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Diane Ravitch’s Posts Yesterday: Democratic Governance of Public Schools Is At Risk

June 16, 2016

I read all of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday and found one common theme: democratic governance of public education works but is in peril. A summary of the several of the posts illustrates how this is so:

  • One post covered the ongoing struggle in NYS over whether the mayor should control the schools or not. As Ms. Ravitch notes, even though Mayor de Blasio is willing to push back against the effort in Albany to expand charters, the notion of the mayor controlling the schools is an anethema and there is no evidence whatsoever that it leads to the improvement of student performance as measured by standardized achievement tests scores.
  • Two posts dealt with Eli Broad’s second iteration of a “plan” to bring Great Public Schools Now (GPSN) to Los Angeles. The original plan explicitly called for the replacement of all democratically governed public schools with deregulated private schools overseen by businessmen…. and she suggests several things that are likely to go wrong if that happened.
  • One post dealt with a recent NYTimes article suggesting the best way for Liberia to introduce a high quality public education was the introduction of deregulated for-profit charters. Ms. Ravitch noted that the writer of this articles funded by— you guessed it— a group of tech billionaires who stand to profit when 200 million poor third world children are eventually enrolled. While the governance of Liberia is kleptocratic and dictatorial, the introduction of equally kleptocratic and dictatorial for-profit charters does not seem to be the direction to move if one hopes to see democracy eventually flourish.
  • Two posts deal with TX cities (Houston and Dallas) where pro-democracy board members have virtually recaptured control of the school boards where pro-privatization forces were in control. In both cases pivotal elections are on the horizon and the future of public education hangs in the balance. In both cases, privatization has not yielded the results expected… unsurprising given the tendency of those who impose business models on schooling tend to focus on the “incompetent teachers” while ignoring the challenges of poverty.
  • One post deals with a group of Idaho students who put together a video being circulated on social media that undercuts the PR campaign of the pro-privatization Albertson Foundation.

As a Superintendent for 29 years, I know that democracy is painfully slow and seemingly incapable of seizing the opportunities that technology makes possible.  I also know from experience that there are inherent inefficiencies in the way publicly governed organizations function… but I also know that privately operated organizations and bureaucracies have the same inefficiencies. Running schools like a business, replacing the plodding democratic operation with supposedly “nimble” business model, has not resulted in any improvement whatsoever to our schools. We haven’t succeeded in improving our so-called “failing schools” because we haven’t made the investment needed to make them as successful as our “elite public schools”. Until we get full and complete engagement of all parents in the education process, full funding for all public schools, and a strong safety net for children raised in poverty we can expect schools to fall short of the standards set for them.

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