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Proof Is in the Failure for Education Historian Diane Ravitch

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Anyone who has dived into American education beyond surface level has run into prolific author, mother, and New York University professor Diane Ravitch. “Anyone” also includes Republicans and Democrats, as during 40 years in the education biz Ms. Ravitch has served as an assistant education secretary under President (George H. W.) Bush, was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board during the Clinton and younger Bush presidencies, and was a vocal supporter of the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation.

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Nine years have passed, the proof is in the failure, and Ravitch’s reversal of support “is reverberating in the world of education.”

Nine years have passed, the proof is in the failure and, given her credentials, Ravitch’s reversal of support “is reverberating in the world of education.” In her forthcoming book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, she writes: “I wanted to believe that choice and accountability would produce great results. But over time, I was persuaded by accumulating evidence that the latest reforms were not likely to live up to their promise. The more I saw, the more I lost the faith.”

According to a report in today’s Washington Post by Nick Anderson titled “Business Principles Won’t Work for School Reformer, Former Supporter Ravitch Says,” Ravitch is no more enamored with the Obama administration’s market-oriented approach to education reform during what she terms “an intellectual crisis.” She feels that major current day education philanthropists, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “rely too much on business principles to improve schools.”

The new book sets forth the idea of improved curriculum – and for Ravitch, that means “a substantive national curriculum that declares our intention to educate all children in the full range of liberal arts and sciences, as well as physical education.”

Her long-time friend, Chester E. Finn, Jr., a Thomas B. Fordham Institute education analyst, agrees with Ravitch on the record of education reform but, he adds, “then we come to opposite views of the way forward.”

Ravitch, Finn explains, “wants to‘re-empower’ the public school system.” This is evident in her support of teachers unions and her puzzlement at “the president’s affinity for independently operated charter schools.”

Finn adds, “The same evidence has turned me into a radical who wants to blow up the system.”

While it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I feel “evidence” should have resulted in locking school doors eons ago, I admire that upon recognizing a dead-end, Ms. Ravitch now says it was the wrong path and it’s time for a new one. As a homeschool advocate, I’d like to share with her some of the path and lessons that millions of families are learning in their living rooms, backyards, and greater communities every day.

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4 Responses to “Proof Is in the Failure for Education Historian Diane Ravitch”

  1. Arwen says:

    She had me right up until the part about a national curriculum. Then I started getting visions of 1984 dancing in my head all over again.

  2. Jeanne says:

    Funny – I had the exact thought as Arwen before I read the comment. A "substantive national curriculum" will be another dead end – it is more standardization. Until we understand that kids aren't widgets, we'll never get to a good new place.

  3. Mary says:

    In some ways, we already have a national curriculum. What is K12 if not the same curriculum used in schools all across the country? It’s an interesting model of education as a business. Surely Ms. Ravitch looked at Cyber schools in her research? K12 is just a small sector of Milken's Knowledge Universe. The goal is to provide education from a child’s earliest Leap Frog learning though elementary school and job training, with associated parenting and grand parenting training. (

    The country is moving towards a national test as suggested by NCLB and it’s requirements. A national curriculum to teach to the test is almost a certainty, with national standards and registration for teachers and staff personnel. Where are the children in all of this information age business plan? I do not know, nor do I care to find out. There is no choice in public education.

  4. Ladies, thanks for the comments. Interesting – and disappointing – isn't it, that a "turn-around" doesn't include choice and intellectual freedom.

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