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Town Hall Seattle: Civics Series

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Mar 25, 2021

Betsy DeVos may be the most prominent face of the seeming push to dismantle public education, but educational policy experts Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider believe she’s part of a larger movement that’s been steadily gaining power for decades. While support for public education today is stronger than ever, Berkshire and Schneider argue, the movement to save our schools remains fragmented, variable, and voluntary while those who seem set on tearing down the public school system are unified, patient, and well-resourced.

Berkshire and Schneider joined us, in conversation with historian of education Diane Ravitch, to discuss their book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School. With remarkable insight, they explored the network of conservative elected officials, advocacy groups, funders, and think tanks that have aligned behind a radical vision to unmake public education. They described the convictions underpinning the work of the dismantlers and how it fits into the current political context, giving us an up-close look at the policies—school vouchers, the war on teachers’ unions, tax credit scholarships, virtual schools, and more—that support the intentions of this network. Finally they looked forward, surveying the potential impact on public education if this network is successful. Sounding an alarm, they presented a call for public reckoning on behalf of the millions of families served by the American educational system—and many more who stand to suffer from its unmaking.

Jennifer Berkshire is a freelance journalist and a host of the education podcast “Have You Heard.” Her writing on the politics of education has appeared in the NationSalon, the Baffler, the Progressive, and the New Republic.

Jack Schneider is the author of three books and an award-winning education historian. He is a host of the education podcast “Have You Heard” and an assistant professor at UMass Lowell. He co-founded the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment, a partnership of eight MA public school districts and their local teacher unions. He is a regular contributor to the Atlantic and the Washington Post.

Diane Ravitch is a Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She served as the Assistant Secretary of Education during the Bush I administration. She is the Founder and President of the Network for Public Education (NPE). She is the author of 13 books, the editor of 14 others, and has written over 500 articles and reviews for scholarly and popular publications.

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