A noted education authority launches a stout defense of the public school system and a sharp attack on the so-called reformers out to wreck them.
We’ve been misinformed, writes Ravitch (Education/New York Univ.; The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, 2010, etc.), about the state of our public schools. Test scores are higher than ever, the dropout rate is lower, and achievement gaps among races are narrowing. The only “crisis” is the one ginned up by government bureaucrats, major foundations, an odd coalition of elitists and commercial hustlers intent on privatizing education. They’ve made inflated claims about the virtues of vouchers, charter schools, virtual schools, standardized testing (and its efficacy for identifying excellent teachers) and merit pay. With no supporting evidence, they insist poverty has no correlation to low academic achievement, that abolishing tenure and seniority will improve schools, and that overhauling the entire system along business lines is the way to go. Ravitch makes her own proposals for genuine improvement, and if they are as unsurprising as they are expensive—e.g., prenatal care for all expectant mothers, high-quality early education for all, reduced class sizes and a full, balanced curriculum, medical and social services for poor children—they at least leave responsibility for the public school system where it belongs: in the hands of our elected representatives. When it comes to education, notoriously plagued by fads, it’s always difficult to determine truth. Ravitch, however, earns the benefit of the doubt by the supporting facts, figures, and graphs she brings to her argument, a lifetime of scholarship, and experience in and out of government. She’s as dismissive of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind as of Barack Obama’s Race to the Top and as critical of former Secretary of Education William Bennett as of the current Arne Duncan.
For policymakers, parents and anyone concerned about the dismantling of one of our democracy’s great institutions.