Armed with her newly published book, education reform critic Diane Ravitch minced no words Tuesday in her point-by-point defense of public schools before a full house in Occidental’s Thorne Hall.
"The whole narrative of failure is a hoax," said Ravitch, whose book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, will debut on the New York Times bestseller list this Sunday. "Our public school system is a success except where there are high rates of poverty and racial segregation."
The real purpose of public education has been forgotten, charged Ravitch, the former education reform standard bearer who experienced a change of heart and is now one of the movement’s most prominent critics.
"The purpose is not a race to higher test scores. It is to prepare children for the duties and responsibilities of citizenship," she said. "School choice turns parents into consumers, not citizens. Citizens understand they have a responsibility to the common good; consumers only look out for themselves. We have a civic responsibility to support public education."
For more than an hour, Ravitch offered a detailed critique of the education reform movement, from No Child Left Behind to the Race to the Top. "I have a lot of trouble with word ‘reform’ used in this fashion, when it means budget cuts, firing teachers, librarians, and counselors, closing schools, turning public dollars over to private firms, and pretending test scores are the best measure of success," she said. "Sometimes it seems as if elimination of public education as a whole is the goal of this movement."
Introduced by Los Angeles Unified School District board member Steve Zimmer, who is teaching a class at Occidental this fall, Ravitch didn’t hesitate to criticize the country’s second largest public school district and its recent decision to spendhundreds of millions of dollars to provide iPads to its students.
"The real purpose of this program is so students can take tests online. This is a very bad idea, " she said. "That means all the tests will be online, and won’t be supervised by a teacher … The sad thing about the iPads is that the money was spent on an item that will be obsolete in two, three or four years in a district where schools are crumbling."
A misplaced reliance on technology is just one of many distractions from the fundamental issue of child poverty, Ravitch insisted. The real solution to improving schools is to address poverty and racial segregation. "If put together these two factor, you get low test scores," she said.