Diane Ravitch was Assistant Secretary of Education from 1991-93 under President George H.W. Bush and member of the National Assessment Governing Board under President Bill Clinton. Born in Texas, she attended Houston public schools as well as Wellesley College and Columbia University. She’s now president of The Network For Public Education and Research Professor of Education at New York University. Her most recent text, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, was an impassioned but reasoned call to stop the charter school movement that is draining high-performing students and funding from our public schools.
Ravitch was invited by PBS host Tavis Smiley to think out loud about the new billionaire American Secretary of Education,Betsy DeVos who has spent her fortune on trashing public schools and promting charter schools.
Ravitch: She does not believe in public education. She has spent millions of dollars funding candidates who are opposed to public education. She has funded anti-public education people all over the country. She’s had huge influence in Michigan. Michigan is now not only an all-choice state, they don’t have vouchers.
But she tried to promote a referendum to put vouchers into the State Constitution and it was turned down overwhelmingly, 69 to 31. So she tried and failed on vouchers, but still there are hundreds of charter schools. Michigan is the only state in the country where 80% of the charters operate for profit and that’s the way she likes it.
Tavis: Why would an otherwise reasonable senator, no matter what party you were in, put someone at the top of the hierarchy who doesn’t believe in the system they’re overseeing?
Ravitch: They didn’t want to disappoint Trump, but, secondly, she and her family are among the biggest donors to Republican politicians in the country. She and her family have given about $50,000 each to half the Republican members of the Senate. And several of the people on the committee that approved her had received $50,000 to $60,000 each from the DeVos family.
So you’re talking about people who are masters of dark money and masters of being Republican contributors, and they were not going to let her down.
Ravitch’s history is interesting.
I was invited to join the first Bush administration as Assistant Secretary in charge of research and counselor to the Secretary, the Secretary then being Lamar Alexander who was from Tennessee, and I have great respect for Lamar.I was involved in very right wing think tanks at Hoover Institution and two others.
I was in favor of testing. I was in favor of school choice. I supported the original idea of charters. But about 2005, 2006, after No Child Left Behind had been in effect for half a decade, I began to look at the results and say this is not working. It’s not helping kids. It’s turning schools into testing factories.
I began to hear documented case after case where charter schools were failing and one of the think tanks I was on was sponsoring charter schools in Ohio. Every single one of them was a failing school, and I said, “But this isn’t what I expected. So I began writing critically about what was going on and then I decided I would write a book about what I had learned. And I wrote a book in 2010 called “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education”.
I cut my ties with all the think tanks. I found myself for a time kind of out on a limb all by myself and then I discovered I had a lot of new friends. And I felt very comfortable in my skin because if not for public schools, I wouldn’t be here.
My family — my mother was an immigrant from Moldova. The proudest thing she ever owned was her high school diploma from the Houston public schools. I was one of eight children. We all went to public schools. I’m not sure what the world would have been like for us had we had the kind of system that Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos want.