Public schools are not getting it done (but neither are their alternatives)

TJ Mertz Facebook linked to a Diane Ravitch post accusing the President and Arne Duncan of aligning themselves with right wing conservatives in their goal of destroying the public school system. See DianeRavitchWhoseSide. I disagree with Ravitch’s and Mertz’s suggestions.

I do assume Obama wants and expects Blacks and other minorities to get a good education. If one isn’t assuming that and considers oneself liberal or progressive, then you’re missing the important issue. When the President backs positions of the reform movement, even the right-wing allies, I have no doubt that he is not doing so because his strings are being pulled by his puppet masters. I certainly do feel that way about Republicans or other corporate types who take the same positions, but that is a different question — I assume evil intent and I think there is far more evidence than needed to support that position. However, the President’s positions are a different matter entirely.

The President does send his kids to private schools; he knows that schools can teach and kids can learn at a high level. He knows what it took for him to get an education. His mother homeschooled him when they were living in Thailand and his mother and especially his grandparents sent him to elite schools in Hawaii, and sacrificed to do it. He is also assuming that if he could get a good education, so can other Blacks.

Let’s put Obama, the man, into some context. We start by admitting to the obvious. Obama is self-assured, and has a healthy ego; no one has the temerity to run for President without an incredible ego, especially a Black man with a Kenyan name. Unlike a Romney, born into a extreme wealth and a warped ego who believes this raises him above the common folk, Obama believes others can rise to similar heights as he if given the opportunity. What is lacking is opportunity, Obama believes. If you do not agree with Obama’s sentiments on this issue, I think you have a lot of explaining to do as  a liberal or progressive. Obama’s passion and belief does not come through as President but his writing, his biographers and those who know him as the man, have said as much. He also knows that most minorities do not have the options for a good education that he and his kids had (and Michelle). He knows that it can be done, he experienced it, and he knows that most public schools are not getting it done.

However, I have no doubt that the private school movement, charter schools, and vouchers will not work either; there is no question that the corporations want to milk the system for profit. There also no question that no one who is or has been involved in making education decisions knows what they are doing. That should be obvious, otherwise the failure to educate Blacks and other minorities would be rare, not typical.

We have had at least 45 years of consistent failure, at least nine 5-year plans that had promised to turn it around have passed without success. Why should we believe the tenth 5-year plan will succeed, whether charter, private, public, or vouchered.

I take it for granted that the President doesn’t know what the solution is; he is relying on Duncan, and Duncan doesn’t know. But the President does know, as we all must, that what is being done is not working. Public schools are simply not getting it done, and history shows they never have. Yes, the attacks on the public schools are making it less likely that they can turn it around, but where is the evidence that but for the attacks, they would be doing a good job? There is none. Should we then send our hard-earned tax dollars to private or charter or vouchers? No, and for the same reasons. There has been no evidence that the educational establishment or any implementation has made a difference, at least any that can be replicated at the scale necessary to raise the level of educational attainment that is expected and needed.

So let me answer the question which Mertz and Ravitch raised as to whose side the President and Duncan is on. Pubic Education. That is “Education of the Public”, which I suggest Thomas Jefferson espoused. And no, support for “Public Schools” is not the same as support for “Public Education”.

Sadly, however, the President will be disappointed because there are no viable institutions that will successfully support public education for all. Those who spend their time in political and financial posturing, like Ravitch especially, are not creating institutions that will succeed. Politics is the game that is being played, not education.


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