highlights from last night's rally -- and Diane Ravitch's speech on teacher education
The rally last night was fantastic – over a thousand angry parents, teachers and students, giving voice to their frustration about this administration’s total disregard for their views.
One personal highlight was Robert Jackson running into the audience to pick up one of our Class Size Matters signs, running back onstage, and holding it up while speaking passionately about the bill in the Legislature that would require smaller classes in all grades.
The most elequent speakers in my opinion were public school parents Tim Johnson, Chair of CPAC, and Jane Hirschmann from Time Out from Testing, both of whom blew the top off the cathedral and completely outdid the elected officials (other than RJ, of course).
I hearby nominate Tim and Jane as our next Mayor and Chancellor.
Another personal highlight was to be able to introduce so many of you to each other in person, members of this list serv who before then had only communicated w/ each other online.
One of those present was Diane Ravitch, eminent historian and another member of this list serv. I brought her over to Mike Meenan of NY1, who interviewed her on camera while Diane expressed her view that this new administration was unprecedented in the 200 years of the history of NYC public schools in terms of its hostility to the whole notion of public education. I hope Mike includes her remarks when and if he gets around to doing a report on last night.
Diane will be speaking March 27 at 7 PM about the so-called Bloomberg "reforms" at St. John's University , in a meeting open to the public. More details soon. Meanwhile, here is a terrific speech she gave at a large teacher education conference last weekend. I reproduce it below since I found it very incisive and moving.
Others – please describe what your personal favorite moments were from last night!
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CHALLENGES TO TEACHER EDUCATION
Address to AACTE, February 25, 2007
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.
As someone who has written about the history of education for many decades, I often think that there is nothing new under the sun. When I was in graduate school many years ago, I remember reading news stories about the crisis in American education. At the time, I wrote a paper in a seminar in which I argued that there was usually a crisis in American education in almost every decade.
I think, however, today we really do face a situation that can justly be called a crisis. Never have I felt more certain that public education itself hangs in the balance. Back in the 1950s there was quite a lot of criticism of public education. But the critics in the 1950s did not challenge the very existence of public education. People like Arthur Bestor and Robert Hutchins did not say that public education itself needed to be dismantled. No, they wanted it to be better, to have a richer vision of what education should be.
Today, there are critics of public education who believe that the system itself is obsolete. These critics say that “government schools” are by their very nature incapable of educating American children. They say there is nothing worth preserving in this institution that we call public education.
The latest manifestation of this view can be seen in a report released in December called “Tough Choices or Tough Times.” It came from a group called the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Some of the best known names in American education signed the report, including former Secretaries of Education Rod Paige (who served in the first term of the George W. Bush administration) and Richard Riley (who served in both terms of the Clinton administration); Tom Payzant, who recently retired as Superintendent of Schools in Boston; and Joel Klein, chancellor of the New York City public schools. In addition, the commission had a number of prominent political figures and business leaders.
The report of the commission says that our public school system doesn’t work. It was designed in another era to meet other needs. It is obsolete. We must start all over. Statistic after statistic is tossed out to show that other countries are overtaking us and we are losing the global competition because of our public schools. The crisis talk is used as a rationale to destroy confidence in the system itself.
Engineering jobs are being outsourced to India , the commission says, where corporations can hire an engineer for only $7,500 a year, whereas in the United States , the same engineer would earn at least five to six times as much. Logic suggests that the corporations are going where they can get educated labor at salaries that are unthinkable in the United States, but the Tough Choices commission insists that the public schools are to blame, not the wage differential. The commission says that the high-paying jobs will go to low-wage countries like China and India , and our standard of living will fall, all because our public school system is inefficient and ineffective.
And what do they propose to take the place of our present school system?
First, they say, our teachers are not coming from the right strata of society; they come from what is euphemistically referred to as “the less able.” We must instead seek to recruit “the best and the brightest” to teach in our schools. And how will we do this? We must raise starting salaries to $45,000 and top salaries to $110,000. This may be expensive, the commission says, but we can pay for it by cutting the retirement benefits of teachers—reducing their pensions and health benefits, so that they are commensurate with what is available to workers in the private sector.
I love it—it actually makes my blood boil!---when I hear someone who makes a cool half million a year at a desk job complaining that teachers are paid too much and their benefits are too high. I would love to see these guys trade places with any classroom teacher in America for a week and see if they still think that teachers are overpaid.
Anyone who thinks that the best and the brightest will abandon careers in investment banking, the law, and business for a top salary of $110,000 is not serious. My suggestion—I made it in a commentary in Education Week—was that if the commission really wanted to attract the best and the brightest, they should set the top salary at the median of the income earned by members of the commission. My guess is that it would be about $300,000. Then we could really draw students from the Ivy League into the teaching profession.
Until we talk about that kind of compensation, then I believe that teachers will rightly hold onto their retirement benefits, which they have earned with blood, sweat, toil, and tears.
The commission proposes an elaborate new examination system—assuming that our students are not tested enough! They would have all students take a super-high stakes test at the end of tenth grade. Those who score really well would be allowed to finish two more years of high school, then take another high-stakes exam to see if they are fit to go to college. Those who score well enough would then be funneled to community colleges. What would happen to those who did not pass any of these exams? The commission says, not to worry, the kids can take the exams again and again and eventually everyone will pass.
Apparently this eminent group of leaders feels that we have not done a good enough job of sorting kids into winners and losers and preventing the less prepared from going to good colleges.
The most outrageous proposal of the commission was that in the future, all public schools should be turned over to private managers. The role of school boards would be to approve performance contracts with these managers and monitor their performance.
I confess that I did not believe this recommendation when I read it. I read it again. Then I read it again. I still could not believe it. The commission was proposing the complete privatization of American public education.
Who would these private managers be? The commission doesn’t say, though it suggests that they might be corporations owned and run by teachers. More likely, they would be many more of the private managers we now have, some of them nonprofit, others for-profit. As we have seen in the charter world, the chain-store operations have outstripped the mom-and-pop schools, because they have more resources. We can expect the same to happen if the commission’s proposal were tried to scale in a state or city.
I find all this frightening for a number of reasons. First of all, it is just plain pie-in-the-sky reasoning. Why would schools get better if they are all managed by private contractors? What secret do private organizations have that has not been shared with the nation’s educators? What is the logical connection between privatization and quality education?
Philadelphia just received a report from the Rand Corporation evaluating the progress of its schools over the past few years, since they introduced private management. The highest performing schools were regular district schools that had longer hours and smaller class size; they handily outscored the privately-managed schools.
Second, this recommendation for universal privatization is frightening because it is so irresponsible. You just don’t rip apart a vital part of the nation’s social fabric—its public schools—because it sounds like a good idea. Where is the evidence for this radical scheme? Is there another nation that has done this and had good results? If so, I haven’t heard of it.
Third, this recommendation is frightening because it falls on so many receptive ears. Large segments of the business community seem to be convinced that the public schools are flabby, wasteful, and inefficient. They also believe, as Steve Jobs of Apple Computers said at a recent public meeting, that the teachers’ unions are the cause of low performance in the public schools. If only there were no teachers’ unions, he implies, our schools would be nimble, high-performing organizations.
I miss Al Shanker. I know what Al would say to Steve Jobs. He would say, “Line up the states that have strong teachers’ unions in one column, and line up the states that have weak teachers’ unions in the other. Which column has the higher performance?” Guess what: the states with the strong teachers’ unions. Al would also say, “Name a high-performing nation in Europe or Asia that does not have a strong teachers’ union.” I don’t think he would find even one. Jobs is yet another example of a multimillionaire or, for all I know, billionaire, who can’t stand the idea that teachers are represented by a union and can’t be fired at will.
The fourth reason that I find this proposal for universal privatization so alarming is that it is starting right here in New York City . Our city school leaders embrace the idea. Our mayor, who is a billionaire businessman and our schools’ chancellor, who was a member of the “Tough Choices” commission, have just released a plan under which the city’s principals are being encouraged to affiliate with a private manager or join a so-called empowerment zone, where they will each sign a performance contract and agree to be fired if they don’t meet their goals. Although the city now has 50 new charter schools, the chancellor has demanded the authority to create more, and has made clear that he would turn every school into a charter school or privately managed school if he could.
Where does teacher education come into the picture?
Well, as the commission said, we are not getting our best and brightest into the classroom and they believe that nothing will change until we do.
The media knows nothing about teaching except what they see in the movies, where a bright young person miraculously transforms students in a matter of weeks or months. The media loves to beat up on regular teachers, who don’t seem to have that magical ability; they assume that our schools are filled with lazy teachers. They loudly applaud any superintendent who promises to fire teachers and principals who don’t raise test scores overnight. The media know it can be done; they saw it in the movies!
Just two days ago, I was in the board room of a major foundation where an experienced educator asserted that the hope for the future of American education lies with the young people who enter teaching for two years and then leave. He said that we should think of these bright, idealistic young people as an Urban Peace Corps. It is their energy, their dedication, and their spark that will turn our beleaguered urban schools around.
I try to be polite, so I didn’t stand up and shout. But I must say that this statement, coming from someone who has been an urban superintendent, nearly sent me through the roof. How can we ever have a teaching profession if we must rely on people who plan to stay in the classroom for only two years and then leave to become doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers? We all know that new teachers don’t reach their stride until their fourth or fifth or sixth year of teaching. Why in the world would we expect that our most troubled schools will improve if they must depend mainly on young people who come and go through a revolving door?
I think we should all welcome the young people who want to teach. If they decide to stay, that’s terrific. But it is simply zany to think that they will save American education during a two-year tour of duty.
Today there are two paramount issues in education.
The first is whether public education will survive. I don’t think the American public has any idea about the seriousness of the efforts to dismantle public education, piece by piece.
The second is whether teaching will be a profession or an avocation.
I believe that the nation’s colleges and schools of education are deeply implicated in both issues.
In many of my past writings, I have criticized education. But I have never suggested the elimination of our public education system. I have never argued that we should get the public out of public education. And I have never believed that teaching would improve if we opened the doors of the classroom to anyone, regardless of their preparation.
I am a graduate of the public schools of Houston , Texas , K-12. I am one of eight children. I can’t imagine what would have happened to me or my siblings if we had not had access to public schools.
I want to confess a secret. Something I have never told anyone. When I was five years old, my parents decided—for reasons unknown to me—that they wanted to enroll me in the private school directly across the street from where we lived—the Kinkaid School . We met the headmistress. She bluntly told my parents, “We don’t accept Jews.” So I went to Montrose Elementary School , and the rest, as they say, is history.
I wonder what will happen today to families like mine when they apply to the local charter school and learn that they lost the lottery; then go to the local theme school and find that the enrollment is full. Stories are starting to accumulate about desperate parents, going from school to school, hiring consultants, trying to get their child into the right school. What happens to parents who don’t have the resources or the time to figure out the system? Where will they go? How far will they have to travel to get a decent education for their children once the new regime of privatization, competition, and choice is in place?
Public schools are not a private good. They are not like shoes or soap or cars, where we shop around to find the best thing at the lowest price. Schools are a public good. Here is my metaphor: Schools are like firehouses. Just as we recognize that there must be a good firehouse in every neighborhood, there must be a good public school in every neighborhood.
This ideal, which was once widely shared and understood in the nation, in every town, village, and city, is now in jeopardy. I have been told that the ideal itself is dead. But I believe strongly that we will never have a good education system unless we have a good public education system, that we will never have a good education system if we turn our schools over to entrepreneurs, businesses, and well-meaning do-gooders. I met someone recently who told me that she attended a cocktail party in Manhattan , where she heard wealthy people talking about their charter school. She realized, all of a sudden, that the rich elite who used to collect yachts, baubles, and country houses, are now sponsoring charter schools. It is the thing to do this year.
Maybe some good will come of that, but I don’t think it is a good long-term bet. Dilettantes move on; one year it’s the ballet; another year it’s charter schools. Who knows what it will be next year or the one after that?
The survival of public education in our nation is intimately tied up with the survival of our democracy. We can’t privatize our schools and expect to improve the quality of our public life. The market will favor the haves, not the have-nots. It would be surprising if it did not.
The reason we have public education is to level the playing field between haves and have-nots. Behind public education lies a fundamental principle that we usually refer to as equality of educational opportunity. With privatization, with the loss of the role of the public in public education, the effort to create a level playing field will die, and with it will die the hopes and dreams of millions. We cannot let that happen. We cannot kill a system that has flaws and needs improvement and replace it with something that will surely be even more flawed and more inequitable.
And what will be the future of the teaching profession?
There is most certainly a strong movement to bypass the traditional route into teaching and to deprofessionalize teaching.
More than that, there is a strong movement to deprofessionalize education across the board.
We see it in the burgeoning of quickie programs to train principals. The media seems to love the idea that anyone from any walk of life can be turned into a principal almost overnight. Why did Time magazine write a feature story about New Leaders for New Schools, saying that it was the greatest hope for saving our nation’s urban schools, when it had produced only 15 principals?
Why so many new programs to recruit and train principals? Why the abandonment of the apprenticeship system? Whence comes this idea that a person can be a good principal who has never been a teacher? How can a principal help the teachers in his or her school or evaluate them if the principal never was a teacher?
Take the example of the Leadership Academy in New York City . When it started, the Mayor brought in a telecommunications executive to lead it. This executive had never been a principal or a teacher. But he knew how to talk about the importance of having a vision. Apparently that’s all it takes to be a good principal. The Academy had a budget of $75 million for three years and to date has produced 164 principals. That works out to about $400,000 per principal, which makes this undoubtedly one of the most expensive training programs in human history. The United Federation of Teachers recently reviewed the test scores for schools headed by graduates of the LA and found that they were running about 25-30% below those headed by principals who rose through traditional routes, so this does not seem to have been a good investment.
And then comes the Broad Foundation, which has a program to train urban superintendents. A few years ago, I was attending the wedding of a friend’s daughter. A young woman came up to me and reminded me that we had met a few years ago. I asked her what she was doing, and she said that she was training to be an urban superintendent. I asked her if she had ever been a principal, and she said no. I asked her if she had ever been a teacher, and she said no. What had she been doing? Marketing and public relations.
I had one of those moments, wondering whether the world was going mad. But maybe it’s me. Maybe I am wrong to think that an urban superintendent needs to have had some hands-on experience in education. Maybe I am wrong to think that someone who leads a district, like a general in the field, must have risen through the ranks.
I am not convinced, I have seen no evidence that urban school districts have benefited by having businessmen, lawyers, generals, and admirals as their superintendents. I am willing to listen. I am waiting for the evidence. What I see in New York City is not encouraging. Our chancellor, who is a lawyer, has surrounded himself with other lawyers. There is no longer anyone at the top of the school system who is a veteran of the school system. Even the person with the title of Deputy Chancellor for Instruction is a lawyer, albeit one who taught special education for a few years.
There is another reason to be concerned about the installation of non-educators at the top of school systems. This trend converges with the era of accountability unleashed by No Child Left Behind. Veteran educators, I believe, may learn from the data produced by annual testing. They may use it to make better decisions about where to target intervention services, how to adjust programs to meet the needs of specific students, and what to do differently.
The non-educators, however, lacking any educational philosophy or understanding, are rushing madly and heedlessly to embrace accountability as the bottom line of education. They want to make the numbers. Like corporate executives, they want to meet their production target. They compel principals to sign performance contracts and threaten to fire principals if they don’t meet their goals.
Forgive me for using New York City again as an example, but in our current regime, accountability has become an end in itself. The Department of Education has hired British inspectors to judge the schools. Surveys are being sent to parents, teachers, and students to grade the schools. Teachers will rate their principals, principals will rate the teachers. Principals will live or die by their school’s scores. Everyone is busily grading, assessing, evaluating, ranking, rating, and of course preparing for the next test. Every school will be graded on a scale of A-F. Our chancellor was quoted by Jonathan Alter in Newsweek ( February 12, 2007 ), that he will say to any principal whose school is rated D or F, (forgive the language, it’s not mine), “I’m gonna fire your ass.” Quote, unquote. That’s what is known as leadership today in New York City .
In such a situation, accountability destroys not only the joy of learning, but learning itself. Absent sound professional guidance, many districts have adopted off-the-shelf tests and are subjecting students to endless days and weeks of test-prep activities, devoted solely to reading and math. Absent sound professional guidance, schooling is being turned into the worst kind of gradgrind drudgery, killing the possibility that children will ever love learning or become educated people.
So this is the assignment that I leave you with today.
First, make it your mission to fight for public education.
There is a place for charter schools as demonstration schools. But the entire system of public schools should not be charterized.
There is a place for private management of schools. But the entire system of public schools should not be turned over to private management.
There is a place for independent schools and religious schools. I don’t want to see our nation’s wonderful Catholic schools disappear, and I wish that the great philanthropists—the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Bloomberg Foundation, and the many others with millions to throw around—would build an endowment for inner-city Catholic schools. Our diverse society would be poorer without them.
But please, make the case that our democracy requires a good public school in every neighborhood.
Second, make the case for education as a profession.
We need teachers who have the knowledge and skills that are needed for them to succeed. We need teachers who are dedicated to the children they teach. We need teachers who understand that teaching is a serious commitment and a profession, not just an interesting experience.
We welcome young people who want to help and we hope that they decide to remain in the profession and one day become master teachers.
We need principals who have the wisdom and experience to help their staff and collaborate with them, not principals who have been trained in quickie programs to think like a business executive.
We need superintendents who know education, who know that it is different from managing a big corporation and different from practicing law. Above all, we need superintendents who respect the people who do the daily work with children.
Third, use your knowledge of testing and psychometrics to bring sanity into accountability practices in the schools. Organize seminars for mayors and school board members and superintendents. Tell them what it is reasonable to expect from testing and what uses of testing are unreasonable and irresponsible. Tell them that testing is not instruction. Tell them that testing must be based on a curriculum and that it cannot take the place of curriculum.
Fourth, make your voices heard collectively on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. Tell your legislators that the law must bear some reasonable relationship to not only what is feasible but what is good education. Tell them that the goal of having all children proficient by the year 2014 is literally impossible—inasmuch as no district, no state, and no nation in the world has ever achieved it—and that sticking with that goal will ensure that most of our schools are labeled “failing” as we get nearer to 2014. Tell them that the nation will not improve education by turning our schools into test-prep factories. And tell them too that the current list of sanctions for schools that fail to meet their annual goals have no grounding in any body of research.
Fifth, set forth a vision of education that is now glaringly absent from public discourse. What do we mean by good education? Surely we don’t mean just that people can read and calculate. We must speak instead of education for full participation in our society and the world. We must set forth a vision of young people who have studied the arts, history, geography, literature, and science, as well as a foreign language. We must hold forth that vision of schools where children explore their society and the world through music, dance, painting, and the visual arts. Where young high school graduates can talk about political issues with knowledge of history and geography. Where their sense of citizenship is based on study and knowledge of important issues.
And last, prepare teachers who are such superbly professional practitioners that schools recruit them and boast about hiring them. Be sure that they have that vision of education that is now sorely absent from our public discourse. Teach them classroom management skills. Be sure they have the knowledge and skills to be excellent teachers. Make your school of education the go-to place for school districts that want the best. Build a reputation that says, “Our graduates are number one. If you aren’t lucky enough to get our graduates, you might have to hire people from alternate routes.”
These are the challenges for 2007 and for the decade ahead. Good luck!