|Dear Dr. Ravitch,
I was composing my own letter to Frank Bruni early this morning, and didn’t see your post until later. Thanks, as always, for your advocacy. Below is a copy of the letter I emailed to Mr. Bruni this morning.
Dear Mr. Bruni,
While I usually enjoy your opinion articles, I was dismayed by yesterday’s article on parent trigger laws. It seems to me that you do not know much about the issue and are relying for your talking points on the PR campaigns of the groups that support them, ironically not grass-roots parents’ groups but primarily astroturf groups with financial, policy, and personnel links reaching back to groups like ALEC (groups which you are certainly no fan of when it comes to their impact on other policy areas).
You seem to take for granted several ideas I would challenge you on: (1) that American public schools and teachers are failing, (2) that middle-class families should desert urban, public schools, (3) that charter schools are the answer to any problems in the current public educational system, and (4) that parent trigger laws would a helpful tool for remedying problems.
For the record, I am a parent with two children in my neighborhood public school in Philadelphia. Our school manages to hold together and serve well a coalition of low-income, blue-collar, and middle-class families with striking racial as well as socioeconomic diversity in a Philadelphia neighborhood–61% of our students are economically disadvantaged, 45% white, 45% black, 5% Latino, and 5% multiracial and other designations. We are not a rich school and cannot stage fundraisers such as the ones held by the Upper West Side public schools in NYC profiled in the NYT earlier this summer. In fact, we (and all public schools in PA) were hit hard by the education budget cuts enacted when a wave of extremist state legislators came into our state government in 2010. $1 billion has been cut from public education statewide in PA, and it has impacted our school heavily, raising class sizes while stripping the school of necessary teaching and support personnel, contracting the curriculum (music and language teachers were cut last year, and the school had no money previously for an art teacher), and leaving kids behind academically without the tutoring previously provided.
Yet our school remains strong, continuing to make AYP and to attract neighborhood parents, primarily because of the cross-class coalition using the school. Even if we haven’t raised $1 million for our school, many parents volunteer, run after-school clubs, and try to solicit community resources to help the school provide what has been eliminated because of cuts at the state level. The reward is that our children get to attend an integrated, academically sound public school in our city neighborhood that is open to all. We are part of a growing movement in several cities (including NYC) that has parents choosing to invest their time and energy in public schools, not only for their own families’ good but to strengthen the fabric of their neighborhoods and cities.
Which brings me back to your op-ed. I am a public school parent–not a teacher and not a union employee. I find the representations of the state of public education in the U.S. promulgated by films such as “Won’t Back Down” and “Waiting for Superman” to be harmful and inaccurate depictions of the current dilemmas faced by public school students, parents, and teachers.
Private schools have done a good sales job over the last decade or so, feeding the cultural panic among middle-class parents, creating anxieties in them that they cannot use the public schools and must purchase high-priced private schooling, tutoring, etc. at any price if their children are to succeed in life academically and economically. However, it is the class and educational background of parents that is the most critical variable in children’s success. While many currently make the claim (which you echo) that U.S. public schools are way behind other countries, when socioeconomic class is taken into account, American students do as well or better than the countries we say we wish to emulate. It is poverty that is our greatest problem. Middle-class children who attend urban public schools, even those in schools with very low average scores, do fine. If we want to solve the educational crisis that does exist for kids from low-income families, then creating jobs, stable health care, and an economic security net for their families is one key–and finding ways to create schools integrated by race and socioeconomic background is another–and providing appropriate funding, early childhood education, and smaller classes is a third.
The voucher, charter school, and parent trigger movements aim in precisely the opposite direction by draining public schools of funds desperately needed in this climate of scarcity and creating a two-tier system of schools, segregating kids even further by race, class, English language learner status, and disability. Indeed as the CREDO study by Stanford University shows, charter schools do not provide better educational opportunities; many provide worse. The people behind the push for parent trigger laws are not idealistic parents but chain charter operators hoping to expand their profits at the public expense–and their right-wing backers hoping to undermine our understanding of education as a public good. I hope you do some research on this topic and reconsider your opinion.
Rebecca Poyourow (a usually appreciative reader)