Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University, a historian of education, and author of more than ten books—including The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (2003) and The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010). Ravitch served as Assistant Secretary of Education from 1991 to 1993 during the administration of George H. W. Bush. When she was Assistant Secretary, she led the federal effort to promote the creation of voluntary state and national academic standards. “From 1997 to 2004, she was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program. She was appointed by the Clinton administration’s Secretary of Education Richard Riley in 1997 and reappointed by him in 2001. From 1995 until 2005, she held the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution and edited Brookings Papers on Education Policy. Before entering government service, she was Adjunct Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.”
Ravitch, once a champion of charter schools, supported the No Child Left Behind initiative. After careful investigation, Ravitch changed her mind and became one of our country’s most well-known critics of charter-based education. She believes that “the privatization of public education has to stop.” In late March, Ravitch sat down with Bill Moyers on Moyers & Company to discuss the subject of privatizing of public schools—which has become “big business as bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity investors are entering what they consider to be an ‘emerging market.’” You can view a video of that program, Public Schools for Sale?, below the fold.
Noelle Roni had served as the principal of the Peak to Peak Charter School in Colorado for eight years when she was fired last November. Matthew Hill, a Peak to Peak parent, told the Denver Post that Roni’s termination was “shrouded in mystery.” He said, “This decision to fire her in mid-year is a very negative precedent for our teachers. We don’t know why Ms. Roni was fired. The last objective evidence we have is that she did well on her evaluations.” Hill said that neither Kelly Reeser, the school’s executive director, nor any of the board members have any teaching experience. He added that they “made their decision without understanding the confusion and anxiety it would provoke. He noted that teachers at Peak to Peak aren’t tenured and depend on performance evaluations for continued employment.”
Last November, Roni released a public statement—but it wasn’t until this January that she spoke out about the reason for her firing. Roni claimed that she lost her position at the Lafayette charter school “after she demanded that cafeteria workers stop stamping the hands of children – including those who qualified for the free lunch program – when their lunch accounts were empty.” The former principal told the Boulder Daily Camera that as soon as she saw it happening she thought, “No, this is not OK.” She added, “The students felt so humiliated, like they had done something wrong. They didn’t want to go into the lunchroom any more. It’s unethical and disrespectful.”
As a former public school educator, I have been following what has been going on with school reform in this country. I have written posts about some of the groups and individuals involved in the current reform movement (here), the push to privatize public schools (here), school vouchers (here and here), and charter schools (here and here). Despite all the research that I’ve done on the subject, I hadn’t been aware until recently that there are many publicly funded charter schools across this country that have religious affiliations.
In December 2011, Tiffany Gee Lewis(Deseret News) wrote that there had been a “veritable explosion of charter schools over the past two decades.” She noted that a number of the schools that were riding this charter trend were “founded or authorized” by religious and cultural organizations. As she said, the subject of religion in public schools “has always been a hot-button topic.” She added that “the rise of charter schools that tie themselves to a certain ethnic or religious group introduces a new shade of complication to public schooling.”
According to Jessica Meyers of The Dallas Morning News, “Church-charter partnerships are springing up across the country as private institutions lose funding and nontraditional education models grow in popularity. Their emergence prompts questions about the role religious groups should play in the development of publicly funded schools.” She added, “Critics fear the fuzzy division means taxpayers are footing the bill for religious instruction.”
In a recent New York Times article titled At Charter Schools, Short Careers by Choice, Mitoko Rich wrote of how charter schools seem to be developing something of a “youth cult” in their teaching ranks. She reported that in the charter network “teaching for two to five years is seen as acceptable and, at times, even desirable.”
Teachers in the thirteen YES Prep Schools, which are located throughout Greater Houston, have a reported average of two and a half years of experience. The teachers who work for Achievement First—which has 25 schools in Connecticut, Brooklyn, and Providence, R.I.— “spend an average of 2.3 years in the classroom.” And the individuals who teach in the KIPP schools and the Success Academy Charter Schools stay in the classroom for an average of four years. This youth culture—or culture in which most classroom practitioners have little teaching experience— differs from that of our country’s traditional public schools where teachers average nearly fourteen years of experience…and where public school leaders have made it “a priority to reduce teacher turnover.”
In the NYT article, Jennifer Hines, senior vice president of people and programs at YES Prep, was quoted as saying, “We have this highly motivated, highly driven work force who are now wondering, ‘O.K., I’ve got this, what’s the next thing?’ There is a certain comfort level that we have with people who are perhaps going to come into YES Prep and not stay forever.” (Note: New teachers at the YES Prep schools receive just two and a half weeks of training over the summer before arriving in the classroom.)