Diane\'s Blog

Pittsburgh Teacher

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I wanted to take a moment to send a thank you for your wonderful book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. As a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, a district that has bought into the philosophies of both Broad and Gates, I read your book with a sense of personal interest. Indeed, it seems that almost everything you wrote about San Diego and New York City are becoming fashionable in districts like mine. The strange attraction to merit pay (initially for administrators and now with a select teacher population) is dividing our district. We recently approved a teacher contract with so many logistical holes in it that most people couldn’t believe it actually passed (and can’t remember voting for it!); we were told to trust our union leaders and district administrators as they filled in the blanks (merit pay, teacher assessment, student assessment, etc.) I guess that I am one of the luckier ones; I teach AP/Honors seniors and for the most part I am unaffected by most of the new rules and regulations, the Gates-funded blood money, and state standardized tests. Still, I work in a district where we are led by Broad graduates in both central and school administration, and even though it doesn’t (yet) affect my job security, it does transform school climate and creates systemic changes that will undoubtedly have negative affects on how our students learn (curricula built around standardized tests and not standards and texts), how our teachers instruct (where teaching literally stops for test-preparation), and how our administrators lead (through data-driven means of assessment). Our new governor and his budget cuts and unabashed support for vouchers isn’t helping matters either.

All of the above also affects me as a college instructor. I have served as an adjunct professor of Education at [omitted] University (a small liberal arts school) for the past eight years and teach courses on Multicultural Education and English Methods. I see my students go out into local districts (to student teach) afraid to apply the theory and discourse we use in our classrooms due to the popularity of scripted (“managed”) curricula throughout many of the disciplines (Pittsburgh has bought into this concept wholeheartedly at many levels). In addition, Pittsburgh has started a “teacher academy” that gives the impression that our teacher education programs are not preparing pre-service teachers for life in an urban school setting and offer (require?) an additional semester or year of (paid) internship in a lab school. This teacher academy also seems to be a way for Pittsburgh to recruit uncertified teachers (i.e., professionals who want a career change), by tempting them with good pay and quick study.

So, thank you again for your well-written, well-researched, and honest appraisal of NCLB and people like Gates and Broad and their unfortunate effects on the American education system. Thank you for being a strong and positive voice for public schools. I hope that enough of the “right” people read your book (and your blog) and take a bit of advice from someone who’s actually an educator (and not in business or law). In the spirit of Paulo Freire, we need to find a way to reclaim education, in both theory and practice.