SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced today that he has appointed Kristin Wright as the new Special Education Division Director at the California Department of Education (CDE). She begins her assignment September 1.
Wright has spent more than a decade working in education with a focus on special education. Since December 2014, she has worked for the California State Board of Education as an Education Policy Consultant and liaison between the State Board and the CDE on a variety of subjects, including special education, child nutrition, foster and homeless youth, and computer science.
In 2013 and 2014, she worked as an Education Programs Consultant within CDE's Special Education Division, serving as a liaison to the Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE) and consulting on program and policy matters related to California's Common Core State Standards and accessibility for students with disabilities. She served as a State Senate appointee to the ACSE from 2006 to 2013 and was chair of the advisory commission from 2009 to 2013.
"Kristin brings a wealth of professional and personal experience to this important position as a policy expert, a former special education student teacher, and a mother of a child with disabilities," Torlakson said. "California's students with disabilities and their families will find they have an advocate and an ally in Kristin."
Wright's public service career took a turn with the birth of her middle daughter, Shelby, who has significant intellectual and physical disabilities. Wright, who earned a bachelor's degree in sociology from California State University, Sacramento, returned to the university to earn a special education teaching credential and a master's degree in special education. She spent the 2008-09 school year as a special education student teacher in the San Juan Unified School District, the Sacramento City Unified School District and the Twin Rivers Unified School District.
From 2010 to 2013, she was a contract consultant providing special education research and other support to organizations that included the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her work there included researching special education services provided by U.S. charter schools.
Wright replaces former Special Education Division Director Fred Balcom, who retired in December. Since December, the Division Director's role has been filled on an interim basis by Chris Drouin. California's public schools served 717,962 special education students ranging in age from newborns to 22 during the 2014-15 school year.
A Sacramento native, Wright and her husband, Charles, have three children: Ace, Shelby, and Violet.
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Tom Torlakson — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Communications Division, Room 5206, 916-319-0818, Fax 916-319-0100
NYSED Declares Scores Not Comparable, Opt Out Grows Across State
This past Friday afternoon, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) released the results of the 2016 NYS Common Core 3-8 ELA and math results. Despite expensive ad campaigns from Gates-funded advocacy groups and the distribution of "Anti Opt-out" toolkits by Commissioner Elia aimed at persuading parents to opt in to state tests, the test non-participation rate increased from 20 percent last year to 22 percent.
As Chris Cerrone, a school board member and NYSAPE member from Western NY said, "Given Commissioner Elia’s public relation blitz across the state and all the interviews she did with the media, as well as all the money spent by the pro-Common Core groups, the increase in opt out numbers indicates that parents remain very concerned about the low quality of these tests and the direction of education in our state."
An increase in test refusals were seen across the state, including in large urban districts like Buffalo and New York City. In only 5 percent of districts statewide --38 out of 686 -- was the test participation rate at or above 95 percent for ELA and math. If the current proposed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) regulations are adopted, this would mean that the state would have to punish the vast majority of schools by giving them low grades or imposing aggressive intervention plans. (see chart below)
“Despite the relentless and well-funded PR push back we received in the city, more and more parents are becoming educated on just how harmful standardized testing is for their children. The increase in opt-out is a significant win for immigrant families, students with special needs and students from low income households. Our grassroots approach is resonating with parents seeking true equity in public education,” said Johanna Garcia, NYC parent and Co-President of District 6 President’s Council.
"Overall, these exams not only demonize our students and teachers, but the entire city of Rochester. I will not allow my child to take an exam that does not accurately reflect her progress. I'm not against testing, but I am against tests with no educational value," Eileen Graham, Rochester parent of 4th grader and founder of Black Student Leadership.
Long Island districts again this year opted out in large numbers, some as high as 84%. Many other districts also experienced over 50% of student refusing to take the tests. (see chart below)
Jeanette Deutermann, Long Island public school parent, the founder of Long Island Opt Out and a member of NYSAPE said, "The opt out movement continues to expand despite the aggressive campaign to thwart our efforts and marginalize our voices. Parents demand nothing short of a complete overhaul to our excessive testing system, a ban on the mining of sensitive personal data, replacement of flawed Common Core with research-based standards, and a permanent decoupling of evaluations from test scores."
Despite their own warning that this year's test scores could not be compared to last year’s because the tests were shorter and untimed, NYSED still claimed that increases in this year’s ELA scores over last year’s scores justified their continuing to implement the Common Core standards and Common Core aligned exams. These contradictory statements undermine NYSED’s credibility.
The reality is that without a more careful analysis of the tests themselves, their length, and the impact of giving them untimed, it is impossible to ascertain if achievement increased, decreased, or stayed the same as last year. In addition, the fact that so few schools and districts had a 95% participation rate also undermines their reliability.
“The fact that 95% of school districts in NYS did not meet the federal and state participation requirements significantly weakens the reliability and validity of test scores for accountability purposes. How can Commissioner Elia claim that these scores are valid or show any improvement in achievement,” asked, Jessica McNair, Central NY public school parent, educator, and Opt Out CNY founder.
“There is little doubt that parents will continue to exercise their right to refuse harmful state tests and right now it is imperative that Commissioner Elia and the Board of Regents advocate for a revision in the proposed ESSA regulations, or else face having to intervene in most of the schools in the state,” said Marla Kilfoyle, Long Island public school parent, educator, and BATs Executive Director
"Parents were very concerned when MaryEllen Elia was named Commissioner, due to her links to the Gates Foundation in Florida. Skepticism was withheld to give her the benefit of the doubt while changes were discussed. However, her continued failure to address the concerns of parents have only further eroded confidence in her leadership and in the State Department of Education," said Lisa Rudley, Westchester County public school parent and founding member of NYSAPE.
In response to increases in test refusal, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia attacked critics and claimed that parents refusing the state tests were unaware of “important” changes made to the tests. Bianca Tanis, Ulster County Public School parent and educator said, “The small changes and tweaks made by the NYS Education Department are simply not enough. Nothing has changed for the individual child and to suggest otherwise is just plain wrong.”
Said Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters: "Between 2003 and 2009, the NY State Education Department engaged in rampant test score inflation, by making the tests and the scoring easier, without admitting this. After that, the bubble burst and the scores fell radically with the introduction of Common Core-aligned exams, when our Commissioner was intent on proving to parents their children and their schools were failing. I fear that state officials are still manipulating the scores for political ends. It is no wonder that New York parents do not trust these exams to give an accurate picture of their children’s learning."
"NYSED must work more consistently with teachers, parents, and students, to create policy that supports whole child initiatives in every community. It’s tiresome to continue to sell our children and families short by engaging annually in narrow discussions about learning that only focus on ELA and mathematics, while continuing to neglect science, the arts, and civic engagement,” said Jamaal Bowman, Bronx public school educator and parent.
"Why would anyone support tests designed for over 60 percent of students to fail? If a teacher gave a test in her classroom where over 60 percent failed she would rightly question the validity of her test. This is insanity," said Tim Farley, Hudson Valley principal and public school parent.
It is clear that the over-emphasis and misuse of test scores with questionable validity and no educational purpose continue to rob our public schools of valuable instructional time and resources. Until the leaders of public education in NYS begin to focus on closing the opportunity gap by addressing the inequitable resources in our schools and heed the demands of parents and educators for evidence-based and child-centered educational policies, the opt out movement will continue to grow.
NYSAPE is a grassroots coalition with over 50 parent and educator groups across the state.
More information contact: Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190; firstname.lastname@example.org Jeanette Deutermann (516) 902-9228; email@example.com NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) www.nysape.org - See more at: http://www.nysape.org/nysape-pr-opt-out-16-results.html#sthash.KfKCIR6U.dpuf
by Mike Simpson
I am shocked. Truly shocked that Governor Snyder has not been questioned by Shuette yet.
Only one State Official from Michigan spoke at the RNC this year. Shuette. Four years ago, Governor Snyder had an oyster and champagne bar for RNC goers and was courting the RNC as a potential Presidential candidate. This time, not so much. We are not off the hook yet. Through his Empire like policies, Snyder is the milder, higher pitched voice version of Donald Trump. Snyder also has two criminal defense lawyers working for him at our expense. Regarding Flint, Dan Farough of Common Core Michigan said, "It is striking that the person who bears ultimate responsibility - GOVERNOR RICK SNYDER - continues to be shielded from scrutiny."
So what did Shuette tell the Republicans gathered in Ohio about Flint, Michigan’s worst EM Law Austerity Camp? Shuette explained that pregnant women and newborns “still should not bathe or drink the water.” He told them that he was in charge, and more investigation was coming from his office. Sounds tough.
It is true that he has ordered the Governor to stop tampering with the investigation, at the Department of Justice’s insistence. It is true that he has accused the Governor of not turning over documents. He has sued three engineering firms. He has charged nine people. He told the RNC that he had it under control. Before Trump spoke to accept the nomination, one might have even begun to feel safe that Shuette would do the right thing.
Then, at the DNC, Flint Mayor, Karen Weaver called out Michigan’s Republicans for using the Emergency Manager Law “to take over control of the city.” That control, by one person, the Emergency Manager, who reported only to Governor Snyder is the problem. Let us not forget the emails in April of 2014, from the Department of Environmental Quality that show DEQ warned the Emergency Managers that the Flint River was not even safe for fish to swim in, let alone for people to drink. Let us not forget that the Emergency Manager went ahead with a contract to retrofit the Flint Water Department, but did not even bother to treat that polluted water.
And so it is not so soothing that… well, I continue to be shocked, further still that Shuette will be arguing in favor of the Emergency Manager Law in the U.S. Court of Appeals. His argument?
Wait for it…..
U.S. Citizens are not guaranteed the right to choose their own local government.
Based on this line of thinking, Austerity Camps like Flint will be popping up everywhere, just like mushrooms on the floor of the Detroit Public Schools, which was also run into the ground by the same law.
It certainly seems to be a conflict of interest that Shuette would make this argument while investigating Flint. It indicates that only the folks low on the totem pole will feel any heat. Read More about the Flint Water Crisis at Go Left America
How Schools in New Orleans Are Trying to Grow Children Like Monsanto Grows Corn
A teacher in New Orleans sees some startling similarities between the education of the city’s children and the way that commodity crops are grown on industrial farms…
By Stefin Pasternak The way we educate our children in many schools in New Orleans these days shares some startling similarities with how industrial farms raise commodity crops. Industrial farms prefer the complete uniformity of straight, orderly rows of a single crop rather than the organic relationships of different organisms that support one another in a true ecosystem. Many of our schools prefer to educate children under the veil of a culture of straight, silent lines, seeking to produce identical outcomes rather than cultivating the organic interactions and freedoms that breed healthy children and communities.1
Industrial farms prefer to control as many variables in the growing process as possible instead of encouraging a diversity of variables to yield different growing environments. Many schools try to control as many variables in the teaching process as possible instead of encouraging a diverse array of teaching styles and critical thought.
In previous years, the Very Deeply Thoughty reformster retreat has taken place at luxurious retreat locations. But this year the Festival of Reforminess was held in Philadelphia in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention.
That makes a certain amount of sense because Camp Philos is a project of the Democrats for Education Reform, and DFER is a project of hedge fund guys like Whitney Tilson. DFER does not adhere to some traditional Democratic positions; they have, for instance, a deep disdain for the teachers unions. And when it comes to education reform policies like charter schools, DFER is indistinguishable from the ed reform wing of the GOP.
The real problem, politically, was not the Republican party, it was the Democratic party. So it dawned on us, over the course of six months or a year, that it had to be an inside job. The main obstacle to education reform was moving the Democratic party, and it had to be Democrats who did it, it had to be an inside job. So that was the thesis behind the organization. And the name – and the name was critical – we get a lot of flack for the name. You know, “Why are you Democrats for education reform? That’s very exclusionary. I mean, certainly there are Republicans in favor of education reform.” And we said, “We agree.” In fact, our natural allies, in many cases, are Republicans on this crusade, but the problem is not Republicans. We don’t need to convert the Republican party to our point of view…
On Saturday, July 30, 2016, I presented at Charters, Privatization and the Defense of Public Education, a California Education/Action Conference at Richmond High School in Richmond, California. My speech asked “If the charter law was passed to improve education through competition, why isn’t the LAUSD School Board playing to win?” and is based on the following paper: “ Men associating with crooks
This is the first section of my paper: Education for Sale: LAUSD Throws the Fight in Its Competition with Charters. Despite the fact that the Los Angeles Times receives funding for their education coverage from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation , their reporters were still able to publish a leaked copy of the foundation’s “Great Public Schools Now” plan to “ place half of the students in the Lo
This is the second section of my paper: Education for Sale: LAUSD Throws the Fight in Its Competition with Charters . The previous section can be found at: The Broad Way Towards Bankruptcy On the other side of the equation, the CCSA has proven that they are more than willing to compete with the LAUSD on a fight to the death basis, especially during the electoral process. Prior to the last electio
This is the final section of my paper: Education for Sale: LAUSD Throws the Fight in Its Competition with Charters . The previous section can be found at: Lack of Oversight The CCSA has also shown a willingness to use the courts to gain the upperhand in its competition with public schools. It has been particularly litigious in claiming what it calls “ charter school’s share ” of space under Propo
How The Charter Cheerleading Industry Is Abetting The Destruction Of Public Schools
Folks, I've had some real problems with Blogspot lately. For some reason, this post disappeared, and I can't finger out why. It's troubling because if I can't count on this remaining a stable platform, seven years of work is in jeopardy. Luckily, Rosi Efthim at Blue Jersey had cross-posted this post, so I recovered what I could and moved it here. But I seem to have lost the links to graphics, and the formatting is messed up. I'll try to fix them soon. Wordpress, you're looking better all the time...
I know I swore off wasting my time (and yours) criticizing reformy edu-bloggers. But I've been watching a back-and-forth on social media for the past few days that is such a good example of how destructive the charter cheerleading industry has become (fueled with aninsane amount of money from ideological foundations) that I have no choice but to comment.
This all started on Tuesday, July 5, when NJ Spotlight (full disclosure -- I write regularly for them) ran an excerpt of an address a graduating senior at North Star Academy Charter School gave to his classmates. Which is fine: all kids should be proud of their accomplishments and their schools (although it's a shame Spotlight has not, to my knowledge, published the excerpts of any other graduating senior's speeches -- especially students graduating in Newark).
So why does that matter? Well, this past month Governor Chris Christie proposed a radical shift in the allocation of state aid for schools -- one that would slash funding and jack up taxes in urban school districts while giving the state's wealthiest districts, already payingrelatively low effective tax rates, a huge infusion of state aid (I wrote about it for Spotlighthere).
Breaking News: ACLU finds many illegal policies in Charter Schools
A new report released today by the ACLU and Public Advocates (a California civil rights organization) entitled Unequal Access: How Some California Charter Schools Illegally Restrict Enrollment has found a variety of illegal policies in charters schools. The ACLU and Public Advocates report examines charters schools policies across the state of California and details how they are failing students. In this report, they provide (1) an analysis of illegal charter school policies; (2) a description of the framework of laws that prohibit exclusionary policies; and (3) recommendations to ensure equal admission. This report can be a guide for ACLU chapters and civil rights organizations across the nation to hold charters accountable for following federal and state law.
I received an advance copy, I will link the report as soon as it is made publicly available.
The ACLU and Public Advocates write:
The original vision of charter schools in the 1990s was to provide new opportunities to improve the quality of education for thousands of students living in under-resourced communities. However, charter schools can also heighten existing inequities. Through admissions policies that exclude vulnerable students by erecting various barriers to entry, charter schools have the potential to create a two-tiered system of public education. We believe charter schools are viable only if they are open to all students.
Although charter schools may be privately controlled and receive non-government funding, they are part of California’s public education system. The California Constitution requires that all students, whether they choose to attend traditional public schools or charter schools, have equal access to educational opportunity. Like other public schools, it is illegal for charter schools to select which students to enroll. The state legislature made this principle clear in the California Charter Schools Act, which plainly requires charter schools to “admit all pupils who wish to attend.”In other words, except for limitations due to space, charter schools may not enact admissions requirements or other barriers to enrollment and must admit all students who apply, just as traditional public schools cannot turn away students.
Tim Kaine, Dems’ VP Nominee, Is Strong Supporter of Public Schools (Unlike Cory Booker)
Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President, seemed confused last Wednesday when he spoke at a news conference about the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Tim Kaine. Trump wasreported by Politicoto have confused Tim Kaine with former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean: “Her running mate Tim Kaine, who by the way did a terrible job in New Jersey….” declared Trump. I hope that by now most of us are less confused about Tim Kaine than Trump was last week, but perhaps there is still room to learn more about Kaine’s record.
So who is Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s choice as her running mate? A U.S. News & World Report piece last week explained Tim Kaine’s Hefty Education Resume: “When Hillary Clinton formally introduced her vice presidential pick, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, it quickly became clear that she chose someone with big education policy chops….”
Kaine’s wife, Anne Holton, has a long history of work on behalf of children and families as a judge in juvenile and domestic relations court. During Kaine’s term as governor of Virginia, she became an advocate for adolescents in foster care. Kaine and his wife educated their three now-adult children in the public schools of Richmond, Virginia. Holton served until last week as Virginia’s Secretary of Education (She just resigned to join the presidential campaign.), a position she used, according to the Washington Post, to bring attention to the needs of the state’s public schools: “‘Teachers are teaching to the tests. Students’ and teachers’ love of learning and teaching are sapped,’ she wrote in 2015. ‘Most troublesome, Virginia’s persistent achievement gaps for low-income students have barely budged,’ she continued arguing that ‘our high stakes-approach’ with testing has made it more difficult to persuade the best teachers who work in the most difficult, impoverished schools… Like most of her fellow Democrats in the state, she has opposed the expansion of charter schools and other school-choice measures, and she has pushed for greater investments in public education, including teacher pay raises.”
The public spectacle of privatization - Wait What?:
The private ownership and control of public entities, programs and services is costing American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars a year as a result of waste, corruption and the insertion of the “profit” motive into the provision of public responsibilities.
Privatization, its advocates claimed, would save scarce public money since it promoted more efficient and effective delivery of programs, services and goods. The claim, proven wrong over and over again, was that through privatization of public activities, taxpayers would be able to get more and pay less.
The clarion call from conservatives and neo-liberals alike was that by allowing private entities to own and operate public activities, government would finally be able to run like a business and the once bloated bureaucracies would be transformed into streamlined business units that would ensure faster, better and cheaper delivery of services.
The fruits of greater productively, they pontificated, would be so significant that the business taking over the once public activity would even be able to make a healthy profit.
While the concept worked great in theory, the reality has been quite different.
The track record of modern privatization is littered with numerous examples where taxpayers didn’t get more for less, but ended up with a system in which they paid more and got less.
Private Schools vs. Public Schools – Experts Weigh In
Every parent wants the best for their children, including safety, success, love and happiness. And in this day in age, much of that is predicated on a good education. After all, the average person with a bachelor’s degree earns nearly twice as much as the average high school graduate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while other research has shown that murder and assault rates tend to fall as graduation rates rise.
But times are tough, and neither kids nor education is cheap. It costs more than $245,000 to raise the average child to the age of 18, the average four-year public-college education costs nearly$100,000, and those numbers figure to be significantly higher for children who exclusively attend private schools. But while this daunting financial burden prices many folks out of the private-school world, are they really missing anything?
Sure, the private-school crowd would like to think that all their money is having some positive effect, and many members no doubt enjoy a certain self-ascribed feeling of superiority as a result. But academic research indicates only modest differences in the achievement levels of private-school and public-school students. For instance, a 2006 study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that public-school fourth-graders scored much higher in math than their private-school counterparts, while private-school eighth-graders were far better readers than their public-school equivalents. Fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math were basically a wash. A subsequent study by the Center on Education Policy similarly found no statistically significant difference in the performance of students at private schools, parochial schools, public schools of choice and traditional public schools. It did, however, conclude that, “Family, in all of its dimensions, has a major influence on student achievement.”
With that being said, every school, child, situation and opinion is a bit different. So we asked a panel of leading education-policy experts to pick a side in the private-vs.-public debate in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the issue. You can check out their responses – including 4 votes for public schools, 1 for private schools and 4 for neither – below.
Why Public Schools Are Better
“Most of the ‘effects’ of private education are attributable to families’ influences on children as they grow up, and the family resources and decisions that place these children in private schools - not the private school per se. If there is an effect of private schooling, it is due primarily to the influence of peers on learning and motivation, which tends to be somewhat greater in private school classrooms. In contrast, the evidence is reasonably strong that public schooling has a positive effect on student achievement independent of family factors and in fact compensates for some of the challenges of lower socioeconomic family circumstances.”
- Robert Pianta, Ph.D. // Dean, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
“Each type of school has its strengths and weaknesses. But this is a debate, and I have to pick a side, so I’m going with public schools. And I’m doing that for an important reason: quality control. People love to complain about teacher licensing and certification, but it does assure a minimum level of teaching quality. In private schools, where licensing and certification are usually not an issue, you lose that minimum quality guarantee. At the same time, that situation leads many private schools to have a wider range of teacher quality.”
- Jonathan Plucker, Ph.D. // Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development, Johns Hopkins University School of Education
Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development at Johns Hopkins University School of Education
This is a perennial debate, and there are no easy answers. Research points to few differences between public and private schools if you control for socioeconomic status, family structure and prior achievement. Essentially, both public and private schools tend to have similar “value added” regarding student achievement (Some studies actually find a small advantage for public schools). There may be some long-term networking benefits to private schools, but that evidence is mostly anecdotal.
My children have each attended both public and private schools, and our personal experiences have been mixed with both types of schools. I’ve also been on the board of directors for a private school. Each type of school has its strengths and weaknesses.
But this is a debate, and I have to pick a side, so I’m going with public schools. And I’m doing that for an important reason: quality control. People love to complain about teacher licensing and certification, but it does assure a minimum level of teaching quality. In private schools, where licensing and certification are usually not an issue, you lose that minimum quality guarantee. At the same time, that situation leads many private schools to have a wider range of teacher quality.
As a case in point, my children have had amazing teachers in private schools. But they’ve also encountered some of the worst instruction I’ve ever seen. In the public schools, they’ve had average to above average teaching across the board. This, in a nutshell, is the power and limitations of government regulation (of which teacher licensing is a part): You create a level of minimum competency, but you also make it harder for the exceptional performer to work their magic.
One important caveat: This debate totally depends on which specific schools we’re comparing. In that way, this debate reminds me of a question that I’m often asked, “Which country has better schools, the U.S. or China/Finland/etc.?” My response is always, “Well, which schools are we talking about?” I can pick schools in China that are far superior to the average American school; but I can point you to specific American schools that are heads and shoulders better than what I see on average in China or Finland or India.
For the same reasons, we need to be sensitive to the fact that comparing public vs. private schools in general is an imprecise exercise. I can recommend some awesome public schools in this country, in rural, suburban, and urban settings. But I can also recommend some rather weak public schools in those same settings, and the same is true for private schools. In the end, families really have to do their homework to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the options they have before them. Americans currently have a range of both public and private K-12 options that is historically unprecedented: But if you don’t exercise due diligence to figure out which one is most likely to meet your child’s needs, you’re essentially rolling the dice.
Associate Professor of Educational Foundations at Montclair State University
Originally called “common schools,” American public schools are designed to educate all children “in common” to prepare them to live and work in a modern, democratic society. Public schools work best when parents opt in, because when parents opt out—by choosing private schools, home schooling, or charter schools—they remove themselves from the shared obligations of democratic citizenship.
What is the relationship between public schools and democracy? More specifically, why did Americans decide more than a century and a half ago to tax ourselves to support public schools—regardless of whether or not we had children who used them?
To the Americans who created public schools, the answer was simple: the common schools would train children for their duties as democratic citizens.
It's no accident that public schools first appeared between 1820 and 1860, a period of industrial growth and mass immigration. “All these ignorant native and foreign adults are now voters, and have a share in the government of the nation,” fretted educational reformer Catharine Beecher in 1835. “And we must educate the nation, or be dashed in pieces, amid all the terrors of the wild fanaticism, infidel recklessness, and political strife, of an ungoverned, ignorant, and unprincipled populace.”
While Beecher viewed public schools as a way to assimilate “ignorant” immigrants, others espoused slightly different opinions. Horace Mann famously called common schools “a great equalizer of conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery,” suggesting that no matter what social class an American child was born into, he or she would have an equal chance at life thanks to a free, high quality public education.
Abolitionist Frederick Douglass took the goal of public schools further, pointing out that by studying together, black and white children would break down racial stereotypes. In 1859 he made the radical claim that free blacks should prioritize educational equality over equal suffrage. Douglass believed that public schools could do what voting rights could not—abolish the stigma of “caste” that haunted black Americans. He elaborated, “The nature of the contact, as a caste abolisher, is altogether in favor of the school contact: compare the craft, the excitement, the repulsions on election day with the candor, the freedom and the attractions of the schoolhouse and play-grounds.”
While our goals for public education have evolved, these early reformers articulated ideals that hold true today. American public schools prepare youth for citizenship, offer all children the chance to advance economically, and break down irrational prejudices. These accomplishments are more than just idealistic aspirations—they are habits of mind and elements of culture that fortify American democracy. Public schools are the only American institution designed to accomplish these crucial goals.
More than one hundred years ago, the American philosopher John Dewey explained why all citizens should support public schools. He said simply, “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.”
Essentially, nearly everything we believe in the U.S. about formal schooling is wrong.
Public schools are the Great Equalizer, but the U.S. public school system is subpar compared internationally; private schools (and choice schooling such as charter schools) outperform traditional public schools (TPS); and thus, market forces are essential for reforming those TPS — all of which are factually misleading at best, and demonstrably false at worst.
Let’s consider carefully these enduring but flawed narratives about public and private schools in the U.S.
While part of the America Dream certainly includes a belief that universal public education is essential to a democracy, very little evidence supports that public schools have or even can create equity under the weight of powerful social forces such as racism, classism, and sexism. In fact, public and private schooling often reflect and perpetuate social inequity.
While many in the U.S. certainly believe formal schooling should be the Great Equalizer, we must admit that neither historically nor during the high-stakes accountability era have TPS or private schools erased social inequity.
Strongly related to this first reality check about education are the next two flawed beliefs: TPS rank poorly internationally and private (and charter) schools outperform our TPS.
As Gerald Bracey and many others have shown, there simply is no clear positive correlation between the so-called quality of education and any state’s or country’s economic success. But just as TPS reflect the communities they serve, international comparisons of school quality based on test scores reflect mostly relative poverty and wealth of the students — not the quality of the education in those schools.