Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Diane Ravitch: Public Schools' Modern-Day Dewey

Three years ago, a colleague of mine kept telling me I just had to read Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Admittedly, I knew little about Ravitch then and was less enthused to take on the read, realizing Ravitch previously served in President George W. Bush’s administration. My colleague, however, was relentless in getting me to take on the book. The persistent pestering paid off and her book instantly became one of my favorite professional reads.

Two pages into Ravitch’s reflection on her life’s work, I was hooked. She jumped right into a courageous mea culpa for formerly supporting failed education reforms--such as accountability, high-stakes testing, and school choice. At the time of her conversion, Ravitch was already well-past retirement. Instead of looking back nostalgically, Ravitch reflected critically on her former support for competition-based education reforms. Ravitch asked herself, “What should we think of someone who never admits error, never entertains doubt but adheres unflinchingly to the same ideas all his life, regardless of new evidence?” I was and still am impressed with Ravitch’s open-mindedness and authenticity. Since then, I have soaked up almost all that she has written. 

Ravitch was a renowned education historian long before The Death and Life of the Great American School System, but has emerged in the past three years as the most respected, modern-day defender of public education. She is refreshingly authentic in an educational world saturated with self-serving reformers. She is as critical of President Obama’s test-based education policies as she is of Republican plans to dismantle public education. She stands for public education. Her style is direct. Her work is reasoned and researched. She courageously takes on the corporate education reformers determined to inject free market ideology into public education. She thinks critically and is a prolific writer. She is the John Dewey of our era.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Just in Time for Labor Day, A New Employee Handbook

A big deal to many Janesville school employees, but a sidebar note in the local paper (and just in time for Labor Day!) was the unanimous board approval of the school district’s employee handbook this past week.

As noted in my last posting, the Janesville’s teachers union is one of the last holdouts in Wisconsin to be subjected to Gov. Walker’s discriminatory Act 10 legislation, which ends most collective bargaining rights for almost all public employees. This questionably constitutional and purely partisan legislation forced districts, like mine, to shift the rules and regulations of work conditions from collectively bargained labor contracts to district-produced employee handbooks.

Of course, this is what Wisconsin (and more commonly non-Wisconsin) neo-cons wanted. Top-down management dominates. The public educator’s perspective is devalued. Under Act 10, hierarchical bureaucracy now trumps collaboration and teamwork in many Wisconsin public schools. This is a step back from the collaboration-focused professional learning community (PLC) model I desire for all Wisconsin public schools. Most frustrating, this neo-con concocted counterfeit medicine distracts all of us from the eight ball.