Democracy in Education

Diane Ravitch has some observations on the recent ousting of New York City Schools Chancellor Cathie Black that adds to the idea that public schools are a site for democracy in practice. Rick Salutin, as I mentioned, made this observation in the Toronto Star a couple of weeks ago.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the Ravitch article:

The lessons of this fiasco are clear: being a successful business executive is no guarantee that one can become a successful school leader. These are different worlds, which require different skills and training. To have a chance of success running one of the country’s largest school systems, one needs a deep understanding of federal and state education policies, of curriculum and assessment, of teaching and learning, and of what teachers and schools need. This is why the state sets requirements for the job of school superintendent, to assure that those who get the job are minimally qualified.


Bloomberg’s decision to replace the old Board of Education with a Department of Education controlled only by himself has alienated parents. The debates at the old Board seemed cumbersome, but they were actually just an expression of democratic politics—an arena in which policies are discussed before they are imposed, where officials listen to citizens’ concerns. Rather than maintaining stability, as the mayor promised, Joel Klein repeatedly reorganized the Department during the past nine years. School closings have become commonplace, and schools with long and established histories have been shuttered, replaced by scores of small schools and privately managed charter schools, all in the name of introducing a free-market approach to public education. Creative destruction is now the rule, not stability. The Department treats schools like stores that can be easily closed and opened with a new name, rather than vital public institutions that need help and should be improved.

Emphasis added.


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