Public education in America is dead. Murdered by the maggots of corporate greed in the deceptively appealing name of reform. The verdict is in.
That pretty much sums up education writer Diane Ravitch’s cleverly-titled new book, Reign of Error (Knopf, 2013), about the ongoing horrors of the current reform movement in American public education. If Ravitch’s previous book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System (Basic Books, 2010), was a diagnosis of the morbid prospects to the corporate takeover of our nation’s schools, then her latest effort is an obituary that dissects the demise of public education during the 12 years of this swiftly-spreading reform cancer.
How well did similar sweeping social reforms perform during Chairman Mao’s infamous Cultural Revolution in China? Or Stalin’s five-year economic reforms in communist Russia? Rhetorically, those questions pretty much summarize the effectiveness of the recent corporate commandeering of our public schools through George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race To The Top agendas.
According to Ravitch, the scam known as “education reform” has had little, if anything, to do with actual education and everything to do with the “the deregulation and privatization” of public classrooms by corporate opportunists in order to surrender our kids’ minds to profiteering speculators. The bottom line has been to take the responsibility for our children’s learning out of the hands of professional educators and put it into those of “Wall Street hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs and snake-oil salesmen,” with little oversight or transparency.
If the public has been fooled by this suspiciously financed movement’s propaganda and thinks the current state of education is bad, wait’ll it gets a glimpse of the bleak future of our children’s corporate educational opportunities as depicted in Ravitch’s book.
Regarding some of the sacred cows of the brutally destructive reform movement, Ravitch says the following:
1) About raising graduation rates: “Many districts now reach (their graduation) goals by putting low-performing students into ‘credit recovery’ courses, where they earn lost credits in a few days of low-level studies, (thereby inflating) the graduation rate instead of raising the quality of education. ”
2) About poverty affecting academic achievement: “Reformers think the burdens of poverty, no matter how oppressive, can be overcome by effective teachers. But the weight of social science evidence says they are wrong.”
3) On Obama’s Race To The Top program: “Race To The Top repudiates the traditional Democratic Party commitment to equity. The winner will ‘race to the top,’ leaving losers (kids in poverty) far behind.”
4) On performance pay: “Merit pay (has) turned out not to motivate teachers (and has) not improved student performance.”
5) On teacher unions: “It appears states with the strongest teachers’ unions have the highest test scores; the lowest performing states have one thing in common, and that is poverty.”
6) On Teach For America alumna and Washington D.C.’s former reformist Chancellor Michelle Rhee: “She mocked the idea of collaboration. Rhee’s relentless pressure to raise passing rates on tests produced a major cheating scandal. (Her) reform program of privatization, teacher bonuses and teacher firings was not successful. She made promises she could not keep.”
7) About charter schools: “The charter movement has become a vehicle for (the) privatization of public education, ending democratic control of public schools.”
8) On Teach For America: “Teach For America reinforces public perception that teachers need very little training. This was the dominant sentiment (about) teachers in the 19th century, when it was believed that “anyone can teach,” and teaching was a stopgap before moving on to something better. (Teach For America) turns the clock back on the teaching profession to the early 19th century.”
9) About online learning: “Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that 100 percent of cyber-charters performed significantly worse than traditional public schools.”
Near the end of Reign of Error, Ravitch makes it clear that, in her view, the reform movement has obliterated public education’s six-decade goal of more equity in society. Under No Child Left Behing and Race To the Top, schools actually have become more segregated, and the achievement gap between rich and poor students has grown worse. Why? Because serious public and private money, which could have gone to struggling schools, has been redirected into the coffers of private, unregulated hucksters— amoral Wall Street types similar to the people who triggered America’s recent economic recession.
Thus, Ravitch has written an obituary for public education.
May it rest in peace.
CHIP MOSHER is a simple classroom teacher.