IN THIS ISSUE, we asked Diane Ravitch, former U.S. assistant secretary of education, to give us her perspective on why so many of our public schools are failing. In her analysis, she explains why putting so much empahsis on standardized testing- as our current reforms do- will not make an impact on true academic achievement. She looks at the development of public education in America and expresses concern that current federal programs set impossible goals that threaten to close schools and fire teachers if legislative mandates are not achieved. Ravitch points out that the education reform efforts of the past decade have ignored the fact that the cause of low academics in America is poverty not "bad" teachers.
Historically, there has always been a link between education and poverty. Free public schools in America were created to alleviate poverty by giving every child the opportunity to receive an education. So the question is, does education lower poverty or does poverty lower education?
In Colonial days, education was considered essential for the public well-being and it was not subject to individual or family prerogatives. Although only wealthy children had the privilege of going to school, all parents, including the poor, were required to educate their children to be God-fearing and "serviceable in their generation."
If parents neglected their duty, the community had the right to intervene. For example, Massachusetts passed a Poor Law in 1735 that states: "That where persons bring up their children in such gross ignorance that they do not know, or are not able to distinguish the alphabet of twenty-four letters, at the age of six years, in such case the overseers of the poor are hereby empowered and directed to put or bind out in good families such children, for a decent and Christian education-unless the children are judged incapable, through some inevitable infirmity."
You read that correctly. If families were so irresponsible as to fail to educate their children, the community would take those kids away and do the job for them!
By 1840 the heavy influx of immigrants and expanding territories changed the social hierarchy as communities became fragmented. The shift brought social instability along with great fear that the country would fall apart because of vice and crime. …