Ravitch's NCLB book an unexpected best seller
Books about education policy are normally not bestsellers. But education historian Diane Ravitch’s new ”The Death and Life of the Great American School System” has sold out at many bookstores. The book was No. 1 on Amazon's list of books about education policy/education reform and was recently No. 14 on its nonfiction list.
The book was also No. 28 on the New York Times bestseller list in its first week out, and No. 10 on The Washington Post politics list.
I wrote about the book recently, saying that I wished President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan would read it because they might lose some of their affection for standardized tests. Their vision for the rewritten No Child Left Behind includes some of the practices with which Ravitch takes issue.
Ravitch, a professor at New York University, once worked in the administration of President George H.W. Bush and was a supporter of No Child Left Behind, the key education initiative of the second President Bush.
She changed her mind, and the book explains why she became a vocal critic who thinks that the initiatives she once supported are destroying public schools and why she no longer believes that public schools should be operated under a business model. The book is compelling and easy to read, mixing data with personal stories.
I have been receiving e-mails from people asking why they can’t get a copy of the book at their local bookstore, and one woman said:
“My local bookstore simply can’t get it, and apparently there’s a shortage everywhere. I have a copy because I preordered it on amazon.com. If I didn’t know better I’d wonder if there was some kind of conspiracy ... ”
There's no conspiracy. Ravitch's publisher, John Sherer at Basics Books Group, wrote in an e-mail to my question about why people were having trouble finding the book:
"The short answer is that we didn’t print enough books fast enough. Your reader asks if it was a conspiracy, but the way we make our printing decisions is that we have a team of sales people that solicit orders from all the major booksellers and we print for them. Our first printing covered all those requests plus an additional 20% of safety stock so it’s not a number we determine in isolation. Once it became clear that stores started reordering, we ordered enough reprints to triple the available stock. Those copies are only now starting to hit the marketplace and I’m confident that in a week, the supply will begin to outpace the demand.
"The people who can give you the best answers here are the individual booksellers. I’d encourage you to speak with a couple of the key people at top stores and get their take. My hunch is they’ll say this is exactly what happens when a book strikes a major chord and takes them by surprise. There’s a brief period initially when it’s very tough to find the book. But one of the great things about a book like this is that it’s an enduring subject, and I’m confident booksellers will be supporting it for a good long time."
I know it is hard to predict the purchasing proclivities of the American public. But come to think of it, Ravitch’s last book, in 2003, “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn,” was a big seller too.
In any case, get the book when you can find it. You’ll learn a lot.
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| March 23, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories: Education Secretary Duncan, No Child Left Behind | Tags: Arne Duncan, Diane Ravitch, President Obama
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