70 People Brave Frigid Weather to Raise Concerns about School Choice

Wednesday was so cold in greater Cleveland that schools were closed across the region, but by 7:00 PM, 70 people had arrived at our high school cafeteria whose doors had been opened for the second week of our community conversation about Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error.  (You can read about our first session here.)

A retired, and much beloved, high school guidance counselor driving in from rural Newbury reported that as he made his way to our meeting, his car radio blared an ad from Ohio’s most notorious on-line academy, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT): “Schools across Ohio are closed due to the weather, but our school is always open.  At ECOT your child will never miss school because of cold weather.”

“Can you imagine,” asked a school administrator, “what people would say if we spent part of our school district’s budget for radio advertising?  People would say we were wasting the taxpayers’ money, but nobody ever says that about ECOT!”

After the meeting, as people bundled up to go home, I asked several of them how they felt about the conversation they had been having.  Had talking about the book caused them to think any differently about challenges for public education?  Had any particular concern developed for them as they were reading and discussing?  Here is some of what people told me:

  • “I know something about the use of data in education. It used to be that we consulted data positively to inform our teaching, but now we seem to collect data with a negative purpose.  All schools have assets that benefit the children, but because test scores focus our attention on the deficits, today we think of schools that don’t post great test scores as lacking assets.  That just isn’t true, but we haven’t learned how to measure and document what our schools really contribute to the lives of our children.”
  • “I was so naive about charter schools.  The moment I began to read about the investment of foundations and venture funds and the potential investment opportunities just in the real estate, I was shocked.  Why have we permitted all these powerful people to influence public education so much?  The unfairness of it!  I have realized we are in a battle today to save public education.”
  • “When you think of a charter school from the point of view of the individual child and family, it can seem to make sense.  But when you think about the system, that’s where it all falls apart.  It seems to me that traditional public schools are in danger of becoming schools of last resort for the poorest children or those with special needs.  This is dividing our society more and more.  Public schools as a unifying force will be gone.”
  • “The focus on competition in school choice plans really struck me.  I have always thought the whole purpose of public education in our society has been to serve every child.  That is what the statement, “leave no child behind,” was always supposed to mean.  Our goal today has changed because choice always creates losers as well as winners.  There is no way to make sure that all choices are good choices.”
  • “Competition works in a whole lot of different ways here.  They have a system where school districts compete for their ratings based on test scores—you know, Excellent all the way down to Academic Watch.  But in our discussion last week we learned that standardized test scores are influenced a lot by family income.  So the rich, outer suburbs are all rated Excellent while the cities are rated Academic Watch.  It’s a set-up.”
  • “I hadn’t put all this together.  I have had a sense that bad things are going on, but these meetings have helped me put the pieces together. The awareness seems so essential.”

By coincidence the chapters that had been assigned for our Cleveland Heights conversation this week—dubbed School Choice Week by its supporters—were all about the privatization of public education.  We read chapters about Michelle Rhee, charter schools, on-line academies, the Parent Trigger, vouchers, and the historic importance of democratic governance of education. Our convening 70 people on a frigid January night to learn more about these topics during School Choice Week definitely has to be considered an act of protest.

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3 thoughts on “70 People Brave Frigid Weather to Raise Concerns about School Choice

  1. Another clear and thoughtful commentary. I appreciated the participants remarks, and, having read Reign of Error, I totally agree!

  2. This is fantastic! I hope more groups across the country will use these “lesson plans” to inform and educate the public as to the seriousness of the threat to our nation’s public schools. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said that our experiment in democracy would only succeed with an educated populace. Today, an educated populace is the best hope to protect and improve our schools against the attacks of the privatizers.

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