Thursday, January 12, 2012

Diane Ravitch: The Death and Life of the American School System

The Death and Life of the Great American School System
             Educational historian Diane Ravitch will make a presentation in Sacramento on Jan. 20, 2012 sponsored by local CTA affiliates- that is good.  The public needs this conversation and teachers need this support.  The Bee story on Jan 12 unfortunately uses a misleading headline- Testing Critic to address teachers. The issue is testing and more.  And, the public needs to consider what is happening to their schools- not only teachers.
            The Bee  article by Melody Gutierrez is reasonable, while the general reporting on education in national newspapers, magazines and television leaves much to be desired.   Ravitch’s book and her presentations will offer a small but important counter story.
Why do many reporters not report on the realities of school change?
  They too often  rely upon the wisdom of selected “spokespersons” and other elites. 
They have been sold a framework of  a corporate view of accountability. Corporate sponsored networks and think tanks such as the the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the Broad Foundation,  the Bradley Foundation, the Pacific Research Institute,  and the Olin Foundation provide “experts” prepared to give an opinion on short notice to meet a reporters deadline.  Most reporters assume that these notables are telling the truth when in fact they are promoting a particular propaganda such as in the film “Waiting for Superman”.  Who do they not talk with?  They fail to interview experienced teachers and professionals who have worked for decades to improve the quality of inner city schools.

The Obama Administration’s appointment of Arne Duncan was symptomatic of the problem.  He represents the  kind of corporate/media approach to reform.   So, reporters can go to the corporate funded foundations and provide “balance” by asking the appointees of the government- they get the same story.  In particular recently they have been turning to the Gates and Broad Foundations  or the conservative Democrats for Education Reform.
             What the foundations and the Millionaires Boy’s Clubs are saying is fundamentally misleading.  They are deliberately distorting the story.  However reporters think that these foundations have smart people so they must know what they are talking about. See Diane Ravitch.  The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. 2010.
  There are layers of influence that tell reporters what is the “correct” side of the story.  Reporters seldom go to people who might provide an unsafe viewpoint- like people who have worked in the schools for years.   For more on this see Mike Rose. Why School?
  Reporters typically develop sources and they writer for these sources. They don’t want to offend their sources or to indicate that they don’t understand the issues.  Reporters also know what the owners of the newspapers and journals think.  And, except for professional journals, the news paper owners think very much like the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce. In the last twenty years media ownership has become highly concentrated. 

  Now, reporters and editors are disturbed to learn that growing sectors of the public do not trust their reporting.  In particular teachers do not trust the reporting – it is so often misinformed. This is an unconscious class bias of the media- looking up to the selected expertise of those funded by the foundations and looking down on everyday teachers and others actually working in the schools.
   There is a well developed media structure focused on the think tanks and foundations and revealed in the film which regularly repeats a series of mis information.  See my review of Waiting for Superman.  They persistently distribute misinformation.

 In Waiting for Superman, the film maker distorts the needed discussion of school reform by citing only one side of the debate- that of the  Billionaire Boy’s Club and their well funded spokespersons.  The film decries the teachers unions as a special interest while reporting on Bill Gates, the Olin Foundation, the Bradley foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the entire raft of very conservative economic interests as if they were neutral.  They are not.   Their declared interest is the shrink the public sector – as in public schools- and to spend less money on tax supported institutions.   A second goal of several of these foundations is to defeat the power of teachers unions and the Democratic Party- that is the primary goal of  Democrats for Education Reform.  And, who do they represent ? See articles on this here.
So, this blog along with several others has a viewpoint, and part of the effort is to counter the opinions and perspectives of the Billionaire Boy’s Clubs, the Democrats for Education reform, and similar foundation funded efforts.  The effort is to provide a variety of views to counter the biased view of the general press.   Diane Ravitch in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, (2010) has written an excellent expose of the misguided, anti democratic  corporate abuse of public education.

There are, of course, others providing these views also including the journals of the professional organizations and a few notable bloggers such as the blog The Answer Sheet by Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post

            For your information.  Diane Ravitch is a moderate, centrist at best on school issues.  In my books I have often criticized her role in education.  Prior to about 2008 she was a major advocate of conservative school reform,  an opponent of  feminism,  and the architect of the negative and destructive  exclusion of  Mexican American and Chicano history from California public schools.  See here.

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