My Evening with a Charter School Critic

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February 5, 2012 Diane Ravitch is an author and education pundit that is a vocal critic of charter schools and other public education reform efforts. The Sacramento City Teachers Association brought her to the Sacramento Convention Center for to rally the troops prior to another round of grim budget talks. As a devotee of Franklin Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I believe it's critical for people in general - but advocates, in particular -- to "seek first to understand, and then to be understood". So I organized a hodge-podge of local school reformers to buy $5 tickets, and on a drizzly January night, we joined over 2,000 people to hear what Ms. Ravitch had to say.

I anticipated that Ms. Ravitch would challenge my core beliefs, but I was determined to hear her views and to listen for commonalities. Her remarks we proceeded by education luminaries like Dr. Harold Levine, the Dean of the School of Education at UC Davis; Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University; and Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Interestingly, none of these leaders spoke ill of charter schools. It was not until Ms. Ravitch herself took the stage that charter schools were lumped in with vouchers as "privatization" and dismissed as a tools of the "corporate school reform" agenda.

Despite our fundamental disagreement on the value of charter schools, I did find some areas of agreement in the roots of the problem. Ms. Ravitch does not defend the state of public education today. We agree that the public should demand more from the public education system. We also agree that public education is woefully underfunded and that poverty is a huge problem that effects student learning in a multitude of ways. And finally -- and most surprisingly -- we agree that teachers are motivated by having a "common purpose" and the "autonomy" to pursue it. That sounds like a mission-driven charter school to me!

Where I fundamentally disagree with Ms. Ravtich is on how to solve these problems. The Editorial Board of the Sacramento Bee sat down with Ms. Ravitch when she came to town, and I think the subsequent Pia Lopez' editorial, Can we find common ground on schools? was right on. I'd like to invite you to read it, and join the discussion here on our regional page. What can you learn from detractors? How do you respond to critics? I'd like to hear from you.