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The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education Paperback – June 28, 2016

4.5 out of 5 stars 159 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


"Ms. Ravitch...writes with enormous authority and common sense."―New York Times

"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."―Nation

"Ms. Ravitch [is] the country's soberest, most history-minded education expert."―Wall Street Journal

"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."―Christian Science Monitor

"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."―National Review

"Ravitch's critique is an essential one--passionate, well considered and completely logical."―Time Magazine

"Diane Ravitch is arguably our leading historian of primary and secondary education."
Andrew Delbanco, New York Review of Books

"Ravitch is our best living historian of education. In my view she is the best ever."―Jay Matthews,

"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."―Boston Globe

"The Death and Life of the Great American School System may yet inspire a lot of high-level rethinking."―Los Angeles Times

"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."―Valerie Strauss,, Washington Post

"For readers on all sides of the school-reform debate, this is a very important book."―Booklist, starred review

"[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."―Library Journal, starred review

"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."―Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

"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." ―Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University, and Founding Executive Director, National Commission for Teaching & America's Future

"By facing off against most of the centers of power in her field, Ravitch has turned herself into a singular check on the ascendant education orthodoxy."
The Atlantic

About the Author

Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. She is the former Assistant Secretary of Education and a former member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program. The author of ten books, including Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. Ravitch lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Basic Books; 3rd edition (June 28, 2016)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 400 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0465036589
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0465036585
  • Reading age ‏ : ‎ 13 years and up
  • Grade level ‏ : ‎ 8 and up
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 14 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 5.5 x 1 x 8.25 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.5 out of 5 stars 159 ratings

Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5
159 global ratings
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Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States on September 30, 2020
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5.0 out of 5 stars How to Improve America's Education System
By Bryan Carey on September 30, 2020
Education is important. Few would argue that fact and political leaders almost always make statements in favor of improving education and often include it among their top priorities. America’s public education, while certainly important, is constantly under attack by those who feel it isn’t working and should be completely revamped, even dismantled. The many issues regarding education and ways to improve are the subject of this book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

This book cross- examines much of what is wrong with the current education system and it focuses a good deal of space to talking about school choice and standardized testing. What this book advocates has been supported by many others; namely the idea that school choice is a farce that only ends up draining money from a public school system already in dire need of funds and that testing is a not useful nor is it a fair means for assessing student performance. What is interesting is that the book’s author was once a supporter of educational choice and testing, but has reversed her position. She has seen the data, studied the situation, and determined that neither of these positions are good for education and are detrimental to young people.

At one time, I was also a supporter of choice, but I have since revised my position, much for the same reasons outlined in this book. Having choices certainly sounds good, but if you start to allow vouchers for private schooling, you siphon off money from the public schools that need the funds. And to say that private schools- or charter schools for that matter- are better than public schools is misleading because private and charters have the option to reject applicants and/or expel problem students. And with testing, the problem is that teachers are held to impossible standards and end up devoting far too much of their time in the classroom to test preparation. They are forced to turn their attention to testing and how to do well on a standardized test when they need to be focused on innovative teaching.

Another reason to like this book is that it is not just a long rant about what is wrong with America’s education system. It is also a guide for improvement and it lists out many changes that would help make America’s education system a model for the rest of the world. Parental involvement is one thing. Another is increased investment in public education, particularly in areas of the country where it is most needed. Another is the elimination of for- profit schools because they tend to cause administrators to sway from educational needs of students in favor of making money.

America’s educational system needs repair and The Death and Life of the Great American School system is a great way to learn what is broken and how to fix it. The book is well- written, persuasive, sensible, and includes decades of wisdom from one of America’s foremost educators. Read it and prepare to take action!
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Reviewed in the United States on February 27, 2018
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 9, 2016
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Claudio castro
5.0 out of 5 stars Excelente leitura
Reviewed in Brazil on February 1, 2018
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