Ravitch speaks to hundreds of Chicago teachers

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Diane Ravitch, the education historian and author, told hundreds of
Chicago Teachers Union members Saturday they can’t let the corporate
reformers dismantle the education profession.

Diane Ravitch, the education historian and author, told hundreds of Chicago Teachers Union members Saturday they can’t let the corporate reformers dismantle the education profession.

In a speech that painted a dismal picture of the intensifying attacks against teachers in many states around the country but was also a call for teachers to remain united and engaged, Ravitch relayed an alarming account of recent and proposed measures to downsize teaching staffs and increase class sizes.

Among the crowd was Interim Schools CEO Terry Mazany and a handful of parents.

“I’ve wondered, given all the talk of school reform and seeing how it’s playing out in the media and legislature, do we live in an age of national insanity or is it an age of national stupidity,” she said before a packed audience at the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum. “All across the country, we have governors and legislatures and philanthropists telling us we must reform our schools at the same time they’re cutting the education budget and refusing to raise taxes on the people who have money.”

Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University, once supported the No Child Left Behind law and school choice. In the last year, though, she has become one of the most prominent and outspoken voices against what she calls “corporate reform.” Author of the best-selling book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” which was being snapped up at Saturday’s forum, Ravitch also has become a heroine for thousands of public school teachers.

By her own estimate she’s spoken to at least 100,000 teachers in the last year. Saturday’s crowd was nearly 500, the CTU estimated.

“The good thing about Diane is she always approaches each audience individually,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “She doesn’t have a canned stock speech. It’s important for people to hear certain pieces of data that she gives because it’s never heard.

“The fact that somebody stands for teachers who is not the union person, I think gives [her] more credibility,” Lewis said.

Ravitch gave a multi-state summary of measures being enacted or proposed for public schools systems. To address its deficit, Detroit, she said, will close half its public schools and raise class sizes to 60 children, “numbers we haven’t seen in this country since 1910.”

As for Chicago, which is expected to have a permanent schools chief by the time Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel takes office in May, Ravitch told Catalyst Chicago, “it would be refreshing if he were to bring in an educator who is committed to building and improving the schools and who basically has a very productive and positive outlook as opposed to trying to figure out how to blow up everything.

“Right now this corporate reform narrative that has been so powerful nationally over the past several years is committed to what I think of as innovation and disruption,” Ravitch said in an interview before her speech. “Innovation being, try something that has no evidence behind it, and disruption and chaos being this idea that kids will thrive if their lives are continually thrown into disorder. And no one who has children believes this in true. In fact, every parent knows it’s not true and yet we have this corporate reform movement that loves messing around with other people’s children.”