Quolke's Corner 2/5/12

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On Thursday (2/2) the Cleveland Teachers Union had the honor of sponsoring a Conversation with Diane Ravitch at Pilgrim United Church of Christ. Diane Ravitch is a professor of education, a researcher and historian of education, and the author of “The Death and Life of the Great American School System – How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education”.
In the last year the media has focused on the 3 times that Michelle Rhee has visited Ohio. On Tuesday, she will be joining Governor Kasich for his State of the State speech on Tuesday. Rhee’s appearances in Ohio only serve to turn up the volume on the anti-educator, blame the teacher rhetoric. It is wrong. This is one reason why it was such a pleasure to welcome a voice who sees the struggles and knows how crucial public education is to the United States.
Whether it is Michelle Rhee’s national foundation or local foundations, money talks in districts that are cash strapped. Foundations fund their programs and initiatives, not for the good of all but for the benefit of the lucky.
Allow me to quote from “The Life and Death of the Great American School System”:
“There is something fundamentally anti-democratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people. These foundations no matter how worthy and high minded are not subject to public oversight or public review. The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them.”
Ms. Ravitch had an incredible wealth of information to share with all of us that joined her on Thursday night. Here are some of the points that she shared that I think are especially meaningful to all of us that work to educate the children of Cleveland.
·         Billions of dollars are spent every year for tests, test administration, test prep materials, professional development on how to pass tests – while no money is spent improving schools.
·         The Fortune 500 companies that rank as the best to work for offer employees perks such as:  health clubs, gourmet food, climbing walls, free day care, new facilities, etc. These are perks for employees at the top companies. Quite the opposite of the facilities that most teachers and students work in.
·         The goal of outsiders in education is to privatize and de-professionalize education.
·         Vouchers, charters, and virtual academies (some of the “solutions” to fix education) have not improved student success and there is absolutely no proof that they have.
·         Poverty is the root of the problem in education. The root of poverty is bad social policies.
·         Family income is the most accurate predictor of test scores. This is true on ACT, SAT, and the national assessment. Wealthy parents tend to be more educated, have healthcare, travel, have food, books and magazines.
·         Currently, outsiders believe that teachers and principals must be threatened and punished in order to improve test scores. They believe that everyone must live in fear that their school will be closed if scores do not go up.
·         Merit pay has never improved student performance or education. Merit pay did not work in New York City, Tennessee, and has largely been abandoned in Texas. Schools are largely collaborative by nature and everyone is impacted by what everyone else does. Merit pay pits teacher vs. teacher, when teachers do not want to work against each other.
·         In education, more money is spent on testing then on educating.
·         Democracy must have a strong public education system. Vouchers, charters, testing, etc. have not worked in 20 years. Outsiders are not looking to the models used in successful countries.
·         We must educate the public so that we do not lose public education.
We all want the best public schools possible; we all want what is best for the children of our communities. Reform is not easy. Look across this nation to school districts where achievement is increasing, where reform is working – you will not see a top down agenda, you will not see plans hatched in smoke-filled back rooms. Real reform only works when the educators are involved and have real input and purpose. Educators are the ones that make reform work. We are open, we are ready. The members of Cleveland and the Teachers Union have never walked away from a chance to help our students, help our school system, and make education the corner stone of our agenda.
For some, education is a profitable venture. For some, education means only educating the lucky at the expense of all. For some, the only thing standing in the way of taking over this profitable enterprise and democratic institution is the teachers union. While we and our brothers and sisters across the country stand up and fight for all the children and public education, our enemies use bad legislation to remove the union. We will continue to see challenges and battles locally and in the state house. And we will continue to educate, negotiate, lobby, work, and give our all to save an educational system that is critical to future generations and the fair education of all children.
The Cleveland Teachers Union is progressive and reform minded and we have seized every opportunity possible to partner with our district to increase academic achievement and fight for a quality teacher in every classroom. It would be nice if all of our efforts could be spent working that agenda and not fighting outsiders and laws that simply undermine the educators who work in our schools every day. 
In Union,