Sunday, September 15, 2013

What September Brings

I first heard of charter schools 11 years ago when I became a teacher.  It was apparent that the school reform movement was a mask for a movement bent on turning a public good into a private source for revenue.  My opinion of the dangers "reform" posed to schools only became more firm two years later when I became the testing coordinator at my school and became a witness and participant to the hoops our school was jumping through in the name of "verified credits."  During my time in that position, testing moved from paper to electronic format, with no relief or redress to the school as the testing company rolled out a system that barely functioned.  I also witnessed the utter waste of instructional time teaching the students how to take these tests on the computer and teaching to the test, and the waste of teachers' time training them to administer these tests and forcing them to do so during their planning time.  The testing company profiting from the policies mandating this definitely saw growth during my time as a teacher.  From where I stood, it was obvious that our school was participating in these tests to comply with federal and state laws, not because we believed that it represented best practices.

When I first read Diane Ravitch in classes 8 or 9 years ago, she was still cheerleading these reform mechanisms.  I couldn't stand reading her.  She has since changed her mind.  I admire her public about-face.  I'm linking to this article because she has a bigger soapbox than I do.  I only hope that some of the local, state, and national decision makers will listen, think, and change their minds too, in spite of the money machine that has bought them for too long and the incessant media droning on about a nonexistent death spiral for all public institutions and the voracity of the hoards of self-interested teachers seeking to profit off the backs of distressed children.  Charters, "choice," reform, and privatization are a dangerous path that will undermine the work that has been done to offer a free public education to the children of this country: an education that instills the value of being a citizen of our public into our young people.  I am a product of the schools that the famous study of the 1980s accused of putting our "Nation At Risk;" I now work in a school with real challenges that has managed to continuously provide a quality broad-based comprehensive program to city students.  I am proud to teach there.  I see students I have taught who are now achieving in college, in grad school, and working as productive members of our society.  I am proud of them for their success.  

It's time to stop demonizing schools and time to stand behind them and uphold them as one of the central organizations in our community.  It's time to stop demonizing teachers and students.  They are real people working together who accomplish good things.  Mostly, it's time for every citizen who is "choicing" their children out to re-evaluate whether their participation in this public good might bolster their whole community and their own families.  ("Ask not what your country can do" and all that..)  Maybe once we stand together in the public arena we will be able to abolish this high stakes nonsense and get some public education policy that reinforces what American schools do best: provide an American public prepared with the creativity, flexibility, and will to meet the challenges of the future that we know are coming and that we can't yet foresee.

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