Uncategorized | February 28, 2014

‘Rise Above the Mark’ film sparks education debate

 It was a two-sided debate in front of an audience hooting for one side.

Opponents and supporters of school reform took to the stage Friday night at Clowes Memorial Hall after the debut Indianapolis screening of “Rise Above the Mark,” a documentary examining the impact of privatization and high-stakes standardized tests on public education.

During a sometimes raucous and pointed panel debate, the speakers – two for, two against and one in the middle -found little common ground as they discussed hot-button issues facing education in Indiana and across the country: teacher morale, charter schools, vouchers and other efforts of the school reform movement.

Diane Ravitch, a one-time supporter of school reform but now a nationally heralded critic of the movement, was welcomed like somewhat of a rock star by most of the 1,000 in attendance. Ravitch, an education historian, is former assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush.

“I am opposed to testing and accountability. The only thing you learn from testing is what families have the most income,” Ravitch said to a roar of applause. She added that teacher evaluations determined by student test scores, like the system used in Indiana, are junk science.

When David Harris, founder and CEO of The Mind Trust and Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, discussed ways vouchers and charters offer alternatives for parents in where to send their students, some in the audience hissed or grumbled.

The state Department of Education recently reported the number of students using public-money vouchers to attend private schools more than doubled this year to 19,809 at a cost of nearly $80 million.

Students have different needs, and parents have different desires, Enlow said. Allowing parents to use vouchers, known as the Choice Scholarship program in Indiana, lets everyone have a chance to attend a quality school they want.

Ravitch said those reforms created dual systems in which charter schools can pick the students they want and leave the rest to public schools.