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The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education Hardcover – March 2, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465014917
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465014910
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (168 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* As an education historian and former assistant secretary of education, Ravitch has witnessed the trends in public education over the past 40 years and has herself swung from public-school advocate to market-driven accountability and choice supporter back to public-school advocate. With passion and insight, she analyzes research and draws on interviews with educators, philanthropists, and business executives to question the current direction of reform of public education. In the mid-1990s, the movement to boost educational standards failed on political concerns; next came the emphasis on accountability with its reliance on standardized testing. Now educators are worried that the No Child Left Behind mandate that all students meet proficiency standards by 2014 will result in the dismantling of public schools across the nation. Ravitch analyzes the impact of choice on public schools, attempts to quantify quality teaching, and describes the data wars with advocates for charter and traditional public schools. Ravitch also critiques the continued reliance on a corporate model for school reform and the continued failure of such efforts to emphasize curriculum. Conceding that there is no single solution, Ravitch concludes by advocating for strong educational values and revival of strong neighborhood public schools. For readers on all sides of the school-reform debate, this is a very important book. --Vanessa Bush

Review

NYSun.com
“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.”

Booklist, starred
“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.”

The Nation
“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.”

National Review
“The book intelligently and readably addresses today’s education controversies, using a combination of anecdotes, case studies, and statistics…[I]t’s a must-read for education policymakers at all levels of government.”

Time Magazine
“Ravitch’s critique is an essential one – passionate, well considered and completely logical.”

Jay Matthews,WashingtonPost.com
“Ravitch is our best living historian of education. In my view she is the best ever.”

Boston Globe
“The book that follows is, if not a mea culpa, perhaps something more valuable – a fiercely argued manifesto against fads in education reform and for public schools, and the teachers and students who inhabit them.”

Forbes.com
“Diane Ravitch’s important new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, will surely stir controversy, exactly as she intends. For it embodies and expresses—with her characteristic confidence, style and verve—a fundamental change in her views about where U.S. K-12 education should be heading.”

More About the Author

Diane Ravitch

I was born in Houston, Texas, in 1938. I am third of eight children. I attended the public schools in Houston from kindergarten through high school (San Jacinto High School, 1956, yay!). I then went to Wellesley College, where I graduated in 1960.

Within weeks after graduation from Wellesley, I married. The early years of my marriage were devoted to raising my children. I had three sons: Joseph, Steven, and Michael. Steven died of leukemia in 1966. I now have four grandsons, Nico, Aidan, Elijah, and Asher.

I began working on my first book in the late 1960s. I also began graduate studies at Columbia University. My mentor was Lawrence A. Cremin, a great historian of education. The resulting book was a history of the New York City public schools, called "The Great School Wars," published in 1974. I received my Ph.D. in the history of American education in 1975. In 1977, I wrote "The Revisionists Revised." In 1983 came "The Troubled Crusade." In 1985, "The Schools We Deserve." In 1987, with my friend Checker Finn, "What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?" In 1991, "The American Reader." In 1995, "National Standards in American Education." In 2000, "Left Back." In 2003, "The Language Police." In 2006, "The English Reader," with my son Michael Ravitch. Also in 2006, "Edspeak." I have also edited several books with Joseph Viteritti.

My last book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education," was a national bestseller. It addressed the most important education issues of our time. It was read by teachers, parents, and students and was a source of great joy to me.

My newest book "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools" is a call to arms. It documents the false narrative that has been used to attack American public education, and names names. It also contains specific and evidence-based recommendations about how we can improve our schools and our society.

To follow my ongoing work read my blog at dianeravitch.net, where there is a lively conversation among educators and parents about the future of education.

Diane Ravitch

Customer Reviews

This book is a must read for every teacher, administrator and anyone else interested in education.
Cecilia L. Cunningham
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.
Andrew Wolf
Testing and school choice do not increase student achievement and they are undermining the very goals of public education in America.
Buciumeana

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

280 of 296 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Wolf on March 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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168 of 180 people found the following review helpful By Diana Senechal on February 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on March 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
There was once a time when evolution and refinement of one's thinking, even the changing of one's views, was considered the mark of a cultivated mind. Ongoing observation, collection and synthesis of information, formulation of new (or revised), experience-based theories and conclusions -- all were respected as the rightful path to truth for the well-trained mind. In more recent years, particularly in today's hyper-partisan America, such intellectually commendable behavior as come to be considered a sign of weakness, of a craven caving-in to "the other side," sometimes viciously castigated as cowardly, traitorous, or just "selling out." It was Billy Joel, however, who wrote (in "Shades of Grey") that "...the only people I fear are those who never have doubts."

Given this current state of affairs, Diane Ravitch opens her latest book, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN SCHOOL SYSTEM with a defense (bordering on apology) of her evolved thinking on the subject of public education in America. An education historian of national repute with a deep background in the Bush/Clinton/Bush era of school reform, Ms. Ravitch freely confesses that many of the reforms she had enthusiastically espoused and supported in the 1980s and 1990s -- "testing, accountability, choice, and markets" -- are simply not working. Her present assessment is actually rather worse than that, as evidenced by her book's subtitle: "How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education."

THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN SCHOOL SYSTEM is a simply masterful work: articulate but highly readable, addressing complex subject matter with depth and clarity, authoritative but not dryly academic. Ms.
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