LectureHop: Is Public School a Public Good or a Shoestore?
Written by Bwog Staff
Public, private, magnet, or charter, you’ve gotta learn the three Rs somewhere. While some schools are banning shoes, on Tuesday at 6:30 pm in the Diana Center, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch had to wonder: “Is Public School a Public Good or a Shoestore?” Educated in education citizen Clava Brodsky sat straight at her desk with folded hands and listened in.
Armed with personal anecdotes and moral indignation, Bwog made its way to the lecture entitled “Is Public School a Public Good or a Shoestore?” The speaker, Diane Ravitch, served as the Assistant Secretary of Education under George H. W. Bush and is now an outspoken critic of both No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the federal government’s most recent educational policy, Race to the Top (RTTT).
Both NCLB and RTTT place an undue emphasis on testing, Ravitch argued, which promotes not learning, but rather “teaching to the test.” Teachers who fail to raise their students scores are fired and entire schools can be shut down. Ravitch led an impassioned denunciation of what she called the “business model” for schooling. “Sell the shoes or be fired,” she said, “Raise test scores or be fired.” Nearly 2000 public schools have been closed in recent years with 117 of them in New York City. Ravitch claimed that this undue emphasis on testing is “antithetical to the culture of schools” and that it removes “professional autonomy” from the teachers. Rather than teaching school children how to take tests, we should value “creativity and divergent thinking, innovation and idealism.” Bwog got to sit down with Ravitch, who continued on this theme and claimed that the purpose of education is to love literature, to explore science and ultimately to “ask questions.” When asked what the alternative was, Ravitch responded, “there is no alternative politically.” So much for “idealism.”
Ravitch’s talk then turned from vitriol against test-taking to spewing venom over charter schools, institutions that are publicly funded, but independently managed. Ravitch described the rise in charter schools as an “apartheid-like situation,” where charter schools take public land. She argued that charter schools “skim” the student body such that charter schools tend to have half the number of students with disabilities and half the number of English-as-a-second-language students as in regular public schools. During the Q&A session, one man offered a defense of charter schools –– that they give parents a choice of where to send their children. Ravitch dismissed this argument as “appealing” but disingenuous. Charter schools want to “eviscerate” the public sector, she continued. Charter schools have recreated “separate but equal,” where public schools have become the “dumping grounds” for students rejected by charter schools. The audience, made up of a number of public school teachers, gave her a standing ovation.
Ravitch’s message came through loud and clear: America’s education policies are failing, are undermining teachers’ efforts and discouraging students. Her point is well taken: testing has become radically overemphasized. Yet to do away with it entirely would be impossible. State tests in high school are hardly anyone’s favorite memory, but how else are we to hold the schools, the teachers and the students accountable? Testing isn’t the solution to our problems, but at least it can point out where our problems lie. The balance any educational policy must strike is between the need for creative thinking and the demands of objective standards.
Brown nosing via Wikimedia Commons