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A Telling Town Hall

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If the audience had their way Thursday evening, I think the Don Estridge High Tech Middle School janitors might have found dumpsters filled with FCATs in a show of solidarity the morning after a testy Town Hall Meeting was held!

U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch hosted an Education Town Hall in his hometown of Boca Raton, Fla. in anticipation of returning to session to debate and decide upon reforming and reauthorizing the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The purpose of this critical meeting was to open up a candid dialogue on public education in the community -- to inform the public and to be informed. It's safe to say Rep. Deutch met that goal and then some!

To set the stage and provide an historical and global perspective of NCLB and education reforms, Rep. Deutch invited Dr. Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education and best selling author of a book recently named "the most important education book of the decade," (The Death and Life of the Great American School System) to share an historian's perspective.

This author turned tireless public education advocate pounded away at each of the reforms associated with NCLB via satellite.

Vouchers? A two decade failure in Milwaukee. She summarized decades of data on that.

Merit Pay?
Never worked. She discussed the three year Vanderbilt study, among many, proving merit pay undeniably failed.

Charter Expansion? Drains money from public schools where they are cash-strapped now. Dr. Ravitch delivered evidence of how 83 percent of charters are no better or worse than public schools. Why sink tax dollars there?

Slam! Pow! Bam! In Secretary Duncan-type terms, Diane slam dunked the factual position on how NCLB failed. Whoosh!

This historian followed the road to where evidence and reason took her and presented it. She didn't stop there.

Understanding that the foundation for all these reforms lies in our nation's incessant compulsion with standardized tests, she skewered the decisions to attach high stakes to tests and affix unattainable goals. For each year since NCLB was established, the stakes surrounding these tests have been ratcheted up to the point of ridiculousness. Teacher's salaries, teacher's jobs, principal's jobs, school closings all depend on that one test that one day. Is it any wonder that Atlanta and D.C. uncovered widespread cheating scandals or that NYC gains collapsed when it was revealed that the tests given were much easier. If you tell people you will line them up and shoot them, they will find a way to produce the results you demand.

The energy in the audience was palpable. Many times the audience erupted with applause and choruses of "Amen."

I've observed Diane speak many times. Her tirelessness, her wisdom, and mastery of speaking is incredible to witness wherever you sit on the education reform debate. Diane values principles over pandering and this particular evening she was not holding back!

Unscripted and unplugged, Diane took the Republicans, the Democrats, and the Tea Party Governors behind the woodshed. Anyone participating in dismantling public education was taken to task. Suffice it to say, Diane had a thunderous ovation upon conclusion.

Unbeknownst to me until the meeting began, a DOE Policy and Strategy Deputy, Mr. Michael Yudin, had just arrived and planned to speak. I cringed for the man wondering how he felt following this brilliant scholar with Churchill-like delivery.

My empathy for him turned to frustration relatively quickly as Mr. Yudin launched into the same, scripted rhetoric echoed ad nauseam from the DOE. It's not his fault. We are just so tired of the rhetoric vs. the real world we live in.

Bravely, Mr. Yudin did not stray from his script. He insisted "bubble tests were needed for college readiness without remediation." What the devil is with these rhetorical catchphrases? Has anyone ever explained concretely what college readiness truly means?

"We will lead the world in college completion by 2020," Mr. Yudin told the audience along with other goals he tossed out to a disgruntled, noisy crowd that began booing and responding over him and captured by the NBC news crew.

I've noticed each Administration that embraces NCLB affixes an attainment date pretty far out for their goals. Presumably, they'll be out of office drinking Rum Rhunners at a tiki bar somewhere when those dates come and go. It's just absurd. I wish we'd get realistic.

Why was this a Telling Town Hall?

1) Hundreds of parents, grandparents, teachers and administrators came to talk about education for a few hours despite this being their dinner hour and many of them stayed longer continuing their talk. Their presence in numbers was telling.

2) Rep. Deutch's opening remarks surrounding the state of public education being under attack were strong and were met with great applause. His comments on the lack of critical thinking involved in mindless bubble tests were insightful. Rep. Deutch's candor and courage was telling.

3) Dr. Ravitch's incisive and spunky talk was hard hitting and very telling to everyone. The DOE Deputy heard first hand that Dr. Ravitch does not defend the status quo. Diane's hard hitting remarks were illuminating and very telling to those present..

4) The audience's questions, their passion, their spirit, and their determination to be heard gave me goosebumps. The audience's passion was very telling.

I watched hundreds of diverse people unite in spirit and in presence because they fear their democratic processes are being threatened and that children's futures are in peril.

I am very grateful as are many others for having a man of integrity and courage, Congressman Ted Deutch, represent us in Congress. I cannot thank him enough for hosting this important and necessary meeting.

It was an evening those in attendance won't soon forget and a truly "telling town hall."

Note: Here's an informative 6-min clip of Dr. Ravitch in an interview last month which states much of what she covered in Congressman Deutch's Education Town Hall.

Concurrently, Parents Across America issued a Press Release and Position Paper on the Reauthorization of ESEA. Note: All documents published by PAA are authored by parents--a resource which should be tapped by legislators and DOE policy makers.