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Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 17, 2013
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*Starred Review* Education scholar Ravitch follows The Death and Life of the Great American School System (2010) with a well-researched and insightful critique of current efforts at public education reform. Putting the current “privatization movement” in the broader historical context of public school reform, Ravitch argues that there never was an ideal time when social inequities didn’t fall hardest on poor and minority students. Instead of focusing exclusively on fixing what is considered wrong with public schools, policy makers should enact antipoverty initiatives to reduce racial and socioeconomic inequality reflected in inadequate health care and preschool learning even before children enter school, she contends. Though she concedes historic and current shortcomings, Ravitch debunks myths regarding declining high-school graduation rates and challenges the validity of standardized tests results, international test scores, and teacher accountability measured by students’ test results. Ravitch tackles hot-button issues, including charter schools, and takes particular aim at Teach for America and school reform leader Michelle Rhee, questioning the sincerity of conservative foundations backing the movement in an effort to dismantle public education. Ravitch advocates for more rigorous preschools, smaller class sizes, better teacher training, and comprehensive social services, among other initiatives, in this passionate plea to protect the nation’s public schools from privatization. --Vanessa Bush
Praise for Diane Ravitch’s
REIGN OF ERROR
“The most clear-headed and influential critic of privatization is Diane Ravitch, who has earned a reputation as an independent thinker. Refusing to embrace the formulas of left and right, she attacks politically correct speech codes as intelligently as she criticizes the free-market faith in competition. She has also been willing to change her mind in public: at one time an advocate of standardized testing, she is now a skeptic. And this skepticism animates her broader critique in Reign of Error, a book that dispels the clouds of reform rhetoric to reveal the destructiveness of the privatization agenda.”
—Jackson Lear, Commonweal
“No matter what side of the debate the reader is on, Ms. Ravitch provides a thought-provoking look at some of the major challenges facing public education today.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “Those who have grown increasingly alarmed at seeing public education bartered off piece by piece, and seeing schools and teachers thrown into a state of siege, will be grateful for this cri de Coeur—a fearless book, a manifesto, and a cry to battle.”
-Jonathan Kozol, New York Times Book Review
“Ravtich’s critique of the corporate reformers’ manufactured agenda, along with the truly progressive alternatives she offers, shows us a way to begin the long haul toward improving democracy’s classrooms.”
-Joseph Featherstone, The Nation
“Diane Ravitch [is] arguably our leading historian of primary and secondary education.”
-Andrew Delbanco, The New York Review of Books
“Ravitch has emerged as the most consistent and searching critic of the contemporary education-reform movement.”
-Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs
“No education or social issues library should be without this book.”
-Diane C. Donovan, California Bookwatch
“The best word I can come up with to describe the Ravitch of today is muckraking – reform-minded journalism that aims to expose misconduct and conspiracy…We need public figures like Ravitch to highlight perilous trends (and illuminate promising trends)…Reign of Error is a must-read book.”
-Sam Chaltain, Education Week
“[Ravitch] presents real solutions, not only to improve our public schools, but also to improve the lives of the children who walk their halls.”
-Darcie Chimarusti, NewsWorks
“[Ravitch] is a devastating social critic who is well aware of the current political environment. Ravitch is able to skewer this agenda so efficiently because she’s seen it all before…Ravitch’s candor stands in stark contrast to the bromides of the corporate reformers, who have pretty much left any attempts at integration out of their schemes.”
-NEA.org (National Education Association)
“Read this book and keep it somewhere within arm’s length for the next decade or so.”
-Jose Vilson, Educator, writer, activist
“Diane Ravitch has emerged as an iconic figure on America’s political landscape. What Daniel Ellsberg was to the Vietnam War, Ravitch has become to the battle raging over public education – a truth-teller with the knowledge that comes from decades on the inside of the education ‘reform’ movement.”
-Anthony Cody, Education Week Teacher
“Reign of Error is a must-read; brilliant concise and elegant in dissecting and countering the corporate reform myths…You will never find a more succinct and compelling book than Reign of Error, with a crystal clear analysis of the way in which our schools are being driven into the ground by the Billionaire Boys club of Gates, Broad, Walton, Murdoch, and Bloomberg, and other ideologues and opportunists eager to join in. We must win this battle for the soul of our education system before it’s too late.
-NYC Public School Parent
“Diane Ravitch is America’s foremost educational historian. In each chapter Ravitch provides detailed, clear explanations of the relevant data… She is a thorough and careful scholar. As important as her previous book was, Ravitch has outdone that with this magnum opus. This book is by far her finest work, and something which everyone truly concerned about education should read.”
“I advise all public school teachers to read Ravitch’s book. Her experience makes her writing rich. Reformers do not like her because she exposes them…Her critics attack her personally because they cannot dent the substance that is Ravitch’s Reign of Error. She has pulled their reformer pants down in public. There they stand, red-faced and embarrassed. Ravitch is fighting for us. Buy the book.”
-The Huffington Post
“I knew a lot about what happened to black public schools in Mississippi, but had concerns about how to go about building a better system. After reading REIGN OF ERROR I now know exactly how to proceed. Mississippi is indeed the exception that the whole world believes it to be. I promised God that if I kept living I would spend the rest of my life moving Mississippi blacks from the bottom to the top. Thanks to Diane Ravitch I now know what has to be done.”
-James Meredith, author of Three Years in Mississippi
“Diane Ravitch is the Martin Luther King and Joan of Arc of American education, a fearless crusader for every American child, parent and teacher. In Reign of Error, she reveals the shocking lack of evidence behind many of the radical experiments being forced on our public school children and families by tragically misguided politicians and non-educators. Most important, she lays out a vision of evidence-based, authentic education reforms that hold great promise for America to lead and inspire the world again. Every American parent, teacher and citizen interested in our future should read this book. What Silent Spring and The Fate of the Earth did for the environmental and antinuclear movements, this book should do for the cause of improving America's public schools.
-William Doyle, author of A Soldier’s Dream
“Diane Ravitch's must read book makes a compelling case for the essential purpose of public education. She debunks the myths of its failures --and of the market reformers' successes-- and points to real doable investments that will make public education the gateway to the American dream for all our children.”
-Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers
“Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error takes the myths surrounding public education head on and provides her readers with logic and reasoning sorely missing from the current debate. Diane is a fierce warrior against the so-called reformers whose ideology exacerbates the problems of poverty and inequity. Reign of Error takes on each of the common myths and blows them up with the reformers’ own holy grail – DATA!! Data that disputes the miracle schools, the effects of poverty and myth of the dropout factors. Ravitch also takes on the Billionaire Boys Club with swipes at their handmaidens of destruction, including Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and Wendy Kopp, and the book provides the solutions that will change the trajectory away from so-called destructive innovation towards equitable, high quality education for all children.”
—Karen GJ Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union
“American educational reformers have fashioned a narrative that has become so pervasive that it has effectively silenced alternative accounts. In this courageous book Diane Ravitch persuasively challenges both the narrative's presentation and analysis of data and its underlying value system.”
-Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education Harvard Graduate School of Education
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So how does Ravitch’s commonsensical observation apply to troubled public schools, where students frequently suffer the many burdens of poverty and the limited horizons associated with racial segregation? Well, society should find a way so that these public schools offer the same rich educational environment as elite schools, only more so.
In REIGN OF ERROR: THE HOAX OF THE PRIVITIZATION MOVEMENT AND THE DANGER TO AMERICA’S PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Ravitch reviews what today’s self-appointed reformists are doing to change public education (chapters 1-20) and the modifications in our approach to public school systems that sheer commonsense says will make a difference (chapters 21-33).
In dealing with the so-called educational reformers, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Ravitch points out such facts as:
o The core supporters of charter schools, school choice through vouchers, and virtual schools are often Libertarians who, as a matter of principle, oppose public services of all kinds, including the public management of education.
o Deep-pocket foundations, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, support these so-called reformers, who have solutions for closing the achievement gaps between white and black and wealthy and poor students. These include: “We want a great teacher in every classroom. Class size doesn’t matter. Teachers should be paid more if their students get higher scores and should be fired if they don’t get higher scores. Teachers should have their seniority and tenure stripped from them. Bad teachers cause the achievement gap. Teachers’ unions don’t care about the students. Replacing teachers with online instruction not only works but cuts costs…” Observes Ravitch: “This is a seductive message because if offers hope that someone knows how to fix difficult problems.”
o In general, the test results of students at charter schools are no better than those at public schools after the test results of charters are adjusted to eliminate distortions caused by lottery enrollment mechanisms, short enrollment windows, a paucity of special needs students, and a culture of culling of students who are behavior problems. And test results at voucher and virtual schools actually tend to even worse.
o The big educational initiatives of the last two Presidential administrations—Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s “Race to the Top” enforce a regimen known as “testing, accountability, and choice.” Educational measures that this regimen foster include: diversion of school resources and class time to prepare for standardized testing; merit pay; and unrealistic accountability standards which can be used to rate and close schools (NCLB) and rate and terminate teachers (RttT). Observes Ravitch: “All of these ideas were highly contested; not one has a strong body of evidence or research to support it or to justify the imposition of so many different and untested changes at the same time.”
So what alternatives does Ravitch propose? Her final 12 chapters have such titles as: “The Early Years Count”, “The Essentials of Good Education”, “Class Size Matters”, “Measure Knowledge and Skills with Care”, and “Strengthen the Profession.” See? Commonsense.
Ravitch gets the last word, which is an excerpt from her chapter entitled “The Toxic Mix.” “For every ‘miracle’ school celebrated by the media, there are scores of ‘dumpster schools’ where the low-performing students are unceremoniously hidden away. This is not school reform… It is social neglect. It is a purposeful abandonment of public responsibility to address deep-seated problems that only public policy can overcome.”
Damage or destroy the education of our children and you have the means to undermine our country: teach the children how to memorize instead of think, damage teaching as a profession, use the school to indoctrinate instead of educate, place investors' interests over the interests of the children, place control of the educational system in the hands of a few instead of in the community. There have always been those who want to educate the majority of the children to do as they are told so that these same children grow up to be compliant adults, not questioning the motives of our leaders.
I would recommend this book be read by anyone who care about their community.
ONE VERY LARGE NEGATIVE REGARDS THE KINDLE VERSION. The Kindle version does not show page numbers which makes it unsuitable for book clubs or group discussions where other group members have the hardbound or paperback versions.
Well written, and her claims and counterclaims are often validated with evidence. A staple read if you're into the changing education system!
Even despite the fact it was a bit dry and tedious on occasions, I found a lot of good information in it.
I have always been a supporter of Public Schools in this country. I don't think there is anything wrong with Public Schools that a little time, money and interested people can't fix. All of my family have attended them from my Mother and Father both, in the early part of the last century to my Grandchildren the last of whom graduated in 2010. But, when state budgets start getting cut, education is always the first place they start cutting. Then the privatization vultures move in for the kill and shove part of those funds to 'for profit schools' which they tout as being a cure-all for something they have deliberately created (an educational crisis). They are deliberately setting public schools up to fail when they start taking funds away. It's one the politician's oldest tricks when they want to get rid of a public institution...start starving it to death of funds to operate. They are currently do it to the Post Office, that's going to wind up being another victim of their excessive greed and ignorance. And once more the public will suffer and pay through the nose for their greed.
Only a complete fool would try and sell the idea that economic advantages and poverty doesn't have something to do with children's abilities to learn. The ones who try and peddle this fallacy are also the ones who go out of their way to ignore poverty and pretend those who are in poverty are there because they want to be or are lazy. Their ideology will not allow them to look at the reasons for why poverty is growing. If they did they might have to abandon their wrongheaded policies. They cut food stamps and every other program designed to help the poor. While giving the rich another huge tax break they don't need. They claim giving the poor a helping hand is only making them dependent upon Government. They refuse to recognize poverty exists, because if they did they would be required to do something about it...which they don't want to do. It's easier to whine and belly ache about it. The excuses are endless and infuriating.
I am no big fan of privatization either. As far as I am concerned it's the biggest rip off that politician's have foisted on the public for 30 years now. It winds up costing the taxpayer twice as much for these 'for profit' schemes of politician's than it would if the Government did it. These 'for profit' people are in the business to make money, and if they don't make profits they get out of the business and won't bother. These Charter Schools are an unproven scheme they have come up with and are fraught with problems too. That much I know from local ones in my area. They don't operate by the same set of rules Public schools do (they don't have to accept all students and can kick them out when they feel like it, they are able to have small class sizes and pick only the best students) and when you are able to pick and choose who you want to educate it's always going to outperform ones who don't have that advantage. They are shoving money at a unproven idea again and down the public's throat and expecting us to buy it. Where a lot of these people think Government can't do anything right...as far as I am concerned private businesses are far bigger screw ups. These last 30 years have brought out some monumental failures of private business. And there have been some huge ones from the privatization of the Iraq war that cost the taxpayer billions in wasted tax dollars that were thrown at a nonexistent problem, to the disaster I see in education these days. One that has been created by the privatization of some public schools.
The Public Schools have managed to educated this country and do it well for years. They took everyone in rich or poor and gave them the same quality of education. It looks to me like there is going to be a section of poor children that are as always going to get left out. And not receive a decent education they are entitled to as citizens. Which in a Democracy is essential. But, since the corporate world has taken over, we have had a constant bashing of public schools and misinformation being peddled to an ignorant public willing to eat it up. They have gotten decidedly worse due to the machinations that are promoted by the privatization junkies. Those who are critic's of public education have an agenda. The biggest one Christian's who don't like science, teaching evolution and sex education in schools, hate Government and want to get religion back in schools anyway they can even if they have to privatize them to do it. They are able to get religion in Charter schools and in several states have managed to, because they are private schools until they want taxpayer money then they suddenly become public schools but not bound by the same rules public schools are. They have control of one of our political parties now. Since they have taken over, our schools have become a disaster.
I can honestly see why the schools are failing. With so much emphasis being put on testing and test scores and not enough on actual learning and teaching children. The type of people who claim to be reformers and trying to run them like a business. Which is a terrible way to be running education. So I can see why it's a disaster. So it appears that the failure rest with the way things are being done in this day and age. They need to get back to the basics that were taught 50 years ago when I went to school. There weren't the monumental problems with public schools there are today.