Jay-Z, A-Rod, and Diane! Superstars have instantly identifiable one-word names. Who would have guessed that a 75 year-old historian would seize the social media cyber world? With a dozen blogs and fifty tweets a day, with tens of thousands of followers Diane Ravitch has been the stalwart, the voice of reason in a sea of education critics.
We live in a world of advocacy research. We know the result of the research by the sponsor of the study. If The New Teacher Project, or the Gates Foundation sponsor a research project, the result will support the Duncan (de)form agenda; even in the word of academe we know what Eric Hanushek or Jay Greene on one side and Jesse Rothstein on the other are going to conclude. There is no middle ground.
Dr. Ravitch’s latest book, her tenth, could have been titled, “The Great School Wars, Part 2,” instead, “Reign of Error, The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.”
I frequently pull my 1974 copy of ”The School Wars” off my shelf, with a full page photo of Diane, to review the battles over the schools through history.
The “purpose” of “Reign of Error” is laid out in the opening paragraph,
“The purpose of this book is to answer four questions.
First, is American education in crisis?
Second, is American education failing or declining?
Third, what is the evidence for the reforms now being promoted by the federal government and adopted by many state.
Fourth, what should we do to improve our schools and the lives of children”.
The book is a work of scholarship, every claim is footnoted and the forty-one charts present evidence, not “evidence” from biased studies, the evidence that Diane presents, the facts, are not in dispute.
An evidence-based book is a shining light in a world of “Waiting for Superman” movies or sleazy accusations from Campbell Brown. From the US Department of Education to the National Governors Association to State legislatures education policy is based on a “hope and a prayer” rather than evidence.
Dr. Ravitch is a thorn in the side of the rich and powerful – she insists on proof.
In chapter after chapter she challenges unproven claims, charter schools, high stakes testing, principal-teacher accountability, 24/7 test prep driven instruction, vouchers, Value-Added Modeling (VAM), she asks, again and again, where is the evidence?
She challenges the assault on public dollars – the movement from publicly funded public schools to moving public dollars to the private side, the support for for-profit charter schools and the enormous costs of creating and supporting high stakes testing; highly profitable cyber schools, attempts to replace school staffs with automated software. Ravitch exposes, to use a harsh but apt term, the rape of public education.
Ravitch is neither on the left or the right, in fact, these days it is hard to define the left and the right. The Tea Party conservatives and the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) both see Ravitch as an enemy.
Diane is a centrist, she supports what can be best called the best of the past, be it John Dewey or Maria Montessori.
“Genuine school reform,” Ravitch concludes, “must be built on hope, not fear; on encouragement, not threats; on inspiration, not compulsion; on trust, not carrots and sticks; on belief in the dignity of the human person, not a slavish devotion to data; on support and mutual respect, not a regime of punishment and blame. To be lasting, school reform must rely on collaboration and teamwork among students, parents, teachers, principals, administrators and local communities.”
I finished the book on an intellectual high – how could anyone not read the “Reign of Error” and be convinced of the idiocy of the current destructive policies? Yet, Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee and Eva Moskowitz and Arne Duncan continue to badger and threaten and bluster.
Will Diane turnaround a decade of failed, selfish policies?
I hope the “Reign of Error” is a beginning of a new era in education.