The “Reign of Error” by Diane Ravitch, Chapter 3 – The 4th Installment of my Journaled Review

This chapter is devoted to a discussion of what Ravitch and others refer to as the “Corporate Reform Movement.” She notes that this movement has its roots in Milton Friedman’s 1955 introduction of the concept of school vouchers that enable parents to choose where the public funds can best be spent relative to the education of their children. Ravitch charts the path of this “privatization of education movement” through President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation, and President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative.

What has resulted can best be described as a “mob rush” toward privatization of education in which test results are utilized to hold public schools and their teachers accountable. This movement designs to break what they believe to be the stranglehold that unions have on public education in America and create a scenario in which schools and school districts must compete on the basis of the performance of their students in an environment where parents, using vouchers to break down economic barriers, are free to choose what they believe to be the best choice for their children.

Somehow, it is believed, that the magic of the free market will somehow transform public education and, in the process, begin to reduce the poverty in which so many Americans must live. The irony could not be more graphic.
To suggest that competition between schools in a free market environment can somehow cure the poverty that has resulted as a consequence of the imperfections of a free-market economy is nothing short of absurd.

Inevitably, a free market system will gravitate toward the money and making money available to parents through the utilization of vouchers is not sufficient to divert the system from its relentless search for deep pockets.
Free markets require much more than the wherewithal of the consumer. For a free market to function effectively it also requires that the products and service it provides must meet the needs of the consumer (demand). Even this is not sufficient, however. The consumer, also, must be sufficiently knowledgeable to discern which products and services are most likely to fulfill their requirements.

This is where the misinterpretation of the reasons why our systems of education fail such a large percentage of American children comes into play. We mistakenly assume that the greatest problem with public education in America is poverty. On the basis of that assumption we conclude that the poor are motivated to act in what “we” perceive to be in “their” best interests. We envision that parents living in poverty will rush to take advantage of school vouchers to give their children an opportunity for a quality education so that they can enjoy a better life.

The unfortunate reality, to which we are so absurdly blind, is that the problem with public education in America is not poverty. It is the hopelessness and powerlessness of a people who have given up on the American dream. Many parents in our most challenged schools do not elect to take advantage of vouchers simply because they are not motivated to do so. They do not believe in our systems of public education and they do not believe an education will provide any benefit to their children.

As a result, our most challenged schools and their teachers are left with the least motivated students, the least supportive parents, and less resources with which to work with them.

Schools that are the recipients of the voucher boom, on the other hand, find themselves with unexpected revenue that proves to be insufficient to deal with a new population of students with minimal motivation to learn and parents who demonstrate minimal commitment to the education of their children.

This privatization movement will not bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots, it will only deepen the rift. It also gives parents from all but the most influential demographic strata even less control over the education of their children as education will not be truly accountable to the people of a given community.

Diane Ravitch is absolutely correct when she says that “privatizing our public schools is a risky and dangerous project. . . . It will hurt children, shatter communities, and damage our society.”

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