Thursday, September 19, 2013

Reign of Error: One book’s defense of the status-quo

By Kevin P. Chavous

In the several reviews of Diane Ravitch's new book, "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” many have focused on her obvious obsession with corporate America and it's 'evil' involvement in education reform.  In writing this book, she clearly wants to warn us all "that reformers want to privatize their public schools and divert their taxes to pay profits to investors." And while Ravitch's rabid attacks throughout the book on education reformers is at times irrational and not based on facts, my problem with her approach and her rhetoric is more basic.

Through words and deeds, it is painfully clear that Ravitch believes that low-income and minority kids can't learn at the same pace as their more wealthy, white counterparts. Consider these words found in her book:

"Of course some schools and districts have very low test scores and low graduation rates, and this has always been true. Most of these schools and districts have two features in common: poverty and high concentrations of racial minorities. The combination of these two factors is associated with low test scores. Children whose parents are poor and have low educational attainment tend to have lower test scores."

She goes on to say that "children who are poor receive less medical attention and less nutrition and experience more stress, disruption, and crises in their lives and that these factors have an ongoing  and profound effect on academic performance."

In other words, Ravitch, like many of her fellow defenders of the K-12 education status quo, believes that low-income, minority kids are unteachable in their current state of poverty.  In the meantime, they throw up their hands, blame the victim and rant against corporate America.

But what about the kids?

The one undeniable benefit of educational choice is its focus on getting the most needy kids in good schools today. And, it's working. Study after study has demonstrated the progress these kids make when they are given opportunities to go to private schools, charter schools and virtual schools that meet them where they are, irrespective of their economic status.  Moreover, wherever we see robust choice and charter programs, like Milwaukee, Florida, and D.C., traditional schools benefit. Ignoring these facts,as Ravitch does, doesn't erase their existence.

More than that, I believe that all kids CAN learn, including low-income and minority kids. Ravitch does not. In page after page, while railing against education reform, she fails to acknowledge the power of the human spirit found in determined kids who overcome their station in life through education. Rather, she categorically writes off a whole group of kids while absolving bad schools throughout. This fundamental schism lies at the heart of the future of education in our country. As long as rhetoric like Ravitch's gets traction, there will always be a built-in excuse why schools don't work for all kids. For those of us who know otherwise, our charge is to continue to be the voice for the voiceless and keep reminding our fellow citizens that education in America has a face. And it's not the corporate face Ravitch wants us to see, it's the faces of our children.

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