On Monday, Sept 16, Diane Ravitch, a researcher and educator from New York University, spoke to parents, activists and students about what she sees as a changing tide in education reform, thankfully. As the former assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, Ravitch once held conservative leanings on reform. That all changed in 2006, when she says she realized the school reforms she supported weren’t working.
“You can’t fire your way to excellence,” she stated last night. We, at One Pittsburgh, couldn’t agree more. Firing teachers and dumping money into the privatization of our schools will not make our students perform better. As a matter of fact, research shows that charter schools do not statistically improve education for everyone. They merely syphon off students who are already performing well, while at the same time taking tax dollars away from public schools. What this means is that the disparity grows. Students who need the most help, and could benefit the most from smaller classrooms and individualized attention, are now forced into larger classrooms headed by teachers with less resources.
Ravitch pointed out that the PA constitution calls for a good public education system, citing the section that says “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” Earlier, Jesse Ramey of Yinzercation and Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh had stated that Corbett had cut billions from that same education system. Given Corbett’s abysmal approval ratings the public still expects the Governor to enforce that section of the state constitution.
The changing tide she spoke of is the same tide that is changing here in Pittsburgh. People are standing up for what is right in their communities. Teachers, students, parents, activists and community members are saying no to the same corporations and big businesses that have been pushing them around for decades. We saw it on Sept. 7 as nearly 1000 marched in the street to stand up to UPMC. We are about to hear what seems to be some considerations on Medicaid Expansion from the Governor, no doubt due to people standing up and demanding that he do the right thing. It remains to be seen if he actually will.
Regardless, there is a sea change, and it’s time to get organized.
Ravitch was brought to Pittsburgh by Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, a coalition of community groups that One Pittsburgh is proud to be a part of. Education is central to our battle for economic justice because, as Ravitch also pointed out on Monday, the biggest problems in education are segregation and poverty. Until we organize and demand that our elected leaders work to do their job, which includes providing a public school system that is efficient, thorough and serves the entire Commonwealth, we will continue to get legislative and systematic decisions that do little more than line the pockets of greedy corporations.
Check out the Post-Gazette coverage of the evening.