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In #AACTE18 Keynote, Ravitch Rebukes Detractors of Public Schools

UPDATE: Video recording is now available! Visit the AACTE Learning Center to watch.


At the March 3 closing session of AACTE’s 70th Annual Meeting, Diane Ravitch delivered a rousing defense of public schools and an unsparing critique of those who seek to privatize education in America.

She opened with a declaration of admiration for the bravery and articulate activism of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, following the recent tragic shooting there. Ravitch noted their engagement has been enabled by a well-rounded education—including drama, speech, and other subjects that have been eclipsed in many places by the focus on raising test scores.

“So I say let the message go out to the detractors of our public schools: Our students are awesome,” Ravitch said. “Our students can stand up and debate any politician. […] They understand what democracy is.”

Ravitch also held up the selfless acts of the school’s teachers as an inspiring model. “Let the message go out to the detractors of our public schools: Our teachers are awesome. When faced with a life-or-death situation, they chose to defend their students.” She said their heroic example should “give pause to those who make a living bashing our teachers.”

Public education, Ravitch reminded us, is in a difficult position in our country, facing a steady drumbeat of criticism and financial constraints that demoralize educators and perpetuate the inequities that schools are working to address. These challenges are becoming more entrenched, she said, thanks to the organizing efforts of reformers supported by the privatization-focused agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Ravitch said this agenda rests on a belief that “the biggest trouble with public schools is democracy.  [Reformers] want to get rid of local school boards; turn entire districts over to the governor or the mayor, which makes it easier to privatize them.” They aim to take control away from parents and citizens, particularly in urban areas, and make schools privately run; to get rid of teacher unions; and to “obliterate teaching as a profession,” Ravitch said. She called on AACTE to “be in the forefront of defending against these pernicious efforts.”

In addition to highlighting ALEC’s problematic education priorities and major supporters—“Enemies of public schools are not only very rich and very determined, but for the first time in history, they also control the U.S.  Department of Education,” she said—Ravitch warned of other attacks on teacher professionalism. She dismissed the drive to base teacher evaluations on value-added measures, or VAM, as “utter and complete poppycock,” especially in policies that rate teachers on test scores of students they don’t even teach. “VAM changed nothing, but it did demoralize teachers,” Ravitch said.

She also warned against vouchers that direct public money to schools that permit or openly teach racism and intolerance, and against corrupt charter networks that exclude high-need students and rely on heavy political donations for favorable treatment. She noted a recent surge in “phony” graduate schools of education that seem designed to produce teachers for charter schools, with a narrow focus on student discipline and test scores.

“It’s not simply about the survival or relevance of professional teacher preparation,” Ravitch said. “It’s whether teachers are temp workers who can be trained in a few weeks—or whether they need specialized preparation. The pedagogy driven solely by test scores as a measure of success is not good pedagogy.”

The bottom line, however, is that the reform priorities are not proving effective. “In state after state, the public schools outperform the charter schools,” Ravitch said, and “research shows kids who use vouchers actually lose ground when compared to the kids they left behind in public schools. In some places, like Milwaukee, the voucher, charter, and public sectors all get equally poor results. Wouldn’t it be better if the three sectors would work together,” she asked, rather than fracturing limited resources in a competitive system?

Ravitch closed with a call to action. “The only way there will be change is if you fight for it,” she said. “There are no shortcuts. If you don’t stand up for your profession, no one will stand up for you. The future of education depends on having a genuine teaching profession.”

A recording of this session and other AACTE Annual Meeting content will be posted soon in the AACTE Learning Center—so if you missed it live, you can still enjoy the keynote!

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