Why you should read Diane Ravitch's new book
Among the many important lessons in Diane Ravitch’s new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” this one keeps knocking about in my head:
“Reformers imagine that it is easy to create a successful school, but it is not. They imagine that the lessons of a successful school are obvious and can be easily transferred to other schools, just as one might take an industrial process or a new piece of machinery and install it in a new plant without error. But a school is successful for many reasons, including the personalities of its leader and teachers; the social interactions among them; the culture of the school; the students and their families; the way the school implements policies and programs dictated by the district, the state and the federal government; the quality of the school’s curriculum and instruction; the resources of the school and the community; and many other factors. When a school is successful, it is hard to know which factor was most important or if it was a combination of factors.”
Amen. The U.S. public school system would not be as troubled as it is if most of the reformers of the past few decades really understood this. They would have known that charter schools aren’t a silver bullet. Nor are high-stakes standardized tests. Nor is shaming teachers or reducing them to robots who repeat nonsense from bad textbooks.
These notions are not, of course, original to Ravitch. But she has put together a complete, compelling argument, and when she publicly advocates, her words carry far more weight than others.
If America has a leading education historian, Ravitch, an education professor at New York University, has long had a claim on the title.
For years, she was the darling of conservatives in education. She served as an assistant secretary in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, and was a vocal backer of the second President Bush’s education effort. She was, in fact, at the White House as part of a select group when Bush first outlined No Child Left Behind, and she wrote, she was “excited and optimistic.”
She has written a number of education books that conservatives liked, one of them a scathing critique of leftist historians who attacked the public schools as “an instrument of cultural repression.”
Her credibility with conservatives is exactly why it would be particularly instructive for everyone--whether you have kids in school or not--to read “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.”
Ravitch, who has spent some 40 years in education, explains how she went from supporting No Child Left Behind and its testing and accountability regimes to becoming a vocal critic who thinks the very things she once backed are destroying public schools.
Marshaling a mountain of facts that she reported over years, Ravitch tells through riveting stories and sharp analysis why she no longer believes that public schools should be operated like businesses.
Perhaps she is the one person who can’t be ignored by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others in the Obama administration who are so far insisting on carrying forward with some of the most insidious aspects of NCLB.
It is an irony that Ravitch’s book has been applauded by Linda Darling-Hammond, a highly respected professor of education at Stanford University and founding executive director of the National Commission for Teaching & America’s Future. Darling-Hammond, who was Obama’s key education advisor during the transition, has long seen the world the way Ravitch views it now.
There had been hope in some corners of the education world that Obama would name her education secretary because of her clear understanding of educational excellence. He didn’t and instead selected Duncan, the former schools chief in Chicago who has become a frequent target of Ravitch’s wrath.
(Darling-Hammond, incidentally, also has written a new book which is a must-read; I’ll talk about it soon.)
Ravitch’s conversion was courageous; it is not often that you see someone in academia, in politics, or, frankly, in any arena, publicly admit they were wrong. Now she finds herself facing the powerful forces that have been arrayed against the kind of reform that she is proposing.
She wants teachers to be paid fairly and not earn “merit pay” based on standardized test results.
She wants public charter schools to stop competing with regular charter schools.
She wants a national curriculum that explains what every child in every grade should be learning.
And she wants people in the worlds of politics and business to stay out of education decisions.
Sounds good to me.
What do you think?
Follow my blog all day, every day by bookmarking
| February 26, 2010; 1:00 AM ET
Categories: Education Secretary Duncan, No Child Left Behind | Tags: Diane Ravitch, school reform
Save & Share: Previous: The hype of 'value-added' in teacher evaluation
Next: Schools need to step up obesity fight
Posted by: Mostel26 | February 26, 2010 5:33 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: phoss1 | February 26, 2010 7:26 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: dccitizen1 | February 26, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: efavorite | February 26, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: TwoSons | February 26, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: efavorite | February 26, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: TwoSons | February 26, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: pondoora | February 26, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: efavorite | February 26, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: pittypatt | February 26, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: LarryW1 | February 27, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: musiclady | February 27, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: tunyasez | February 28, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.