Posts by Radja Benmansour

Diane Ravitch Speaks at Lehigh: A Strong Public School System is the Answer

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On February 10th, 2015, Diane Ravitch gave a very inspiring talk at Lehigh University about the “Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public schooling.”  Commenting on the public vs private school divide in the United States, Ravitch argued that privatization of American schools is a dead end to America’s education and that the real struggle and effort should be more centered on enhancing public schools’ performance.

Considering Ravitch’s background and her commitment to American schooling, she is best positioned to speak about the kind of reforms the nation’s schools need to undertake. Initially, Ravitch supported the legislation proposed by the Bush’s administration of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB); however, the NCLB turned out to be an abomination to the American public school system. In fact, this legislation has put more than one child behind and led to an unequal share of educational triumph. While the percentage of testing is successfully high in America, it is, however, considerably low in public school districts where poverty and unequal access to welfare plagues those disadvantaged communities.

During her speech, Ravitch role-played a debate, where she stood as her opponent and then gave straightforward answers from her own point of view. She advocates the right to premium access to public schools for all children in America regardless their race, ethnicity, religion or social background. One of the most powerful things she mentioned during her speech was referring to poverty and segregation as the roots of failure of American schools. Not only children in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the United States are more likely to perform poorly on the standardized testing but are also subjected to drop out quickly and easily from schools than white middle-class American children ever would. She says that instead of getting rid of teachers whose students have low testing scores, there should be an implementation of peer assistance and review to assess these teachers. Moreover, she proclaims that the professionalism of teaching should be reviewed and teachers should become proficient after ten years of training in order to enhance the profession and give it the value it should have in such an advanced society.

Still, those advocating for privatization of schools say that public institutions are mediocre and should become charter schools, parents should have the choice to send their children to better institutions where they would have better access to education and would be assisted closely to increase their performance on the standardized tests. From this perspective, according to Ravitch, education is viewed as a business opportunity, neglecting its core principle of equality of access to knowledge.

In order to break free from the standardized testing and stop blaming teachers and children for low test scores, Ravitch suggests some alternatives to promote and improve public schooling in America. She says that the issues should be tackled as early as the pregnancy phase, that pre-natal care should be administered to all mothers no matter their race or social status. Quality early childhood education should start around the age of three for children of different social backgrounds and funding should be made available to decrease class size and refine public schools infrastructure. Teachers should teach more and test less. In fact, Ravitch calls for a change in curriculum in order to prioritize arts and languages just as much as mathematics and reading. She argues that the marginalization of these subjects decreases the motivation and creativity of children in schools and in life. She asserts that there is no need for privatization of schools in America, but a reform that should benefit all children and not only the privileged ones. For America to compete with other nations, its educational system should be rehabilitated and renewed completely to meet all children’s needs and to put an end to segregation in America’s schooling system.

As I listened to Ravitch talk about students’ low performance on standardized tests and decreasing motivation and a lack of imagination among children, I could not help but remember Robinson’s book The Element, and his video about Changing Education Paradigms, where he calls for a reform of the educational system and curriculum to allow children to regain their power of imagination and innovation, while ending the era of mass schooling and standardized testing, where schools look more like manufactures that produce data  and are measured by the annual testing.  If education would continue to be seen as an area of economic interest and schools as for-profit organizations, then education would lose its fundamental function as a basic human right that should be accessed by each and every one of us no matter where we come from, what we believe in, and where we are headed.

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