July 13, 2020

Revenge of the Dullards

Glory, glory, the nation’s besieged teachers can rejoice now that Diane Ravitch, patron saint to poor performing educators everywhere, has started an education advocacy group called Network for Public Education (NOPE). Now there will be a force to face off with Michele Rhee’s StudentsFirst. Ravitch, the always-on-tour educational apologist says her new group aims to be “a sane voice for educational policy….not talking about kids first or students first but actually supporting policies that will improve public education.”

Amongst those policies….

Ms. Ravitch said the network was calling for broad-minded public school curriculums that included arts, sciences, foreign languages and physical education; better financing for schools; more respect for teachers; and the “appropriate use of testing to help students and teachers, not to punish or reward students, teachers, principals, or to close schools,” she wrote in an e-mail.

As agendas go that one is far less tart than Ravitch’s usual firehose of anti-reform sloganeering. Missing is deeper detail on what I suspect is the hidden curriculum of her movement. Sure, she has always been an advocate for richer curriculum (who isn’t) and national standards, but in recent years she is most known for what she opposes: testing as a means for evaluating teachers and schools, charter schools, school choice, philanthropy, and the existence of a cerebrum in non-white peoples. Her caustic defense of status quo unionism and her pandering to the hurt feelings of a preciously fragile nation of pre-feminism teachers have elevated her to a place where oxygen is rare, platitudes multiply, and invitations for speaking engagements before breathless rooms of desperate dullards are endless.

Maybe it’s just me, but all of our advocacy around public education should be for the betterment of children, not for the perputation of  a system or the payment of its workers. But, it seems that NOPE sees children as ancillary rather than primary in their mission:

The Network for Public Education is an advocacy group whose goal is to fight to protect, preserve and strengthen our public school system, an essential institution in a democratic society. Our mission is to protect, preserve, promote, and strengthen public schools and the education of current and future generations of students. We will accomplish this by networking groups and organizations focused on similar goals in states and districts throughout the nation, share information about what works and what doesn’t work in public education, and endorse and rate candidates for office based on our principles and goals. More specifically, we will support candidates who oppose high-stakes testing, mass school closures, the privatization of our public schools and the outsourcing of its core functions to for-profit corporations, and we will support candidates who work for evidence-based reforms that will improve our schools and the education of our nation’s children.

Somehow that looks like a movement to preserve current structures and failed practices for the purpose of protecting paychecks rather than young people. I can’t see how the plan to “protect, preserve, [and] promote” what we already have will “strengthen….the education of curent and future generations of students.” If it isn’t working now, and it hasn’t worked before, why would we double down for the future?

Maybe I’m being harsh here. Can there really be an issue with teachers and unions having their own personal Jesus absolving their sins and promising eternal life (through contracts, blogging, and bad Facebook memes)? Teachers have taken a lot of heat from public “experts” who have “never spent a day in the classroom.” They are nearly as scrutinized in the media as the black people coming out of their schools.

I might consider myself wildly out of line if it weren’t for the fact that America’s public schools are a wellspring of historic social inequities. They generate incredible social, economic  and political troubles for real people, real families, and real communities. “You can’t blame the schools for all of societies ills,” the NOPErs will say. The problems are parents and poverty they will say. Expecting better outcomes for students and schools is punishment. We need to end all of the divisiveness by fighting evil corporatists and billionaire “boys.”

Really? Isn’t that just more teacher teflon?

Sometimes, talking with teachers is like the worst date ever. They talk incessantly about themselves, their needs, their wants, their job, their martyrdom, and the eternal wrongness of everyone but themselves. Meanwhile, children perish.

Imagine if we focused instead on this:

Over the last 25 years, the social, educational and economic outcomes for Black males have been more systemically devastating than the outcomes for any other racial or ethnic group or gender. Black males have consistently low educational attainment levels, are more chronically unemployed and underemployed, are less healthy and have access to fewer health care resources, die much younger, and are many times more likely to be sent to jail for periods significantly longer than males of other racial/ethnic groups. On average, Black males are more likely to attend the most segregated and least resourced public schools.

While I’m can be fascinated with intricate conspiracy theories, can we take 5 minutes off from the “Koch brothers are killing schools” script and focus on the danger of utter nothingness in the “save our schools” movement? Do we really believe life was great for students – especially students of color – before assessment, teacher evaluations, longer school days, chartered schools, school choice, and Teach For America?


Get straight on this: the school to prison pipeline is real and it won’t be solved by locating all of our empathy with middle  class “workers” who are pathological about maintaining vocational entitlements while going mum on the educational injustices from which they profit. While they fight for “better financing” we wait for them to speak up about how categorical aid generated by poor students of color is routinely misspent. While they fight to  end standardized testing we await their plan for ending racialized student outcomes that have been revealed nationally by disaggregated data resulting from testing. As they fight school closings, we await a plan for recouping the per pupil funding that evaporates when you keep needy students in under-populated and stupidly expensive buildings.

The best thing about NOPE will be the efficiency with which we will be able to identify which teachers have forgotten the reason they have jobs. For those that wish to join the massively narcissistic teachers-first movement, there will be an opportunity to be seen, heard, and counted.

And, the problem will be the same. Too many unseen and unheard lives will be diminished by our inability to focus.

Education has always been an unparalleled gateway of opportunity for black and brown folks. Many factors have conspired to prevent millions from  getting through that big gate, but Ravitch’s national teacher revolt is the most visible obstructionist effort today. Black Americans should be used to this schtick. Any time there has been a movement aimed at providing us with more options, more freedom, or more capital, there has been a counter movement. Typically the opponents feel they have something to lose; most often it’s money, status, and power. Often the language used to obstruct our freedom is bundled in universal principles like heritage, democracy, or the rights of oppressors over that of the oppressed. Today the battle seems to be for right of inefficacious educators to maintain personal income that is placed over the right of their students to expect great instruction.

We keep asking if teachers and their unions will ever join the real movement for real educational justice.

They keep saying NOPE.

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