Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System, is one of the leading education experts in the United Sates. She was once an advocate of many of the policies she now vociferously opposes. Her book provides useful insights into the complex issues surrounding school performance and reform in the United States.
Ravitch stresses the importance of public education in America. She went to public schools herself, and she views them as cornerstones of American society. These schools serve all students—unlike many charter schools. Ravitch believes that many so-called reforms, such as the use of school vouchers, undermine public schools.
She is a strong critic of what she calls the "reform movement." Reformers have blamed teachers for shortcomings in the education system. Their privatization efforts disrespect teachers because they are run by businessmen and legislators. These school managers ignore school boards and true experts in education. The reformers do not understand that poverty—not poor teaching—is behind many of the problems.
Ravitch is a fierce critic of standardized testing. These tests are used too often, and they are flawed. Because of the high stakes, there has been a lot of cheating and fraud. Also, test administration and teaching-to-the-test take valuable time away from classroom instruction. She thinks that "merit pay" for teachers is a terrible idea.
Ravitch is somewhat less adept at offering solutions. This is understandable because she sees education as a mirror of American society, so improving education involves fixing what is wrong with America—a monumental task. More prenatal care, Ravitch says, is a proven way to enhance both the quality of life and education outcomes. She also believes that teachers need to be respected and treated as true professionals. In addition, Ravitch stresses the importance of history, foreign languages, and recess in schools. Too many schools, she says, have reduced or eliminated them in order to spend more time preparing students for standardized tests.
Diane Ravitch really cares about her subject. She answered an email I sent her years ago. Her reply was both thoughtful and encouraging.