School Choice & Charters Opinion

Will Public Education Survive the Embrace of Big Money?

By Diane Ravitch — March 24, 2009 3 min read
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Dear Deborah,

My guess is that we will have a long time, not months, but years, to discuss national standards and a national curriculum. The question won’t go away. It is one of the items on Secretary Duncan’s “to-do” list. In 1995, I wrote a book on the subject and predicted that we would inevitably move in this direction, as it made no sense to have 50 different ways of measuring how we are doing in math and science. I believe that NCLB has sharpened the contradictions and laid bare the confusion of so many different “standards,” as well as the yawning gap between state and federal standards.

My fear is that this effort will be captured by the NCLB basic-skills crowd or the P21 ignorance-is-bliss crowd. Or both! So you can see the seeds of doubt have been planted. I have always thought there was a downside; it’s in my nature to look at all sides. I hope I am wrong.

In terms of the bleak scenario you laid out, we have no differences to bridge. It appears that the Big Money has placed its bets on dismantling public education. Mayor Bloomberg decided long ago, when he took over New York City’s public schools, that their biggest problem was too much democracy. So he persuaded the legislature to turn control over to him, and he eliminated any vestige of democracy. We both know how messy democracy is; people make mistakes. But with a vigilant press, there is always a chance to make changes, correct errors.

That’s not the situation in New York City. Michael Bloomberg does not confront a vigilant press. The press barons applaud his every move, and there has been no vigilance, no scrutiny, and no outcry against his authoritarian mode of governance. Those who don’t like it, most especially parents, are voiceless, except for blogs. (The best is here.)

There have recently been a series of public hearings, held by the state Assembly’s Committee on Education, on whether to renew mayoral control. At each hearing, parents and advocates have expressed their frustration about what has happened to the city’s schools in recent years, the disdainful way in which the Department of Education treats them, and their fear that the next public school to die will be their own.

Under Chancellor Klein, the Department of Education has closed nearly 100 regular public schools and replaced them with charter schools or new schools. Unlike other cities where charters have to supply their own facilities, New York City gives them space in public school buildings, and sometimes the entire building. Currently, the DOE is closing a neighborhood public school in Harlem and putting a charter school in its place. The DOE tells angry parents that they should be thrilled to have choice, but parents worry that their children will have no neighborhood school to attend.

All such decisions are made without consultation. And the chancellor goes around the country boasting of his success in closing established schools and replacing them with new schools and charter schools.

Most bizarre is when the mayor and chancellor show up at charter school rallies and tell the parents that their local public schools are no good and that they are lucky to be in a charter. I often wonder at such times if these two have forgotten that they are responsible for the 98 percent of the city’s public school children who are in regular schools. It’s like the president of Macy’s telling his customers to shop at Wal-Mart.

Of course, this course of action has the enthusiastic endorsement of the Billionaire Boys Club, that is, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Foundation. They know what needs to be done, and they don’t see the point of listening to such unenlightened types as parents and teachers.

At some point the music and the upheaval will stop. But when it does, will there still be a public school system? Or will the schools all be run by hedge fund managers, dilettantes, and EMOs?


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.