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Stop The Educational Insanity

Diane Ravitch’s new book

combines heart with the

ultimate fact-check

If you want to do one thing this year for our children, our nation and our future, buy a copy of Diane Ravitch’s brilliant and engaging new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Knopf, $27.95).

It is a best-seller that is destined to change the course of American education everywhere, suburban, urban and rural schools alike. When I started reading it, I was humbled, excited and sad.

Humbled by the depth of her commitment to the nation’s children. Excited that she put everything into one volume. And sad that her book is necessary—because what that says about our elected leaders and their perspective on children and education is distasteful and victimizes too many children.

Ravitch wrote this book to document, with the research of a scholar (charts and statistics — she is a distinguished Ph.D.), why our nation is taking the wrong path in education.

As she puts it, “school reformers are putting the nation’s children on a train that is headed for a cliff. This is the right time to stand on the tracks, wave the lanterns and say, ‘Wait, this won’t work!’… But the reformers say, ‘Full speed ahead!’ aiming right for the cliff.”

Her thoroughly documented position, attested to by millions of parents, teachers and taxpayers across the county, is that “what began as a movement for testing and accountability has turned into a privatization movement.”

Elected and self-appointed education reformers have lost sight of the diagnostic purpose of tests, and use test results to claim that our public education system is broken. Now, that mantra of “broken schools” has become an excuse to turn public education into schools run for profit.

The headlines we read about how bad schools are, how bad teachers are, how important charter schools are, don’t have a factual basis. These notions are propaganda underwritten by some of the nation’s wealthiest businesspeople who believe that education should be run like a business, with efficiency, spreadsheets and bottom-line profits as the driving forces. Are the kids learning? Only the spreadsheet knows.

The corruption and malfeasance behind this are rank—and all documented in Reign of Error.

As she says, her premise is straightforward: “You can’t do the right things until you stop doing the wrong things. If you insist on driving that train right over the cliff, you will never reach your hoped-for destination: excellence for all. Instead, you will inflict harm on millions of children and reduce the quality of the education.”

Ravitch provides solutions in the very first chapter, admittedly so that you don’t have to wait to the end to start making a difference. Her advice is to take better care of our children. Treat them like children, love them and guide them. Giggling is allowed. Kids need to be healthy, and poverty is the number one enemy of education.

Chapter by chapter her book refutes the nonsense that reformers disperse—she provides summary facts, claims versus reality statements, and solutions, at the head of each chapter. And enough charts for the most data-obsessed reader.

Facts:

High school dropouts are at an all-time low, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.

Charter schools run the gamut from excellent to awful and are, on average, no more innovative or successful than public schools.

Virtual schools are cash cows for their owners, but poor substitutes for real teachers and real schools.

Poverty is highly correlated with low academic achievement.

Solutions:

Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior.

Eliminate high-stakes standardized testing and rely instead on assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do.

Devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce segregation and poverty.

Recognize the public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good.

I can’t convey her eloquence, dignity, and compassion. This erudite scholar is also very accessible. She is called Wonder Woman, Hercules, a national hero—and Mom and Grandma.

Her book is an act of defiance, protest and revolution. And love.

Diane Ravitch is right, her cause is, indeed, “the civil rights issue of our time.”

John Owens is editor in chief of Anton Community Newspapers, and author of Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education (Sourcebooks, $13.99).