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Saturday, January 7, 2012

A Great Quality Product - Public Education Reform Book Review

By Andrew Martin

Lynne Munson Diane Ravitch's well-researched, thought-provoking, and impassioned plea for an examination of current education reforms is a must-read for anyone who is concerned about the present state and future of education in the United States. What makes it all the more remarkable is that Ravitch was part of George W Bush's administration and had an active role in his educational agenda and the development of the No Child Left Behind legislation.

The charter school movement essentially provides no benefit to the majority of students. This book is a "must read" for anyone interested in the future of American education. So unsuccessful has this strategy been that Mr Gates has now abandoned it throughout the nation. Many experts, Dr Ravitch among them, could have told Mr Gates that the problem wasn't the high schools. Now, she claims to have such knowledge. However, she does an excellent job now with explaining the problems with her original plan when she was a member of the Bush administration.

It's a mug's game that would be humorous if it weren't so bloody serious, for we are failing our children and limiting their future. Read the book and see what Mrs Ratliff would do; why this teacher is still so beloved by the author years later. However, I fear it is too little too late. Our public schools (and the teaching profession) may die the same death other jobs have died in the course 30 years of ideologically driven national suicide. Initiating such broad and punitive reforms across the entire country was not necessary. And in doing so, Congress has unintentionally caused the dismantling of our public education system, which, I believe, is one of the bedrocks of our democracy.

She also attacks major financial education philanthropies, such as Bill Gates, and shows that simply throwing money at schools doesn't work if it's put in all the wrong places. As a teacher, I was fascinated by her research and perspective. No one stood up to challenge this idea. The alleged goal of the geniuses is 100 percent proficiency by 2013-2014.

As Ron Unz noted many years ago not a single modern nation has dared to abandon universal public education. The USA would be very unwise if it were to abandon universal free public education. While reading the book, I felt that Ms Ravitch's earlier support of particular school reforms was not very strong, and she mostly "went along" with the views of others on the topics of high-stakes testing, school choice, and business-like management of schools. Her real passion seems to be curriculum and instruction, and her "transformation" seems mostly to be a realization that popular reform movements (specifically, evaluating teachers primarily based on student test scores) had ruined or eliminated the curriculum that matters so much to her.

It really took courage to do what she did, being pro-charter, pro-testing, and deciding to change her mind. Most people in uppity positions in the government like that never change their minds.

I was convinced intellectually by arguments of free-traders and libertarians. However, the real world is what matters. The reasons for all this include some pretty unsavory ones. The Republicans make no secret of their hatred of teachers' unions and their desire to break same. This is a book that is easy to read quickly cover-to-cover because its topic is compelling. Public school teachers will cheer when they read Dr Ravitch's detailed attack on the current misguided faith in testing and privatization, but this book should be read by ANYONE concerned about not just improving but SAVING American public schools.

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