As a career classroom teacher, it has been a surreal experience to live trough the transformation of my profession. Where once upon a time teachers were vaunted, valued and respected, we are now the primary culprits for society's ills such as poverty, unemployment, and crime.
In this blog, I have written about the folks who have let schools down long before education reform came along, the same folks who blame teachers for "failing schools" yet who never lifted a finger to intervene against budget cuts, layoffs, the siphoning of higher performing students and resources to charters, etc.
There is one national figure who has consistently pointed out the contradictions in the education reform movement and battled valiantly against the education reformers. That person is education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch and her latest book, Reign of Error, is a must read for anyone interested in knowing the truth about what is happening in public schools today.
It was with great anticipation that I received a copy of the book the week before its release so that I could do a review on my blog. It did not let me down and it won't let you down either if you are looking for the truth about schools in America today.
One by one, piece by piece, Dr. Ravitch deconstructs the myths surrounding education reform:
- high school graduation rates are dismal (false)
- poverty has no effect on achievement (false)
- merit pay improves achievement (false)
- value added methodology can improve teaching (false)
- education is in a crisis as demonstrated by our ranking on international tests (false)
I want to address the issue that our schools our failing and that is why we must move toward privatization in order to save them. Over and over through surveys, conversations, studies, parents have indicated that they support the public schools their children attend. Do they want to see improvements, of course. So do teachers. We share the same learning/work conditions. We thrive together and we suffer together.
But the message parents are receiving, along with the broader public, is that parents are wrong. Schools are in the worst shape they have ever been in, students won't be employable in the future, and teachers are causing them a life of poverty. We as teachers instinctively know this is wrong, but Reign of Error devastates the myth firmly and completely.
Dr. Ravitch can't be fooled by numbers because she is a professor of education. Something as simple as different methodologies of calculating a statistic can lead to wildly different conclusions on issues such as high school graduation. Are schools dropout factories, or are we helping students earn high school degrees in greater numbers than ever before? The latter is closer to the truth.
As a teacher who has participated in teacher delegations to Asian countries I can attest to what Dr. Ravitch discusses in the analysis of international test scores. Yes, Confucius did a great job preparing his students and entire civilizations for The Test. But today, Chinese and Japanese schools look to us for guidance on creativity and innovation. Why do we want to give up one of our greatest assets: the ability to produce thinkers, artists, and creators? Can't we learn from each other?
Reign of Error concludes that disparaging schools makes it easier for the public to accept their destruction and re-creation as private entities. Schools are being closed in cities nationwide and its all based on a false premise, that schools are failing. We are not failing! We are working with children that come to school under the most difficult circumstances in recent memory. Has the Great Recession affected you? It has affected families from poverty even more so. Yet our graduation rates are up. More children can read and do math. We outscore students from other countries when you factor for poverty. Reign of Error rejects the labeling of schools as failures and rightly assigns responsibility to district administrators who fail to act when they become aware that a school is under-resourced and all they offer is labels and blame.
Just as the Chicano art mural above rejects the label of minority, we educators reject the label of failures. Hold us accountable for what we is within our reach and fix what isn't. How to start doing this? Read the book.