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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Reign Of Error

I recently read Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (2013).  The best word I can use to describe the book is “provocative.”

Ravitch skillfully traces the history of public education in America, shedding light on numerous important points of inflection in the evolution of the institution.  As a servant of the U.S. Department of Education under two different presidents (of differing parties), she has a perspective that is unique, to say the least.

Some of Ravitch’s basic premises:
>  Public education is a core governmental responsibility in a democracy.
>  Most low-performing schools have two fundamental commonalities: high poverty rates and predominant minority racial segregation.
>  School reform can only happen if driven locally.
>  Achievement gaps cannot be closed without a societal commitment to amend the antecedents of poverty.
>  Standardized testing does more harm to schools than good (especially the schools that struggle the most).
>  Non-academic learning is at least as important as the academic content (yet it is ignored in the high-stakes testing regime).
>  The national agenda of what she calls “the reformers” is motivated more by desires to privatize, re-segregate, and make profit than it is at serving the best interests of the country.

In admirable form, Ravitch powerfully uses data to support her positions and propositions.  She does not stop at simply pointing out the problems, but also posits a list of substantive solutions to the problems.  To her credit, she rightly acknowledges the high price tag associated with her proposed solutions, but counters that our society pays an even higher price by not meeting those standards. 

My favorite quotation from the book:
“Whatever the tests measure is not the sum and substance of any child. The tests do not measure character, spirit, heart, soul, potential.” 
(To that I say, “Amen”!  Neither do they measure the full impact of a quality teacher.)

To my friends who are educators, I recommend Reign of Error as a primer on American public education.  It will become, I think, a seminal reference for you as you debate and discuss our craft, and consider policy decisions for the future of public education (both at the macro and micro level).

To ALL my friends (non-educators and educators alike), I recommend Reign of Error for this reason:  It will generate deep reflection about the role of government, the demarcation lines between federal, state, and local responsibilities, and your position on the degree of value brought to the republic by a commitment to educate equitably ALL its children.

To be sure, Ravitch will provoke you.  To be sure, she will make proposals with which you strongly agree and/or disagree.  To be sure, she will challenge you to think about your position as to the need, viability, and sustainability of public education, and its import to you, your family, your community, and your country.  This book will challenge you to get off the fence.

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