cross-posted at bbll
Ravitch responds to the outcome of the DC mayoral race, one frequently called a referendum on Michelle Rhee, and the narratives generated about the outcome and the recent charter movement’s main narrative. [Which she neatly sums up at the end–read all the way through for the full effect]
In the closing days of the Fenty campaign, [Rhee] went to the districts where Fenty had his strongest support—the largely white districts in the city’s Northwest section—to rally voters.
When the results came in, Fenty was trounced in largely black districts. In Wards 7 and 8, his opponent, Vincent Gray, won 82 percent of the vote. In Northwest Washington, where white voters predominate, Fenty won 76 percent of the vote. Fenty decisively lost the black vote and decisively won the white vote. D.C. public schools are about 5 percent white, so it is a reasonable supposition that the anti-Fenty vote was fueled to a large degree by parents of children in the public schools. Gray won handily, 53 percent to 46 percent.
It’s a repeated motif—white voters supporting “tough” reforms of public schools though few of them have children in these public schools or the ones being reformed, and black voters with children in the schools being reformed who do not support the individuals and/or policies and/or effects of the reforms. The idea that these types of reforms must be imposed upon the teachers, parents and children is a telling aspect of the charter movement narrative.
Journalists attributed Fenty’s loss to the power of the teachers’ union, but such an explanation implies that black voters, even in the privacy of the voting booth, lack the capacity to make an informed choice. When the Tea Party wins a race, journalists don’t write about who controlled their vote, but about a voter revolt; they acknowledge that those who turned out to vote had made a conscious decision. Yet when black voters, by large margins, chose Vincent Gray over Adrian Fenty, journalists found it difficult to accept that the voters were acting on their own, not as puppets of the teachers’ union.
Anti-union sentiment is part of the charter school movement narrative. I’d like to add, following Ravitch, that these charter school reformers also assume that teachers can’t think for themselves and cannot possibly be objecting to anything except petty selfish interest in maintaining power over crumbling schools for reasons too weird to imagine or articulate. Why is such antagonizing, demonizing language and narrative spokes needed to make schools, make education, better?
Mayoral control of schools short-circuits democratic processes by concentrating all decision-making in the hands of one elected official, who need not consult with anyone else.
That could be said for any kind of single-person control, for appointed officials with little accountability to voters and parents, for insisting one way is The Way so just the hell out The Way, You People, and let us Reform you.
We now have an “education reform” movement which believes that democracy is too slow and too often wrong, and their reforms are so important, so self-evident that they cannot be delayed by discussion and debate. So self-assured are the so-called reformers that they can’t be bothered to review the research and evidence on merit pay or evaluating teachers by test scores or the effects of high-stakes testing. If they can find one study or even a report by a friendly think tank, that’s evidence enough for them.
Sound familiar, New Orleanians? Sound anti-democratic? Ravitch thinks so, too. A blanket disregard for discussion, debate, research, best practices is the wrong mindset to reform education that is meant to teach our children how to discuss, debate, research, weigh and analyze, and make sound decisions not based only on a petty personal interest when the issue is public policy, the public good, other people’s children. Why do students not “understand” the scientific method, logic, argument, etc.? Hm. Maybe because it is the last thing that is valued in so many of the most important arenas.