A prominent critic of charter schools, standardized testing, and private influence on education spoke at UNC Charlotte Wednesday evening. UNCC paid Diane Ravitch $20,000 to appear at the campus’ McKnight Auditorium in front of about 100 teachers, students, and community activists.
The Assistant Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush in the early 90s, Ravitch was an early supporter of charter schools and rigorous testing to judge a school’s performance. She used to head the federal testing program. Now, she’s a vehement opponent of both practices. Above all, Ravitch told the UNCC crowd, she thinks the education system has been co-opted by large organizations with wealthy backers.
“In the end, what it comes down to is a handful of people with a huge amount of money versus the American people,” she said. “There are more of us than there are of them, but they have a lot of money, and we don’t.”
In particular, Ravitch singled out Michelle Rhee, former head of Washington DC schools, and, three major charities: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation—big spenders in education that support charter schools, which Ravitch calls the privatization of education. Charlotte has been a recipient—in 2011, CMS won the Broad Prize, and had received $3 million from the Foundation to analyze data and test students to encourage a pay-for-performance system for teachers.
“If you take nothing else form this discussion, take away the idea that you have power and you have power to stop this madness and you should use it,” Ravitch said to applause from the audience.
And some students seem to have taken that message to heart.
We actually just started a student organization, Un.T.E.S.T, which is united to end standardized testing,” says Taylor Wall, a UNCC graduate student studying special education. “So, [we’re] grad students, future teachers, who are kind of working toward the same goals.”
Exactly the kind of audience Ravitch was seeking.