Education historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education for the first President Bush, Diane Ravitch has just published an extraordinary book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. The book should be required reading for every policy-maker, citizen and educator.
The extraordinary reporting found in the book can not help but convince Americans that their public education system is endangered by the politicians, billionaire mischief-makers, foundations and business groups professing to “fix” the “broken” system.
Similar accusations have been leveled before in books by Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Gerald Bracey, Herb Kohl, Jonathan Kozol, Deborah Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond and others. What makes this book so extraordinary is that it was written by a proponent of many of the reforms Ravitch herself now admits are destroying public education.
That’s right, Dr. Ravitch is the rare scholar/leader who when confronted by the actual application of theory is capable of rethinking her assumptions. Ravitch has also severed ties to many of the conservative think-tanks with whom she no longer shares similar views and has had the courage to expose her change-of-heart and mind publicly in this book and in the spectacular blog, Bridging Differences, she writes with (CMK 2010 guest speaker) Deborah Meier.
Ravitch challenges the current fetishes of merit pay, mayoral control, charter schools, vouchers and standardized testing while also questioning the statistical plausibility of the test score miracles being touted by politicians like Arne Duncan and NYC Mayor Bloomberg. At the same time, Ravitch advocates a national curriculum (albeit a richer one than proposed), an idea I find extremely troublesome. Without sentimentality, Ravitch’s new book is a love letter to public education and the democratic ideals it fosters.
The story of personal transformation late in life is generating an unprecedented level of publicity for a book about education. I am most grateful to Dr. Ravitch for placing these issues at the center of mainstream media debate for the first time. I intend to write something substantive about the book once I have an adequate chance to digest it. In the meantime, I recommend you read the following reviews of the book.
- Little Dead Schoolhouse – Boston Globe 2/28/10
- “Teacher Ken’s” comprehensive review of the book for the Daily Kos – 2/28/10 (highly recommended)
- Business principles won’t work for school reform, former supporter Ravitch says – Washington Post – 2/26/10
- Los Angeles Times review – 2/28/10
- Why You Should Read Diane Ravitch’s New Book – Washington Post – 2/26/10
You might also find these resources useful:
- My review of Ravitch’s book, The Language Police, titled, The End of Textbooks (2003)
- School Wars: Who’s Trying to Control Your Public Schools? by Gary Stager – Good Magazine – 8/2008
- Obama Practices Social Promotion by Gary Stager – Huffington Post – 12/08
- Bill Gates and Eli Broad Go Gangsta by Gary Stager – 2007
- The US Government Now a Subsidiary of Eli Broad (2009)
- My articles about merit pay
- My articles about Arne Duncan
- Charlie Rose Lobotomized by Education Guest by Gary Stager
- The Bridging Differences Blog (the best education writing on the Web) by Ravitch and Deborah Meier
- Susan Ohanian’s web site (must-read daily)
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.