Accountability Opinion

We Took Our Show on the Road

By Diane Ravitch — March 11, 2008 2 min read
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Dear Deborah,

So we took our show on the road for the first time!

For our readers’ benefit, let me explain. On March 7, Deborah and I blogged live—I guess that’s what you would call it—at Channel 13’s “Celebration of Teaching and Learning” in New York City. Before an audience of about 250, mostly teachers and principals, we talked about whether the business/corporate model would “save” our schools. (Some of those in the audience were not New Yorkers, as educators were sent to the event by their local public television stations, and I know we had people from other states and cities.)

Who controls our schools? Should the schools adopt a model of operations based on “results” (test scores) and “incentives” (paying teachers, students, and principals for higher test scores)? Are test scores the “profits” of the school system? Who are the stockholders?

This is one of those big issues that affects many school systems, not just New York City. It also happens to be an issue—or related set of issues—where Deborah and I find ourselves mostly in agreement. Interestingly, two days later, on March 9, The New York Times Magazine featured a discussion of education philanthropy titled “How Many Billionaires Does It Take to Fix a School System?” This was a good follow-up to our discussion, especially its fundamental assumption that one or more billionaires have the “answers” that have somehow escaped the lesser minds of ordinary educators who toil in the classroom. As you once said to me, Deborah, the new generation of reformers seems to believe that anyone who knows much about schooling is part of the problem; only those untainted by actual direct experience in education have the insight to “fix” a school system. If they are a parent, a teacher, or an administrator, they are self-interested and somehow disqualified from solving the problems.

In our discussion, Deborah made the interesting point that successful business organizations focus on the means, not the ends. I pointed out, borrowing from a recent post by eduwonkette at edweek.org, that corporations do not necessarily tie pay to performance; that we have recently seen examples of huge compensation packages to executives after their company went bankrupt or experienced a major downturn; the executives walk away with many millions while their stockholders and employees are left empty-handed. Certainly, lawyers are not compensated based on performance, but rather on billable hours (our school system in New York City is run from the top by a cadre of lawyers).

Too bad that our session was not videotaped for television. We had great questions from the audience, including one young man who works for Chase bank and was formerly a student at Deborah’s school.

Debbie, it was fun being on with you. We were able to do in person what we try to do on the blog. Engage in a lively exchange; show respect for one another; probe controversial issues; try to be intellectually honest; speak our minds candidly and fearlessly.


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