The following short article is another response that I wrote for my graduate class in Educational System Reform. Please feel free to let me know what you think!
A response to “The Death and the Life of the Great American School System”
by Diane Ravitch
I think that chapter ten of this book might have been the most sobering and eye-opening reading that I have done for this class. “The Billionaire Boys’ Club” is an apt title that really addresses a big issue in our educational system today. Ravitch puts it well when she says, “The (foundations) have taken it upon themselves to reform public education, perhaps in ways that would never survive the scrutiny of voters in any district or state. If voters don’t like the foundation’s reform agenda, they can’t vote them out of office. The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one… They are bastions of unaccountable power.” (p. 201). Now I have very little doubt that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation et al. has some very good intentions and ideas for improving education in America. But it can be more than a little scary when people in those organizations say that management is management and school leaders do not need to be educators (paraphrase from p. 213). A school is not simply a business and to try to run one as such can lead to some seriously misguided ideas and reforms.
This idea of educational reform really hit home for me while teaching at a small school on the bleeding edge of school reform and ideas. Our school has enjoyed tremendous success in almost every aspect that it is targeting; yet there are some severe limitations to what the students are able to do for extracurricular activities. The network that we are a part of would have you to believe that our school is so successful because it is Project Based Learning. I think that there is some, maybe even a lot of truth to that, but I think the largest reason that we see continued success is the strong culture in our school and the buy-in from teachers, students and parents. Unfortunately we also see some of the division talked about in the chapter with a bit of “us vs. them” mentality because we are constantly compared to the “other high school” in our district when we have a number of advantages that they do not and the comparisons are a bit like apples and oranges.
I really appreciated Ravitch’s perspective on charter schools. I have never had a problem with charter schools; think that they can be a great idea, in fact, but do not have any reason to believe that they are the panacea that certain interests would have us to believe. The most insightful quote that I have ever read about the charter school and running schools in a free market styles is when Ravitch states, “As consumers, we should be free to choose. As citizens, we should have connections to the place we live and be prepared to work together with our neighbors on common problems.” (p. 222)
I think that my largest take away from Ravitch is that there seems to be many ideas for reforms that are formed by people’s past experience and success and that, probably, none of them will in one fail swoop improve American education forever. Schools are a system and there are many variables within that system. Perhaps instead of blindly taking money and choosing to “drop everything and reorder their priorities” (p. 200), efforts to improve an imperfect system can be made through a well-thought out and sustainable process, which, unfortunately is easier said than done.