The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education Reviews

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6 Comments to “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education Reviews”

  1. 172 of 179 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Destined to Become the Most Influential Book on Education Reform in Memory, March 3, 2010
    By 
    Andrew Wolf (New York City) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

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    This review is from: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Hardcover)

    No silver bullets. This is the simple premise of Diane Ravitch’s new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” which is being brought out this week by Basic Books. Written by one of our nation’s most respected scholars, it has been eagerly awaited. But it has also been, at least in some quarters, anticipated with a certain foreboding, because it was likely to debunk much of the conventional — and some not so conventional — wisdom surrounding education reform. This is a fabulous book that may well become the most widely read volume on education reform in memory.

    Much of the publicity and controversy over the book has to do with changes in public policy positions Dr. Ravitch has taken recently – away from choice and testing. And while she has evolved in her thinking, to my mind she has been remarkably consistent. As she always has, Dr. Ravitch believes in high standards, a rigorous curriculum, treating teachers with respect and never straying from the truth – which is why she has become critical of testing programs that have fostered a culture of lies and exaggeration. And she backs up her positions – old and new – with convincing data and perceptive analysis.

    “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” is a passionate defense of our nation’s public schools, a national treasure that Dr. Ravitch believes is “intimately connected to our concepts of citizenship and democracy and to the promise of American life.” She issues a warning against handing over educational policy decisions to private interests, and criticizes misguided government policies that have done more harm than good.

    Ideas such as choice, utilizing a “business model” structure, accountability based on standardized tests and others, some favored by the left, others by the right are deemed as less, often much less, than advertised. Dr. Ravitch doesn’t oppose charters, but rather feels that the structure itself doesn’t mandate success. As in conventional schools, there will be good ones and bad ones. But charters must not be allowed to cream off the best students, or avoid taking the most troubled, as has been alleged here in New York City.

    Her main point, however, is broader. “It is worth reflecting on the wisdom of allowing educational policy to be directed, or one might say, captured by private foundations,” Dr. Ravitch notes. She suggests that there is “something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public educational policy to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people.” However well intended the effort, the results, in her telling, have not been impressive, in some cases doing more harm than good.

    These foundations are beyond the reach of the voters’ will, and they themselves, “are accountable to no one,” Dr. Ravitch writes. “If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. They are bastions of unaccountable power.” Dr. Ravitch questions why we’re allowing the relatively small financial contributions made by the foundations, dwarfed by the hundreds of billions America spends on public education, to leverage the entire investment? And she asks who, when there is no accountability, will take the fall if things go horribly wrong?

    My experience, writing about public education in New York City, suggests that many of the prescriptions imposed by the foundations have indeed resulted in spectacular failures. But I can’t recall a single press conference at which a somber foundation head, flanked by the local superintendent and mayor says, “Sorry, pupils, we really bollixed that one.”

    The Gates Foundation has pumped billions into the creation of small high schools, facilitating the destruction of hundreds of existing larger high schools. So unsuccessful has this strategy been that Mr. Gates has now abandoned it throughout the nation. Many experts, Dr. Ravitch among them, could have told Mr. Gates that the problem wasn’t the high schools. It is that the students were arriving at these schools ill prepared to do high school level work.

    What of the once-great comprehensive high schools, institutions with history and in some cases a track record of success going back generations? As time moves on, it is fast becoming clear that the new small schools, many with inane themes (how about the School of Peace and Diversity?), can never substitute for a good neighborhood high school, which can become a center of communal life and pride. Dr. Ravitch’s report underscores the fact that the trick is to fix the neighborhood schools beset with problems, not destroy them.

    The involvement of charitable foundations in education is familiar ground to Diane Ravitch. She came to prominence as the nation’s leading historian of education with the publication of her acclaimed book, “The Great School Wars, New York City 1805-1973.” The final chapters in that book are an account…

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  2. 147 of 157 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A book of warning and wisdom, February 17, 2010
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    This review is from: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Hardcover)

    This is a wonderful book. With precision and soul, Diane Ravitch shows why our present-day education reforms are likely to do more harm than good: they are based on ideas extraneous to education and too often ignore its content. Closure, breakup, privatization of schools, rigid pedagogical models, teacher evaluations based on test scores–none of these reforms addresses why and what we are teaching in the first place. No Child Left Behind gave us accountability without substance; worse, it gave us “a timetable for the demolition of public education in the United States.” Charter schools in themselves are no solution; they vary widely in quality and as a whole have not outperformed public schools. Small schools are no solution; they may lack many of the resources of larger schools, and some small-school initiatives have proven disastrous.

    In chapter 1, Ravitch writes, “School reformers sometimes resemble the characters in Dr. Seuss’s Solla Sollew, who are always searching for that mythical land `where they never have troubles, at least very few.’ Or like Dumbo, they are convinced they could fly if only they had a magic feather. In my writings, I have consistently warned that, in education, there are no shortcuts, no utopias, and no silver bullets. For certain, there are no magic feathers that enable elephants to fly.”

    Through fascinating analyses, narratives, interviews, and descriptions, Ravitch shows how our education reformers miss the mark again and again. But the book is far from despondent. There is much we can do, Ravitch argues, if we honor the substance of education and give our schools the support they need. This book should long outlast the reforms criticized in its pages. Its prose and principles stand strong against the times.

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  3. 61 of 67 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A Widening Perspective on School Reform, February 22, 2010
    By 
    Rita Kramer “scholarwriter” (New York City) –

    Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
    This review is from: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Hardcover)

    In this unique and necessary book Diane Ravitch, the dean of historians of American education, offers new and convincing ways of looking at the received wisdom about how to remake our urban schools. With the courage of character and the understanding gained from years of both scholarly and government experience, she asks the simple question, “What works?” She takes a good hard look at the various paths followed by school reformers–policymakers, business leaders, foundations, and government–with their various emphases on markets, accountability and incentives, testing, charter schools, and voucher plans. These attempts, largely structural and managerial, have failed to address what Ravitch has come to see and convinces us her readers is the cornerstone of education in a democracy–the public school system that holds us all together in a common culture. Its subject matter, history and civics, literature and the arts, has been all but lost in the frenzy of test preparation that has taken over classrooms everywhere in the country.

    Ravitch makes an illuminating case as she uses the experience of New York City to show how political aims trump real learning when test scores are used as indicators of educational progress by leaders looking to their own reputations as they misrepresent the meaning of the numbers that hide what really matters–what students are learning. Yes, it’s the curriculum, stupid.

    Ravitch’s passionate belief in the importance of what we teach our children–what makes a full human life and a good citizen–is inspiring. No one can read this book without gaining a new understanding of how we have been failing and where we should turn now. This wise and lively book should be read by every parent, every teacher, and everyone who cares about the future of our country.

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  4. 79 of 92 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Pioneering Work of democratic Culture, December 28, 1999
    By A Customer

    Dewey’s classic work, although tedious at times, is a cogent and landmark exposition of progressive educational theory. Democracy for Dewey was both a means and an end to the building of a good and just society. In this regard he sought to develop strategies and methods for training students through learning and discipline to become socially responsible adults and conscientious citizens concerned with the rights of others and the common good and to be equipped with the knowledge and technical skills to be productive members of society in the context of our modern industrial world. Dewey is truly a giant not only of modern educational theory but of progressive humanitarian thought generally. Those who disparage him in a knee jerk fashion out of a misguided effort to trash the “liberal establishment,” like the Intercollegiate Scholastic Insititute (ISI) which named “Democracy and Education” as one of the five worst books of the 20th Century, have radically misconstrued Dewey’s views which merit serious study and application in practice. Dewey was truly one of the great Americans of the last century of which all people of good will can be proud.

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  5. 23 of 25 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    This book was…, February 20, 2006
    By 
    C. Goss (Austin, Texas) –
    (REAL NAME)
      

    Fantastic; a book I would recommend to just about anyone. To address some of the critics mentioned in the other reviews: RE: “Dewey Dogma” (1) There is absolutely no pretense of an application of the scientific method, hence there can be no mis-application; (2) This book strikes me personally as one of the least dogmatic things I’ve ever read in my life. The ideas are fresh, original, and beautiful crafted and ordered; (3) “Education is Socialization” – an equation of broadly construed “-tions” that results in a statement that one can neither agree nor disagree with.

    I could be wrong, but nowhere did I read these ideas as explicit recommendations to be implemented, rather I read this book as a general exploration of educational aims and processes. Dewey (justifiably in my opinion) explores closely connected concepts which I imagine are left out of other educational texts, which is why some with pre-professional backgrounds in education count the length and depth of this book as a negative.

    His writing, in my opinion, is clear and concise (at least in comparison with other great philosophers) – writing that I would personally aspire to. His ideas, and I can’t say this enough, are some of the most original I’ve come across. We didn’t really cover the pragmatists in any of my philosophy classes. Reading this makes me wish we had.

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  6. 26 of 32 people found the following review helpful:
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Great–but, unfortunately, largely overlooked–work., July 18, 1998
    By 
    Hairy Growler “Hairy Growler” (Reston, VA United States) –

    Perhaps the fact that this great work receives so little attention is indicative of what ails education: educators focus their attention on all the latest drivel concerning education while only paying lip service to Dewey, who remains the highest-ranking educational philosopher. It pains me to hear and read bungling educators mindlessly parrot Dewey’s catch phrases (e.g., “learning by doing”) while pushing educational doctrines completely antithetical to Dewey’s ideas. Dewey had it right, but is grossly misunderstood by the bozos who vapidly regurgitate his words and phrases. In other words, I recommend that you go to the source.

    If you are in any way concerned with or interested in education and happen to stumble upon this lonely page, do yourself, your kids, and/or your students a favor and study this book carefully; It eclipses all other books on education.

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