Two blog posts arrived in my in-box today. The first is from a young woman, Jessie Ramey, whose blog is called Yinzercation and whose recent post is titled Diane Ravitch Launched, Yinzer-Style. This sent me, of course to Google and ultimately Wikipedia for a definition: “Yinzer is a 20th century term playing on the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania second-person plural vernacular “yinz.” This post is about Diane Ravitch’s book launch for Reign of Error on last Monday night at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The event drew a thousand people and involved presentations by several school music groups. Writes Ms. Ramey, ” Several student leaders from the Westinghouse Bulldogs high-stepping marching band joined Dr. Ravitch on stage to explain what has happened to arts education, music, and band at their high school. Despite the proud Westinghouse legacy that includes many of this country’s jazz greats (think Billy Strayhorn, Al Aaron, Mary Lou Williams and a host of others), the ragtag band has almost no instruments, hasn’t had new uniforms in more than a dozen years, and can’t even afford drumsticks. Yet the students are passionate about holding their band together.”
The second blog post, The Myth of the Level Playing Field, is from the Rev. John Thomas at Chicago Theological Seminary. He too writes about public education, describing the scene as he rides his bike to work each morning down Stony Island Parkway, “past two schools within a quarter of a mile of each other. On one stretch… sits the new Earl Shapiro Hall, a slick, multi-million dollar campus for the early childhood program of the University of Chicago Lab Schools.” This is the school where President Obama sent his children when he lived in Chicago and where Mayor Rahm Emmanuel now sends his children. According to Rev. Thomas, “Full day tuition for nursery through grade 5 at the Lab School is $25,300 a year.”
Rev. Thomas also rides his bike past Bret Harte Elementary School, a Chicago public math and science magnet school. Comparing the expenditure per pupil in the two schools, Rev. Thomas writes: “Per pupil spending in the Chicago Public Schools was about $12,000 per student in 2011 before this year’s round of large budget cuts. While these numbers admittedly compare apples and oranges, the fruit is still rotten.”
Rev. Thomas examines updated research on income inequality recently released by University of California economist, Emmanuel Saez, research documenting that America’s growing inequality is unprecedented—with the top 1 percent controlling 95 percent of real income growth between 2009 and 2012. “The children skipping to school on the sidewalks along Stony Island have not read Saez’s report,” writes Thomas. “They’re just living it. The enormous imbalance of privilege will become more and more apparent to the children at Bret Harte while the children at the Lab School will move through lives often shielded from the tough south side neighborhoods where the pitiful scraps of America’s economy are tossed.”
The subject of Ravitch’s new book is the damage being done to public education by policies that encourage privatization and that punish rather than helping public schools in the poorest neighborhoods of our big cities. Pittsburgh’s Jessie Ramey describes what she views as the kernel of Ravitch’s new book: “Our pubic schools are public goods, and we must treat them that way…. Public education is a community responsibility, but the driving ideals of privatization—competition, choice, measurement, rank sorting, punishment, efficiencies—undermine that shared obligation.”