Ravitch is a research professor at New York University, a former assistant secretary of education and the author of a number of books, including the best-selling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of modern school reform. She has a new book coming out later this year on the privatization of public education.
Here is a Q&A I did with Ravitch about why she set up the group and what she hopes to accomplish:
Why did you set this up?
In the past few years, the damage wreaked on public schools by a very small number of very wealthy people has accelerated. Millions of dollars have poured into state and local school elections in just the past two years, to push for privatization and punitive high-stakes testing. Parents, students, educators and others concerned about their community public schools feel powerless to counter the avalanche of big money.
Our group, the Network for Public Education, was created to utilize and maximize our most important advantage: our numbers. We can’t match the spending of the billionaires, but we know one fundamental fact: we are many, and they are few. We intend to use the power of social media to build networks across the nation of the millions of people who want to preserve, strengthen and improve their public schools.
We want to see our public schools grow better; we oppose school closings. We want educators who are more professional and better prepared, not teachers who are poorly trained and “leaders” with no classroom experience. We want to see a full curriculum in every school for all students, including the arts, physical education, science, history, civics, literature and foreign languages. We want to see tests used appropriately, to help students, not to punish them, not to evaluate their teachers, not to close their schools, not to hand out rewards. We want schools to have the resources, the personnel and the funding that students need. We want a good public school in every neighborhood.
Millions of parents and teachers and principals and school board members agree with us. The Network for Public Education will give them voice, supply them with information and research, and help them organize to resist privatization and high-stakes testing. The network also expects to endorse and grade candidates and issues in local and state elections. We hope that our support will become a seal of approval so that voters know which candidates are true supporters of community public schools.
Is this intended as a counter to Michelle Rhee and her StudentsFirst pro-reform group?
The Network for Public Education is intended to counter the full range of faux organizations that claim to be reformers while attacking public education and educators, not only Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst but the Wall Street hedge fund managers’ group called “Democrats for Educational Reform,” as well as a flock of billionaires who want to control public education, open its coffers to the products and services of for-profit entrepreneurs and privatize it.
What are the most damaging things happening in education now that you want to fight?
The most damaging things happening today stem from high-stakes testing. Tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed — to assess the strengths and weaknesses of what students have learned. Instead, the tests are misused for rewards and punishments for teachers, principals and schools. Based on the misuse of test scores, teachers are being fired and schools are being closed. None of this improves education. It is NOT reform. It is destruction of community schools and of educators’ careers. It is causing massive demoralization and harm — to students, to communities and to educators.
Where do you see your support coming from?
We are getting support from parents and educators and civic leaders. We will use social media to expand our numbers and our outreach. We have no paid staff. We plan no TV ads or mailings. We know we can’t compete with the billionaires in money, but we know they are few and we are many.
What do you think you can accomplish?
We hope to mobilize supporters of public education across the nation to support the improvement of public schools and to speak out against the damaging policies that hurt students and communities. We expect that our endorsement will help voters know who are the genuine supporters of school improvement and who are the wolves in sheep’s clothing, intent on privatizing their public schools. We hope to turn the tide in favor of saving public education in state and local races by informing and mobilizing the friends of community public schools and giving them the facts and research to fight off corporate predators.