Recently, a prominent American citizen released a
video urging the next president of the United States to spend one day teaching in a high-poverty school and another day teaching in a wealthy school in order to see the difference and appreciate the challenges confronting teachers in an increasingly poor school system. One would think that advocates for public education would welcome this thoughtful and sincere suggestion. After all, educating the public is a shared responsibility and a national imperative. We all need to help, even if we disagree about how to do it. Sadly, two self-described “protectors” of public education
attacked this American citizen in a
deceitful manner, hiding behind bureaucratic jargon and dismissing her based on her “telegenic” looks. Education historian Diane Ravitch and retired educator and full-time advocate Dr. Carol Burris want us all to believe there is nothing wrong with public education in America and therefore, there is no real need for improvement. They publicly denigrate people who disagree with them. But, they are wrong, and the evidence is overwhelming:
Depending on the grade and subject, just 60-80 percent of American students have only “partial mastery” of needed reading and math skills based on a national test given periodically to samples of students all across America.
Only about 40 percent of U.S. high school graduates are college-ready based on college admissions tests.
One in 4 entering college freshmen needs remedial education, which costs parents an estimated $1.5 billion each year.
Less than a third of college professors and employers say that high school graduates are ready for college or work.
All of these numbers are national averages, but when disaggregated by race and income level, they are much worse for low-income, Black and Hispanic students, affirming the continuing inequities that plague American education. In every way imaginable, poor kids and kids of color lose out in the system of education that Professor Ravitch and Dr. Burris defend. The extreme inequity between schools serving poor kids and schools serving wealthy kids is why millions of Americans of every race and background are taking matters into their own hands and demanding higher standards, meaningful accountability and more educational options. It’s why people who pass laws and set policy have been forcing change on the American system of schooling for decades. And it’s precisely why this person released her video. She thinks we should challenge ourselves to get better and make sure all kids—regardless of race or background—have a decent shot at the American dream. Unlike Professor Ravitch and Dr. Burris, the woman who released the video is not an expert in education and doesn’t pretend to be. She doesn’t speak with the jargon and language that experts use to exclude average Americans from engaging in dialogue around these issues. They pick apart her words and ignore the underlying truths and twist the facts to meet their false narrative. They intimidate, bully and deceive. Fortunately for us, this person is not easily intimidated. Actually, she’s fearless. Her name is Campbell Brown. She’s a nationally-known journalist, parent, taxpayer, employer and, of course, a citizen of the United States. Each of these characteristics qualifies her to talk about public education. Professor Ravitch, Dr. Burris and others who share their beliefs that everything is fine in public education often insist that only teachers have the right to shape education policy. This is like insisting that only doctors have a right to weigh in on health care, only police officers can weigh in on policing practices, and only generals can weigh in on military policy. Long ago, the brilliant and far-sighted people who founded the oldest and greatest democracy in the world realized that non-experts not only have the right to weigh in on these issues, but they actually have the last word through their elected government. They understood that if we leave decisions entirely to the self-proclaimed experts, too often they act in their own self-interest, instead of the broader public interest. So we should all be grateful that people like Campbell Brown have the courage to speak up about an issue that affects every single one of us. Thanks to her and many others, America is engaged in a robust, meaningful and vitally important conversation around how to improve public education. When experts like Professor Ravitch and Dr. Burris attack Campbell Brown for expressing her views, we should understand that they are not interested in honest, civil or productive dialogue. They are not interested in finding common ground around our shared responsibilities. And they are not looking out for our kids. Public education belongs to the public, not to the experts.
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with