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The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education Paperback – November 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

“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 –

About the Author

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. From 1991 to 1993, she was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. President Clinton appointed her to the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees federal testing. She is the author or editor of over twenty books, including The Language Police and Left Back, and her articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. A native of Houston, Ravitch graduated from the Houston public schools, Wellesley College, and Columbia University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition, Revised and Expanded edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465025579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465025572
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (146 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By PugPeople on January 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent reading by Ravitch---but---By the end of the book we realize that nothing can really be done to reform education short of getting better kids from better parents who take an interest in parenting and develop a valuing of education for their children. Same is true of valuing dental care, weight control, and a host of other problems that steadily get worse. The schools cannot fix the tsunami social problems that have gone untended in the home. A pity to see how hard teaching has become and how hard most teachers work to continue to be the whipping post for politicians and pundits--maybe we need a law "No politicians left behind" so the country can move ahead.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Wanda B. Red VINE VOICE on January 22, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Everyone has an opinion about K-12 education. Maybe that's because everyone has been a student, a parent, or both; has sat in a classroom, has studied with a teacher--a good one or a bad one. But it is in the nature of education that it will be as imperfect as the humans who teach and learn, as the parents who raise the students. It will never accomplish everything, be all things to all citizens. Over time there have been a million utopian projects to reform education, to make it fit the politics, the economic and technological plans of as many different "stakeholders" as there have been generations of students. The one thing that all these plans share is their overweening comprehensiveness, the arrogance of their belief that those with the political power or the money know better than the professionals--their sheer contempt for what the American public school system has accomplished in spite of its warts and blemishes.

Near the end of this powerful book, Diane Ravitch, one of the premier educational historians of our time, makes this somewhat understated observation -- "American education has a long history of infatuation with fads and ill-considered ideas" -- and asks the question "Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?" Ravitch may mean this as a rhetorical question, but the answer is obvious: Diane Ravitch will stand up to them. And that is what she does in this magnificent book.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By L. S. Reed on February 7, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I think in 50-100 years people will look back at the "Nation at Risk," NCLB, SOL, standardized test driven, charter school culture that has dominated education for the last 30 years and think it's as weird and incomprehensible as the Salem Witchcraft Trials were. How could a whole society go so totally insane? How could so many people who claimed to care passionately about educating children do so many stupid and self-destructive things? So many things that were self-evidently stupid?

Diane Ravitch gives us part of the answer. Once an advocate (and leading architect) of the test-driven, "results-oriented" education now inflicted on nearly all our children, has finally come to her senses and written a brilliant book about the harm these ideas have done to education.

She argues persuasively that the data-driven, results-oriented culture harms educators and students. She gives several case studies of much publicized examples (notably New York City) where city mayors took control and promised "results." The main effect seems to be a vast increase in spending on educational consultants. The actual results achieved by the Michelle Rhee's and Joel Klein's of the world have been modest, at best, despite the free hand and the millions in foundation dollars that has flowed into their school systems. And a lot of the results have involved students at the top end of the socioeconomic scale.

She shows the insidious influence of the Gates, Broad, and Walton foundations and other members of the "billionaire boys club," rich businessmen who have adopted public education as their hobby. Most of them bring large amounts of money, an arrogant belief that "good things happen because important people like me make them happen," and a fixation on "results" (i.e., tests), data (i.e.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By booknosh on March 1, 2014
Format: Paperback
Cut to the Chase:
This is one of the most important books about education currently in print. It is timely, it speaks to important issues at both a policy and practical level (though more the former than the latter), and most importantly, it is not only well thought out and well researched, it is also accessible. Too often, I’ve read education books that are clearly tiered towards researchers, towards economists, towards just teachers, or just school leaders. This is really a book that sums up the state of education (and truly, it’s a sad state of affairs) as well as how we got here (the good intentions and so on). It’s kind of short on solutions (I think), and some have claimed that it’s a little idealistic… so fine… it’s not perfect. But, it is important, well-written, and something that I think parents and educators should read to better educate themselves on our current K-12 school system.

Greater Detail:
Ravitch successfully goes through the ups and downs (mostly the latter) of several of the hot-button topics in K-12 education today. For example:

Choice — the idea that charter schools (which really started over a couple of decades ago now) can be our salvation. This is something she was originally in support of, and now shows data that charter school students, on average, seem to perform at about the same levels as public schools. (This data is somewhat controversial, as there are studies that seem to suggest support for both sides of this debate). The idea here is that if charter school students are doing as well as their counterparts in public school, that’s actually a bad thing. because charter schools, by definition, draw from the more involved parents.
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