Diane\'s Blog

E in LA

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

I am writing to express my gratitude for the truths you revealed in your Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times. There is much heat surrounding the public debates on education reform, and it is refreshing to read an article by someone willing to shed some light on the issue.

I am a public high school teacher in Los Angeles. I spent five years at what is commonly deemed to be a model charter, and I routinely speak with my former colleagues, who also serve at charter high schools. What I would like you to know (and you most likely already do) is that, in many cases, the situation is even more sinister than those you describe in your piece.

Charter high schools, who are subject to virtually no academic oversight from the school district or state officials, routinely and systematically implement classroom policies designed to bolster their statistics on standardized tests. These policies not only cloud the true achievement levels of the charters’ students, they often undermine the students’ education, and teacher effectiveness, in order to generate more state funding and private grants.

The five largest charter systems in L.A. are recipients of a generous grant from the Gates Foundation. The charters are using that money, ostensibly, to bolster teacher effectiveness and rigorous instruction. In fact, the response by many of the charter high schools has been, instead, to scale down the traditional grading benchmarks so that students can pass classes with less than a 40%, to forbid teachers from assigning homework, as too many students don’t do it an thus earn failing grades, and to allow each student to retake every exam multiple times until a passing grade is achieved (with a whopping 40%). These policies are not only ludicrous and counter-intuitive, they are destructive, and serve only to widen and harden an already pernicious achievement gap in our urban schools. Teachers who speak up or speak out are often fired – sometimes en masse – but always marginalized, or singled out for criticism for not being a part of the “team”.

I write you this knowing you will most likely not have time to read or respond to it, but feeling desperate. I accept, as an urban educator, that there are statistics of poverty and parental education that I will often not be able to overcome. But I’m willing to give it everything I have if it means a few of my students might beat the odds. What I cannot and will not do is participate in a system that claims to offer a competitive, college preparatory education to traditionally underserved students, then effectively sabotages those students’ futures in the name of self preservation and self congratulation.

Please, continue the work that you have begun. It is so important. You have a big platform, and we teachers are counting on you.

Very best regards,
E