Monday, September 23, 2013
Diane Ravitch has a new book out this week titled "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools." Ravitch does not appear to say American schools are excellent, but she argues that they are not in crisis and that the constant assertion that they are in crisis undermining them. In other words, the tail is wagging the dog in school reform. She also points out that we label students and schools as failing because we set unrealistic goals for them. This is not to say that we should set low goals, but that we can't expect students at severe disadvantage to achieve at the levels of privileged kids unless we first address those factors that make students disadvantaged. Likewise, it is not fair to compare our education system to Finland's--the top performing in the world--because Finland's poverty rate is only 5 percent whereas ours is about 7 or 8 times that rate.Cribbing from the book promotional materials:
From one of the foremost authorities on education in the United States, former U.S. assistant secretary of education, “whistle-blower extraordinaire” (The Wall Street Journal), author of the best-selling The Death and Life of the Great American School System (“Important and riveting”—Library Journal), The Language Police (“Impassioned . . . Fiercely argued . . . Every bit as alarming as it is illuminating”—The New York Times), and other notable books on education history and policy—an incisive, comprehensive look at today’s American school system that argues against those who claim it is broken and beyond repair; an impassioned but reasoned call to stop the privatization movement that is draining students and funding from our public schools.
In Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch argues that the crisis in American education is not a crisis of academic achievement but a concerted effort to destroy public schools in this country. She makes clear that, contrary to the claims being made, public school test scores and graduation rates are the highest they’ve ever been, and dropout rates are at their lowest point.
She argues that federal programs such as George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top set unreasonable targets for American students, punish schools, and result in teachers being fired if their students underperform, unfairly branding those educators as failures. She warns that major foundations, individual billionaires, and Wall Street hedge fund managers are encouraging the privatization of public education, some for idealistic reasons, others for profit. Many who work with equity funds are eyeing public education as an emerging market for investors. Reign of Error begins where The Death and Life of the Great American School System left off, providing a deeper argument against privatization and for public education, and in a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, putting forth a plan for what can be done to preserve and improve it. She makes clear what is right about U.S. education, how policy makers are failing to address the root causes of educational failure, and how we can fix it.
For Ravitch, public school education is about knowledge, about learning, about developing character, and about creating citizens for our society. It’s about helping to
inspire independent thinkers, not just honing job skills or preparing people for college. Public school education is essential to our democracy, and its aim, since the founding of this country, has been to educate citizens who will help carry democracy into the future.
For more commentary and analysis of her points, see here.