Mikolai, Parrish and Williams for District 51 school board
As outside money in amounts heretofore never seen in Mesa County school board elections pours into this race, a showdown between the two parties seems to be shaping up.
Although the Democrats have declined endorsing candidates, there is little doubt about which slate most of them favor.
The candidates endorsed by the Mesa County Republicans, on the other hand, have accepted $5,000 each from a Front Range billionaire with an agenda to to get their “reform” message to the voters.
A new book by distinguished education historian Dianne Ravitch appears just in time to contextualize the approaching Mesa County school board election within a larger framework than our local schools.
Once praised as the foundation for a democracy dependent on educated citizens making rational choices, American schools were once a model for the world.
Today, many Americans are ready to scrap the public school system, or at least a large part of it.
Before the present conflict over privatizing public education with charter schools competing against traditional classrooms, extensive high stakes testing to measure academic skills and vouchers to allow public school students to attend private charter or religious schools with state tax dollars, Ravitch says, public school students were succeeding as never before.
She should know. Ravitch was assistant secretary of Education during the George W. Bush administration and one of the architects of his No Child Left Behind program.
As a historian, she is an expert on the rise and fall of movements to “reform” our education system, including the one she helped develop for the Bush administration.
Disillusioned but not dispirited, Ravitch has turned against the radical reform she helped design to advocate once again for community schools independent of political agendas.
The major theme of the first section of “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools” is an argument that the crisis in K-12 education is not, and never was, about academic failure by American students. With public test scores high, graduation rates up and dropout rates dropping, the nation’s public schools were succeeding about as well as they ever did, her book maintains.
Kavitch is too good a historian to believe in some Golden Age of American education, when all students came to school rested, clean, fed and ready to learn, then 12 years later, all the class left with a meaningful diploma.
However, she does point out that until the 1980s, Americans seemed to like and have confidence in their schools.
In 1983, Ronald Reagan made the first effort to introduce vouchers to allow students to attend private schools. His proposal went nowhere because it appeared on the surface to be unconstitutional according to his advisers. Another effort in 1985 also failed.
But while Reagan’s attack on the public education system produced little in the way of reform, it began the erosion of confidence in the public school systems that they had once been held in high esteem.
Programs like George Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top, she maintains, set unreasonable targets for American students, punished schools for failures beyond their control, and results in teachers being fired if their students underperform.
After denouncing these tightly held beliefs of both conservative and liberal critics of American public education, Ravitch reaches a disturbing conclusion.
In “Reign of Error” she charges, “The testing, accountability and choice strategies offer the illusion of change while changing nothing. They mask the inequity and injustice that are now so apparent in our social order. They do nothing to alter the status quo. They are the status quo.”
These are serious issues for Mesa County voters. The outcome of this election could shape the course of education in District 51 for decades to come.
I believe candidates Greg Mikolai, Tom Parrish and John Williams will fight to keep local control of our school board; keep the system free of political and religious propaganda on topics like evolution, global climate change and multiculturalism, and help restore District 51 to the respect and local support it had until the radical changes of recent decades.
As for the Republican slate, win or lose, they would gain a lot by reading Ravitch’s “Reign of Error.”