Public Education Needs A “Good” Disaster?

Sep 28, 2010 by

It’s amazing, the places you can go when you are following someone through Twitter. Case in point: I started following Diane Ravitch, former assistant secretary of education and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System* (which G-Bitch has been slowly reading; I got my copy yesterday and have yet to get going on it) and then I got hold of this tweet of hers. Keep in mind that I don’t have cable and don’t watch much TV these days, so everyone probably knew about this well before I did:

NBC: does education need a KATRINA? They are serious, and also callous, mean-spirited and captive to their corporate sponsors. Privatize!

Say what????

Turns out this week is the NBC networks’ Education Nation extravaganza, which kicked off with a Teacher Town Hall this past Sunday led by Brian Williams and is holding panels and talks with famous and just a few not-so-famous folks ’til September 30th – and among all the panels is this one (from the “Descriptions of Panels” list at Ed. Nation sponsor University of Phoenix’s site):

Panel 12: The Lessons of New Orleans: Does education need a Katrina?
At the fifth anniversary of Katrina, the rebuilt New Orleans school district is an incredible study in the power of resilience and the possibility of starting anew. This panel will examine the advantages to the New Orleans school district of starting over post-Katrina, and whether the lessons learned there can be applied across the country.

There are a load of responses to this (and yes, it seems the title is largely based on current secretary of education Arne Duncan’s “brutally honest” comments on the New Orleans public school system) that are dotting the internets, but one of the best is from Nancy Flanagan’s Teacher in a Strange Land blog on EdWeek.

It strikes me that a lot of the Famous People who are “speaking out” on education, capturing the public imagination and crafting these deliciously heart-rending stories–zeitgeisty types–are precisely the people who drive past public schools and other unpleasant realities on the way to their real lives. Pretty much the same way emergency rescue teams and Heckuvajob Brownie went right past the 20,000 miserable human beings huddled in the Superdome, six years ago.
The “advantages” of destroying an entire educational community in a devastating, lethal–and preventable–flood? Really? Shameful.
The only way you could see the ruin of NOLA as an “advantage” is if you were a feckless tourist, driving past the annoying poverty to get to the adult Disneyland part of the city. It’s hard to get past the PR blitz (and disproportionate funding figures) to what’s really going on with charters in the NOLA Recovery School District–but here’s one revealing take, from a Teach for America corps member, no less: All pretense of learning stops when the tests are over.

“The capacity of my actual school wasn’t going to change, and the achievement gap that I had hypothetically helped close in my two years would go right back to where it was. At best, I was a band aid to a gaping, infected wound.”

We need to hear ideas and solutions from people who are working inside our most challenged schools and committed–long term– to educating kids in poverty. The people who are insisting on human dignity and genuine opportunity, not matching polo shirts and publicly displayed test scores.

Enough with trendy media-driven zeitgeist and drive-by analysis.

Go read the whole thing.

*And as to why the link for Ravitch’s book goes to Barnes and Noble online, I’ll let her tweets tell the tale:

Amazon stopped sales of my book a week ago, no explanation. Would it distract from Big Message of W4S & NBC?…Amazon told publisher a page missing. Pub checked, not true. Sales suspended….Jeff Bezos of Amazon, member of Billionaire Boys Club. See Chapter 10. Get book at

Thanks to the power of Twitter, the book is back on sale at Amazon, and not in only a large print or Kindle format – but one is better off acquiring the thing through local libraries and local independent booksellers.


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