A large audience was on hand at BookHampton in Mattituck on Saturday when Diane Ravitch discussed her new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System (Basic Books) and the biggest threats to the stability of public education: privatization and standardized testing. The one-two punch of subpar standardized testing scores — disproportionately apparent in non-white, low-income, high-special needs school districts — and the subsequent defunding or shutting down of these underperforming districts has created a vacancy that is increasingly being filled by Wall Street-backed private charter schools that may not have the best interests of its students at heart.
Drawing on compelling examples — such as a program in Louisiana that allows local government to gut underperforming public schools' budgets for the benefit of private charter schools, or the threats of online charter schools that fill a classroom of fifty or sixty kids with computers instead of teachers — Ravitch makes the case that the privatization of education is leading to America's most under-recognized — and most devastating — problem: an education system that is doing nothing to prepare our kids to live dynamic, fulfilling lives.
The audience, primarily composed of educators, including some from states that have already instituted privatization of public school districts, asked many pointed questions about the direction that our country is headed on education. They agreed that No Child Left Behind and the current administration's equivalent, Race to the Top have put unrealistic expectations on educators and their students, and is contributing to a growing sector of for-profit educational businesses — answerable only to their stockholders —who are motivated entirely by their bottom line.
Ravitch suggests that the only way to push back against "charter school creep" is for the local community to get involved; without the community banding together, the future of everyone's education is at stake.
You can learn more about Diane Ravitch and read her insightful blog on education and policy on her website at www.dianeravitch.net.
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