Following is a section of an article by Diane Ravitch from the Progressive Magazine.
Saving Our Public Schools, October 2013
Pregnant women should see a doctor early in their pregnancy and have regular care and good nutrition. Poor women who do nor receive early and regular medical care are likely to have babies with developmental and cognitive problems. From the day they are born, young children need a loving caregiver, good nutrition, and medical care; their parents should get the help they need to learn how to care for their babies.
Children need pre-kindergarten classes that teach them how to socialize with others, how to listen and learn, how to communicate well, and how to care for themselves, while engaging in the joyful pursuit of play and learning that is appropriate to their age and development and that builds their background knowledge and vocabulary.
Children in the early elementary grades need teachers who set appropriate goals for their age. They should learn to read, write, calculate, and explore nature, and they should have plenty of time to sing and dance and draw and play and giggle. Classes in these grades should be small enough—ideally fewer than twenty—so that students get the individual attention they need. Testing in the early grades should be used sparingly, not to rank students, but diagnostically, to help determine what they know and what they still need to learn. Test scores should remain a private matter between parents and teachers, not shared with the district or the state for any individual student. The district or state may aggregate scores for entire schools, but should not rank individual students by test scores or judge teachers or schools on the basis of these scores.
As students enter the upper elementary grades and middle school and high school, they should have a balanced curriculum that includes not only reading, writing, and mathematics, but also the sciences, literature, history, geography, civics, and foreign languages. Their school should have a rich arts program, where students may learn to sing, dance, play an instrument, join an orchestra or a band, perform in a play, sculpt, or use technology to design structures, conduct research, or create fanciful artworks.
Every student should have time for physical education every day.
Every school should have a library with librarians and media specialists.
Every school should have a nurse, a psychologist, a guidance counselor, and a social worker.
And every school should have after-school programs where students may explore their interests, whether in athletics, chess, robotics, history club, science club, nature study, Scouting, or other activities.
Teachers should write their own tests and use standardized tests only for diagnostic purposes.
Classes should be small enough to ensure that every teacher knows his or her students and can provide the sort of feedback to strengthen their ability to write, their non-cognitive skills, their critical thinking, and their mathematical and scientific acumen.
As a society, we must establish goals, strategies, and programs to reduce poverty and racial segregation. Only by eliminating opportunity gaps can we eliminate achievement gaps. Poor and immigrant children need the same sort of schools that wealthy children receive—only more so. Those who start life with the fewest advantages need even smaller classes, even more art, science, and music to engage them, to spark their creativity and fulfill their potential.
If you want a society organized along the survival of the fittest and the triumph of the most advantaged, then you will prefer the current course of action, where children and teachers and schools are “racing to the top.” But, if you believe the goal of our society should be equality of opportunity for all children and that we should seek to reduce the alarming inequalities children now experience, then my program should win your support.
My premise is straightforward: You can’t do the right things until you stop doing the wrong things. If you insist on driving the train right over the cliff, you will never reach your hoped-for destination of excellence for all.
Instead, you will inflict harm on millions of children and reduce the quality of their education. You will squander billions of dollars on failed schemes that should have been spent on realistic, evidence-based ways of improving our public schools, our society,, and the lives of children.
Stop doing the wrong things. Stop promoting competition and choice as answers to the very inequality that was created by competition and choice. A good society requires both a vibrant private sector and a responsible public sector.
We must not permit the public sector to be privatized and eviscerated. In a democracy, important social goals require social collaboration. We must work to establish programs that improve the lives of children and families. To build a strong education system, we need to build a strong and respected education profession. The federal government and states must develop policies to recruit, support, and retain career educators, both in the classroom and in positions of leadership.
If we mean to conquer educational inequity, we must recognize that the root causes of poor academic performance are segregation and poverty, along with inequitably resourced schools. We must act decisively to reduce the causes of inequity. We know what good schools look like; we know what great education consists of. We must bring good schools to every district and neighborhood in our nation. Public education is a basic public responsibility: We must not be persuaded by a false crisis narrative to privatize it. It is time for parents, educators, and other concernedcitizens to join together to strengthen our public schools and preserve them for future generations. The future of our democracy depends on it.
More than any other institution in American life, the public schools have broken down the barriers of class, race, religion, gender, ethnicity, language, and disability status that separate people. They have not eliminated those divisions, but have enabled people from different walks of life to learn from one another, to study together, play together, plan together, and recognize their common humanity More than any other institution, the public schools have created the connective tissue that binds together our society, to make us able to exchange ideas, to debate, to disagree, and to take into account the views of others in making decisions.
Over time, as the public schools opened their doors to all, they expanded opportunity to more people, distributed the benefits of knowledge to more people, and strengthened our nation. Public education has been an American melting pot, an American salad bowl, an American orchestra, an American mosaic. The public schools have taught us how to be one society, not a collection of separate enclaves, divided by race, language, and culture. They have contributed directly to the growth of a large middle class and a dynamic society. Our nation’s public schools have been a mighty engine of opportunity and equality. They still are.
But no matter how much we improve our public schools, they alone cannot solve the deeply rooted, systemic problems of our society. Federal, state, and municipal policies have isolated many children, especially in urban districts, into schools that are segregated by race, class, and income. Many of our public schools have also been badly underfunded, regularly pummeled by budget cuts, rising class sizes, wrongheaded policies, and damaging mandates that have served to
further undermine their mission. The inevitable result of such segregation and underfmding is low academic performance, which is then blamed on the schools. The failure of public policy is not the failure of the public schools. The challenge to our society today is to repair public policy and to give our public schools the care and support they need to thrive, in all communities and for all children, rather than abandon them to the idiosyncrasies of the free market.
Our communities created public schools to develop citizens and to sustain our democracy. That is their abiding purpose. This unique institution has the unique responsibility of developing a citizenry, making many peoples into one people and teaching our children the skills they need to prepare for work and further education.
The public schools have made real the promise of e pluribus ‘mum, without sacrificing either the pluribus or the unum.
When public education is in danger, democracy is jeopardized.
We cannot afford that risk.
The way forward requires that education policy be shaped by evidence and by the knowledge and wisdom of educators, not by a business plan shaped by free-market ideologues and entrepreneurs.
We must take care not to reestablish a dual school system, with privately managed charters for the most motivated and most able students, and public schools as the repositories for those unable to get into the charter system. We must take care to avoid a future in which the rich have small classes with teachers, while the poor are taught by computers.
If we take seriously the charge to improve education, we must improve both schools and social conditions for children and families. To reduce the achievement gap, we must reduce the opportunity gap. We must invest in early childhood education and make sure that all children have the medical care they need.
If we truly care about the welfare of the most vulnerable children in our society, we will turn our efforts to reducing segregation and poverty. These are the root causes of poor academic performance. We must lower the child poverty rate. It is a national scandal. Other nations have figured out how to protect the well-being of children and families, and we have not. It’s time to get to work on policies and programs that address root causes.
Only well-qualified, well-prepared teachers should be hired to work in our schools. We must stop giving them orders and scripts and let them teach. In turn, teachers need to be evaluated by human beings, including their principals and their peers, rather than computer-driven metrics.
Yes, we must improve our schools. Start now, start here, by building the bonds of trust among schools and communities. The essential mission of the public schools is not merely to prepare workers for the global workforce but to develop individuals of good character, to prepare citizens with the mind, heart, and character to sustain our democracy into the future.
Genuine school reform must be built on hope, not fear; on encouragement, not threats; on inspiration, not compulsion; on trust, not carrots and sticks; on belief in the dignity of the human person, not a slavish devotion to data; on support and mutual respect, not a regime of punishment and blame. To be lasting, school reform must rely on collaboration and teamwork among students, parents, teachers, principals, administrators, and local communities.
Despite its faults, the American system of democratically controlled schools has been the mainstay of our communities and the foundation for our nation’s success. We must work together to improve our public schools. We must extend the promise of equal educational opportunity to all the children of our nation. Protecting our public schools against privatization and saving them for future generations of American children is the civil rights issue of our time. •