A few years ago Diane Ravitch was interviewed on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She was promoting her book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Part of this interview really resonated with me. She was talking about how so many people in this country have been fed for 30 years that the American school system is broken, yet our test scores are the highest they’ve been in history, our graduation rates are the highest they’ve been in history, and the drop out rates are the lowest they’ve been in history.
The point that resonated with me was when she spoke about how the same people who think the system is broken are asked how their schools fared, the response is always, oh my schools are great-I love my teachers.
This exemplifies the education inequality in our country. We have highest rate of child poverty among the top industrialized nations of the world. We have income and economic inequality which can be seen so glaringly in our inner cities. Yet it’s so easy to look at the problem from the outside and talk about how bad the problem is on the inside. Our current president and Secretary of Education are looking from the outside in, and without any understanding of what they’re seeing on the inside, but they’ve come up with a solution.
I have said for years- before we can agree on the solution, we must agree on the problem. And clearly there is no agreement on the problem.
From the White House and the Department of Education comes this: HR 610 or The School Choice Act introduced by Steve King of Iowa, with representatives from Maryland, Texas and Arizona signing on in support. Read a summary of the bill here.
The School Choice Act, would eliminate the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), which was passed as a part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” One of the statutes from the ESEA was Title I, which provided federal funding to support schools and students from areas with a high percentage of low-income families. Further, the ESEA aimed to narrow the achievement gaps between minority students and their white suburban counterparts by providing each child with fair and equal opportunities to achieve an equitable education.
If HR 610 is passed, federal funds can be used to create “block grants” to be used to “distribute a portion of funds to parents who elect to enroll their child in a private school or to home-school their child.” Where the ESEA supported education equality in low income areas, HR 610 will reduce it by allowing choice and vouchers, thus reducing funding for public schools. This is only one of many concerns with this bill.
The bill would also repeal a specified rule that established certain nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs. This was included to increase fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low and no-fat milk as well as a reduction in trans fatty foods and low sodium meals included in free and reduced lunch plans. So not only are we watering down our low income schools, we’re also showing a disregard for the nutritional well-being of students in low income areas. Poverty is defined by the federal government as the number of students receiving free/reduced lunches. Now they are reducing free lunches to no longer meet health or nutritional standards. This is horrifying.
As a lifelong educator who has devoted much of my career to urban education, I just cannot see how increasing charters and vouchers, and reducing already compromised school budgets is a solution. I see this as more of a poverty problem, and increasing unregulated charters, allowing public money to be used for religious education or home schooling, is not a viable solution.I see it as discrimination, and marginalization.
In my research and academic circles we do not think charters and vouchers are a viable solution. The preponderance of research does not support these as a viable solution. If I look at whom I consider some of the top scholars in the field: Linda Darling-Hammond, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Pedro Noguera, Sonia Nieto, and Diane Ravitch-their work does not support these solutions, and worth noting they are not being asked to share their lifetime of research in this field. I suppose if you don’t want to know the answers, you don’t ask the questions.
Check out the Network for Public Education site for further information, including how you can email your representatives and say no to this privatization of public schools. There is plenty more to write on this topic. Please keep reading and sharing. It’s so important that we get others to understand this issue and stand up to support public education. This is really happening.
These are my reflections for today.