As the school finance case over public education funding in Texas continues, we need to take a reasoned look at the root cause of problems for public education. To do that I would recommend watching this conversation between Evan Smith and Diane Ravitch. In listening to the conversation it’s not that anything is wrong with the education system. Ravitch says that, “The great lie is that our public education system is failing”. She says the main problem is the fact that 25% of children live in poverty, and schools are no to blame for that.
She discussed poverty in the context of improving test scores and learning, and the best way to do that is to make sure children show up ready to learn. But for that we must go back to the beginning. She stated that while we need to spend more money, it’s more important what we’re spending the money on. She singled out three things: early childhood education, pre-natal care, and having a school nurse and health clinic on site. Being healthy and prepared is necessary for quality learning once they get to public school. But the need to reduce poverty was evident she said, “To the extent we can reduce poverty we will see test scores go up”, and that, “Test scores mirror socio-economic disparity”. And last that, “Kids aren’t learning because they’re sick, homeless, hungry, or a parent is in jail…we ignore all those problems and blame the schools”.
In Texas 26% of children live in poverty and Texas ranks 44th among the states in overall child health and well-being. So it’s no wonder that we are having problems educating our children in Texas. Ravitch’s overriding point was that the problem isn’t with our public education system, but it’s with the rising number of our citizens that are living in poverty. It’s a societal issue, rather then an education issue, and that’s much harder for Texans and Americans to admit and fix then just blaming schools.
She goes on to discuss how test scores and graduation rates are higher then they’ve ever been. And that most of the reason people think that the education system is failing is because the “echo chamber” has been repeating that for 20-plus years, and that too many have now come to believe that falsehood. She also pointed out that teachers are overworked, and for the most part under paid. And that where the education is the best in our country is where the teacher’s unions are the strongest.
On the subject of choice and charter schools, which she was once for, she now is against. Here are her reasons:
- They don’t on average get better results than public schools.
- They keep out special education students and the disabled.
- They keep out English language learners, skimming.
- It’s developing an dual school system based on class.
She goes on to say that choice advocates are the biggest proponents of the system if failing lie. And some are in it to make money, and others for ideological reasons and/or idealistic reasons. But her strongest argument was that school privatization can destroy public education which is an “essential democratic institution of our society”.
This is an extremely large amount of information, and maybe new information for some, to take in. It really lays out the extent of the societal problems we face in educating our children. And poverty is rarely talked about when discussing the problems with education in our society. While taxes and per student spending need to be fixed, fixing poverty is the most important issue, and needs to be fixed first when discussing the problem we face in public education.
The Myth of Charter Schools.