Diane Ravitch’s blog post titled The Reformers’ War on Language and on Democracy takes aim at school reformers, and it challenges what the term “reformer” actually means. She says “Maybe it is just me, but I find myself outraged by the “reformers’” incessant manipulation of language.”

She says “Reform” means privatization, assaults on the teaching profession; eliminating teachers’ unions, which fight for better salaries and working conditions; boasting about test scores by schools that have carefully excluded the students who might get low scores; using test scores to evaluate teachers even though this practice has negative effects on teacher morale and fails to identify better or worse teachers; stripping teachers of due process rights or any other job security; schools should operate for-profit and that private corporations should be encouraged to profit from school spending; acceptance of privately managed schools that operate without accountability or transparency; the incremental destruction of public education.

Count me as one who is “outraged,” but mostly with Ravitch’s tired hateraid and chronic failure to see the systemic problems that stop us from educating children in poor communities.

I have three issues with her nasty blog post that, once again, questions the integrity of people like me who proudly support reforms in public school.

Issue 1: The Language

Ravitch says that reformers use the term “reform” to  privatize education, to assault the teaching profession, and to lead the destruction of public education among other things. I attended crappy public schools, then taught in struggling public schools, and then placed teachers in these schools. I’m pretty sure reform means means something different to me than Ravitch.

Reform to me means trying new things to create a better education system for communities that have been let down by schools time and time again. The current system has been failing poor black kids long before charter schools or a reform movement became a thing. To deny that is just criminal, and suspicious.

If Ravitch’s argument is to just do the same things in education but harder and faster I’m, not buying. Would opponents of school reform accept the same fate for their own kids that they prescribe for black children trapped in urban school districts?

Come on, you know the answer.

They don’t even consider the types of schools I went to. Maybe they don’t see our kids as equal to theirs. Remember, these are people who will tell you college isn’t for every child, but they won’t say that about their own kids.

Why wouldn’t I grow up to be a school reformer. I made it through tough times. Shouldn’t it be my job to ensure that children behind me are prepared to thrive in college whether or not that child and his/her family decide to go there or not?

If our schools aren’t making it happen, shouldn’t I push for them to reform?

Ravitch’s tirade on what folks mean when they say “reform” is disrespectful of those of us who have good reason to want reform. She seems to be living on some alternate planet where only rich white people are pushing school reform, and there are no valid reasons to do so.

I was a poor black student. I am now a black man who supports reform, and I do it for the simple reason that poor schools aren’t working.

Issue 2: Her Lack of Focus on Students

I was bothered by how little attention Ravitch pays to students. She barely mentions them. In over 500 words she says “student” once, and “children” 4 times. That’s a total of 5 references to children.

See, that’s the problem. The opposition folks seldom discuss children and what is best for them. The argument almost always devolves into adult problems. They basically parrot the same concerns of teachers’ unions, or say we shouldn’t critique teachers, and their conversation mostly forgets kids.

We are supposed to believe that reformers don’t care about teachers, public education, or, by extension, children. Reformers are just cold data freaks on a quest to achieve some financial bottom line. That’s a smart trick to play when you run out of facts and have no intention in addressing the real, human issues of bad schools. But, in my case, it’s dead wrong.

The real difference between Ravitch and reformers is their starting points. Her’s is adults. Mine is children. The sooner we can all admit that the sooner we can move the conversation forward and find real solutions.

Oh, and to be clear, there are many great teachers that happen to be reformers like me.

Issue 3: The Status Quo is Broken and Can’t Continue

The most troubling issue with Ravitch’s line of attack is that it asks us to believe the status quo is working (if not hampered only by reformers). My response is “really?”

This is the part of my blog post where I should dazzle you with NAEP data and gold standard research to prove black and brown children in poverty aren’t doing well in public schools. If you need that we’re in trouble. Take it from the legion of folks who have studied the issue: our kids aren’t reading, writing, or doing math at anything close to grade level. Wake the hell up! This is an old problem.

Poor black students have been miseducated in this country for a really, really long time. I say we focus on them for two reasons.

First, I was once one of them and I can tell you it sucked to be ill-prepared for life.

Secondly, we are often the lowest or near lowest achieving group when it comes to education. So whatever it takes to change that, I’m open to it.

If it was proven that more control should be given to unions because that is what is best for kids then I would be all for it. But that just simply is not the case.

I’m a proponent for improving our traditional public schools, but if poor black students can thrive in charter schools too then so be it.

Forget what Ravitch says about reformers, I’m for school reform because I want a system that focuses on changing the trajectory of the forgotten kids, the ones I identify with because of my own history. I’ll never agree that pushing for a system to be accountable for educating children traditionally left out of the “promise of public education” is anything other than the morally right thing to do.

Dr. Charles Cole, III​ is an educator focused on the advancement of youth of color, but more specifically Black males. This passion comes from his experiences growing up without proper support, including being homeless and attending more than ten elementary schools across the country while his parents battled addiction and incarceration. Throughout that experience, no adult, no group, no organization ever asked him how he was achieving success nor how he was surviving. Schools were not a place where students in similar predicaments were learning. This experience helped lead to the publication of his first book, ​Beyond Grit and Resilience. As founder of ​Energy Convertors​, Charles comes from the community and has shared many of the students’ experiences. Previously Charles served as a social worker, a Director for Teach for America, the Vice Chair of the California Young Democrats, Black Caucus and at a director’s level with various youth-focused nonprofits. n addition to founding Energy Convertors, Charles is a national speaker and a writer, and he can be found in Oakland and around the country working with youth on how to equip themselves appropriately to lay the groundwork for a bright future. Charles is currently a board member of ​UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital​, and co-host of the ​8 Black Hands Podcast. Charles’ life goal is to better the communities he grew up in, which include Chicago, Paducah, KY, and Oakland.    


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