Education Opinion

Public education’s threatened future

By Diane Ravitch — February 28, 2007 2 min read
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Dear Deborah,

You ended your last entry with the following comment:

“All this leads to my current worry: the threatened future of public education itself. I worry also about the ties that bind my colleagues together through their unions. These two powerful common concerns connect Diane’s work and my own. That we still disagree on so many other matters fascinates me; hopefully it will interest others as well.”

That is a succinct description of our common concerns. Over the years, we have disagreed—civilly—about curriculum and standards. I don’t want to minimize our disagreements, which continue. I still believe in the value of a common (prescriptive, as you would put it) curriculum, one that assures that all children have a genuine education that includes not only reading and math but also science, history, literature, civics, and the arts. I don’t mean to put “the arts” last, as I think they might just as well go first. I think you can state your position on these issues far better than I can. I am deeply disturbed, upset, concerned, outraged, that so many schools—under pressure to meet AYP for NCLB (see how easily the acronyms invade our lives?)—have turned into test-prep factories. I am sure you are too, so this is another of our common concerns.

But I want in this early blog to get us started on some of the current challenges to the future of public education. This is a huge field, and it covers many topics. As someone who benefited from the availability of decent (not great, but decent) public schools in Houston, I believe strongly that all children should have access to good public schools.

But I see a growing movement—composed in large part of business leaders and elected officials—that seems to be saying that public education is dispensable (one of their main gripes seems to be with the fact that the public schools are unionized); that we as a nation should replace our current public schools with charters, privately-managed contract schools, vouchers, and almost anything that removes them to some extent from public control.

That was a strong recommendation of the “Tough Choices” report—that all public schools should be managed in the future by independent contractors. Living in NYC, we see this movement gaining momentum as the Bloomberg administration sets up an “empowerment zone” where public schools are allegedly autonomous and managed by “network leaders” and where the administration has just issued a “request for proposals” for private managers of public schools. Since Chancellor Joel Klein was on the “Tough Choices” commission, it appears that he is taking decisive steps to implement its recommendation on independently managed (i.e., privately managed) schools.

By the way, did you see that Cory Booker, the new mayor of Newark, New Jersey, whose schools were taken over by the state, says he wants mayoral control and his model is the Bloomberg-Klein reforms? He is impressed by the empowerment zone, where principals sign a contract and agree that they can be fired if they don’t raise test scores. I wonder who will want to be a principal in the future if the job turns out to have a trapdoor under the chair?

Well, let’s see where we go with this conversation!


The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.