This was a bit of a shock — to hear Diane Ravitch call out the RI Commissioner of Education, Deborah Gist, for her behavior at a meeting with Governor Chafee last week. From Edweek.org, where Ravitch blogs:
These days, there seems to be little tolerance for debate and discussion.
Last week, I went to Providence, R.I., to give a lecture. Before my arrival, I was invited by Gov. Lincoln Chafee to meet privately with him. Thirty minutes before my hour with Gov. Chafee, I learned that state Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Gist would join our meeting. As it turned out, I had 10 minutes of private time with the governor, then 50 minutes with Gist and leaders of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers.
I mention all this because of what happened during the 50 minutes. Gist is clearly a very smart, articulate woman. But she dominated the conversation, interrupted me whenever I spoke, and filibustered to use up the limited time. Whenever I raised an issue, she would interrupt to say, “That isn’t happening here.” She came to talk, not to listen. It became so difficult for me to complete a sentence that at one point, I said, “Hey, guys, you live here all the time, I’m only here for a few hours. Please let me speak.” But Gist continued to cut me off. In many years of meeting with public officials, I have never encountered such rudeness and incivility. I am waiting for an apology.
That afternoon, I spoke to some 500 teachers, parents, and community activists from many of the state’s districts. Teachers in Rhode Island are angry and disheartened in the aftermath of the pink slips that went out to every teacher in the Providence schools. But no one other than teachers seems to know or care. My view: indiscriminate, mass layoffs—with no individual evaluations—demoralize everyone and sunder the bonds of trust that are so necessary for school improvement.
I worry about the one-sided treatment of education issues, not only in Rhode Island, but in the national media. The corporate reformers seem shocked when anyone questions their narrative. They see no downside to their dogmatic belief in closing schools and firing principals and teachers, nor to their dogmatic faith that higher test scores are the goal of education. They accuse critics of “defending the status quo,” even though it is they who are the status quo, the champions of get-tough accountability. They don’t understand that they might be wrong, that their critics deserve a hearing, and that disagreement is healthy.
Faithful readers of Kmareka will know that we have been sharing Ravitch’s voice and ideas on Kmareka ever since the pink slips were issued in Providence. Ravitch offers a voice of reason and a wealth of experience with education policy and its history in the US. I hope she can come to Rhode Island again soon and have a restorative experience where her perspective is more fully heard and valued in Rhode Island’s debate on how to move forward with our schools.