Labor's Pains

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bill Moyers: Public Schools for Sale?



DIANE RAVITCH: Well, you know, what really makes my juices flow is when I see billionaires picking on teachers. When I see billionaires who have never gone to public school, have never sent their children to public school, or their grandchildren, if they have them, proclaiming how schools should run and how teachers should teach.
I find myself outraged that our public school system is not being strengthened and improved. I don't want it to stay the way it is. I'm not defending the status quo. When I see a status quo that's controlled by the wealthiest people on our country in alliance with the political power in our country, it makes me want to rail against it. And I'm railing against it as best I can.
BILL MOYERS: You end your book in fact by avowing that, “…the public is not yet ready to relinquish its public schools to speculators, entrepreneurs, ideologues, snake-oil salesmen, profit-making businesses, and Wall Street hedge fund managers.” How can you be so sure?
DIANE RAVITCH: Well, it's because I see what's happening at the ground level. I-- working with other people in education, with parent activists, with educators, I helped to found a group called the Network for Public Education. We have parents, we have teachers, we have students, high school students, they're organizing all over the country to fight back.
In Providence, Rhode Island, it's the Providence Student Union. In Texas, it's the, what I call the moms against drunk testing. And they actually have a longer name than that. And there are parent groups in Ohio, in Indiana, in Louisiana, the Mama Bears in Tennessee.
In Florida, which is one of the keystone states for this kind of what I call corporate reform, where Jeb Bush basically owns that state. He tried twice to get across something called the parent trigger, where parents could take a vote and 51 percent of them could turn their school over to a corporation. And the parents of Florida, despite the fact that Florida has an all-red legislature, stopped that bill now twice. So I see parents of Florida and all over this country saying, we don't want the corporations taking over our schools. So it's the grassroots that I'm counting on. It's democracy that I'm counting on. Now can democracy beat big money? We'll find out later.
BILL MOYERS: You spoke recently in Austin and the title of your speech was “Why We Will Win."
DIANE RAVITCH: I was speaking to the Network for Public Education.
BILL MOYERS: That’s your group.
DIANE RAVITCH: My group.
BILL MOYERS: Gathered from all over the country.
DIANE RAVITCH: They came from-- 400 people came from all over the country, they paid their own way, we had no corporate sponsorship, we had no foundation money, we actually raised money amongst ourselves to play scholarships for the kids to come, the high school students who came. So there are two reasons we're going to win.
Number one is because everything that these reformers, these so-called reformers, are doing is failing. The charter schools are not outperforming the public schools. And the voucher schools don't outperform the public schools. Despite not taking the kids that they don't want, vouchers do not outperform public schools.
Evaluating teachers by test scores, which is one of the big principles of these corporate reformers, has been a disaster. There are many cities and districts that have ended up firing the teacher of the year. There are many teachers-- we are having, in fact, a huge crisis in teaching because so many teachers are leaving the profession. There’s almost a full-frontal attack on the teaching profession so that whereas it used to be 20 years ago that the average teacher had 15 years experience, it's now down to one or two years experience.
Teachers are leaving the profession, because they hate this being evaluated by test score business, because it’s-- what the research shows now overwhelmingly, is that it’s inaccurate, it’s flawed, and good teachers are getting bad evaluations, because they’re teaching kids with disabilities. Or if they’re teaching kids who are gifted, they also get a bad evaluation, because the kids are at the ceiling, they can’t go any higher. So, everything that these guys are pushing has actually failed already. They’re not making schools better. And you can't fail your way to success. But that's only one reason why we're winning.
The other reason is we're organizing. Students are organizing, high school students are organizing. Teachers are organizing and saying they will not give useless tests. We have superintendents speaking out. There's one on Long Island who said, when the test scores come in, I'm throwing them out. They're garbage.
We have students in college organizing against this corporate takeover. So I see all these things happening. Whether it's Tennessee or Louisiana, state of Washington, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, and I feel very hopeful that democracy will win out over big money.

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