I teased with my previous post that something about testing was coming, and here it is.
Dr. Diane Ravitch spoke at the NEA-RA at the beginning of July, and she brought the house down. In an era where many teachers feel that they are maligned by the media and blamed by the public, Ravitch arrived fresh from her book tour (The Death and Life of the Great American School System) and ready to debunk the current crazes in education: charters and testing.
“Public education is the backbone of this democracy and we cannot turn it over to profiteers.” This line brought down the house as Ravitch opened her speech. Soon after this line, she noted that the only people who have disagreed with her during her book tour were right-wing think tanks who want to privatize education.
She further stated that we should ask ourselves: “Why is Arne Duncan campaigning with Newt Gingrich?” Obama and Duncan were supposed to bring about change, not more of the same.
Ravitch then described No Child Left Behind as a “disaster:”
- Schools are now testing factories in many areas of the country.
- 100% success is unrealistic and no industry can attain it.
- Schools are stigmatized with impossible goals.
- NCLB is a gateway for privatization.
She concluded this portion of her address by saying, “This is not good education.”
She further explained many shortcomings of the current direction of education. The D.C. Chancellor of Education wants to “test everything,” charters skim the best students in the poorest communities, and the current trend “erodes communal responsibility.”
Ravitch then noted that Race to the Top replaced equal education opportunities, which was the epitome of The American Way.
Plus, she took a moment for a quick aside by thanking the NEA delegation for voting “no confidence” for Race to the Top. This, too, resulted in a burst of applause.
Next, Ravitch explained how charters are not improving overall education.She stated that:
- 1/6 do better than public schools while 2/6 do worse and 3/6 are equal (essentially 5/6 of charters do the same of worse than public schools).
- NAEP scores show no advantage.
- teachers are openly expected to burn out in 2-3 years in charters because of longer hours, a longer school week and year, and no real due process.
- charters do not have to worry about paying for benefits since the teachers leave so quickly (high turnover rates).
- Milwaukee had 20 years of vouchers and the black population’s NAEP scores dropped below Mississippi levels.
Ravitch then transitioned to evaluations and praises. She firmly stated that legislators should not determine evaluations. She stated that SB 6 (hirings and firings and everything else connected to test scores along with the elimination of seniority) in Florida was wrong and rightfully defeated by the Florida EA. She said SB 191 (firings can be based on test scores) was wrong in Colorado but passed.
She then reaffirmed commonly know data that is seemingly ignored in today’s education reform revisions. Poverty is the best test score determiner. The factors she cited in poverty are:
- home support,
- school resources,
- attendance, and
- those in poverty make up most low-performing schools.
“No school was ever improved by closing it.” This brought cheers! She noted that not one of the Central Falls teachers who were fired had an unsatisfactory evaluation.
Ravitch called merit pay a “useless fad.” It destroys teamwork and forces schools and individuals to compete for money instead of basing work on collaboration. Ravitch put forward the idea that the feds should level the playing field, not create a competition.
She said teachers have a right to a collective voice in politics and that education starts at home.
Ravitch further stated that improving schools improves educations and principals should be master teachers and superintendents should not be lawyers and business men.
As she neared her finish she emphasized that no successful nation is doing what the U.S. is doing in education. She implied that other nations are too wise to make such widespread blunders.
She closed with the idea that we should vote out bad education politicians. She said:
So here’s a thought for NEA. Print up four million bumper stickers that say, “I am a public schoolteacher, and I vote — and so does my family.”
Do not support any political figure who opposes public education. Stand up to the attacks on public education. Don’t give them half a loaf, because they will be back the next day for another slice, and the day after that for another slice.
Don’t compromise. Stand up for teachers. Stand up public education, and say “No mas, no mas.”
She then donned a t-shirt from California declaring “Education is a right, not a race” and exited amidst thunderous applause.