“Diane Ravitch is the rarest of scholars—one who reports her findings and conclusions, even when they go against conventional wisdom and even when they counter her earlier, publicly espoused positions.” Howard Gardner
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education is Diane Ravitch‘s new tome. It is clear, now that I have read it, why reviewers are saying”…this is a very important book”.
‘The Death and Life…” is a well-written, very readable and well-researched. The multiple perspectives Ravitch brings to the debate about school reform makes the book particularly valuable. Diane Ravitch is an academic and education historian with long experience but is best-known for her advocacy of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policies as his Assistant Secretary of Education. Her book explores educational reform that she originally supported but now feels was terribly misguided.
Ravitch knows schools need to be improved.
A wave of reforms, in the US, over the last century has not been satisfactory and she says, “the policies we are following today are unlikely to improve our schools…(and are) likely to make the schools less effective”. Ravitch’s book looks at the most recent waves of reforms that she supported but now knows were errors of judgement. Particularly important is her analysis of how data in New York City was misinterpreted in District 2.
This model was adopted by other states and educational precincts based on the flawed belief that the new approach was working miracles (always a good reason for skepticism). You can still read about the ‘success’ of the approach taken by Anthony Alvarado, here and also an interview discussing that ‘progress’. His approach caused much bitterness. In San Diego (chapter 4) 1998-2005, where the Alvarado model was adopted even more forcefully, with a ‘90% turnover rate of principalships’ (p.61) and dismissal of ‘fifteen administrators’ during Alan Bersin’s tenure. There appears to have been no discernible improvement, in fact, there’s evidence to suggest a decline in educational oucomes. With such ‘angry and disaffected…troops’, Ravitch is not surprised. “Trust not cercion is a neccessary precondition for school reform” being her sage point. (p. 66)
Ravitch, in her chapter, ‘The Trouble with Accountability”, says that, ‘tests are necessary and helpful” but when “we define what matters in education only by what is measured, we are in serious trouble”. (p.166)
Ravitch believes that the ‘fundamentals of are to be found in the classroom, the home, the community and the culture, but reformers in our time look for shortcuts and quick answers”. (p.225)
Australian educators, systems leaders and politicians who do not read Ravitch’s book are being irresponsible, considering the implications of some of the current Federal government’s education policy for our children and communities. I implore all interested in education to read this important research and analysis.
Please consider reading this important analysis of educational reform and the impact on children and communities.
UPDATE: Diane Ravitch is on twitter.