So when I heard she'd changed her mind on most of that I figured I should read her new book: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. Her rejection of past enthusiasms is thorough. Some specimens:
- On the "No Child Left Behind" federal law that sets the framework for education reform: "
- On charter schools:
- On the mania for standardized tests:
The part of the book from which I learned the most concerned the big foundations that have moved into educational policy in the last 15 years. Ravitch calls Gates, Walton and Broad "the Billionaire Boys' Club" and her attitude toward their interventions is scathing.
I have to wonder whether these epiphenomena of our present age of growing inequality will ever mellow in their philanthropic enthusiasms? The residue of the previous Gilded Age (such as the Ford, Mott, and Carnegie foundations) have moderated their arrogance to some degree, noticed a few failures, incorporated some diverse influences. But the new outfits are still feeling their oats, ricocheting around in the enormously complex arena of our kids' education with lots of money and without any need of exercise any of the less dramatic virtues such as prudence or doubt. I pity the kids (and teachers) who are the butt such well-intentioned experiments.
Calling out foundations' autocratic interventions is not something that most policy analysts can afford to do -- literally. Ravitch has the standing to speak truths that would cost less prestigious advocates their jobs. She does the vision of a public education system a great service with this denunciation of destruction passing as reform. Unfortunately, in public education the Obama administration is augmenting the failed policies of its predecessor so such voices are needed as much today as ever.