This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch for her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website. Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement.
I will be marching with the Save Our Schools coalition of teachers and parents on July 30 in Washington, D.C. I know you will be, too. I hope we are joined by many thousands of concerned citizens who want to save our schools from the bad ideas and bad policies now harming them.
I am marching to protest the status quo of high-stakes testing, attacks on the education profession, and creeping privatization.
I want to protest the federal government’s punitive ideas about school reform, specifically, No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top. Neither of these programs has any validation in research or practice or evidence. The nation’s teachers and parents know that NCLB has been a policy disaster. Race to the Top incorporates the same failed ideas. Why doesn’t Congress know?
I want to protest the wave of school closings caused by these cruel federal policies. Public schools are a public trust, not shoe stores. If they are struggling, they should be improved, not killed.
I want to protest the way that these federal programs have caused states and districts to waste billions of dollars on testing, test preparation, data collection, and an army of high-priced consultants.
I want to protest reliance on high-stakes testing, which has narrowed the curriculum, encouraged gaming the system, and promoted cheating.
I want to express my concern about the effects of 12 years of multiple-choice, standardized testing on children’s cognitive development, and my fear that this reliance on bubble-testing discourages imagination, creativity, and divergent thinking.
I want to express my opposition to an educational system devoted to constant measurement, ranking, and rating of children, which validates the belief that some of our children are winners, while at least half are losers.
I want to speak out against federal policies that promote privatization of public education.
I want to protest federal efforts to encourage entrepreneurs to make money from education, instead of promoting open-source technology, free to all schools.
I want to protest the federal government’s failure to develop long-term plans to improve the recruitment, preparation, and support of the teaching profession.
I want to protest the ill-founded belief that teachers should be evaluated by their students’ test scores, which is a direct result of the Race to the Top.
I want to express my disgust at the constant barrage of attacks on teachers, principals, and public education.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize that federal funding should support equity and benefit the nation’s neediest students. That was the rationale for passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and it should be the rationale for federal funding today.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to acknowledge that school reform cannot be imposed by legislative fiat, but must be led by those who are most knowledgeable about the needs of children and schools: educators, parents, and local communities.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize the constraints of the Constitution and federalism and to stop using the relatively small financial contribution of the federal government to micromanage the nation’s schools.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to acknowledge that our nation’s public schools have played an essential role in making our nation great. After many historic struggles, their doors are open to all, regardless of race, economic condition, national origin, disability, or language. We must keep their doors open to all and preserve this democratic institution for future generations.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize that our public schools are succeeding, not declining. Since the beginning of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the 1970s, our students have made slow but steady gains in reading and mathematics. Improvement has been especially notable for African-American students. Progress was greatest, ironically, before the implementation of NCLB.
I call on Congress and the Obama administration to cease spreading false claims of educational decline. Since the first international test in 1964, we have never led the world in test scores, and we have often been in the bottom quartile on those tests. Yet, as President Obama said in his State of the Union Address in January, we have the world’s greatest economy, the world’s most productive workers, the most inventors, the most patents, the most successful businesses, and the best universities in the world. And all of these great achievements were created by people who are mainly products of our nation’s public schools.
I urge Congress and the Obama administration to support programs that help children arrive in school ready to learn: assuring that every pregnant woman has appropriate medical care and nutrition; that children have high-quality early-childhood education; and that parents know they have the support they need to help their children grow up healthy and ready to learn.
I am marching because I want every child to attend a school where they can learn not only basic skills, but history, geography, civics, the sciences, and world languages, and have ample opportunity to engage in the arts.
I am marching to support the dignity of the education profession and to express my thanks to the millions of teachers, principals, and other educators who are in the schools every day, doing their best to educate our nation’s children.
I hope the march will revive the morale of our nation’s educators. I hope it will remind the American people that the future of our nation depends on our willingness to protect and improve our public schools, the schools attended by nearly 90 percent of our nation’s children.