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Who Education Reformers Truly Are: A Response to Diane Ravitch’s Conspiracy Theory on Education Reform

February 1, 2013 by Patrick Kobler

In her post “Is This the True Goal of Reform Today?” Diane Ravitch claims those who seek to reform the current education landscape in an effort to raise student achievement are engaged in a “corporate” movement.  Their objective, according to the pondering Ravitch, is to “to make public schools fail, while charter schools increase and thrive.”  These unfounded claims are nothing more than a cleverly crafted vilification that seeks to discredit education reformers by accusing them of creating an “uneven playing field” in American education. Ravitch’s conspiracy theory is groundless and to contend the motivation of reformers is to “make public school fails” is disingenuous.  The professor’s assertions are unjust and designed to delegitimize the many Americans who have dedicated their lives to improving educational opportunities for our nation’s students.  Particularly for those children who reside in low-income communities, the very students whose academic achievement must progress for Ravitch’s theoretical playing field to be leveled. Education reformers are not motivated by corporate interest and certainly do not wish to make any school fail.  A reformer is not a villain.  Reformers are your friends, family, role models, leaders, teachers and co-workers.  They are in your offices, sit next to you at school, pray in your churches, synagogues and mosques, and can be seen in your community centers.  Reformers include over 50,000 young adults who have joined Teach For America.  They include each and every mom and dad who seek the very best education for their children. They are the leaders, teachers and staff of public schools and charter schools such as KIPP, who work extra hours, provide free tutoring and even teach on the weekends so their students can catch-up to the academic levels necessary to live the American Dream.  And yes, reformers are government officials; specifically, those  leaders who have courageously stood up to special interest to change policies that adversely affect student achievement. It is these citizens, many of them unsung heroes who work long hours for little pay that Ravitch labels “corporate” and contends are plotting to make Americas schools fail. While these claims are patently false, there is yet another problem with Ravitch’s argument – our nation’s schools are already failing. According to The George W. Bush Institute’s Global Report Card, 94 percent of all U.S. School districts have average math achievement below the 67th percentile.  As for science, a recent National Assessment of Education Progress shows only 65% of American eight graders are proficient in the subject.  Even students from the country’s 50 wealthiest school districts rank behind nearly half of their international competitors. Such dismal facts are why reformers seek to change the current education landscape.  They move away from certain district policies that are laced with special interest such as “last in, first out” and favor reforms that raise student achievement: greater principal autonomy, accountability and the rightful ability to release ineffective instructors.  Reformers do not favor these policies because they are profitable; they uphold them because they improve the life outcomes of our nation’s students – especially those trapped in traditionally low-performing schools And since it will likely be further addressed, let’s consider the facts about accountability measures.  The law that put accountability measures in place, No Child Left Behind, passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support (91 – 8 in the Senate and 384 – 45 in the House).  According to the Department of Education, since the installment of accountability measures into public education, the achievement gap between minority students and white students narrowed to an all time low and Hispanic student’s proficiency in reading and math has risen to an all time high.  Within four years of enforcing accountability measures, America saw academic improvement in 43 states and the District of Columbia.  Accountability works.  It is not part of a “corporate reform” conspiracy; rather, accountability is an effective measure that has improved student achievement and the quality of education for our nation’s children. I respect Diane Ravitch’s passion for education, but I must adamantly disagree with her unfounded assertions about education reformers.  Her suggestions unfairly stereotype the mothers and fathers, teachers and administrators and the academics and policy makers who consider themselves reformers.  The stakes are too high to categorically divide those who have been called to education. Instead, let’s focus on partnering together to do the work necessary for improving the lives of our nation’s children.

Patrick Kobler Program Coordinator for The Alliance to Reform Education Leadership (AREL) at the George W. Bush Institute.  Patrick is a Teach For America alumnus and former student body president of Southern Methodist University.