Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Diane Ravitch's new book:The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

Diane Ravitch is out with a new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (, and it's been getting a lot of attention, including a long article in the NYT last week and an op ed she wrote in today's WSJ.  I've been waiting to find the time to read the book before responding to it, and finally found the time to read half of it yesterday on the flights to and from Boston. 


I'm short on time this morning and want to finish the book, so in this email I'm going to share her op ed and some generally favorable articles about her and the book, and then mostly let others do the critiquing for now (see Checker Finn and Nelson Smith, below).


I will say that so far I'm hugely unimpressed.  She does a nice job of capturing the failures of the existing system and takes delight in poking holes at reform efforts over the past decade (while playing fast and loose with the facts and/or only presenting one side of the story), yet there is a shocking, gaping void when it comes to any thoughtful ideas for alternatives.  I read the conclusion and her solutions to what everyone agrees is a horribly broken system are trite banalities that wouldn't change the status quo that she rails against.  As best I can tell, her primary "solutions" are to build a strong, robust curriculum (gee, how controversial; I wonder if she's also in favor of motherhood and apple pie?; she's silent on exactly how to do this) and have more "well-educated teachers" (whatever that means; she is of course silent as well on how to achieve this).  In short, she longs for the utopian school system of yesteryear that probably never existed, and has no cogent roadmap whatsoever for exactly how to get there – she simple seems content to crap on the difficulties of people who are actually out there in the trenches trying to improve things.  What is disgrace!


I'll also point out, as I've done in the past (see:, that I'm not convinced that her reasons for such a 180-degree shift in her views what she says they are – they NYT article below even alludes to it: "Some said she was nursing a grudge because close friends had lost jobs in the mayor's shake-up of the schools' bureaucracy."  I've heard from multiple people a slightly different version of the story: that she wanted Klein to hire her long-time partner, and when Klein didn't Ravitch began a nonstop personal vendetta against him, regardless of how inaccurate or misleading her attacks are.  Klein has given as good as he's got here, so there's no love lost between these two.  The reason I bring this up today is that I think Ravitch's feelings toward Klein (who of course is one of the highest profile, most outspoken reformers), has poisoned her mind against ALL reform and EVERYONE who works with and/or supports Klein and what he's trying to do to fix our nation's largest school system.

 Subscribe in a reader