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The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

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A passionate plea to preserve and renew public education, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is a radical change of heart from one of America’s best-known education experts. Diane Ravitch—former assistant secretary of education and a leader in the drive to create a national curriculum—examines her career in education reform and repudiates positions that A passionate plea to preserve and renew public education, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is a radical change of heart from one of America’s best-known education experts. Diane Ravitch—former assistant secretary of education and a leader in the drive to create a national curriculum—examines her career in education reform and repudiates positions that she once staunchly advocated. Drawing on over forty years of research and experience, Ravitch critiques today’s most popular ideas for restructuring schools, including privatization, standardized testing, punitive accountability, and the feckless multiplication of charter schools. She shows conclusively why the business model is not an appropriate way to improve schools. Using examples from major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, and San Diego, Ravitch makes the case that public education today is in peril. Ravitch includes clear prescriptions for improving America’s schools: *Leave decisions about schools to educators, not politicians or businessmen *Devise a truly national curriculum that sets out what children in every grade should be learning *Expect charter schools to educate the kids who need help the most, not to compete with public schools *Pay teachers a fair wage for their work, not “merit pay” based on deeply flawed and unreliable test scores *Encourage family involvement in education from an early age The Death and Life of the Great American School System is more than just an analysis of the state of play of the American education system. It is a must-read for any stakeholder in the future of American schooling.


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A passionate plea to preserve and renew public education, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is a radical change of heart from one of America’s best-known education experts. Diane Ravitch—former assistant secretary of education and a leader in the drive to create a national curriculum—examines her career in education reform and repudiates positions that A passionate plea to preserve and renew public education, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is a radical change of heart from one of America’s best-known education experts. Diane Ravitch—former assistant secretary of education and a leader in the drive to create a national curriculum—examines her career in education reform and repudiates positions that she once staunchly advocated. Drawing on over forty years of research and experience, Ravitch critiques today’s most popular ideas for restructuring schools, including privatization, standardized testing, punitive accountability, and the feckless multiplication of charter schools. She shows conclusively why the business model is not an appropriate way to improve schools. Using examples from major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, and San Diego, Ravitch makes the case that public education today is in peril. Ravitch includes clear prescriptions for improving America’s schools: *Leave decisions about schools to educators, not politicians or businessmen *Devise a truly national curriculum that sets out what children in every grade should be learning *Expect charter schools to educate the kids who need help the most, not to compete with public schools *Pay teachers a fair wage for their work, not “merit pay” based on deeply flawed and unreliable test scores *Encourage family involvement in education from an early age The Death and Life of the Great American School System is more than just an analysis of the state of play of the American education system. It is a must-read for any stakeholder in the future of American schooling.

30 review for The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

  1. 5 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    This book should be required reading for every person with a child in public school, for every person who was educated in public schools, for every person who offers an opinion on what should be done with our public schools, for every politician who offers criticisms of public education or solutions to educational challenges, and for every person who has the right to vote in the United States. The author has drilled down beneath the quotidian sound bites of educational policy discourse to offer This book should be required reading for every person with a child in public school, for every person who was educated in public schools, for every person who offers an opinion on what should be done with our public schools, for every politician who offers criticisms of public education or solutions to educational challenges, and for every person who has the right to vote in the United States. The author has drilled down beneath the quotidian sound bites of educational policy discourse to offer a hard-hitting, fact-rich examination of what has happened and what is happening in and to American public schools. Ravitch’s background is as an education historian. She had been a player in designing a history curriculum for the state of California, and in 1991 was offered a position in the Bush (the 1st) Administration Department of Education. She became a supporter of much of the Republican policy view of the time, tilting toward things like vouchers, charter schools, privatization, reducing the power of teachers’ unions. The author She has a lot to say about No Child Left Behind, market-based school models, accountability, and the impact of billionaire-based foundations that have become players in the national discussion of what to do with our public school system. She reports on many studies that examined outcomes. Where did the notion of charter schools originate? What was their original purpose? Are charter schools better than regular public schools? Are there downsides to downsizing? How important are credentials for teachers? Do academic outcomes differ when unionized systems are compared to systems where there are no teachers union? What is the impact of the increased focus on testing? Although she does mention some of the crazies who infest our educational system with outlandish, anti-scientific notions, and faith-based demands, they do not get all that much attention. I thought their toxicity merited a bit more of a look, particularly those in Texas who have such a major impact on textbooks nationwide, but that is a minor beef. I also found it a bit hard to swallow that she claims the NCLB proponents did not intend for the program to destroy the American public education system, but she offers plenty of evidence that indicates it was designed from the start to do exactly that. Your homework for tonight is to read Ravitch’s informative, thoughtful, insightful look at where our public schools stand and how they got there. It is highly educational. There will be a quiz. ==============================EXTRA STUFF Links to the author’s personal, blog, Twitter and FB pages 5/12/11 NY Times Gail Collins had a wonderful column re all this on May 11, 2011, Reading, ’Riting and Revenues 5/17/2011 - The headline of this short NY Times article, does not actually capture the larger picture, namely that the state was overriding local wishes and forcing charter schools on localities that did not want them and has now met with resistance in the form of a court decision saying it was not ok to do that. In Georgia, Court Ruling Could Close Some Charter Schools 7/16/11 A Washington Post Op Ed dealing with the issue of How Important is Class Size After All? 7/17/11 "Charter School Battle Shifts to Affluent Suburbs" - in an affluent New Jersey suburb, a battle looms because some locals want to create a Mandarin-immersion charter school, using public money for what seems pretty obviously a private party. 9/14/11 A very intriguing piece in Smithsonian Magazine Smithsonian Magazine about the world's most successful school system 10/13/2011 Jeb Bush's advocacy of on-line learning offers another example of a right-wing desire to privatize education, from Mother Jones. Also from this source, how the ever-present unscrupulous are cashing in on the charter movement 11/19/2011 Lee Fang, of The Nation has written an amazing article on the nuts and bolts of how our public school system is under attack by the profit sector. Of perhaps the greatest interest here is how the electoral process is being routinely undermined so that voters are distracted by issues A, B, and C, while the real goal, D, slips under the radar. This is a must read. How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools 2/17/2012 This NY Times article tells how a Chicago Charter School network is finding new ways to pad it's income and push out students it does not want 2/26/2012 This NY Times article by Michael Winerip shows that a high profile charter school advocate has based her rep on success with schools in DC when she was in charge. There is only one problem. There is a strong possibility that the improved numbers were fake. So why is the head of the Department of Education appearing at events with her? The same sort of cheating appears to be happening in Atlanta. Amid a Federal Education Inquiry, an Unsettling Sight 4/20/2012 - Teach the Books, Touch the Heart, By Claire Needell Hollander - A New York City middle-school teacher talks about the value of teaching literature instead of solely teaching to mandatory multiple-choice literature-challenged tests. 4/27/12 - In A Very Pricey Pineapple, an op-ed by NY Times columnist Gail collins, she points out who has not been left behind by NCLB. 5/22/12 - This NY Times article Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools shows how the religious right has found a way around the legal, separation-of-church-and-state, impediments to vouchers for religious schools, and come up with a tax-code-based workaround, neo-vouchers. This is a compelling example of the religious right nursing at the public tit while decrying the existence of breasts 1/1/15 - I just came across this article by David Sirota, even though it came out in June 2013. Definitely worth a look - New data shows school 'reformers' are full of it 2/13/16 - A brief piece on how teachers are blamed for the ills of society - Stop Humiliating Teachers - by David Denby 6/28/16 - A substantial piece in the New York Times on Detroit's experience with large scale charter schooling - For Detroit’s Children, More School Choice but Not Better Schools - by Kate Zernike -- Must-read material for any interested in the subject 8/14/18 - A NY Times op-ed on the relationship between charters and ongoing segregation - School Choice Is the Enemy of Justice - By Erin Aubry Kaplan 9/5/18 - NY Times - Lawmakers Cut Education Budgets. Then Teachers Got Angry. - by Dale Russikoff - The title of this piece is misleading, suggesting a one-time cut in education spending, and selfish teachers griping. It is anything but. Teachers in Arizona were responding to year after year after year of education cuts, while taxes on the wealthy were being cut year after year after year, and money intended for public education was being channeled to supporting private schools. Teachers finally had enough and started to organize. Of course, Arizona is a dead-red Republican state, so the GOP and the Vermilion Varmints from the world of Koch unleashed a torrent of cash to keep the teachers from having their say, probably paying off some judges as well. Compelling reading and an eye-opening look at how democracy is being attacked by big money interests in the arena of public education. 2/11/19 - NY Times - How West Virginia’s Education Bill Will Punish Children - by Lauren Peace - WV legislators seem determined to enable privatization of public education and kill teacher unions, what we have come to expect from Republicans 5/26/19 - NY Times - Bernie Sanders’s Education Plan Laments Rise of Charter Schools - while not a huge fan of Bernie, I am with him on this one

  2. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    I have been a public school teacher for less than a decade and already I'm suffering severe whiplash from the various educational fads that come and go at the speed of light. When I left college, I was excited about the opportunity to share great literature with my students, to explore universal themes that have shaped and influenced humanity, to encourage them to be avid readers and competent writers, to help them think for themselves and to eloquently articulate their thoughts and beliefs whil I have been a public school teacher for less than a decade and already I'm suffering severe whiplash from the various educational fads that come and go at the speed of light. When I left college, I was excited about the opportunity to share great literature with my students, to explore universal themes that have shaped and influenced humanity, to encourage them to be avid readers and competent writers, to help them think for themselves and to eloquently articulate their thoughts and beliefs while still respecting and listening to those who opposed them. Imagine my disappointment when I found that the main focus of my job was to teach my students how to speed read a passage, correctly answer the related multiple choice questions, and to provide one well-written open response to a given prompt--all in 25 minutes. I wanted to help my students become literate and thoughtful individuals who will become responsible and informed citizens; my government, however, wants me to churn out professional test takers. Welcome to the world of No Child Left Behind. Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System takes No Child Left Behind to task and Ravitch willingly admits that she was once one of its fiercest champions. However, she now (just as candidly) admits that she was wrong and this book is her explanation of how she came to realize NCLB has been one of the most detrimental attempts at school reform. Others have lambasted Ravitch's mea culpa as "too little, too late" and have shamed her for being part of the government system that created this problem. However, I appreciate that, in this political climate, a public figure can actually have the integrity to say, "I was wrong" (as she quotes John Maynard Keynes, "When the facts change, I change my mind"). We have now lived with NCLB for nearly a decade and the facts are in. NCLB is a grand aspiration; however, aspirations by their very nature often set their sights higher than what is attainable. I do not have a qualm with the hope that all children will receive a quality education and be able to attain certain standards of academic excellence. That is, after all, why I became a teacher. Yet this aspiration can only be reached in a perfect world where every child comes from the same economic background, has a support system at home that values and champions education, has the same intellectual capacity, and has the same intrinsic motivation to learn. To say that 100% of children in American schools will be proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014 is ridiculous; it is admirable as a hope, but not as a mandate. To borrow an analogy from Ravitch, that would be the equivalent of the government declaring that all crime in America will be eliminated by 2020 or that cancer will be cured by 2017--and, if not, then policemen and medical researchers will be fired, and ineffective police stations and hospitals will be shut down. That is essentially what is happening in American education. Schools that don't meet this deadline risk government takeover and teachers risk losing their jobs. They've given us an impossible task and will punish us if we fail to deliver the goods. Some highlights from the book include: *NCLB dictates testing in only two areas: literacy and mathematics. As a result, many schools actually narrow the focus of education as all the time and energy becomes focused on passing the test. Literature, social sciences, fine arts, the sciences, etc. do not receive as much emphasis--or they become utilized as hours of extra practice for these tests. The tradition of producing a well-rounded citizen through a liberal arts education is a thing of the past. *NCLB is all about assessment, but provides no national curriculum. Each state is allowed to set its own standards and assessment strategies. Therefore, a child labeled as "proficient" on the Alabama state test might score "below basic" on the Massachusetts state test. With such a disparity in what a student is expected to know, it is impossible to say that the children in one state are outperforming students in another. *States can manipulate test data by actually readjusting the cutoff for what is proficient; in addition, when a state's scores dramatically increase, the public should look to see if minority or low SES students are being systematically pushed out of the education system. For example, Ravitch reports that many scholars claimed that "the [2000] gains in Texas were a mirage; . . . the testing system actually caused rising numbers of dropouts, especially among African American and Hispanic students, many of whom were held back repeatedly and quit school in discouragement" (96). Many states who report dramatic gains in either literacy or mathematics do not see these gains reflected in data from NAEP, ACT, or SAT national tests that are beyond the state's control. *A school with 56% student proficiency may not suffer any consequences if they have made their projected gains for the year; however, a school in a nearby district with 86% proficiency may be subjected to school improvement and labeled a poorly performing school if it failed to make its projected gains or failed to move one subgroup up to the appropriate rate of improvement. Never mind that the school has a higher proficiency than the other school; such confusion in standards leads to public confusion as to which is the better school. I'd want my kid in the school with 86% proficiency, projected AYP be damned. There's so much more here that I could rattle on about, but I'll leave it at simply encouraging everyone to read this book. You may agree or disagree with Ravitch and her proposed solutions to education; that's fine. What's not fine, however, is that most of the American public doesn't understand what role government and private sector interests are playing in our educational system. We passively sit by and assume that the government is doing everything it can to make our nation's schools more competitive with other countries. We see newspaper articles about improved test scores, witness state politicians bragging about the significant gains made by the students in their constituency, and cheer as teachers are being fired and schools are being shut down when test scores are dismal. We think that there's a new sheriff in town and, by God, someone is doing something about those fat cat lazy teachers (a hilarious offering from The Daily Show regarding this perception http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon...)! What we don't see is how the data is flawed, the curriculum is narrowed, and educators have become the sacrificial lambs in a system that is broken. There needs to be a rigorous national curriculum, a standardized method of assessment that is used to improve and enhance curriculum (not as a data-driven witch hunt), and a renaissance of the liberal arts. None of that is happening under NCLB. Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    Anyone with an interest in education should read Ravitch's polemic against the road our schools are headed down. If you're a teacher looking for classroom tips, forget it. This is all argument, persuasion, statistics, and rhetoric. A well-respected historian of education, Ravitch once played for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) team, but now she's on our team (I use "our" for "teachers'," assuming that most teachers oppose the fallout that has occured from NCLB). Ravitch changed her mind about hig Anyone with an interest in education should read Ravitch's polemic against the road our schools are headed down. If you're a teacher looking for classroom tips, forget it. This is all argument, persuasion, statistics, and rhetoric. A well-respected historian of education, Ravitch once played for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) team, but now she's on our team (I use "our" for "teachers'," assuming that most teachers oppose the fallout that has occured from NCLB). Ravitch changed her mind about high-stakes testing, charter schools, school choice, etc., because the evidence was mounting against the same. SOMEone eloquent had to put the message together. Ravitch is that someone -- but she has her work cut out for her. So entrenched is the "business model can cure educational problems" mindset that I'm not sure many will even pay attention to this book. And it may amount to "preaching to the choir" if only people like me are buying it. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN SCHOOL SYSTEM needs to be read by President Obama, Secretary Duncan, Bill and Melinda Gates, and 50 governors. It needs to be read by superintendents, principals, and state commissioners of education. It needs to be read, then, by people with the power to stop the madness. (UPDATE: It's funny to read the above, actually. The handwringing and much-ado about Pres. Obama, Sec. Duncan, and 50 governors. You don't know what you have til it's gone, people. To say Trump needs to read this book is a non-starter because we know that he does not read books. TV and Twitter. That's it. As for Secretaries of Education, there is no way the word "Education' and "Betsy DeVos" should be uttered in the same breath. She is hellbent on building everything this books seeks to warn against. Meaning? Ravitch will come across as a hoarse Cassandra in this day and age of ignorance.) What exactly IS the madness? For one, the culture of fear that NCLB has unleashed. Schools that fail to reach certain scores in "X" number of years will be shuttered. Ravitch argues that neighborhood schools are important to communities and need HELP, not threats. The NCLB requirement that all students be "proficient" by 2014. Ravitch argues this is ludicrous and no one in education believes it possible. The fact that charter schools are springing up left and right and speeding the end for public schools that cannot compete. Ravitch argues they cannot compete because charters do not take on anywhere near the number of English language learners and special education students AND can dismiss any student who repeatedly flunks or fails to attend school. Who has to take these students in by law? Correct. The public school. Ravitch takes on just about every hot button steaming in this mess. I especially love how she goes after the billionaires who are plowing money into education by chasing fads. Bill Gates, for instance, spent years pouring money into smaller highs schools, only to admit after the fact that it was all for naught. Undeterred, he's now spending new money on new fads -- stats that track teachers of children scoring high marks on standardized tests. Ravitch picks that apart as well and asks the question that no one else dares to: Why do tycoons get to demand accountability of schools when they themselves are accountable to no one? They spend their money however they damn well please, with no input from the experts (uh, teachers, or the last possible suspects in some of these clowns' eyes), parents, or the public at large. Hypocrisy, of course. Can you imagine high stakes testing for politicians? How sweet would THAT be? Suddenly, Senator So and So would see how something so complex cannot be judged by so subjective and flawed a device as a test. Sigh. Anyway, if you want to be informed about the latest debate raging in educational circles, this is your book. Thank you, Diane, for admitting you were wrong. After the G.W. Bush Administration, it's refreshing to see.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    There is one of those psychological experiments that they do on people that involves giving one person some money and they get to decide how much of that money they are going to give to a complete stranger. One person gets to decide on the split, but the other person gets to decide if the deal goes through. If they say no, no one gets anything. Standard economic theory suggests that as long as you offer even the smallest amount possible – one cent to a million dollars, say – the other person oug There is one of those psychological experiments that they do on people that involves giving one person some money and they get to decide how much of that money they are going to give to a complete stranger. One person gets to decide on the split, but the other person gets to decide if the deal goes through. If they say no, no one gets anything. Standard economic theory suggests that as long as you offer even the smallest amount possible – one cent to a million dollars, say – the other person ought to take what they are offered, as they will be better off with however little than they would be with nothing. Naturally, that is not how the experiment turns out. Most people offer a 50-50 split (or thereabouts) and those who offer grossly unfair splits (say $2 to $8) often find the other person rejects the offer altogether and they both get nothing. Rational economists underestimate the irrational pleasure we get from punishing a greedy person – something worth two bucks any day. There are only two classes of people who don’t play this game the way the rest of us do. One group are people suffering from autism. I don’t know enough about autism, but the myth is that they struggle to read how other people might feel, don't get the emotional heat in the room – and so don’t understand that offering an unfair split might really upset the other person. The only other group of people who predictably offer and accept disproportionately low splits are undergraduate economics students. But then, in being educated into the positive science of economics, a world where greed is good, the individual is all and 'democracy' and 'free markets' are synonyms you could hardly expect anything different. An undergraduate education in neoliberal economics causes autism – who would have thought? Oh yeah, everyone… This is a book about the devastation that happens to society when neoliberal economic principles become normative within an education system – when education becomes a playground for fanatical ideologues. The writer was once a true believer – but she has since watched the horrors of what her true beliefs have wrought on the education of US children and has had the courage to admit she was wrong. Such people are rare and are golden souls – after spending eight years representing people who had done wrong I know just how rare it is to hear someone admit to their errors. So, bonus points right up front. This book probably didn’t need to be quite as long as it is – but that might be because I already agree with many of the conclusions, so didn’t need commonsense hammered into me for quite as long as some readers might. This is a story of the destruction that simple solutions almost invariably cause when applied to complex problems – a story of unintended consequences. The first myth that needs to be dispelled is that what is worth learning is easy to measure. This perfectly fits the neoliberal paradigm as they have always thought that if it can’t be measured it doesn’t exist. I’m not as hard on assessment as I once was – mostly because I think that there is always assessment and I would rather the criteria for assessment be up front rather than hidden and therefore subjectively judgemental. The American and Australian education systems are premised on assessment – and not any kind of assessment, but summative assessment. It doesn’t need to be this way and that fact it is this way says something really interesting about our view of what education is. For example, what sort of education system would we have if there was as much emphasis on formative assessment as on summative (that is, working out what kids don’t know before we start teaching them as finding out what they haven’t learnt from us after we have finished teaching them)? What sort of education system would we have if we cared as much about pedagogy (how we teach) or curriculum (what we teach) as we do about assessment? The word ’better’ springs to mind, unbidden. The history of American education (and ours is following in lock-step) is one where assessment has become king, where the whole system is gauged towards teaching ‘the basics’ (mostly of reading and maths) and all other subjects get ignored as they aren’t tested in the same high-stakes way (and if it ain’t tested it ain’t taught). The results of these tests are not to find ways to improve schools that do not meet the standards, but to close them down. Invariably these schools tend to be in poor suburbs with socially disadvantaged kids, the special needs kids, the poor, the botched, the bungled as Nietzsche would have it. The neoliberal preference for punishing the poor in the name of helping them lives on. However, due to the history wars in the US (what do you teach in history? Well, none of that liberal nonsense that leaves our kids noticing some blemishes in our nation – God no) it has proven impossible to agree on a curriculum (on what should be taught and to what standard) so the states have a free hand in deciding both what is taught and to what standard. The result has been that test scores improving by the expedient of decreasing the standard expected. Cheating (either literal or effective) is ignored and encouraged so that everyone can take the credit for ‘improvements’ that are mostly illusionary. This all comes from a culture of blame – and the blame is mostly levelled at teachers and their unions. The cry is: If only we had a free education market – where bad teachers could be sacked and replaced by great teachers (with or without qualifications) then the Promised Land would be now. Everyone knows that the only cause of poor learning is poor teaching. As if kids living with drug addicted parents, mental illness, poverty, lack of food, lack of access to books and paper and pens, lack of role models and and and and – as if any of this would have any impact at all on their ability to learn. No, it is all and solely the fault of poor teaching and unions that stop the arbitrary dismissal of teachers. And small schools – particularly Charter Schools in the US, which are effectively poor private schools – are seen as the way forward. The writer is much more conservative than I am. She offers one solution to the problem of declining standards and that is an improved curriculum. I’m not as convinced as she is that that is enough. Rather I have a much less likely solution (no matter how much better it would be). Greater equity. I don’t mean more resources, I mean greater equity. Effectively , the US and Australian systems are seeking to increase the inequity of their education systems. They are doing this by encouraging more people to leave the public system and end up in better resourced private or semi-private institutions (e.g. Charter Schools in the US). This will leave an underclass left in increasingly underfunded public schools. This is the wrong way to go. Educational attainment for everyone goes up when there is more equity – not less. I would close down all private schools and force everyone into the same school. Then middle class people (generally the only people who really care about education – the rich being too rich for it to matter and the poor finding it comes too far down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) would then ensure schools provide equality of opportunity by forcing schools to meet the needs of their children. The sad truth is that if we can leave people disadvantaged and feel it leaves us no worse off, we probably will. Putting middleclass kids into schools for all would benefit all. I’m surprised this book became a best seller in the US – it has a very important message and that message is that education is too important to leave to the 'greed is good' generation – or to the Bill Gateses of this world who use their money (in what is beautifully referred to in this book as ‘venture philanthropy’) to push their ideology of free markets – and damn the cost to our kids.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gregg

    "Seasoned Argument--Needs to be Required Reading on Capitol Hill" This week, the Chicago Tribune has been running a series of editorials calling for more vouchers, more teacher accountability, getting competitive, weeding out the bad teachers, giving kids a better chance at a good education, "dumping" failing schools, etc. It's no compliment to my intelligence that I had to have colleagues complain about Education Secretary Arnie Duncan for the past year now before I could truly share in their ir "Seasoned Argument--Needs to be Required Reading on Capitol Hill" This week, the Chicago Tribune has been running a series of editorials calling for more vouchers, more teacher accountability, getting competitive, weeding out the bad teachers, giving kids a better chance at a good education, "dumping" failing schools, etc. It's no compliment to my intelligence that I had to have colleagues complain about Education Secretary Arnie Duncan for the past year now before I could truly share in their ire. "I mean, the guy ran the CTA!" a friend vented one day over lunch. "What were they thinking?" "Well, he improved scheduling and budget issues," I intoned wisely, clutching that day's paper ("Duncan Named Ed Secretary: He Improved CTA Budgets and Schedules!" emblazoned on the front). "Yeah, but if kids could be handled like a Metra line, we wouldn't have Head Start and Title I." It is Duncan's sort of thinking about education, as per the Tribune's editorials, or John Stossel, or any number of well-meaning fools, that has aggravated me the most about public discussions concerning the profession that makes all other professions possible. "Dump" the crappy teachers (am I one of them? I don't think so, but then, I haven't yet seen my students' Prairie State averages compared with others'.) "Lose" the substandard schools (and do what? bring in outside experts? why not bring them in now? because we already did and the kids are still faililng?). In education, you gotta deliver, and if we were delivering, why, our kids would all be rocket scientists. You get a salary, don't you? For what, letting them fail? Get to work, pal. Some of us have "full time jobs" and we actually have to earn our living. I know. I'm incredibly repressed. It makes me quite the hit at parties. With this attitude, I picked up Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System, figuring it would soothe my troubled soul somewhat about how my profession has been maligned over the past few decades (it did) but also hoping it would give appropriate weight to the counter arguments mucking the problem up. Put it another way: What are the reformists doing right, what can we keep, and what do we need to ditch before it does further harm? Ravitch's book doesn't read like a big "eff you!" to NCLB or anything, but that's because she was initially behind it. The lauded education historian trots out her thinking (briefly) early on about teacher and school accountability, the viability of school choice and the necessity for continued testing, but she's quick to point out what she saw wrong with it all. She's reliable. She's got no particular political agenda; she only wants what's best for schools, and by her way of thinking, the current rage about "school reform" will do but nothing to fix our beleaguered school system and educate our next generation. Ravitch has plenty of hard evidence, and not all of it is conclusive, which she is the first to point out. She argues that, though the jury is still out concerning the effectiveness of vouchers and, to a lesser extent, charter schools, there's no conclusive evidence that they provide a better education, not when you look at test scores, attrition rates, selective enrollment practices and overall competence. "[Charter schools have:] demonstrated that youngsters from some of the toughest neighborhoods in the nation can succeed in a safe and structured environment, if they have supportive parents and are willing to work hard, spend long days in school, and comply with the school's expectations," she writes. "They can't throw out the kids who do not work hard or the kids who have many absences or the kids who are disrespectful or the kids whose parents are absent or inattentive. They have to find ways to educate even those students who do not want to be there. That's the dilemma of public education." She labels No Child Left Behind, and Obama's current Race to the Top, as all stick, no carrot, quite rightly arguing that, if all we're out to do is "punish" bad teachers, shouldn't we be examining what these "punishments" will to do improve education for the students? (Not much, as it turns out, if anything). Teacher evaluations are notoriously spotty, based on a ridiculously small amount of time and an attempt to objectify something beyond the pale of subjectivity. In her discussion of teacher fallibility, I'm reminded of what Bill Maher said in a recent column: There are always going to be bad teachers. Even Yale has crappy teachers. They must--they gave us George Bush. She even dissects philanthropists like Bill Gates and the Walton Family Foundation, calling them the "billionaire boys' clubs" and asserting that, even though these entrepreneurs are engaged in laudable and noble efforts, they are remarkably reluctant to keep educators in a position to police education. They prefer instead to rely on trends (smaller schools, for example) that, while not without merit, do not produce the immediate panacea they initially thought they would. For example, Gates at one point argued that a school full of teachers in the "top quartile" would "erase" the achievement gap between blacks and whites; an argument like that is like saying, well, why not fill the Chicago Police Department with Olympic triathletes with 180 IQs so we can erase crime? Overall, Ravitch's point is to take down the "invisible hand" theory a peg or two in its applicability to education. She argues (and I tend to agree with her) that the principles of good business do not work as well with education. Tests are not nearly reliable enough an indicator of a child's education, to say nothing of a teacher's effectiveness (though we still need them as barometers, of course); reform, if it is to be successful, is a complex effort that will span years, without always showing tangible results. When doctors became judged on the well being of their patients, they stopped taking the terminally ill, the risky procedures, the patients who really needed care but weren't likely to pull through, because it would then reflect on the doctors' performance. The low-performers, likewise, or the delinquents, or the low-ability aren't likely to get top-notch teachers lining up to help them if those teachers are judged on their pupils' ability to get a 36 on their ACTs. Ravitch has no tone of outrage or weariness, and she does not entirely scrap Milton Friedman. But in the end, her point is clear: You can't run a school like a Fortune 500 company. She calls for a content- and skills-based curriculum encompassing not just math and reading (those subjects most heavily tested), but one including science, the arts, literature, history, geography, civics, music. We've got to discard this inanity that it doesn't matter what you teach the kids as long as you teach them how to learn. That's crap, and the countries currently kicking our asses in education have never done it that way. Look at Finland: something like a 100 percent literacy rate, with across-the-board learning goals and a strong teacher's union. We can certainly do better as educators, but it doesn't all happen inside our classrooms. Bravo, Professor Ravitch. Get the word out. FURTHER READING: Ravitch interviewed by Democracynow.org. Further history of the accountability movement and how she came to look at it the way she does now.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Greg Brozeit

    Some things you read make you want grab the shoulders of anyone within reach and yell, “Dammit, pay attention to this!” This is one of those times. Diane Ravitch may well be America’s preeminent civic educator; her prism is education, but her writing exposes seminal truths about the U.S. She explains the history and politics of public education during the past few decades and how the issue has been one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement over that span—to the detriment of the nation. Americ Some things you read make you want grab the shoulders of anyone within reach and yell, “Dammit, pay attention to this!” This is one of those times. Diane Ravitch may well be America’s preeminent civic educator; her prism is education, but her writing exposes seminal truths about the U.S. She explains the history and politics of public education during the past few decades and how the issue has been one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement over that span—to the detriment of the nation. Americans and readers around the world trying to make sense of contemporary U.S. politics should consider picking up this masterful analysis and call to action. This edition is substantially revised and updated from the 2009 edition; so if you read that one, get this too. In the Reagan years, the education report “A Nation at Risk” created a false narrative that public schools were experiencing systemic failure. In 2002, the Bush “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) codified these fictions and put the federal government in the driver’s seat to dictate K-12 curriculum which, throughout American history, was locally controlled. Even though federal funding is only about ten percent of all local education funding, NCLB provided incentives that cash-strapped states and school districts found hard to resist. NCLB promoted a “measure and punish” ideology that made standardized tests on literacy and math the center of the education universe and gave birth to a “teaching to the test” mentality. It applied to all grades, crowding out many subjects and creative time that couldn’t be measured. It demoralized and denigrated the teaching profession by distilling their worth and value into meaningless standardized test scores. Their job security—or lack of it—was linked to these numbers. NCLB also opened the door for business interests with no experience in classrooms to impose their market-driven ideas of “disruption” in everything from curriculum development to school management. But as Ravitch repeats many times, children don’t thrive in times of disruption. They need stability like neighborhood schools that serve as social anchors in their communities. Critics of NCLB who hoped for relief were in for a rude awakening when the Obama administration created “Race to the Top” (RTTT). It was “NCLB on steroids.” It further marginalized teachers and local school boards by dangling $4-5 billion in competitive funds to states to adopt its mandated approaches to education that favored “school choice” and vouchers over traditional public schools. Choice was sold as a way to allow parents to choose different schools for their children if their local schools were “failing.” Vouchers extract public funds to benefit charter, private and religious schools. Together, choice and vouchers opened funding spigots for unproven schemes like charters and scams like electronic distance learning with little to no oversight or accountability by non- or for-profit operators. Ravitch describes how billionaires like Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family, hedge fund entrepreneurs, and others usurped local control with unaccountable, ideologically driven consultants. These “reformers” promoted free-market ideas. Their money created and accelerated acceptance of Common Core, an ill-conceived, top-down, homogenous national curriculum. Adoption of it was a prerequisite to access their funds. They drove the wholesale expansion of charter schools and privatization of public school infrastructure. They used their money to dictate to educators what and how to teach, even though they had no experience in classrooms or educational administration. Ravitch details how they spent vast sums on advocacy to buy off virtually every think tank, education organization, and governmental association to bypass democratic control of education and force their ideas on school systems throughout the nation. For example, Betsy DeVos, Trump’s billionaire Secretary of Education nominee, is one of the most fanatical, consistent advocates of voucher policies to divert public funds to charter and religious schools. Her efforts in her home state of Michigan have created the educational equivalent of the Flint water crisis. According to Ravitch, “the root causes of poor achievement are…in the social and economic conditions in which children live.” Schools in more affluent districts have higher scores, making them more likely to succeed; those in areas with higher poverty have lower test scores, making them more prone to “fail” because of unrealistic standards and conditions. She exposes the myopic fallacies of NCLB, RTTT, and the billionaires, including goals to have all students achieve unattainable levels of “proficiency” of testable, approved subject matter. Under this mindset, all students were somehow supposed to reach the upper quartile of achievement, a mirage that Ravitch quashes with a bit of reality: “common sense suggests that any system of measurement that produces a top quartile will also produce three other quartiles.” RTTT’s unattainable standards wrongly stigmatized schools and teachers as “failing” and, as a result, “public confidence in public education and in the education profession declined.” She exposes school choice as a ruse that, far from giving parents options, actually allows charter and voucher schools to cherry pick students to raise their cumulative test scores. As these schools rob money and resources from public schools, they are left with the task of educating children with developmental and learning disabilities as well as poorer and lower achieving students who, ironically, require more resources and nurturing, not less. Yet, the U.S. is “one of the few nations in the world that spend more on affluent students than on poor students.” These policies also create de facto segregation. “Yet,” as Ravitch concludes, “‘reformers’ choose to ignore poverty and segregation and pretend they don’t matter.” Indeed, choice policies are “no substitute for medical care, good jobs, adequate nutrition, sound housing, and safe communities” which impact every student’s potential. As Ravitch makes clear throughout this book, American public education is arguably the most important institution that has sustained the U.S. throughout its history. Public schools are much more than centers of learning. “The basic responsibility of public education is to develop a sense of citizenship, an understanding of democracy, and a readiness to help improve one’s community and society.” Healthy communities are built around healthy public schools. Yet, for many policymakers and profiteers, schools and students have become commodities to reap short term economic profit. “No other high performing nation in the world” does the things that are being done to public education in the U.S. Rather than use education policy to value children as investments in our nation’s future, policy in the U.S. has put public education’s very existence at stake. And to make it even worse, the nation has now elected a president, Congress, state legislatures, and local governments who might destroy it. That is why Ravitch’s explanations and arguments are more important than ever. Dammit, pay attention to this!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    "The schools will surely be faillures if students graduate knowing how to choose the right option from four bubble on a multiple choice test, but unprepared to lead fulfilling lives, to be responsible citizens and to make good choices for themselves, their families, and our society." It took her long enough, but Diane Ravitch got it right. As a former supporter of NCLB, she sees the flaws now, and can bring an impressive voice and power to the discussion. For years we said it's impossible to have "The schools will surely be faillures if students graduate knowing how to choose the right option from four bubble on a multiple choice test, but unprepared to lead fulfilling lives, to be responsible citizens and to make good choices for themselves, their families, and our society." It took her long enough, but Diane Ravitch got it right. As a former supporter of NCLB, she sees the flaws now, and can bring an impressive voice and power to the discussion. For years we said it's impossible to have every student reading at grade level, for good schools to stay off the 'bad' list of failing students. We said testing does not measure the teaching and learning going on in our schools. We said this emphasis cuts the opportunities for students in onther disciplines that are not tested. NOW she's saying it too. Ravitch brings her considerable clout and background to this discussion -- I learned so much about the history of school reform, of the experiments, the failures, the successes. I learned that the fight between phonics and whole language actually plays out in every discipline -- starting with the Social Studies Standards, shot down by Lynn Cheney, that noted educator (verbal irony!). She shows the reforms that seem to work, but are really smoke and mirrors. "The most durable way to improve schools is to improve curriculum and instruction and to improve the conditions in which teachers work and students learn." Her strategy is clear: Teach a strong curriculum that includes the arts, science, civics, history,physical education. She says the countries who outscore us on those international tests don't narrow the focus as we have; they provide students with a rich educational experience, knowing if you do that, the testing will take care of itself. Too bad she came to her conclusions so late...hopefully it won't be TOO late. I don't see a lot of change in the Obama Blueprint; in fact, that plan goes down the same murky path NCLB did -- but Ravitch will be there, warning us!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Scott Rhee

    If you care at all about the future of the educational system in this country, and if you have young children whose lives will feel the effects of the decline in efficacy of our nation's schools, you need to read Diane Ravitch's "The Death and Life of the Great American School System". Ravitch, a Research Professor of Education at New York University, was one of the co-creators of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act started under the Bush administration in 2001. With the most current statistics If you care at all about the future of the educational system in this country, and if you have young children whose lives will feel the effects of the decline in efficacy of our nation's schools, you need to read Diane Ravitch's "The Death and Life of the Great American School System". Ravitch, a Research Professor of Education at New York University, was one of the co-creators of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act started under the Bush administration in 2001. With the most current statistics and data through years of thorough research, Ravitch has examined NCLB's effects of our country's schools and found it to be more than lacking: in her opinion, NCLB is a complete failure. Of course, most if not all teachers, if asked, would say the same, but to hear it from one of the very people who helped create it is all the more impressive and disturbing. Ravitch's focus is on what she considers two things that have been the most troublesome aspects of NCLB: testing and choice. Anyone who has gone through the public school system in the past 20+ years is familiar with standardized testing. They induce cringing and loathing in students and teachers alike. Ravitch, who is not against standardized testing for what it was originally intended---a useful barometer of a student's academic progress, is, like most if not all teachers, upset and disturbed that standardized testing has become the sole determiner of a student's progress. It is now not just a tool but THE tool to determine whether a child graduates or not. It has become a tool to make or break teachers, too. If test scores are low, teachers are now at risk of losing their jobs for being "incompetent" teachers. "If testing inspires a degree of loathing," Ravitch writes, "it is because it has become the crucial hinge on which turns the fate of students and the reputations and futures of their teachers, principals, and schools. (p. 152)" This has unfortunately forced many principals and schools to do regrettable things, from the least egregious (denying admission of low-performing students to attend the school in order to keep test scores high) to the downright illegal (from "losing" low-scoring tests to actually changing a student's wrong answer to the right ones). Aside from these extremes, testing has forced teachers to focus a majority of their teaching time to only that information that will be required on the tests, a situation that has notoriously been dubbed "teaching to the test". All of this emphasis on standardized testing has come about even after a 1999 report by The Committee on Appropriate Test Use of the National Research Council said that "tests are not perfect" and "a test score is not an exact measure of a student's knowledge or skills. (p. 153)" Still, testing remains the sole determiner of academic progress and test scores have become the sole determiners of a district's, and state's, academic standing. It has become so ridiculously bad that even state governments have taken to "fudging" numbers in order to boost scores. Many states who claim to have high proficiency have simply lowered the standards. For example, the state of Mississippi claimed that 89% of its fourth-graders were at or above reading proficiency. Unfortunately, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the true number was closer to 18%. Mississippi wasn't the only state, by far, to do this, either. Many states, including Ohio, lowered their standards to make their numbers look good. Since when is 40% on a test a passing grade? And yet many states have essentially made that a "passing" grade for the students within its borders. Then there is the issue of charter schools. Having subbed and tutored at a few charter schools in Cleveland, I have seen the spectrum of efficacy that charter schools have to offer. Even Ravitch agrees that some charter schools are excellent, but just as many if not most are no better or worse than public schools, and some are just plain dangerously awful. Ravitch quotes a 2009 national study done by researchers at Stanford University of 2,403 charter schools in 15 states. At the time, that was roughly half the number of charter schools in the country and roughly 70% of charter students. What the study concluded was that 37% of the charter schools "had learning gains that were significantly below those of local public schools", 46% showed "gains that were no different", and 17% of the charter schools demonstrated "significantly better" growth in learning. (p.142) Not exactly a ringing endorsement for charter schools. What started out as a decent idea has become (in the worst cases) a way for some con-artists to make money at the expense of children's learning, or lack there-of. Ravitch also discusses other issues that have currently been plaguing education. Most notably is the new wave of anti-unionism sweeping the political field from both the left and right. Teachers have become the new bogeyman according to the media, and teacher's unions are akin to the Gates of Hell. Ravitch criticizes the media and recent films such as "Waiting for Superman" for putting unions in a negative light. Unions, according to Ravitch, are not the issue. "[U]nions do not cause high performance or low performance; they give teachers a collective voice in negotiations about working conditions and compensation and protect teachers against arbitrary or abusive decisions (p.256)," writes Ravitch. Without unions, teachers would still be able to teach and good teachers would still teach well, but unions often provide a peace of mind for many teachers that boost morale in school situations that would likely destroy morale if a union were not present. I can speak from experience, having taught in a district going through a very tough contract negotiations. A union strike was constantly on the thoughts of many teachers. Thankfully, a strike scenario never occurred, but knowing that the union was doing everything in its power to carry on negotiations was relieving. Anti-union politicians claim that unions are a primary cause of low teacher performance. Ravitch says that one need only look at statistics and performance data to see that that claim is wrong. According to Ravitch, "the highest-ranking states are Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey, which have long had strong teachers' unions. (p.256)" Most charter schools do not allow teachers to belong to unions. If unions caused low performance, it would make sense that charter schools would be performing better. As was mentioned before, however, the evidence clearly shows that charter schools are neither better nor worse than traditional public schools in terms of performance. In a nutshell, NCLB sucks. Ravitch calls it "the worst education legislation ever passed by Congress. (p.244)" So, after all is said and done, what to do? Well, Ravitch is relatively non-specific on that point. Clearly something needs to be done. There needs to be much less reliance on standardized testing, and Ravitch seems to think that well-delineated and SPECIFIC national curriculum standards need to be implemented, which may be impossible given the hostility such a proposition garnered back in the 80s when it was first suggested. I myself like her idea of national standards, especially when she talks about integrating the classics and more of the humanities (art and music, especially) back into a curriculum that has been gutted down to English, Social Studies, Math, and Science; a.k.a. the "common core", but I am leery of how it will be implemented, mainly because I am leery of just about any major nation-wide educational policies that our federal government has its hands in. Basically, I'd just like to see an end to the over-reliance on standardized testing and the data-driven school policies and programs that more often than not bind the hands of teachers, as well as attempt to quantify that which can not be quantified: a student's creativity and imagination. For example, as an English teacher, it often frustrates and disgusts me that great books like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" or "Slaughterhouse Five" are dropped for being "too controversial" and replaced by books written by mediocre contemporary young adult authors for blatant politically-correct reasons. Mediocrity seems to be the end-goal, though, for most politicians, and our children will suffer for it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    Well, this is fabulous! Ravitch reviews the past twenty years or so of education reforms, and why they suck so much. What I've learned so far: it is too easy for everyone to choose a magic bullet, something that is offered to improve test scores across the board, particularly efforts that will close the achievement gap. Even people who can and do know better (like Ravitch) based on years in the field are still susceptible. The influx of money and interest on the part of business is particularly Well, this is fabulous! Ravitch reviews the past twenty years or so of education reforms, and why they suck so much. What I've learned so far: it is too easy for everyone to choose a magic bullet, something that is offered to improve test scores across the board, particularly efforts that will close the achievement gap. Even people who can and do know better (like Ravitch) based on years in the field are still susceptible. The influx of money and interest on the part of business is particularly insidious, because business types are more drawn to top-down decision-making, getting rid of under-performers (whether administrators, teachers, or students), and faddish ideas. Businesses are not noted for thinking about the common good, and universal education is the most common good. So, someone comes up with an idea, let's say putting students in uniforms, and everyone goes "good idea" because it worked in one place at one time. My own take on it is that education innovations appear to be like diet fads, they're largely based on Concept rather than actual provable science. Just as a study saying that "wine may be good for you as part of an overall diverse diet and moderate to high activity level", becomes, "this one component of wine, when taken in a pill, will keep you from aging", so, too do correlation gets transformed into causations in education. She hasn't discussed it much so far, but Ravitch does mention how efforts to create national curricula based on specific things student should learn at specific times got blown out of the water by Lynn Cheney. I've got a feeling that the lack of a concrete curricula will be a continuing theme. Based on my experience as a child attending many different schools in different parts of the country, lack of a national curricula is disastrous. I can only imagine that problem has gotten worse in the decades since I graduated high school. Last night, as I turned out the light and tried to sleep, I entertained myself with ideas for a sweeping curricula. The Great Books format has advantages, although it also has many disadvantages, mainly that it neglects huge swaths of humanity who weren't literate. I think a Human Migrations format could be interesting, following the history of humanity as it disperses around the globe, and studying the more recent upheavals caused by world wars, industrialization, etc. That said, I'm not an expert in any particular field, and would be at a dead loss to choose what specific math skills should be taught at what ages, or what books are best read in which grades. I'd love to look at the curricula of other nations, to see what they are teaching when. I'm under the impression that most countries use a national curriculum, but I don't have the foggiest idea what they look like. *** Gah! No wonder there hasn't been any improvement. The Right is just looking for ways to deregulate, bust unions, and privatize; ideological goals without any specific relevance to education. The Left has given up on improving the lives of poor and disdvantaged people in favor of appealing to business interests. And no one gives a damn what's actually being taught. Nobody seems to be thinking about the core issue: what do we need to teach all students, or even, what do we need to teach [insert specific subset of student]. I am not someone who thinks that public education in America is irretrievably broken. But I'm beginning to think that democracy in America is. *** The end of the book isn't exactly full of surprises. Ravitch has made a compelling case for why re-organizing schools and high-stakes testing and charter schools are none of them going to improve education one iota. Isn't it ironic that all the bipartisan calls for greater accountability have left us with unimproved education and no one to blame? No, I don't think so either. I think it sucks. I'm tired of people making the politically expedient choice rather than the good one. It bothers me that so few people involved in making decisions about public education have neither the foggiest idea what they are talking about nor any interest in finding anything out. The politicians are worse than children. Ohh, shiny new catchphrase. Is it really that hard to figure out what works? Of course not. There are plenty of researchers who can show us concrete examples of consistently successful schools by state and by nation, can demonstrate which aspects of those schools make a difference, and can clarify which aspects are replicable. But no one actually wants to make out education system better. All the big federal and foundation money is behind charter schools which succeed when they do for the same reason many private schools do: they don't attempt to teach everyone, just the strong candidates. I admire Ravitch for writing a book saying "I was wrong, the evidence changed my mind, here it is." I just despair of anyone politically giving a damn. It's much like public housing: we've known forever that the best results come from integrating low-cost housing into higher-cost neighborhoods, rather than creating ghettos for the poor. But do we do it? No, because no one but Jimmy Carter cares about housing the poor anymore.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    Diane Ravitch was U.S Assistant Secretary of Education from 91-93. She was Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander during the Bush 41 years, and Clinton appointed her to the National Assessment Governing Board, overseeing federal testing. I mention this because it seems we live in an expertless age. Anybody can say anything about education and it's taken as fact. People who know nothing about education dictate educational policy. (Yes, Mayor Bloomberg, I'm talking to you.) Furthermore Diane Ravitch was U.S Assistant Secretary of Education from 91-93. She was Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander during the Bush 41 years, and Clinton appointed her to the National Assessment Governing Board, overseeing federal testing. I mention this because it seems we live in an expertless age. Anybody can say anything about education and it's taken as fact. People who know nothing about education dictate educational policy. (Yes, Mayor Bloomberg, I'm talking to you.) Furthermore, people who DO know about education made some PRETTY BIG mistakes and are now finding it difficult to undo the damage they caused. Which is actually the purpose of this book. Ravitch was in favor of testing - and indeed, still is. But when testing went from a way to evaluate and help students to a way to humiliate and demoralize teachers - often with students receiving even less of an education before - she realized it was time to tame Frankenstein. She says, "This book is my opportunity to explain what I have learned about school reform and also to suggest, with (I hope) a certain degree of modesty and full acknowledgement of my own frailties and errors, what is needed to move American education in the right direction." (p.4) However, can Frankenstein be tamed? She argues (I believe quite rightly) that, "most of the reform strategies... are mistaken." But she worries (as do I) that, "In view of the money and power now arrayed on behalf of the ideas and programs that I will criticize, I hope it is not too late." (p.14) Get the book, and read it. It is informative. She documents how the push for national standards lead to national testing. How tests tested students, and then tested teachers. How teachers are now often being evaluated on test scores alone, and how that is undermining education. Some of the things Ravitch documented: Reformists - in order to prove their reforms are working lower their cut scores on the test. Charter schools accept promising minority students, while sending the others back to the public school which has to accept them. This leads to the perception that charter schools can close the achievement gap, and that public schools are failing. When tests are, "all that matters," teachers will try to find ways to "game the system." (p. 154/5) This can be overt cheating, as in Atlanta or LA. Actually, the Atlanta Journal Constitution found evidence of cheating in 200 schools across the nation... this is overt cheating here. Erasing marks students make, and filling in the correct bubble. The problem is, teachers don't even have to do that to game the system. Test taking strategies - such as eliminating answers, or drilling (giving sample test questions) take up LOTS of class time, and will boost scores. But I would argue that teachers that spend all their time focused on the test are robbing their students of a quality education. BUT THAT'S WHAT THE GOVERNMENT WANTS. ...? ...? And the public has bought into it. High test scores = good education. Listen people: that is not necessarily the case. They are an indicator. Not the sole indicator. Ravitch goes on to explain other ways teachers can game the system. Tests often use the same questions year after year, so if a teacher knows what is going to be on it one year, that's what he'll teach. So, if a student aces the standardized Language Arts test, it doesn't mean he's proficient, it means he can pass THAT test. Of course, this is another problem. In subjects with a lot of content, it's always a crap shoot guessing what's going to be on the test. I teach my students about the Indian Independence Movement, Australia's Independence, U.S. Independence, South African Independence... yet the test could ask about the Philippines or Indonesia and on the evaluation it will say I didn't teach Independence Movements. As an educator, it is often difficult to get students to understand the material and pass the test when I know what the questions are... All of this talk of testing, and I'm not even mentioning tests with errors, two correct answers for a question, no correct answers for a question, pointless questions, questions that aren't based on the state standards, and questions seemingly created to trip students up - rather than to test what they know on the subject. I have personally witnessed all of these types of questions on tests that count as part of my evaluation. Hold me to a high standard. That's fine. I'm an excellent teacher. But who is holding the testing companies accountable? (Ravitch brings this up on 152 and elsewhere...) I had to distance myself a little bit in reading this book. I get so frustrated with the cons that go on. Testing companies, reformists, evaluators, teacher techniques and tools all promising to turn schools around - but they don't work. Huge contracts are dolled out, the big businesses collect their money, leave the school as a failure. The school gets taken over by the state, teachers get fired. Meanwhile, the business spout their crap somewhere else - all the while claiming it was a success. (See pages 74 and 75.) And all this talk of firing teachers and hiring great teachers? How's that going to work? It doesn't. If you're telling me that all 241 teachers were bad I'm calling you delusional. Look, this testing is forcing great teachers to become mediocre teachers. Evaluations based on testing are going to create a surface veneer - a shine of great education, but it's only coating crap. The analogy Ravitch uses is one of a Ball team. Why don't all ball teams only hire the best ball players? Ones that will guarantee a championship every year? And the idea of privatization? Or school choice? Don't make kids and parents hunt for a great school. Bring the great school to them. Why don't we privatize the police force? The Mafia and vigilantism may work... but not the way it's supposed to. I know this review is all over the place - it's because I start getting angry about one thing, start writing about it, then I get angry about something else and automatically jump over there. So sue me. Maybe I'll go back and edit it later, but probably not because I have to take on a second job during my mandatory unpaid leave during the summer in order to supplement my income and I don't have a ton of time... I'm really not complaining. But the truth is, I got into teaching because I want to invest in the lives of students, I'm a good teacher, and I love social studies. It frustrates me when they don't get what they deserve. I agree with Ravitch, testing and choice are undermining education. *Edit* June 16th 2012* I just came across THIS non-goodreads review. It's very good and worth reading.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laura Leaney

    Well, well, well. Does that sound sarcastic? I surely hope so. In my mind, the title should be reversed to read, "The Life and Death of the Great American School System." Because despite former U.S. Department of Education assistant secretary Diane Ravitch's change of heart and best intentions, America's public school "system" is on its way to utter annihilation. How this happened is the story of this book - and Ravitch does a great job of pulling out all the numbers, doing all the research, and Well, well, well. Does that sound sarcastic? I surely hope so. In my mind, the title should be reversed to read, "The Life and Death of the Great American School System." Because despite former U.S. Department of Education assistant secretary Diane Ravitch's change of heart and best intentions, America's public school "system" is on its way to utter annihilation. How this happened is the story of this book - and Ravitch does a great job of pulling out all the numbers, doing all the research, and providing a framework for the reader to follow. The ruination is so complex that it's difficult to summarize. Ravitch points her accusing finger at: 1. Running schools like businesses. (Listen up Broad, Annenberg, Walton, and Gates. Listen up cruel, heartless Superintendents of Reform). Ravitch calls this the "Billionaire Boys' Club." Go into schools, evaluate then fire the teachers and principals who fail to lift test scores (value added!), pump money into restructuring the schools, create smaller academies (one for the smart kids and one for the "losers" who need more help), and then teach to the test. Who gives a shit about the arts?........about Walt Whitman?........about wrestling or tennis? They don't test you on that stuff. They don't test you about what your heart learned. This is why we're getting DUMBER. Because WHAT we're taught doesn't matter as much as the strategies and skills we learn. Question: has this billionaire boy's club money bought us anything? No. Some schools have had success, but most have flatlined. Why? Because the billionaires have a "managerial mind-set that believes that every variable in a child's education can be identified, captured, measured, and evaluated with precision." And it's not true. Sadly, education policy has "increasingly become the domain of statisticians and economists." 2. Charter Schools. Some are great (Ravitch has high praise for KIPP schools). Others are run by profiteers (and one by a convicted rapist!). Regardless, many charters do not accept special education students, slow students, poor students, starving kids without breakfast. They don't have to follow the same laws of inclusion that government-run schools do. Lucky, lucky. Here's Ravitch's gist: "Vouchers, charters, and choice [have] rapidly erod[ed] the public education system." Additionally, we lose something valuable in the piecemeal of educational choices; we lose a common curriculum that fosters a cultural heritage. As it is now, you can enroll your child into a theme school - perhaps a charter centered on business or a Mandarin Chinese dual language immersion school. 3. Weird, unproven fads. Remember when they got rid of phonics for the "whole Language" approach? Needless to say, we're still suffering. There's more, but essentially the public school system has been hijacked by (probably) well-meaning educators who have lost sight of the fundamental principles of education. As a result, there has been a "steady erosion of the content of the curriculum." A student can graduate from high school without ever reading a book of lasting importance or of any length. 4. No Child Left Behind. A mandate from government heaven that says that ALL children will be "proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014." Or heads will roll. So...............schools are frightened, teachers are frightened, principals are panicked, and everybody girds their loins to teach to the test. But don't worry, the test won't ask you what Joseph Conrad meant by "the horror, the horror." This is not a full list. Diane Ravitch is fairly thorough in her doleful vision. She ends on a hopeful note (which I don't buy into) - and conciliates a bit at the end. She writes: "Higher test scores may or may not be a reliable indicator of better education. The overemphasis on test scores to the exclusion of other important goals of education may actually undermine the love of learning and the desire to acquire knowledge, both necessary ingredients of intrinsic motivation." She believes we can re-invest in public education. I'm not so sure it will ever happen. What our country now values is so different than what it once valued. Read this: "Although Bill Gates had no experience in or expertise about public education, his immense wealth made him a cultural icon; when he spoke, governors, senators, and editorial boards paid close attention. In a time of severe budget shortfalls, his money was a siren song. He argued that achievement was flat, so everyone agreed it was flat; he declared that experience and education did not make teachers more effective, and state legislatures began changing their policies. He decided that the biggest problem in American education was teacher evaluation, and he dispensed almost $300 million to Tampa, Memphis, and Pittsburgh, as well as to charter schools in Los Angeles, to work on a new approach, so that teachers whose students got higher scores would be considered 'effective,' and those who did not would be terminated." What America appears to value now is the measurable bottom line. And that scares me, because often deep knowledge is not the measurable kind.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    This should be required reading for all of our legislators as well as the entrepreneurs who are in the business of "reforming" public education. That is, unless they are actively seeking to destroy public education and ruin our schools, in which case they are already doing a fine job. Diane Ravitch is a brilliant education historian who served as an education advisor to the Bush administration and was a major proponent of No Child Left Behind. She drank the Kool-Aid. But after seeing the evidenc This should be required reading for all of our legislators as well as the entrepreneurs who are in the business of "reforming" public education. That is, unless they are actively seeking to destroy public education and ruin our schools, in which case they are already doing a fine job. Diane Ravitch is a brilliant education historian who served as an education advisor to the Bush administration and was a major proponent of No Child Left Behind. She drank the Kool-Aid. But after seeing the evidence and studying the research, she has major regrets about her hand in undermining public education and this book is both her apology and her plan for getting us back on track. Here are some of the things that stood out to me when reading the book: 1. High stakes testing (No Child Left Behind) has given us students who are proficient at filling in bubbles but who are not educated citizens. Let's educate our students in the arts, music, physical education, civics, history, science, critical thinking, debate, problem solving, and writing. 2. Testing should be used to support troubled schools, not shut them down. Likewise, it should only be one very small piece of the puzzle when evaluating teachers for tenure or raises. 3. Teachers are not the enemy. Most of them are dedicated and energetic and truly care for their students. Teacher unions are also not the enemy. They support the very people who are tasked with educating our precious children. In fact, I think teachers unions are a critical element for elevating the teaching profession - if working conditions were better and teacher pay were higher, maybe it wouldn't be so hard to get the best and brightest to become teachers and remain in the profession. I don't think tenure is the enemy either. "Tenure is not a guarantee of lifetime employment but a protection against being terminated without due process." (p. 176) 4. School choice is not the answer. The data is in, and while there are some very excellent charter schools, most of them underperform when compared to traditional public schools. Even if all charter schools were excellent (and they're not...not by a long shot), we need excellent neighborhood public schools. The hardest-to-educate students (English language learners, students with special needs, and students whose parents are not motivated to apply to charter schools) are usually left behind in the "bad" public schools. Why is there even a choice? Why not focus our energies on making the neighborhood school the best it can be rather than syphoning off resources and students to other schools? 5. Schools need to be careful who they're taking money from. Bill Gates, well-meaning and wealthy as he may be, doesn't have a clue about education. But it's really hard for cash-strapped districts to say no to millions of dollars. Even worse, many wealthy business people (the Walton family for instance) would like to get rid of public education altogether and believe wholly in letting Milton Friedman's markets take care of everything. Public schools are not Walmart. 6. Essential ingredients of a successful education system are "a strong curriculum, experienced teachers, effective instruction, willing students, adequate resources, and a community that values education" (p. 224). Diane Ravitch suggests a national curriculum and I completely agree. Our education policy in America seems to be to just throw a bunch of crap on the wall and see what sticks. If we're to succeed, we need a vision of what an educated student looks like.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I read this because a close friend suggested that I use it for my class. Damn, I hate it when I have to tell him that he is right. Smeg! The only reason I am not curled up in a whole crying about the coming apocalypse brought to us by stupid people is that it isn’t just an American problem if a conversation I had with a teacher from South Africa is any indication. Ravitch’s book is a study in what went wrong in trying to correct the course of American Schools. It is politic in some parts, but t I read this because a close friend suggested that I use it for my class. Damn, I hate it when I have to tell him that he is right. Smeg! The only reason I am not curled up in a whole crying about the coming apocalypse brought to us by stupid people is that it isn’t just an American problem if a conversation I had with a teacher from South Africa is any indication. Ravitch’s book is a study in what went wrong in trying to correct the course of American Schools. It is politic in some parts, but take heart (or double the fear) – every side is too blame because no one seems to want to actually talk and think about the problem in a rational way. It’s not just politicians either, but those foundations that donate money – like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. BTW, am I the only one who is worried that one of the major supporters of school reform is a foundation linked to Wal-Mart? Ravitch took some heat for her change in view, but this is w what makes the book compelling because Ravitch takes you step by step on how her view changed. It makes the writing more powerful because it means she actually thinks, considers, rejects or accepts, and then repeats the process when more information becomes available. There are many statistics that are discussed, yet the book is not dry. In many ways, it is a presentation about how to use statistics and judge them. In this day, when exit polls are used by news agencies as the source for determining the winner (they shouldn’t be), it’s nice to see this. Crossposted on Booklikes.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alie Stumpf

    I'm with Ravitch on so many points, particularly her argument that our emphasis on collecting assessment data deprives students of opportunities to develop untestable talents & skills. I thought the chapter about the unchecked power of foundations to fund business model initiatives without paying consequences for their failures was really interesting. Also, I'm happy to be more informed about the history of vouchers & charter schools. Clearly, Al Shanker was a visionary hoping competitio I'm with Ravitch on so many points, particularly her argument that our emphasis on collecting assessment data deprives students of opportunities to develop untestable talents & skills. I thought the chapter about the unchecked power of foundations to fund business model initiatives without paying consequences for their failures was really interesting. Also, I'm happy to be more informed about the history of vouchers & charter schools. Clearly, Al Shanker was a visionary hoping competition could improve the whole education system and the implementation of this vision (like many) has been problematic. Where I differ from Ravitch is when she offers her own education as a model of excellence. She falls into the trap many educators and education activists fall into, which is "when I was in school..." and then tell a story about the "good old days" of "high standards". She recalls the days of reading classics and watching teachers order recalcitrant students to the principal's office--while claiming little of either thing happens today. Not only do I find her assessment of YA problematic, but I take issue with her & others who exult their own experiences without analyzing the context--their access, their lower, their privilege. Also, for someone who is critical of the value we place on test scores, she implicitly honors them as benchmarks without questioning who makes the tests or what is on it. Perhaps I missed something along the way, but in my eight years of teaching in NYC public schools I have never heard of NEAP, the national test she cites often to show how state initiatives and charter schools have failed students. Maybe this is why she chose to write The Reign of Error & maybe she addresses it there. I value her voice and I value her as a model of critical thinking & the courage to admit error in judgment. I just think understanding the effects of policy doesn't necessarily mean you're ready to make curriculum decisions. 3.5

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Reese

    Diane Ravitch traces the contemporary trajectory of public education reform, showing how social change, politics, and marketplace values have converged, resulting in the collapse of the traditional American public school system. The book reminds readers about democratic values---possibly indicting our miseducation or short memory of what those are and how we should have learned them in school!---and the ways in which recent educational reform dismisses and overrides public oversight, outcry, and Diane Ravitch traces the contemporary trajectory of public education reform, showing how social change, politics, and marketplace values have converged, resulting in the collapse of the traditional American public school system. The book reminds readers about democratic values---possibly indicting our miseducation or short memory of what those are and how we should have learned them in school!---and the ways in which recent educational reform dismisses and overrides public oversight, outcry, and activism. The book encourages us to be mindful of the characteristics of a good education which cannot be quantified in standardized exams. Schools’ influence on the development of character, courage, and the types of [empowered]exploration, discovery, and innovation responsible for great human contributions cannot be measured on these tests. Ravitch’s text supports all students, parents, teachers, and principals, but especially those whose neighborhoods suffer from poor reputations and poor educational resources. These communities are being disrespected, disregarded, and punished in the current climate of educational change. In our society of high-speed, high-definition, instantaneous feedback and results, it is important to remember that education is an evolution of exposure, experiences, skills, and knowledge which TAKES TIME to accrue value. Likewise, no reforms are perfect nor easy; and there must always be a mechanism in place which allows for an assessment of what works and what doesn’t work. Ravitch’s critique and recommendations are well-balanced and---if taken to heart---could allow representatives of various viewpoints to sit together at a table and begin hammering-out a successful American public school system for the 21st century.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Julia Shay

    One of the best reviews of the many attempts at reform I've lived through since I started teaching. Ravitch has the data to show that none of them have worked. Not vouchers, not choice, not small high schools, and certainly not testing. All of them have had the overall effect of making things worse. Really fascinating stuff. Wish Obama would read it. He is headed down the same wrong path with encouraging more charter schools and tying testing to teacher's salaries. Interestingly, the only reform One of the best reviews of the many attempts at reform I've lived through since I started teaching. Ravitch has the data to show that none of them have worked. Not vouchers, not choice, not small high schools, and certainly not testing. All of them have had the overall effect of making things worse. Really fascinating stuff. Wish Obama would read it. He is headed down the same wrong path with encouraging more charter schools and tying testing to teacher's salaries. Interestingly, the only reforms that improved test scores were those that changed the student body, filtering out the underperforming students with more motivated students. Public schools do not have that option.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sandi

    Everyone with an interest in children’s education in the United States should read this and all of Ravitch’s books. In The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch discusses the school reform movement, the push by both political parties towards standardized testing and evaluating teachers, schools, and students by test scores. She myth busts the claims of school reformers and advocates for her common sense solutions to help schools and the children who attend them.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Merritt O'Boyle

    To start: I saw this title at Half-Price and thought it sounded good. (I also grabbed Waiting For Superman, since it sounded like the two will argue opposite sides of the education reform debate: That book is next on my list). I could start quoting all the lines of this book that just SHOUTED at me but it would end up about as long as the book itself. Let me start by acknowledging that I have limited knowledge of education: My degree is not in education, and the only work experience I've had is To start: I saw this title at Half-Price and thought it sounded good. (I also grabbed Waiting For Superman, since it sounded like the two will argue opposite sides of the education reform debate: That book is next on my list). I could start quoting all the lines of this book that just SHOUTED at me but it would end up about as long as the book itself. Let me start by acknowledging that I have limited knowledge of education: My degree is not in education, and the only work experience I've had is the last eight months as an Americorps member working within a public school district with their Title 1 schools (as part of a literacy non-profit). I don't claim to have any significant familiarity with the heavy issues of education reform taking place in our nation currently. I grew up in public schools; I believe in the power of data; I don't have a hatred of standardized tests; I've seen the rote drilling of testing practices and mock testing that seems to dominate the elementary school I work in; I believed in programs like TFA; My current job made me believe I wouldn't want to work in a public school, and if I were to become an educator it would be in a charter...etc. So I picked up this book a week ago and it truly changed my mind on several items: Her arguments on how our reliance on standardized tests is bastardizing American education struck gold ("When tests are the primary means of evaluation and accountability, everyone feels pressure to raise the scores" "...intensive test prepration that mirrors the actual state tests and borders on institutionalized cheating..." "not everything that matters can be quantified" ). Her arguments concerning the challenges of ranking and measuring teacher effectiveness and success were logical (e.g., evidence that those factors for which we can collect data--test scores,mainly-- are not always indicative of teacher skill, and the variance of scores of teacher effectiveness based on such measures from year to year is significant) and convincing to me as reasons why the data available for collection (so, things that are quantified easily like multiple choice test scores) are not perfect measures of "good teachers". Her criticisms of programs that seek to place non-educators in the education field without experience were believable. Concerning TFA (a program I admired) She points to evidence that teachers in their first two years are just not great teachers yet (common sense agrees experience is very helpful in becoming an expert at something...) so programs that place non-educators directly in education for only 2 years risk providing low-quality teachers to needy students and then losing those teachers at the precise point their skill would increase greatly are not the most logical programs (Despite the fact that yes, those individuals in TFA are typically very intelligent and come equipped with passion, idealism, and great intentions). This is not just for TFA, of course. She is mainly speaking to programs that seek to "train" high-level administrators (superintendents, principals) who have no actual education experience (New Teacher projects like those started by Rhee, etc.) as well as criticizing the takeover of educational reform by people with no education experience (e.g., the significant financial support that comes with reform strings attached from orgs like the Gates Foundation). The education field is becoming dominated by private sector, business-minded individuals, and reform is being driven primarily by those people who have no real experience with the things they are making decisions on. Further, her arguments against charter schools were compelling. It's no secret that some charter schools are doing a terrific job. However, she brought home the myriad advantages that charter schools hold (like their ability to be selective in enrolled students, longer school days, etc) and how these advantages for charters are DISadvantages for the neighborhood public schools: When a charter school comes in and enrolls the motivated, smart, well-to-do children without any learning disabilities or special needs of a neighborhood, the unmotivated, the disadvantaged, the ELL students, the students with low attendance and high behavioral problems are the ones who end up staying within their public school. This only makes the public school's job harder while the charter school can obviously produce better results within quantified measures with their homogeneous, self-selected AND school-selected, more privileged children. No brainer there. I could go on, but instead, I'll just leave you with this: Read the book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kameron

    This was required reading for a graduate level course in teaching, and I plan on teaching 7th-8th grade English in public schools in another year when I earn my Masters. The more I learn, the more I see how ridiculous it is to focus education policy on standardized testing, and how denigrating, disrespectful, and ultimately damaging it is to treat teachers (and public education) like scapegoats for the ills of our society and the lack of compassion our political leaders have for the disadvantage This was required reading for a graduate level course in teaching, and I plan on teaching 7th-8th grade English in public schools in another year when I earn my Masters. The more I learn, the more I see how ridiculous it is to focus education policy on standardized testing, and how denigrating, disrespectful, and ultimately damaging it is to treat teachers (and public education) like scapegoats for the ills of our society and the lack of compassion our political leaders have for the disadvantaged. I used to be a right-wing, conservative capitalist, but like Diane Ravitch, I have seen the harm the comes from viewing all aspects of life through the lens of a free-market economic model. Her book, along with other titles such as The Healing of America, The Jungle, and The Grapes of Wrath, has helped to expose the myths of capitalism that have been fed to us by the 1% (there is no free market; competition is not a force for improvement in all arenas, nor is there really any competition in the world of billion-dollar, multinational conglomerates), and have caused me to re-analyze whether I can call myself a christian and still believe in an economic system in which our neediest citizens continue to suffer for lack of basic services. The short answer is, I cannot. It is now my opinion that many of the tenets of socialism, which espouse community and the responsibility of those with to lift up those without, align much closer with the social doctrines of Christianity regarding benevolence, social equality, and justice for the poor. Ravitch's book offers a wealth of research, and holds nothing back when she criticizes policy makers for their blatant refusals to acknowledge what experts from across the spectrum of politics and disciplines continue to point out: legislation like NCLB and the privatization of public schools are failed initiatives that teach students how to take tests, not how to learn or be critical thinkers. Of course, if all you want are factory drones, then our leaders--both Republican and Democrat--are getting exactly what they planned for. The most powerful statement from the book, for me, and perhaps one that best sums up Ravitch's message, came from page 286 in the epilogue of this edition: "The billions of public and private dollars devoted to testing and accountability over the past decade might have revolutionized our efforts to improve children's lives and might have enabled nearly all to arrive at school ready to learn." When study after study shows that out-of-school factors such as poverty and health have a greater impact on the average student's ability to achieve than any in-school factor--even teachers--doesn't it make sense that we should be spending more time, energy, and money to affect social reform rather than school reform?

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I was reluctant to buy Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System in part because she had worked for the Bush administration and I had heard that she had been a supporter of testing for accountability and charter schools. I was not thrilled to being buying a book that I thought would be allowing her to profit from the egregious acts that have been committed in the name of education reform in recent years. However, she admits to her erroneous ways and does thorough jo I was reluctant to buy Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System in part because she had worked for the Bush administration and I had heard that she had been a supporter of testing for accountability and charter schools. I was not thrilled to being buying a book that I thought would be allowing her to profit from the egregious acts that have been committed in the name of education reform in recent years. However, she admits to her erroneous ways and does thorough job of analyzing the reform movement that continues to be underway now. The chapter The Billionaire Boy's Club does a terrific job at explaining The Gates, Broad and Walton families foundations and educational "philanthropy"-which she adeptly labels as venture philanthropy or "philanthrocapitalism.- where they treat 'their gifts as an investment". She identifies that these foundations, with unchecked power is fundamentally undemocratic, but has lately been dictating the school reform agenda at all levels of education. Their current undertaking: to make schools work like businesses, privatizing public education, adding charter schools and a most recent initiative on teacher effectiveness- based on student test scores. I highly recommend this book!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    I recently retired from teaching after 46 years. All of my occupational efforts during that time were devoted to becoming a better teacher. I was puzzled by what was going on with politics and education outside my classroom but didn't have time to read enough to understand. Ravitch's book gave me all of the history of what has been going on while I was busy teaching. At times, it was so sad to me as someone who loves education that I had to put the book down for a while (which is why it took me I recently retired from teaching after 46 years. All of my occupational efforts during that time were devoted to becoming a better teacher. I was puzzled by what was going on with politics and education outside my classroom but didn't have time to read enough to understand. Ravitch's book gave me all of the history of what has been going on while I was busy teaching. At times, it was so sad to me as someone who loves education that I had to put the book down for a while (which is why it took me 6 months to read it). But, now I understand and, while I am appalled, information is strength. Everyone should read this book. What is happening now with education in the U.S. is going to affect all of us, if not now, then later.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paddlingirl

    Still in process of reading - so far excellent

  23. 5 out of 5

    Misha

    Okay, this is a field report on "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education" by Diane Ravitch that I have just finished. I always stayed away from education experts of all stripes and the books on the subject. The field of education seemed so empirical that that books or research on it appeared as useful as self-help books or cooking manuals. However, the perpetual school reform and its discussion in the media as well as this country's appa Okay, this is a field report on "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education" by Diane Ravitch that I have just finished. I always stayed away from education experts of all stripes and the books on the subject. The field of education seemed so empirical that that books or research on it appeared as useful as self-help books or cooking manuals. However, the perpetual school reform and its discussion in the media as well as this country's apparent inability to "fix" schools piqued my interest. Ravitch published her book about half a year ago, held a few promotional interviews on NPR, NYT and the like, seemed to make sense so I took the bait. The book was no easy read even for someone who is used to plodding through long non-fiction books. However, it is a worthy read. Ravitch works backwards. The book is a thorough review of US educational reform initiatives of the last thirty years and their failures. In the end Ravitch states her own position. According to Ravitch, improving public education (and by public she means every student's education) is a long, and arduous process with no shortcuts. The ingredients of improvement are many but none of them are surprising or radical: small classes, broad curriculum, well-educated teachers, well-maintained facilities, committed parents. Before that for most of the book goes a litany of what does not work and why. - focusing on test scores as a way to improve education. It leads to teaching to the test, hollowing out the curriculum, just plain manipulation and fudging of data like making the students who are not doing well stay home on the day of the test. Ravitch meticulously shows how claimed notable test-score successes or failures ended up being related to changing student poverty level racial composition or other demographic factors. ...when [test] scores are produced by threats of punishment and promises of money, and when students cannot perform equally well on comparable tests for which they have not been trained, then the scores lose their meaning. Scores matter, but they are an indicator, not the definition of a good education. A variant of that strategy - focusing on teachers who provide the most test score improvements is just as much a folly. Often, this mechanistic approach to learning, for example to reading, is self-defeating. Students are learning words when they are exposed to different subjects and experiences not when they are cramming for the tests. Ironically, test prep is not always the best preparation for taking tests. Children expand their vocabulary and improve their reading skills when they learn history, science, and literature, just as they sharpen their mathematics skills while learning science and geography. - "incentivizing" teachers to improve test scores, drowning them with paperwork, otherwise harassing them and singling them out as the major culprits in what is a systemic problem does not work. Neither is any other business-like schemes. To Ravitch public education is a public good where shopping for the best deal just does not work: The market is not the best way to deliver public services. Just as every neighborhood should have a reliable fire station, every neighborhood should have a good public school. Privatizing our public schools makes as much sense as privatizing the fire department or the police department. It is possible, but it is not wise. What a socialist. Ravitch's attitude towards teachers, especially experienced teachers is that of respect. Teachering cannot be taught and it cannot be imposed from above. She advocates for teacher's tenure and experienced teacher retention. She also recounts a number of cases where overzealous administrators tried to run schools or districts like a business venture, harassed and fired teachers in pursuit of a novel fad or score improvements and the deplorable results of such attempts. She sees a school principal as a head-teacher, the most experienced among the educators charged with helping the other teachers improve. Oh, and Ravitch talks about Teach for America (recent college graduates going to teach in inner-city schools for a year or two) and how the project results are mixed at best because the newly minted teachers lack experience. - leaving curriculum development to book publishers does not work. The publishers are for-profit enterprises. The are interested in selling more books and avoiding controversy. The books end up being "... 1,000 or more pages stuffed with facts and lacking in narrative or intellectual excitement." - messing with school size does not work. Bigger schools, high schools, would offer more AP classes, better accommodate special needs students, smaller schools provide more personal interactions between teachers and students, troublesome students are not lost, their problems are addressed quicker. The "sweet spot" is about 800-1000 students. Breaking schools apart, merging them, having them compete for students ends up hurting the students. Interestingly, Ravitch sees a neighborhood school as a kind of community pillar and not just an education factory. It is a place of attachment, memories and socialization for the adult members of the community. - charter schools do not work. What started out as a project to try out new education ideas to show what can be done with inner-city students whom public schools could not educate properly turned out into a competing system: syphoning off the resources, more committed students and parents while bouncing worse students back into public schools. Ravitch also blames charter schools for ruining catholic schools that used to provide high quality education. Occasionally, charter schools do outperform public schools. A prominent example is Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP). However, the methods are boringly traditional: discipline, longer instruction, committed parents, oh, and cherry-picking from public schools. - relying on private money does not work. The private foundations are not accountable to the public. Their effort ends up being misguided and useless at best. She describes how Walton foundation tried to introduce business practices and right-wing politics into public schools and ended up supporting charter schools; how Gates foundation fruitlessly messed with school size; how Broad Foundation tries to economically "incentivize" students and teachers. Ravitch takes apart Bush's No Child Left Behind (NCLB): NCLB was a punitive law based on erroneous assumptions about how to improve schools. It assumed that reporting tests scores to the public would be an effective lever for school reform. It assumed that shaming schools that were unable to lift test scores every year --- and the people who work in them --- would lead to higher scores. It assumed that low scores are caused by lazy teachers and lazy principals, who need to be threatened with loss of their jobs. Perhaps most naively, it assumed that higher tests scores on standardized test of basic skills are synonymous with good education. Its assumptions were wrong. Testing is not a substitute for curriculum and instruction. Good education cannot be achieved by a strategy of testing children, shaming educators, and closing schools. She is not kind to Obama either. Obama supports private initiatives of Gates and Broad Foundations variety. He appointed Arnes Duncan to be the Secretary of Education who pursues "incentivizing" and economics-based policy dubbed NCLB2 Ravitch's reverence for public education as one of the foundations for the democratic society is interesting: Public education is a vital institution in our democratic society, and its governance must be democratic, open to public discussion and public participation. Ravitch's position is not without flaws. She argues for country-wide unified curriculum yet wants it to be democratically achieved. In a country so politically polarized and with libertarian anti-authority streak, this could never happen for such sensitive subjects as History or English. She wants religion out of science. And that is in the deeply religious country where 86% believe in god. Good luck with that. God created evolution just to mess with the educators. In summary, Ravitch's is a respectful, thoughtful, knowledgeable, comprehensive book which is refreshingly traditional if occasionally less than easy to read. So, who's up next to read Ravitch?

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

    This was a hardcover edition my parents gave me as a gift for the holidays that I read during SSR. To borrow a line from another blogger I enjoy, were both of us not already married, I'd like Diane Ravitch to be my girlfriend. Sure, there's a bit of a forty-some odd year age difference, but I like her grit and tenacity so much that it's something I'm sure our mutual affection could overcome. Ravitch has been a historian for education since the 1960's and served under George H.W. Bush and Bill Cli This was a hardcover edition my parents gave me as a gift for the holidays that I read during SSR. To borrow a line from another blogger I enjoy, were both of us not already married, I'd like Diane Ravitch to be my girlfriend. Sure, there's a bit of a forty-some odd year age difference, but I like her grit and tenacity so much that it's something I'm sure our mutual affection could overcome. Ravitch has been a historian for education since the 1960's and served under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the Department of Education. Ravitch's central argument, if the subtitle doesn't already give it away, states that the so-called reform movement supporting charter schools at the expense of public ones and tying teacher pay to test scores is a move that will ultimately destroy the foundation of education much the same way that deregulation of Wall Street irrevocably damaged the economy. While it's a dense 242 pages that relies heavily on facts, figures and studies to back up the thesis, I still found myself plowing through the book, mostly because I could relate so thoroughly to the subject matter. If a person is deeply invested in the American educational system, then this is the definitive look at its current state, what's being done and what needs to be changed. For most, it's going to be a dry read, and those uninvolved with education may find it difficult to trudge through. For those folks, I suggest reading the preface, opening chapter and the final concluding chapter to get the best overview because the specifics of each chapter are clogged with minutiae. That minutiae, though, is fascinating to me, what with having the whole high school teacher thing going on. Teachers, especially recently, have shouldered plenty of undue punishment with many thinking that the way to fix an admittedly antiquated system is to make it more like a business. Take away regulation, pay attention only to the bottom line and let the schools compete for every last penny is the focus of society's latest pendulum shift as everyone waits for Superman.(*) Judging by the state of the economy and how well those fixes have worked in the private sector (read: not very), I'm surprised how well they're taking hold now in the debate on education. Ravitch explains how this turnaround in thinking has taken hold and goes into great detail about how it's damaged education. (*) Can I just express how much I despise what that lying, biased work of fiction known as Waiting for Superman has done to the good Superman name? Superman is something to which everyone should aspire. He's not something for whom anyone should wait around. Each and every person should be working towards becoming Superman in their own life instead of waiting around for him to pull everyone out of the fire. That's the point of Superman. You look at all of the things he can be; dictator, absolute ruler, dominator of all he surveys; and know that he chooses to do good, to do the best he can, because that's the right thing to do. What better example can there be to aspire to? Instead, his name gets sullied by a film that complains that Superman hasn't come to save them yet. Look at the poverty rate, parental involvement (or lack thereof), and the fact that the focus of educational reform has only served to create a generation of test-takers. So much time and energy has been invested in making the various standardized tests the be-all and end-all for schools and teachers that we're now creating an environment that doesn't teach students to think for themselves, only how to eliminate the least likely answer of the four possible provided. And, don't forget, these students aren't accountable for the scores on these tests that measure a school and an individual teacher's effectiveness, but we have to make sure they try on them anyway. And my absolute favorite thing in the world comes at the beginning of the book when Ravitch explains her position on testing. She was one of the chief proponents of No Child Left Behind, legislation she rails against over the course of many chapters that has led to the vaunted and valued test becoming the only thing used to measure the effectiveness of teachers and schools. Ravitch says she believed in testing and thought it would work as a way to properly measure all of those things, but then, over time, she saw that it didn't. So she changed her mind. She carried a position, saw its implementation, did not like the results, applied some rational thought and decided that her position was incorrect so she changed it. THIS IS AMAZING. When did we become a nation that allowed rational thought and the changing of one's opinions based on evidence to be a sign of weakness? More than anything, this idea of changing one's mind endeared me to Ravitch, so I'm glad she decided to put it at the beginning of the book. The longer I let this get, the more trouble I feel I might be causing for myself as I write myself into a frenzy of "...and another thing!" type of statements. The fact is that Diane Ravitch has written a book that details the real problems schools, teachers, government, parents and, most importantly, students face should the reforms looming on the horizon take hold. It is important. And she's right.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Hulser

    Ravitch eats crow. The queen of testing, bean-counting, charterism, and privatization admits she was WRONG. Is redemption possible? I guess it takes guts, since Ravitch has been the gruesome frontwoman for the deathforce that has in the name of reform smashed teaching, curriculum, school budgets and the public system in the last 15 years. But, in this book she attempts to redeem herself by actually looking at the results. It is scary. There is no content there. No one can answer the question: what Ravitch eats crow. The queen of testing, bean-counting, charterism, and privatization admits she was WRONG. Is redemption possible? I guess it takes guts, since Ravitch has been the gruesome frontwoman for the deathforce that has in the name of reform smashed teaching, curriculum, school budgets and the public system in the last 15 years. But, in this book she attempts to redeem herself by actually looking at the results. It is scary. There is no content there. No one can answer the question: what are the kids learning now that they didn't before. Instead of higher standards, the testing movement has given us endlessly cooked results. She is particularly sharp on how NYC, a land of math whizes and credulity about business-like data, has been deceived about results. Indeed the Big Apple turns out to be the Culinary center of cooked testing. This comes as no surprise to public school parents who have opened Board of Education envelopes that announced that notorious bozo schools got high ratings, while solid achieving schools that were placing their graduates in top high schools and colleges received average or failing ratings. So what has been going on? Primary insight is politics, politics, politics. There is no easy answer. Some charters are good and have success, but there is no panacea, and the charters are cherry-picking leaving a flotilla of struggling students with uninformed parents to sink or swim. The dirty little secret, is the word America can't bear to hear: class. It is not race. You can get great results with African American kids and Latino kids in Harlem with moderate incomes. You can very rarely do the same with low-income kids of any color in families racked by crowding, unemployment, drugs, eviction, mental illness and a host of other ills that make it unlikely that homework is done, school attendance is pristine, bedtimes are enforced and school readiness is superb. Even the scorned bottom three-quarters of teachers ALL know this. But then the school reform movement put MBAs in charge, demonizing the teachers and denying them even a seat at the table. One of the saddest features of this very sad book is how America has dishonored the dedicated, underpaid people who are in the classrooms day after day working to get some learning across. Ravitch is hilarious and scathing as she asks how will a system have "only the top three-quarters of teachers teaching?" And when will the general public substitute achievable school reform goals for the absurdly unrealistic but politically seductive goals of all children becoming above average (the Lake Wobegone World so lacking in self-knowledge that it fails to realize it is satire)? One can suppose that the manifest edukatunal shortcomings of W's adminstration made No Child Left Behind a bipartisan political package -- I never understood the garbled and empty language of it. But Ravitch has visited the Potemkin Villages across the land, and we have but to weep.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Anthony

    I was please to have this book assigned to read in a Social Justice Educators book group I belong too. I had it in the back of my “shelf” to read. I purchased the eBook so I wouldn’t have to lug the hardback across the ocean on my December tropical vacation. Some quick research will allow all readers to get an idea of Ravitch’s background and you may, like me, be a bit surprised to see her writing a book with the subtitle “How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.” I would have thought M I was please to have this book assigned to read in a Social Justice Educators book group I belong too. I had it in the back of my “shelf” to read. I purchased the eBook so I wouldn’t have to lug the hardback across the ocean on my December tropical vacation. Some quick research will allow all readers to get an idea of Ravitch’s background and you may, like me, be a bit surprised to see her writing a book with the subtitle “How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.” I would have thought Ms. Ravitch would have written a book taking the other side of this argument – that testing (accountability) and choice (free market, business orientation) would be the salvation of American public schools. Ms. Ravitch does well in the early part of the book to help the reader understand just how important it is that she has come from one side of the improving public schools debate to the other. I’m a public school administrator highly interested in and believe myself to be well read in arena of reform. The jargon and arguments around this topic are well known to me. In reading the book I got the sense that the author was making these arguments clearly and concisely so that those even marginally aware and exposed to the predominant ideas would find the book accessible and engaging. My thoughts were confirmed by a members of my book group who were new to the topic or engaged in schooling in an area that isn’t in the thick of the arguments (pre-school and after school programs). Ms. Ravitch provides a clear deconstruction of the arguments for school choice, competition, teacher accountability linked to test scores, and many of the other currently politically affirmed “solutions” to the challenge of public schooling and points out key and, somewhat dispiritingly, fatal flaws. These solutions are either founded on faulty data, skewed by corporate influence, or impractical (if not impossible) to take to scale. That being said, where I would find fault with the book is that it is a bit short on putting forth any workable solutions other than a generic “let the experts lead in the solutions search” approach that would almost bring one to think “really? duh!” I do recommend this book for anyone interested in the topic to read (especially if you watched a certain documentary film about public education with Superman in the title) to provide a bit of perspective from someone who has been on both sides of the arguments for transformative change in public schooling.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    A highly researched and thoroughly explained indictment of the damage testing is doing to our educational system. I read this as a homeschooling parent, so probably did not get out of it what Ravitch intended, as it was definitely written as a proponent of public schools, of which I am a proud product, and I also taught in a public high school for a year. However, no one can deny that things have changed in the years since those of us 30 and up graduated, and the emphasis on testing since the la A highly researched and thoroughly explained indictment of the damage testing is doing to our educational system. I read this as a homeschooling parent, so probably did not get out of it what Ravitch intended, as it was definitely written as a proponent of public schools, of which I am a proud product, and I also taught in a public high school for a year. However, no one can deny that things have changed in the years since those of us 30 and up graduated, and the emphasis on testing since the late 90's/early 2000's has, as Ravitch points out through studies and interviews, made the focus in schools passing standardized tests--in many schools to the detriment of art, music, physical education/recess and the social studies and sciences. One striking example of this she provided was a study done where students who had aced one standardized test were given a different standardized test dealing with the exact same information, and they failed it miserably as they had only learned strategies to pass the first test, not learned the material being tested. From her openly stated bias for public schools, she is harsh on charter schools and vouchers to private schools, and admits, for her, the successes in charter schools do not make up for the lacks that then result for the public schools. Nor do all charter schools excel, as there are documented charter schools that basically took the money and ran, not even attempting to educate children. I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with her suggestions for improving the public schools, and honestly, the ideal curriculum she puts forward is a part of why we have decided that homeschooling is the right choice for our family. Our schools do need to focus on educating children, and our children need to learn how to learn and how to love learning, not how to guess at the right choice on a multiple choice test. I recommend this book for anyone with children or who works with children. Ravitch is right that our public schools do need help.

  28. 4 out of 5

    MichelleCH

    Some excellent arguments for educational change are made, although overall this book has to be taken with a grain of salt. Ms. Ravitch is highly controversial having supported/constructed Bush's disastrous No Child Left Behind policy. I do give her credit for changing her viewpoint and in seeing how destructive this policy certainly has become for children in the USA. Some of her arguments were right on point, especially in terms of how we measure proficiency in education. No one has proven many Some excellent arguments for educational change are made, although overall this book has to be taken with a grain of salt. Ms. Ravitch is highly controversial having supported/constructed Bush's disastrous No Child Left Behind policy. I do give her credit for changing her viewpoint and in seeing how destructive this policy certainly has become for children in the USA. Some of her arguments were right on point, especially in terms of how we measure proficiency in education. No one has proven many of the arguements around education that we all take for granted. For example, there is much made about Teach for America and funds are diverted to support this program. It is an excellent idea in theory but it doesn't allow for participants to truly become skilled in their work as they most often transition out of teaching right when they have gotten their bearings. Two years being the maximum enrollment period for TFA'ers. I also appreciate her delving into research that isn't complete. To date, the idea that effective teachers can transform a school has not been proven. So many other variables come into play when we think about transforming a school such as poverty and effective school leadership. It doesn't make sense to focus energy exclusively on one area alone. As she goes through her arguments I could agree with most and it helped me broaden my thinking and I looked at others and their writings around education just to confirm or review what she was saying. One area that I did not agree with was her insistence that Catholic schools have always outperformed in terms of academic achievement with low-income students of color. I would have appreciated more information or data for her broad claims. For anyone in education, it is definitely a worthy read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sunday

    I decided to buy my own copy of this book after reading Chapter 8 "The Trouble with Accountability." Ravitch nails the problems with judging schools based on their test scores - tests are flawed, teaching to the tests can make the results invalid, test scores can vary in unpredictable ways (the weather, students' state of mind, distractions, other conditions), etc and then on top of that to assume that school A gets better results than school B because of better quality instruction is a flawed t I decided to buy my own copy of this book after reading Chapter 8 "The Trouble with Accountability." Ravitch nails the problems with judging schools based on their test scores - tests are flawed, teaching to the tests can make the results invalid, test scores can vary in unpredictable ways (the weather, students' state of mind, distractions, other conditions), etc and then on top of that to assume that school A gets better results than school B because of better quality instruction is a flawed theory...and there's more. I wish I could memorize this chapter word for word. The rest of the book is equally worthy of reading. Ravitch is a historian and helped me think about how so many outside forces - the work of other school districts, state and federal policy, private foundations and so on - have influenced what I see in the local schools I work with in Chicagoland. Oh, my! I think she wraps up a little too easily...she makes a clear, hard case for ten chapters that our reform efforts are flawed and then in one of her shortest chapters says there's no silver bullet - but she indicates that a strong curriculum, well educated teachers and principals who have tenure as educators, involved families, and a supportive community (that supports students and families) are the answer...the how is left up to the reader.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    This book is a very thorough look at reform in education over the past several decades. What it interesting is that the author was an ardent supporter of some of these reforms until she began to look deeper at the consequences they were having. Her final analysis to helping schools function better in America: - have a well-rounded curriculum developed by experts and taught by teachers. - use testing as one portion of assessment of a student's progress and not the only thing to determine whether th This book is a very thorough look at reform in education over the past several decades. What it interesting is that the author was an ardent supporter of some of these reforms until she began to look deeper at the consequences they were having. Her final analysis to helping schools function better in America: - have a well-rounded curriculum developed by experts and taught by teachers. - use testing as one portion of assessment of a student's progress and not the only thing to determine whether that student, their teacher, or their school is a success or failure. - use charter schools as an alternative to students who are not being successful in public schools. They can set up contracts with students, use alternative methods, and teach them in a small setting. Don't make charter schools to compete for the best students, because then you end up with all motivated students at charter schools and public schools left with special Ed, unmotivated, ESL students, and anyone kicked out of the charter schools. - use research as much as possible, but make schools data-informed rather than data driven. It still is kids in there.

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