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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 wellwritten open response to a given promptall 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 2017and, 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 emphasisor they become utilized as hours of extra practice for these tests The tradition of producing a wellrounded 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 muchhere 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 schoolscompetitive 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 )! 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 datadriven witch hunt), and a renaissance of the liberal arts None of that is happening under NCLB.Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder Seasoned ArgumentNeeds to be Required Reading on Capitol HillThis week, the Chicago Tribune has been running a series of editorials calling forvouchers,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 wellmeaning 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 mustthey 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 lowperformers, likewise, or the delinquents, or the lowability aren't likely to get topnotch 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 skillsbased 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 acrosstheboard 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. 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 wellrespected 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 highstakes 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 muchado 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 nonstarter 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. 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 5050 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 lockstep) 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 highstakes 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 muchconservative 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 meanresources, 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 encouragingpeople to leave the public system and end up in better resourced private or semiprivate 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 isequity – 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. 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 cocreators 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 bethan 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 theimpressive 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 intendeda 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 lowperforming students to attend the school in order to keep test scores high) to the downright illegal (from losing lowscoring 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 fourthgraders 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 conartists to make money at the expense of children's learning, or lack thereof.Ravitch also discusses other issues that have currently been plaguing education Most notably is the new wave of antiunionism 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 Antiunion 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 highestranking 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 nonspecific 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 welldelineated 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 andof 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 nationwide educational policies that our federal government has its hands in.Basically, I'd just like to see an end to the overreliance on standardized testing and the datadriven school policies and programs thatoften 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 politicallycorrect reasons Mediocrity seems to be the endgoal, though, for most politicians, and our children will suffer for it. 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 K12 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 cashstrapped 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 marketdriven 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 $45 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 forprofit 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 freemarket ideas Their money created and accelerated acceptance of Common Core, an illconceived, topdown, 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 inaffluent districts have higher scores, making themlikely to succeed; those in areas with higher poverty have lower test scores, making themprone 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, requireresources and nurturing, not less Yet, the U.S is “one of the few nations in the world that spendon 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 muchthan 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 areimportant than ever Dammit, pay attention to this! 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 aredrawn to topdown decisionmaking, getting rid of underperformers (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 therecent 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 reorganizing schools and highstakes 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 lowcost housing into highercost 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 any. *Free ↝ The Death and Life of the Great American School System ↡ 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 bestknown 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 ageThe Death and Life of the Great American School System is than just an analysis of the state of play of the American education system It is a mustread for any stakeholder in the future of American schooling 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 latehopefully 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! Diane Ravitch was U.S Assistant Secretary of Education from 9193 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.) Further, 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 areAll 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 nongoodreads review It's very good and worth reading.