Monday, October 24, 2011

Ravitch at Barnes and Noble on Dec 8th

Ravitch will be in NYC doing an "author event" for her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education at the Barnes & Noble on 86th and Lex at 7pm on Dec. 8.

Seeing this prompted me to go back and reread what I wrote about this book (posted at:  I wouldn't change a word.  Here's the beginning:

My one-sentence take on Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, is that I couldn't find a single sentence in the entire book that couldn't have been written by Randi Weingarten. It is just 296 pages of union talking points, utterly lacking in solutions, with no mention whatsoever of the educational malpractice taking place against millions of children in America.

The book certainly captures the failures of the existing educational 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. Her solutions to what everyone agrees is a horribly broken system are trite banalities that would not change the status quo that she rails against. Her primary "solutions" are to build a strong, robust curriculum and have more "well-educated teachers" but she silent 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. Instead, she is content to deride the people who are actually out there in the trenches trying to improve things. What a disgrace!

The book also lacks any acknowledgment of the educational malpractice – a crime of the highest order – that's being committed against millions of children every day (and we all know the skin color and the zip codes of these children). The fact that most schools, principals and teachers are adequate-to-good-to-great doesn't excuse the fact that a minority are completely failing – and in so doing, are ruining lives of the children who can least afford it. For example, the words "rubber room" don't appear in the book (I checked the index). Or the fact that 52% of black and 51% of Latino 4th graders are struggling readers (testing Below Basic on NAEP) – incredible in a book filled with so many facts. Or the fact that 2,000 high schools (of 14,000) account for half of the nation's dropouts. In a book filled with human stories about the evils of Alan Bersin, Joel Klein, and NCLB, where are the stories about the children who have multiple teachers every year, none willing or able to impart knowledge? In 296 pages, she couldn't have found one story about the horrors of some schools like this one!? Instead, she decries efforts to shut down even the most chronically failing schools, wrapping them in a cloak of nostalgic clichés, completely ignoring (or oblivious to) their horrific reality.

Is it possible that such an esteemed "scholar" as Ravitch has never visited a high-performing inner-city school and seen with her own eyes (as I have, at well over 100 different schools all over the country) that what she's saying is demonstrably false? To be sure, many disadvantaged kids do indeed have "very deep problems", but that simply means they need the best teachers and best schools to overcome the fact that they enter school with two strikes against them. When they get such teachers and schools – which, sadly, is extremely rare, as we have an immoral and despicable system in this country that systematically gives the neediest children the worst teachers and schools – we know with 100% certainty that these children can achieve at high levels and close – and even reverse – the achievement gap. Ravitch needs to get out of her ivory tower and hop in a cab and in 30 minutes she could be at any number of schools that would disprove her mistaken beliefs.

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