Archives for category: Supporting public schools

A new international organization has released five case studies of low- and middle-income nations, demonstrating that PUBLIC EDUCATION WORKS.

I received this mailing:

We are delighted to launch a new important piece of research on public education, titled Public education works: lessons from five case-studies in low- and middle- income countries”. The study shows that well-organised public education systems are possible and working everywhere, with political will and use of locally relevant practices.

It showcases positive examples of public education in different contexts and settings. The cases – from Bolivia to Namibia, including Vietnam – challenge the disseminated idea that public education needs privatisation for quality and point to a rights-aligned and socially committed definition of quality – including the aim for social inclusion and equity, the engagement of community and local actors, valuing teachers and respecting local culture.  It concludes that public education must be the way forward for building more equal, just and sustainable societies.

The research was produced collaboratively by 12 organizations and is part of GI-ESCR’s continuous efforts to reverse the adverse impact of the commercialisation of education in the context of the unprecedented expansion of private-sector involvement in education.

The launch of this study is a follow-up to the publication of a policy brief released ahead of the Global Partnership for Education summit in July 2021. Its release during the virtual session of the World Bank’s Civil Society Policy Forum adds to the call on the World Bank and other investors to prioritize their support for public education in their efforts to build back more resilient and equitable education systems for all.

The research is available in three formats: a Working paper, Research brief and Policy brief.

To support the publicity of this new, exciting research, please share widely.

#PublicEducationWorks

READ the Working paper or Research brief here

GI-ESCR is a non-governmental organisation that believes transformative change to end endemic problems of social and economic injustice is possible only through a human rights lens.

Denis Smith worked for many years in the Ohio State Department of Education, finishing his career in the Office of Charter Schools. He writes in the Ohio Capital Journal about the existential threat posed to our democracy and our society by the privatization of public schools. His advice: Be careful what you wish for.

In the last few months, Americans have witnessed a series of assaults by the political right on key parts of the bedrock principles of democracy. Those attacks include new restrictions on voting rights in more than half of the states, the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by thousands of insurrectionists, and most recently, clear evidence that the former president pressured the top leadership of the Justice Department to help him overturn the 2020 election results.

Certainly these scary developments are newsworthy and have garnered banner headlines and filled airtime on the evening news. But these high-profile assaults on our democracy have served to obscure another, perhaps even more serious threat, an added variant and supplement to the seditious behavior of insurrectionists and a twice-impeached president who encouraged their assault on democracy.

In the midst of the chaos caused by angry militia types working to keep in power a rogue administration, and being mindful of the distraction these events have caused, it’s past time to get educated about the future viability of public education.

While the U.S. Capitol was placed under assault some months ago, public education has been targeted for forty years, when Ronald Reagan signaled his followers that the public sector was undesirable and that private enterprise was always preferable in the nation. His attitude was immortalized in his remark that “the nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

This observation has been interpreted by the right as a command from Reagan himself to privatize about everything in the public sector — except the military — as part on an ideology which holds that a private enterprise is always preferable to a public function. That thinking has morphed into a crusade to destroy perhaps the most recognized and common artifact in any community: the public school.

Individual liberty v. community responsibility

For those who know this institution’s place in American history, the terms public school and common school are used interchangeably, and the leading proponent who believed that every community should offer a program of education was Horace Mann, considered the father of American public education. In his role as the first commissioner of education in Massachusetts, Mann believed that “education should be free and universal, nonsectarian, democratic in method, and reliant on well-trained professional teachers.”

As Mann’s nineteenth-century idea of the common school spread across the new American Republic, in villages, small towns and cities where a community’s shared and accepted values were honored and embraced, the little red schoolhouse became an icon, the force that helped to mold the very idea of community.

That was the America we recognized until several decades ago.

Today, attacks by insurrectionists attired in their cammies and state legislators dressed in business suits are hard at work to undermine that very sense of community, of place. Instead of embracing the idea of place, the community and its schools which educated generation after generation, those same legislators mumble vaguely about something they call “socialism” or “government schools” and instead espouse something else called “educational choice.”

That word choice, used often in the same sentence with freedom, serves as the anti-government elixir peddled by legislators to further encourage insurrectionists and religious zealots who do not accept the idea of community – and its public or common schools.

And with the frequent use by the right of such terms as choice, freedom, and liberty, that tattered social fabric we should be concerned about is worn down even more.

Indeed, words – particularly those three – have consequences.

Several years ago, the New York Times columnist David Brooks critiqued the work of author Marcia Pally, who observed that Americans project a prominent duality – a need to explore as well as be “situated” – i.e., having a sense of community. But today, our very sense of community is under stress, a weakened social fabric fueled by politicians who in their continuing mischief and purposeful vandalism promote divisive policies that result in the transfer of public funds away from our common schools to support private, religious, and charter schools.

In spite of these destructive policies adopted by state legislatures that are antithetical to societal cohesion, the need for community comes at the very time, in Pally’s analysis, when the forces of global migration, globalization, and the internet are proving to be transformative and thus challenge the very idea of community, of being situated.

But it was Brooks’ added observation that a fourth force, in the form of individual choice, gained my attention then and now, particularly in the current and growing national atmosphere that proclaims it’s all about me and my freedom to choose, regardless of compelling community needs, including health, safety, and the transmission of a common cultural heritage, as Horace Mann, John Dewey, and other visionaries labored to establish in another, more unified time in our history.

The byproduct of this thinking — that it’s all about me — centered as it is on the individual and not the community, is seen in both the Capitol insurrectionists and the anti-vaxxers. These protesters are seemingly also armed with the idea that personal freedom and individual choice trump any responsibility in caring for the well-being of others, whether by wearing a mask or being vaccinated against COVID.

To hell with elections. It’s all about me and what I believe, we are being told by those who protest the warnings of scientists and public health experts. And to hell with masks and vaccinations. We don’t need tyranny, they tell us.

And while we’re at it, to hell with the idea of community. When it’s all about me and what I believe, there is no room for what you value.

It doesn’t take many dots to connect this thinking with the deterioration of the idea of community, of being situated, and of having common values like the public schools that were created to serve all the youth in a particular community. We hold that truth (or should we use the past tense now?) to be self-evident. Not.

But in all of this, of slogans like freedom and choice, be careful what you wish for.

In my reaction to Brooks and his review, I wrote this in April 2016:

“…how we preserve freedom serves to illustrate the certainty of unintended consequences for conservatives, viz., how can you promote the concept of choice, particularly educational choice, as a desired public policy outcome, while also warning about weakened community cohesion and a frayed, tattered, strained social fabric”?

Five years later, I stand by those words. In light of recent events, that strained social fabric is even more fragile, and approaching an irreparable state of repair. It follows that with such disrepair, the idea of community in this country may soon be on a ventilator.

Cookie-cutter legislation

The enemy, it seems, is within. We witnessed this bashing of democracy with the images of militia-types beating police with flagpoles. Another version of that assault is the introduction of cookie-cutter legislation, some of which was crafted by the Koch-funded American Legislative Council, which exists to destroy education by taking the word public out of it, and replacing elected local school boards with charter schools whose boards are hand-picked by for-profit chains rather than being elected by voters in a community.

When state legislators vote to create educational vouchers that subsidize private and religious school tuition with public funds, they are making a decision to support schools that often teach content that has not been subject to a thorough review process, as public schools are. By contrast, vouchers mean that students can now be attending schools, free from state regulation, that may not even teach science or other subjects, or use instructional materials that do not support appropriate knowledge about our world.

The image of a caveman and a dinosaur, coexisting in an earlier time, as displayed in a Kentucky museum, comes to mind. It’s not too hard to imagine that under a voucher scheme, if a church affiliated with the museum operated a school and offered a curriculum in line with such a view, it could be eligible for state educational choice dollars.

Yes. Your tax dollars. And mine.

But where is the proper public purpose for taxpayer support of such an imagined school? Right now, for example, the proposed expansion in some states including Ohio of so-called educational choice vouchers to religious schools could make such situations possible in the future. One wonders what would happen if private and religious schools would first be required to agree to a set of very detailed assurances, including the teaching of specific courses of study consistent with the curricular offerings of local public schools, before receiving any state funding in the form of educational vouchers.

I think we know the answer to that. It’s called having it both ways – getting public money with no accountability and no strings attached.

The purpose of public schools

And then there is the subject of citizenship and our common heritage. Besides its purpose to produce skilled and literate individuals, public schools have also been charged to prepare young people to be caring and ethical citizens. By contrast, it can be argued that with private and religious schools, their own unique missions may not place civic-related ideals in the top rank, but instead subordinate civic education and awareness to a more narrow or sectarian purpose that mirrors the defining purpose of the school.

But if in the name of freedom and educational choice there is already enough concern about the use of public tax dollars to help fund private, religious and charter schools and thus undermine public education, weaken our democracy, and further damage our social fabric, there is yet another problem created by the actions of state legislatures to fund religious schools through vouchers.

It’s the Establishment Clause.

A product of The Enlightenment, the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause was crafted by the nation’s founders, who knew that religious wars had consumed Europe in the centuries preceding the American Revolution. Currently, in my home state of Ohio, a coalition of school districts is preparing a court challenge to check the legislature’s intent to expand the state’s voucher program as not only a violation of the constitutional prohibitions against supporting sectarian schools but also a violation of the Ohio Constitution’s purpose to establish a “system of common schools.”

I trust that this language from the Ohio Constitution is illustrative of how other states establish a system of public education.

[Article VI, Sec. 2 Education] The General Assembly shall make such provisions, by taxation, or otherwise, as, with the income arising from the school trust fund, will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the State; but, no religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this State.

Certainly, private and religious schools do not meet the definition of a common school that must be supported by public funds, yet in the name of educational choice there is a nationwide movement to expand voucher programs that will support private and religious schools, in spite of any Establishment Clause violation and other legal prohibitions.

So we return to the purpose of the common school as a unifying force to build community and not be a dividing force, as private and religious schools will be, if they are put on an equal footing with public education through support with public funds.

If all of these issues might seem to be troublesome, there is one which will likely prove to cause the most damage: How can you maintain the concept of E Pluribus Unum when public policy seems poised to support all types of schools and thus erode the idea of the common school, in this case the Unum in our national motto, as the essential driver to ensure that children who come from many backgrounds form a single nation through our common schools?

Indeed, we know that the mission of public education is to prepare young people to be skilled, literate, and ethical citizens. But that’s only part of it.

Let’s take a look at the Unum part of the equation. In an essay about the role of public education written two decade ago, Kenneth Conklin, a Hawai’i philosophy professor, raised some concerns about how a fragmented educational system can itself cause a fragmented society.

“If an educational system is altered, its transmission of culture will be distorted,” Conklin wrote. “The easiest way to break apart a society long-term without using violence is to establish separate educational systems for the groups to be broken apart.”

Public tax dollar support of private, religious, and charter schools clearly represent the establishment of separate educational systems. Such tax support violates the very idea of Horace Mann’s common school, the very image of democracy in every community.

Conklin provides some additional advice for us to consider:

“A society’s culture can survive far longer than the lifespan of any of its members, because its educational system passes down the folkways and knowledge of one generation to subsequent generations. A culture changes over time, but has a recognizable continuity of basic values and behavioral patterns that distinguishes it from other cultures. That continuity is provided by the educational system.” (Emphasis mine)

What’s next?

We’re in trouble. A community thrives on consensus, of shared values. The actions of agents of disinformation spreading lies about vaccines have undermined confidence in science and public health. And if we lose a consensus about public education and the shared values it represents, we have lost our democracy.

But there is hope.

In reaction to this assault on public education in Ohio, a group of 85 school districts have joined to challenge the intent of the Ohio General Assembly to greatly expand the Educational Voucher program and put private and religious schools on an equal footing to receive tax dollars siphoned away from constitutionally established common schools. Their position is that Article VI of the Ohio Constitution makes no provision for publicly supported but parallel and competing forms of education supported by public funds.

The Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, which was itself established twenty-five years ago to ensure fair state funding for school districts irrespective of wealth, is facilitating the legal efforts of districts in challenging the constitutionality of educational vouchers and the blatant violation of the Establishment Clause in establishing funding for religious schools. With so much at stake for future state funding of public school districts, more districts are expected to join this lawsuit in the coming weeks

So what is the lesson to be learned from public support of private and religious schools, along with the privatization of what is left of public education?

Be careful what you wish for.

If you think freedom and choice are the purest ideals to possess and not a sense of community to hold us together, most prominently seen in our public schools, think again. Every vote in every state legislature to offer or expand choice in the end represents a choice for disunion, for a fragmentation of our cultural heritage, a basis for community – and our very nationhood.

We are on the brink. If there is not a counter-movement to roll back this destruction of our communities by the Ohio General Assembly through the planned destruction of the common school, we will get what we deserve.

Yes, be careful what you wish for.

Accurate link: https://ohiocapitaljournal.com/2021/09/16/public-schools-vouchers-privatization-and-educational-choice-be-careful-what-you-wish-for/

Dountonia Batts is a parent advocate and community organizer in Indianapolis. she is a member of the board of the Network for Public Education. She explains here why she once supported vouchers but no longer does.

I can remember exactly when my thinking about school vouchers began to change. I was attending a community meeting, waiting to find out whether my small children, then in kindergarten and first grade, were going to receive vouchers to attend a private school. The meeting was almost over when a community member stood up and told us how disturbed she was by the way we all kept talking about ‘my children.’ “We have to be focused on the children who do not have the choices you have,” she told us solemnly. “They’re going to fall through the cracks.” It would take me years to see for myself what she meant, but the seed was planted that night.

My two sons did get school vouchers and were accepted to a private Baptist K-12 school. As the years passed, I became more aware of the impact of the decision I’d made. It started with my own children. After the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, my oldest son wore a hoodie to school and it was viewed as a political statement. The signs that he wasn’t really welcome at a school that got less diverse in each successive grade became more apparent. I saw the eyes and heard the comments in the bleachers. My youngest son was the only Black child in his class. He started to get discouraged, convinced that he wasn’t smart. He never found his people at that school. I began to understand that school is about more than academics. The social element really matters too.

My perspective really began to change when my husband, Dr. Ramon Batts, decided to run for school board in Indianapolis. He could see what I’d been missing—that as charter schools and vouchers expanded, the school system in Indianapolis was falling apart. All of the high schools in our neighborhood had been shut down, even as charter high schools were popping up. Here was the neediest school system in the state, serving the neediest kids, and yet funds were being systematically drained away. And it was only getting worse. In the years that my children had been attending their private school, Indiana had expanded eligibility for the voucher program again and again. Today, families earning up to $140,000 can attend private schools at public expense. 

For the first time I really began to think about the impact of the decision I’d made on everybody else. By pulling away from the public system, I was leaving less for the kids who’d been left behind, including the ones who couldn’t get into private schools, or who got kicked out because they didn’t conform to what the schools wanted. The more I saw, the more it bothered me. I was using public dollars to perpetuate discrimination in the name of school choice. I decided that I could no longer accept school vouchers for my children because it was unethical. 

Today, both of my children attend public schools, and my younger son has finally found “his people.” And I’m now an advocate for public education. I try to get parents to understand that if we defund, undermine or privatize public schools we’re doing a disservice to the majority of parents for whom private schools are not an option. I try to help them see what I finally did: that the decisions we make when it comes to our own children have an impact on everybody else. All those years ago, that woman at the community meeting warned that we were drifting dangerously away from the idea of a common good. At the time, I couldn’t understand what she meant. I do now.

In the education world, currently controlled by a coalition of billionaires and the rightwing think tanks and legislators they finance, public schools have some valuable friends. Among them are the National Superintendents Roundtable and the Schlechty Center. If your school board is looking for a new superintendent who believes in public schools, these are the go-to sources. They are the anti-Broadies. Since James Harvey, the Director of the National Superintents Roundtable is retiring, the two organizations are merging. Jim Harvey is a member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

Here is their press release:


The National Superintendents Roundtable will merge with the Schlechty Center this fall


Seattle, WA – The National Superintendents Roundtable and the Schlechty Center have entered into a partnership to merge on September 30, 2021, bringing two veteran, non-profit organizations together under one roof to better serve school superintendents. The Schlechty Center will provide a legacy home to the National Superintendents Roundtable after its founder, Dr. James Harvey, retires at the end of the year.

Both organizations have spent decades delivering professional development and strengthening relationships among superintendents. The Roundtable, the successor to a Danforth Foundation network established in 1992, has operated since 2006; the Schlechty Center was founded in 1988 and its Superintendents Leadership Network was established in 1997. Both organizations believe fiercely in the value of public education.

The National Superintendents Roundtable and the Schlechty Center’s Superintendents Leadership Network will maintain their own names, membership, and programming, with opportunities for superintendents to join in some activities together.

“The Roundtable is delighted to become part of the Schlechty Center. There is great synergy between the two organizations. Dr. Phillip Schlechty was one of the giants of American public education over the past 50 years. The Roundtable is honored to be associated with his name,” said Harvey, the group’s executive director.

“The Schlechty Center is honored to become the legacy organization chosen to carry forward the excellent tradition and impact of the National Superintendents Roundtable. One of our cornerstone beliefs at the Center is the critical role of superintendents as moral and intellectual leaders. We are truly excited to broaden our interaction, design, and facilitation of deep learning with superintendents from across the nation. The impact of bringing together our cumulative 150 voices around the key issues that all leaders face in public education today will be high leverage for the field,” said Dr. Steve McCammon, president and CEO of the Schlechty Center.

Harvey will retire in December and assist the Schlechty Center part-time to facilitate a smooth transition in 2022. McCammon will become the Roundtable’s new executive director on January 1, 2022, in addition to the continuation of his role as president and CEO of the Schlechty Center.

About the organizations:

Based in Seattle, Wash., the National Superintendents Roundtable (superintendentsforum.org) is a community of 90 school superintendents committed to just and humane schools. Besides bi-annual conferences focused on policy and social factors in education, members take study missions to learn how other nations organize their school systems. The Roundtable also conducts research—adding to the conversation about U.S. school performance overall.

Based in Louisville, Ky., the Schlechty Center (schlechtycenter.org) is a private, non-profit organization that partners with education leaders to nurture a culture of engagement in their organizations, with the ultimate goal of increasing profound learning for students. Schlechty Center staff consult with school district leaders on strategic planning, school improvement planning, systems design, and the design of professional learning and classroom experiences for students. The Center’s Superintendents Leadership Network is a fieldtrip/experience-based network that draws on Schlechty frameworks and learning organization theory to build organizational capacity to focus on engagement at all levels.


Contact
National Superintendents Roundtable: Rhenda Meiser
(206) 465-9532, rhenda@rhendameiser.com
Schlechty Center:
Nicole Bigg
(502) 931-3046, nbigg@schlechtycenter.org

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I’ll be sending you occasional notices to remind you that the end of the pandemic means the return of the annual conference of the Network for Public Education. This will be your opportunity to make connections with friends and allies fighting for public schools across the nation. Join us!

Our Network for Public Education Action conference will be an in-person conference on October 23 and 24 in Philadelphia.It will be terrific. So much has happened in the world since the 2020 conference was canceled due to Covid-19.

We will have wonderful keynote speakers including Little Steven, Jitu Brown, and Noliwe Rooks.

We will have panels that include stopping school privatization, lifting up community schools, creating inclusive schools free of systemic racism and valuing democracy in schools. That is just a sample. The full schedule will emerge soon.

Best of all, we will be together in a beautiful hotel in the City of Brotherly Love.

The conference theme is Neighborhood Schools: The Heart of our Community. As we emerge from a year of isolation, that theme is more important than ever.

If you registered for the 2020 conference and did not request a refund, you are registered for the conference but be sure to register for the hotel.

The discounted rooms are going fast.https://book.passkey.com/gt/218126437?gtid=3b2e4f0403f2a2b9544e40207d650ccb
If you did not register for the 2020 conference, don’t wait. We have only about 50 spots left.
https://npeaction.org/2021-conference/
We need each other and NPE needs all of us to adovocate for public education.

See you in October!

The privatization movement is built on the ideology of “a backpack full of cash.” Give the money to the family and let them spend it where and how they want. The money is not actually in the child’s backpack, but handed out to families to spend as they wish. If they want their child to attend a religious school or a private school or a for-profit school or a virtual charter school or home school, here is a voucher worth $5,000.

This approach discounts the obligation of the community and society to provide certain basic goods and services that are available to everyone. We have public beaches, public parks, public transportation, police, firefighters, and other goods and services that are the responsibility of government. We pay taxes to maintain public schools, even if we don’t have children ourselves. We pay taxes to maintain public schools, even if our own children are grown and are no long in school. We pay taxes to maintain public schools, even if our own children attended private schools. That’s what a community does to make sure every child is educated. It is the job of the polity to assure that all public schools have equitable and adequate resources.

The “bait and switch” of the school choice is to individualize the social obligation and turn it into a consumer choice. This is a deceptive way of evading society’s obligation to ensure that every school, wherever it is located, has equitable and adequate resources. All schools should have the resources they need for the children they serve: well-tended buildings, a library with up-to-date technology, a full arts program, experienced teachers, small classes, a curriculum that includes history, science, civics, mathematics, literature and foreign languages.

But some very rich people don’t like paying taxes so poor kids can have what their children have, and they have persuaded many legislators to buy into the hoax of school choice. Persuasion takes the form of campaign contributions, and they are very generous with their efforts to evade taxes that serve the good of all.

This reader explains:

I just don’t get why it is so hard to get the message across that we are not purchasing our own child’s education, we are providing a public good that educates all children. We are not buying the right to use roads or police and fire services, we are participating in the funding of those common goods for the entire community.

This situation points out the importance of avoiding public/private partnerships or at least structuring them much differently (to avoid huge tax write-offs). If everyone pays their taxes, the needs of the community will be met through that common collection. When private sources get to direct what happens, that means the common good has been sabotaged. No private entity should be dictating what the common good will be.

Tom Ultican explains why he spends so much of his time fighting for public schools.

The original cause for my supporting public education was that my rancher father married a school teacher. Growing up on a southern Idaho ranch, I learned many philosophical and theoretical reasons for supporting the establishment and maintenance of public schools from my mother. However, it was from watching mom and her dedicated colleagues in action that I learned to truly respect and appreciate public school.

I remember stories of my father being warned that he better not treat that women wrong. For several years in a row she won the Elmore County sharp shooting contest. She didn’t like to chop a chicken’s head off so she would pull out her rifle and shoot it off.

Mom had some old school attitudes but maintained a mind of her own. There was a period in which she had to come home at lunch time and milk the cow. One Friday, after having to chase the cow across King Hill creek again, she had had enough; didn’t discuss it just loaded that cow into a trailer and took it to market.

In my home, there was no doubt about the value of education and also an abiding belief that the American public education system was unparalleled. My father was a high school basketball referee and an ardent supporter of music study.

As was common in the community, school events were family events. Helping the local school was one of the main missions of our civic organizations whether it was building viewing stands at the football field or sewing costumes for school plays.

My grandfather was an immigrant from Scotland who came to America on the Lusitania. Three years after his arrival that ship was sunk by a German U-boat killing 1,800 passengers and further pushing America into engaging with World War I.

It was through family in Scotland that my mother became familiar with the British Education system. She learned of its high stakes testing which was deciding a child’s education path; if that education would continue and weather it would be academic or vocational. To her, the great advantage for America’s schools was they did not have these kinds of tests determining a child’s future. American students were not immersed in testing hell.

Instead of being sorted out by testing, American students had multiple opportunities to reenter the education system in whatever capacity they desired. Immature 11-year olds, did not have their futures decided by dubious testing results.

Still today, Idaho has a greater than 90% white population making it one of the whitest places in the world. It used to be even whiter.

I did not meet a Black person until I was a 17 years-old high school student. That year the University of Idaho Vandaleers gave a concert at my high school. A local rancher’s wife threw an after party for the choir and that is where I met Ray McDonald. Not only was he a talented singer, he was also one of the top running backs in America who would soon be drafted in the second round by the Washington DC professional football team. All I really remember is I was star struck and he was a friendly guy who played piano.

Although there was very little racial diversity in the community there was significant religious diversity. We had Mormons, Mennonites, Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Assembly of God and other denominations attending our schools.

In a 2001 interview conducted at the Gathering, Richard DeVos lamented that it was awful that public schools had replaced churches as the center of communities. He did not identify whose church was going to be accepted as the community center.

The unifying factor in Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho was the public schools. Children from rich families and poor families grew up together in those schools. At school functions, parents from the disparate religious sects came together and formed common bonds. Political decisions concerning community governance were developed through these school based relationships.

Public schools became the foundation for democratic governance in the region plus it was literally where people voted. To me, it is unfeasible that a healthy American democracy does not include a healthy public school system.

America’s Founding Fathers Believed in Public Education

The second and third presidents of the United States advocated powerfully for public education. Thomas Jefferson saw education as the cause for developing out of common farmers the enlightened citizenry that would take the rational action a successful republican democracy requires. Jefferson contended,

“The qualifications for self government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”

When Jefferson who was a former ambassador to France was queried about the French Revolution, he responded, “It has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action.” He called for the establishment of universal free public education claiming it as a requisite for the survival of a democratic republic.

Jefferson and his peer John Adams were integral to the founding of the United States. Jefferson is credited as the main author of the Declaration of Independence. Our system of government with its bi-cameral legislative branch, judicial branch and executive branch came about in great measure because of John Adams’ advocacy.

Like Jefferson, Adams also saw public education as crucial for the survival of our fledgling democracy. In a 1775 essay, he wrote:

“reformation must begin with the Body of the People which can be done only, to affect, in their Educations. the Whole People must take upon themselvs the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expences of it. there should not be a district of one Mile Square without a school in it, not founded by a Charitable individual but maintained at the expence of the People themselves”

Shortly before the American Revolution, Jean-Jacques Rousseau had published the controversial novel Emile, or On Education. He was widely condemned by the ruling elite for the religious views expressed in the book. However, the main portion of the book was about education. Rousseau’s character in the book was a tutor for children of the wealthy. That was the nature of education in the 18thcentury. Only children of the wealthy had the wherewithal to be educated by private tutors or in one of the few private schools.

Jefferson and Adams were calling for egalitarian progress giving common people the tools required to be self-governing. They were calling for a public school system.

It was the Massachusetts education advocate, Horace Mann, who more than any American political leader was responsible for the nationwide spread of public schools. With the challenges of industrialization, immigration and urbanization, public schools became the fabric of social integration. Horace Mann became the spokes-person for schools being that instrument.

It was Mann’s point of view that children in the common school were to receive a common moral education based on the general principles of the Bible and on common virtues. The moral values to be taught in public school were Protestant values and the political values were those of republican democracy.

Integrating the Protestant religious view into the common schools caused a split in communities. The burgeoning Catholic immigrant population did not want their children indoctrinated with an anti-Catholic ideology. Following the civil war, these influences irrupted into the “Bible Wars.” Author Katherine Stewart shared that it was in this atmosphere that “President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse.”

Stewart also shared an insightful admonition from Grant:

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

Early in the 20th century, public schools had been established serving every community from coast to coast. The results from this vast American public education experiment shine like a lighthouse beacon on the path of Democracy and social happiness. A nation that entered the century as a 2nd rate power ended the century as the undisputed world leader in literacy, economy, military power, industrial might, cultural influence and more.

Today, unbelievably, more and more forces are agitating to undo public education and even American Democracy itself.

As the 21st century dawned, the American public education system was facing a billionaire financed attack. Instead of financially enhancing public schools, libertarians called them “failures” and too expensive. They called public schools “monopolies” shutting out private business that would surely outperform “government schools.” Hopefully the aphorism attributed Lincoln is true: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”

Peter Greene is well-known as a blogger, a teacher, a columnist for Forbes, and a humorist. He taught in the public schools of Pennsylvania for nearly 40 years. He wrote this article at my request.

He wrote:

I believe in public education.

I believe in the promise that every child should have a free quality education. And not by going out to shop for it, to hunt it down like looking for deals on a toaster or a used car, nor to travel far from home to find it, nor to have to beg and apply and hope that the school will accept them, but to have it delivered to them in their own community without exception.

Not that we’ve always hit the bullseye in this country. Our system of tying school financing to housing leaves much to be desired. The same forces of racism and economic inequity that twist and turn our society as a whole also leave their mark on our education system. Those forces include the rise of “I’ve got mine, Jack” culture in which folks don’t want to have to worry about what anyone else needs.

We’re living through a time of unprecedented assault on public education. Members of the data cult, free market advocates, social engineers, profiteers and privatizers (some sincere in their concern, and some motivated by base opportunism) are looking for ways to dismantle the system, disenfranchise parents and taxpayers, and to “liberate” billions and billions of taxpayer dollars. Their ranks are filled with education amateurs who don’t really know what the heck they’re talking about. 

What none of these disruptors promise is an education system that delivers a quality education to every single child in the country. Nor do they promise accountability to the taxpayers who fund the system, nor a system that is owned and operated by the citizens of the community. 

Only public education has those goals as its North Star.

I devoted my professional life to public education because I believe in it. I believe in the goals and promise of public education. I believe that every child in this country deserves a chance to learn, to grow, to discover and become their best selves, to learn what it means to be more fully human in the world (a whole host of things beyond the measure of a bad standardized test). I believe in a system that brings trained, qualified professionals into every community, for every child. 

We will always struggle with challenges. What is required for a quality education? How can each child’s individual needs best be mt? What makes a good teacher? But as long as our North Star is the promise of public education, and not a higher test score or a better ROI, we can navigate those difficult discussions. And we can navigate them in a thousand different ways, as individual communities work out the local education system that best suits them.

That’s the other beautiful part of our public education system—it’s not actually one education system, but thousands and thousands of local individual systems set in every kind of community imaginable. All the variety present in America is there in our schools as well. It is a big, beautiful, sprawling, messy monument to our highest aspiration, our dream that every child can grow and rise because we all, together, work to lift every child up. 

So I believe in the promise of public education. May we continue to sail toward that North Star.

Nancy Bailey is a retired teacher and a terrific blogger. She and I co-authored a book called EdSpeak and DoubleTalk: A Glossary to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling. We have never met in person but I asked her to help me revise a similar book that I published a decade earlier; it had become obsolete. Now it is the go-to book to understand education jargon and decipher hoaxes. It was a joy to work with her. Nancy wrote this post for me while I was out of commission having surgery.


Why I Write About Students and Public Schools

Democratic Public Schools

Ensuring that the public has access to good public schools after Covid-19 is more critical than ever. We cannot go back to continuous high-stakes testing and schools that punish teachers and students, especially our youngest learners. Schools should also not be allowed to continue to collect unregulated data through online assessments. Parents need stronger FERPA laws. 

I think we have also learned with this pandemic that parents and students value public schools, that technology is a tool but can never replace the classroom.      

Americans own our schools through a democratically elected school board, or at least we should. We lose that ownership when outsiders with ulterior motives to privatize or change schooling’s nature make schools more like a business. They convert the system to charter schools or change curriculums to serve companies that will make money on the school district’s new plan.

The more involved corporations become with public education, the more changes occur within public schools. Common Core, high-stakes standardized tests, the reliance on AP classes and SAT and ACT testing from the College Board, and many tech programs convert public schooling to a privatized system. 

It is crucial to protect public schools from individuals or corporations who wish to remove the “public” in public schools. Parents should be able to be involved in how their schools function. We need parents, teachers, and the community to be active participants in how public schools serve children bringing Americans together. 

School choice fans believe parents should choose their school, but this is a false argument. Most private school administrators will determine who to accept to the school. Charter schools may choose students by lottery, which is not parent choice either. Even if a student is randomly selected, charter schools can always counsel students out.

Charter schools were initially supposed to be for teachers to run. The charters doing the best jobs are likely run by or highly influenced by real teachers. But many charters are run by Educational Management Operations (EMOs) that set the rules and are prone to scandal. For years, charter schools have primarily served children of color, often with harshly run curriculum and punishing discipline. 

It is hard to see why America needs two systems of education. It further divides people, and charter schools are still substandard to a well-run public school system. Charters that work, run by real teachers, could become alternative schools in a public school system.  

Helping students work together in public schools—students with all kinds of backgrounds and students of color—will bring us together as a nation. The diversity in our country should be cherished, not destroyed by privatization. 

When public schools are valued, when school boards are elected and work with the constituents to better schooling for all children, it is the best that democracy can be. We must afford every child a chance to learn in a well-managed, excellently staffed public school. 

Teaching

I learned to be a special education teacher in the seventies when the All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 became law. It was amazing to see schools open their doors for all children, and universities begin offering specialized classes for different special education areas. I saw it as a shining moment in America.

My undergraduate degree was to teach students with emotional disabilities, with a minor in elementary education. I took challenging coursework. My student teaching took place at one of the best residential treatment centers in the nation, Hawthorn Center, along with an elementary school near Detroit where teachers worked well together, especially in reading. 

Hawthorn Center has struggled with funding since I student taught there, yet many parents desperately search for residential treatment. The elementary school where I student taught closed long ago. I struggle to understand this.  

In the meantime, Teach for America claims that you can teach with five weeks of training, or maybe it is six weeks now. Many from this group go on to lead schools in states and the nation when they never had the kind of preparation necessary to teach children! 

Writing

I write about these issues and more. It is sometimes overwhelming that public schools have so many concerns and how children and teens face such hurdles to get good schooling in America. There is no reason why this country should not have the best public school system in the world for all children!

Gary Rubinstein is well known to readers of this blog, as I have posted almost all of his blogs. He is a career high school math teacher in the New York City public schools. I met Gary about ten years ago, when I had made a complete turnaround in my views about testing and choice. I was working on an article about “miracle schools” that fudged their data and discovered that Gary was an expert on reviewing school-level data and exposing frauds. He helped me write an article (“Waiting for a Miracle School”) that appeared in the New York Times in 2011, and he has continued to be a friend ever since. Gary’s analytical skills have been invaluable in fighting off idiotic “reforms,” like evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores (known as VAM). In his multiple posts on that subject, he showed its many flaws. For example, an elementary teacher might get a high score in reading and a low score in math, posing the dilemma of whether the district could fire her in one subject while giving her a bonus in the other. I confess that I am a person of The Word, and I have never taken the time to learn how to put graphics into my posts. I can’t even reproduce charts. I only do words. So when I need to post a pdf or a graphic or anything else that is not words, I turn to Gary for help and he is always there for me. In addition to being a math and computer whiz, Gary is an author. As most of you know, Gary began his career working for Teach for America. As he explains below, he became disillusioned with the “reform” spin just as I became disillusioned with the propaganda about testing and choice. Gary writes about how strange it is to be frequently attacked on Twitter and other social media by “reformers.” My admiration for him is boundless.

Gary writes:

I got into blogging almost exactly ten years ago, just after the Teach For America 20 anniversary alumni summit.  Until that time, I was unaware of the politics of education and the emerging education reform movement.  I had seen ‘Waiting For Superman’ and knew it was propaganda, but I didn’t quite understand who was benefiting from it or what the possible negative side effects of it could be.

But at that conference it became very clear to me what was going on during a ‘Waiting For Superman’ reunion panel discussion.  I watched as Michelle Rhee, whom I had known from years earlier when we worked together at the Teach For America training institute, and Dave Levin, who I had known for a lot of years from when we were teaching in Houston around the same time.  At the end of the conference, Arne Duncan made an odd speech about how great it was that he shut down a school and fired all the teachers and now it is a charter school in which every student supposedly graduated and got into college.

It sounded fishy to me.  Having worked, by that time, at three different schools that had low standardized test scores, I knew that a school can have good teachers but still have low test scores.  I suspected that there was more to the story than Arne Duncan was saying so I did my first investigation.  Little did I know that it would lead to a ten year adventure that would give me the opportunity to be an investigative journalist and help save the world.  As an added bonus, I made a lot of friends, got a following to read my writing, appeared on NPR and also on a TV show called ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’  But there was a downside to this attention because I also became a target of various known and unknown internet personalities who have attacked, ridiculed, and slandered me.  I think that on balance the good outweighed the bad, but it is sad to me that I have had blog posts about what an awful person I am and there have been podcasts about how I don’t believe in the potential of all children.  Students of mine have googled me and located some of these smears and asked me about them.  It’s hard to explain to them that I’m embroiled in a strange war where the FOX news of education wants to vilify me for telling the truth.

Here is a recent example where Chris ‘Citizen’ Stewart, the CEO of the Education Post website, compares my views with those of Charles Murray of ‘The Bell Curve’ fame.

I suppose my story is that I was the right person at the right time and in the right place.  The small group of resistors to the misguided bipartisan teacher-bashing agenda needed someone like me.  I was a Teach For America alum so I had that whole ‘war veteran against the war’ kind of credibility.  I was very patient and able to comb through state data.  I was a math major in college so I was able to do some basic statistics and make the scatter plots that helped the cause so much.  You may or may not know that I have slowed down a lot on my blogging.  After about 7 years of intense blogging, I started to burn out.  Fortunately other bloggers came on the scene and took up the cause and have been great.  I do try to blog from time to time still, but I have also been doing other projects, like my recent effort to explain all the essentials of elementary school, middle school, and high school math in one ten hour YouTube playlist.  These efforts come from the same source — the desire to help students learn.  Whether it is by fighting off a destructive element or in providing a free resource that anyone in the world can access, I am very proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last ten years.

I want to thank the great Diane Ravitch for taking me under her wing and for being a great mentor and friend.  I wish for her a speedy recovery from her surgery.

Here is a presentation I did at Tufts University describing my journey from teacher to crusader: