BOOK REVIEW The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch, 2010, Basic Book, A Member of the Perseus Books Group

This review was written exclusively for the The Parent du Jour by Ken Llinas, Principal at P.S. 185, Walter Kassenbrock Elementary School in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

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DIANE RAVITCH is a Research Professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and a well-known critic of the New York City school administration. Author of over ten books on education, Ravitch distinguishes herself in Death and Life by confessing that she had been riding shotgun on the charter school, testing, data-driven stagecoach — one that she now believes is heading in the wrong direction.

Having worked in education for over 35 years I found it refreshing to read a book where, finally, someone was saying that the system was completely upside down. Ravitch exposes the big, popular, politically correct trends in education as nothing more than elaborate smoke screens, hiding the fact that politicians, financiers and publishers know the very least there is to know about education. Ravitch is an insider blowing the whistle and bringing attention to a glorious profession that is, regrettably, being dismantled by big business.

“Ravtich accurately captures almost every invented educational jargon imaginable, right down to rugs and rocking chairs.”

Here Diane defends neighborhood schools and explains why they are critical to the innermost life of the city. She provides an historical overview of the current politics that have everyone believing that you can decree literacy. Ravtich accurately captures almost every invented educational jargon imaginable, right down to rugs and rocking chairs. She explodes the myths of charter schools as the panacea for a deteriorating educational system and brings a riveting focus onto the truly important matters of quality teaching, meaningful curriculum and the fact that schools:

“We must enforce standards of civility, and teach students to respect themselves and others.”

Ms. Ravitch provides facts, figures and comparisons of attempted major school reforms throughout the country. She puts Joel Klein, Mike Bloomberg, Walter A. Annenberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, the Walton Family and Eli Broad all on the table for review. She encourages the reader to take an objective position in terms of teachers’ unions and ultimately introduces us to Mrs. Ratcliff, her remarkable High School homeroom teacher, who she says would probably never make the cut by today’s test-driven teacher evaluations.

I was encouraged by Ms. Ravitch’s conclusion that educational reform hinges on improving curriculum and instruction, and the conditions in which teachers work and children learn. It may not sound like many of the “catchy and clever” titles given to new reform programs but it does hit the nail squarely.

Whether you work in education or just have kids in the system, this book is a must read.

Lisa Duggan

Lisa Duggan is the Founder and CEO of The Modern Village, and publisher of TheParentduJour.com and TheMotherHoodBlog.com.

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