Another review of Ravitch’s book

Recently I’ve blogged a little re Diane Ravitch. A friend, Brian Barabe, has finished her book and has written the following about it.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Diane Ravitch provides massive, massive documentation of what has not worked in NCLB and similar school reform plans based on a business model. She shows how the standards movements, begun with A Nation at Risk (Reagan adminstration) and Goals 2000 (H. W. Bush administration), and the Clinton administration, morphed into the business model and testing movement of NCLB. She documents how time after time in large and small districts the business model, based on top-down decision and policy making and testing, came in with great promises only to end with disappointing results–San Diego, 1998-2005, in a school district which really didn’t need reform; New York City, 2001-2007; and numerous smaller districts.

She shows how charter schools and vouchers siphon the better students from neighborhood public schools and cause the test scores in public schools to go down. She shows where Teach for America falls short of supplying a large cadre of experienced teachers. She shows how the Gates, Walton, and Broad foundations ’came to exercise vast influence over American education because of their strategic investments in school reform.” These foundations base their reform on “competition, choice, deregulation, incentives, and other market-based approaches,” and they are insulated from and impervious to public and professional criticism because of a “conspiracy of silence” among officials who don’t want to lose their massive financial aid.

In summary, she shows that the major reform efforts from Reagan to now have not produced change for the better. What she does not do, ever, is question whether change has been needed–even though she herself wrote that the San Diego school district was doing just fine before the market-like efforts of the 90’s, even though she says Massachusetts is heavily unionized and has the highest scores. She begins her last chapter. “Lessons Learned,” by writing, “We have known for many years that we need to improve our schools. . . . A strong case for improvement was made by A Nation at Risk, which warned in 1983 that our students and our schools were not keeping up with their international peers. [Nowhere does she mention the arguments of David Berliner against this premise.] Since then, many reports and surveys have demonstrated that large numbers of young people leave school knowing little or nothing about history, literature, foreign languages, the arts, geography, civics, or science. The consequences of inadequate education have been recently documented in books such as Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation, Rick Shenkman’s Just How Stupid Are We?
and Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason. . . .” She makes several unsubstantiated claims in this last chapter. To whit, “To have no curriculum, as is so often the case in American schools, . . . . “What is surprising is that public schools ever stopped expecting children to act with civility in relations with their classmates and teachers.” [Who says they ever stopped?]” “The regular public schools must . . . restore the historic tradition of public schools as places where students learn good behavior, good citizenship, and the habits of mind that promote thoughtfulness and learning.” She does offer some solutions, wonderful yet known and basically platitudinous: “. . . I copied this list of the essential ingredients of a successful education system: ’a strong curriculum; experienced teachers; effective; willing students; adequate resources, and a community that values education.’ ” Yeah, and I suppose she also knows the Pope is a Catholic.

I do strongly recommend this book for how resoundingly it shows the failure of NCLB (No Child Left Behind), the on-going misdirection under Obama by Arne Duncan, and the failure of other reform movements. I fault the writer for not questioning the premises on which she bases her last chapter.

end of Brian’s comments.

Look at the title of the books attacking our ed system, ’dumb’ and ’stupid’. This is the language of people with a strong need to feel superior. Why the need? Because they feel inferior. They must bolster their self-esteem by denigrating others.

When I read – or rather, borrow and read – the book, I will look for research documenting the failure to teach civility. A poster on a listserv recently said she saw grade inflation and a lowering of standards in every school she’s been in (I wonder if that’s a clue as to how much her schools want to keep her). I’ve seen teachers who could walk out of a well-organized, appropriately brief, and highly informative staff meeting and snort, “What a waste of my time!” Why? Because they have to denigrate everything; it’s their personality.

So until I can see good research on just how uncivil our students are instead of the pitiful diatribes of a Ben Stein. I’ve yet to put my take on Stein’s monologue on “kids these days”; he is a vicious person. Anyway, someone who observes kids’ behaviors rather than focusing on just certain kids and who has worked in a number of schools, preferably in several regions of the country and serving a varied student population, could comment on just how uncivil most kids are.

I will admit now to an underlying suspicion in a lot of this complain: it started when the schools were racially integrated. This comment will attract a lot of opprobrium if enough people read it, and the only thing I can say is: I am not the only person who attributes a lot of this carping about our schools to racial animus and some who agree with me are pundits with their finger on the pulse of the country. We see the same animus among the Tea Party people, a sudden explosion of vitriol toward a president who is doing many of the things George Bush did, but they were quiet when Bush was doing them.

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