Well once again, I am finishing up a post over a week later than I promised myself I would. One day I am sure I will get the hang of it and these posts will come more consistently than once every three weeks. This time though I have a bit of an excuse. I had to read an entire book before I could even begin. So without further ado, here is my review of Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.
Disclaimer: As is the case with many teachers/bloggers in my world, Diane Ravitch is a personal hero of mine. At age 75 Ravitch blogs several times a day, tweets non-stop, gives talks all around the country, and still has time to write very thoroughly researched books on education. Ravitch does all this while being constantly attacked and slandered by some of the most powerful players in the education reform movement in the county. Talk about one tough lady.
Over the past few weeks, dozens of bloggers across the country have come out in support of Ravitch and written glowing reviews of Reign of Error. At the same time her opponents have come out to slander her, mainly out of a very real fear that the tide is turning back against them. I doubt this book will change the opinion of people on either side of this debate. If you are a teacher who has been in the trenches, you know that what Ravitch speaks is true. At the same time, if you are a member of E4E, StudentsFirst, or any other Walmart/Gates backed dummy group, you will jump on any "reform" in education, no matter how damaging it is to children, as long as it keeps your society meritocratic, and your pockets lined. (Just consider the fact that all the people praising the book are actual classroom teachers, parents of public school children, and prominent researchers and professors. While the people bashing the book are conservative hedge fund managers and their cronies.) However, if you are someone who has not picked a side yet, someone who still needs more information on the debate itself, or just someone interested in learning about the climate of education in this country you will certainly gain a lot from reading Reign of Error.
In her book Ravitch tells the entire story of the current national movement towards privatization (often cleverly disguised as "school choice"). After spending a few chapters carefully shaping the debate Ravitch goes on to point out and debunk many of the myths of education reform being pushed on the American public by the plutocrats that run this country. Each chapter starts with a "claim" of the reformers, and then the "truth." Each myth is very carefully disputed and made clear through evidence, charts, and clear explanations (all of which are end noted with sources). Here are two of my favorite "claims" and "truths":
Claim: Charter schools will revolutionize American education by their freedom to innovate and produce dramatically better results.
Truth: Charter schools run the gamut from excellent to awful and on average are no more innovative of successful than public schools.
Claim: Virtual schools will bring the promise of personalized, customized, learning to every student and usher in an age of educational excellence for all.
Truth: Virtual schools are cash cows for their owners but poor substitutes for real teachers and real schools.
In the final chapters of the book Ravitch takes the next step by offering many solutions to our current problems in education. It is in this final third of the book where I believe she exceeds her previous book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The solutions she offers are nothing radical or earth shattering, and none of them would change the system overnight. However they are real solutions (not the next big thing that will be thrown out in 3 years, after several billion dollars are wasted and millions more have dropped out) that would bring real positive results over time. Things like reduced class size, wraparound services, and strengthening the teaching profession. These are real solutions that any teacher who has spent more than two years in a classroom knows are necessary for progress.
Ravitch has done all of the hard work for us activists. She has made many clear and well researched arguments, and advocated for the real reforms that real educators want. Reign of Error may just be the catalyst that finally pushes back the tide of education reform. Once the public is truly informed and sees through the lies, double talk, and half truths, of the reformers it will be impossible to stop the push back.