it’s a good thing that she’s trying to correct them. The problem is, so many have been sold on this snake oil that it’s going to take a lot of time, energy, and effort to convince people of the truth, if that’s even possible now.