Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Necessary info:  Dr. Ravitch and myself are alumni from Teachers College at Columbia University in NYC. We have never met in person (to my knowledge).

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

It is with a greatful heart I listened to your interview on NPR 2 March 2010. For quite awhile I have had the same thoughts and feelings as what you expressed although my lack of a PhD made my ideas less palatable to the general public. My feelings were based not only on my experience as a teacher at a charter school, they were informed by other teacher colleagues in and out of charter and private schools.

I could not get past the craziness I always felt in my stomach when I was required to do constant standardized test practice so I could find out exactly what standards my students did and did not know and how I would go about pouring spackle in to fill the gaps. I say pour as I was teaching middle school and one can not patch in small surfaces with that age group when they are lacking in basic literacy and math.  All the explicit teaching could not account for what did not happen in the previous seven, eight or nine years of their young lives. To assume these students would be college ready in four or five short years denied my own education in communicative disorders, science, and my experience with Peace Corps, yet I felt compelled to be a believer.

Of course part of the upset stomach was also knowing my bonus salary and my job were on the line if scores did not go up a particular percentage, year over year, much like a sales meeting with numbers which would improve shareholder perceptions.  I would never deny a child an education, however, working 14+ hours a day became physically and emotionally unhealthy, even though my principal made it seem I was not a team player if I contributed less. I believe he ascribed to the Chinese revolutionary concept of being a good Communist, up to and including having to self deprecate in staff meetings so we could become a better teacher.

When I noticed that teacher colleagues were leaving (an attorney who decided to teach English and History and then rethought the whole idea by November, a PhD from Cal Berkeley who was hired to teach science and realized he was more than an overpaid babysitter, but only marginally and he left in October) from my school and others in the system in droves, I knew I was not alone in my stomach ache.

I was able to leave (although the whole story is much more involved as it had to do with labor law) and move on.  I continued to watch what was going on with this charter school so I could understand what it was about myself that was so lacking in courage and ability. I never found out.  Rather than the school being proud of all it was doing, it became more clandestine. The only thing one can find out about the school are the annual test scores.  I noticed that secrecy became a premium, almost to the point of a cult.  I have yet to see the data that shows this charter school has met the challenge it set out to do due to lack of data.

If nothing more, your philosophical turn will open up more people to the dark days of the last 10 years, much in the ways one might talk about the reign of a crazy dictator.  It saddens me to know you are being scrutinized for being mature enough to say you believed in something wrongly, however, it gives me faith. Someday I may even be able to forgive myself for not believing enough in the miracle of charter schools and what they were supposed to do.


Natalie Berkowitz

The Death and Life of the Great American School System  ISBN 0465014917