Who are the bad guys? Millionaires and billionaires who come from a business background where forces of free-market choices, competition, and new standards create disruption in the market place allowing the best products to rise to the surface. Ravitch names names. We know who they are and they include Bill Gates, Betsy De Vos, and the Walton (Wallmart) families.
Ravitch aptly changes their names from education "Reformers" to education "Disrupters." Measurement is key to determining educational success in the form of high stakes testing that occurs every school year for grades k-12. Right out of the starting gate the Disrupters' premise was wrong-headed and untested.
The methods of this warfare included slamming public schools as "failing" and demonizing teachers while supporting the creation of brand-new charter schools and vouchers to pay religious schools using tax payer money and selling the concept that now parents have "choice." If you knew what it takes to create and sustain a good school, you would know that non-educators with dough are not the people who should be starting one no matter how pure their motives. (I served 18 months on the board of a charter school that is now shuttered.) Politicians from presidents, G.W. Bush and Barack Obama, to local school board members jumped onto the shiny new Disrupter bandwagons. It never occurred to them that America's children were Guinea pigs. Disruption is not healthy for children. Using children to experiment with the profit-motive in education is an insane idea. Where can the profits for investors come from? Real estate (the new schools need space to rent, build or buy), using cheap, young and untrained teachers from Teach for America, and the selling of technology. Education doesn't produce a product that you can sell for a profit. You can't garnish the wages of a state-educated worker. But every time money changes hands, someone's pockets are lined, often illegally, since there is no mandated oversight for charter schools and many opportunities for corruption. Less that 40% of the funding for these new ventures are used for what happens in classrooms. And the Disrupters did not like to discuss that the funding not only came from the wealthiest Americans but also from the local public school budgets, thus short-changing resources for more than 85% of American students.
The collateral damage of this policy of disruption was the destruction of teacher morale and the anxiety that the high-stakes testing put on children. Test prep robbed children of the joy of learning. It made them fearful that if they did not do well on the test, their teachers would be fired. Ravitch's book meticulously cites the damage done in cities and states over the years. It's enough to make your blood boil! About ten years ago, I was invited to speak at Southern Florida University's Education Department. The faculty were steeling themselves to greet the first entering class of FCAT babies, who had taken assessment exams at the end of every one of their 12 years of schooling. Now they were to be trained as teachers. Their professors found them to be passive, docile, and answer-driven, fearful of questions for which they had no answers and tied to using boring texts and worksheets as their main pedagogical tools.
Another example: My grandson, Jonny, who was a very serious student didn't do well on tests. (Currently he is the top student in his electrical engineering class at Buffalo University but still worried about the Graduate Record Exam). He attended a small public school in Western NY state which was not overly scrutinized by the powers-that-be and had a staff that cared about their students. But still they had to adhere to the standards and the testing. When Jonny was in seventh grade I asked him how many of his teachers were having "fun" teaching him. By "fun" I meant that they enjoyed being in the classroom and were present for their students. He thought for a long time before he came up with his sixth grade Language Arts teacher. I concluded that none of his seventh grade teachers were having any fun and I had a follow up question: How did he know they weren't having fun?"Because," he responded, "I'm not learning very much."
Ravitch is very careful to let doubters know how she knows every fact in the book with 30 pages of citations in very small type at the back of the book. In her final chapter, "Goliath Stumbles," she cuts loose with a passionate summation of how the tides are finally turning due to the grass-root rebellions of teachers and parent activists who defeated referendums, politicians, and lobbyists with their strikes, protests, social media organizations and most importantly, their votes. I can imagine how fast and hard she hit those computer keys as she wrote these first glimmers that the tide is turning and humanity and sanity are finally returning to American public schools.
Thanks for the lesson, Diane Ravitch. Many still need it.