Education Reformer Rants at "Reign of Error" Talk

“You have a civic obligation to serve the schools. It’s part of the commons. Even if you don’t need it, these are civic responsibilities— not consumer goods.”

So said prominent progressive education reform activist Diane Ravitch at a recent guest lecture, where she also denounced private schools and charter schools as unethical and ineffective. Calling for free preschool and healthcare for all mothers and children, she claimed women who don’t have good prenatal care tend to have special-needs children.

Ravitch’s talk on Sept. 30, a stop on the tour for her new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to Public Schools, underscored that “society has the obligation to level the playing field” through free public education and any other services necessary to maintain that.

She called on the government to offer free pre-kindergarten education, supply free healthcare for all pregnant mothers and children, reduce class sizes, provide summer programs for students and a full year of professional education for all teachers, and develop a richer curriculum (including PE, art, sciences, and music) “not just for advantaged suburban schools”.

“This is the civil rights issue of our time,” she said. “All children have the right to equal education opportunity.”

She suggested that a series of hoaxes maintained by private, profit-driven interests has convinced innocent citizens of a reform system “built on a mountain of error.” She described some of the results of the privatization/voucher movement with visible disgust: closing public schools, laying off librarians and teachers, and turning dollars over to entrepreneurs.

“Schools belong to the community,” Ravitch said. “You can’t just decide to privatize public goods, because they don’t just belong to you; they belong to the whole community. To the future.”

The majority of the talk was driven by what Ravitch considers to be those hoaxes that greedy entrepreneurs have fed to the public about education. The points were highly aggressive and often simplified, straw-man arguments. She went so far as to imply that virtual charter schools steal homeschoolers’ money by tricking them into purchasing their educational products.

“The biggest hoax is the online charter schools,” Ravitch said. “They have really bad test scores, and nearly 50 percent drop out. But the ‘schools’ don’t care, so long as they can recruit more, because enrollment equals profits.”

Ravitch was adamant that education not be privatized. “Schools are not stocks,” she said. “They’re institutions embedded in the community, sometimes for generations.”

She continued, arguing that merit pay always fails because teachers are already doing the best they know how. “They aren’t hiding their best lessons,” she joked, suggesting that all public school teachers love their jobs and join the profession for fulfillment while teachers motivated by pay would make no added effort.

Ravitch rigorously defended teachers throughout her lecture. She suggested that teachers are not doing so poorly as their evaluations would suggest but rather that the evaluation system, which is based on students’ test scores, is broken. Here at least she cited research by the Gates Foundation to contend that the current system “has been disproven again and again”. She also argued that the highest performing states—based off of the very metrics she had just bad-mouthed—are the most highly unionized and that this is not a coincidence. Rather, she argued that unions’ protection to teachers from unjust firing creates an atmosphere where educators can experiment and gain long-term experience.

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