Shrill pundits and politicians shout that our schools are failing, blaming teachers, unions and public schools in general. Competition is the answer and so public school money is put into the hands of corporations to form and run charter schools. That will be the answer, they promise.
But then the test scores come out, showing, over and over, that public schools typically out perform for-profits even though those schools can cherry pick the best, leaving kids with learning or physical disabilities behind.
“There is a narrative of failure that is being used to harm the basic foundations of public education in this country,” said Diane Ravitch, considered one of the foremost experts in this country on education. “We hear from pundits and politicians and foundation executives that our schools are failing, but it is not true. As judged by the federal tests called NAEP, test scores of American students have never been higher; graduation rates are at an all-time high; and dropout rates are at an all-time low.
"Yet, from what you read in the newspapers and see on television on a regular basis, you would never know that American public education is a great success story.”
Ravitch explains why this is true in her latest book, "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools" (Knopf 2013; $27.95) and uses data set after data set to support her writing.
“We have for-profit businesses running public schools,” said Ravitch, a historian of education, an educational policy analyst and a research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.
“Some of the corporations running charter schools are making many millions of dollars," she said. "Equity investors now hold conferences to learn how to cash in on the public education ‘market.’ For-profit corporations are making millions by running virtual charter schools, which collect money from the state that is taken from public schools; these virtual charter schools get terrible academic results, but they continue to recruit students to keep their profits rolling in.”
There’s even more. Ravitch gives examples of how some charter corporations make their money not from the schools but from the real estate deals they make, whereby they own the land and pay rent to themselves.
“Attention must be paid to where the public dollar is going,” she said.
How did we get to the point where public school educators are disrespected and schools being robbed of their funding all in the name of reform?
“It’s actually not a reform movement,” said Ravitch listing the names of extreme right wing leaders like Governor Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Scott in Florida and Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania who seem to dislike any government funded program. “It is a privatization movement because its solutions are privately managed charter schools, vouchers and handing public money over to entrepreneurs for for-profit schools. A bipartisan coalition supports these policies—some because they believe that privatization is a positive good, some because they hope to make money, and some because they are misinformed about the importance of public education in a democratic society.”
Ravitch sums it all in the closing line of her book.
“Protecting our public schools against privatization,” she writes, “and saving them for future generations of American children is the civil rights issue of our time.”