Teachers Threaten Direct Action

Diane Ravitch Thousands rally to hear education critic in Sacramento by Michael Monasky Thousands of teachers gathered at the Sacram...

Diane Ravitch
Thousands rally to hear education critic in Sacramento

by Michael Monasky

Thousands of teachers gathered at the Sacramento Convention Center on Friday night to hear Diane Ravitch, assistant secretary of education for President George H.W. Bush, lambast his policy for No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and Race To The Top, the Obama education reform program.

Both plans grade teachers through student testing. NCLB (pronounced 'nickleby', as in the Dickensian tale) is reviled by most teachers for two reasons: it's propensity to privatize and de-professionalize education.

Ravitch took no prisoners. Education, Ravitch said, is under attack by the corporate reform movement run by billionaires Bill Gates, Eli Broad, S. Robson Walton, Michael Dell as well as Rupert Murdoch’s Fox New and Wall Street Journal as well as a host of right-wing think-tanks and Wall Street hedge funds.

In their scheme, teachers are employees, parents are customers, and students are products. It's the free-market run-amok, she said, which denies that teachers' working conditions are the students' learning conditions. Ravitch concluded that money and power drive the system, not evidence.

Ravitch went on to say that corporate education reform has declared war on teachers and their labor unions, despite the fact that the best educational performance is found in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut, where the strongest teacher unions are found. Likewise, the weakest unions operate in the deep south, home of the poorest ratings for student academic progress.

The former assistant secretary of education found no redeeming value for, merit pay incentives (“because teaching is collaborative-- competition substitutes 'me' for 'we'”), teacher evaluations (the IMPACT program in Washington, D.C., had no effect on student scores and is structurally racist, with the worst racial disparities of all urban school districts nationwide), vouchers (which did not improve scores in Wisconsin), charter schools (which have a pass from regulation of teachers), so-called cyber-schools (“cash cows” without improvement in student performance, e.g., K12 run by convicted felon and former junk bond dealer Michael Milken and ex-drug czar William Bennett). Ravitch indicted all these tactics as “a substitute of extrinsic rewards for intrinsic motivation”.

“The most important outcomes of education cannot be measured,” she said.

Ravitch said schools should have access to nurses and healthcare, social workers, school counselors, libraries and librarians and small class size but they have been eliminated due to decreased public funding.

While numerous assessment test may be good news for the testing industry, they do nothing to improve academic achievement, Ravitch said. These assessments only lead to “gaming the system, cheating scandals as in Atlanta's schools, and New York City's score inflation. Asking the right question is more important than getting the right answer,” she noted.

“Public schools are a public good, not shoe stores,”, Ravitch said adding that “educational influences include not only the teacher, but families and their incomes...odds are stacked against the poor...the US is number one in child poverty” of all industrialized nations.

“Forty to 50 percent of teachers leave the profession in their first five years”, she said, and her goal is to “educate the public, and, if that doesn't work, take direct action.” After all, she said, “NCLB is a 20 year failure, and it's time for a change.”

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