Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters

Page 19

  

February 15, 2011

Dear Prof. Ravitch,

I’ve been a big fan of yours ever since I first read Left Back about ten years ago. I’m also a nineteen year teaching veteran and a disgruntled 1991 TFA alum. Like many people who have gone through TFAs training, I had a very rough first year. Fortunately I figured out how to be successful and kept teaching beyond my commitment. I’ve taught for thirteen of the past nineteen years and am currently a teacher at Stuyvesant High School. I’ve also had two books published, neither of which is on any kind of TFA recommended reading list. The first is an honest account of my first year called “Reluctant Disciplinarian” and the other is a practical guidebook for new secondary teachers.

I’ve been a pretty outspoken critic of TFA, particularly with regard to their training. I used to present a workshop at the institute trying to fill in the gaps and present a more realistic picture than they do. Eventually TFA decided they’d rather the new members don’t hear about my experiences since the truth might have been a bit too negative. Finally, I’ve gotten my ideas heard by most of the new members through a blog on the teachforus.org website. Currently, I’m one of the most read blogs on the site with my posts critiquing various TFA books, policies, and philosophies. I think the post that you would like the best is one titled “Why Two Years?” where I locate Wendy Kopp’s original thesis to look for clues for why they went with two years rather than more.

I’ve made a category of “favorites” with the best of the posts.

Whether or not you have a chance to look at some of these posts, I wanted to thank you for being a sane voice in the current discussion at this pivotal time. Your recent posts about the absurdity of closing schools in New York City was so clear and powerful, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who read it wouldn’t have the sense knocked back into them.

Sincerely,

Gary Rubinstein


 


February 10, 2011

Good Day Ms. Ravitch,

I am an assistant principal in Revere (a city five miles north of Boston) and I would like to thank you for giving me some hope. I have been working with my teachers on understanding the current landscape of public education. We often jigsaw and discuss your writings, they have inspired us all.

(A little bit about me) I am currently in the last year at the University of Massachusetts Boston in the Leadership in Urban Education Program. My research is in on the National Institute of School Leadership (NISL) I am sure you have heard about it. It is training program for school leaders. They openly boast that they base their strategies and approaches on military and business models! I have been applying a critical lens to it. It is my assumption that it is another example of Neoliberal (privatization) attempts to drive education policy. Before I became an administrator, I was U.S. history teacher at Revere High School. My two “textbooks” were Zinn’s A People’s History and your American Reader. I put you in the same category with Howard Zinn (a hero), who graciously spoke to my classes roughly ten years ago.

All that aside, I am writing to you because in our last professional development meeting, we (the teachers and myself) all agreed that you are one of the lone voices we can rally to. As a (evolving) critical theorist, I am influenced by McLaren, Apple, Giroux but you add something that they lack. People react differently when they think the message is coming from a leftist ideologue than they do when it comes from you.

So, I just felt the need to tell you. You are an inspiration to all of us educators (and non-educators) who are making the stand against the privatization and narrow-minded neoliberal education forces.

I see that you are not in this area until the summer (Providence). I hope to see and meet you then.

Sincerely,

John Perella


 


February 6, 2011

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I first heard about you from Democracy Now’s interview with you last year. I never got around to reading your new book, but last night I saw a somewhat disturbing presentation at a fundraiser. The fundraiser was put on by an Indian fraternity at Texas A&M. The fraternity was raising money in Houston for a village school in Gujarat state at the 11th and 12thrade level. This is called PUC (pre-university college) and is when kids essentially start their college so they can graduate by 20.

My issue was that the person raising the money decided to support this school on the conditions that he would do what school reformers do here. He said that the school cannot join the government, they must have merit pay and teacher accountability. He was also going to monitor the results of this to increase the passage rates on state exams. My biggest problem was that this was going to be used to eventually write a PhD dissertation for his education degree. He currently is a principal in Houston (he’s 26 or 27 at most) in a low performing school and is studying all the management books. He’s interested in all the metrics of teacher performance.

Indians are very apt to copy dumb ideas from the West. I am afraid rote learning is already a very bad problem in Indian schools (please see the fantastic movie Three Idiots). It may show you the future of American education.

In any case, I got your book from the Galveston public library so I can better debate this young principal’s philosophy. I’m studying medicine, so I am sort of taking a detour by nosing in this education business.

On an unrelated note, I wanted to know if being from Texas influenced your career in anyway. Do you feel like it makes you more forthright and direct with the issues at hand? I feel that people outside the South are often a bit more weasly about things.

Thank you,

Anand Bhat


 


February 6, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I would like to introduce myself to you and share a little about our school and me.

First of all, I would like thank you for all that you are doing to support educators and public education. Many of us have read your book. It is a fascinating read of all that is going on to undermine education. Your disclosure of your years realizing that the culture that has been nurtured by our politicians and the billionaire boys club had a hidden agenda that was bigger than just making schools accountable for learning.

Just as our democracy is not perfect, so goes education. With that said, not being perfect is not a good reason to abandon public schools or to build a competitive model of education. I greatly appreciate the stand that you have taken with in the national conversation. I have read your book and have passed it along to parents and teachers in my school. You have become a most admired person. I recently saw the trailer about the new movie Schools Are Not a Business. Thank you for making it. Ironically, a friend and I were talking about the need to have a movie sharing the opposing voice to Waiting for Superman (which has not come to State College yet but I hear that it will be coming soon). We have talked about going to see it although I really dislike contributing to their revenue for it). I would love to host a viewing of your new movie here at my school or encourage the State Theatre to show it (to redeem themselves from showing the other one ;->).

I am the Lead Learner in a K-5 510 student elementary school in State College, Pennsylvania. Until this year, we have been “successful” in making AYP. This year, in a special education category we missed the cut-off by .255 and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) refused to “round up” that slight amount. They said it was “no big deal” to be in “Warning” and not to make AYP. I have a friend in PDE who tried to talk sense into them and they got really sarcastic with her. My friend said that the person making the decision is not even an educator but a staff assistant. My friend tried to explain that I am one of her model school for environmental education and that we recently received (one of 20 schools) the Schools of Success Award from the Education Commission of the States (ESC) and National Center for Learning and Citizenship (NCLC). We have been recognized for the meaningful student involvement that occurs in our school as a result of service learning, civic engagement, inquiry, etc. Fifth graders (our Salad Girls) from our school are featured on the recent cover and as the lead article for Social Studies and the Young Learner (a great story that I could send you a copy of the article). Our students are very involved with community partners from a local nursing home and our Centre House (Housing Transitions for homelessness) addressing their needs through service learning. We also are greatly committed to environmental education and have many things going on at the school where students drive the process through their voices - composting of lunch waste, recycling of many items (if it recycles, we are probably doing it), gardening, etc. (NOTE: these are not the things that the PSSA tests.) Last year, we had one of our largest (and safely to say toughest) groups of special education (and for the most part low socioeconomically disadvantaged students who left here as great human beings but not having the highest PSSA scores.

We have received numerous other awards and grants but apparently do not make “the score” when it comes to the PSSA statewide assessment or whatever NCLB/ESEA is looking for in achievement. I have told my teachers that since all schools are going to fail under the current ESEA, we might as well do the things that we believe are right for kids and lead the way!

Additionally, I have a fifth grader who is very interested in making a movie about our school, "a great school in warning"! He is developing the storyline with me. He would truly impress you. Film-making passion and talent impresses me.

This past fall, I began to engage our school community in discussions about about what they want from an education - what kind of people that they want their children to be. I'd be glad to share my powerpoint with you. It has been inspired by our National League of Democratic Schools (NLODS). I was amazed by the conversation. I have used the powerpoint with parents, community members, children at our school, teachers and our Professional Development School (PDS) interns - we have a partnership with Penn State University. The overlap is amazing. I’d be glad to share if you are interested.

Anyway, I am writing to you because I would love to continue communicating with you. I also would love to figure out a way to get you to State College - no funds at the moment, just lots of hope! I am inspired by you and have been writing and rewriting this email to you for several weeks! You are amazing and I want to dialog with you.

All the Best!

Donnan Stoicovy


 


February 4, 2011

Dr. Ravitch,

Today, I listened to your lecture at Dillard University on the state or fate of public schools in the United States. Since I had the dubious distinction of being the Superintendent in New Orleans Public Schools immediately after Katrina, I was more than a little invested in your assessment of public education currently in New Orleans. Imagine how happy I was to finally hear your courageous evaluation of charter schools, testing and privatizing of public education to the detriment of student growth and teaching as a profession.

I attempted to sound the warning both locally and at the state level. However, my voice was drowned out by the cry for “reform.” In fact, I was told not to reopen any public schools in New Orleans following Katrina. The die cast. I will read your books, and encourage the use of your research with my graduate students as they make their way into decision-making positions in education leadership.

Thank you,

Dr. Ora Watson


 


February 1, 2011

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I am hearing of more and more [district name omitted] public school teachers pulling their children out of [district omitted] and putting them in private schools. I am about ready to do the same. Our concern is that we are seeing our children’s education going very badly and getting worse.

Have you heard the same from around the country?

And you can use this anecdote, but please, please take off my name and my location! We will be in [omitted] at least through May and don’t want any reprecussions:

My daughter was writing an essay for a private school. She is a straight A student at an Exemplary school. I read over the essay and realized it didn’t make any sense. She rewrote it and this time my husband looked it over. We asked her if she could rewrite it one more time as it wasn’t very coherent. She started crying, “I don’t know grammar. I don’t know spelling. I don’t know how to write.” Eight years in public school with standardized testing every year? I think enough is enough.

Yours Always,

Anonymous


 


January 12, 2011

I believe I am going through a change of mindset regarding education reform. A lot of it has to do with you.

I blindly followed Michelle Rhee’s call and moved from a comfortable job in the suburbs to one of the more highly politicized middle schools in D.C. I was excited and ready to work. I should have noticed something was up. The first week of meetings included all the responsibilities of the teacher. Administrators went though all these power points and we were now accountable to follow through. I had no clue how to do a fraction of what they expected.

I worked there for 3 weeks and realized I could not emotionally and physically keep up with the expectations. I walked in on a Sunday night and resigned. I brought my wife and she told my assistant principal that I was depressed and hating going to work for the first time in my life. I never spoke to the head principal again. He emailed me and said I was making the decision based on emotions. The assistant principal said the head principal was clueless that I was stressed. She said he believed in me. I just said he was not the leader I thought he was going to be.

I got a job the next day in the suburbs (Fairfax County). The experience has totally rocked my thinking about testing. My students usually scored very high, but my vision was much longer term. The testing world demands quick, immediate results. You can not immediately change a way a student thinks. Sometimes you never do. It comes with the job.

I appreciate every tweet you make. It is helping me reason why things went so badly when I worked for DCPS. Keep fighting — you are representing teachers that know there is no quick fix.

Forever Grateful,

Anonymous


 


January 12, 2011

Hi,

I read your book The Death and Life..., and believe it to be the best writing on what’s wrong with education reform ever published. I’ve been teaching science for 28 years and have dealt with several “reform philosophies” that have only led to reduced educational results and the waste of money. (All have been the same philosophically with mainly a change in jargon to confuse us.)

Keep up the great work! How could I help? Are you planning on speaking in Minnesota?

Sincerely,

Doug Swedberg


 


January 6, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

As a retired teacher who has lived the process you have described in The Death and Life... you are the first sign of hope I have felt in a long time regarding the state of public education.

I taught for 34 years in a large high quality suburban Detroit school system. The district was well managed, had a rich variety of programs to offer students, high staff moral, and high graduation rates. A few of the schools received Title I funds which were used to enrich math and reading programs in those schools for low achieving students. (We lived in the city of Detroit so I also saw first hand the contrast between what was offered in the suburbs and the city.) In the 1980s we began to hear the first drumbeat of school criticism. Parents came in very confused because they felt good about the experience their child was having in their local school but were being bombarded by negative messages about public schools. All the comparisons between test scores in country x never made clear whether those scores came from a system that tried to educate everyone as we were doing in the U.S. or whether those were scores from college prep type systems where large numbers of kids were excluded from the educational testing process.

I believe that I was considered to be a highly qualified teacher. It was a calling not a career. I had several degrees from major universities, had a personal interest in and loved teaching all subjects in 5th grade, used subject matter tests to shape how I was teaching and to identify kids who needed extra help, enjoyed all the quirky little personalities that made up the average classroom, and provided after class tutoring for kids who needed it. My class was a focused peaceful place. Parents requested that their child be placed there. I still keep in touch with students although I have been retired for ten years. I would never encourage anyone to go into teaching now. Merit pay will never replace the personal satisfaction of being able to try to meet the many and diverse needs of a typical class of students by teaching to the kids not teaching to the tests.

Thirty years into “reform” my former district is a disaster. Programs have been slashed. The teaching staff has become discouraged and no one goes “the extra mile” for students any more. The job has become one of staff and student coercion because “teaching to the test” is just downright boring and demeaning for both staff and students. The neighborhood school no longer exists as restructuring has broken delivery into K-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-12 buildings so that all teachers can do “specialized instruction” in the upper grades. The subject (test scores) matters not the kids.

You “get” what has happened to public education. Please keep working to help others understand how much has been lost. (And the most at risk kids are still not being well served.)

Thank you,

Peg Gage


 


January 1, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

As a retired teacher who has lived the process you have described in The Death and Life... you are the first sign of hope I have felt in a long time regarding the state of public education.

I taught for 34 years in a large high-quality suburban Detroit school system. The district was well-managed, had a rich variety of programs to offer students, high staff morale, and high graduation rates. A few of the schools received Title I funds which were used to enrich math and reading programs in those schools for low achieving students. (We lived in the city of Detroit so I also saw first hand the contrast between what was offered in the suburbs and the city.) In the 1980’s we began to hear the first drumbeat of school criticism. Parents came in very confused because they felt good about the experience their child was having in their local school but were being bombarded by negative messages about public schools. All the comparisons between test scores in country x never made clear whether those scores came from a system that tried to educate everyone as we were doing in the U.S. or whether those were scores from college prep type systems where large numbers of kids were excluded from the educational testing process.

I believe that I was considered to be a highly qualified teacher. It was a calling not a career. I had several degrees from major universities, had a personal interest in and loved teaching all subjects in 5th grade, used subject matter tests to shape how I was teaching and to identify kids who needed extra help, enjoyed all the quirky little personalities that made up the average classroom, and provided after class tutoring for kids who needed it. My class was a focused peaceful place. Parents requested that their child be placed there. I still keep in touch with students although I have been retired for ten years. I would never encourage anyone to go into teaching now. Merit pay will never replace the personal satisfaction of being able to try to meet the many and diverse needs of a typical class of students by teaching to the kids not teaching to the tests.

Thirty years into “reform” my former district is a disaster. Programs have been slashed. The teaching staff has become discouraged and no one goes “the extra mile” for students any more. The job has become one of staff and student coercion because “teaching to the test” is just downright boring and demeaning for both staff and students. The neighborhood school no longer exists as restructuring has broken delivery into K-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-12 buildings so that all teachers can do “specialized instruction𔃉 in the upper grades. The subject (test scores) matters not the kids.

You “get” what has happened to public education. Please keep working to help others understand how much has been lost. (And the most at-risk kids are still not being well served.)

Thank you,

Peg Gage


 


December 29, 2010

Prof. Ravitch,

I am a community college English professor and a former public high school teacher, and want to thank you for latest book, which is a life raft amidst the recession of good will towards educators.

I have been writing on education for a few years, and your book gave me renewed vigor — and confidence — in fighting publicly for the institution I have proudly devoted my life to.

Please find, below, an essay I published which is in part inspired by your scholarship and advocacy: ”To Fix Education: Fire Human Teachers, Hire Holograms.”

Thanks much for your time.

Best,

Adam Bessie


 


December 28, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

I am a new teacher at a Charter school, and have read your article entitled The Myth of Charter Schools. I was so overwhelmed about your position that I had to find your email and thank you very much for your hard work and truth.

America has the answers on how to improve our educational system, but we have to look at improving our society and communities. The model for the U.S. comes from the top-ranked nations in the world. In all of those nations, teachers get paid much more than we do in this country. Further, there are society and cultural differences, as well, that we need to look at.

Anyways, thank you for your hard work and the truth in your reporting. If only our Congress and current President would hear you out...what advances would we make.

Best,

William Chenausky

All letters have been reprinted with the permission of the writers.

 

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