Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Blood Is Boiling

I've been putting off going to see the much-hyped Davis Guggenheim documentary about the "glory" of charter schools entitled Waiting for Superman. I've got enough aggravation in my life right now, what with the elections coming up, and my blood is already too close to its boiling point as it is.

Yesterday, however, a friend pointed me to this piece from the Washington Post by New York University research professor, author, and education historian Diane Ravich where she takes Guggenheim to task, employing the actual data to argue against the twisted and distorted "facts" used to support the film's dangerous premise that we have no choice but to go all-in for turning our public education over to private corporations. It turns out that this is a condensed version of her review of the movie that recently appeared in The New York Review of Books in which she goes into much more depth, clearly exposing the film as little more than propaganda for the powerful Wall Street and political interests seeking to take over one of the bedrock institutions of our democracy.

The most disturbing part of this so-called "reform" movement, aside from its complete reliance on anecdotes to support its claims, is that it has become an all out assault on teachers, demonizing us as the root cause of a problem that is far, far more complex and far-reaching than these propagandists want us believe.

For many people, these arguments require a willing suspension of disbelief. Most Americans graduated from public schools, and most went from school to college or the workplace without thinking that their school had limited their life chances. There was a time—which now seems distant—when most people assumed that students’ performance in school was largely determined by their own efforts and by the circumstances and support of their family, not by their teachers. There were good teachers and mediocre teachers, even bad teachers, but in the end, most public schools offered ample opportunity for education to those willing to pursue it. The annual Gallup poll about education shows that Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the quality of the nation’s schools, but 77 percent of public school parents award their own child’s public school a grade of A or B, the highest level of approval since the question was first asked in 1985.

In reality, we are more satisfied with our public schools than we have been at any point in the past quarter of a century, yet we've been persuaded that our schools are failing. And now that they've persuaded us of this, they're scapegoating teachers because solving the real problems, like poverty, require scapegoating everyone, and how do you get support for that?

Ravich is one of my heros, one of the few strong voices out there pushing back against our current misguided rush toward more testing, more standardization, and more privatization of public schools. I urge you to click on the links, especially the longer New York Review of Books piece.

Please take it on as homework from Teacher Tom. Please. Powerful forces ranging from the president, to Bill Gates, to hedge fund managers, and now big-name filmmakers are lining up behind this agenda and pushing hard. We need you to help push back.

Please click those links, but I warn you, it will make your blood boil.

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The Butterfly Nest said...

Yikes! I'm glad I didn't go! I was a Teach for American teacher (although not really involved in the organization... I just taught my kids) in a rural school (where I continued to teach and where my husband is now the assistant principal), and was recently invited to attend a TFA preview of the movie. I didn't go, but I had NO idea this was the premise of the movie.

I am a SAHM now, but my husband and I are still FIRMLY committed to serving schools that need our help.

I am VEHEMENTLY opposed to privatization of schools... As I'm sure you know, the poorest of the poor are always going to end up getting disenfranchised by this whole process... even school "choice..." for a variety of reasons. And, I truly believe everyone loses out when there's not social, racial, and economic diversity.

I understand some people have real concerns about safety, etc., but I think that the cases of a school being truly inadequate and unsafe are far and few between. Even my "TFA" school, while in some ways milder than the schools of my fellow TFA folks in big cities, and definitely still imperfect, would be within the range of comfort for me to send my child.

AND, the quality of teachers at my placement school is really similar to what I see other schools, even the blue-ribbon public high school that I attended. The only difference is the level of resources, cultural empowerment (is this a real phrase?) and education available to the students and their parents (not to mention teacher resources).

Anway... rambling... and I read but don't normally comment. Thanks for your stance on this issue, and for teaching your kids to be free-thinking individuals.

And, thanks for some "nap-time" reading :)

Cindy said...

As a homeschooler, you would think I'd be itching to go see this movie, but then I heard it is backed by charter school companies. We actually belong to a charter school that caters to homeschoolers. Our school is a non-profit, but I'm not blind to the fact that they are run by a private company. I will see the film eventually, but we need to be aware of propaganda no matter where it comes from.

Marlene said...

I will definitely have to check these items out! I am contemplating a Charter School for my own kids because the charter has arts education and an open structure which appeal to me and are not available in the "traditional" school which has cut so much. The appeal to me for the Charters in general has been that the money for the school can be spent in the way the school sees fit instead of having to conform to the state's idea of where the money needs to go. To me, a former-ish teacher (I stay home with my kids but plan to teach again), I do not blame the failure of schools on teachers. And by failure of schools in my area, I do not mean low test scores (which they have), but rather bullying in the class and outside, failure to maintain the facility (leaky roof, rusty or broken water fountains), and inadequate supplies (middle schoolers can't take text books home because there is only a class set.

Kiera said...

It's really interesting that Ravich has changed her tune from an anti-public school crusader (when she wrote "Left Back"). David Tyack and Larry Cuban wrote a book called "Tinkering Toward Progress," which gives some good reasons as to why our perception of public schools took a nosedive in the latter part of the 20th century and has continued to stay low - they claim it has to do in part with the 60's generation, which cautioned people against trusting big governmental organizations (such as the public school system) as well as the slap we got to our American egos when the Soviets put a person into space before we did (because surely, if the Russians could get a person into space before us, it meant only that something was wrong with our science/math teaching, not luck or timing or anything like that). But another interesting point in their book is that Americans are actually MORE literate now than they ever were in history. More people are able to read, and at a higher level. We're actually at a point where it might not be possible to go any higher (I forget the number they cite, but it's something crazy like 98.5%). Once a number doesn't go up anymore, people's general perception of that number becomes negative. Stagnancy is bad. But when you're as close to 100% as you're probably ever going to be, where else can you go? As well, our definition of "literate" has changed somewhat (from the general ability to read say, a newspaper and to write simply, to the ability to read multiple sources of information and parse that information and combine it and use it in complex ways, etc. etc. etc.). In that sense we may not be as literate as we could be, but it's much harder to teach people how to interpret information than it is to teach them to read it. Our expectations may have simply overreached our abilities.

Kiera said...

Whoops! Tyack's and Cuban's book was actually called "Tinkering Toward Utopia."

Floor Pie said...

I won't see that movie in the theater. I've heard it's anti-union, presents a very distorted view of public schools, and all but canonizes Michelle Rhee. Maybe I'll get it out from the library when it comes out on DVD.

I'll tell you what really boils the blood, and that's trying to figure out what's best for my son in the midst of all this rhetoric -- on all sides.

Mindy Lehrman Cameron said...

(Please note that this comment is without having seen the movie as yet, so take it for what it is.)

I would GLADLY pay more in taxes to NOT have to send my kid to private school if the public schools had arts education and PE as an essential, endowed, sustained, and respected core part of their curriculum. Gladly. And I would like it best if the tuition of private schools, in that case, would include a tax (or other legal financial structure) that would have private school families' money also going to public schools (on a sliding scale, according to the family's means). If we are not all getting a great education, then all of us will pay, in one way or another.

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