Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ravitch Forum in New Orleans

I attended a forum last night (Oct. 27) at Dillard University in New Orleans that featured Diane Ravitch speaking and answering questions on education reform. Dr Ravitch is one of the few voices today who speaks the truth about public education and the current reform movement in this country. Here are some of the most critical issues I believe that were addressed in this forum.

  • The charter school movement in this country was originally started by educators who wanted to use them as a laboratory for positive changes in education. Unfortunately the movement has been hijacked by tycoons of wall street and the business world who are creating private schools with public money. By creating the illusion that charter schools will finally provide poor children with a superior education that will result in a college education for all who attend, charter organizers have succeeded in getting support from both liberal and conservative lawmakers.
  • Huge salaries are being paid to the “entrepreneurs” who manage these charters while cheap short term teachers are used to do the work.
  • Recent studies show that only a small percentage of charter schools outperform regular public schools while a larger percentage under-perform compared to traditional schools. We see many examples of this in Louisiana schools. It is interesting that some of the most successful charter schools were set up by local school boards, very much like the successful magnet schools that are run by local boards.
  • Unfortunately many charter schools (just like magnet schools) perform better by attracting the better, more motivated students leaving the remaining students in under-performing schools.
  • Once charter schools are formed and thereby create a special interest group of parents and school operators, most politicians are reluctant to convert their schools back to publicly operated schools. This point was made by a New Orleans school board member who attended the forum. He said that even though the New Orleans school board now has the third highest performing school system in the state and excellent audit reports, the political forces in the state are working to keep Recovery District charters independent of the elected school board. The law setting up the Recovery District envisioned a possible return of schools to the local board after 5 years.
Another alarming trend discussed in the New Orleans forum is the current movement in the U.S. to reduce rather than to improve the professional status of educators. This is exemplified by the efforts of big foundations (such as the Broad Foundation) to transplant people from private business or other backgrounds into positions as school superintendents and principals. These new education leaders are expected to improve schools by firing anyone who does not improve test scores. Apparently they don't have to know anything about education, just how to demand results. The question posed is: “How can experienced teachers be expected to have respect for principals and superintendents who have never worked in the classroom?” Dr Ravitch pointed out the folly of these national trends. “As we run off and fire current teachers there are not nearly enough “teach for America” kids to take their places.” As baby boomer teachers retire, our country should be preparing many thousands of young professionals in the field of education.

One of the most interesting points made by Ravitch and participants of the New Orleans forum is that a person cannot perform effectively as an education leader by bashing and attacking the very people he/she is attempting to lead. This point is being demonstrated today at the very top of Louisiana's education establishment.