The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (英語) ハードカバー – 2010/3/2
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Diane Ravitch—former assistant secretary of education and a leader in the drive to create a national curriculum—examines her career in education reform and repudiates positions that she once staunchly advocated. Drawing on over forty years of research and experience, Ravitch critiques today’s most popular ideas for restructuring schools, including privatization, standardized testing, punitive accountability, and the feckless multiplication of charter schools. She shows conclusively why the business model is not an appropriate way to improve schools. Using examples from major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, and San Diego, Ravitch makes the case that public education today is in peril.
Ravitch includes clear prescriptions for improving America’s schools:
- leave decisions about schools to educators, not politicians or businessmen
- devise a truly national curriculum that sets out what children in every grade should be learning
- expect charter schools to educate the kids who need help the most, not to compete with public schools
- pay teachers a fair wage for their work, not “merit pay” based on deeply flawed and unreliable test scores
- encourage family involvement in education from an early age
The Death and Life of the Great American School System is more than just an analysis of the state of play of the American education system. It is a must-read for any stakeholder in the future of American schooling.
“Public education is a tough enterprise. It won’t be fixed overnight. But if we stick with a back to basics approach, saturated with the solid American democratic values that Ms. Ravitch advocates, we won’t be so prone to fall for the silver bullets that never seem to find their mark.”
Los Angeles Times
“The Death and Life of the Great American School System may yet inspire a lot of high-level rethinking.”
Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
“Her credibility with conservatives is exactly why it would be particularly instructive for everyone--whether you have kids in school or not--to read The Death and Life of the Great American School System.”
“For readers on all sides of the school-reform debate, this is a very important book.”
Library Journal, starred
“[A]n important and highly readable examination of the educational system, how it fails to prepare students for life after graduation, and how we can put it back on track…Anyone interested in education should definitely read this accessible, riveting book.”
Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
“Diane Ravitch is the rarest of scholars—one who reports her findings and conclusions, even when they go against conventional wisdom and even when they counter her earlier, publicly espoused positions. A ‘must’ read for all who truly care about American education.”
Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University, and Founding Executive Director, National Commission for Teaching & America's Future
“Diane Ravitch is one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. In this powerful and deftly written book, she takes on the big issues of American education today, fearlessly articulating both the central importance of strong public education and the central elements for strengthening our schools. Anyone who cares about public education should read this book.”
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy, The Schools We Need, and The Making of Americans
“No citizen can afford to ignore this brave book by our premier historian of education. Diane Ravitch shines a bright, corrective light on the exaggerated claims of school reformers on both the left and the right, and offers an utterly convincing case for abandoning quick fixes in favor of nurturing the minds and hearts of our students from the earliest years with enabling knowledge and values.”
New York Times
“Ms. Ravitch…writes with enormous authority and common sense.”
“In an age when almost everybody has an opinion about schools, Ravitch’s name must be somewhere near the top of the Rolodex of every serious education journalist in this country.”
Wall Street Journal
“Ms. Ravitch [is] the country’s soberest, most history-minded education expert.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Ravitch’s hopeful vision is of a national curriculum – she’s had enough of fly-by-night methods and unchallenging requirements. She’s impatient with education that is not personally transformative. She believes there is experience and knowledge of art, literature, history, science, and math that every public school graduate should have.”
Ravitch produces conclusive data to support her transformation from an early supporter of test-based teacher accountability and the trend toward privatization of public schools to becoming a fervent critic and an advocate for education professionals. Her support for the No Child Left Behind Act gives her the unique perspective of someone who know and understands the good intentions and laudable goals of this crop of education reformers. Her career as a education historian makes her uniquely qualified to put this movement into perspective. Having seen NCLB fully implemented, she understands the negative impact of simplistic top-down bottom-line business models. With standardized tests as their underpinning, teaching becomes data collection. While the teacher is collecting the data, the student is learning to take tests.
Once again, politicians and wealthy businessmen have foisted yet another ill-conceived reform on educators. Perhaps because almost everyone has "gone to school" at some point in their lives, they feel they know what needs to be done to "fix" public education. But as may seem obvious, while we have all been students, we have not all become public school teachers and administrators. Ravitch gives voice to those education professionals. She provides line after line of quotable material that educators will find reassuring and absolutely true.
At times, the cumulative data and logic seemed repetitious; however, when repeated, it was for the most part included in a new context, applied to a different situation, and a careful reading rendered the data again relevant. As of this writing, aside from the inevitable attacks from right-wing ideologues, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education has accumulated hundreds of positive reviews in print and online. In skimming these reviews, I found one from a college student who was "required" to read the book. The student wrote that it was just "okay" and predictably gave it three stars, thus illustrating the difficulties in education. Of course students blanche at "requirements." You must "teach" it, make it come alive with life experience, make it relevant - good teachers do that. While the book may have been less than thrilling to the student, the learning experience becomes worthwhile. In the corporate business model, teaching means making sure the student passes an often unreliable standardized test. If the student does poorly on the fill-in-the-bubble test, then the teacher is "bad." This is obvious folly.
Coincidentally, I wrote an article, "The Essence of Teaching and Learning," just prior to reading Ravitch's book and was delighted and amused about the commonality of our views. (I have since revised to reference her work.) In my article, I wrote, "The essence of teaching and learning lies in the hundreds of moments a day when students learn something as a result of the teacher's actions. What they learn depends on teacher experience, temperament, and creativity, but also on administrative leadership, curriculum, political demands, and parental influences. Additionally, learning is affected by the wealth of the district, background of individual students, class size, classmates, social dynamic of the class, and the physical class environment. And much more of course. It's easy to see how the variables increase exponentially."
Additionally, because I have written fiction all my life, I logically use that medium to help shed light on an often misunderstood profession. My guess is that about ninety-nine percent of teachers are not overpaid laggards, as ultra right wing pundits want you to believe. As I try to show in my novel, "No Teacher Left Standing," this piling on of negative influences can create extremely tense situations that are overcome only by the devotion, tenacity and strength of teachers.
Jeff May (Jeffrey Penn May), educator and author of No Teacher Left Standing, married to a brilliant elementary school teacher.
A bit of my background that may help frame my comments: I'm a family physician that raised four children (all now adults) with my wife. My wife has been a teacher since 1974, teaching (and loving) middle school for the last 15 years. I come from a conservative background, moderately paranoid of the intentions of unions, pro-innovation, and thoroughly frustrated with the expense and mediocrity of public education. I'm not someone to just complain and criticize from a distance, though: I've been a hard-working school board member for over six years. I've learned a lot. Diane Ravitch's book taught me a whole lot more, much of which I didn't want to know. I'm the better for it.
Ravitch doesn't unleash a focused salvo in her book, instead marshalling a more broad-based reexamination of some enormously popular (with politicians, the public, and business interests) concepts in public education. They also happened to be concepts very popular with me: teacher pay linked to performance, charter schools, consequences for schools, teachers, principals if they don't meet performance goals, data driven education based on test scores.
Ravitch is neither a reactionary, nor a radical. Though she has worked at a variety of highly influential jobs in education, her specialty is the history of education. All of us know what those who don't know history are doomed to do, and it behooves even skeptics (not just skeptical school board members) to turn an attentive ear to what is carefully laid out in The Death and Life of the Great American Education System.
It would be wrong, in this review, to take sides on the issues that Ravitch addresses. It isn't that I don't have opinions (my fellow school board members would howl at that notion), but that voicing them would detract from what I'd like others to know about this book. What I would like to hook a potential reader of this book with is this notion: whether you are an ardent supporter or a bitter opponent of charter schools, pay for performance, NCLB, rigid focus on the basics (reading, writing, math), you will turn the last past page of this book with a far more informed and thoughtful perspective than you had when you turned the first page.
And turn those pages you will, because if a non-fiction book about education can possibly be a page turner, this is the best candidate yet for that designation. It is not an overstatement to say that some of the history that Ravitch recounts about the upheavals in education that have occurred in New York, San Diego, Washington D.C., as well as the results of several billion dollars in grants by organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is gripping, even a bit mind-bending. Ravitch's careful walk through what the press SAID was happening during these upheavals, versus the actual cold hard facts that emerged when all the dust from the tornadoes of hype and opinion surrounding them settled to the ground, is instructive to all conservatives and liberals that lay claim to having an open mind.
My wife, the middle school teacher, says that one of her goals with every student is to make them into a lifelong learner. All of us that are interested in public education should aspire to that same goal for ourselves. Ravitch's approach to what she perceives as ailing in education is a finely crafted and highly personal one, personal enough that few readers are likely to find themselves in complete agreement with her. What almost every reader will acknowledge, though, by the end of the book is that their perspective has been broadened, and their understanding of the issues has been deepened. It is not too often that a book forms a bridge between a school board member and the head of the teacher's union, but this one is capable of doing so (and did).