Reform for the Difficult, Too
Much has been made of the peculiar meeting of flip-flopped-to-union-friendly education writer Dianne Ravitch and RI Commissioner of Education Deborah Gist, but Ed Fitzpatrick highlighted something from Ravitch’s latest book that points to a more substantive debate:
In her book, Ravitch raises valid concerns, saying, “The question for the future is whether the continued growth of charter schools in urban districts will leave regular public schools with the most difficult students to educate, thus creating a two-tier system of widening inequality.”
I’m not saying it’s not, but I wonder what makes Fitzpatrick so sure that concern is valid. My brief experience teaching in a Fall River Catholic school included seeing the school accept children who were struggling in the public school system because it was part of the religious mission to help those in need. Similarly, consider the following, from an article in the Sakonnet Times about former Board of Regents member Angus Davis, who was a key figure in the hiring of Gist:
… he said, the current public schools system is not designed to allow underprivileged, impoverished students to prosper, which Mr. Davis sees at nothing less than a civil rights issue. “Fundamentally, it’s so unfair,” he said. “Today, low-income children of color have a huge disadvantage in their public school achievement compared to their wealthier peers. If we could close that achievement gap it would be an incredible lift for our nation.”
The point is that, given a less rigid system for funding and executing education, there are people who would be driven to help the “difficult students” on moral and charitable grounds. And let’s not forget that difficult children can be more profitable, because they’re more costly to educate.
It seems to me that Ravitch’s complaint might born of fear that only children with the least motivated parents will remain in public schools if better choices become available, which (if accurate) suggests that she should devote more effort to changing the status quo than fighting educational choice. Moreover, others who share her particular concern should reassess a dynamic by which public schools running low on funds tend to attack the extracurriculars and electives that the least difficult students and their families most desire. Perhaps those funds should not be siphoned off for unjustifiable longevity-based pay and benefits.