Diane Ravitch and Pasi Sahlberg spoke at events hosted by United Educators of San Francisco and co-sponsored by CFT and CTA

Diane Ravitch inspired hundreds of educators as she took to task corporate reformers and privatizers with their miracle cures for our schools and false claims about achievement and teachers.

An outspoken analyst, education historian, and research professor, Ravitch spoke onstage at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater on January 18.

In the words of Diane Ravitch…

Corporate reformers Why are we closing public schools and replacing them with private management? They call themselves reformers, but they are really corporate reformers. They don’t talk about providing warm and exciting places for students, but rather how to cut costs. They want schools to follow a business model, not one of public service. Public schools are a public good, like parks and police. We should not close and open them as if they were shoe stores.

Testing There’s no way to have “no child left behind” in standardized testing: Half are on the bottom, half on top. Students will learn test-taking tricks. Who is going to hire someone to take standardized tests? It’s not a valuable skill. The most important outcomes of education can’t be measured: love of learning, character, compassion, courage, integrity, asking the right question, and civic responsibility.

Poverty The influence of family income dwarfs that of teacher and school. Poverty is the root of low performance. Family income is the most reliable predictor of test scores. We lead the world in child poverty. More than 27 percent of our children live in poverty, behind Mexico and Turkey. This is a scandal — it should be on the front pages of the newspapers every day.

Accountability There is no accountability for the Legislature, only teachers. The testing and accountability we hear about every day are status quo. The status quo has failed.

Race to the Top RTTT is NCLB 2.0. Race to the top of what? Education is a right, not a race. A race has one winner and a lot of losers. That is not what we want for our children.

Vouchers There has been a voucher experiment in Milwaukee now for 21 years. There has been no improvement in performance in those 21 years. Now we know, looking at National Assessment of Educational Progress, that black students in 
Milwaukee, the recipients of the vouchers, get no better scores than those in Louisiana or Georgia.

Charter schools The evidence shows that most charter schools do no better on test scores. Very few can claim to close the achievement gap. Those that do keep out low-scoring students and have high staff turnover.

About 80 percent of charter schools are non-union. Right-wing reformers count on big foundations, like Gates, Broad, and Walton, with huge amounts of money to promote vouchers and charters because they want to destroy teacher unions. Their free market model produces winners and losers, never equality.

Achievement gap Washington D.C. has a 60-point gap in achievement, the largest in the United States. Michelle Rhee couldn’t fix it. The reformers believe in carrots and sticks that are always tied to test scores. They forget that tests measure student performance, not teacher performance.
Tests should always be used for the purpose for which they are designed.

Merit pay This is the idea that never works and never dies. Studies by the National Center on Performance Incentives show that when districts tried increasing merit pay, it didn‘t work. When larger bonuses were offered to one group rather than another within the same district, it didn‘t matter. Merit pay doesn’t work because schools are collaborative places. The work of the math teacher affects the work of the English teacher. Merit pay replaces the interest of “we” with the interest of “me.” Teachers don’t want to work against each other; they want to work as a team.

Professional respect & unions Corporate reformers want to destroy education unions. If they can silence the unions, they can remove teachers’ voices and proceed without any opposition. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey are strongly unionized and the highest performing states in the United States. The lowest performing states are in the South where unionization is the lowest.
Corporate reformers view parents as consumers, students as products and teaching as a job, not a profession. They think anyone can teach. Corporate reform will implode in five years; there is just no evidence it can succeed.

Be loud We must speak out. Silence equals complicity. Organize, agitate, demonstrate. Write to newspapers, use social media, bring politicians to classrooms, run for the school board, engage in direct action. The other side will always have more money, but an informed public will not tolerate the abandonment of public education, or allow the privatization of the schools that belong to all.

Pasi Sahlberg, noted international education activist, described on February 17 how Finland has revolutionized public education by focusing on support and respect for educators and de-emphasizing testing. Finland has created the highest performing education system in the world.

In the words of Pasi Sahlberg…

Overcoming poverty We had a lot of poverty just 30 to 40 years ago but we have been able to transform our country. Equal education opportunities are very important in Finland, American ideals going back to Jefferson. We use these great American ideas to benefit everyone, but implement them in a different way. You can have high performance and widespread equity at the same time, but it requires a different way of thinking.

Free education for all Education is considered a basic human right. All Finnish schools are publicly funded. We have no charters. We have no private schools. It is against the law to charge fees for education in my country. We have the smallest variation between schools of any country in the world. That means parents never sit at the dining room table and talk about school choice. They know that the school in their neighborhood is good.

Cradle to university care Every family has a right to municipal day care for a 0-6 year old. There is one year of preschool at age 6. Compulsory school starts at age 7. Children stay in school nine years. High school has academic and vocational streams. Students study 14 or 15 different subjects. At age 16, students are free to do what they want. We provide 65 percent of our students free university.

Personalized education Early education is very informal; we believe in play and music and joy. Finns believe that every child is different, that we all learn at a different pace. We don’t have grade level standards. We don’t have national standards and every school is responsible for planning its own curriculum. One third of Finnish students are in special education, so special education is not special anymore. We do not grade any students before the fifth grade.

Creative learning Finland has the least number of instructional hours of all countries. We have less time to teach and more time to cooperate with other teachers. Every school has a nurse, psychologist, and doctor. A new law says every student has to go through a comprehensive medical check, including dental care.

Children have a right to recess. The law says instruction is 60 minutes, but 15 minutes has to be recess. Rain or shine, children go outside between lessons. They take their shoes off in the classroom. Finns take their shoes off at home and the classroom is like their home. We are increasing time for music, drama and arts, and taking away from subjects like math and reading. It is not remembering things, but creativity that will bring innovation to our nation.

Localized assessment We do a lot of assessment but it is mostly done by schools and teachers themselves. We don’t believe standardized testing will improve education. The less we test our students, the more they learn. Our whole testing budget is $1 million and we spend $70 million on professional development.

Learning and immigrants Finland was homogeneous until 15 years ago. For immigrant students, there is one year of orientation. They study the Finnish language intensively, but they study all subjects in their mother tongue with a teacher who speaks their language. Schools with more immigrants get extra money to hire more assistant teachers.

Competition to teach Teaching is the leading area of desired study. To get into primary school education, you have be good in music, sing, be good in sports, and be academically very strong. Then you will be invited to be a student of education. Every year we have 6000 to 7000 applicants for primary teacher, mostly women. Only 10 percent are accepted. Each has a masters degree. Very few people leave teaching. There is not a significant gap between teacher salaries and others with comparable degrees.

One strong union We have one very strong union for teachers, the Trade Union of Education in Finland. More than 95 percent belong to the union; principals and district superintendents belong as well. Without the union, we really cannot implement anything. Its role is securing and protecting rights of teachers, and providing professional development for teachers. It’s a very important part of the system.

Progressive taxation There is a misconception that we have extremely high taxation. We have a progressive taxation. If your income is high, then you pay more taxes. The corporate tax payment is 26 percent.

Education is not political Education is never an issue in elections. No candidates mention education, except to say that education and healthcare will remain a human right for everyone.

Pasi sahlberg is the author of Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? To learn more, go to finnishlessons.com and pasisahlberg.com, and follow him on Twitter @pasi_sahlberg.

Diane Ravitch is the author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. To learn more, go to dianeravitch.com, like her on Facebook (Diane Ravitch) and follow her on Twitter @DianeRavitch.

Reported by Mindy Pines, CFT Reporter and Jane Hundertmark, CFT Publications Director