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LETTERS / The Threat to America’s Public School Tradition

Dear High Country Press,

I am a retired science teacher from Watauga High School that decided to leave the profession early because of the way teachers are being treated by the politicians who are trying to destroy America’s public school system.  It turns out that 2012, the year I left, experienced the largest exodece of teachers in the state’s history.  Year after year, the teachers met whatever expectation was asked of us, like increasing graduation levels.  But year after year, we were told how horrible we were and how we needed more “accountability” measures to shape up.

As for myself I moved to British Columbia in Canada and enrolled my children into a school system that did not have such “accountability” measures, yet ranked 3rd internationally.  It was so refreshing to see a school that taught to the child again.  North Carolina used to teach to the child too, but that changed the moment the “accountability” measures were introduced more than a decade ago.  Teachers instantly switched their primary focus to meeting the objectives on the tests instead, and the teachers themselves become less cooperative and more competitive, which was the intent of the “accountability” measures in the first place. 

Unfortunately, the “accountability” measures failed our nation’s children as the US’s international tests scores started dropping.  You would think that the politicians would see that it hadn’t worked and stop the “accountability” measures altogether, but that’s not what happen.  Teachers got more “accountability” measures creating a vicious downward spiral that has now taken the US to the 21st spot in international rankings.  I was not too surprised to find out that British Columbia’s teachers were about the same quality of the ones I taught with in North Carolina, even though BC ranked 3rd.  The difference is that BC still teaches to the child.

I have spent the last two years researching, looking for the reasons why America would force these tests upon its school children that obviously weren’t working.  It turns out that I was not the only teacher seeking such answers.  There are many around the nation wondering why teachers are being blamed for so much when they are working as hard as they can already.  Fortunately, I eventually found a former US Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, who knew the big picture and put the puzzle together for me so that I could finally understand what’s really happening to America’s public schools.

Below is a link to an interview with Diane Ravitch, where she explains the role corporations are playing in the demise of the public schools.  She is calling for parents around the nation to opt their children out of the “accountability” tests that are destroying our nation’s schools.  Please watch the video below to learn how corporations see the education of our children as a $500 billion/year industry and how they are in the process of privatizing America’s public schools, for big profits.

Instruction of new material has already stopped for this school year so that the children can start reviewing for the counterproductive “accountability” test.  There are a lot more test this year than in the past, with a lot more stress on the  children themselves.  Parent’s around the nation are noticing the negative impacts, many are starting to speak out, some are following Ravitch’s advice and opting their children out of the “accountability” tests altogether.  Read this story about a New York mother who has watched the additional stress at school suck all of the creative play out of her 9 year old child (http://dianeravitch.net/2014/03/23/mother-my-son-hates-school-how-can-i-help-him/).

This would be a good time to explore the validity of these “accountability” tests in your paper, now that the testing season is upon the schools and Watauga county parents start wondering if the additional stress from all of these tests are actually helpful or harmful.  This is just the first story, I have additional information that I will be sending you over the next few days to explain just how deep and dangerous these “accountability” measures have become.  In the meantime the interview with Diane Ravitch below, is the best place to start.

Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch sheds light on who’s really “failing” America’s public schools and explains why, BIG MONEY!

Diane Ravitch served in the Department of Education since the 80’s and helped shape American educational policies for decades.  She originally supported No Child Left Behind and charter schools, but changed her mind after seeing the bad results.  

Unfortunately, the high-stakes testing designed to destroy public schools and the charter schools designed to replace them, were already in place for the corporations to use.  Now, Ravitch is trying to save America’s public school tradition from Wall Street corporations who see the education of our children as a $500 billion/year industry. 

To learn more about this growing threat to America’s public school tradition, watch Diane’s interview with Bill Moyers on How Our Public Schools Are For Sale.

Public Schools for Sale? from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

For a quicker view, read the interview in bullet form below.

Diane Ravitch’s Interview with Bill Moyer on Public Schools for Sale on 3/29/14 in Bullet Form

@1:22 •Charters Schools are booming, and controversial; publicly funded, privately run

@1:40 •Merit is no longer driving the debate, money is

@1:46 •Charter movement is part of nationwide effort to privatise public education 

@1:50 •Wall Street sees an emerging market

@1:59 •Wall Street Journal article on “Charter School Gravy Train”

@2:08 •K/12 is potential $500 billion market per year for Hedge Fund Managers, private equity

@2:24 •In Ohio, 9% of charter schools, get 38% of charter school funding

@2:36 •In Philadelphia, 23 publics schools closed for good; replaced with charters

@2:46 •In New York, billionaires fund $3.5 million media campaign to get free use public school buildings

@3:34 •Diane Ravitch is sounding the alarm about the private buying of public education

@3:40 •Once a champion of charter schools, but has now changed her mind

@3:49 •Historian of Education, worked for both parties as Assistant Secretary of Education

@3:57 •Her website has received over 8 million visits in its first year

@4:03 •She has written many influential books on education

@4:14 •Last book, Reign of Error, The Hoax of the Privatisation Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools 

@4:24 •Ravitch: entrepreneurs see school reform movement as a hugh opportunity worth $500 billion a year

@4:40 •There are frequent conferences on how to profit from the public education industry

@4:48 •Ravitch: “I never thought about education as an industry, but the entrepreneurs do…”

@5:07 •Ravitch: “This is what the charter movement is, it is an effort to privatise public education.”

@5:09 •Ravitch: “What is at stake, is the future of our American public education.”

@5:25 •Ravitch: “I don’t want to lose public education, I believe that it is…one of the foundation stones of democracy.”

@5:33 •Ravitch: “An attack on public education is an attack on democracy.” 

@5:49 •For-profit charter schools are driving the legislative changes

@6:00 •States can’t get ‘Race To The Top’ federal funding, without lifting cap for charter schools; led to charter school increase

@6:26 •Wealthy hedge fund managers are investing in the charter school industry; they have fought for these laws;

@6:41 •A lot of charter school money going into support the legislation

@6:48 •Billionaire John Arnold trying to privatise public schools in Dallas, TX

@7:07 •Arnold also wants to eliminate state pension plans

@7:22 •Ravitch: “I don’t like the idea that billionaires…want to change things to their liking, no one elected John Arnold to do this.”

@7:47 •Within 10 years, there will be American cities without a public education system; like Detroit, New Orleans, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and many more 

@8:30 •Ravitch: Contrary to popular belief, America’s schools are not failing

@8:43 •The biggest problem is poverty at 25%; bring problems of poverty with them into school

@9:14 •Ravitch: “Public schools are in trouble because the community is in trouble” “We should be meeting the needs of the children.”

@9:33 •Charter schools were originally meant to work with public schools, to give drop out kids an alternative

@10:00 •What they have become is cut-throat competitors to public schools

@10:03 •Because of No Child Left Behind and Race To Top there is emphasis on tests scores

@10:09 •Charters focus on competing for best test scores among hedge fund managers, only want top kids, good at weeding out 

@10:38 •Not all charter schools are bad, the worst thing is the profit motive; most charters not for profit (like Watauga County’s Two Rivers School)

@10:50 •Although many of the non-profit schools are run by for-profit organisations (White Hat has extracted $1 billion from Ohio)

@11:13 •Advocates for charter schools have taken over Florida’s legislature and have created a 600 charter school empire

@11:40 •In Michigan, 80% of charter schools are for-profit, don’t get good academic results, but make a lot of money

@11:49 •Virtual charter schools are the worst, 

@12:00 •Largest virtual charter is K/12 program, developed by Michael Milton, the Junk Bond King, indicted for insider trading; gets full tuition from state for kids to learn online at home; low paid teacher monitors 50-100 kids at a time; no regular school expenses; very profitable; sold on New York Stock Exchange

@13:01 •CEO of Netflix says 90% of kids will be in charter schools; says we need to replace local school boards with charter boards

@13:48 •In New York and California, charter schools cannot be audited because they are private

@14:06 •In some states (like North Carolina) charter schools do not have to hire certified teachers

@14:11 •Ravitch:”We are moving in a direction that is harmful to democracy, that is not good for kids, and will not improve education.”

@14:20 •Charter schools should return to original purpose, to help the lowest kids, not the highest ones, and improve with public ed

@15:15 •The problem with entrepreneur running schools is that they know nothing about education

@15:22 •Highest performing nations in world don’t have charter schools or vouchers, they are very public and equitable

@15:38 •US should be like Finland with top scores, aim for equity and you will get excellence

@15:53 •ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council); writing legislation to eliminate public schools and promote charter schools

@16:20 •ALEC wants to eliminate collective bargaining and due process, but likes high-stakes testing and charter schools

@16:53 •”Education reform” being pushed by both ALEC and the Democrats for Education Reform (a hedge fund group)

[Both political parties are trying to bring about the end of America’s public school tradition, and the news media too.]

@17:08 •Ravitch: “North Carolina is completely ALEC governed and they have enacted the entire ALEC package.”

@17:22 •Ravitch: “ALEC has major corporate funding.”

@17:34 •ALEC does not want charter schools to be audited, don’t want restrictions on quality or profits

@18:00 •Most surprizing thing to Ravitch was how the Democrats did not resist attacks on public schools

@18:10 •Ravitch: “I realise, anyone who wants to run for president, has to go to Wall Street.”

@18:33 •Ravitch has gone from state to state looking for a governor willing to defend teachers, only Jerry Brown, but too old

@19:20 •Ravitch hates to sees billionaires picking on teachers, who don’t use public schools themselves, tell them how to teach

@19:32 •Ravitch outraged that public schools aren’t being improved, she does not want the status quo

@19:46 •Ravitch is wailing against a status quo that is set by the financial and political elite

@19:55 •Ravitch: “The public is not yet ready to relinquish its public schools to the speculators, entrepreneurs, idealogs, snake-oil-salesmen, profit making businesses, and Wall Street hedge fund managers.”

@20:20 •Ravitch helped form Network for Public Education (NPE) (http://www.networkforpubliceducation.org/)

@20:28 •NPE has parents, teachers, and students that are organizing all over the country to fight back

@20:50 •Example: The Mamma Bears of Tennessee (http://www.mommabears.org/1/post/2014/03/schools-need-vigor-not-rigor.html)

@20:53 •Jeb Bush in Florida wants a “parent trigger”, where 51% of the parents could vote their public school into a charter

@21:21 •Parents have been able to stop Jeb Bush and Republican legislature from allowing corporations to take over the schools

@21:27 •Ravitch: “It’s the grass roots that I am counting on.  It’s democracy that I am counting on.  Can democracy beat out big money?  We’ll find out later.”

@21:39 •Why Ravitch knows that public schools will win: 

1) •The reformers ideas are failing, charters do not outperform the public schools, despite their ability to hand select students

•Evaluating teachers with tests scores has been a disaster, the number of teachers leaving is creating a crisis

•20 years ago the average teacher had 15 years experience, it’s now down to just a few years of experience

•Research clearly shows high-stakes testing to be inaccurate, flawed; good teachers are getting bad evaluations

•Ravitch: “Everything that these guys are pushing, has actually failed already.  They are not making schools better.  You can’t fail your way to success.”

2) •We are organizing: high school students, college students, teachers, and superintendents are organizing around the country

•In Tennessee, Louisiana, Washington State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, 

•Ravitch: “I feel very hopeful that democracy will win out over big money.”


David R Phillips
Victoria, BC, Canada.