Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters


May 7, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I have taught high school math and science in the small rural town of Bishop, CA since 1984. I consider myself dedicated and philosophical, and I’ve seen many trends in education come and go. I heard your interview with Terry Gross on NPR and then bought your book The Death and Life, intrigued because our school was smack in the middle of standardized testing. This evening I had the chance to start reading.

This is the quote that moved me to tears: “Testing, I realized, had become a central preoccupation in the schools and was not just a measure but an end in itself. I came to believe that accountability, as written into federal law, was not raising standards but dumbing down the schools as states and districts strived to meet unrealistic targets.”

I can’t tell you how demoralizing it is to watch young adults suffer round after round of multiple-choice review for high-stakes testing (as well as the testing itself) as compliant as church mice. All so their school can avoid the much dreaded "Program Improvement" status. Meanwhile, the kids' understanding of the world around them, their schema, is growing fragile, as black-and-white “pencil and paper” curriculum displaces meaningful activity. Compound this with the growing popularity of cell phones, computer games, and texting, and we now have a generation of people whose cognitive world is narrow indeed.

Here in California the kids are quite aware that their test scores bear consequences for the teachers and administrators alone. The cynics among them find it funny. Meanwhile our school has put increasingly more resources into finding ways to beg, wheedle, cajole, and trick kids into performing on high-stakes tests. In fact, it’s been the guiding light of our “staff development” for years.

Perhaps the accountability movement nudged some recalcitrant teachers along, but for those of us who’ve always taken the job seriously, it’s put our feet in concrete. Unfortunately, some of us were born to teach anyway.

I keep wondering, why don't politicians trust professional educators to lead school reform? We work with kids year in, year out. Why wouldn’t we have meaningful insight?

Please, Ms. Ravitch, continue to daylight this grim scenario. Fight the good fight.


Ms. Kerry Lozito


May 5, 2011

Ms. Ravitch,

A few months ago I watched you on The Daily Show and subsequently bought your book. I felt validated and empowered by your words as our assessment season in Tennessee quickly approached.

So often I have felt as though classroom teachers have no voice in the education conversation, but in the weeks following your appearance on The Daily Show, I felt a sense of urgency. I wrote a short piece that was actually published by Edweek’s Teacher.

I want to thank you for speaking for children and for teachers. I also want to thank you for prompting me to find my own voice and to actually use it. I am relatively inexperienced, only in my 7th year of teaching, and I hope this will be the first of many opportunities to advocate for children.

Amanda Sheaffer


May 2, 2011

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

This weekend, I met with a group called The Star Learners. We have been meeting twice a year for 20 years. We choose a topic to study, and take turns planning and facilitating the learning design for our gatherings. Most, but not all, of us are educational professionals, primarily in the discipline of Professional Development. We have several authors in our midst and are a passionate and committed group.

Our topic this past weekend was “Creating a Vivid Future for Public Education.” We used your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System and Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. We invited some high school students to be a part of the group and talked about the “current state” the “probable state” and the “preferred state” of the purpose of education, what should be taught, high-stakes testing, and other issues.

I described the letters and notes I have been writing to our legislators, and the calls I’ve been making. As the weekend continued, the passion grew and people made commitments in our final activity which was “My Story of the Preferred Future of American Education.” One of our members is a Superintendent of a small south Texas school system. He told a story of Angela and how she worked so hard on our infamous state test, the TAKS. We encouraged him to take the story public, and the courageous and savvy man did it! It is posted on Youtube here.

I just wanted you to know that we appreciate your work and your support. I want you to know that because of you, several of us are stepping out of our comfort zones and stepping into defending public education.

Thanks so much for your work, and for your time,

Jody Mason Westbrook


May 2, 2011

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I just wanted to briefly and personally thank you for your tireless efforts the last couple of years. Your appearance on National Public Radio discussing the impact of the No Child Left Behind legislation and how it is impacting schools and teachers is beginning to shift the tide. As you know, morale is at an all time low and many excellent educators are feeling overwhelmed by our lack of power and voice in this situation.

I could go on for pages about how much I have followed your perspective in your publications, both agreeing and disagreeing at times. I followed you when I worked at Hunter College, in New York City Public Schools, at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Now, as I work in the Public Schools here in Virginia, I must truly thank you for seemingly being the only voice of reason in a sea of outright lies and mean-spirited, self-serving, corporate interests.

Again, thank you for keeping the “journalists” of today honest and on their toes.

All the best,



May 1, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

Keep up the fight. Yours is one of the few rational voices heard in education today.

In a recent interview, you stated the crux of the problem with NCLB. Instead of using tests as a diagnostic tool, they are using test results as a club to bash whomever.

I’m 70 and work in an after school program in Buffalo NY. It is PS18 on our far west side and populated predominantly by Hispanics, Karen from Myanmar, Somalis and other refugees. Some of them speak 3 languages as well as pretty good street English so they are not by any means slow. Tests just kill them.

It drives me crazy to hear all the non fact based BS that floats around as informed opinion.

Blessings on your efforts,

Paul R. Nevergold


April 29, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I really enjoyed your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. As a veteran teacher, I’m on the front lines and see clearly the consequences testing and corporate America have on our public school classrooms.

I teach 1st grade in a small rural school that is part of a very impoverished community. We have no PE, Art, or Music classes, and have narrowed our curriculum to focus almost exclusively on Reading, Writing and Math. Our district is doing all it can to reduce the number of special education students. Why? In my opinion, a special education subgroup makes it much harder to make AYP. As if things weren’t hard enough, the public now seems to feel I earn too much and my benefits are too generous. Huh?

This is a very difficult time to be a teacher. I’m glad to have scholars like you asking important questions and exposing important truths. Please keep up the good work.


Tom (Somewhere in the Great Basin)*

*Last name withheld for protection in a post Collective Bargaining world


April 28, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

One of the most important book purchases I made several years ago was your book about the state of Public Education. You articulated so many ideas I have had about the destruction of our public school system. Today I happened to listen to Terry Gross’s interview with you, and once again you provided the most clear and concise “big picture” of what and how the system is being decimated.

I have been an accomplished public school teacher in an urban school district teaching grades from 4th to 12th, as well as college teaching for the past ten years. I have loved teaching and interacting with my students for every year I have taught (22 years) and know all too well what you said about the dysfunctional society in our students' communities. You are on point with everything you discussed in your book and with Terry Gross, but I especially loved what you coined “the entrepreneurial” environment we are in. There is big money to be made, and it is, and the people making it are being lauded as innovators of education. When did public school teachers become the pariahs of society? In this past school year, I have felt that a witch hunt had begun on teachers, and that we were responsible not only for all the ills of society, but also responsible for the economic crisis because of our unions. Once again, you explained why the Republicans have a need to crush the unions.

I don’t know if you have been aware of a situation in my school district in which my high school was going to go charter next year. An EMO was chosen, but then the political powers held a secret meeting with a school district representative, the two EMO’s, and a member of our School Reform Commission, and suddenly the original EMO chosen had withdrawn, and the EMO with political ties was in.

On another note, after reading Mr. Canada’s book I was very impressed with his tenacity in creating a school environment that would nurture and encourage academic excellence. However, he lost some of my vote when the “test” became a horse race for his students. I was let down when he felt his school and students weren't “succeeding” like the KIPP students.

Ms. Ravitch, I wish you would get your voice out to different venues because I don't think enough people are hearing your side. It seems the news bites are filled with the same rhetoric and educational jargon over and over again until people begin to believe it.

I am anxiously hoping that you are at work on another insightful book. It is heartwarming to know that there is someone like you who truly understands and believes in the education of all our children, and not just the privileged few.

Thank you for all the hard work you have done over the years.




April 19, 2011


Your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, is so true, and you did a great job writing it.

I’m focused on family, career as a 30 year Sr Accountant/Financial Analyst/Audit, and social justice, being very active in several social justice organizations like MoveOn.org, DFA, OFA, PDA, Bold Progressives, etc, and being a progressive Catholic.

I do a lot of reading, believe in supporting a just and vibrant government doing what it should, and connected with about 10 nationally recognized progressive professors of economics, plus a professor of American Studies, and also a professor of Sociology.

I say never give up, and press forward with all your might to correct and improve upon the public school system that given the resources, respect, and right governance can help transform our society into a much better powerhouse of energy, knowledge, integrity, and opportunistic action organized to advocate for and implement the best change and growth possible.

You are one of the best for leading this endeavor!

Thank you,

Harold A Treinen


April 16, 2011

Hello Diane,

I just finished reading The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I want to thank you for putting into words all the frustrations I have barely been able to verbalize with what I see happening in my schools. As I swiftly get shoved to the side in the name of raising test scores, it’s refreshing to know that there are educated people out there who still think sanely! Your book was recommended to me by our assistant band director. He would send me one or two line quotes daily that sounded like they came directly from my mouth (but much more eloquently, of course!). As I began reading it, I quickly realized that I need to keep a highlighter handy because so much of it was noteworthy.

This year has been a difficult one for me as I have seen more rapidly than ever that my role in education is becoming viewed as irrelevant. In multiple ways, it has been brought to my attention that I am primarily responsible for aiding “academic” teachers in raising our value added data, and not for teaching music. It brings me hope to know that there are still people in position of educational authority who see liberal arts education not only as important, but vital. Thanks for all you’re doing to try and restore thinking into schools!




April 12, 2011

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

As a teacher (currently at home with my daughter), I have become an avid fan of your work and insights. My sister, a second grade teacher in Newton, Iowa (you may have heard of it from a recent 60 Minutes segment on the town that used to be the home of Maytag), periodically writes a blog for the Des Moines Register’s opinion pages. I check “Bridging Differences” each week, and after your recent posts, I couldn’t help but think that you would appreciate my sister’s most recent blog post. It is an open letter to teachers, and I know it was something I needed to hear.

Thank you so much for your work. Our discourse seems to be lacking in facts and civility so much lately that your words are no less than a godsend to those of us in the middle who want nothing more than reasoned, thoughtful debate.


Danielle Christensen


April 10, 2011

Dr. Ravitch,

I read with great delight your recent book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I learned a great deal and found the insights about the American school system to be incredible. In short, I loved the book, but at the same time, I am quite disturbed about what is going on with the attack on the public school system.

My kids went to public schools in Irvine, CA. One then graduated form UC Santa Barbara and one from Stanford. Public education served them well.

My wife taught for 40 years at the elementary level, and I taught 37 years at the high school level with 28 years part-time at the college level. We are both concerned educators.

I have come to the conclusion that Laurence Steinberg’s book Beyond the Classroom has it right about where the problem lies — in the home. In the book he convincing discusses the use of time by students in American society. I have seen it. My wife has seen it. It does not matter what school reform brings to the students if they are not ENGAGED. Getting students to buy into education is the biggest problem that educators face today. Too many of them have accepted mediocrity for their school work.

Moreover, you identify another major problem that contributes a great deal to the increasing demise of education in America, and that is early education. Early childhood education is paramount to the success of the school system. In my view, if Gates and the Billionaire Boys want to make good use of their money, they need to put it into early childhood education, and the education of parents of disadvantaged kids.

There is so much that I could say about the content of your book. I will leave it at this: so much of what you describe is quite disturbing. Charter schools replacing public schools, business people running education, a test focused educational system, punishment for teachers whose students score poorly on unreliable tests, ad infinitum.

Again, thank you for such a superbly researched book. I look forward to reading more of you work.

Best Regards,

Dick Sinay


April 6, 2011


After 11 years in Catholic education and 15 years in public education, the feds will slash my Social Security (I’m a double-dipper; 27 years of paying into Social Security, and that penalty means I won’t be able to have the barnacles scraped off the hull of my racing sloop in the Monaco Yacht Basin), and Californians want to slash my teacher’s pension.

And this on top of a year of Wisconsin, of teacher-bashing (“It's not even a fulltime job!”), of Waiting for Superman, of continuing to finish a disappointing second to Mexico in our national childhood poverty rate (“USA!” “USA!”), of having our district jump with both feet into the TAP program, the brainchild of the Unindicted Milken Brother, and, at my school, another round of pink slips--the counselors have been laid off at my high school four years in a row, while being told how valued they are, and we have all been advised “not to take it (getting a layoff notice) personally.“

And we’ve had more than a year of history department inservices spent, in agony, debating the minutiae of badly-written multiple choice questions we will coach, er, teach to, to prepare our kids for state testing in April. We have a big pre-test, a big post-test, five “cluster” (we’re not officially calling them “units” anymore: “clusters” refer to the strings of multiple choice questions aligned to the state standards) pre-tests, five cluster post-tests, then the actual live-ammo STAR test. We’re also supposed to have a big Jeopardy game based on the post-test questions, and they’ll play it right after the post-test, just before the STAR test, but somehow my heart’s not in it. And, simultaneously, we’re also supposed to do a much better job at formulating Authentic Assessments. That’s some catch, that Catch-22.

We even have our own Bean Counter to assess our progress. He was promoted out of the classroom, which meant that already-overburdened colleagues had to take his classes. He has a nice chair.

(Meanwhile, when do they learn that Khrushchev’s train passed within a mile of our school in 1960? How do they meet the local Marine who died on Iwo Jima three days before he turned twenty-one? Do they know that Dr. King’s career really began when his daughters couldn’t understand why they couldn’t go to a whites-only amusement park? Why didn’t we have time for baking hardtack this year? James Dean died in our county. I won’t show Rebel or East of Eden during the Fifties unit this year; we don’t have time. That goes for guest speakers, too. Since we will have taught all the state mandates by mid-April, having thrown out gobs of material along the way — like Napoleon’s army in its retreat from Moscow — what do I do with the last six weeks of school, when I’m dead tired and the creative juices have pretty much dried up?)

This year has aged me so far beyond my biological years that I must confront my retirement seriously for the first time. I am, I think, on the right track here.


Jim Gregory

P.S. I still love the kids.


April 3, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

Thank you very much for being a voice of sanity in the madness that seems to be accelerating all around us. I have been at this for 27 years now, teaching and coaching, the last 22 in a rural district in the Finger Lakes region of New York. It has been hard to watch the effect the economic downturn has had on our district, and it’s been hard to put up with the rising wave of “reform” as we are made to focus on testing more and more. Young administrators certainly don’t want to hear about a time when small but tight-knit districts sent well-prepared kids to all kinds of outstanding schools and solid jobs and solid careers, all without the intense emphasis on testing and “accountability” we live with today. I want to make sure I express how appreciative I am for your most recent book for its historical perspective on how the current landscape took shape, and for your support of public schools and teachers. I often wonder how different things might be today if actual positive reforms had been put in place over the last few decades. I remember working as part of our district’s original Compact for Learning committee in the 80s. I thought it was a positive thing, people from many different interest groups coming together to work on what our students should know, what they should be able to do, and even what we wanted them to be like when they finished with us. One change in state government later, and that was over and done with.

I am attaching the newest document we have received, which is basically how the Race to the Top plan will be executed as we pursue College and Career readiness for all. You have probably seen it already, but just in case. As an English teacher, I can tell you that the thought of testing several times a year for every grade from 3-11 is not something I look forward to, and I would seriously consider a retirement incentive and the chance to come at this battle from a different perspective. And that’s just one of the disturbing aspects of the document.

Again, thank you for your efforts on behalf of students and teachers and public schools. You have made it easier to keep plugging away.

Bill Mullarney


April 2, 2011

Ms. Ravitch,

Perhaps I am jumping the gun here (I have not yet finished your book) but I want you to know that as a teacher, retired, of 34 years I truly appreciate your efforts to get a message out there. Your book is much needed. I taught Earth and Space Science to freshmen at Warwick High School, Lititz PA. I enjoyed nearly every (but not every) day very much.

In my mind perhaps one of the most important things we can help students to experience is the feeling of “Hey, I did that!” For me to experience some of my most academically challenged students showing some of my best students how to light a bunsen burner was a thrill and fun. In an age of testing and teaching for tests it is just those kinds of experiences that have to be forfeited. Larger classes and tighter time schedules just do not allow for the time and patience it takes to allow kids to try, fail, try, and succeed at those kinds of lab experiences. The student who helped light burner, the student who allowed him to help, and I are really the only people who knew what happened in those kinds of incidents and we all benefited. But how do you test any of us for that?

So, thanks, Ms. Ravitch, for getting the message out there that there is a heck of a lot more to education than testing and much more than most people will ever realize.


Tom McKinne


March 31, 2011

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I wanted to take a moment to send a thank you for your wonderful book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. As a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, a district that has bought into the philosophies of both Broad and Gates, I read your book with a sense of personal interest. Indeed, it seems that almost everything you wrote about San Diego and New York City are becoming fashionable in districts like mine. The strange attraction to merit pay (initially for administrators and now with a select teacher population) is dividing our district. We recently approved a teacher contract with so many logistical holes in it that most people couldn’t believe it actually passed (and can’t remember voting for it!); we were told to trust our union leaders and district administrators as they filled in the blanks (merit pay, teacher assessment, student assessment, etc.) I guess that I am one of the luckier ones; I teach AP/Honors seniors and for the most part I am unaffected by most of the new rules and regulations, the Gates-funded blood money, and state standardized tests. Still, I work in a district where we are led by Broad graduates in both central and school administration, and even though it doesn’t (yet) affect my job security, it does transform school climate and creates systemic changes that will undoubtedly have negative affects on how our students learn (curricula built around standardized tests and not standards and texts), how our teachers instruct (where teaching literally stops for test-preparation), and how our administrators lead (through data-driven means of assessment). Our new governor and his budget cuts and unabashed support for vouchers isn't helping matters either.

All of the above also affects me as a college instructor. I have served as an adjunct professor of Education at [omitted] University (a small liberal arts school) for the past eight years and teach courses on Multicultural Education and English Methods. I see my students go out into local districts (to student teach) afraid to apply the theory and discourse we use in our classrooms due to the popularity of scripted (“managed”) curricula throughout many of the disciplines (Pittsburgh has bought into this concept wholeheartedly at many levels). In addition, Pittsburgh has started a “teacher academy” that gives the impression that our teacher education programs are not preparing pre-service teachers for life in an urban school setting and offer (require?) an additional semester or year of (paid) internship in a lab school. This teacher academy also seems to be a way for Pittsburgh to recruit uncertified teachers (i.e., professionals who want a career change), by tempting them with good pay and quick study.

So, thank you again for your well-written, well-researched, and honest appraisal of NCLB and people like Gates and Broad and their unfortunate effects on the American education system. Thank you for being a strong and positive voice for public schools. I hope that enough of the “right” people read your book (and your blog) and take a bit of advice from someone who’s actually an educator (and not in business or law). In the spirit of Paulo Freire, we need to find a way to reclaim education, in both theory and practice.




March 29, 2011

Ms. Ravitch,

I am a teacher in California. I was a visual arts teacher for many years until our district decided to pull the funding and now am teaching kindergarten. I just watched your speech to the AASA National Conference and it brought me to tears. Having someone put into words the frustration and demoralizing feelings we have as teachers in the working in the classroom day in and day out is so encouraging. I am thankful that you are willing to be our voice. I just wish the people making the policy decisions that affect us in the classroom would listen as well. If I thought they were, it would give me some hope that teaching could be what we know it should be. As it is I am not optimistic. Thank you for being willing to express our feelings and concerns.




March 27, 2011

Thank you for writing The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It is a compelling account of how the current reform efforts have damaged education. It is also a shining example of a scholarly, researched-based and integrative work that would not be the product of students coming out of the narrow, low-quality schools our choice and testing advocates envision.

These are two points you make so well, and must be understood before we can move forward:

1. There is a notion that we can try anything in education, because our current system is a complete failure. While we need to do better, we are far from a complete failure.

2. The on-going reform efforts by non-educators have incurred a tremendous opportunity cost. We have not been able to improve education in sensible ways because implementing the nonsensical reforms has taken all available time and resources.

As an educator who entered the profession inspired by “A Nation at Risk” twenty-five years ago, it has been hard for me to see what a young person would find appealing in the teaching profession today. Your book will inspire many young people that the future of education may be brighter if the voice of reason can prevail.

Chris Hinze


March 20, 2011

Dr. Ravitch,

I listened to your interview on “To the Best of our Knowledge” today. I’d like to get a copy of your book and read it so that I might better respond to you and possibly help.

I am currently an underemployed librarian. Four years ago, I was laid off from Harcourt Assessments. For most of my six years as the Corporate Librarian and Archivist, I was working solo. You’d have thought that a company so firmly rooted in research and development would know the value of scholarship and research resources, but alas no. I worked all that time putting together one of the finest research collections of educational and psychological testing, and was never to see better facilities than a cage in the warehouse. I often wondered when tour groups of State Educational departments were brought out to the warehouse and passed by my cage, seeing my hand-lettered sign for the corporation’s library, what they thought. In spite of my best efforts to bridge the many “Ivory Silos,” the executives managed to implode the company, even though their lobbyists had helped write No Child Left Behind.

Harcourt trumpeted the passage of NCLB as their ticket to 15% revenue growth per year and fabulous profits. Those of us in the trenches were far more realistic, but had no power to reign-in the “irrational exuberance,” plus many of us had children already suffering under the onus of excessive, misguided testing.

My daughter told me of how the teachers stopped their TAKS test in progress and coached them on the correct answers. My son, condemned to an entire school career in “Behavior Modification” is paying the price to this day. His “group” was kept in a holding tank where their grades wouldn’t impact the school’s exemplary rating. Physically handicapped students were displayed front and center to show the world how inclusive the school was.

Before being a corporate librarian, I served 9 years in a public library. One of my most rewarding times was as a library assistant, staffing a part-time outreach project in the black neighborhood in Denton, Texas. You speak of poverty and there was certainly some to be found in Denton, but when we were there, you could see glow in the kids.

Things I see going wrong in education today point to the “over professionalization” of the process. Many teachers in elementary insist on kids sitting still and absorbing knowledge and demand that children who can’t be medicated. The first thing to be taken away is recess. Recess, when it occurs is not kids playing among themselves and developing executive functions, but strictly supervised by coaches and physical education teachers. The folly continues on through middle and high school. If you aren’t participating in organized sports you don’t get any physical activity or education. Obesity is rampant. Of equal concern is the excessive amount of administrative staff and Ph.D. administratos, squeezing out funding for actual teachers.

I’m sorry to go on. I’m sure I could write a book as well. I do feel that greed has claimed another victim in the Education of our children. I hope that the course can be reversed. My grandmother was a teacher in as one-room school... a model with valid lessons even for today. I would welcome a dialogue and wish you well.


Bruce Mergele


February 22, 2011

Your recent editorial piece makes some great points. Let’s assume that collective bargaining will be a thing of the past for teachers. The next logical question would be, what should teachers be thinking about to advocate for that will help them remain successful without the union umbrella. Other industries have survived without unions and are well paid and well treated. The difference with teachers is that so many things impact their students’ performance that are out of their control.

I think that teachers need a way to call out the parents that hurt their students’ progress. What might that look like? Maybe each teacher should be able to publish on a district web site the names of parents that either don’t support good learning habits, don’t read with or to their children (I’m of course assuming the parent is capable of this) or parents that don’t teach their children to respect adults — particularly their teachers.

I’m all for evaluating and paying for performance but only for the things that teachers can actually control. Ill-mannered children who watch TV or play videos all night instead of doing homework are not a teacher’s responsibility.

Susan B. Tripi


February 21, 2011

The Governor [of Wisconsin] is just going to pass the bill and everyone will take it like good surfs and will have to go home because they are poor and can’t afford to stay and protest.

They sure were not protesting while everyone’s jobs in the private sector have been been outsourced the last ten years. Only when their little pocket books and rights are going to be stolen do they get motivated.

Once the bill passes it is just the first step. The second step will be to start laying them off to save money and hire illegal aliens to replace any of them they can. Sound familiar?

As Eric Holder stated on national television last year, this is a “Nation of Cowards.”

Americans sit and watch Desperate Housewives and American Idol and sports while the government passes laws against them like the Patriot Act and trade agreements while voting for corporations over the best interest of the citizens.

I am shocked these people have the guts to protest at all.

Although it is way too late, their state has been ripped off by Wall Street and outsourced by corporations and is BROKE. Their pension funds raided by Wall Street and invested in Goldman Sachs financial theft investment schemes.

Why were they not protesting the past two years while the budgets were known to be in trouble? Johnny come lately rings a bell and complaisant does as well.

This is only the beginning of the end for the United States. We are not in a recession, we are and have been in a DEPRESSION since 2008 when the banks collapsed due to FRAUD. Of course NO indictments or prosecutions for the rich guys and the media will not dare say the word “depression.”

The stock market is rising faster than anyone has ever seen it. Just as it did before it crashed in the 1920’s.

The teachers think they have it bad now, they have seen nothing yet. Wait until all the schools are closed like the Great Depression. Except we have a 1,000 times more people now that are heavily armed. Northern California has already stopped all athletics for the school district.

Michigan school district is going to close, they have no money and the state is broke and people fleeing the state. More people have fled Ohio than any time in American history.

The signs are all there. If we choose to ignore them, everyone will pay a very high price very soon.

Bryan Stevens


February 18, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I just finished reading your interview in Principal magazine and felt compelled to send you a personal, heartfelt THANK YOU. Your closing sentence left me, an elementary principal, in tears; specifically, “Being an elementary school principal is one of the most demanding tasks in our society; it is not a job for amateurs.”

Can I tell you, that is the single most affirming statement I think I’ve ever read about my role as a principal. I’m a 31.5 year veteran educator — 22 of those as a principal at all levels K-12 — and I love every single day of my work and my life. How refreshing to read an expert’s opinion that so succinctly nailed the issues.

I hope and pray for your continued success. Please continue to use your influential voice for the good cause of public education within a reasoned, rational system! I’m working towards that end and it sure sounds as if you are too! Sister warriors.

Teresa Robinson


February 20, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

It is with great interest that I read your article today on the CNN website, “Why America’s Teachers Are Enraged.”

To paraphrase a famous gentleman, America’s public schools are, indeed, the last best hope of mankind. I have been both fortunate to have been a teacher for many years and unfortunate enough to witness the manner in which our society has chosen to label teachers as the scapegoats for America’s ills.

I taught high school and college for 37 years. Even today I feel the pull of the classroom and had to resist the call of a local high school to “bail them out” when their AP American History teacher chose to leave. It was very hard to do so. I love teaching and I love the children. It is most distressing to watch as the American people tear our teachers apart like piranhas in a river. It is agonizing to read one superintendent after another write seemingly erudite articles in the New York Times describing what is wrong with education and they could not be more off the mark if they intended to do so.

It is with little modesty that I tell you I have seen it all in our schools. I have been New York State Teacher of the Year, a White House honoree for teaching excellence, and have won more awards than any other teacher I ever heard of. I would trade them all in a second if America would agree to regain its sanity, venerate its teachers, and allow us to educate children properly. For goodness sake.

Thank you for your work,

Eliot Scher


February 20, 2011

Ms. Ravitch,

Thank you for all of your hard work in exposing the myths of modern school reform. I am a history teacher at Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ. Monday will be my fifth anniversary there. We now have our third Superintendent, chosen by the state, in that time. Each year that I have been there we undergo a new and different school model, every year a new initiative different than the previous year. There is no continuity for students. We are a nine-year failing school, so now we risk being shut down. We also lose our highest achieving students every year to Passaic County Tech, and eleven other academies in town. Now the governor has approved a new charter school. I don’t know how we can be expected to succeed in such a scenario.

I don’t know why I’m writing you, but I want to be more active and I don’t know if my union or political reps are fighting it as hard as they ought to. If we voucher or charter our best students out of public schools we’ll have no positive peer role models left for the average student. And each year we’ll be held accountable to raise scores for all the students that get counseled out of private or charter schools. Your review of Waiting for Superman and your op-ed in the Wall Street Journal were wonderful to see and inspiring. We need that message to get out more in my state and turn the discourse back to reality. Here in NJ we’re the entire reason that the state is broke and we’re lazy and no good. Well, we also have one of the top school systems in the country too, but no one sees that.

I look forward to more of your articles and any advice you can offer.

Thanks again,

Salvatore Balsamo


February 19, 2011

Ms. Ravitch,

Thanks so much for coming to Tucson to deliver your message, which I enthusiastically endorse.

I teach English at a high school in Tucson’s poorest neighborhood. We scored so low on the state-mandated test a few years ago, that we were in danger of being “restructured.” In numerous in-services, we were essentially told to “teach to the test,” which we willingly did, because we love what we do.

Then, I was given an Honors class (Alexis Huicochea, the reporter who wrote the article about your talk in the Arizona Daily Star was in that first class!) and I had an epiphany: why couldn’t I teach ALL of my classes as if they were Honors classes? So I did, and the kids responded. For the past couple of years, more than 90% of my low-income, dysfunctional, stressed-out, and absolutely wonderful students passed the state reading and writing exams (and many exceeded) on their first attempt. The district average was about 55% at the same time.

Why were they so successful? Because I didn’t teach to the test. I aimed my kids at Bloom’s highest levels (which I didn’t know at the time), and assumed that they could get there. And of course, they did — they are just as smart and driven as students at the best schools. I started incorporating AP prompts into my sophomore classes, and was not at all surprised to find that my students ate it up.

We need to challenge our students, not to reduce them to test-takers. College and the real world are looking for thinkers.

By the way, Alexis Huicochea graduated summa cum laude from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications in just three and a half years. But she’s no more amazing than so many other of our graduates, who are now teachers, psychologists, lawyers, etc.

Stacy Haines


February 15, 2011

Dear Prof. Ravitch,

I’ve been a big fan of yours ever since I first read Left Back about ten years ago. I’m also a nineteen year teaching veteran and a disgruntled 1991 TFA alum. Like many people who have gone through TFAs training, I had a very rough first year. Fortunately I figured out how to be successful and kept teaching beyond my commitment. I’ve taught for thirteen of the past nineteen years and am currently a teacher at Stuyvesant High School. I’ve also had two books published, neither of which is on any kind of TFA recommended reading list. The first is an honest account of my first year called “Reluctant Disciplinarian” and the other is a practical guidebook for new secondary teachers.

I’ve been a pretty outspoken critic of TFA, particularly with regard to their training. I used to present a workshop at the institute trying to fill in the gaps and present a more realistic picture than they do. Eventually TFA decided they’d rather the new members don’t hear about my experiences since the truth might have been a bit too negative. Finally, I’ve gotten my ideas heard by most of the new members through a blog on the teachforus.org website. Currently, I’m one of the most read blogs on the site with my posts critiquing various TFA books, policies, and philosophies. I think the post that you would like the best is one titled “Why Two Years?” where I locate Wendy Kopp’s original thesis to look for clues for why they went with two years rather than more.

I’ve made a category of “favorites” with the best of the posts.

Whether or not you have a chance to look at some of these posts, I wanted to thank you for being a sane voice in the current discussion at this pivotal time. Your recent posts about the absurdity of closing schools in New York City was so clear and powerful, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who read it wouldn’t have the sense knocked back into them.


Gary Rubinstein


February 10, 2011

Good Day Ms. Ravitch,

I am an assistant principal in Revere (a city five miles north of Boston) and I would like to thank you for giving me some hope. I have been working with my teachers on understanding the current landscape of public education. We often jigsaw and discuss your writings, they have inspired us all.

(A little bit about me) I am currently in the last year at the University of Massachusetts Boston in the Leadership in Urban Education Program. My research is in on the National Institute of School Leadership (NISL) � I am sure you have heard about it. It is training program for school leaders. They openly boast that they base their strategies and approaches on military and business models! I have been applying a critical lens to it. It is my assumption that it is another example of Neoliberal (privatization) attempts to drive education policy. Before I became an administrator, I was U.S. history teacher at Revere High School. My two “textbooks” were Zinn’s A People’s History and your American Reader. I put you in the same category with Howard Zinn (a hero), who graciously spoke to my classes roughly ten years ago.

All that aside, I am writing to you because in our last professional development meeting, we (the teachers and myself) all agreed that you are one of the lone voices we can rally to. As a (evolving) critical theorist, I am influenced by McLaren, Apple, Giroux � but you add something that they lack. People react differently when they think the message is coming from a leftist ideologue than they do when it comes from you.

So, I just felt the need to tell you. You are an inspiration to all of us educators (and non-educators) who are making the stand against the privatization and narrow-minded neoliberal education forces.

I see that you are not in this area until the summer (Providence). I hope to see and meet you then.


John Perella


February 6, 2011

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I first heard about you from Democracy Now’s interview with you last year. I never got around to reading your new book, but last night I saw a somewhat disturbing presentation at a fundraiser. The fundraiser was put on by an Indian fraternity at Texas A&M. The fraternity was raising money in Houston for a village school in Gujarat state at the 11th and 12thrade level. This is called PUC (pre-university college) and is when kids essentially start their college so they can graduate by 20.

My issue was that the person raising the money decided to support this school on the conditions that he would do what school reformers do here. He said that the school cannot join the government, they must have merit pay and teacher accountability. He was also going to monitor the results of this to increase the passage rates on state exams. My biggest problem was that this was going to be used to eventually write a PhD dissertation for his education degree. He currently is a principal in Houston (he’s 26 or 27 at most) in a low performing school and is studying all the management books. He’s interested in all the metrics of teacher performance.

Indians are very apt to copy dumb ideas from the West. I am afraid rote learning is already a very bad problem in Indian schools (please see the fantastic movie Three Idiots). It may show you the future of American education.

In any case, I got your book from the Galveston public library so I can better debate this young principal’s philosophy. I’m studying medicine, so I am sort of taking a detour by nosing in this education business.

On an unrelated note, I wanted to know if being from Texas influenced your career in anyway. Do you feel like it makes you more forthright and direct with the issues at hand? I feel that people outside the South are often a bit more weasly about things.

Thank you,

Anand Bhat


February 6, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I would like to introduce myself to you and share a little about our school and me.

First of all, I would like thank you for all that you are doing to support educators and public education. Many of us have read your book. It is a fascinating read of all that is going on to undermine education. Your disclosure of your years realizing that the culture that has been nurtured by our politicians and the billionaire boys club had a hidden agenda that was bigger than just making schools accountable for learning.

Just as our democracy is not perfect, so goes education. With that said, not being perfect is not a good reason to abandon public schools or to build a competitive model of education. I greatly appreciate the stand that you have taken with in the national conversation. I have read your book and have passed it along to parents and teachers in my school. You have become a most admired person. I recently saw the trailer about the new movie Schools Are Not a Business. Thank you for making it. Ironically, a friend and I were talking about the need to have a movie sharing the opposing voice to Waiting for Superman (which has not come to State College yet but I hear that it will be coming soon). We have talked about going to see it although I really dislike contributing to their revenue for it). I would love to host a viewing of your new movie here at my school or encourage the State Theatre to show it (to redeem themselves from showing the other one ;->).

I am the Lead Learner in a K-5 510 student elementary school in State College, Pennsylvania. Until this year, we have been “successful” in making AYP. This year, in a special education category we missed the cut-off by .255 and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) refused to “round up” that slight amount. They said it was “no big deal” to be in “Warning” and not to make AYP. I have a friend in PDE who tried to talk sense into them and they got really sarcastic with her. My friend said that the person making the decision is not even an educator but a staff assistant. My friend tried to explain that I am one of her model school for environmental education and that we recently received (one of 20 schools) the Schools of Success Award from the Education Commission of the States (ESC) and National Center for Learning and Citizenship (NCLC). We have been recognized for the meaningful student involvement that occurs in our school as a result of service learning, civic engagement, inquiry, etc. Fifth graders (our Salad Girls) from our school are featured on the recent cover and as the lead article for Social Studies and the Young Learner (a great story that I could send you a copy of the article). Our students are very involved with community partners from a local nursing home and our Centre House (Housing Transitions for homelessness) addressing their needs through service learning. We also are greatly committed to environmental education and have many things going on at the school where students drive the process through their voices - composting of lunch waste, recycling of many items (if it recycles, we are probably doing it), gardening, etc. (NOTE: these are not the things that the PSSA tests.) Last year, we had one of our largest (and safely to say toughest) groups of special education (and for the most part low socioeconomically disadvantaged students who left here as great human beings but not having the highest PSSA scores.

We have received numerous other awards and grants but apparently do not make “the score” when it comes to the PSSA statewide assessment or whatever NCLB/ESEA is looking for in achievement. I have told my teachers that since all schools are going to fail under the current ESEA, we might as well do the things that we believe are right for kids and lead the way!

Additionally, I have a fifth grader who is very interested in making a movie about our school, "a great school in warning"! He is developing the storyline with me. He would truly impress you. Film-making passion and talent impresses me.

This past fall, I began to engage our school community in discussions about about what they want from an education - what kind of people that they want their children to be. I'd be glad to share my powerpoint with you. It has been inspired by our National League of Democratic Schools (NLODS). I was amazed by the conversation. I have used the powerpoint with parents, community members, children at our school, teachers and our Professional Development School (PDS) interns - we have a partnership with Penn State University. The overlap is amazing. I’d be glad to share if you are interested.

Anyway, I am writing to you because I would love to continue communicating with you. I also would love to figure out a way to get you to State College - no funds at the moment, just lots of hope! I am inspired by you and have been writing and rewriting this email to you for several weeks! You are amazing and I want to dialog with you.

All the Best!

Donnan Stoicovy


February 4, 2011

Dr. Ravitch,

Today, I listened to your lecture at Dillard University on the state or fate of public schools in the United States. Since I had the dubious distinction of being the Superintendent in New Orleans Public Schools immediately after Katrina, I was more than a little invested in your assessment of public education currently in New Orleans. Imagine how happy I was to finally hear your courageous evaluation of charter schools, testing and privatizing of public education to the detriment of student growth and teaching as a profession.

I attempted to sound the warning both locally and at the state level. However, my voice was drowned out by the cry for “reform.” In fact, I was told not to reopen any public schools in New Orleans following Katrina. The die cast. I will read your books, and encourage the use of your research with my graduate students as they make their way into decision-making positions in education leadership.

Thank you,

Dr. Ora Watson


February 1, 2011

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I am hearing of more and more [district name omitted] public school teachers pulling their children out of [district omitted] and putting them in private schools. I am about ready to do the same. Our concern is that we are seeing our children’s education going very badly and getting worse.

Have you heard the same from around the country?

And you can use this anecdote, but please, please take off my name and my location! We will be in [omitted] at least through May and don’t want any reprecussions:

My daughter was writing an essay for a private school. She is a straight A student at an Exemplary school. I read over the essay and realized it didn’t make any sense. She rewrote it and this time my husband looked it over. We asked her if she could rewrite it one more time as it wasn’t very coherent. She started crying, “I don’t know grammar. I don’t know spelling. I don’t know how to write.” Eight years in public school with standardized testing every year? I think enough is enough.

Yours Always,



January 12, 2011

I believe I am going through a change of mindset regarding education reform. A lot of it has to do with you.

I blindly followed Michelle Rhee’s call and moved from a comfortable job in the suburbs to one of the more highly politicized middle schools in D.C. I was excited and ready to work. I should have noticed something was up. The first week of meetings included all the responsibilities of the teacher. Administrators went though all these power points and we were now accountable to follow through. I had no clue how to do a fraction of what they expected.

I worked there for three weeks and realized I could not emotionally and physically keep up with the expectations. I walked in on a Sunday night and resigned. I brought my wife and she told my assistant principal that I was depressed and hating going to work for the first time in my life. I never spoke to the head principal again. He emailed me and said I was making the decision based on emotions. The assistant principal said the head principal was clueless that I was stressed. She said he believed in me. I just said he was not the leader I thought he was going to be.

I got a job the next day in the suburbs (Fairfax County). The experience has totally rocked my thinking about testing. My students usually scored very high, but my vision was much longer term. The testing world demands quick, immediate results. You can not immediately change a way a student thinks. Sometimes you never do. It comes with the job.

I appreciate every tweet you make. It is helping me reason why things went so badly when I worked for DCPS. Keep fighting — you are representing teachers that know there is no quick fix.

Forever Grateful,



January 12, 2011


I read your book The Death and Life..., and believe it to be the best writing on what’s wrong with education reform ever published. I’ve been teaching science for 28 years and have dealt with several “reform philosophies” that have only led to reduced educational results and the waste of money. (All have been the same philosophically with mainly a change in jargon to confuse us.)

Keep up the great work! How could I help? Are you planning on speaking in Minnesota?


Doug Swedberg


January 6, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

As a retired teacher who has lived the process you have described in The Death and Life... you are the first sign of hope I have felt in a long time regarding the state of public education.

I taught for 34 years in a large high quality suburban Detroit school system. The district was well managed, had a rich variety of programs to offer students, high staff moral, and high graduation rates. A few of the schools received Title I funds which were used to enrich math and reading programs in those schools for low achieving students. (We lived in the city of Detroit so I also saw first hand the contrast between what was offered in the suburbs and the city.) In the 1980s we began to hear the first drumbeat of school criticism. Parents came in very confused because they felt good about the experience their child was having in their local school but were being bombarded by negative messages about public schools. All the comparisons between test scores in country x never made clear whether those scores came from a system that tried to educate everyone as we were doing in the U.S. or whether those were scores from college prep type systems where large numbers of kids were excluded from the educational testing process.

I believe that I was considered to be a highly qualified teacher. It was a calling not a career. I had several degrees from major universities, had a personal interest in and loved teaching all subjects in 5th grade, used subject matter tests to shape how I was teaching and to identify kids who needed extra help, enjoyed all the quirky little personalities that made up the average classroom, and provided after class tutoring for kids who needed it. My class was a focused peaceful place. Parents requested that their child be placed there. I still keep in touch with students although I have been retired for ten years. I would never encourage anyone to go into teaching now. Merit pay will never replace the personal satisfaction of being able to try to meet the many and diverse needs of a typical class of students by teaching to the kids not teaching to the tests.

Thirty years into “reform” my former district is a disaster. Programs have been slashed. The teaching staff has become discouraged and no one goes “the extra mile” for students any more. The job has become one of staff and student coercion because “teaching to the test” is just downright boring and demeaning for both staff and students. The neighborhood school no longer exists as restructuring has broken delivery into K-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-12 buildings so that all teachers can do “specialized instruction” in the upper grades. The subject (test scores) matters not the kids.

You “get” what has happened to public education. Please keep working to help others understand how much has been lost. (And the most at risk kids are still not being well served.)

Thank you,

Peg Gage


January 1, 2011

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

As a retired teacher who has lived the process you have described in The Death and Life... you are the first sign of hope I have felt in a long time regarding the state of public education.

I taught for 34 years in a large high-quality suburban Detroit school system. The district was well-managed, had a rich variety of programs to offer students, high staff morale, and high graduation rates. A few of the schools received Title I funds which were used to enrich math and reading programs in those schools for low achieving students. (We lived in the city of Detroit so I also saw first hand the contrast between what was offered in the suburbs and the city.) In the 1980’s we began to hear the first drumbeat of school criticism. Parents came in very confused because they felt good about the experience their child was having in their local school but were being bombarded by negative messages about public schools. All the comparisons between test scores in country x never made clear whether those scores came from a system that tried to educate everyone as we were doing in the U.S. or whether those were scores from college prep type systems where large numbers of kids were excluded from the educational testing process.

I believe that I was considered to be a highly qualified teacher. It was a calling not a career. I had several degrees from major universities, had a personal interest in and loved teaching all subjects in 5th grade, used subject matter tests to shape how I was teaching and to identify kids who needed extra help, enjoyed all the quirky little personalities that made up the average classroom, and provided after class tutoring for kids who needed it. My class was a focused peaceful place. Parents requested that their child be placed there. I still keep in touch with students although I have been retired for ten years. I would never encourage anyone to go into teaching now. Merit pay will never replace the personal satisfaction of being able to try to meet the many and diverse needs of a typical class of students by teaching to the kids not teaching to the tests.

Thirty years into “reform” my former district is a disaster. Programs have been slashed. The teaching staff has become discouraged and no one goes “the extra mile” for students any more. The job has become one of staff and student coercion because “teaching to the test” is just downright boring and demeaning for both staff and students. The neighborhood school no longer exists as restructuring has broken delivery into K-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-12 buildings so that all teachers can do “specialized instruction𔃉 in the upper grades. The subject (test scores) matters not the kids.

You “get” what has happened to public education. Please keep working to help others understand how much has been lost. (And the most at-risk kids are still not being well served.)

Thank you,

Peg Gage


December 29, 2010

Prof. Ravitch,

I am a community college English professor and a former public high school teacher, and want to thank you for latest book, which is a life raft amidst the recession of good will towards educators.

I have been writing on education for a few years, and your book gave me renewed vigor — and confidence — in fighting publicly for the institution I have proudly devoted my life to.

Please find, below, an essay I published which is in part inspired by your scholarship and advocacy: ”To Fix Education: Fire Human Teachers, Hire Holograms.”

Thanks much for your time.


Adam Bessie


December 28, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

I am a new teacher at a Charter school, and have read your article entitled The Myth of Charter Schools. I was so overwhelmed about your position that I had to find your email and thank you very much for your hard work and truth.

America has the answers on how to improve our educational system, but we have to look at improving our society and communities. The model for the U.S. comes from the top-ranked nations in the world. In all of those nations, teachers get paid much more than we do in this country. Further, there are society and cultural differences, as well, that we need to look at.

Anyways, thank you for your hard work and the truth in your reporting. If only our Congress and current President would hear you out...what advances would we make.


William Chenausky


December 28, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

First of all, I hope that you are in the midst of a very happy holiday season with your family and friends. I am a preservice secondary English teacher at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. I received your new book for Christmas and I just wanted to thank you so much for writing it! I get so disheartened when people beat up on teachers for student performance without thinking about outside factors or how we are measuring that performance. It’s also so frustrating to be labeled as “anti-reform” when one speaks up for teachers.

One of my basic questions for the “choice” reformers is that if every student is able to learn and the teacher is the most important part of the equation, then surely people who are willing to take on a career as difficult as teaching are able to learn with good teachers themselves. Why can’t we have meaningful professional development as part of this reform conversation? How will we “professionalize” teaching if all that potential teachers hear is that they will be to blame for all of their students’ problems and receive very little professional support?

So, one day next December, I will receive my teaching credentials and go in front of a classroom on my own for the first time. I don’t think I have all the answers and I’m excited about what I will learn in the years to come. But after a year in education school, a six-month stint on a Congressional campaign, and reading all the education policy books I can get my hands on, I’m not sure how long I can stay in the classroom. There is so much we need to do! I am making a list of the things I think will make a real difference in American education. This is what I have so far: Pay teachers better, create a ladder within the profession, make better standardized tests, longer school days and school years, more meaningful professional development, and a more meaningful curriculum (I, too, enjoy Dr. E.D. Hirsch's work). What do you think? How can I do these things? How can I find people who will do them with me and not be distracted by the silver bullets promised by the Michelle Rhee-style reformers?

I'm sorry if I’ve taken up too much of your time. I’m trying to get as much information and as many ideas as possible as I go forward in my career.

With thanks,

Maggie Thornton


December 27, 2010

Diane Ravitch,

Good Day! I’m writing you because I have just finished reading your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. As a teacher entering my third year I found your text to be profoundly educational and entertaining. It was steeped in scholarship, but easily understood by those inside and outside the classroom. This should be required reading for anyone serious about the state of education in America. It was great to read a text that not only focuses on the “doom and gloom” of education in America, but offers a clear historical context of the problems and a plethora of solutions to those serious about fixing our schools.

I thank you for your enduring commitment in the field of education and wish you continued support and success.

Ron Hale


December 19, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

I hope this email finds you and yours happy and healthy this holiday season. Thank you so much for your article, "The Myth of Charter Schools." It was a welcome antidote to the Superman documentary that we viewed the night before. My wife and I were the only two in the theater and she had to keep me from leaving two or three times during its screening. It reminded me of Nazi Germany's propaganda films in the 1930's. I've been a Chicago Public School teacher for the last ten years, teaching high school mathematics and I know I speak for many if not all CPS that your words were true and succinct. My only regret is that your article was not picked up by mainstream newspapers so this kind of misinformation could be exposed to the masses.


Randall Postiglione


December 16, 2010

Hi, Diane,

It's been about nine months since I read and started promoting your book: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. I want you to know I continue to promote your book as it is the finest and most accurate description of what is wrong with education today. I make this statement after serving in public education across the country for over fifty years. I would estimate that upwards of 98% of those who actually serve in the field today feel the same way.

It was only by a few days that I missed meeting you in Worcester. My wife and I had left for Florida for the winter about a week before you spoke at Clark. We live about a half hour from Worcester in Westminster, MA. I have spoken to a number of my friends who are presently involved in education who were either there or in Boston. They all thought your presentation was excellent and that your words made more sense than what is actually happening in education today as a result of testing and choice. I believe your book has had a positive effect on public education and will continue to do so in the future. It's really too bad that before creating educational policy those involved, politicians and the like, don't read your book if they haven't already, as they would understand what is truly happening and could make better decisions. I have written many times to those involved in creating educational regulations recommending they read your book.

Hopefully I will see that you are speaking in an area where we are living and I will get a chance to listen to and meet you. Until then I hope you are healthy and happy and that things are going just the way you want.

Dick Mackey


December 12, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Thanks for your answers to Bill Gates.

Friday I came home from a tough week in my middle school classes: Intervention Reading where most kids are 3 to 6 years below grade level after years of Open Court and an ESL class comprised of students born here in the states or in Mexico or Central America — three different grades and three different learning levels in one class and textbooks filled with mandatory tests of reading, writing and speaking ability.

On my local news was the mayor of L.A. blasting teachers for how poorly students here are doing and encouraging parents to take over by using the recently passed CA law where parents can take over the decisions for a school that has been low-performing for four years in a row and throw out the teachers and have a charter school take over the school. This was obviously a political ploy on his part as he has been trying to take over the LA Unified School District schools for several years now and run them as part of Los Angeles; he has not been successful because many of the schools are not actually in the city limits.

This was followed by two radio talk show "pundits" who proceeded with more teacher and union bashing. Demoralized is a light word to express how I felt. Then I read a blog with your answers to Bill Gates reproduced and I can only say thank you. Oh yes, and the statements about how we are just in it for the money! That was a real laugh.

I was trained in New York City in the CUNY system and graduated from Hunter College with a Masters in Teaching English as a Second Language in 1978 after taking the 30 units to get my teaching credential before I was admitted to my masters program. I have pretty much been teaching since 1974 when I went back to school to add that Masters degree to my Journalism degree. Most all of my teaching life I have worked in poverty areas like Harlem and Spanish Harlem and South Central L.A. Now I teach in an area that is across the street from Watts in L.A.,and my school is entirely in the free lunch program.

What you replied to Bill Gates was entirely right and true. My school opened six years ago and we now have a 97% attendance rate. We have consistently raised our test scores every year but we can never meet the requirements for NCLB because we have large ESL and large Special Ed populations and we always just miss our target because of that. This is despite reclassifying our ESL students to Regular English at a higher percentage rate than any other school in our mini-district. Many of my students do not eat before coming to school and most do not have regular medical care. Some are the children of illegal immigrants who had little or no schooling and do not speak more than a few words of English. They cannot help their children with their homework and the children probably had few or no school readiness skills.

It does not help our students to bash their teachers daily. It just demoralizes and disrespects those of us who care enough to spend our days teaching in low-performing districts instead of running when things get tough. I would like to challenge any one of those multi-millionaires to come to my school without the entourage and the press coverage and teach for a week so they can see how things really are in a school where children are allowed to disrupt the class repeatedly and back-talk the teachers.

Thanks for sticking up for us. Keep up the good fight.


Cynthia Walker


December 9, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I wanted to write you a quick note. I read your new book this week. I couldn’t put it down.

I think it is one of the most important books on U.S. education to come out in some time. I applaud both the arguments that you make, but also the courage to re-evaluate your previous position of school choice and assessment. However, as you indicate in your book, I fear that it may be too late to stop the accountability movement, but it may not be too late to re-direct its course. But to do so, you need to expand the focus of your book.

I fear the most corrosive elements of this movement are beginning to alter the institution of higher education, and these changes will no doubt have further unforeseen impacts on public schooling. I wanted to ask you to consider revisiting this topic in a companion volume looking at the accountability movement and standardized testing in higher education, both community colleges and public universities. I attempted to do as much in my new book Gateway to Opportunity: A History of the Community College in the United States, which will be coming out in Jan 2011. W. Norton Grubb was kind enough to endorse the book with a Forward. I don’t see many scholars attacking the accountability movement head on, or trying to expand the accountability debate to accommodate multiple measures of teaching and learning. In my book I referenced the work of Stigliz and Sen (2009) who began to re-envision GDP and how to measure the wealth of nations. I think a comparable re-visioning needs to take place in the U.S. focused on education, and I think you are one of the few educational scholars with positioned to create such a national dialog. I know Grubb is also interested in such a project and said in a previous communication that he was working on a new book addressing the ends of education in relation to the narrow vocationalism of the 20th century.

I would also recommend looking at the ends and effects of education is so-called “success” stories, like South Korea. I just returned from a year of research. One of my South Korean students explained that children are “dying inside” due to the high stakes testing and constant test prep both inside and outside of the school system. Many students (and sometimes whole families) are committing suicide each year over test scores. From a national level, South Korea looks like a highly educated society with high test scores, but from the inside students are pushed to the breaking point; students can’t think critically or creatively; and there are not enough jobs in the labor market to handle such an educated population. I have an article on the subject under review at Harvard Education Review and I’ll be presenting my basic findings at the AERA conference in New Orleans this April.

You have done this country a great service by writing your book, and I hope your able to maneuver your arguments to effect public policy before our educational institutions are corrupted beyond recognition.


J. M. Beach


December 2, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

Please add me to your list of malcontents railing against what is laughably called education reform.

Every child is special needs. Every child is at-risk. Every child needs to be listened to and directed, guided and encouraged. Categories don’t work, nor do indexes, head counts(for funding purposes), or any of the myriad solutions people outside the framework of learning want to present.

I taught for 22 years in a small continuation high school and retired in June of this year. This fall semester, our district destroyed the continuation schools and placed those few students who weren’t cowed in a classroom at the comprehensive high school — in a half-day program. Anecdotes, I know, but they are the accumulating mass that threatens to snuff out creative intelligence as we know it.

Bravo to you. Keep it up!


Bill Powers


November 30, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I was really disappointed that I could not see your presentation live when you were here in New Orleans at Dillard University. I thank Lance Hill for providing me with a copy of your speech, and I look forward to watching same. Lance sent me the excerpt, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you:

But somehow the media just seems fixated on the idea that the only thing that moves people is dangling this little bit of money in front of them. And I think in the same way New Orleans is a victim of this kind of media blindness... somebody is going to want to break that pattern and find a different story. And I hope that person comes along. That may not be Superman; it may just be a really smart reporter.

We’ve had really smart reporters, Jan Resseger being one, and even smarter parents and advocates who have commented on, beg, pleaded, marched, etc. for this country to wake up and understand what’s happening in New Orleans is not a model of success. Really, it’s just one in a series of efforts, post-Katrina, to transfer wealth from the public sector to the private sector, without carrying all the burdens of accountability and responsibility. I’ve attached an excerpt from a speech / presentation I gave almost three years ago, explaining same, with a bit of irreverence.

History will continue to repeat itself, as long as folks continue to “experiment” on our children. That’s the bottom line. In Fall 2005 when Governor Blanco and then State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard announced the grand experiment on New Orleans public education, I was horrified and told my dad “this experiment will fail.” My dad is a medical-microbiologist. He looked up from his paper and said to me, sternly: “That’s where you’re wrong. Every scientist knows experiments cannot fail. That is the nature of an experiment. Tracie Leigh your real fight should be to question the morality of experiment on children.”

Is history repeating itself? Of course. I have been reading with interest the decision by New York Mayor Bloomberg to appoint Cathleen Black as Chancellor of the city’s schools. She has no experience as an educator, but the state as granted a waiver to her, as long as she has an educator by her side. Humm... seems vaguely familiar. We did that once here in New Orleans with Col. Alphonse Davis. It was a ridiculous “failure.” So was Benjamin Demps in Kansas City, Missouri, and Paul Vallas in Chicago, Philadelphia, and now New Orleans. Check the records on John Fryer (Duval County, Florida), Roy Romer (Los Angeles), Merrett Stierheim (Miami), Alan Bersin (San Diego) and Joe Olchefske (Seattle). Is it really the case that these children’s educational fate was better under the supervision of non-educators?

These districts are similar in that they are populated by poor and minority children. So is it okay to experiment on certain children and not others? Seriously, would the Trustees of Kent School, or Groton, or Hotschkiss, or Corcord, or Lawrence, or Middlesex, allow the likes of Vallas or Davis or Demps anywhere near their students? Please. Not the precious ones.

Next time Bill Gates dares to purse his lips and question whether you �like the status quo� I have two suggested responses:

1. You�re right, Bill. By-the-by, I know I don�t have a lick of experience running a software conglomerate, but I�d sure like a shot at making a difference. Can I run Microsoft for a while. I promise I�ll get a programmer to be my assistant.

2. You�re right, Bill. By-the-by, where do your kids attend school? There are some fine Recovery School District direct-run academies in New Orleans that would love to experiment on your precious ones.

Just my morning rant. Forgive me.

Tracie L. Washington


November 30, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I just read “Ravitch Answers Gates,” from a Newsweek piece. I was stunned to see that your every answer was in direct correlation with my sentiments regarding our school system and the current negative media onslaught. It is comforting to know that the real issues of educating our children have a voice. Every year we start behind more affluent schools as we struggle to get new immigrants to “meet standard” and stay in school. Teachers at my school are heroes, consistently going above the regular work day to ensure the success of our poverty stricken student. There are exceptional teachers implementing interventions during the school day to fill the gap these students come to us with. Homogeneous grouping and double dipping the same academic course has been very successful here at my campus for the low socio economic student. Another proposal is to pair successful school districts with struggling school districts. Currently, I am working with my hometown to provide them resources that have been successful with us.

I grew up on the border of Mexico in a little town called, Zapata, Texas. There is a 95% Hispanic population with a high poverty rate. Needless to say, I have seen first hand the causes of low scores and dropout rates. Having dedicated my career to focusing on the bilingual and especially the low-socio economic student and their educational success, I want to express my sincerest hope that you will continue the good fight in providing real answers to the real issues and not allowing the “Great American School System” to die. I have been devastated to see the news articles, visual media and the public clearly being misled as to what the real issues are facing public education. Although the school system is not perfect, it should not die the slow, painful death I see coming. It is possible to change the current negative tide through honest dialog and the implementation of real data driven decisions, not test scores but students’ individual needs.

No Superman needed here. We have implemented a plan based on students’ needs. The nation however, needs your information to continue to get out there!


Sharon Reed Bradley


November 30, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I’m a former high school assistant principal who could no longer condone the unscrupulous tactics being used by the principal to push students and teachers into attaining higher test scores (in Florida, we have the FCAT). I ended up leaving the profession and writing a book about it myself: The Missing Heart in Education: Chronicles of an Educator.

I also ended up running for the local school board in this past election. Made it into the runoff out of six candidates in the primary, but didn’t quite get it for the general election. However, because of my campaign, thousands of supporters recognized my high regard for you and the work you’ve done in school reform.

Yes, I’m one of those who have quoted you (I’m also a contributing guest columnist for Scripps’ The Tribune just Google me and you’ll see the dozens of published articles I’ve written).

So when a supporter of mine gave me an autographed copy of your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, I was so elated. She, an ESE teacher, heard you speak in Orlando.

Thank you for what you’re doing, Dr. Ravitch. I love your book and have promoted it on Facebook. Let’s hope there is still hope for public education in our country.


Teri Pinney


November 25, 2010

Hello Dr. Ravitch,

In the chance that you receive and read this I just wanted to thank you for writing your most recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I hope all educational leaders read this and take it very seriously.

You and your book are well known in the Workforce Education and Development Program at Penn State University. I am a doctorate student there in this program and am using your book as a reference in my dissertation. (I hope I have your blessing). As I was presenting a poster, I used your book as a reference as well and the Dean of the Department commented about how relevant and poignant your book is. Dr. Farmer, my research professor, also boasted of presenting at a conference that either you attended or presented with him.

I’d ask that you keep advocating for our kids so that they can receive a well-balanced education in the arts and humanities as well as in the core standards. I continue to promote your book to my colleagues and look forward to your next one. If you’re ever in the Bucks County, PA area, please stop into our school as I believe much of what you advise, we do.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday and a great 2011.

Bless you,

Tom Viviano


November 23, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

I just completed reading your new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. I would send a copy to President Obama, if I thought he would read it, and more importantly, heed it. I once sent a book to President Clinton, but he didn’t acknowledge. Mr. Obama, and many others, need to read your book. Congratulations on a well written thesis. THANK YOU for writing it. I think you did tell Mr. Gates he needs to stand down!

I will try to pass this book to my Superintendent. I would like to tell her that I am one of those teachers who finally gave it up because of “reform fatigue.” I hope she reads it.

Highest Regards,

Bruce A. Dawson


November 22, 2010

To Diane Ravitch:

First I wanted to thank you for Death and Life.... As someone who has become enraged by nearly every article, editorial, and interview regarding education, your example has been uplifiting. Your book and your voice have been clear, courageus, and consistent in support of true improvement (I am reluctant to use the word “reform”) to the public education system. Even after I correspond with journalists — sometimes heatedly, sometimes civilly — I still feel as though too few of those who claim media attention or provide media coverage truly understand education. Bill Gates’ recent comments only underscore that point. However, I can consistently count on you for ideas testified to by history and verified by evidence.

Beyond my gratitude, I wanted to express a concern I have yet to see addressed: educational “reform” as an assault on the middle-class. From my perspective, I view two opposing viewpoints of the teaching profession. The first, more traditional, sees teaching as a process-based craft that requires careful, reflective practice that must be repeated and honed over years. True, we enter the profession with an array of strategies and mastered content, but we learn how to connect with students and how to manage them over time. We revise — both minutely and drastically — our curriculum and lesson plans based on our own experiences and observations. I have often thought of teaching in this sense as a craft, and it’s one that requires a lifetime to master. The second, as advocated by Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein and others, sees teaching as outcome-based curriculum taught according to a pre-determined plan looking for a determined, quantified outcome. In this sense, teachers are expendable, easily replaced by a new recruit. Their long-term happiness with their position and the stability of staff for the morale of the school is irrelevant. Teaching, for these reformers and the teachers they hire, is a short-term indulgence before moving on to a more lucrative career. Teach for America, the abolition of tenure, and “value-added” assessments fit perfectly into this view.

Should this second view predomimate, it’s hard to imagine teaching retaining any of its prestige, tarnished now but not destroyed. Further, should this second view predominate, I would predict an increase in the turnover rate (already disconcertingly high at the five-year mark). I have been teaching for nine years, am working on a second Masters based specifically on the curriculum I teach, dedicate additional hours as a union officer, and eagerly volunteer for school activities be they for the professional development of colleagues, improvement of district policy or curriculum, or student-related dances or concerts. However, my wife (also a teacher) and I have decided that if we follow this second, path we would rather abandon public education than abandon teaching as a craft. It pains us to think so, but the calling of teaching is too important to us. I understand the place of outcome-based, quantitative assessment, but how wise is to focus so much on outcomes when so many factors beyond a teacher’s control can influence those outcomes?

I am hopeful that the “long arc of history” will, in this case, bend towards a rational, effective and humane educational policy. But how long will that take? How much damage to the profession and to students must we first endure?


Kevin Parker


November 20, 2010

Professor Ravitch,

I’ve just read your piece in the NYRB re your charter schools and have felt obliged to respond — just about a first for me regarding anything concerning formalised education. At 75-plus and a 40-year career in UK secondary sector state education behind me, I was delighted to read such a relevant, perceptive and sharply focused critique.

Most academic contributions to the public/private debate this side of the pond show a woeful knowledge of the chalkface. We are currently contemplating, with trepidation, the alleged solutions being proposed by Michael Gove, the current holder of the poisoned chalice. It goes without saying that they are not based upon any Finnish model.

All power to your arm and pen.

Hwyl fawr,

John Watkins


November 15, 2010


I am still talking about the great speaker we had at the Missouri state conference (you). I want to thank you for the wonderful message. I am so inspired I have been sharing your website and message with everyone. You are so awesome.

Terry Fingers


November 12, 2010

Hi Dr. Ravitch,

My name is Eduardo (Eddie) Lopez, Jr. and I just want to write to you for two reasons. Before I go into my reasons for emailing you, I want to tell you a little about me. I’m a second year teacher, currently in teaching in South Texas (where I’m originally from), but my first placement was with the School District of Philadelphia. By certification, I’m an English Language Arts and Reading teacher at the high school level, although I consider my title as simply “an educator of growing adults.” I was educated at Brown University and received my M.S.Ed at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education (secondary teacher preparation program).

The first reason for this email is simple: I’m a fan of your shared blog with Deborah Meier Bridging Differences and I wanted to say thank you for your insight into the school issues I face everyday.

The second is not so simple. I was hoping you could do me the honor and respond to some questions I have about public education. It seems like each day I hear and read something negative in the world of public education. Sometimes it's amazing news, but more often than not, it’s an attack on my chosen profession. For a new teacher, (I’m 24 by the way) it’s a tough pill to swallow when I see our political leaders indirectly (and sometimes directly) demonize teachers by supporting assessment programs like “value added assessments.” It’s disheartening to hear high power figures support programs like Teach For America and other programs like TFA, but claim that they want to “professionalize” the profession.

In the past and current district that I have worked in, there has been a lot of faculty members from the Teach for America organization. In both schools, the faculty was either really young (22-30 years old) or very seasoned (12+ years of teaching). Because of this, most of my teacher friends were TFA members. During our down time we would hang out and try not to talk about teaching (which never works!) and in these conversations, I heard many members talk about how they hated what they were doing, how they felt unprepared to do the job effectively, and most disheartening, how they couldn’t wait for the two year commitment to be up so they could go to (insert better job / city / graduate school here). It was awkward when they mentioned their post TFA plans. I felt like the idiot who never received the memo that encouraged young bright people to leave the teaching field after X amount of years. I was awkward because I knew I would spend the rest of my professional life as an educator. I felt like I was and am losing a battle for my identity as a teacher.

This is where you come into the picture. I’m curious to know what you think about the “professionalization” of becoming a teacher. Where did the chain break / record skip? Let’s face it: it’s easy to become a teacher (at least this is the method to become a teacher in Texas). Step 1: Graduate College. Step 2: Apply to an Alternative Certification Program (if you didn’t major in elementary or secondary education in college) - in which you pay thousands of dollars over the course of a year to be supervised by a veteran teacher (a few random times over the school year) and to attend various seminars on classroom management, etc. The teacher in training also receives a TEA identification number to registrar for the required exams needed for certification. Step 3: Pass the exam. If you didn’t pass the exam, you need to repeat Step 2 over again with a three year limit.

Why isn’t it mandatory for potential teachers to be top college graduates (step 1)? Why isn’t it mandatory for these top college graduates to be enrolled in a two year graduate program (one year dedicated to graduate level course work and the other year dedicated to a one year teaching internship) to enhance their understanding of the various factors that go into the everyday nature of educating a child (step 2)? Why don’t universities recommend the applicant for certification to the state department of education instead of paying ACP program to do so?(step 3). Then the applicant should take the certification exams, which should also be nationalized and more difficult (step 4). Finally, provide the first year teacher with effective leadership, development, and support for the next five years (step 5).

If this was the new way to become a public school teacher in the United States, do you think it would change the way people think about the route to become a teacher? If we had this selective, arduous, and national process to become a public school teacher, we wouldn't have organizations like Teach For America (I'm assuming the top college graduates would not want to join the organization when they realize that the route to teaching is hard, time consuming, and hopefully longer than two years).

Perhaps my email just became a rant about TFA, but as a new teacher all I’m seeing is young people enter the profession via an organization designed to have them exit after two years. And yes, I know some stay on for many more years, but the intent is to fight the achievement gap by having its members take the two year experience and go into another field to promote the TFA mission. I just think there has to be a better answer to solve the achievement gap, because indirectly, they are harming the profession.

What do you think? Again, I know you are busy, but it would be an an honor to have a response.




November 10, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I read with great interest your article The State Of Public Education Today in the ISEA Communique, Oct. / Nov., 2010 - Vol. 47, No. 2. You summarized all of the problems in NCLB very well. NCLB has been a disaster for public education since its inception. If legislators, and school administrators want to see standardized test results improve then they have to put the pressure right directly where it belongs — on the shoulders of the students and their parents. When students, especially high school students do not see a benefit in taking a test for them, then the majority of them will not give the test their best effort. Many of them make little diagrams and finish a 40 minute test in about 5 minutes. I have observed this many times over my 35 year career teaching biology and anatomy in the Waterloo, Iowa Community Schools. If a method could be devised whereby the tests in science, mathematics, English, and social studies would become part of the individual student’s grade in each of the subject areas, I believe that the students would settle down and give it their best effort because now there is something in it for them; it is part of their grade report and is entered into their permanent files. As I mentioned earlier, I taught for 35 years and was the Outstanding Biology Teacher of the Year for the State of Iowa in 1976 and also received several outstanding teaching awards in the area of conservation so I am and have been interested in the effects of NCLB even though it was no longer affecting me directly. Thank you for a great article.


Stanley D. Whelchel


November 8, 2010

Dear Diane,

Someone in my school district just sent me a link to your fantastic article in the New York Times Book Review of “Waiting for Superman.” I cannot tell you how fantastic it was to read your article.

I am a second grade teacher in California and I work in a Title I school. For many years we were the only Title I school in our district. We have tried every program known to man to help our students and have only experienced modest gains in our test scores. It is so disheartening. This year we are in year 1 of program improvement. It is more stressful than ever and we feel so discouraged by the lack of growth no matter how many new research based programs we implement (Thinking Maps, Project Glad, ST Math, RTI and that is just a few of countless programs that we have tried in the last 10 years).

Every night as I drive home from work I listen to the news and I hear how teachers are the problem, we are the lazy overpaid people with bloated pensions that are ruining America. I’ve run out of words to fight back and with all the time in the classroom (7:30 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m.) I haven’t had time to read up on the research. Your article made me want to stand up and shout “Yes!” We are not crazy; there are reasons that no matter how much we do, no matter how many hours we tutor kids after school the gains are so small. I am printing out your fantastic review of the Superman movie and giving a copy to everyone I know!

Thank you so much for your fantastic defense of the American Public School System. You made my day!!

With Deepest Gratitude,



November 7, 2010

Hello Dr. Ravitch,

I recently read your book, The Death and Life of The Great American School System and it was amazing! As a public school advocate and product of the NYC public school system I was enthralled and enamored by your book. Your insight and honest depiction of public education is eye-opening and much appreciated.

I recently graduated from Howard University with a concentration in English and a minor in Secondary Education; additionally I became a certified 7-12 English teacher. After teaching for about two years in Washington, D.C., I have decided to pursue further education, and I am currently matriculating in a Masters degree program in Reading, Writing and Literacy. Upon graduation I desire to go back into the classroom so that I can get more experience, but I am uncertain an inquisitive about my options and future in education. Ultimately I will get a Ph.D. potentially in Ed. Policy but I would love to hear your thoughts. Where do you see public education going in the next few years? What are some options for young progressive educators to ameliorate and change some of the inequity in public education? What are some good opportunities and experiences (internships, volunteer work, etc.) that I should look into to broaden my career and education options?

Ms. Ravitch, I respect your opinion and I have pure intentions for the future of public education. Moreover, I consider some of your educational ideologies and solutions to the woes of public education synonymous to my own. I would love to talk to you further about some of your ideas and solutions for the current state of American education. I aspire to become an administrator later in my career and I do not want to perpetuate some of the same issues and poor decision making of the past and present. I would love to hear back from you and I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for your time and good luck with your future endeavors and discoveries about public education.

P.S. All of my classmates also loved your book, we are slightly obsessed with you. :)




November 6, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I am so grateful for your critique of the movie Waiting for Superman, “The Myth of Charter Schools.” You expressed my frustrations with the educational system so eloquently.

I have been teaching poor non-English students for ten years now. For six years I worked as a reading specialist with an even more challenging group of kids who not only were poor and Limited English Proficient, they often had problems with reading and language. The past four years I’ve worked at a charter school called [removed for anonymity].

Everything you said was dead on. It was relieving to read and I held on to every word. I naively went into teaching thinking “I could make a difference.” It took just a few weeks to realize I was up against an impossibly large machine that seems designed to make teachers and students fail, instead of succeed. I’ve felt trapped in a job that I hate — not because I hate the students, but because I hate the system and the people who are trying to “reform” things who don’t have any idea what it is to work with these students and parents.

Thank you so much for your thoughtful, outstanding article.




November 6, 2010

I would like to tell you a little about myself before I enter the discussion. I grew up in New York and New Jersey and I am now a senior at the University of [removed for anonymity], majoring in Sociology, with a minor in Geography and International Studies. During my time in [removed for anonymity] and while I was living in NJ and NY I have been involved with schools, children and community organizations. My senior project this year has been a comparative analysis of gentrification in [removed for anonymity] and in [removed for anonymity]. I also have alot of interests out of school, including being an avid reader, poet and athlete. I am definitely not trying to seem pretentious, I just want to give you an idea of who I am as a person.

Your article was really on point with things I have seen, felt or experienced in the classroom as youth and as an adult. I have had strong feelings against how charter schools currently operated, but have never been able to reinforce it with outside knowledge; it was solely experience and observations.

For the past three years I have worked as an Achievement coach at [removed for anonymity] High School, a charter school in [removed for anonymity]. [Removed for anonymity] was like the many NCLB schools around the country — it was shut down, teachers fired and reopened and remodeled with a new focus. It is also a school designed by the same artchitect who built many prisons.

[Removed for anonymity] Achievement is a program that sees students in action and collaborates with them, to change their schools and communities. I definitely have issues with the way our program was carried out, but it also served as a way for me to with communities I cared about, with access to the education system. In past years we have done projects with students including (but not limited to) a documentary, mural and job fair.

The former principal of the school was a gung-ho school reformer. She even promised all the students laptops when they graduated when the school was opened (promise never fulfilled.) The students that I have had, have the new upstart teachers from TFA or other programs and a revised curriculum that stresses excellence, without taking into account the students’ circumstances or previous or prior levels of education. The school also completely ignores the language barrier. (Ninety per cent of the school are Mexican students and half are undocumented)

The results have not gone well for the school thus far. Its difficult for me to see students who can't read very well or have no passion for school because of prior education and the lack of cultural competency in the classroom. Also that combined with the destruction of arts and electives has limited the visions school have in general. The students I worked with all had the ability to do well but were consistently geared toward being “standardized.”

The parts of your article where you refer to education becoming a business as well as being highly selective are parts I can indentify with alot. In my eyes it patronizes poor children of color and places them against themselves.

I had a public school education that was very average and it was fustrating. I came from a family that continues to have issues and was consistently subject to non positive portrayals of people of color. I feel this one huge issue because education still has not embraced the realities of what this country has been through and where its at. The reform game magnifies this mistake by making it about money. It selects what students will succeed and which will fail in a tainted admissions process. It also creates a caste structure among students.

It is difficult to continue to see this take place in my community. I wanted to know what other ideas you have about forwarding a different dialogue.



November 2, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

Thank you for your review of the film Waiting For Superman. As a public school teacher, I applaud your sentiments. Unfortunately, our voices (the voices of those who know the truth) are not as loud as those with pockets lined in green. The monetary interests of an elite few have found a cash cow in the educational system and will surely milk it dry. Nonetheless, thank you for continuing to be a Superwoman for us — the underpaid and overworked, yet passionately committed public school “non-elite” professionals.


Dana Pace


November 2, 2010

Dear Ms. Diane Ravitch:

I’m writing to simply commend you on your well-written and -argued article in the New York Review of Books about Waiting for Superman.

As an educator, I was offended by the reductionism and scapegoat-ism and cheap appeals to emotions that this documentary employed in order to make a dishonest argument. In fact, I was so outraged that I wrote my representative asking her to bring a class action suit against this movie for libeling public education (which, to be sure, is impractical, but which I think is a good way to push back). I do sense that there’s a brewing movement to privatize public education, as one politician here in California is advocating for. This would doubtless involve using public funds to invest in private institutions, which you’ve touched on in your article.

I’m saying all this to preface my thanks for people like you who fight this affront to intellectual integrity and our public school system that is not as broken as the movie makes it out to be. Though it seems like an old belief, many of the parents I've worked with do believe that school performance is commensurate with student effort; and in my school there’s never a shortage of teachers who will help those who seek extra help.

Your article was well said, and I hope it’s getting wide circulation beyond my recommending it to everyone I know.




November 1, 2010


I am a superintendent of schools at a small school district in Texas; I am also the brother of three public school educators and the husband of one. I want to thank you for your amazing leadership — for your voice, your book The Death and Life..., and your review of Waiting for “Superman” in the New York Review of Books.

I want to invite you to come and inspire my teachers, or to produce a video, to save them from despair, to lift them up after all the times they’ve been pushed down. You are the truest voice I have heard in a long, long time.

The President, the press, Bill Gates and the commissioner of TEA have forsaken us, preferring their unexamined dogma that you described so perfectly in your review. My people have been declared the enemy almost overnight. You are such a blessing. Please, please, please keep telling them that we are good people. (We don't want more pay, we don’t want fame, we just want to be told that we are good — we teachers are wired that way; we used to be the teacher’s pet.)

Thanks again for your words. They healed me today. Please don’t let up.

John Kuhn


Perrin-Whitt CISD


October 27, 2010


Our Superintendent is very pleased to have won a $7 million Milken Grant but there is something about the whole deal that bothers me, but I’m having trouble putting my finger on it. Below is an e-mail I sent to our union negotiating team; we are to vote on the grant (meanwhile, the grant administrators and some of the teaching personnel have already been hired):


I refer you to the Simpsons monorail episode; here's a link you can access from home. And here’s the plot synopsis (based on Meredith Willson’s Music Man):

“After Mr. Burns is caught storing his excess nuclear waste inside Springfield Park’s trees, he is ordered to pay the town $3 million. The town is originally set to agree to fix Main Street, but the charismatic Lyle Lanley interrupts and convinces the town to use the money to buy one of his monorails. The town embraces the suggestion and Homer is hired as the conductor, but the only person remaining not so pleased about the whole situation is Marge. She discovers suspicious evidence and visits a town that had previously purchased one of Lanley’s monorails. She discovers that Lanley is indeed a con man...”

Whether or not the Millkens are con men — Oh, wait! They are! — is beside the point. We’re going to embrace a $7 million program for a monorail when Main Street remains unrepaired. Examples:

I am writing this at 2 a.m. because I am sick and have to write sub plans.

One of the reasons I’m sick is that the heater in my classroom has been blowing cold air since Friday and hasn't been fixed despite repeated requests. I’ve had to take my classes to the Forum to keep them warm. And I have to drive back to school before I can write the sub plans to see whether the heater’s been fixed so I know where the sub should take my kids.

I have had to scrap any lesson plan involving technology because only ten of the thirty computers in the AGHS 100 side computer lab are functioning. My classroom computer is barely functioning — circa 2001 — and I’ve lost an aging video projector when the bulb blew out.

Class sizes are larger, I have fewer resources, less time for each student, consistently put in 11—12 hour weekdays, haven’t had a COLA in three years, am still $12,000 behind my peers in neighboring districts, just got an unpleasant surprise with Blue Cross’s $500 deductible for prescription drugs (I like to call it the “Pearl Harbor Option”), and there is no commitment from Board or District that working conditions and wages will ever be addressed when the economy eventually recovers — something like a Mission Statement for teachers and staff.

(Maintenance is overwhelmed, I know, so things don’t get fixed as quickly. Custodial is overwhelmed, so my whiteboards aren’t getting cleaned. We are overwhelmed, and we are to bring up test scores. This is the educational equivalent of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22.)

So, we buy the monorail — or TIF/TAP — and while a segment of the District, including a batch of mentor teacher/carpetbaggers, flourishes, we are expected to pleasantly endure? We’re the old nag that pulls the plow every day, while in the next, and greener, pasture there’s a thoroughbred who gets a bucket of oats every day prepared by Wolfgang Puck?

You might even say this program puts the cart before the horse.

This is lunacy.



October 26, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I am a middle school teacher in Chicago Public Schools. I actually transitioned into teaching through the Chicago Teaching Fellows program. Even while in that program I knew I disagreed with much of their philosophy, but I knew it was a tool to become a teacher.

I recently read your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, and I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt to finally hear someone articulate all the problems I see on a daily basis, both with urban school systems and with the media and administrative portrayal of public schools, teachers, and unions. I was constantly saying, “Yes!,” aloud as I read it.

My question is: what can we do about this? With Oprah and Waiting for Superman and all the media seeming to support the current trends, I feel helpless and constantly under attack as a public school teacher. Are there any think tanks being formed to counteract the current situation? Are there any organizations supporting research into alternatives or at lease revealing truthfully what much of the current research says about this extreme data driven model?

Your book was a perfect articulation of the problems with the current direction in American schools; do you have plans to (or have you already) describe a comprehensive viable alternative?

I would appreciate any information you have whenever you have a chance to respond.

All the Best,



October 26, 2010

Dear Diane,

I meant to e-mail you after I read your book, The Death and Life of the American School System, as I thought it was the most intelligent analysis of the current crisis affecting public schools and the shrinking of the curriculum to focus on meeting math and reading scores. I just finished reading your article Waiting for Superman in the NYRB and was very moved, once again, by your argument. I retired as a New Jersey social studies teacher and supervisor six years ago and moved to Florida where I continue to read and study history and follow the debate over public education. We also have a home in Georgia, near my son and his family, and I am always surprised at how little support for public education there is in both Florida and Georgia, compared to New Jersey.

I enjoyed your article and how you were able to counter many of the myths and misconceptions about public education. Very often public schools in blighted urban areas not only have to accept students with a host of social pathologies and limited familial support for educational achievement and success, but they often pay their teachers less than those in nearly suburban schools and are often located in high crime and/or drug infested neighborhoods that induce many young teachers to avoid them. If I am a good teacher, why would I choose to work in Camden, Newark, or Paterson when I could work in Ridgewood, Old Tappan, or Englewood Cliffs? You clearly point this out and your comparison with Finland and East Asian countries was excellent. Also, I thought your emphasis on the role of administrators and supervisors and their role in hiring teachers and getting rid of those inadequate to the task before they secure tenure was excellent, as I think this is a major problem with our public schools. Too many administrators and supervisors are not well-educated and secure their positions by merely accumulating the necessary certification and political support.

Unfortunately, the ideological battle going on between conservatives and their opponents has a huge effect on the present crisis. To criticize public schools as “government schools” is a very effective rhetorical device for leading people to associate public education with a Marxist taint — a huge government bureaucracy backed by a regressive teacher union monopoly has destroyed our schools and imperiled our future. It is stunning how the present economic downturn has affected public education and hard to believe how charter schools in place of public schools would improve the situation. If as a teacher I am to be evaluated on the basis of the test scores of my students, I want to teach the Honors, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate students, not the learning disabled, English as a second language, or academically-challenged kids. Also, as you argue so well, if I choose to run a for-profit charter school, I want to attract the best students, not all students as public schools must accept. I enjoyed your book and article very much and thank you for presenting the case for public education and a broad-based curriculum so well.

Best Wishes,

John Pyne


October 24, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Thank you so much for your excellent article!

I, like so many others are tired of hearing that “it�s the teacher.” Bill Bennett, who should know better, was on a Sunday morning talk show in the recent past and proudly announced to the interviewer “the data are in, it�s the quality of the teacher that matters.”

Every credible study I’ve seen suggests that teacher quality, student teacher ratio and parental involvement (which is closely tied to poverty) are the three factors which most influence the education of the child.

Thank you for citing the studies and for your “rest of the story” approach to this topic.

One final note, there is so much “accuracy without honesty” in politics, media, business, academia and medicine today that it’s easy to understand why so many people are misinformed.

We are constantly reminded that there�s a “minority gap” in education and I wonder if anyone considers that children of Chinese ethnicity are a minority. There certainly is a gap between their average test scores and those of European-American children. There�s also a gap between the test scores of children of Indian immigrants and their European-American counterparts. Japanese-Americans: the same. Korean-Americans: the same.

The most visible common denominator, at least where I live and work, is the degree of parental involvement.

All the Best,

Tom Salamone


October 23, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I am a veteran teacher at a highly successful public high school. Before teaching, I worked both public and private sector jobs for ten years. I can honestly say that I never worked as hard or as intensely in the ten years prior to teaching as I have during my ten-year teaching career. While it is meaningful and rewarding work, it is also the most demanding job I have ever had, so you can imagine how disheartening it is to hear of a film like Waiting for Superman, especially coming from a filmmaker for whom I had some regard.

Given the attention this film has received, I was relieved to read your article on the film in the New York Review of Books. (Not that I am a regular reader — I don’t have time as a teacher — but a friend drew it to my attention.) I wish the real inconvenient truth about education would gain as much attention as this misleading film has. I thank you, however, for the part you have played in trying to make that happen. I appreciate the work you did in culling together what the research actually shows about what is truly ailing our public education system. All of it confirmed my own suspicions as a classroom teacher, but, again, teaching doesn’t leave you much time to read the studies yourself.

In my view, teachers are asked to do too much, with too few resources, too little time, too little meaningful training, too little information, and far too many students. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to know that you can’t do as good a job as you would like to as a teacher (at least not without sacrificing any semblance of a personal life) because of factors that are beyond your control. Then to be told how you ought to be teaching by the corporate world, which is hardly filled with good role models, when their goals are far different from the goals of education, is unspeakably aggravating. I would love for some of those politicians, pundits, and corporate gurus to spend one week in my shoes. I’m pretty sure they’d either be totally ineffectual or begging for mercy by the end of it.

Anyway, thanks again. Sorry for the venting. I’m probably preaching to the choir anyway, but I was so happy to read something from someone who actually knows something about the difficulties we face.

Caty DeWalt


October 21, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I just wanted to thank you for your deep, thought-provoking review of Waiting for Superman. As a passionate, public school educator, I had vague misgivings about the documentary, but I lacked the knowledge to express exactly why charter schools are not necessarily better than public schools. Your article taught me a lot about what could be done to improve public education, you are also absolutely right about those that grant tenure (perhaps inadvertently) to bad teachers, and I was pleasantly surprised to read the last sentence.

Thank you very much. Your article is a gem.

Peter Rossman


October 15, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I have just read your new book. Thank you for taking a stand for public education.

We have been beaten to a pulp and never given credit where credit is due. For once, I feel understood as a public school teacher. The NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND law has demoralized our teachers and schools for too long. I sent Bill O’Reilly an e-mail asking him to invite you on his show. I sent him also a link to get your book and read it. I have energized the teachers at my school, too, with your book.

Thank you again for getting the truth out. Hopefully, our country will once again unite to uphold our children’s rights to a free public education. God bless you.


Nancy J. Robey


October 11, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I ran across the “Bridging Differences” blog and felt compelled to write you to say thanks.

I am currently reading The Death and Life of the Great American School System, and it is very refreshing to read a book about our education system that expresses the problems we are creating with theories that sound good but simply aren’t working. I am a second year teacher in Texas; I teach 7th grade ELA. I graduated from college in May of 2009 with that hopefulness that most new teachers have. I was excited about the profession and I was excited about my students.

It didn’t take long before the system began to stifle that hopefulness that I had. My excitement has been replaced by the anxiety that comes with preparing students for two TAKS tests and knowing that my success will be judged by the scores that my students produce. My students seem to be good at one thing — taking multiple choice tests. Critical thinking and creativity seem to have been tossed to the wayside. I agree wholeheartedly with the views you offer in your book and am encouraged that someone of your stature in the world of education is voicing these concerns.

I am in my early twenties and would love to see an overhaul in education in my lifetime, but I know it will take a paradigm shift that won’t be quick or easy. I am dumbfounded by the fact that so little regard seems to be given to those of us who are in the classrooms, living and breathing these policies handed down to us. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who applauded high stakes testing, yet it is still pushed and governs what we do in our classrooms. Sometimes it seems easier to simply walk away from the profession than work within a system that I find it hard to agree with, but I know that I can’t walk away from my students who deserve the best I can give them under the circumstances.

For now I’ll keep hoping for change to come. Your book gives me hope that we can find a better way. Thank you for speaking out!

Jonda Robinson


October 10, 2010

Dear Professor Ravitch,

Congratulations on The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The book is a great contribution to understanding the shortcomings of reform efforts to change education in America. You have said it well and have given voice to public school teachers, administrators, and academicians who have been silenced in the current mess in the education system. We are indebted.

I will be using your book as the assigned textbook for a spring course, “Trends and Issues in K12 Science Education,” to highlight the difficulties that we are experiencing in our attempts to implement the National Science Education Standards as well as what we have always known about good curriculum and instruction.

I will be at your presentation on October 14, at Rice University.

Thank you for an excellent contribution to understanding school reform in the U.S.


Eugene Chiappetta


October 6, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

Thank you so much for participating in the Forum earlier tonight in Seattle. It was wonderful to hear you speak.

I have had the privilege of teaching in both failing and thriving Seattle Public Schools. I taught for 8 years at M.L. King Elementary (since closed). King had high free-and-reduced lunch numbers, high poverty, few intact families, myriad families in crisis, and surprise — low test scores. I am now in my sixth year teaching at Schmitz Park Elementary: very few students on free and reduced lunch, highly educated families, few families in crisis, high sociio-economics, the vast majority of families intact, and high test scores. Which teacher am I? The one from the school with low test scores or the one from the affluent school with high scores? Am I a one of those “bad” teachers or one of the good? I am both. I am a better teacher now, with greater experience, and frankly, less stress. I learn more each year and am constantly honing my craft, even though I am an “old” teacher (56).

I was heartened to hear your comments on poverty. It seems to me that poverty is “the elephant in the room.” It is not a quick or easy fix, and has no voice. But its impact cannot be ignored.

Last night I met with one of my eighth grade son’s teachers. She spoke of the huge improvement in the school’s science test scores, but indicated it was bittersweet. In the last few years, she said they have become master’s at “teaching to the test” and lamented the lack of time for teaching things not tested and how shallow that feels.

Also, last month I attended an educator’s reception for Senator Patty Murray and showed her your book, telling her that it is a must-read. Several other teachers after me concurred!

A final comment/question: I have spoken with lots of private school parents who love the fact their children do not have to take high stakes tests until the SAT’s. Has anyone factored in to state test scores the fact that those private school students are taken out of picture for K-12 test scores?

Thank you again,

Marilyn Mears


October 5, 2010

Do you have any advice or suggestions for those of us who are veteran teachers near retirement on how to “cope” our last couple of years with the implementation of Race to the Top restrictions? I am in my 26th year of teaching & teach in a state that “won” these funds. Part of the caveat for winning these monies is that all teachers will be evaluated every year (not a problem) with a percentage of our evaluations coming from test scores. For those of us who don’t test (Kg, 1st grade, art, music, etc.) that test percentage for us will come from our school’s value-added scores. As a first grade teacher I simply cannot understand how my school’s scores will indicate how proficient a teacher I am!

I have done a complete turn-around from supporting public education to telling anyone who will listen (although our school system has specifically told us to be careful what we say) that I would not have a child in public schools today. The reason for this has nothing to do with the ability of the teachers I know and work with in the system but rather what I see as a lack of curriculum. That is not an education. When the only skills taught are those on a test, to my mind it seems a child is not receiving a well-rounded education.

Back to my original question: Any tips on coping with this dilemma as I finish the years before I can retire? I can tell myself I won’t let it bother me but in reality the stress of deciding to do what I’m told versus teaching the way I know is better does get to me.

Thank you for takng the time to read this. Thank you also for your book and article regarding NCLB. If only “the powers that be” nationally, state level and system level would come to their senses!

Thank you for replying. I appreciate what you’re doing to help public education.



October 5, 2010

Awesome article regarding testing!

I am a private pilot.

In order to get a private pilot's license (PPL), I was required to pass a 100-question written exam taken from an FAA database of 1000 questions. I studied for the exam and passed.

Now, after having been a private pilot for about ten years, I can honestly say that the written test was a waste of time. It had nothing to do with the “real world” of aviation.



October 4, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch:

Many thanks for your reasoned responses to the current misdirected diatribes against public schools and teachers. Irrelevant and ineffective panaceas are offered by persons who, to put it kindly, know less about how students learn than the average student herself.

I am now, and have been, a teacher for many years. I have noted with chagrin that the most recent well-advertised and ballyhooed pronouncements have emerged from people not remotely connected with classroom experience. Those others, like Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, to cite the most self-promoted, have a laughable few years in the classroom itself. Whatever a year or two with Teach for America or a similar setting may offer, this does not provide any person with expertise about the art of teaching.

Take the current emotional climate about bullying. This persecuting behavior starts very early, as I have witnessed during my numerous years in the classroom. There is no need to agonize about why this happens. In schools where there is zero tolerance for bullying, and strong consequences for the bully, the message is clear. The bully is the one who should experience pain or discomfort. Pretty simple, and can be accomplished in classrooms and common areas of schools.

Why not study the personal styles, and there are many, of effective teachers. It’s not that hard to do, and, again, it’s simple. Help other teachers to work with their strengths. If supervisors spent even 10% of their time in various classrooms (recommended), there would be no question as to their knowledge of their teachers’ strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, there is nothing magical about good, or even good-enough teaching. When we show up, see our pupils as real people, and try to provide a safe place and a reason to learn, there is no doubt that a connection can happen for at least some of our students. Do the self-designated experts keep in mind always that this is the only time around for most American children? Happily, many teachers remember this, and some even become the one positive, significant adult figure in someone’s life. Really, that’s all anyone needs to feel worthwhile.

Thanks for all you do.


Margaret M. Nolan


October 4, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

I am a NYC public school teacher and have been following the sad decline of the public school systems around the country.

I read a recent article you wrote and was reminded of my mother in 1957 when I was in eighth grade. Sputnik had just been launched and the PTA had an emergency meeting in my school. All the parents were asked to attend. My mother went and listened as parent after parent called for more math and more science and more academic rigor because otherwise we would never beat the Russians.

When it was my mother’s turn, she called for more classes in ethics and civics because she told the other parents, without a moral compass and civility all the math and science in the world would be useless. She asked “what about art and music?” She was roundly shouted down and asked to leave. I don’t think my mother ever went back to another PTA meeting.

Here we are again — right back in 1957.

I teach pre-k and in my small way I have resisted the pressure of “teaching” children to “write” when they can barely hold a crayon. Instead my class is full of art and music and learning how to get along with each other.

Teachers, parents, and other educators must continue to resist if we are ever to have a true public school system.



September 29, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I have just finished reading your excellent book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Having read several of your earlier works, I was looking forward to excellent scholarship and an authoritative voice on the state of our schools and how they came to that state. What I was not expecting was the inspiration I received by reading, especially the last chapter.

I am particularly encouraged to read that someone with your expertise and knowledge agrees that we need to have a strong curriculum as an essential building block for a successful educational system. When I came to teaching after a first career as an engineer, I assumed that it would be the job of the school district (my employer) to provide me with clear direction as to what I should teach and that it would be my job (as the professional teacher) to work out the details of how to teach.

Sadly, I found exactly the opposite. In 17 years of teaching, I have never been explicitly informed of the educational outcomes expected of my students, or even given so much as a course description for the classes I was assigned to teach. As I planned my instruction, I alone determined the topics I covered and the objectives the students were to meet. On the other hand, the school district has never ceased dictating the most minute details of how I should teach, what technologies and materials I should use, how I should grade, how I should manage my classroom and how I should relate to my students and their parents. I have felt hamstrung by the constant meddling in my practice by administrators who know far less about how to teach than I do. I also feel abandoned by these same administrators who should be communicating to me what it is that the community that pays my salary wishes for the children to learn.

I feel that with such an influential voice as yours sounding this warning, there is perhaps a chance that some people will listen. Your bold challenge to the widespread belief that market forces can shape the educational system we need in this country was excellent. Backed up with your scholarship and credentials, this idea might gain some traction. When it comes from the NEA or some other group within the public school establishment, it is easily discounted.

Thank you for the outstanding work you have done here. I hope that it is the genesis of real change in public education.

David J. Eckstrom


September 28, 2010

(A letter to a Congressman and both California US Senators)

As an educator and a constituent, I would like to express my views on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The premise of NCLB is to hold schools accountable for poor test scores by placing sanctions on schools considered “low performing,” the highest sanction being school closure. You may have heard that NCLB has led to “teaching to the test” and the narrowing of the curriculum (Diane Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education offers an authoritative account of this), but what I offer in this letter is a first hand account of how the pressure for “low performing” schools to “improve” creates a culture of compliance that stifles teacher growth and stalls student learning.

The high school from which I graduated in 1999 is today considered “low performing.” If at that time, my school were labeled as such, it would not have made sense to me. At school, my teachers demanded that I pass rigorous math tests, read books, and write coherent and grammatically correct essays. At home, my parents demanded that I got these tasks done. Because of the high expectations of my teachers and my parents, I later graduated from UCLA with BAs in English and History.

In 2003, I enrolled in UCLA’s Teacher Education Program. The program promised to prepare teachers to promote “social justice” and “change the world.” In the program, I learned many research based and innovative teaching strategies that made the lofty claims seem possible.

However, when I was hired to teach English at one of UCLA’s partnership schools, a middle school in Los Angeles Unified School District, I could not apply many of the innovative ideas I learned because the district trained me to strictly follow a scripted reading program. The program stressed phonics and word recognition, and not only were books not part of the curriculum, books were not allowed. However, my students who were labeled poor readers were able to decode words, and I intuitively believed that my students only needed more practice in reading, not phonics review. Given the prescribed lessons in letter and word recognition, my students were bored and unruly in class. But I was told in trainings that supplementing the program with a grade-appropriate novel would undermine the program. In the school’s main office, I overheard a heated argument between an administrator and a teacher who insisted that her students read books, or simply read anything outside the phonics-lessons the program required. I interpreted this event as a warning for me, who, based on my students’ boredom and my own common sense, was tempted to disregard the teaching script and have my students read books.

Throughout the year, I attended further professional development in this program. The teachers who conducted the trainings were largely former teachers who were now working for the program’s company. I, and other teachers at the training, raised many concerns about how my students were already able to decode words and felt bored. The chorus of teacher concerns can be summarized in one question: why are we doing this program? My understanding of what the training facilitators told me was that the district, given its “low performing” status under NCLB, was under pressure to show “improvement.” Thus the district bought the scripted reading program and had to comply with the program to justify the dollars spent.

Since teacher expertise was not considered in the district’s decision-making, I am hoping that elected officials with the power to pass education reforms like NCLB will hear what we have to say.

In my first year, I had my students read three novels despite the program’s mandates. That was the only way that I, in good conscience, could make the scripted program work. I was fortunate that my administration did not police teachers daily for compliance since I overheard such was common practice in other schools. Although I managed to teach the reading program, I often struggled to manage the class. Students were bored by my initial attempt to stay faithful to the reading program, I had homeless students who were unreceptive to threats of detention or a low grade, and the students in my class had multiple substitutes in their previous school year and thus, according to my colleagues, it was normal for them to “test” me first. There is nothing new about a young teacher starting out with high goals only to be hard hit by the inherent challenges of conducting a group of children; what is new, and what No Child Left Behind has created, is the constant pressure to comply with outside mandates in a way that stifles teachers from exercising their own judgment and developing professional expertise.

What was further demoralizing to me was that UCLAs Teacher Education Program promoted the idea that we young teachers could “change the world,” and on that basis, TEP required us to be hired at a school where there was at least one other TEP candidate being hired as well. This “pair policy” was developed under the notion that veteran teachers at the schools were “stuck in their ways” and could not support us idealistic newcomers. In reality, the veteran teachers at the middle school were my best resource. They had developed classroom management skills and intervened when unruly students provoked me to the point of tears. They experienced enough district implemented programs that had come and gone to tell me that “this too, shall pass,” referring to the flawed reading program. The veteran teachers gave me hope, but my TEP cohort members, felt too upset with the students or the school in itself to remain at a “low performing” school or in the teaching profession altogether. All who were hired from UCLA in 2004 left within three years, either for a higher performing school or to another profession altogether.

The reason why I raise the issue of veteran versus young teachers is because NCLB requires that all classroom teachers are “highly qualified.” I certainly agree that classroom teachers should have subject matter expertise and classroom experience, but since NCLB has also stigmatized many schools as “low performing,” NCLB also raised the issue that perhaps the “highly qualified” teachers were “low performing.” Hence, many education reformers today embrace merit pay initiatives and the breaking of teacher unions.

But first, let’s examine the NCLB label “low performing.” Who was “low performing” at the middle school where I first taught? Was it the professionals at the district level who implemented a flawed reading program? Was it the teacher I overheard in the main office protesting against it? Was it me who felt the program did not suit the students? Was it the students who were labeled poor readers in the first place? Was it the teachers, or substitutes, who taught those students before me? Like my fellow new teachers from TEP, I left the middle school in 2006, having only taught there for two years. I wonder if my position was replaced by a “higher performing” teacher, or if a series of substitutes served those students until the higher performing teacher was found. Could UCLA’s TEP supply such a teacher? The point I am stressing here is that as elected officials consider education policy such as NCLB, these are the questions that need to be raised, not to mention the most essential question: is high stakes testing and the pressure to show “improvement” improving the learning environments for our children?

Today, I teach at my former high school. It is labeled “low performing,” and it is under pressure to show “improvement.” Every one or two weeks, English teachers are required to administer scantron tests that are written in the district office in an effort to demonstrate “data driven instruction.” As an English teacher, I find the questions on the test poorly worded, but what is appalling about these tests is that they contain errors that do not require a degree in English to notice. Besides typos that throw off questions in grammar, usage, and mechanics, some of the “correct” answers on the key are blatantly wrong. I am currently in the process of demanding accountability from the district office that mandates these tests as measures of my students’ skills. I would better serve my students if I wrote my own tests or used questions from a question bank provided by a grade-level textbook. When I attended high school in the 1990s, I doubt that these district tests would have equipped me with the reading, writing, and thinking skills that allow me to share my concerns with elected officials.

A phonics-based reading program for students who can already decode. Flawed, yet mandated district tests. Teachers are forced to use these faulty tools in schools facing pressure to demonstrate improvement. These “low performing schools” mainly serve poor and minority students. Many opponents of NCLB point out how teachers are punished for challenges in their students’ backgrounds that they cannot control, but has any teacher brought up how they cannot control the tests and programs with which they must comply? Is NCLB helping failing schools, or is it helping schools fail?

With so many public schools labeled “low performing,” politicians taking control of school districts and charter school advocates cast a very critical light on public school teachers. After sharing my story, I hope you are more critical of the testing regime that teachers must endure. I hope you hear our voices, and if you discover that NCLB has prevented teachers from using best practices to serve our students, you will realize that the policy has no validity on which to base further educational reforms.


Martha Mangahas


September 27, 2010

Dear Ms. Diane Ravitch,

I am a former fourth grade teacher of four years. Currently I am a stay at home mom raising my first child who is ten months old. I do miss the classroom, but not how the education system treated teachers.

Furthermore, I am writing to say that I proudly signed a petition along with thousands of teachers to have you on the Oprah Winfrey Show, to present the “REAL” side of education and the current propsed “paying teachers based on merit,” something I strongly oppose.

I admire you for many reasons. First of all you remind me of my grandmother who, like you, was a teacher for 40 years. A classy, serious, focused and very professional woman, professor, leader. She taught geography in Romania, the country where I came from. I cannot wait to read your new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. In my opinion you stand out with wisdom, intellectual, focused, and a genuine understanding of the education system yesterday and today. Compared to many new and fighting leaders who want to push issues to reform and carry punitive ideas on teachers today, it breaks my heart to see it, but on the other hand puts a SMILE on my face to know that someone like you is out there to SHINE the light on how WRONG they are.

God bless you, and may you have courage and strength to carry on your mission.

I am your fan.


Persida Shelton


September 27, 2010


I am a 62 year old, just retired biology teacher from one of the designated 15 “failing school districts” of Connecticut, Windham. I have read and thank you for your recent book. I read the speech you gave to the NEA convention in July. After working in a community organization and as a teacher in the north end of Hartford, Connecticut, I enrolled in the teacher corps program in 1971. For 39 years I worked as an urban ed teacher and as a defender of teachers for AFT-CT. In my last three years, I devoted myself to the district Teacher Evaluation Committee, District Data Team, Grievance Chairmanship, Negotiating Team, and Union Representative to Connecticut Board of Education in an effort to develop genuine collaboration between the teachers and the administration. It was a difficult process.

Today, my heart goes out to the teachers who have devoted five years to training and have devoted themselves to working without adequate support on the front line of education and now have to face the annual threat of termination on questionable test scores. I love these teachers.

I know that I should just sit back and enjoy retirement. But I am on a ten-day vacation in California and just came down out of the Coastal range in Northern California. There, drug dealers are growing massive amounts of marijuana inside of houses and in the fields. I was troubled by this. Heartbreakingly, I have observed that mariijuana has been an increasing cause of reduced motivation, absenteeism, and cynicism in students. Yet it seems that the effects of marijuana in urban schools is not even being discussed by our leaders.

Last night and this morning I heard the Superintendent in Washington, the Secretary of Education, and the President call, with enthusiasm, for the firing of teachers all across the country. I would rather they helped the teachers with the marijuana problem and many other problems.

How can I be involved? Do you see a movement developing? If yes, how can I be part of it? Can a retired teacher, no longer on the front line, even be part of a solution?

Thank you for your efforts and your remarkable courage.


Victor Funderburk


September 26, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I was a guidance counselor at Fremont High School which was reconstituted by Superintendent Cortines in December of 2009. When you spoke at UCLA in the spring of 2010 several of my colleagues and I approached you with regard to what the superintendent was doing and how wrong it was, and I believe you spoke with Mr. Cortines about Fremont. I don’t know if you have followed what happened but a large majority of the faculty did not reapply, the test scores increased by 28 points, we met all of our API goals with the exception of one, our graduation rates and attendance rates increased. But now at the New Fremont they have subs in the majority of the classrooms, they eliminated our psychiatric social workers, opting for more attendance counselors... My students are suffering because Mr. Cortines and Ms. Garcia felt it was more important to go after the money (which they failed to get) than to help my children.

I still work in and truly believe in public education but I am so hurt by what our politicians and administrations continue to believe that the test scores are all that matter....a child is so much more than a test score!

I guess my question to you is: did Mr. Cortines give you an explanation of why Fremont? And now, after the scores have come out, the failure that is the New Fremont faculty, and the fact that the money never came in...what are his comments?

Thank you for coming to speak to the teachers of Los Angeles, being so supportive of public education, and an advocate for all of our children!


Agnes Cesare


September 25, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Thank you so much for speaking at the event at Immanuel Presbyterian Church last night. What you said was wonderful and I do think that the Fenty loss could be a sort of turning point but only if teachers organize.

I saw many of my former Fremont colleagues at the speech last night. Fremont's test scores were announced a few weeks back and we raised API 28 points — in the midst of being told we were terrible teachers and all the events about reconstitution.

Here is a blog about Fremont called Fremont Watch: http://fremontwatch.wordpress.com/

Thanks for coming to speak after flying across the country! You must be exhausted.


Barbara Stam


September 25, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I was in the audience last night at Immanuel Presbyterian Church and I want to express my appreciation for you, your publications and your message.

First, I have been reading your books and your research for many years. I completed my doctoral studies in 1983 and I referenced much of your research in my own research. I had communicated with you in those days and greatly appreciate all of your contributions over the years.

I read your latest book as soon as it was available and I was so excited to know that a person of your standing in the education community was willing to speak up about the disastrous path we are on as a result of “No Child Left Behind” and the resulting agenda for “choice” and “charter schools” as well as the emphasis on testing. Your message is something we need to have repeated until we change the course that is moving us toward the dismantling of public education.

I currently work for Los Angeles County Office of Education and I am daily confronted with the affects of poor management with a lack of knowledge, respect or appreciation for what classroom teachers are able to accomplishment on a daily basis. We have fewer resources, larger classes, more diversity in the classroom, multiple languages, multiple reading levels, behavioral issues (ignored by management) and yet with all of these challenges we are able to educate youth and we do it with a public that is reading the LA Times and wondering about “effective” teachers! I was thrilled to hear you say that we need to remember who hires teachers, who evaluates teachers and who recommends teachers for tenure: management. This is the message that we need to repeat over and over.

Those of us that are devoted to our profession and work hard to deliver excellence in the classroom would be the first to say that there are some who do not belong in the classroom. We have no input as to who is hired. We have no input in the mentoring of new teachers or the evaluation of new teachers and we certainly have no voice as to recommending for tenure. In my own experience, I have repeatedly seen managers hire people without appropriate credentials and keep them in sub positions for years and then encourage them to get a credential. These people in turn feel very "loyal" to the manager that has kept them in a teaching position. Managers that do this are providing jobs to unqualified people and of course sub pay is much less. Many of these people are clearly not good candidates for teaching, but if a manager feels they have someone whom they can control and someone who feeds their ego by their loyalty and someone who will not question anything then that manager pushes that person through the system and eventually that person has a credential and can gain tenure within the first year because they are given credit for work done prior to completing a credential. This not to say that all teachers in this category are not good teachers, but in my experience many are not and yet they are now tenured. This is why we need to remind the public that teachers are hired by management, evaluated by management and recommended for tenure by management. Unions have nothing to do with this and most of us would readily agree that some of these people should have never entered the field of education.

I have worked at many levels in education and having spent many years as a professor of education in teacher training and I felt that my experience and talent could be used in the classroom. The hardest job in education! Since I returned to the classroom I have continuously been confronted with managers that due to their own insecurity and lack of knowledge have a need to somehow demean what I am able to accomplish or fail to recognize the successful methods that have resulted in my students turning their lives around, showing dramatic increases in reading levels and reading comprehension and 100% of my students graduate from high school. It is sad that we cannot applaud educators for what is accomplish. As you are aware the county schools serve some of the most difficult students as most are well below grade level, most are not motivated to be in school, most have missed years in their education and most have severe behavioral issues. With all this, the classroom teachers day after day enter crowded classrooms, unsafe classrooms and teach under some of the most stressful conditions in education and yet we have success. This is the real story.

In spite of all the obstacles, in spite of every challenge they place in front of us we are still able to educate that students whom we serve. We are devoted, passionate and love what we do. If one is not passionate, devoted and truly love youth then they are in the wrong profession. I do serve on the Executive Board of the Union for the LA County which is Los Angeles County Educators Association (LACEA).

Thank you for standing up and speaking out. Thank you for acknowledging what educators do. I wanted to get my book signed by you, but I saw that you were clearly very tired and you had already so graciously given of your time. I trust that I will have another opportunity to hear you speak, once again savor the moment of truth and perhaps be able to get a book signed. Thank you for supporting all of the devoted, hard working educators.

A side note: I am a lesbian who is faced with additional discrimination on a daily basis. I have three strikes against me. I am female, lesbian and intelligent! How sad that those ingredients cannot be embraced and celebrated.




September 25, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Thank you for giving voice to what is in my heart.

I videotaped your talk in Los Angeles and posted it here and on YouTube. I hope many people watch it.

I wanted to ask you something last night but didn’t know that I had to write down my question: if things continue along the same path, where do you think special needs students will be ten years from today? I ask because I have an autistic son and teach special needs children. I worry about them a lot. I feel so lucky that we can send our son to his excellent neighborhood school. It accepts all students with open arms and provides them vital services. The public school where I teach does, too.

My students and son are the same kinds of kids that appear in Waiting for Superman. Same dreams, same trust. The big difference is that the public schools that they attend accept them and provide free and appropriate public education. Charters don’t. As you said last night: “Don�t go there.” I’ll try hard not to. In the meantime I thank you with all my heart.


Vincent Precht


September 22, 2010

As a Chicago Public School teacher in the “inner city,” I have become horrified by what is happening to our schools, and by the lack of teaching and education today!

Now, in Area 3 of Chicago Public Schools, there is not just the “ISAT” test but also Scantron Tests every three months that take a classroom teacher weeks to get through, then there is the newly created five week assessment that takes a classroom teacher almost two weeks to get through and overlaps the Scantron, then there is the monthly Edison Test that also takes almost a month to get through, beside the normal little tests teachers try these days to give. Besides all these tests, there is then the Explore Test for 8th graders that is going on while the other tests are being given. The kg and 1st graders are “Dibbled” to death daily, and now CPS has launched a five week test for these little people, and in Kg the test is almost impossible for kids who just walked into school, most unprepared due to poor home lives. Then there is of course the “ISAT.”

Meanwhile, there is NO TIME FOR TEACHING because it is�back-to-back testing and overlay testing, with “hurry up and test�rush, rush, rush�must be completed by Friday�tomorrow�in an hour.” This of course doesn’t even address the compositions that must be turned in�and graded, using the special rubric, and considered part of the testing.

This is beyond anything I have experienced in my almost thirty years of teaching. I have an M.A. and about eighty hours or more over my Master’s. I was originally a HS Art Teacher, HS Guidance Counselor, got my credentials for elementary, then got certified in Special Education, which I do now, and recently got my certification in ESL, which I also do now. I love teaching and teach in a poor community because I wanted to make a “difference.” But now I am being punished for working in the low-socioeconomic community. We, the teachers, are being held hostage because of poverty, no parenting, poor parenting and all the things that make up a “ghetto community.”

Now, with all this additional testing day after day, “ISAT” is almost a nothing.

THERE IS NO TIME TO TEACH, PERIOD. As a Special Education teacher, I have not even been able to work on what is in the children’s IEP (Individual Education Plan). The kids are getting burnt out from testing week after week, and though school just started August 10, it has already been straight testing. What kind of “DATA” could CPS be getting that is worth anything? Unless they will use these tests (worthless data) to show how poorly the schools in Area 3 do and then have a reason to close the schools and make them charters.

Because of “Race to the Top,” CPS has started to evaluate teachers based on “value added” and scores, scores and scores, and a TAP program that has been gutted to fit the needs of CPS. Many teachers are not given a fair shake when it comes to the students in their classes, especially if the principal doesn’t like the teacher for whatever reason. There is�overcrowding in classes. Principals often choose teachers for mentoring roles in the TAP program that evaluates the�teachers that the principals like (often new teachers without much experience). I get along well with the principal; I’m just being objective in what I see at school.

I could go on and on but the important thing is: there is no time to teach and no teaching is taking place. This isn’t about teaching to the ISAT now. It’s about constant, constant testing, and we don’t know what to do about it. The other aspect is that the schools in Area 3 have been given Curriculum Mapping, put together by CPS, and it is so loaded there is no way a teacher could cover the amount of material expected to be taught in five weeks in time for the “five week assessment.” Actually, the Science Assessment had to be given even before the teachers received the Science Curriculum — yes, it’s true!

TEACHING HAS BECOME A NIGHTMARE!!! It has become an ugly profession to be in � when I sit and watch the nightly news I want to cry!

None of those making the major control decisions in the Chicago Public Schools are educators, nor is�Education Secretary Duncan or DC’s Education Chancellor Rhee — today’s public faces of public education.

I just don’t know what to do, and nor do my colleagues. We feel so helpless!

Thanks for listening,

Hedy Hirsch


September 21, 2010

Dear Professor Ravitch,

Many thanks to you for your brilliantly researched book (The Death and Life of the Great American School System). I will be adding it in at the top of my students’ reading list in my Curriculum Development course this fall. Our College of Education is being decimated — our students are unable to find teaching jobs — this move toward privatization of the public schools must end. Your book, backed up by your eminent reputation, has provided a great deal of hope for many of us working out here with underserved students.

If historical precedents repeat, leading to a change of Secretary of Education during our President’s second term, I truly hope that you will consider taking the job. You understand (and respect) the Left as well as the Right, and have the courage to speak the truth at a time when “The Emperor’s New Clothes” seems to be the prevailing educational paradigm.

Again, many thanks and very best wishes to you!


John Eichinger, Ph.D.


September 16, 2010

Dear Diane:

Thank you for the speech you gave to the NEA. Also the best of luck with your new book.

Your speech is a model of intelligence, sophistication, and sanity. I agree with you in every matter, large and small. We need you.

Twenty years ago I told a British audience that, “Reforming the schools with nothing more in mind than raising test scores is an absolutely empty exercise.” Unhappily the argument has been little heeded both there and here.

Thanks, for casting your light in a dark time.


Tom Sobol


September 17, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I loved your book. You said everything that all of us teachers have felt for quite a while. So many of us feel so powerless and at the mercy of these administrators and policy setters who make decisions that go so against good education (and then we are blamed when it doesn’t work!). I actually gave your book to someone who just might be running for president on the Republican ticket. I only wished I had had time to highlight some of the most important parts, but the book arrived only the day before I met her. I hope it gets read!

Anyway, I have to tell one (of many) unbelievable decrees to come down from the Philadelphia School District Superintendent / curriculum office. A peer told me that her friend at one of the more “at risk” schools in Philly was told to get rid of any books she had in her class library that were not listed in the “Imagine It” reading curriculum. Now they are telling teachers to not have their own books available for students to read on their own. Can you believe this? How many teachers have invested lots of money and LOVE to purchase wonderful literature for their students in order for them to have a rich exposure to any and all books?! Now they are told to put them away and only put out what the curriculum allows? I am not familiar with “Imagine It” curriculum, but I can only imagine what is included in their list. It boggles the mind. And in three years they will come back and say, “Never mind.”

Please tell us more about what we can do. How do people get more involved in deciding educational policy besides writing letters?

Mrs. K.


September 15, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

Thank you for your recent book about how testing is ruining education. Here is an unbelievable example:

The school I work in missed AYP due to one student’s score on an English High School Assessment here in Maryland. The school I work in has a 78% passing rate on Advanced Placement exams. We offer thirteen Advanced Placement courses, a strong honors program, etc. The one score was from a 10th Grade special education student whose score put us below the margin. We are so focused on testing... all the time... every day... all day long. This is my 13th year as a Guidance Counselor and I am so frustrated.

Will anybody listen to this?

Thank you for your voice of reason in education.



September 15, 2010


I absolutely love your blog — your piece on why the civil rights community opposes Obama’s education policies was outstanding! — and thought The Death and Life of the Great American School System was likewise outstanding. Before your more recent changes in viewpoint I also learned a lot from the two of your earlier books that I had read, The Troubled Crusade and The Schools We Deserve.

I keep hearing charter school advocates who try to paint teachers’ unions as The Bad Guys say or write that it is immoral to “put the convenience of adults above the interests of children.”

Well, it’s not at all clear to me that creating a whole bunch more charter schools than we already have, many of mediocre or poor quality and operating under conditions of low transparency and accountability, is doing a service to the considered interests of more kids than it is doing a disservice to.

What does, however, seem fairly clear is that if we are to put the interests of children ahead of the convenience of adults, then a few things we should be doing, or at least be discussing as serious possibilities, include:

  • adopt mandatory, paid, parental leave policies applicable to businesses, nonprofits and government employers, providing subsidies so small employers can provide this benefit;

  • fully fund an expansion of high-quality preschool programs so that many more children who could benefit from them can access them;

  • eliminate the gross school funding disparities that advantage so many affluent over so many poor communities;

  • prohibit government subsidies and tax writeoffs used to bribe employers into not relocating, which depletes government treasuries of the funds they would need to do the above; and

  • find ways to voluntarily reduce extreme residential segregation by family income and wealth levels, which greatly disadvantages concentrations of poor students left behind but is done, as far as I can tell, for two main “adult preference” reasons which have the effect of harming large numbers of students, especially those who live in high-poverty communities: i) so homeowners in affluent communities can enhance or at least retain the value of their property; ii) so affluent parents can provide opportunities to their children which are not available to others, particularly most students attending high-poverty schools (is there anything thought to be more “American” than this? But...does it serve us well as a country if we really believe we need to educate all students well? Will we be able to become a healthier, better-functioning democracy so long as conditions of very high residential segregation remain in so many of our greater metropolitan areas?).

Yet many of those supporting unbridled charter school proliferation, and who use the “never put the convenience of adults ahead of the interests of children” argument, oppose many if not all of the above measures.

Perhaps it’s time to push back on the reflexive, unthoughtful abuse of this particular “argument” in our education policy debates, which does nothing to advance useful thinking about these issues. Instead, it is used as a way to try to shut down further thought and discussion. Unfortunately, it often appears to “succeed” in this sense.




September 13, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I recently retired from teaching, about 1 1/2 years before I’d intended. I simply couldn’t handle it anymore. Much of the joy I had felt in my early years of teaching had been crushed by tests, their oftentimes dismal results, and all the attending pressures associated with boosting students’ scores.

Shortly after my departure which was actually mid-year, the school in which I’d taught (Gov. James B. Longley School, Lewiston, ME), its principal, and the entire staff came under intense scrutiny as one of the ten “failing-est” schools in the state of Maine. I felt so badly for this hard-working group of professionals and the awful attention engendered by both the press and the public. I wrote to the local paper and much of my original letter was published. (Parts pertaining to the ridiculous, standardized tests imposed upon lower functioning students and recent immigrant children were edited out.)

Mr. Hood was fortunate enough to be transferred to another school because Lewiston is a rather large city here in Maine. In another, smaller school district, he would’ve — after decades of devoted service to children's educations — been out on his you-know-what! Over half of the staff either was also transferred or simply left for teaching positions elsewhere.

Right now, Longley School has been given much positive hype as it moves in a “new” direction! Good luck to them all!!

YOU ARE RIGHT ON TARGET WITH YOUR INSIGHTS! Keep up with your message and its promulgation! May God bless you in your endeavors.


Beverly Fox Martin


September 11, 2010

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your recent article in NEA Today.

I have been saying as an ESE Paraprofessional for years that I CANNOT fix either IQ’s or severe learning disabilities in children and yet I have been subjected to watching these children having to take the infamous FCAT Test here in Florida for numerous years now. It is particularly disheartening to watch a child have to go into the FCAT Reading test knowing he or she CANNOT READ! When given the test booklet and to have these children say to me: “But [teacher name withheld], I CANNOT READ,” what in the world can I say to these kids??? I usually just state, “I know you cannot read, but just do the best you can.” What else IS there to say???

We teach little to nothing in this state except HOW to take this test and strategies for same. Then on top of it all I’ve watched teachers lose their positions and be bumped down because they were told their “scores” just didn’t cut it! This with teachers who were given a greater percentage than other teachers of students with disabilities including extreme behavioral issues as well. One seems to frequently follow the other (learning disabilities and behaviors).

I only wish the taxpaying public was MORE aware of just exactly what their tax dollars are paying for these days. The waste in local school systems is an assault on the people in the trenches. No pay raise, not even a COLA in some four years here now, and yet in my school, which I transferred to a mere six years ago, I believe the math curriculum has changed at least three times to the tunes of hundreds of thousands of dollars in textbooks, workbooks, training costs etc. Am I dumb??? I just don’t get it!!!

Don’t even get me started with RTI. It’s a cheap “fix.” By the time all interventions are followed, the kid will be ready for graduation from high school and we’ll merely have another unproductive member of society who “we,” the taxpayers, must support. AAARGGGGGGGGHHHH.

At any rate, thanks again for your article. I’m hoping it will awaken someone somewhere to do something soon. I am only SO very grateful that I no longer have children in the public school system in this state!

Thanks Again,



September 10, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I enjoyed reading your article entitled “Stop the Madness.” I have been a school psychologist since 1983 and I have seen the system undergo many changes. When the NCLB appeared I became very worried because, as a psychologist, I have scientific evidence that shows that learning disabilities are real. Regarding high school students, while the NCLB is exempting the severely impaired students from taking tests (students with autism, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, mutiple handicap), those with learning disabilities do not have that privilege. Before the NCLB, students with learning disabilites who read below the 4th grade level were exempted from testing, by either going to the School for Career Development which was part of District 75, or by being part of the Basic 2 program offered at their community high school. Both of these programs taught functional academics and their progress was measured through alternate assessments rather than by standardized tests.

With the birth of NCLB, the Basic 2 program was eliminated, and the School for Career Development, if it continues to exist, no longer accepts students with learning disabilities. Most of these students are reading at the 2nd grade level and they are now forced to remain in their community high schools so they can pursue an academic program and be subjected to standardized testing. What are the results of such mandate? A very high percentage of these students drop out of school and, either they remain at home or hang out in the streets all day, or come to school and roam the hallways getting into trouble. Many of those who hang out in the streets end up joining gangs or getting involved in the drug business; some end up threatening or committing suicide. This madness is causing a lot of stress among the families leading to family discords that end up in domestic violence and divorces.

This past academic year, I referred two students to the School for Career Development. Both were reading at the 2nd grade level; one was coming to school everyday but never went to any of his classes, the other one stayed home everyday. The School for Career Development accepted them and both mothers called me to tell me how happy they were with the program. The mother of the student who used to roam the hallways was happy because her son was now attending all of his classes; the mother of the student who would stayed home told me that her son was now getting up at 6:00 a.m. every morning on his own and would not miss a day of school. Sadly, thanks to the NCLB, both students were returned to our school because, according to their new principal, they could not be in her school because they were being deprived of studying an academic program and taking standardized exams.

I just wanted to enlighten you on how the NCLB and its testing regime are not only weakening democracy, but are also weakening the family unit and promoting juvenile crime, suicide, and drug use.

Chary Sloan, Ph.D.


September 4, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I recently read the chapter on San Diego in your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System and found it not only well detailed but factual.

I was the senior evaluator in the district, and was one of the central office administrators who was removed from my assignment after twenty years when Bersin “cleaned up” the district office, left with the option of leaving altogether or finding a job in the classroom.

After being ordered to destroy all previous records archived in our office, the Research and Evaluation Unit, our department was completely obliterated. No records, no history.

After securing a job at San Diego High School, I decided to sue the district and three years of litigation later we settled out of court. A year later I decided to retire even though I could easily have continued contributing to public education for a few more years.

If you wish and are interested, I can give you an insider’s overview regarding what really happened from 1998 to 2002.

Thank you for your great contribution to a general and public understanding of what happened in San Diego City Schools. I really appreciate your work.

Cordially yours,

Dr. Frank Ciriza, EdD


September 4, 2010

Thanks so much for your courageous and insightful comments about NCLB.

I am a National Board Certified Elementary ESL teacher for Memphis City Schools, and am disgusted with the unrealistic and untenable provisions of the act. ELLs are exempt from testing their first year in the US. But it takes ELLs five to seven years to become proficient in academic English — simply to understand what the test is asking. I am always told “we need a baseline.” But the material, of course, becomes harder each year. How is that establishing a baseline? The results of all this testing? For me, no data I can possibly use and for the children, frustration often to the point of tears. This is not to mention WHOLE WEEKS of wasted class time when I could be teaching and they could be learning.

Judy Stephenson


September 3, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I just retired after thirty-five years teaching in California high schools. Last week I began your most recent book and I just finished. Thank you.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System was an extraordinary synopsis of the current state of things educational. My reactions to the book were, as you might imagine, somewhat complex but in short you have left me feeling less alone.

If you’re interested, and if you have a spare ten minutes, I invite you to take a look at the url (from Truthdig) pasted below. I gave Northwood High commencement address for Irvine’s Northwood High last June. I suppose that if you have the time to read what I said then you are likely to think I read your book four months ago. I swear I didn’t, but I did come damn close to a number of your points albeit without the wonderful perspective of extensive research.

Here it is:


Thanks again,

Jim Mamer


August 29, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I have finished your book, and am wondering how you / we can force feed (read) it to every public official and every ignorant, greedy superintendent in the nation to make them see what their attachment to quick fixes and gimmicks is doing to education.

The sentiments in your book (and please understand that I actually mean more than just sentiments) echo every conversation I have ever had with teachers everywhere and in every district. Unfortunately, I still see no hope. I have, however, purchased another copy of your book and am giving it to the mayor of Syracuse (with notes). She is newly elected (and the first female mayor we have ever had), and she is seriously contemplating a takeover of the district. I hope that after reading your book, if she does pursue the takeover, she understands the distinction between the fiscal and the educational sides of schools. And perhaps, for once, will include teachers in the decision making over educational policy.

Our current district is terribly mismanaged. I laughed when I read about the three “R’s” — rigor, relevancy, etc. Our district jumped on that bandwagon two years ago. They “mandated” all this extra paperwork and screamed at us for our poor teaching, and how everything must be done in terms of the 3 R’s. I swear that they didn’t even know what they were talking about, because they certainly couldn’t explain it to the staff. It was just another gimmick that was dropped by October, after spending a fortune on it, of course. Last year it was the four tier system. Apparently there is a three tier system floating out there in the education-speak atmosphere, but our district had to go one further. We were all given files with pyramids and told to place our children on the appropriate place on the pyramid and then every month we were to file papers on where each child was on the pyramid, and what interventions we were providing for each of our 27 kids. Unfortunately, they never told us which intervention they would accept — all had to be data driven — and they rejected most interventions, after the fact, and so most of us made up some nonsense to please them, and continued to try and help the kids as best we could. It didn’t matter anyhow, since they dropped that one by December. I can’t wait until next week when they come up with their latest “mandate” for the new school year. Meanwhile, as you so strongly point out, we have no real curriculum — just a lot of vague ideas that tell us nothing and give us no direction.

As a teacher, I kind of modeled myself after the Mrs. Ratliff’s in my life. How can I continue to do this when they tie my hands each and every day? Last year almost every child in the district, regardless of ability or status, was required to spend at least one-half hour a day on “Fast ForWord,” a computer program supposedly to promote reading. Teachers were required to monitor progress in the labs (which malfunction often) each day and were penalized if they didn’t. That meant keeping logs, and other excessive paper work. That equalled at least forty minutes of teaching time lost each day, as well as untold hours which could have been spent in planning, etc., to fill out forms which were meaningless, since the district never read any of it. I often question, seeing the misspellings and grammatical errors in their memos and letters, whether they can read downtown.

Now our district has been “adopted” (read co-opted) by SAY YES, another millionaire backed program with no track record or plan. They are now directing how and what we will teach. Especially the how and when. Our district is big on “consistency throughout the district.” They want every child in every classroom to be on the same page at the same time on every single day. Yet they continually say that “each child is an individual and should be treated as such” and “all children learn differently and at different rates.” And they don't see any inconsistency at all.

But why do I tell you this? It is obvious from your book, you already know this and more. If you have any suggestions as to how we can combat the current trends in education, let me know. In my more conspiracy theory motivated moments I think that the powerful billionaires now driving educational policy are getting exactly what they want for our schools. They want people NOT to have places to congregate and mobilize to solve problems (all this is a reaction to p. 221 in your book), to speak up and debate and engage in democracy. Isn’t the destruction of democracy, and the dumbing down of public education, and the destruction of the strength of organized labor exactly what the powerful want? If what we now see in our schools is the result of their policies (and it is), no one will be educated or organized enough to stop their ruthless rush for even more money and more power. Look at the things that have happened over the past several years. The American public has been fed, and swallowed, lies and misinformation, and no one has said “Boo.” We are too preoccupied with the current version of bread and circuses — reality television and celebrity gossip.

Anyhow, thank you for your book — even if it did depress me. Misery does love company, I guess. Thank you for facing the facts and recognizing the dangers of choice and accountability. If only you could have Arne Duncan’s position and Obama’s ear! And if you have any suggestions to counter the current insanity and save my kids, let me know.



August 28, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I recently read your piece titled, “Stop the Madness,” in NEA Today. It was excellent. The points you made about privatization, and the impact of the corporate “foundations” are spot-on. You left out one point, which is that the reforms these groups advocate are largely in their own self-interest, not the interest of our children or the nation at large.

My question to you and to a broader audience, is this: “Why did it take so long for you to come to the same conclusion that most teachers reached ten (or frankly many more) years ago?”

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the fact that a person of your standing is speaking out. It’s simply that educators’ voices have yet to be heard. Any objections we voice are perceived as “whining” by incompetent teachers who don’t want to have to compete, be subjected to “objective” measures, or be held accountable. Most of us knew when the movement began under Ronald Regan that the “wisdom of the market” was at odds with the goals of public education, that “privatization” was a recipe for failure. However, conservatives are a righteous lot, and nothing if not tenacious.

Many years ago I had a conversation with an insurance salesman about the value of the “market model” in public education. My argument went something like this: If a neighboring school district had developed a highly effective science curriculum, but wouldn’t share it with the school his daughter attended, how would he feel about it? After all, I argued, if schools were competitive and not collaborative institutions, it would be foolish to “give away” an advantage that one school system held over another. His answer, and I quote, was, “Gee, I never thought about it that way.” Obviously.

I will continue to do my job, educating children, to the best of my ability, but without the false hope that the public’s ideas about the nature and purpose of education will change any time soon. It is far too difficult to undo something than to have done it right in the first place. That much is clear.


Tom Kennedy


August 27, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

About twelve years ago I was introduced to your work in education by a college professor. Since then I have been busy trying to find my soul in the world of education. I have literally just completed reading your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Thank you for service to your country! This book has confirmed what I have felt for a few years now and with the research I would not have been able to find. While I am not the quickest of readers, it was quite enjoyable!

You mentioned the problems of reform movements and efforts. What would you say regarding the current technophiles that are cramming the use of technologies down the educational windpipe? Is there any research that substantiates the use of technology in the classroom as improving the education of children? Does computer use improve reading skills, mathematic skills, and understanding of civics, arts, music, etc.? Am I the only one that sees the use of technology as a step backwards for the development of future generations?

You repeatedly mentioned the curricula in Massachusetts, California, and Texas. New Jersey has recently revised its curriculum in social studies. How does this new standard compare to those of other states? Do you feel that the use of revisionist histories (H. Zinn) is good for the education of students?

Thank you for your time in addressing these questions.


E. Todd Kaul


August 25, 2010

Greetings, Dr. Ravitch,

I am simply writing to say I very much liked your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. �As a matter of fact, I am having my graduate students read it this semester, which will be followed by a class discussion and a viewing of your March 10 C-SPAN interview with Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss.

Again, Dr. Ravitch, great job on your book! By the way, I highly suggested to policymakers and others in Louisiana that they read The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

Many Thanks,

James D. Kirylo, Ph.D.


August 25, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

Let me begin by saying that I loved your most recent book and I hope that those in current positions to impact education reform read it. I am a former elementary and special education teacher who has taught in two of the best charter schools in Pittsburgh. I decided to leave the profession to attend graduate school because I have experienced what has become of education, which you accurately describe in your book. Morally I could no longer subject my students to an amount of testing that is dehumanizing. Currently, I am attending the University of Pittsburgh and plan to graduate in December with a master’s degree in Social and Comparative Analysis in Education.

After working on my master’s, reading your book and watching the implementation of legislation that will continually erode public education, I feel the urgent need to act; however I am not sure what exactly to do. I think there needs to be a counter-narrative that does not come solely from teachers’ unions. When arguments about preserving public education come from teachers unions, they seem to be so often discredited as support for the status quo. I think that we need a movement of scholars, teachers, students, and parents that begins to voice their discontent with accountability and choice reform. We need to put education back into the hands of educators instead of government officials and titans of industry. So many Americans do not even realize who is beginning to run our education system.

I guess I need to rephrase what I said earlier from “I do not know what to do” to “I do not know how to do it.” I think that your book may be a catalyst for this movement and I would like to contribute to this cause but I have no idea how. I am beginning my research paper and I would like to use it to help with continuing the counter-narrative. I have written to the president to explain what education has become and received a response that defends their legislation. I need an outlet, a role in the defense of the professionalism of teachers and of public education.

If you have any suggestions as to what I can do to further this very important cause please let me know. I long to make a difference. Thank you for all of your work and the courage it took to write The Life and Death of the Great American School System. It is a voice of reason and I thank you for it.


Jennifer Asmonga


August 23, 2010

Dr. Ravitch:

I’ve just finished reading your most recent book—thank you for presenting such a clear and articulate case against ideas about accountability and choice that seem sound and logical on the surface, but have a corrosive effect on public education.

I teach in Alberta, Canada, and in light of reading Death and Life I thought I’d pass on to you the outline of the accountability system my province has devised to assess the performance of a school. Alberta has a well-established testing program, but the Pillar of Accountability balances test data with a range of other measures to create a more varied and holistic picture of what’s happening at a school and within a jurisdiction.

While far from perfect, as a teacher in this province I feel comfortable with a system of measurement/accountability that doesn’t single me out as an individual (individual performance is left completely to the principal and administration within each school), that takes a variety of factors beyond exam scores into account, and that doesn’t have short-term punitive and coercive consequences attached. I am accountable for my performance and am committed to improvement, both personally and within my school, but I don’t have to walk into my classroom every day burdened by the fear of harsh consequences attached to narrow and imprecise performance measures. I certainly feel extremely fortunate when I compare my situation to those that many of my colleagues in the United States face in their schools and communities.

You may well have come across this type of accountability framework in the course of your research, whether from Alberta or other school systems, but thought it was worth sending in any case.

Thank you again for such a precise, lucid illumination of the issues facing public education in America. I follow the public discourse surrounding American education with great interest, not just as a matter of personal and professional curiosity but also with the knowledge that what happens in America often makes its way across the 49th parallel—a phenomenon of particular concern given the fact that Alberta is generally considered the most right-wing Canadian province. That curiosity led me to Death and Life, and I was richly rewarded with a thoughtful, courageous piece of analysis.


Paul Shamchuk


August 21, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I have been a teacher for 25 years, and there is a long legacy of teachers in my family. I heard you speak on the radio with Doug Henwood this morning. Thank you so much for your work.

When I retired, I wanted to do what you are doing. When I saw that this country didn’t get health care reform right, when keeping people alive is not a priority, I gave up on the idea that educating people would be. I use to have a particular chip on my shoulder about being female and how that made it all the more easy to exploit teachers. I now see the world more in terms of haves v. have-nots, no matter the have-not subgroup.

You are the first person I have heard, ever, that has represented teachers. Most of the teachers I work with are not able to look at their situation as honestly. I cannot thank you enough.




August 19, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I’ve recently finished The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It was very fulfilling to understand the beginnings of these institutions that are trying to bring change to public schools. Your book struck a chord with me, as Charter Schools and Top-Down Reforms are currently plaguing the district where I am employed. What’s interesting is that most of the examples you provide come from the urban setting. I am here to tell you that your arguments are just as valid for rural settings.

Fort Sage Unified, my employer, sits nestled in the high deserts of the Eastern Sierra in Northern California. We are approximately 50 miles north of Reno, Nevada. In the 50 years of its existence, the school system served the children of Sierra Army Depot and its civilian employees. During the 1990s, the Clinton Administration oversaw a Force reduction of military installations, and Sierra was one of them. The district suffered a tremendous loss of students and funding, and the community was forever transformed.

When the families of high-ranking officers and civilian employees scattered across the country, it brought down the average family income in the area. The installation switched from employing full-time positions to employing temporary employees who could be laid off when specific missions were completed. As the Army left, the community’s infrastructure began to erode. Lush lawns and stately looking government buildings began to brown and crumble.

In this environment, a recommendation was made to close one of the elementary schools in our area. The parents of this elementary school banded together and formed a Charter School in order to retain an elementary school in their area. The school board allowed the Charter to exist, and a competitor was born in the late ’90s.

The Charter School operates within the district, and it currently competes for the same pool of students in our small area. They have a lottery system and boast of high test scores. It is no surprise that parents (who’ll endure the process) choose to send their children to the Charter. Although specific allegations have not yet been proven true, it is suggested that the school turns away special-need and at-risk students through its lottery process. In the end the public school takes on the task of educating “who’s left.”

So you see, Dr. Ravitch, your points and insights also apply to small rural schools. They are almost magnified with our small numbers. One thing is certain: we have a passionate staff (four of whom are alumni of the district, including myself) who are committed to helping our local youth reach out from their humble beginnings and strive for great things.

Your work has recharged the batteries, and I plan to share it with my coworkers and administration.

Tom Jones


August 19, 2010

Dear Diane Ravitch,

I watched you on CNN on the old TV in my classroom one afternoon after Left Back was published. I purchased that book and The Language Police and now your latest. Education needs your hand and the country must listen to you.

When Left Back was published, Barstow Unified (CA) was just beginning to dumb down a high school English curriculum that I and several young, energetic teachers created in 1964. Our English program was seventeen semester courses covering the gamut of English topics and allowed for freshman entry anywhere along the sequence if an entrance exam demonstrated their expertise. Our curriculum labored through the years as parts of it were hacked away and then it was replaced by “read and do” not long after Left Back. When the district decided that test scores were too poor and raising them demanded programmed presentation of subject matter (the superintendent copied San Diego’s Blueprint), I retired because I would no longer be allowed to teach. That was 2009.

My wife (who also taught English and history in Barstow) and I have feared the demise of education from the time business was given the power to determine what should be taught. Neither of us is sure the country can back away from the brink. Perhaps your latest book can begin weaving a safety net and your voice will encourage others to speak.

My life was education, 24/7/365. Everything I saw, read, did, and wondered about made it into my English classes. (I was hired to teach Latin and did until 1978, with another two-year stint from 1989–1991.) The problems of education are many, and you have discussed nearly everything my wife and I bemoan. May I be so bold as to add:

*Liberal Arts must be the course of study for all teachers. Real teachers NEED summer vacation. Year round school desiccates them.

*Prospective teachers must realize teaching is not a six-hour job with free weekends and long vacations. They must be aware that their profession demands altruism in a world that is increasingly selfish. Preparation, lessons, correcting extend the day into the night. Nor have I forgotten that teachers must bolster their learning with other subjects than what they teach by reading and taking classes.

*Colleges should teach educational history, philosophy, psychology, methods (of teaching subjects), class management, how to prepare lessons and assignments, and perhaps a course on morality/ethics�students are not friends. Currently colleges bleed students and young teachers dry with all the money-pit courses they keep adding. The time from college to the classroom is too long (at least in California where to be a fully credentialed teacher takes longer than to be a surgeon). Masters’ degrees are nice to generate a better salary, but little of what occurs in a postgrad program is applicable even to high school.

*The public must be disavowed of general belief that teachers are high-priced babysitters and that “anyone” can teach.

*Teachers are not paid enough. They never will be. I thought I was worth three times my salary; Mrs. Ratliff was. The poor salary did not curtail our output.

*All school administrators (even superintendents) should be required to teach a course daily throughout the school year. Administrators should have at least 10–15 years successful teaching experience. Those who taught eight different levels in eight years have not taught.

*Those who can’t teach should probably not be administrators; having gone to school does not provide one with an understanding of education. But then the question arises, why would Mrs. Ratliff ever want to be an administrator? I certainly wouldn’t.

*Maybe experienced (at least 30 years), retired teachers should be the ones to oversee the educational climate.

*Any "innovative" educational technique suggested by those in charge of education should have to be piloted by the innovator (not an aide, or close friend, or protege) in a real classroom for one year to assess its viability.

I repeat that unless our nation rejects the business paradigm immediately, we will lose the ideals the country was founded on and become the broken democracy that was predicted in the ’60s as I’m sure you remember.

If you have gotten this far, thank you for your time. There are still educators around, many fewer than there used to be. If the climate were different, my wife and I might even return to the classroom.

Don Braden


August 19, 2010


I recently read your book and immediately bought a copy for our superintendent of schools. I am starting my 45th year of teaching math this fall and still love my job very much. Even before I read your book, I was preaching to others how the testing of our children is ruining our educational system. I feel that there is a job to be done! I have reread Chapter 11 several times. YOU HAVE HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD! I am an advocate of your suggestions. We (all educators) must get rid of this ridiculous testing. Thank you for your enlightening thoughts.

Michael Lepak


August 17, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Having admired your work over the years, I was excited to read your new book on the American school system. This is one of the best books that I’ve read on schooling and deserves a prominent place on every educator’s bookshelf.

As a former fellow with Dr. John Goodlad, I am particularly interested in teaching for democratic practice. You mentioned many times, in the course of the book, the importance that schools play in maintaining (and moving forward in) a healthy democracy. I thank you for that. I also thank you for your tireless work in presenting a comprehensive portrait of testing, accountability, and schools of choice. Your historical and objective perspective on these issues was invaluable in terms of establishing the roots and progression of these issues in American schools.

I must say that, many times, I felt very discouraged as I read about how we have undermined our educational system. This discouragement, I believe, is actually a good thing as it points to the direction that we must take to build excellent schools.

Again, thank you for writing this book. It will remain in the forefront of my personal library on books about schooling, teaching, and learning.

Lisa DeLorenzo, Ed.D.


August 16, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I know you are very busy, but I just heard your interview from April on a rebroadcast on NPR radio (I was on my way home from my ninth softball game of the week...because I have no life) and I can’t get your words out of my mind, what mind I have left (retired 2 years).

I am a 30+ year career teacher (public schools) who has finished coursework for a Ph.D. in curriculum development at the University of Oklahoma. My dissertation research is complete, “Journaling Across the Curriculum.” I am sharing this information only so you will have a very small profile of who I am, educationally.

I have always been considered an outstanding educator. I know this because my parents and students and principals have told me so. Also, because I know who I am, and I am a great teacher.

I am no longer in the classroom because of the reasons you cited in your interview. I was not ready to retire, and I long every day to be back in the classroom with my beloved students. It is especially difficult now, as it is “back-to-school time.” When I left, I had parents calling me and begging and cajoling, and offering bribes for me to reconsider. I could no longer deal with the poor administration procedures, which included everything you addressed in your interview. Eight of the best of the fourth-grade faculty left that year. No administrator asked why.

I have a slogan that I put on my business cards: “It’s all about the kids.”

Obviously, I don’t get it....

I don’t know if you will get to read this email, but I feel better having written it and knowing that there is in fact someone out there that actually knows what is going on.

Diane McGowen


August 16, 2010

As a community journalist covering education, I was delighted when a teacher in Greenport last week waved your column, “Stop the Madness,” at board members and complained about having to teach to the test. I can’t believe any teacher worth the title needs a test to identify which students need assistance and which don’t. I know the intention of NCLB was good, but unintended consequences have resulted in districts paying more money for these tests, in some cases manipulating results, and our kids aren’t getting any more proficient because of them.

Bravo to you for your wonderful column and for all you have done and are doing to make a real difference in our educational process.

Best wishes.

Julie Lane


August 15, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I just finished the last complete paragraph on page 184. I had to pause because I started feeling queasy. The problem is that I have not even made it to the chapter about the billionaires.

I hope that this book is the catalyst to bring about change. Could it be the Nation at Risk for the new millennium? I pray it is.

Thank you for rendering these details in such fine form and speaking for so many who feel helpless against the tide of the so-called change agents.

Robert S. Perry


August 15, 2010

Dear Prof. Ravitch,

I wanted to write you to thank you for your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I bought your book twice. The first time, I left it on an airplane. The second time, I read it cover to cover in one night.

I have spent the last two years making many of the points you make in your book in informal policy discussions while a student at the University of Oxford. Since I left college, I have taught at a Green Dot School and studied as an education researcher. I have become increasingly disenchanted with the so-called reform movement. As a mathematician, I abhor the indiscriminate and fallacious use of data that abounds in these circles. As a historian, and true believer in the liberal arts, I am utterly discouraged by the narrowing of the curriculum. So, I am extremely glad that someone of your talents and knowledge has written such a clear, well researched, evenhanded, and challenging book pointing out the serious deficiencies and myriad dangers of the current political situation.

As I finished your book last night, I was brought to tears by the simplicity and power with which you argue for a strong, deep, content-driven curriculum. Your advocacy for teachers as examples of free and professional intellectuals able to teach the content in their own style is dead on. Yet, I awoke to the latest public smear piece (fraught with methodological gloss) by Jason Song of the LA Times, and felt powerless. On page 222, you ask, “Who will stand up to the tycoons and politicians and tell them so?” I know that I must be one of these people. I am unsure how.

But again, thank you.


Stephen Silvius


August 15, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I read your book with great interest. I have, at various times in my life, been a public school student, a public school teacher, part of a family of public school teachers, a homeschooling parent, and the parent of a child in public school. First, I would like to offer my thanks for an evenhanded, intelligent assessment of what is and what is not working in the public schools. Particularly in the current political climate, I admire your courage.

I have seen all of the drawbacks of charter schools, the triumphs and drawbacks of public schools, and the problems related to the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives which you outlined so well in your book. However, I have had a unique perspective, given that education has been the family occupation for so many years and my child is a special education student, and I would like to outline some additional problems in public education.

1. THE “FIELD OF DREAMS” PROBLEM: Even before No Child Left Behind, this was a horrible problem, but the added burden of low test scores has made this worse. Special education students are expensive. The federal government is supposed to reimburse the states for the full cost of their education; it doesn’t. Worse, for many disorders such as autism and cerebral palsy, the primary interventions are considered educational by health insurers, so parents (myself included) must lobby the schools for occupational therapy services and speech therapy services, which are necessary for our children�s health, as well as their education. This leads to the following downward spiral:

*A school district creates a fantastic special education program. Every involved, desperate parent of a special-needs child served by that program will move into the district, regardless of what city, county or state they were in previously. Families will split up to get good special ed. Quite honestly, if cutting off our dominant hands would get our children a good program, we would do it.

*The school district will find that every parent within a 1,000 mile radius will find a way to get there—further, if there’s good publicity—this is what happened in Seattle Unified, when its autism program was revealed. People left jobs and came to Seattle from across the country.

*The difference between the federal government’s reimbursement and the cost of the program becomes too great to bear. The only thing that will stop the bleeding is to destroy the program. By this point, the administration will have allies in all of the non-special-education parents, because those parents will feel (with some justification) that their children’s education is being impacted by the needs of our children. The situation is made worse by NCLB, because now the very presence of a critical mass of disabled children ensures that test scores will drop. What district administrator, in his or her right mind, wants that to happen?

*The program is slowly dismantled. Parents are pressured to accept ever more truncated services, regardless of the needs of their children. Some of the more legally savvy will refuse to sign modified IEPs; however, the vast majority of the parents will be confronted by a smiling, sympathetic face of a teacher or therapist who will tell them that this is truly the “best thing” for their children, when, in reality, an administrator has made clear to that teacher or therapist that if they do not persuade this parent to accept fewer services, things will not go well for them in the district. (Threats are never made so blatantly as to be actionable; they are nonetheless an ugly part of the process.)

*The program becomes so poor that parents leave. In my own case, my child’s therapists came about 75% of the time outlined in her IEP. Classwork came home, and, effectively, I was the homeschool teacher every night. We were told that the school district “wasn’t going to bother” meeting standards—basically, as long as my child sat in the back, and was not disruptive, nothing actually had to be learned. This left my family with the following options: Call a lawyer, an expensive, long process, which, by the time it yielded results, would have caused untold damage to my child, or become a homeschool teacher. We chose the latter.

*The parents move to the next excellent program, and the cycle begins again. We moved to our current home, where our current school district has an excellent program for students with high-functioning autism. It is already beginning the slow decline—more and more students are being crowded into the special education classes, and the bar for “qualifying” has become impossible to reach for the incoming 6th graders (lucky for me, my daughter is in 9th grade).

This is the easiest problem to solve—it just takes money. However, it is the most politically unpopular. Over and over again, we hear, “You can’t throw money at the problem!” Actually, you can. If the federal government did not penalize districts for taking our students, and if it truly did reimburse the cost of their educations, school districts would have an incentive to create the programs that our children need. Instead, we have to rely on the altruism of a few dedicated teachers and administrators—it is no small thing to have your child’s future rest, almost entirely, on the goodwill of others.

2. PARENTS ARE HELD TO AN ABSURDLY LOW STANDARD: I had a miserable time in a public middle school. In fact, it was so traumatizing, I had no intention of sending my child to a public middle school. My child, however, wanted to return to school for social reasons, and the district to which we had moved had an excellent program. I’m not sorry I reversed my decision; it proved to be a great experience. However, my child attended a large, urban school with an excellent reputation, which both the district and the parents fought hard to preserve.

*I, on the other hand, went to a smaller, rural school in which the primary occupation of many parents was the production, sale and distribution of various illegal substances. Their children were wild monsters who made my life a living hell. My grades suffered, and the stress triggered illnesses.

*You cannot fix the parents, and there are definite limits to what any teacher or administrator, no matter how dedicated, can do when he or she has no parent support. The principal at my junior high school was physically threatened by the parents of many of the young sociopaths, and, as he was not a man of great courage (and, to be fair, the parents were willing and able to carry out their threats), the little monsters were allowed the run of the school. My English teacher attempted to manage the bullying, but she was limited to her classroom in her influence. I was finally transferred to another school when they beat me so badly I had to have multiple orthodontic repairs and stitches.

*My parents were distraught, but in the 1980s, few remedies were available, and bullying was thought to be more the fault of the victim than the perpetrators.

*A high school principal in my family has called parents of students who were failing their classes, only to be told, “From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., he’s YOUR problem,” and then the parents hang up. He has had to deal with weapons on the school grounds, and one student beat another so viciously he nearly died. This principal tried to engage the parents of both students before it escalated this far. Neither student’s parents would even return his calls.

*Even more than the teachers and the administrators, the parents really make the schools. If children are raised right, they behave well at school. If they aren’t raised at all, the school has very few tools in its arsenal with which to combat parental disinterest.

3. THE SERFDOM OF TEACHERS: After a fairly short number of years, a teacher must stay with the district in which they started or they will lose most of their income and retirement benefits. Tenure is limited to the district in which you work. If a city goes bad (like the one that housed my junior high school), families cannot move without devastating financial consequences. If the states could cooperatively find a way to make benefits, salaries and pensions nationwide, and indexed to geography (it is much more expensive, for example, to live in San Jose than in Bellevue), it would make the profession more attractive. While I did work, for a time, as a public school teacher, I did it, more or less, as discretionary money for my family. I would never consider it a career, because I have seen, firsthand, the consequences to families of being so inseparably tied to one’s city. Coupled with the low pay, and even more than the low pay, the low regard given to teachers, it is a terrible burden on a teacher’s family.

4. THE UNIONS LACK TEETH: I realize this puts me immediately at loggerheads to those on the far right who believe unions to be the next step to communism, but they do not adequately protect their teachers, and they do not represent substitute teachers at all. As a substitute, I was seriously injured on the job—I am now in a wheelchair as a result. Much legal wrangling resulted in a settlement of $30,000, which will need to pay my medical expenses and last me for the rest of my life. Thankfully, I have Social Security, and my husband has a good job.

*One of my family members, whose French students passed the AP French exams after four years of instruction (considered an almost unheard-of feat), attracted the negative attention of the school board, who felt there was no need for French. After all, the students could take Spanish, and it would free up more money for the football team. After returning from a serious, life-threatening surgery, and after the administration received documentation from her surgeon that she needed a clutter-free work environment, they moved her room from the French room (which had murals of France painted on the walls, and was set up for language teaching), to the theatre, where the only light switch was up a short flight of stairs, up which she was forced to walk in the dark, and behind several props. Basically, they figured they could either force her out or kill her, and either way, she would be out of their hair. She forced them into concessions on the work environment, but only after several months of her family wondering if she would survive to make it home.

5. THE REWARD FOR SUCCESS IS TO MAKE SUCCESS IMPOSSIBLE: My child’s excellent middle school special education teacher has now left the profession permanently. A large class of special education students is considered to be 8 or 9. Because she had been successful with 8 or 9 students, the district felt she could suddenly handle 15 or 16. It was appalling. She couldn’t do a good job for that many special needs students, and she felt it was better to quit than to be an ineffective teacher.

6. NOBODY WANTS TO PAY FOR IT: The primary reason that we need to give our teachers tenure and good benefits is that nobody is willing to pay what good teachers are really worth. They would rather put somebody minimally qualified in the classroom than actually pay for the years of experience it takes to have a good teacher. It is only in the most affluent and professional districts that anybody is willing to pay for their children to have that educational experience. I have had people tell me, to my face, that they cannot afford to pay the additional taxes to support the schools, while they drive away in a better car than I have ever owned, wearing designer clothing. Until and unless the vast majority of the populace sees the value of education, it will not happen. Sadly, from what I have seen of the vast majority of the population, I think it’s more likely that we’ll see pigs fly.

After such a dispiriting list, I think it’s also important for me to say that public schools do many things well. As I mentioned before, I feel my child received an exemplary education in middle school. My child has grown immensely, has goals, and works hard to achieve those goals. While I cannot say that my education was stellar—it was definitely not as safe—I remember two or three teachers with great fondness, and I know that my family members worked tirelessly to serve their students. There is not a place in the world to which I have traveled with these people when we have not run into someone�s student, who tells one or another of them how much difference that person made in the student�s life. Having worked in the corporate sector, I can honestly say that if the average corporation managed assets with the care that the average teacher does, we would be out of the recession.

I hope the public policy makers will take your words to heart. You gave voice to many of my grave concerns.

Thank you.

Stacey Dunn


August 13, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I am a school director in Pennsylvania. I wanted to send you some links to show you what is going on in this state, as we approach a gubernatorial election in November. I am writing because I am afraid for education both in PA and in this country. I see the Obama policies, and the policies being promoted by the leaders in our State House and Senate Education Committees and our Governor (and gubernatorial candidates), as a clear and present threat to the future of public education. We have just been through a contentious battle regarding graduation exams, a battle that was lost because the game wasn’t played fairly by those in power. Looking back on that issue, we are now seeing that the exam issue was all part of a bigger agenda, one promoted by the NGA and funded by the foundation tycoons. There is agreement by the leaders of both parties in our state on this reform agenda of testing, accountability, and choice. There is no dissent between the two parties to provide a healthy opposition, so it is moving at full force. Do you have any suggestions for those of us who are not yet ready to give up? Is there anything we can do short of keeping our finger in the hole of the dike?

Yours truly,



August 12, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I feel very fortunate that I was able to see a video of your speech at the NEA’s summer meeting. I have attended eight of the last ten NEA RA’s. I was unable to attend the meeting this year because I am working on my Master’s degree in education. I have taught kindergarten, third grade, and fourth grade. After 20 years, my administration has seen fit to tell me to teach eighth grade this year.

What you said in your speech is exactly what I have heard from many veteran teachers. I have posted your speech on Facebook and emailed it to friends. In my eyes and in the eyes of many educators you are a gigantic HERO.

Thank you for advocating for students and teachers. Mr. Duncan, President Obama and all those who have been in the White House and Congress need to know that the business model is not a correct model for education. I wish I could say I had time to read your books. I will buy them. I will be working 6 a.m.–4 p.m. every day until we “officially” start, and I officially start to get paid again in two weeks. Then I will normally work til 6 p.m., but often later, and take work home with me. Graduate school starts August 30.

If you’d ever like to hear what is going on in education from a 20-year veteran elementary and now junior high school teacher, I will take the time to answer any questions that you have. At present Illinois can not decide if they will continue to use their “frameworks” or the national core standards which Illinois has adopted. Different administrators give me different answers.

Thank you very much for what you do. If there is anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to ask.



August 12, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I recently finished reading your new book. I want to thank you for so eloquently stating what I have only been able to say through gritted teeth: current education policy is killing public education.

I have been teaching in a well-run Title I public school in Brooklyn for over ten years. I have always had my head and my heart firmly ensconced in my work as a teacher. I haven’t been very active in the union. I pay my dues and go to a rally from time to time. Recently, after removing my head from my lesson plans and my students’ needs for a few minutes, I’ve come to realize that much of the general public thinks my colleagues and I are lazy and selfish. We are bringing down the economy with our desire for our own retirement funds. We fail America’s children. How dare we not want to be fired for teaching struggling students? Why would I not want to get less pay for choosing to work with children who are not rich, not white, and not born into families who speak English? Apparently, I am the root of America’s ills.

Naturally, this makes me upset. Then I read an article you wrote in the AFT magazine. I started telling anyone who would listen, that only educators should write education policy. I read your blog. I read your book. And now, I have a very strong urge to do something about it. Your book has pointed out the naked emperor. I would like to be involved in crafting him a fine suit.

I am just not sure what to do next. I am interested in applying to Harvard’s new Doctor of Education Leadership Program. Mostly because it is free and because it is Harvard, so I’m sure I could get an influential job once I get my degree. People might listen to me. After looking at their list of professors and partner groups, it seems that if they were to accept me, I would probably be the black sheep of the program. Maybe they need a black sheep. I don’t know. I could also apply to for the doctoral program in Urban Education at the CUNY Graduate Center. I’m a little limited in what I’m able to spend and where I’m able to go. But I want to help. I want to change things. I’m not a very pushy or persuasive person, so I don’t even know if policy would be the right arena for me. I do two things well. I can teach and I can write. I’m also a pretty good student. Do you have any suggestions for me? What should I do with myself? I need to do something.

Thank you for writing the book. Thank you, also, for reading this.



August 10, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

First of all, it is an honor to e-mail you. You are the first author I have ever been moved to contact. However, I feel compelled to do so today, largely due to how you have affected one of my struggles as an aspiring educational leader.

My name is Steven Lin. Not only am I a fifth grade teacher in Chesapeake, Virginia, but I am also a doctoral student of educational policy at the George Washington University. I grew up in union-heavy Pennsylvania and attended Penn State’s College of Education, where professors staunchly defended strong instruction and pedagogy. Interestingly, my training was indeed heavily constructivist. You are right that Mrs. Ratliff wouldn’t have stood a chance, nor would some of my great former teachers, such as Dr. Lechnar and Mrs. Wyngaard. I bought into these undergraduate instructional viewpoints, but struggled years later in “right-to-work” Virginia to reconcile those ideals (of strong and nurturing instruction) with a GWU master’s program in school administration that preached the decisiveness and efficiency of the business world. I found my master’s program to be extremely valuable, but I sensed and could not yet pinpoint a disconnect between the governance ideologies I had been fed, and the instructional ideals in which I had been trained.

I am not necessarily a die-hard defender of teacher unions, but I have continued to wonder why so many of their ideas (of Shanker’s professional or Chase’s new unionism), or the instructional research of Darling-Hammond, have never gained substantial media attention. The monopoly of business reform models has truly silenced alternate views. Like you, I eventually became swept up in the ideologies of reform movements, and soon I began to lose touch with the idealism and reality of true instruction. This reckless embrace of free-market reform models was short-lived, thankfully, as your book helped to reaffirm my original devotion to the seemingly impossible vision of quality education for all. It is a worthy vision that cannot be met with any one “silver bullet.”

Upon finishing your book for a class taught by Dr. Mary Futrell (former NEA president), I quickly wrote a personal letter to myself, reflective of my thoughts at that fleeting moment. As an author, I thought that you might have received many critical reviews for your book. However, the four images I have attached (for the 4 pages of handwriting) is an example of how you’ve motivated at least one obscure and faceless teacher in the American public education system.

Thank you!

Steven Lin


August 7, 2010

Hello Dr. Ravitch,

I am a middle school teacher in Pittsburg (PA) Public Schools.

I have just read Death and Life. I write partly to thank you for the work you have done to give us this strong tool in our work to save public education, and to make it work for our children.

I could write pages here with specific comments about how true your words are, and how they resonate for me, my colleagues, our children, etc., etc. I will save those words for others as I continue to encourage them to read, and discuss, what you have written. I assume you see plenty of such messages—at least I hope so as I know such reactions are widespread.

My second, and more important message, has to do with “what next.” As you know, we who are out here “in the trenches” have to deal daily with the current realities and challenges our schools face. Your book helps us all to realize we are far from alone, and lets us see the forest when we have been buried in analyzing and trying to fix the sick trees in our own cities. I believe your work will help foster the kind of national sharing of information and ideas that we so desperately need among the troops, the actual teachers in the schools. I hope that you will be interested in, and perhaps want to learn more about, the ways individual locals of teachers’ unions are trying to maneuver through the challenges.

It is not news to you that many, if not most, of our school districts are struggling for money. There seems to be plenty out there for killing young people in wars, but for teaching them...I still find it hard to believe that school districts have to compete against one another for federal monies. I suppose it should not be surprising in this era of business practices, but how abhorrent to think that “my schools” get money at the expense of someone else’s. In this disgraceful situation, school districts and teachers’ organizations that might otherwise be able to resist the pressures you so aptly describe to move away from good practices, find that to keep our heads above water, and to keep our children in actual buildings with actual teachers, we have to make compromises we could not have foreseen.

In this light, I think you might find the work of the Pittsburgh Federation of Schools to be of interest. As you know, we are one of the school districts which has received a grant from the Gates Foundation, with the usual strings attached. I believe our local leadership is doing an exemplary job trying to make things work for our children, and for our teachers, under extraordinarily challenging circumstances. This means meeting the demands of the Gates funders but every step along the way, fighting (with some important successes) to resist the negatives. This is neither easy nor mapped out for us by any strong, successful examples. Therefore, I believe, the Pittsburgh teachers are among the trailblazers whose work will have implications for our colleagues and children in other places.

I am confident you are following the work of teachers’ unions in other hotspots. I am trying to stay more abreast of the work my colleagues are doing so that we can share experiences more quickly, help one another avoid pitfalls and gain from our successes. Your book has lit this fire under me in a way I cannot ignore (its worth the heat!).

I am just a teacher—and a parent of public school daughters and a member of our society which, as you so aptly describe, desperately needs our children to have access to real education. While I am a member of the executive board of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, I write this to you only in my individual capacity. In that mode, again please accept my gratitude, and my collegial handshake in this ongoing battle we share.

Kipp Dawson


August 5, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

Thank you for the informative summer read, especially the extensive “Notes” addendum. As a proud classroom teacher with four generations of the like, dating back to the 1880s, I find it most important to remain current of the education debate and your book was very enlightening. It has become increasingly difficult to stay positive about our public schools over my many years with the barrage of negative attacks coming from so many sides. My dear, departed father, who taught through the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s, would often counsel me on fighting the good fight and would end by saying, “It sounds as if nothing much has changed from my time, son, and yet, look how far we’ve come.”

When entering the education debate, I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Robert Frost, “Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper.”

So Professor, keep up the “good fight” and continue keeping us informed in your balanced way. Our public schools are worth the effort.

Richard Andrews


August 4, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I recently read your speech to the 2010 NEA Representative Assembly, and I wanted to write and thank you for standing up for teachers. I just came from a local union meeting. We have not had a raise since 2007 and we are currently at an impasse on our contract and headed to mediation. The biggest sticking point is incremental pay increases. Our administration wants us to “suspend” them temporarily. This, as I’m sure you realize, looks like a very slippery slope right into merit pay.

I have been a teacher for over 25 years. I have experienced the ebbing and flowing of the professional atmosphere many times. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lower ebb. I’m tired of picking up the newspaper and reading about how greedy we teachers are and how we should be glad we have jobs. That’s why your speech struck such a chord with me. I was so happy to find someone who will speak out for us. Again, many thanks from a grateful teacher.



August 3, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I am writing to you as a great admirer of your work, as an educator, and as a parent concerned about my daughters’ futures. Thank you for your continued efforts to promote a rational discussion on public education, reform, and great public schools. I’ve read your last two books and your recently published article in NEA Today. It seems as though all of your research and rational thought on school reform gets shoved aside when it is easier for elected officials to politicize education reform and for media outlets to score ratings by blaming public school teachers, unions, and reducing student achievement to a single test score. I am a long-time educator in the state of New Jersey where the relentless attacks by the Governor and the Commissioner of Education have really hurt teacher morale. As you are well aware, New Jersey has many of the top public schools in the country and I am very proud to be part of one such district. I’ve invested nearly my entire career as an educator in the West Morris Regional High School District in Long Valley, NJ. The pushes for charter schools and vouchers, the elimination of tenure, and Race to the Top merit-based pay incentives are not the answers to the state’s budgetary woes. Since the Governor is more interested in the national attention that a media war with the NJEA brings him, it seems the ability for the two sides to sit down and have a rational discussion is futile.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I’m not the rare type of teacher that politicians love to highlight as the reason for failing schools. In addition to teaching students of every ability level and mentoring new teachers, I’ve authored numerous published articles, lesson plans, and book reviews. I’ve served as a board member and the treasurer for the New Jersey Council for History Education—the nation’s largest state history council. I present to teachers all over the country on effective history teaching strategies through my work with organizations such as the National Council for History Education and Gilder-Lehrman. I was the recipient of the first Paul Gagnon Prize in History—a national award given to a history teacher demonstrating outstanding historical scholarship. Yet, it seems as though my numerous letters and e-mails to NJ’s politicians have been relegated to the trash bin or “spam” folder. They seem more concerned with riding the tide of bashing educators in order to get re-elected. It’s led me, for the first time in my life, to question my career choice.

As a parent (incidentally, I live in Pennsylvania and teach in New Jersey), I have written to my hometown school board and I have had personal conversations with both board members and PA state legislators about their attacks on teachers, easy “fix-all” plans, and draconian budget cuts. It seems that no matter where I turn, teachers become scapegoats for the state’s financial and political woes. Unfortunately, it seems that the only experience with schools that policymakers have is that they once went. Unfortunately, it’s the students who suffer. I hope that these problems and attacks are effects of the economic downturn, but I fear that it will be tougher to undo the damage that’s already been done. I would encourage you to continue your phenomenal research and writing on education. It’s nice to know that there are those with your credentials and status who may have the ear of policymakers. I hope your efforts yield positive results and some of these politicians see the light. If there is any way I can help, please feel free to contact me.

Mr. Philip Nicolosi


August 1, 2010

Hello Dr. Ravitch:

I am about to begin my twenty-fourth year of teaching. I love what I do, I love the students whom I teach, and the people with whom I work. Our schools are high performing, and children really do receive a top quality education, from start to finish in all subject areas.

I have been following your comments on Facebook for quite some time, and have commented on many of your postings. I have been reading The Death and Life... all while I am following the national trends in education. New Jersey, as you may know, is facing a major crossroads on how education is delivered. This weekend, I had occasion to speak with two friends who teach outside of New Jersey—one in the Raleigh, North Carolina are and the other in Arizona. The horror stories that they shared with me about non-union public schools in NC and “the CEO of our school” and “the company that runs our school” in Arizona have made it impossible for me to sleep.

I guess that I am writing to you today to ask just what people like me can do to help save public school education. I commented on the Facebook group that it’s too bad that the teachers’ unions are only viewed by the American public as being self-preservationist groups concerned only with salaries, benefits, and job security, and not as respected organizations who are trained, college educated experts in their field. I guess that if the American Medical Association argued for salaries, they too would have their opinions and experience discounted.

Anyway, it’s no surprise that the trends in education are being dictated not by educational need, but by economic conditions.

Public educations seems to have no advocates in government. President Obama, Secretary Duncan, Congress and countless governors and state legislators all believe that they have the answers. Every day we seem to hear things about the economy and national debt like, “we can’t leave this problem to our children and grandchildren.” However, I believe that if the trends in education continue, we will not only leave them with an unrealizable debt, but also without the tools and knowledge to address the problem.

A few months ago, my brother and I got into a discussion about unions, tenure, seniority, etc. —the hot-button items. He asked me why I, as a tenured teacher, should enjoy the benefits of seniority and job protection. I turned around and said that I believed the question should be reversed—why shouldn’t other workers have those benefits. Have we taken competition so far in the corporate and business world that we have entirely forgotten about cooperation? Whenever there is a competition—a “race” you might say—there can only be one winner. I think this is the problem with the nation’s educational direction, and indeed with the entire American economic situation. Perhaps rather than education being made to follow a business model, businesses should look to education for the model.

Well, I’m sure this must all seem like I’m babbling on at this point.

I would love an opportunity to meet you, perhaps to work with you or for you. I believe you are the nation’s strongest advocate for public education today. It would be great if you could address the New Jersey state legislature soon, and I hope that your message can reach the President and Congress.

I pray that it’s not too late.



July 30, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I just finished reading your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I am a public high school history teacher—about to enter my 36th year of doing what I love: teaching world history to high school students. Thank you so much for your great book. My wife, a retired teacher, said I could have written it, because it expresses in so many ways my beliefs and ideas about public education in our country. I am so frustrated by the present trends and fads (as I call them) taking over our education system. I believe in what I (we—teachers) do so strongly, to the depth of my soul. I love teaching and can’t image either retiring or having it be ruined by the so-called reforms being forced on us. I am writing for two reasons—to thank you for your book, and to ask what we can do.

I also attended the NEA RA in New Orleans this July, and heard you speak. I intend to share both your book and speech with my superintendent and principal, as well as the members of our board of education. I am an active union member, one of the ones being constantly bashed by seemingly everyone. I became active in the union over 30 years ago because I believed it was the only way to attract and retain the highest-quality teachers, by providing them with the best working conditions. I still believe that.

As you perceptively point out, the entire debate about improving our schools, something I am certainly always in favor of, must start with a difficult but necessary discussion about what it is we want our students to learn. On my list would be not only specific factual content of every course, but also such more complex concepts as engendering a love of learning and of history, curiosity, appreciation of music and the arts, sense of community service, creativity and thinking-outside the-box, and the ability to question sources and authority. How can we discuss measuring student performance when we haven’t clearly established what it is we want them to learn? As you point out, it shouldn’t be just math and language arts skills!!

My school, a suburban school of about 2,000 students, just hired a new principal. He is young, ambitious, data-driven, test-driven and “on his way up,” whatever that means. We already have been told we must standardize all exams and instruction, which, to me, in teaching world history, is dangerous. A current event happens, and it is not in the curriculum, and I can’t talk about it, encourage my students to debate it? Our state, in a failed attempt to qualify for Obama’s Race to the Top money, passed a litany of “reforms,” such as creating data banks to track every student and teacher by test results, and finding ways to more closely attach teacher evaluation (and, I assume, eventually pay) to student test scores. All of this troubles me. I wear a shirt that says “A child is more than a test score.” Many parents in the public stop and compliment me, Sadly, the people in charge don’t.

Interestingly, I supported and even worked for the election of Barack Obama. I still like and support him—he is intelligent and courageous in his willingness to attack big problems. But I am slowly losing my enthusiasm for him because of his positions on education. He may find his re-election more difficult than he thinks if he loses the support of teachers, who were huge supporters of his in his first election. I am sending him a letter after finishing this one, expressing much of what I am telling you. Sadly, I am not optimistic my letter will have an impact. I believe he is a good man, but is wrong on this issue.

Let me share some of my thoughts about where we should go from here. As a strong union member, as well as a strong advocate for teachers and teaching our students as well as we can, I believe we do need some real reform. Our union and teachers can’t simply say no to every new idea. Yes, we must embrace accountability, but only that which starts with what we want students to learn, and then measures that in a complex, varied way. We do need to get rid of ineffective teachers, and there are some. We need to find ways to attract and retain the best teachers, and what that means is complex. We need to strengthen our public schools, because they are the only ones that seek to educate everyone. I cringe when I hear that our schools are failing. They are not. We try to teach everyone, no matter what their disability, and that makes us better than schools in many countries that don’t do that. To me, the failure that has caused all this ruckus is inner-city schools with high dropout rates and very low test results. I do believe the roots of those failures are socio-economic, and that we don’t fix those schools without socio-economic change. We need to convince inner-city families that education is important, the key to a better life. My daughter, bless her, is in her fourth year of teaching special education in a middle school in the Bronx, a school that is listed as very dangerous and seems to have several indications of failure. She is very frustrated, by the school administration, the union, the violence in her school, the troubles of her students, and the resistance other teachers have to teaching kids better. She may not last much longer there—her mental health is at issue!

Sooo—what can we do? What do we do? Many of my colleagues suggest I retire. I don’t want to—it would be easy to walk away and say “who cares.” But I do care. I want to fight. Fight not against change, but fight for effective change, against all the bad ideas out there. Schools aren’t businesses, and my students aren’t nuts and bolts on an assembly line. My students learn to love history as much as I do. Getting people to read your book certainly would be a step in the right direction. I believe we (teachers), through our union (our only avenue) need to propose positive, effective, thoughtful reforms. We need to be part of the decision making. Sadly, many of the younger teachers aren’t even interested in that—they are afraid to fight or are apathetic about it. Can WE create a think tank and get funding from some wealthy source? How can we get frustrated, beaten-down teachers to unite and fight back? I suppose our union is our best chance—and I DO have faith that enough of our union leaders and members not only really care, but are open-minded enough to create effective change and then work for it.

Let me close before I babble too much. Thank you again for your wonderful book—I will share it with as many people as I can. If you have suggestions for me, I would welcome them. I care, and always will, about teaching our young people in the best ways possible. Let’s get to it now.




July 29, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I just finished The Death and Life of the Great American School System, and I really, really enjoyed it and learned a great deal from it. I think you’ve done a real service for genuine educational reform. Incidentally, one reason I’m particularly motivated to write to you is that for some time I’ve found myself on opposite sides from you on educational issues. Another is that I think it takes real courage and deep intellectual, professional, and personal courage to so publicly recant former views.

Although I am not a public figure, I have found it necessary to do something similar. I am a typical San Francisco progressive/liberal/leftist. At one time I was a Maoist (Progressive Labor Party, if you recall that sect), then a strong defender of the Soviet Union. I’m still on the left but hopefully a little saner now and not afraid to identify myself as a Democrat as well as a democrat (and, I suppose, a democratic socialist).

I taught public school from 1968–2005, when I retired (though I still work part-time supervising student teachers for the University of San Francisco). For 34 of those 37 years I taught at the same high school I attended (George Washington HS in San Francisco) where from 1984–2005 I was chair of the Social Studies Department. (I’ve also taught both creative and expository writing, and a few other English classes. I definitely admire your commitment to the importance of good writing.) I think I’ve been quite an excellent teacher for the most part, but I, too, flirted with some of the fads that have so often dotted the educational landscape. It took me a while to realize that a clear and solid curriculum is the backbone of any successful school or school system and that just being a “cool” and popular teacher really isn’t worth a whole lot.

For some time I’ve thought that the two most important educational reforms would be the doubling of teachers’ salaries and the institution of small high schools. I still believe in the first, though with some quid pro quo on teachers’ parts. Sadly, the second, as you point out in what might be my favorite chapter (“The Billionaire Boys Club”) seems not to have been particularly effective where tried. Also for some time I’ve thought that perhaps the worst contemporary trend in public schooling has been the imposition of high-stakes tests. I actually thought I knew a great deal about this issue, but I have to tell you that I learned so much more from your book. Also for some time I’ve believed that we, like many other countries we tend to compare ourselves to, should have a national curriculum. I agree with you that the creation of such a curriculum would be daunting but doable.

Once again, thank you so much for a terrific, and terrifically important, book. And best wishes as you continue with your distinguished career.


Dennis Gregg


July 24, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I am a high school English teacher in Pittsburgh, PA. I am taking graduate courses to renew my certification and stumbled across your article while researching for an annotated bibliography in a course on research methodology. I found myself nodding in agreement to everything you were saying about choice and accountability. Though I have only been teaching for five years, I have followed a similar course of thought in the past decade, from undergrad through my first five years of teaching.

Our school district and teachers’ union ratified a contract this month that probably qualifies us to pursue “Race to the Top” funds, and I believe the contract will result in irreparable damage to our district and perhaps even to other teachers throughout the country. Among other things, this contract places all newly hired teachers on a merit pay plan based on student scores and links current teachers’ salaries to student scores at least on some level. I believe this contract is basically the result of Washington’s leveraging funding based on high-stakes testing and that the contract will negate many of the positive changes that have been occurring in Pittsburgh.

All this to say thank you for trumpeting your opinion about the incredible flaws in NCLB’s ideology and implementation. I assure you that there are many classroom teachers, myself included, that (though we feel powerless against them) would love to challenge the “think tanks” in Washington and take back our profession.

Thank you,



July 21, 2010

I am hoping this message gets to Dr. Ravitch.

I have heard in your interviews the “talking point” (not in the propaganda sense) regarding the effects of high stakes testing in terms of narrowing of curriculum—such as against history, etc.

I want to share a true anecdote—just because this actually happened and someone other than powerless me should know about it.

If anybody ever challenges you on this point feel free to use this. I am a high school history and government teacher in Florida (ground zero in this crap) and a few years back, when our principal was finally forced to “freak out” over test scores, we had a meeting prior to the school year regarding strategies for improvement. (In fairness to him, he was “old school” and had resisted paying attention to all of the politics of this, but was now forced by pressure from above to “care.”) He had decided to “use” the 10th grade world history teachers as surrogate English teachers. His plan was to use this prep book they had spent a lot of money on and give it to the history teachers and they would use it TWICE a week in their classes. In other words, they would be required to stop teaching history and teach reading/writing using this book 2 out of every 5 days of instruction. One teacher, concerned about the effect of, essentially, losing 2 days a week of curriculum, raised her hand and asked, and I quote, “What about being able to cover our curriculum?” To which he replied, and I quote again, “History doesn’t matter.” I was shocked, and I wasn’t the only one—there was a hush that fell over the room. And sadly, this guy had been a former history teacher. It was the crystallizing moment when I realized that EVERY prediction about high stakes testing by its critics since the 80s had been right and was now taking root. Not that I had doubted them. But with that tiny exchange, it couldn’t have been more stark. I will never forget this.

Also—quick tip for you on some raw data available. I don’t know about the results in other counties, but when our FCAT scores came out this year, our local paper created a database to look up scores, etc. So I did what I always do—looked up the scores in my school and other schools in my county (try to figure how screwed we are for the coming year) and in the county I used to work at. If you go to the website and look up scores for Orange County high schools, you will find an amazing indictment of charter schools. Quick background: Ever since Jeb Bush pushed this through, Orange County has been an absolute affirmation that SES is what is at work here. The richest school in the county, Winter Park, has been an A school ever since this started more than 10 years ago. The three poorest schools, Evans, Jones, and Oak Ridge, have been D’s and F’s. It couldn’t be more clear. Well, anyway, I always check this pattern to see if it holds, and of course, this year, yet again, it did. BUT, then I checked something that is new: they had data on the Charter Schools! I almost fell out of my seat. Their scores were 9 times out of 10, ABYSMAL! They made our lowest “performing” poverty stricken schools look GOOD. Of course, not a peep from all of the pro-charter school clowns writing for this very newspaper in their columns week after week. Not a PEEP. NO ONE’s talking about it that I can tell. So... you might wanna check it out.

Of course, now Florida is switching to End of Course Exams....which are a LITTLE better... at least now I’ll be judged on what I TEACH, rather than how good an English teacher I am... but still...

Anyway—to be honest I want you to know that back when I was in grad school studying this stuff, you were one of my (political) “enemies”! The fact that you have had the courage and integrity to publicly admit to a change of heart—when so many will just dig in and defend their position no matter what—is so very admirable. I salute you.

Sorry for the rambling...




July 21, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

I understand your e-mail has been flooded with teachers’ comments on The Death and Life of the Great American School System; however, I had to add my humble thanks. This is, without a doubt, the single best treatise on American education I have ever read and a work of great insight. If only administrators who crunch numbers would read this and take heart! I have recommended it to many of my colleagues and hope we can start an issues discussion group based on the book.

I can’t thank you enough for so eloquently voicing what teachers know in their hearts to be true. I am a high school social studies teacher and also a college psychology instructor. My college insists that our students are “customers” and we must deliver instruction as if it were produce in a grocery bag. I am at the point of retirement after 35 years of teaching and I deplore the misdirection education is/has been embracing. My younger hires in the department are an apt example of the mistakes: they are well-meaning but have no depth of knowledge in their licensed areas and have stripped the curriculum down to simplistic pabulum. They teach to their tests and hand out grades as if they were candy. All of this to please the administration with high-scoring students (indicating their “success” in the classroom) and to avoid having to speak with parents who are used to their students being “given” high grades.

Much work remains to be done but please, please continue to write and speak out in favor of what you have advocated so well in your book. Teaching is a humanizing profession, one which prospers only insofar as we can honestly connect with our students, excite them, and challenge them. Mandated testing will serve none of this and will only destroy what education used to bring to America.

Thank you so much!



July 21, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

Thank you for your great book on the history of American education for the last 30 years, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education! Your book much helped put my teaching career in perspective and made me realize just how out of control the current climate is for education (or is it testication now). I just finished my 20th year of teaching in teaching social studies in the state of Virginia and have witnessed how much our current test-driven (rather than test-informed!) culture of education has seemingly taking us a step backward in teaching and learning. Whereas a decade ago I did creative projects and critical thinking exercises with my students, now it is all about content and getting students ready for their tests (be it the state SOLs in Virginia or the AP and IB tests our students take). Even the latest learning management system our school system has bought into has nothing really to do with helping students further their education and our pedagogy rather than to beautifully display test scores for students and various group cohorts that administrators can now easily analyze.


Paul Ferentinos


July 19, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I am a teacher. I just finished reading your book The Death And Life of the Great American School System

I loved it! It has given me hope that someone at the top will understand what kids and teachers are going through.

Has Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Eli Broad, or President Obama commented on your book?

I’d like to know what they have to say.


Phill Lombardo


July 19, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I am writing to thank you for your latest book, chronicling your journey from educational testing/choice advocate to skeptic. The reasons you provide for your apostasy and what NCLB has promoted and threatens are devastatingly spot-on. I know your examples and insights are accurate because I observed or lived many of them.

Until my retirement a year ago as a public school educator, I had last been a middle school (7–9) administrator (first as an assistant principal and then as a principal) for 16 years in a suburban district. (For what it’s worth, my school, fortunately, always made AYP.) Prior to that, I was an elementary and middle school teacher for 24 years in Philadelphia, where I was also active with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Like you, my K–12 education was in city schools. My primary understanding of current charter schools has come only through teacher candidates who have taught in them and parents whose children attended.

The NCLB/data-driven/accountability movement, as well-intentioned as it may have originally seemed, has turned out to be an addiction which vote seekers of all stripes cannot resist. It provides them a perfect fit with a sound-bite world and desire for digital, unchallenged conclusions. I do hope your book helps spur some push-back with a commitment toward thriving and real public school “systems” that promote a rich and full curriculum and an understanding of the broad scope of what it takes for students to achieve.

With congratulations and appreciation,

Alan Hershman


July 19, 2010

Thank you for writing this clearly written and well-substantiated book in defense of Public Education at this critical juncture. I sent the following message to my public elementary school colleagues here in Eureka, California, and have since purchased five more copies of your book which I am sending to the members of our school board, urging them to read it as well.


Good article and video of Diane Ravitch speaking at following link:


I read her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education on a recent backpacking trip, and found it very enlightening, as well as heartening that someone with her credentials and gravitas is speaking out so strongly against NCLB and Obama’s “Race to the Top” and his encouragement of the “Billionaire Boys’ Club” support for charter schools.

Hope you’re all having a terrific summer...



Steve Catton


July 19, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I just finished reading your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I have been teaching in Cleveland Schools for 18 years and for most of those 18 years I have felt like standing up and screaming “what the heck are we doing and why are we doing it??!! ” This year I told my students that I had a vision that I would barricade the door on the first day of the test and refuse to give it, get arrested, and twenty years from now be like the Rosa Parks of education.

Connie Roop


July 15, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I am writing to express my gratitude for your writing The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

It gives a glimmer of hope that there are individuals who can still critically analyze the reality of what is going on in the current market-based, data-driven educational climate. I am hoping it will help point out that the market-based-reform emperor has no clothes.

I am the sole teacher of the gifted and talented in a small, affluent, nationally recognized school. You would think that we would not be feeling the carrot-and-stick pressures that are a direct result of NCLB and Race to the Top. Think again.

During the past couple of years, there has been a virtual takeover of our school by a data-driven instruction model, with an emphasis on documentation and accountability. At the primary level, it sometimes seems that the teachers spend more time administering DRA tests than teaching reading. We have high tech test prep programs which translates into computers being periodically inaccessible to the students who need them for other purposes while test practice is happening. There have been a number of complaints about the dumbing down of curriculum by a number of our most experienced teachers. And, frighteningly, our new governor is embracing most, if not all, of the market-place dogma that you so eloquently worked to discredit.

There is likewise a shift in mentality that steers teachers away from doing anything that is not “measurable,” which I feel does not take real learning into account. This can be especially detrimental to the highly creative and gifted students who pretty much live outside the proverbial box, and find, to their horror, that they will be forced back into it. To give a specific example, a lower-grade Socratic seminar was criticized because the students’ discussion did not have a predictable and measurable outcome to specific questions. It would be an insult to even have to explain to anyone the folly of that idea.

All things considered, I am very wary of the idea of the various ways that have been suggested to evaluate teacher performance. You gave some excellent reasons against tying teacher evaluations to student test scores. I would also like to add that administrative evaluations where the emphasis is on how well the teachers are “sticking to the program” are likewise ludicrous.

As a person who had previously had a career as a research analyst, I am well aware of how statistics can be misinterpreted, or even abused to push an agenda. I find it odious that educational decisions are being made by business gurus, test development companies, and statisticians for who have less vested interest in the children than in their profit margin.

Thank you, thank you, for pointing out the fallacies of the current mentality.

I just pray that some of the powers that be will actually listen for once.




July 14, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I just completed reading your book (The Death and Life of the Great American School System) and everything you write about is accurate. I have been an elementary public school teacher for the past five years, and all the emphasis is on teaching math and reading. While I agree with the framework of NCLB, such as AYP and meeting the needs of all subgroups, I don’t believe multiple-choice testing by itself is the appropriate method of evaluation.

I continually keep reminding my colleagues not to abandon the other essential core subjects such as science, social studies, and health. (We do not have art class.) The best argument I can make to other fellow teachers is to try and integrate these subjects into their reading and math curriculum. I also point out that their students will expand their vocabulary and comprehension, which will lead to higher scores anyway. However, it is a tough sell when all the pressure from the state tests is solely based on math and reading.

Anyway I just wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed your book and appreciate your dedication to the profession of teaching. Take care.


Travis Hinkley


July 13, 2010

Hello Diane—

Many roses to you for being honored with the NEA Friend of Education Award at the National Education Association Representative Assembly. I have just received a copy of your acceptance speech from two delegates who heard you address the Assembly.

One wrote Diane’s speech “was really great...There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she is a great friend of PUBLIC EDUCATION.” The other wrote, “I was impressed by what Diane had to say....It is high time to blow the whistle on NCLB and the insane testing that results.”

You deserve this honor. Your Death and Life of the Great American School System is leading teachers and their organizations to rational positions on educational reforms. Punishments of quality teachers and schools followed false top-down promises based on false assessments.

Grassroots reality started to boom after your book was published. The book is producing ground-up honest messages to education leaders both in and out of teachers’ organizations. Fight for public education. Defend public schools against false prophets. Use honest facts. Reason well. Great.


Thanks for all you do for education.

Best wishes from Nebraska.

Phil Kaldahl


July 11, 2010

I spent xxx years in a charter running the school for the founder. He lacked education experience, and it showed. However, he was a master of data spin and manipulation. Early on, he had the notice of a lot of top people including Richard Reilly, Gerald Tirrozzi and [our senator]. Currently he is on the NCLB failure list and I am not sure how they handled the “fire the teachers and principals” stage. His lack of teaching and business background are not helping him. You are right on about how charters work. I became a master at keeping out the most difficult and finding ways to move on the most difficult. I think his problem since I left is his greed to fill seats, and he lacks experience in the signals of the troubled enrollment. In one example he took a student in haste, and because his mother was knowledgeable it took me almost 2 years to get him out, and that was because he brought a gun to school. (He is currently incarcerated for dealing drugs I believe.) I see so many of the same problems you have brought up with our current super. He suffers from PHDitis! He thinks every great idea must come from a PHD so we have hired many who have had little experience or success in classroom and have many theoretical ideas, and we run off on the “flavor of the week idea.” We have lots of great catch phrases like “accountability for all”; only the teachers are held accountable and students are not really required to perform. (There is a topic I could write my own book about, but it better sell because I would be out of a job for my criticism of our system.)

Anyway, again thanks for the book. To me you wrote nothing revolutionary. Anybody in the trenches for at least 5 years can see every bit of it.



July 9, 2010

Professor Ravitch,

I started teaching in 1964 and retired in 2006. All but 8 years were in Philadelphia. Five of those years were at a private junior college, three years at community colleges. I also taught adjunct at a state college near where I live. In 1964, like many young teachers, I was idealistic. I was certain we could correct the problems we faced in our public schools. Over and over again the fads, the quick cheap fixes, created by people with little, if any, teaching experience kept coming and going. When NCLB arrived we realized what it was all about, a way to destroy public schools. By 2006 I was the department chair, the “teacher leader,” in our high school Social Studies Department confronted by self-righteous people from the main administration who knew it all and a principal who didn’t enforce discipline in what had been one of the best kept secrets in Philadelphia. I was disgusted and retired, but I hadn’t lost hope. I thought that Barack Obama would change things but you know what happened. When he appointed someone who was not a teacher, an amateur educator, as his Secretary of Education, I was very disappointed. I thought the new president would have realized that NCLB from Bush and now under him was based on the same kinds of faulty research that had fueled all the other “reforms” that had been tried.

I don’t understand how someone as brilliant as Obama can fall for this. Why doesn’t he realize that all he is doing is the same things that have failed before? Why does he expect a different outcome now?

Dr. Ravitch, I, along with thousands of experienced teachers, know what the problems are and how to fix them. You wrote about what we know in your book. Being progressive politically we had high hopes when Obama was elected. Is there any way we can get to him so his administration will do the right thing? Our children are at stake.

I would like to be able to talk to you about these issues.

Thanks for the book and the excellent history writing.



PS: There is one thing you needed to stress in the book more. There is a real crisis in educational leadership. It is too easy to get a principal’s certificate. All too often people who can’t handle and don’t like the classroom get certified. It seems that if you can stay awake for the classwork and get a good coach to help you with paper you get the degree and certificate.


July 8, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I know you must receive hundreds if not thousands of emails each day. I hope you will take the time to read mine.

I recently finished reading your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I also just finished reading your speech to the recent NEA convention. Thank you for both of those and thank you for all you do and say on behalf of teachers.

I am an ESL teacher in DC Public Schools. I left a very successful [career]and joined the DC Teaching Fellows program—an alternative certification program with which I’m sure you’re familiar. To be honest, I was like most people who go through those programs: I intended to stay for a couple years and return to my previous career/vocation. XXX years later, I’m still here.

I entered that program because I have always enjoyed teaching... However, I live in DC and had heard horror stories about DC Public Schools. As a resident of the District, I wanted to help students and get a firsthand look for myself. I chose ESL because they are a “minority among minorities” in both our school systems and our country.

I was fed the propaganda as I came through the DC Teaching Fellows program that we “newbies” and career switchers were the answer to failed public education. We were to be the reformers who would save the children of DC. Veteran teachers were incompetent, lazy and ineffective. I bought into it. During my first year teaching, I began to see the light. Were it not for those “incompetent, lazy and ineffective” veteran teachers, I probably wouldn’t be teaching any longer. I soon found them to be collegial, helpful, encouraging and possessing a wealth of knowledge and skills which they graciously imparted to me.

Now I have just completed my XXX year as an ESL teacher and am now holding workshops for other ESL teachers and imparting strategies I have learned and developed over the course of my brief teaching career. I would not be in the position to do that had it not been for those veteran teachers who helped me early on.

As you well know, we are under assault nationally and locally here in DC—especially under the “leadership” of Michelle Rhee. I hailed her arrival but soon changed my mind about her. Aside from the fact that she is not qualified for the position she holds, I have watched her repeatedly disrespect teachers in DC as she continues to hold us accountable for things which are totally out of our control. Our union is completely ineffective as it is embroiled in its own internal discord. I could go on and on but I’m sure you already know much about the nightmare unfolding here in DC Public Schools.

What can we as teachers do to combat the current contempt for us and our profession and our unions? Most of us in DC Public Schools are afraid to speak out for fear of losing our jobs now that we have a new evaluation system and there is no recourse for teachers who disagree with the scores we receive from principals and master educators. How can our collective voices be heard? Who, besides you, will stand up for us? I am willing to speak out—and have—because I believe injustice is injustice and must always be spoken out against. I know there is no easy answer. I guess what I’m saying is “thank you” for all you have done and continue to do, but what can we do? You are a beacon of hope to those of us who are on the front lines and are continually assaulted by our principals and superintendents/chancellors. Please continue to speak for us and speak out against the assault on public educators. You give many of us the courage to speak out as well.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!




June 29, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

I just completed reading your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System and wanted to simply say thank you. In the fall, I will be entering my 19th year of teaching in a public urban setting. I have been very active with the Toledo Federation of Teachers, home of the teacher peer review system, that you mentioned in your book. Also, two of our comprehensive high schools were converted to small school several years ago through Knowledge Works. Sadly, one closed this year due to low enrollment.

It is refreshing to read an author who admits to a complete change in philosophy and backs it up with data. Your entire book hit home for me as though it pertained directly to Toledo Public Schools and the trials we face on a daily basis. Your summation of the importance of curriculum justifies what educators already knew.

On behalf of my fellow peers, thank you for standing up to the billionaires and reformists who continue to wave their magic wand.


Robyn Hage


June 27, 2010


I write again so soon because I neglected to thank you for the great service you are doing for American education and American democracy. Although there are others who are speaking up for kids, teachers, and public schools, yours is the one voice that is being heard by the public at large and—I hope—by those in power. Many of us just keep on doing what we can and hoping that, ultimately, our voices will be loud enough and persistent enough to penetrate the wall of ignorance and mean-spiritedness that surrounds our lawmakers.

For me, the great glory of the American school system of the recent past was its inclusiveness and forgiveness. I think first of all of the World War II veterans who made careers and lives because of the GI Bill, of myself who never would have gone to college if it hadn’t been for a state scholarship and a waitress job, and then of three of my own children who were given second chances to make it through college when they blew their initial opportunities. Finally, I think of the (too few) poor and minority kids who have made it because some schools and some teachers cared about them. For the sake of all the children now in school and those to come, we must do whatever it takes to rescue our public schools, return them to their past virtues, guide them past the potholes of false reform, and push them forward to the greatness they can yet achieve.


Joanne Yatvin


June 26, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I am quite certain that, growing up in the shadow of Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, I am a descendant of one of the revolutionaries of the mid-18th century. I, too, am a professional educator, with over thirty years of diverse experiences as a classroom teacher, building-level instructional leader, and a district-level administrator. My experiences range from the western mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, to literally the streets of San Francisco; with learning experiences in Ohio and urban centers of Florida. Over the past decade, I have helplessly watched our public schools morph into “learning environments” with negative cultures, authoritative leadership styles and what I call administrivia! One can only imagine the consequences I have faced for voicing my difference of opinion. From my perspective, my fellow colleagues could be compared to lemmings, or simply, educators who feared retribution, if they voiced their differing opinions.

Increasingly, frenetic district administrators and school-level instructional leaders have exponentially increased their stinging attitudes/behaviors, their directives, and cumbersome administrivia. My last year as an instructional leader could be characterized as simply rebellious. I knew that our students were capable of learning; yet, I employed a totally opposite strategy to increase students’ learning—a positive school culture with collaborative leadership/teacher empowerment, and I diminished the effects of administrivia. I recall telling our team to concentrate their efforts on teaching the individual student and making the all-important connection with each student. Furthermore, I stated that if our attention was on the individual, our students would achieve at a maximal level. Within one year, the students at our school (highest reduced/free meal percentage in the district) scored an average of 26 point increase on Virginia’s Standards of Learning End-of-Year Assessments!

Upon the publication of your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, I immediately obtained a copy and read it cover-to-cover! With a sigh of relief, your words served as evidence that I was not living in the Twilight Zone or simply having a nightmare about the state-of-affairs of our public schools! Sadly, your book is singing to the choir. Only those who have the power to make meaningful and progressive reform of our public schools are the true stakeholders—PARENTS and others who are immune or resistant to a subtle form of brainwashing!

One sentence in your book was quite provocative, “Without knowledge and understanding, one tends to become a passive spectator rather than an active participant in the great decisions of our time.” That statement serves as a catalyst for those who have the strength and the convictions to inspire the true stakeholders out of their sense of complacency and unwarranted trust of today’s policymakers for the good of our children and their futures!

A great decision of our time is quickly approaching in four years; yet, the American populace remains unaware of the dire consequences. Those with the knowledge and understanding are obligated to convey to all stakeholders the issues involved, and the resulting consequences. I certainly would appreciate your thoughts about achieving such a goal. I, do, have some of my own. Thank you for your attention to my concerns!


Barry R. Mahanes


June 25, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch:

I am Mrs. Ratliff. I am being forced to retire.

I’ve taught English at Wilson High School, in Washington, DC, for fifteen years. For my AP students, my classes, according to the students, are the hardest but most rewarding classes they’ve taken. I assign thirty 500-word essays for my juniors, fifteen 1,000-word essays for my seniors. I read and comment on all of ‘em. We read nine novels, many short stories, articles from the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books. Students take seven essay tests, all of which I read and grade.

I also teach grade-level students in a course where there is constant reading and writing. At our large urban high school, there’s a huge gap between AP students and grade-level students. I try to bridge this as best I can. Students in those classes seem to appreciate my respect for them and my efforts to provide all students with decent education.

Three years ago, I helped students revive our dormant school newspaper. We’ve published monthly issues for the past three years. For the past dozen years, I’ve been faculty advisor for the six theater productions we do each year, building sets, settling disputes, keeping the drama on the stage, and not off of it.

Two years ago Chancellor Michelle Rhee hired a new principal. He enforced a level of discipline and conformity in the classroom, using the new system-wide evaluation IMPACT program. Over the years, I’ve never received very high numbers on any of these evaluation instruments. I’ve depended on the principal understanding that there were many ways to be an effective teacher. Not any more. If I don’t retire next week, I face being terminated for low IMPACT scores. This would mean loss of pension and health insurance. For a 62-year old cancer survivor, and my 61 year old wife, we’ve got to avoid that prospect.

There’s been a letter-writing campaign by parents and students, seeking to assert my value as a teacher and contributor to the school community, to no avail. Our school newspaper did publish articles this year, critical of the principal and some of his policies. My hunch is that this is what is driving the effort to place low classroom evaluation numbers on me.

I was taking this assault rather personally. I thought I was the only one getting creamed. Thanks for writing your recent The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It is some comfort to realize I’m caught in a tsunami. I wanted to let you know, too, how all this misbegotten ideology drives away a hard-working, dedicated, passionate high school English teacher.

If you’re curious, I could go on, both with levels of details, and documentation of what I’ve said here. But from reading your book, I imagine you know this sad story quite well. This is a consolation, that someone does understand.

Joe Riener


June 24, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I wish to congratulate you on your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Your current conclusions are those that I have been attached to for the last thirty five years. I have been at odds with the testing mania, choice, accountability and the many other panaceas that have crept over the educational landscape. I have, in fact, a list of panaceas that we have tried for short periods of time, never long enough to see if they work.

Although born in Brooklyn in 1938, my wife and I came to Pennsylvania in the early sixties and have been advocates for rural schools in our Commonwealth for many years. In the early 1990s, the organization that I helped to start, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) sued the Commonwealth on the basis of an inequitable funding system. We were in court for about 10 years. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania punted on the issue and said that the issue was not justiciable (the only court in the U.S. not to give a yes-or-no answer).

After going through the chairs of education, I retired to join my wife’s consulting firm (she pays me $5,000 a year, but the benefits are excellent). The firm is devoted to seeing that rural children have an opportunity to go to college. We established two rural scholarship programs, funded by two billionaires, Andy McKelvey of Monster.com and Gerry Lenfest (sold his cable company to Comcast for 7.5 billion dollars). I am now on the Pennsylvania State Board of Education. Sometimes, I am the lone voice for rural schools and for a diminution of our confounded reliance on high stakes testing. I have succeeded in getting an 11th grade test dumped by 2013 to be replaced with end-of-course tests (how about that for going backwards to regents exams). These end of course tests can be created by the local school district and validated, or one can use the state created test (more dough for testing companies).

I have purchased and distributed your book to all of the 21 state board members. A private citizen has purchased 100 of your tome and has distributed them to many members of the legislature. All this to say thank you for taking a fresh look at what is happening to our public school system in the U.S. I still believe that it is the best system in the world, even when our leaders compare us to Singapore (happy caning), China and India. Do we really want to be like them? Best wishes to you in your future endeavors. As with J.D. Salinger, I await your next publication. Hope it is not going to take as long as his will.

Arnold Hillman, D.Ed
Member, Pennsylvania State Board of Education


June 23, 2010

Hi Diane—

I am writing to follow up and let you know that we ended up raising over $2200 and purchased 100 copies of your book.

Today a group of 6 school board members from around the state went to Harrisburg to deliver those books at the Capitol. It gave us an opportunity to discuss these issues with several of our legislators. We are still working on getting some press.

It takes time and effort to turn a large ship—thanks again for writing The Death and Life; I am hoping it will help us mobilize and focus the effort needed to do so.

I understand that the Delaware County Intermediate Unit has invited you to speak to a Southeastern Pennsylvania regional group of school board members, administrators and other education advocates. I am hoping that you might be able to fit us into your busy schedule.

Here’s an update on the three hedge fund managers and charter school supporters who contributed to State Senator Anthony Williams gubernatorial campaign; school choice has become the crack cocaine of foundation and political giving:

“Pa. ’s Record Campaign Donors: Trio Give $5 Million Plus to Sen. Williams”

No one had ever donated anywhere close to this much cash for a political campaign in Pennsylvania. Previous reports showed that a trio of executives at Susquehanna International Group in Bala Cynwyd already had ventured far into historic territory by giving at least $3 million to support State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams’ Democratic primary race for governor.

“The three executives had said through a spokesman before the primary that they were backing Williams because they liked his stance on school choice, particularly the use of publicly funded vouchers to enable more families to pay for private education. ”


Lawrence A. Feinberg
Southeastern PA School Districts Education Coalition


June 21, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Thank you for being the voice in the wilderness for education. I just finished reading The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I have been hoping that someone with influence would write that book since the inception of NCLB.

I appreciate your suggestions in the last chapter, but what can be done to reform the reformers? When Pat Robertson and Reverend Al Sharpton are on the same side on educational issues, what hope is there that the wrongheaded policies that are destroying education will change? What can we as educators do or say? No one has listened to us for nine years.

Do you have any suggestions for actions we can take as teachers? I hope it’s not too late.

Thank you for your attention. You are one of the few who do pay attention.


Jane Medina


June 20, 2010

Dear Diane,

Recently I have felt compelled to do things that I would never have done before. Last year I spoke at 5 school board meetings, carefully writing my 3 minute speeches to express my mounting feelings of discontent. I caught your interview on C-Span during Spring break and immediately went out and bought your book. I read it in 2 days. It was so exciting to read your words because they spoke my thoughts and feelings so clearly. I had a teacher in the 7th grade named Mr. James Herndon (he’ll always be Mr. Herndon to me). It was a contained class for labeled “immature” students (I am mentioned twice in his chapter “The Stream of Life” in How To Survive in Your Native Land). He remains today the single most influential teacher I have ever known. While rereading his book Notes From A School-Teacher I noticed your comment on the back cover. Yes indeed the world of the policymaker is light years away from the world of the schoolteacher, these truths have not changed in over 35 years, or if you count back to when I was in 7th grade, well let’s just say ... since 1967?

My school has decided with its new Principal/Superintendent on board that buying into “programs” is the answer to all of our discipline and low performance problems. So we now have Bridges to Kindergarten, Pathways to a Positive Future, Steps to Respect, Turn Around/No Excuses University, and Race to the Top...all this “walking” is exhausting...where is the teaching? where is the content? I feel like a hamster on a wheel moving, working, yeah, getting tired but getting nowhere really.

Thanks for your words.

Janet L. Plant


June 19, 2010

Dear Professor Ravitch,

Thank you so much for researching and writing The Death and Life of the Great American School System and thanks especially for your extensive documentation and cogent analysis of the evidence.

I teach high school math and science in a small town in northwest Colorado. Our staff experienced conditions similar to those you describe in the San Diego school system until the then principal moved up to superintendent in another district (bless them). Our new principal at least appreciates good classroom instruction and has some common sense, but we continue to labor under the mandates of NCLB and new state follies. It’s really discouraging: we do our best to help kids learn and grow, but we’re told we’re never good enough, test scores are never good enough. Your book provides a lot of comfort and hope. It is reassuring to know that our (general faculty) concerns about testing and accountability are shared by someone with your credentials who can convey the evidence and the message.

With all best regards,

Bob Dorsett


June 18, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Thank you for your timely response on the current state of public education under NCLB in The Death and Life of the Great American School System. As a high school principal I am frustrated about the disruptive nature of this legislation. As Dr. Seymour Sarason so eloquently said many times, the standardized test scores tell us next to nothing about what goes on in a classroom on a daily basis.

I constantly feel that I walk a tightrope as I try to promote good teaching while playing the game of standardized testing. I can tell you that I have many good teachers—from the same mold as Mrs. Ratliff, at Eastside High School in Greenville, SC. I believe it is my job to protect them from the disruptive nature of current educational policy, to allow them to provide the very best educational experiences for students. This is no small task, as any downturn in test scores or the graduation rate sends waves of concern about possible problems at the school.

All this occurs while we try to promote sustained silent reading, argumentative research and writing, inquiry-based instruction and other student-centered instruction that attempts to make the theoretical nature of high school courses more relevant for students. Then, the 67 question multiple-choice U.S. History End of Course test, for example, provides no assessment of students’ development of the historian’s craft of researching and writing. You can guess what gets sacrificed as teachers worry about judgments made about them based on these test scores!

I completed my dissertation in 2007 and published it as a book, Breaking the Cycle of Failed School Reform: What Five Failed Reforms Tell Us. I based my qualitative research on Dr. Sarason’s ideas about why reform predictably fails. I started from the beginning of public education in America, with the Lancastrian Plan, and researched the development of schooling and reform to the present day. Much to my chagrin, I found that our school reform attempts follow the same path and they all fail as a result.

It is my hope that Arne Duncan and other educational policy experts will read your book and gain an understanding of the field of education and what is at stake at this moment in time. Based on what I have learned about policy experts to this point, I know that I should not hold my breath on this. Furthermore, I think we are finding out that Mr. Duncan and his Race to the Top are taking NCLB to new lows. I again say thank you for your analysis of the current state of educational policy, and maybe it can serve as a beacon of light in this moment of turbulence.

Yours truly,

John Tharp


June 18, 2010


I just finished your book and I want to thank you for all that you’ve done on behalf of public education, for articulating so clearly what so many of us educators are thinking, and for helping us understand the route of public education and how it ended up where it is today. Your book has inspired me to continue to stand up “to improving the schools, infusing them with the substance of genuine learning and reviving the conditions that make learning possible.”

I am a fourth-grade teacher in Mankato, MN and have two children enrolled in the district. I am honored to be in the position that I am in. I feel so fortunate to wake up every day and have the opportunity to work toward a common goal of helping our students to reach their potential and become all that they can be. To quote John Dewey, I feel strongly “that what every parent wants for their own children, so too should a community want for all its children.” I am increasingly concerned about the direction that education in the U.S., and Mankato in particular, is going as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act that was passed in 2002. As a result of this concern that I feel on a regular basis in the classroom and at home with my own two children, I have spent many hours researching NCLB and reading numerous articles and books written by leading educators in the U.S. to get their perspective on the latest information regarding the affect of this law on education and our public schools. I recently finished reading your latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I wish that all educators and policy makers would read it. To say that I am deeply concerned about what you and these other educators say about the impact of this law on K–12 education, and the direction that education in general is going, is an understatement. Sadly, our schools have become “test prep centers” forcing students to memorize correct answers for standardized tests and teaching to the test, reducing instructional time for subjects not required by NCLB, limiting the quality of education in an effort to raise test scores. I fear that if we don’t do something to change the perception that high test scores are equivalent to a good education we are going to have a generation of students who receive an inferior education and look upon learning as a means to a high test score rather than as a lifelong goal. We may have students who score high on a reading test but won’t want to read tomorrow. I also know the frustration of teachers who are rapidly becoming burned out by the ever-increasing mandates being imposed upon them in an effort to raise test scores. We are so busy trying to appease these NCLB mandates handed down to districts, which in effect censor teachers and force conformity, that we often neglect to stop and question the pedagogy of all that we are doing. True teaching cannot be done under such circumstances. To once again echo the words of John Dewey, “Education should be seen as a process of living, not solely a preparation for future living. To take children seriously is to value them for who they are right now rather than seeing them as adults-in-the-making.”

Thank you again, Diane, for helping to give me hope that American public education can be saved. I am going to accept your challenge “to create a renaissance in education, one that goes well beyond the basic skills that have recently been the singular focus of federal activity, a renaissance that seeks to teach the best that has been thought and known and done in every field of endeavor.”

In closing, I would like ask you what can I do to be most effective in promoting change.


Tim Hatlestad


February 27, 2010

Ravitch’s book—as the title indicates—is both frightening and hopeful: frightening because it shows the destructiveness of our current reforms, and hopeful because it offers many important and inspiring lessons. Full of complexities and details, her argument points the way to more questions and investigations. We must read, argue about, and learn from this book.

Deborah Meier


June 18, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

I manage money and I’m black. I am distressed by the barrage of mail I’ve been getting from fellow money managers who somehow think there is a fairly easy solution to educating the “underclass” by using charter schools. I’d like to share with you a few points from my experience which may help you contextualize my concern.

1. Hedge fund managers typically don’t add value to society.

2. Hedge fund managers often have very little practical real world experience. Many have not worked for anyone else. Yet activist managers are very comfortable giving advice to operating managers of companies in which they take a stake.

3. Hedge fund managers virtually never hire minorities outside of Asians.

4. Hedge fund managers have attended exclusive private schools and almost always send their kids to the same.

5. Hedge fund managers know virtually nothing of incentive systems and largely supported the Wall Street incentives which nearly created the demise of our society as we know it.

6. Hedge fund managers and private equity managers typically don’t pay their share of Federal taxes. (I personally elect to pay my carried interest as regular income.)

With my experiences as a backdrop, I’m somewhat concerned that groups such as DFER (Democrats for education reform) are receiving so much positive press.

As I have begun to research education I wonder if you can point me in the right direction?

1. Has there been a study on the effect of educational lotteries (like the kind that are run to select students for some charter schools) on the students who aren’t picked? It seems a bit demoralizing to me....

2. Has there been a study of teachers who would work for incentives? In other words I’m not sure free market incentives work for professionals like all the teachers I know.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.



June 16, 2010

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I read your article last evening. As a classroom teacher with 30+ years experience, I just completed the absolute worst year in the classroom I have ever endured (and it was NOT the fault of my students—they were great). This year I was told what to teach, when to teach, how to teach, how long to teach, who to teach, who not to teach, and how often to test. My students were assessed with easily more than 120 tests of one shape or another within the first 6 months of the school year. My ability to make decisions about what is best for my students was taken away by an overzealous attempt to impose “consistency” within my grade group. My school hired an outside consultant who threatened us with our jobs, demanded that everyone comply, and required us to submit data on test results on a weekly basis. If your class didn’t do well, you were certainly going to be in trouble. In addition, my class was visited at least twice a month by the consultant, two superintendents, principal, assistant principal, reading coach, math coach, and sometimes even more people. If I was not teaching exactly what they wanted to see, I was in trouble. My ability to have any academic freedom was completely taken away and my students were denied the best education I could provide for them. Please understand, my credentials are impeccable. I am board certified, have a master’s degree in educational leadership, have been documented with the highest scores on my team, and absolutely love what I do. I want to be a teacher, but just can not continue within this toxic educational environment.

This year I have tried to speak out against these many disgusting practices of testing, teaching to the test, or as you called it, “institutionalized cheating.” I have felt like a voice in the wilderness. The response has been: “Get used to it. It is what is coming down the pike.” We are in desperate need of voices like yours to bring sanity back to education. Please, please, please continue to speak out about this debacle and help us restore the focus of education back to the child and NOT the test score. I will enthusiastically share your article with fellow educators in an effort to save the future of public school education. I just wish I could do more. If you have any other positive suggestions as to what I can do to help, please let me know.

Thank you for speaking out. Let’s hope it is not too late.

Respectfully submitted,

Gary A. Groth


June 5, 2010

I just finished reading your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I ordered it in advance, based upon the early reviews I read in Education Week. I have since been talking it up at my school, and both my Principal and Assistant Principal have purchased your book, too. Much of your book’s allure was its careful review of the history of education in America. I have been teaching for 24 years and fit the description of a poor beginning teacher. I had no master teacher to help; I just found a way that works—at the expense of a couple of years of students trying to learn from me! Reading your accounts of the stirrings of “Back to Basics” movement and early forms of standardized testing was like a walk down Memory Lane. I remember hearing about the “Pendulum” from the older teachers, but I embraced each new trend with enthusiasm and rigor. Eventually, I became disillusioned, too, with each new program and never getting the results I had hoped for. Your book helped me understand the “why and how” of each new movement. Now, I am tired and discouraged.

I voted for Obama, hoping that he would “see the light.” I have become increasingly disappointed after his Race to the Top program. He is the same old corporate puppet in a new disguise. I believe that we are witnessing the end of equal opportunity by equal access to equal education in America. I am sad for the recent and future generations of “testing” kids. Our schools cannot teach quality, when we teach multiple-choice tests. Our nation may never recover from the losses of multiple generations of drone lessons. It is no wonder so many kids play exciting video games full of color and creative plots, when their classes have zero creativity. As we close equal access to quality, we become less of a democracy. The America for which my father fought for (and for which I teach with pride) will become a video available on a side aisle in Walmart.

I hope it’s not too late. I plan to teach for several more years and want to take action, but I do not know where to start. What can I do?

Thanks again, Diane. You are my new hero!

Daniel Morgan


June 4, 2010

Dear Diane,

I recently finished your new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, and I wanted to thank you. My wife and I started teaching as part of Teach For America in 1999 (we met in Houston!). Your book clarified the last ten years for me. We were stuck in the trees and could not see the forest, so to speak. Now I have a more complete understanding of the challenges I faced as a public school teacher in Baltimore, then New Orleans, then Connecticut.

I want you to know that there are many teachers out there like my wife and I, who consider our craft an art but are left silent by the well-funded and unceasing calls for charter schools, vouchers, blind accountability and “teaching to the test.” I think your life’s work, talent and insight make you the perfect person to aggressively lead the backlash against the current state of education. You have the support of many more than you think. Please keep making your voice heard, for the rest of us.

Thank you,

Nathan Munro


June 2, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Thank you for writing your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It was heartening to me to read your comments and support for public education. More then ever before, teachers and public education are under an extraordinary attack by the government. As you so aptly point out, this attack is not just from the right, but from the left as well. People with no understanding of education or of children and families are making decisions that we will all live to regret.

I saw in the late 1980s when the business community was outraged that we had students graduating from high schools and universities, who could not work cooperatively with others to problems solve and to develop creative solutions. This was after nearly a decade of “back to basics” where teachers were instructed by the state department of education to avoid the methodologies that addressed those concerns. It was no surprise to teachers these problems arose, but how unfortunate for those students who were denied the education teachers wanted to supply and knew would serve them well.

President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are a huge disappointment to me. With their stance on public education, I could have voted Republican and gotten the same results. Dismantling public education to me, is analogous to dismantling democracy. This drive toward the use of data as the sole indicator of student and teacher success is on a path to disaster. I have been a teacher since 1973 and I have never seen more irresponsible and arrogant attitudes toward public education as I am now experiencing on both a state and federal level. In the past, as educators, we knew we could wait out the current “reform” movement. We knew politicians or administration would come to their senses. This time, the damage may be too great to repair.

In the state of New Jersey, our Governor, Chris Christie, in his irrational desire to “break” the teachers’ union, is willing to sacrifice our neediest students with his budget cuts and denigration of teachers. His is willing to cut the school breakfast program, literally taking food out of the mouths of our children, to force concessions from teachers. Where has the morality gone in our elected officials? When did it happen that teachers became the enemy of the people instead the problem solvers?

My concern is that leaders who need to read and understand the issues you raise in your book are not doing so. There is a vision, no matter how misguided, that they will persist in achieving. President Obama and Secretary Duncan believe their “business model” will work to improve education. It will not. Bullying and demeaning teachers will not help to forge the personal relationships with students and families which are necessary for a successful school and educational system. Trust is built and sustained over time.

I know in your book, you point out the 1960s and 1970s as a time of “do your own thing” in education. There have been many publications that malign that time as one detrimental to public education in our country. When I look back at the beginning of my career, I see it differently. Out of that time of freedom and experimentation came the roots of reading and writing workshop, literature circles using authentic children’s literature instead of basal readers to engage our students in reading and thinking, the use of manipulatives in teaching mathematics, inquiry-based science, the use of strategies for classroom management now taught through the Northeast Foundation and Responsive Classroom, and the work done by the Johnsons in the cooperative learning model. When teachers are given support and freedom to solve problems, it can happen. It is not just the data that helps to inform instruction. For many years we had little data, but our students thrived.

Do we have problems in public education in our country? Definitely. Can continuous and meaningful professional development for teachers in which they have investment and choice help? Yes. Can support for students and parent help? Yes. No one wants to address the issue of poverty in our nation. Living in poverty, with poor prenatal and early childhood health care makes a difference. Having urban children exposed to much greater amounts of lead makes a difference in their cognitive abilities and physical health needs. Absenteeism is a problem, violence is a problem. Blaming teachers and thinking data collection will solve the problems is missing the point completely. I am so happy you have pointed this out in your book.

Consistent, coherent, sustained and rigorous curricula, with a common set of national standards, are necessary for success. This can be achieved through thoughtful and informed leadership, effective tools for evaluation, and teacher support. We need to make changes to our educational system. It is clear we are not achieving at the level we would all like. Is the answer a national curriculum? I’m not sure that is possible, but to continue along the present path is also unacceptable.

All our students need to be educated to the best of their abilities, but I do not believe all need to attend college. I am always grateful to the technicians who service my appliance, the mechanics who fix my car, the grocery clerks, the trash collectors and every person in my community who serves an important role through his or her work. The problem as I see it, is the lack of respect for the people who do those jobs. They need to be honored and valued and not seen as failures of the system because they chose not to attend college. Unrealistic goals for schools hurt all students. More technical schools are needed, but I never hear anything about funding for them. In New Jersey, there are waiting lists to get into them.

Clear goals in education are important. Equally important is the teacher’s role to guide, stimulate, and excite students about learning. Teaching our students to know themselves and others, to value their own strengths, and appreciate those of others, and to become citizens who can think and solve problems are often those intangibles that don’t show up on “the test.”

Please continue to be the voice of reason in what feels like a great void of clear and rational thinking in regard to the direction we need to take to save public schools in our country.


Jere Tannenbaum


June 1, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Thank you for The Death and Life of the Great American School System. As an educator actively seeking leadership opportunities that do not take me out of the classroom, I found the critical overview of the trends and ideas of the last thirty years to be a valuable framework for understanding the forces that shape my professional life.

As a president of an NEA local, I was particularly interested in the chapter entitled “What would Mrs. Ratliff do?” This chapter covered its subject admirably, but left one important point out.

The traditional teacher salary schedule, combined with the pension system, is a deferred compensation system. In other words, a teacher accepts a lower salary in the early years with the understanding that it will be made up in later years through professional compensation and a pension that guarantees a dignified retirement. This is a social as well as legal contract, with a clear set of rules that give teachers a road map to a middle class existence. Millions of educators have bought into this social contract, and invested their careers and educations with the expectation that the modest rewards of the system would come through playing by the rules.

The important point is that millions of people played by the rules with the expectation that the rules would be followed by decision makers. This has several important policy implications.

First and most important is tenure—a hot-button word in this day and age! Without a robust system for due process in the workplace, the system of deferred compensation becomes a scam. In order to reap the deferred rewards of the system teachers need a reasonable expectation that they can last long enough in that system to receive in later years what they were denied in earlier years. Due process, negotiated by unions and administered through a strong system of grievances and arbitration, speaks to that expectation.

What is unfair about efforts to change teacher compensation is that government has reaped the benefits of the deferred compensation system up front—paying younger, less educated teachers less means decision makers have less revenue to raise. The bulk of school budgets here in Vermont pay for teacher salaries and benefits. The effect is exaggerated by the fact that some 50% of teachers wash out in the first five years.

So when I look at merit pay schemes, conversion of pensions to 403b plans, proposals to end tenure, and complaints about the uselessness of graduate study, I smell decision makers trying to weasel out of the back end costs of a system that has fiscally benefited the public for fifty years.

I suppose I would be less suspicious if I saw any sign that the intent was to pay teachers fairly and proportionally throughout their careers. But I do not believe our leaders have the political spine to raise the revenues necessary to achieve this goal, especially during a painful recession. No, the pain of the recession is turned against educators. Decision makers double down on teachers, combining the pain and fear of crisis-driven layoffs with threats of permanent structural changes to the social contract on which millions have built their lives and careers.

To this end Michelle Rhee got it at least partially right in Washington, DC. Agreeing to offer teachers increases in compensation in exchange for opting out of the traditional system is in fact a morally defensible approach—teachers get paid at the time they do the work instead of having to wait for it. But funding this change with foundation money is both politically gutless and unsustainable. It is politically gutless because it evades the hard decisions about where the revenue to fund a public good is going to come from. It is unsustainable because what happens to this new compensation system when the political and economic winds shift and foundations switch their focus and their cash to other initiatives? I fear that the teachers who opt for the new system will find themselves bereft.

The tradition of salary grids, with its system of steps and columns to reward teachers for longevity and education, has served education tolerably well for a long time. Like any system it has flaws, and some people will game it. We have to understand what we, as a society, will be giving up in making structural changes to the tradition of teacher compensation. Can we really predict the consequences?

The salary schedule is a complex and arcane topic, involving considerable technical understanding as well a good feel for math. In my experience, a large proportion of teachers fail to understand their own compensation (another cost saving for school districts). Due process, too, is complex and arcane, involving an understanding of contract language, past practice, timelines, and a body of case law built up from decades of court decisions and binding arbitration. These two systems are inextricably intertwined. Understanding the whole requires subtlety of thought and broad grasp of a variety of disciplines.

Unfortunately, this type of understanding does not lend itself easily to a world of sound bites and inflammatory rhetoric. On the other hand, representing this whole as a matter of basic fairness speaks to a fundamental middle class American value—playing by the rules. Everyone understands fairness.

Steve Owens


June 1, 2010

Hi, Dr. Ravitch,

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your fantastic new book. I’m a public school math teacher in Naperville, IL, just finishing my third year in the classroom and I felt like I didn’t know much about educational policy—but your book has helped quite a bit with that.

I know you get emails like this pretty often, but I teach in a very affluent community, in a school known for its quality education. I love my job, and I feel like I’m very good at it, but I wonder if I’m really helping the students who need the most help. That’s clearly not the case. When I think about what it would take to pull me from my current job and put me into an inner city school (say, in the Chicago Public School system), the list of incentives would have to be pretty long... I think that’s what’s so frustrating as an educator. From what I’ve seen, so many of the teachers who have excellent educations themselves and are *real* teachers in every sense of the word (kind of like your Mrs. Ratliff) have no desire to work in those schools and do everything they can to get into schools like mine—including young teachers who are graduating from their certification programs. I don’t see the city schools doing enough to persuade that group to teach there. But I hope that can be fixed in time.

Anyway, thanks for reading this email. I am certainly paying more attention to stories about this topic after having read it.

Hemant Mehta


May 31, 2010

Professor Ravitch.

I just finished reading your wonderful and thought-provoking new book on American education.

Not that I look for confirmation of my own views, but it was nice to see someone with your expertise dissect many of the facile claims made by education reformers.

Just from my experience in a teaching program, the bulk of the program was dedicated to teaching strategies and classroom management. When we would ask what specifically to teach, we were told to follow the state standards. But as you point out in your book, the standards were mostly just “vacuous verbiage.” Fortunately for me and my cohort, my school received a grant from the U.S. government to improve HS history education. This allowed our program to buy TCI’s “History Alive” curriculum, as well as bring in a trainer to give us 40 hours of training on how to use the program correctly. This was a tremendous benefit for my program, which got me wondering about all the school districts that do not get the benefit of a grant providing them high-quality curriculum in particular subjects. This disparity in access to curriculum must result in disparate outcomes, which I believe gets back to your point about developing strong curriculum and standards.

On to my question...

Recently with the controversy over textbooks in Texas, I started to wonder why at the HS level there exists a strong textbook industry. There seems to be a lot of wasted money on textbooks. Here is my question: Why hasn’t the federal government—or even at the state level—hired a group of education experts to write textbooks that can be put in the public domain, allowing each school to download and copy the book and distribute it to their students? With a method like this, it seems costs could be reduced considerably, and with new educational research, modifications could be made to the text to keep it current with the most effective teaching strategies. Since the books will essentially be copied or printed from say a PDF file, there would be no need to have bulky, expensive 2nd/3rd/4th editions of books.

Maybe I am just naive, but is there a reason the textbook industry gets a piece of this lucrative pie?

Finally, just as an anecdote about markets and school performance. I taught in Korea for close to four years at different English academies. Korea has a very competitive English school market. But, as almost anyone who has taught at a Hagwon in Korea can tell you, this competition most certainly does not lead to better-performing schools. Sometimes markets produce junk, and the private English academy system in Korea mostly does that. What competition led to, or at least from what I saw, were two things: parental tyranny and fads. Keeping parents happy was a constant concern of the directors, especially since the market was so competitive an unhappy parent could pull their kid out at any time and enroll their child five minutes later at a school one door down. Schools also, similar to businesses, were constantly marketing the newest, most exciting, and most effective way to teach English, leading to a mass exodus from one school to the hot new thing, only to have the process repeat itself again in the end. Overall, competition didn’t make things better, it just ensured there was not continuity.

Again, thank you for writing a very good book.

Jonathan Strosser


May 23, 2010


I just purchased 17 copies of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

I purchased your book in such numbers so I could send a copy to each member of my state board of education (North Carolina). I will also send a copy to my state’s governor (Bev Perdue) and two prominent business leaders connected to national school reform efforts. My plan is, for what it is worth, to send your book and a brief letter to explain why I am opposed the RttT. I have spoken publicly against teacher tenure in the past and am not entirely opposed to standardized testing. I cannot, however, support RttT’s apparent emphasis on connecting student test scores to teacher evaluations (even though my students have been assessed to have achieved “high growth” on value-added measures each of the last four years).

I am, basically, utterly disappointed by RttT and am sending copies of your book for policymakers to read because such an effort seems like the most beneficial action I can take right now.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are ever in North Carolina. I would also greatly appreciate any advice you might provide to help classroom teachers like me. What can we do to get policymakers to take us seriously?!!!

Chris Monte
Milken National Educator (NC, 2003)


May 22, 2010

Dear Diane:

I just finished a first draft of my review and your interview with me concerning some of the issues you raised in your book and wish to thank you again both for your critique and responses to my questions. I am sure you have been heartened by many favorable comments concerning both your writing and your personal commitment (as well as savaged by your detractors) but I would like you to know that since teaching has been my life for over forty-five years, and that of my parents before me, stretching well over sixty years, I wish there were more people like you in the education field with the wisdom, personal integrity and—I believe—courage to present your ideas unblinkingly in an area that has become too cluttered with ideology, political machinations and intellectual dishonesty.

Although I certainly understand if you have no time to pursue our correspondence further, I can say that in this area, I feel I have finally found an intellectual soul-mate who has the highest standards for excellence in education and is as unafraid of criticizing, as I try to, the intellectual straight-jacket of “political correctness” as you are of the crassness of “marketplace” ideology in place of learning.

Appreciatively yours,

Joel Shatzky


May 20, 2010

Hello Diane Ravitch,

Using “Measure and Punish,” Bellevue East Senior High and 51 other Nebraska schools were recently labeled Persistently Low Achieving Schools by the Nebraska State Department of Education and the Governor by speeding up deadlines and making stricter No Child Left Behind measurements.

The graduation rate requirements for high schools was changed from 65 percent to 75 percent, and lack-of-proficiency reading and mathematics subgroup test scores were used earlier than required by NCLB to produce the 52 Persistently Low Achieving School designations.

School districts are being bribed with American Recovery Act funds. The school districts have about a month to apply, if they wish, for these funds for their PLAS and to accept the NCLB punishments that come with the funds.

These are the NCLB punishments which you have discussed so well.

Attached is an issue of Education News which I started 44 years ago and still write for and edit for the Bellevue Public Schools. Also attached are three stories that I could not fit into this issue. Because we only have one more issue before school closes this week for the summer, only one or two of these three will be printed.

Thanks for your words and thoughts in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

This Old Teacher tried to use your valuable words and thoughts fairly and accurately in Education News.

I enjoy your Mrs. Ratliff. I taught English for 50 years, 41 at Bellevue East Senior High and 15–20 years (part time) at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. I also enjoyed one year on a teaching Fulbright at government College for Men in Peshawar, Pakistan. Teaching has been fun.

Your writings uplift the spirits of educators depressed by attacks on American education.

If you would like updates on NCLB in Nebraska, I would be happy to send them to you for your national collection.

Best wishes to you and your staff as you make your important contributions to American education.

Phil Kaldahl


May 17, 2010


I am the husband of a first-grade teacher as well as a very conservative Republican who has always been puzzled by the conflict of beliefs when it comes to the teaching profession. I knew what the best solutions were, yet I was unable to justify in my free-market philosophy and beliefs—but your scholarly work had brought me to a wonderful place of comfort. I believe Conservatism’s core is reality and validation by demonstration which your work clearly promotes and illuminates. This is what all Conservatives need to realize. The area where I was most ignorant concerned the foundation influences when it comes to school issues, which also explains the media spin. I have a great fear that any educational improvements can be realized as we slide toward demeaning, and punishing, teachers (doctors and all by academics and government workers), charter schools ... but when someone as articulate as you keeps presenting the facts, it encourages many of the masses and as in my case strengthens my understanding and resolve.

Thanks so much!

Tom Sawyer


May 15, 2010

Dear Diane,

I was truly moved by your concluding statements the other day at Lynn University. I almost jumped up and cheered when I heard you specifically address music as being important and then go on to explain why. I am a music teacher in a center school (pre-kindergarten through high school, the lowest one percent of the student population). I have a degree in music, a master’s in special education, gifted endorsement, and an endorsement for students with severe disabilities. There isn’t any good research on high-stakes testing that is valid, reliable, and fair for this population that I know of. Even if I were asked to develop curriculum and the testing for this population, since students with severe disabilities are not a homogeneous group, it would be impossible. They have Individual Education Plans on purpose. It took me four years to teach a student to reach out when asked to do so and strum my guitar as I played the chords. There is no way I know of to keep these students on grade level even with Access Points and measure their achievement in ways that provide quick, cheap, and standardized data collection.

I understand the thrust to not keep students with low IQs perpetual babies. However, to legislate that all students on a certain grade level learn specific things even when a student is on the pre-symbolic level and then hook a teacher’s pay to that student’s achievement of that information is impossible to fathom. So we are a failing school by design.

I sent videos of the lowest students in my school to Tallahassee when SB6 was being debated, because most people have no idea of what the lowest one percent of the student population is like. I have written federal and state legislators frequently about the absurdity of what’s going on. Many of our students have severe health issues that impact their learning. Many factors are beyond a teacher’s control. Sadly the political machine’s agenda seems more important than my students’ lives.

I was disheartened to not see coverage of your talk in the local media. I don’t know what it will take for people to snap to and work together on the education issues.

Deborah Nelson


P.S. (July 12, 2010): In Dan Ariely’s book, The Upside of Irrationality, he quotes Sherlock Holmes, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.” Dan is a behavioral economist who writes about issues that surround us every day and don’t seem to make sense, like the current education mess.


May 15, 2010

Dear Diane,

I don’t know if you remember me. I was part of the 1987 History—Social Science Framework Committee that changed the way history is taught in the schools.

First, I must commend you for your recent wonderful book on The Death And Life Of The Great American School System. Finally, someone has come forward to corroborate what so many in the teaching profession have believed about the market approach to teaching that relies on competition, choice, excessive testing and accountability, and deregulation. I have often admired not only the substance but the way you write. It is like reading a novel as I anticipate what the ending will be of a particular problem or situation. I felt the same way about The Troubled Crusade.

I have often thought about our work on the framework. During the two years we labored on it, we changed the emphasis from a social studies viewpoint to one that is focused on history. I remember giving a brief talk to the committee on the nature of the social studies approach in the previous framework with its emphasis on broad generalization from sociology and anthropology vs. a historical approach emphasizing the actions and passions of people in the past. The final result of all our deliberations was (and still is) a magnificent achievement.

However, there is one area in which more needs to be done. We stated that history is “A Story Well Told” as I recall, but never really spelled out, in detail, just what this means. Since the textbook is, and will on doubt remain, the primary teaching source, there is a need for some strong leadership, something like a framework to give it an official imprimatur, to delineate the broad elements to be considered in writing a history textbook. A few, among others, that come to mind are:

1. The writing should be in the form of teaching narratives that are dramatic and have a point or bite to them.

2. In depicting the events of the past, there should be a focus on certain recurring themes such as laissez-faire vs. regulation, liberty vs. security, xenophobia vs. “Americanism,” majority rule vs. minority rights, etc. History may not repeat itself exactly, but certain human frailties keep rearing their ugly heads from time to time.

3. The narratives themselves, by giving insight into the human condition and by providing a forthright and valid context should be such as to evoke a student response instead of providing a vapid set of facts with questions at the end of the chapter.

4. Literary techniques such as foreshadowing, irony, similes and metaphors as well as myths we live by should be employed to enhance the narratives.

Of course, this just scratches the surface. Many more elements need to be added.

I received my ED.D. at UCLA and taught Curriculum Design at California Lutheran University. At neither institution was there a connection, at least at the secondary level, between the history department and the methods courses in education. The same could be said about the other curriculum areas. At C.C.N.Y., in the halcyon days when the college was known as the “poor man’s Harvard,“ we had a course in the methods of teaching the social studies. We need to reverse the present specialization and fragmentation.

I hope you will pardon the diatribe. However, I blame you. Your book brought back the wonderful experience I had working with you, Charlotte Crabtree, and the rest of the committee. I look forward to reading more about your ideas in the future.

Yours truly,

Dave Reinstein


May 8, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

Thank you for a great book. It answered so many questions about the current state of education in America and it did make me feel that my district (Albuquerque, New Mexico) is not unique in the problems that it is facing. But unfortunately, it is getting worse and I see no light at the end of the tunnel. For the past 9 years I was the librarian at a public middle school with an increasingly small enrollment (578 down from 800 nine years ago). I loved being the librarian and just this year I obtained my national board status in Library/Media. Next year, due to deep district-wide budget cuts, I will be teaching 2 classes and my time in the library will drop to about half. The list of “things” that my public school can no longer offer to students increases with each passing year. Our school has no art, no home economics, no choir, no drama, no shop, no newspaper class, no foreign language, and next year no student council and only a half open library. The year after (2011/2012) there is a rumor that there will be no music and I can only assume that the library will be closed full-time. I know you do not support the charter school movement, but from what I have seen in my district, the charter schools are the only schools that can offer students anything beyond 4 walls and a teacher. A short 5 minute walk from my school is a well-established performing arts charter school housed in portables that sings with music, the sound of dance classes, student painted signs, colorful student planted flowerbeds and a spirit of joy that my school does not have. I am beginning to think that all schools should be charter schools, and then maybe district expenses would be trimmed and maybe my 60-year-old neighborhood school could once again “sing” with some of the things that its old classrooms were designed for such as art, music and chorus, shop and home economics. Oh, by the way, here is some data to back up my belief that school libraries are important. I checked out over 7,000 books out of a collection of a little more than 14,000 books this year.


Rachel Horwitz
(And I did make your book required reading for all staff over the summer.)


May 7, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I watched the program yesterday because I am very much interested in the charter school situation.

First let me tell you that I am an ordinary citizen who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I am 47 years of age. I have a public school education and only went as far as a two-year degree from CUNY. At present, my youngest son is a student in CUNY. I am not someone who is well read in the field of education. However, I have always felt strongly about how important the education system is and how it is failing.

I, too, agree with you one hundred percent that charter schools (the way they are being run) are not the answer. I, too, believe that it is common sense that the entire school system be changed and improved and not just a very small percentage. It is just outrageous to me that some charter schools are put right into another public school, taking space and programs away from a system that is already overcrowded and underfunded. It so happens that my son’s junior high school was chosen to have a charter school added. The parents in my neighborhood (Marine Park) went nuts. They immediately took action and fought it. Even though my children have been out of middle school for some time, I was still furious and paid attention to see what the outcome would be. The parents won this battle but I feel that the war is just beginning. There are so many people out there who don’t see the whole picture and think the charter schools are the greatest thing. I also don’t believe that the criteria for being admitted to a charter school is being followed. I happen to know two parents whose children were accepted or are applying to charter schools. I truly believe that the lottery system that is supposed to be used is not working and am sure that some type of screening is taking place.

The future of this country is our students. Why do our politicians NOT see this?

P.S. Now that I’ve seen the list of books you authored, some will be going on my reading list.




May 6, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I am a third-term school board member in suburban Philadelphia and I am writing on behalf of the Southeastern Pennsylvania School Districts’ Education Coalition. Founded in 2006, SPSDEC is a grassroots, informal public education advocacy network of 124 school board members and administrators from 62 school districts, primarily in suburban Philadelphia but also reaching suburban Pittsburgh and the Lehigh Valley.

We have been grappling with the testing and choice juggernaut and your book has really resonated with us.

The PA Senate Education Committee recently voted out of committee an “Education Empowerment” bill sponsored by the Chairman, Jeff Piccola. It would continue the focus on choice and state takeover of struggling districts. The state has had control of the impoverished Chester-Upland School District since 2000 with dismal results; in 2008-09, just 18 percent of Chester-Upland’s 11th-graders passed the state PSSA reading test.

Coincidentally, a wealthy Chester-Upland charter school owner has given copious amounts of money to the Republican Party and it was recently reported that he has given $136,000 to PA gubernatorial front-runner Republican Tom Corbett.

However, this is bi-partisan: a couple weeks ago it was reported that three hedge fund managers who share Democratic gubernatorial candidate Senator Anthony Williams’ passion for charter schools had given a whopping $1.5 million to his campaign.

We are working to get copies of your latest book into the hands of at least 115 Pennsylvania education policymakers. These include:


The newly designated Secretary of Education, Tom Gluck

The Chairman and members of the State Board of Education

The Executive Directors of the General Assembly’s Education Committees (these are the folks
      most likely to actually read the book)

All members of the PA Senate Education Committee

All members of the PA House Education Committee

PA Senate Leadership

PA House Leadership

Pennsylvania’s Federal Congressmen and Senators

PA Gubernatorial candidates


Please see the attached email that was sent to our entire SPSDEC network this morning, asking them to pledge a few dollars to support the effort; so far we have pledges totaling $1070—not a bad start. We are also working on media coverage.

We are hoping that you might be able to lend some support, perhaps by providing a note that we could attach or by signing the books. Our goal is to educate our policymakers, promote public dialogue and hopefully impact public policy. We are open to any suggestions.

Thanks and Best Regards,

Larry Feinberg
Lawrence A. Feinberg, Co-Chairman
Southeastern PA School Districts Education Coalition


May 4, 2010

Dear Prof. Ravitch,

I’m in the middle of your book and am very glad that someone is finally making public the stupidity of the “accountability” movement. For some time I’ve worried about the trend to siphon off the students with the best-educated and most activist parents from our public schools. The schools certainly need improvement, especially those in low-income parts of our larger cities, but giving frequent multiple-choice tests will not solve the problem and, as you point out, will almost certainly make it worse.

I am also worried about several trends that will discourage exactly the kind of young person we need in our schools from entering teaching. It seems to me that more than half of the letters to the editor regarding education show a complete lack of respect for teachers and a real hate for their unions. There is also the periodic and worsening threat of layoffs: whenever the economy worsens education suffers. Not only are young teachers fired, but the remaining teachers are faced with even larger classes and deteriorating facilities.

Keep the pressure on!

David R. Harrington


May 3, 2010

Anyone who cares about our country would do well to read this book. Anyone who wants to know about the challenges that the teaching profession has faced in these last decades will be enlightened by this book. I have been reading Diane Ravitch for almost 30 years, and I have admired and have been encouraged by her “teacherly” wisdom all this time, especially in the way that she regards the importance of teachers well educated in their subject matter, a high-quality curriculum for all students, and the inextricable link between the best that our way of life has to offer and our public school system. This book is one of the finest and may certainly be the most timely that she has written. It is a thoughtful, steady gaze that articulates what many educators have believed and felt in these dark decades of education “reform” where teachers and principals have been reduced to managers on an assembly line system. Thank you, Dr. Ravitch, for expressing your belief in and support for teachers and principals! You have given us courage and heart. You have begun a new conversation where our thoughts are being raised back above the minimum standard to the high goals of what an education is truly meant to be.

Dr. Claudia Allums
Associate Director and Teachers Academy Director
Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture


May 2, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I am a Denver Public Schools teacher and saw a clip of your speech in Denver. Thank you very much for speaking out against this bill and for speaking in support of teachers. I think many teachers do not have an issue with the idea of restructuring the evaluation system, I think the problem is how the government is approaching this topic. How can they hold teachers accountable for a test that is meaningless to students? Or that many students do not take? There has been no conversation regarding those issues. It is sad that the conversation is solely based around what teachers aren’t doing and no one is considering what teachers are doing. Thank you for mentioning the demoralization and undercutting. I see what skills my students need and in spite of standardized tests, endless assessments required by the district, and a curriculum with so many holes I could drive through them, I try very hard to find ways to engage and give them the big things. How to read, how to write and how to think.

Again, thank you for your support. I hope that someone of your stature and influence can help direct our state in a more positive direction.



May 2, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I want to thank you for your latest book. I was a high school English teacher for many years and currently work in higher education, preparing teachers for success in the classroom. I was drawn to your book for obvious reasons: former insider changes her view, but as a serious opponent of NCLB from the beginning (I taught in Texas), I felt I would find validation. I did, for the most part, find that validation. I was also apprehensive with the notion that choice or free markets were not the answer (or at least a step in the right direction) to our problems. Based on the title, I found myself 50% on board and 50% in opposition.

I have to tell you that I found the book very enlightening, particularly the second half. Since I agreed with everything in the beginning, I found the second half to serve as a vehicle to challenge my experiences, philosophies, and perceptions. Those challenges made me think hard. You presented a strong case, and I would be less than sincere if I didn’t confess that I now look at the choice and privatization model through a different lens.

Thank you for your sincerity, honesty, and diligence in presenting your case. Thank you for causing me to reflect. And thank you for always treating my beloved profession with honor and dignity.

Michael Radloff, PhD
Chair, Teacher Education Department (A245)
Pima Community College - Community Campus


April 28, 2010

Dear Ms Ravitch,

My copy of your latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, finally arrived at my home in Melbourne Australia two weeks ago. It took me two days to read but much longer to absorb its message and its importance for educators generally. I congratulate you. I found it a deeply thoughtful and even moving work. Your defense of the American Public School system and your summation of the way forward for schools in the U.S.A. is quite masterly.

I spent 40 years in secondary education in Australia as teacher, principal and acting inspector. I have been retired from teaching now for nearly fifteen years but the pain of seeing a once proud public education system in my country progressively decline to the point where public schools are under attack from many sections of society has been difficult to witness. I feel for the many former educators in your country who regularly contribute to discussions on educational reform. Their collective observations and wisdom, gleaned from (collectively) thousands of years of classroom experience seems to hold the key to the way forward if only their voices can be heard.

In Australia we seem to be at a watershed in school reform. On the one hand we have seen the recent release of the key elements of a truly national curriculum for discussion and consultation. This has been years in creation and offers in my opinion a real way forward. As an old history teacher I’m delighted to see this subject restored to its rightful place in the curriculum and I’m delighted to see some real effort made in the curriculum to give teachers real direction and guidance.

However as from 2009 we now have national testing in English and Mathematics in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in all Australian schools. The Australian Government at the beginning of this year created a website which summarizes the English and Mathematics results from the 2009 national tests for 10,000 public, private and Catholic schools in Australia. This release has also coincided with a visit to Australia of Chancellor Klein from NYC to consult with and advise leading educational decision-makers in this country. As a marker of English in this national testing program I hope that the results will be used diagnostically to improve English (and Mathematics) in our primary and secondary schools and not merely to “name and shame“ underperforming schools. It is not yet too late here to avoid the testing excesses evident in many states in the U.S.A.

Finally I strongly support your notion outlined in DLGASS that our schools need leaders who are experienced and strong master teachers. In the state of South Australia where I taught, most observers agree that the ‘golden age’ of public education extended from the late 1960s and 1970s until the early 1980s when an appreciable decline in public schools began. Twice a year the principals from this era continue to meet for lunch. Many are now in their seventies, eighties and even nineties. All had a strong, extended and successful teaching background before their appointment as principals and the majority also had a history of curriculum leadership in their chosen teaching field. Unfortunately I see too many school leaders today coming to the profession with a history of educational faddism rather than expertise in classroom methodology and curriculum development.

Best wishes as your continue in your travels to ’spread the word.’ I truly believe DLGASS has the potential to initiate real change for good in all American schools.

All the very best,

Brenton George


P.S. (July 11, 2010): We have a new Prime Minister here in Australia (our first woman to hold this post and a graduate of my old high school!). I have forwarded a copy of your book to the newly appointed Education Minister (Mr Simon Crean). It would be wonderful if at some time in the future you could personally spread your message to educators and politicians here in my country.


April 27, 2010

Diane Ravitch,

I am a California teacher. I am frustrated; feel powerless; angry; impassioned. What can I do to halt this political onslaught on our profession? Your input is greatly appreciated. I feel NO ONE is listening and I want to be heard. Help.

Thanks for your time,



April 25, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I want to thank you for writing your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I heard a book talk on KGO radio recently and immediately bought it (yes, I recently bought a kindle, so it was IMMEDIATELY).

I am a retired teacher (as of June 2009) and special educator. I came into education when everyone, including the custodian, at my school in Santa Barbara, California, had a teaching credential. My first job was as an aide. I went from English major intent on teaching high school in 1970 to special education because (1) that’s where there were jobs and (2) I was appalled by the lack of reading skills in high school and junior high school where I student taught.

Your book and your talk both resonated with me and disturbed me, and I say that with highest praise. I could never quite master the p.c. language and thought of what education was doing since about the mid-90s in my district in Newark, CA. Everything you have said was/is happening right down to this very small district. When I began, our staff would determine a focus for improvement each year. When I left, everything had spun so out of control that multiple multiple new “trainings” were being thrown at us every month. I used to joke that “they” would listen to me if I prefaced any opinion with “research says...”

I felt I was within a sequel to “The Emperor’s New Clothes” if you get my comparison.

I left with a frustration about education, not about the kids. I am volunteering (I joke that the retirement is being paid for me to stay away) 3 hours a day in an ELD classroom and in a general education 6th grade class. I can work with students, model teach with younger colleagues, and not have any of the paperwork that is absolutely burying special and general education teachers. It is fun!

Thank you for speaking up. I had considered running for the school board in my small town/district, but decided against it because the issues are too deep and the mindset too set. However, I am recommending your book to our superintendent and to each member of the school board, personally. I was considered an excellent teacher, but my program of improvement was internal. I knew my weaknesses and strengths. I never felt “they” were asking the right questions, the things that I saw as incomplete and bothersome. Instead, inservice and staff development were done to us. Often there were issues teachers felt needed to be explored and discussed, but... All the while, teachers are vilified in the media. I was patient for a long time (maybe next year, they’ll...). It never happened. When NCLB said “jump,” administrators seemed to say “how high.”

I needn’t go over my frustrations with education with you. Thank you for speaking up. Thank you for doing the research to validate what teachers all over this nation are feeling.

Melinda Pickens
Special Education, Elementary Lead Teacher NUSD, retired 2009
Lecturer, California State University East Bay, retired


P.S. (July 11, 2010): Since I wrote, I have convinced my book club to read this book. I feel that it is the most important book I have read in a very long time. There is so much right with education and so much wrong. I am disappointed in the politicians who have picked up a few buzzwords without really understanding the issues and without really asking questions which will lead to substantive changes that benefit students, teachers, parents, and communities.


April 25, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Ditto all the teachers thanking you for speaking the truth about current education reforms, and boy, do you nail that truth in your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

I just want to ask one question: what can a teacher/ordinary citizen do to help spread the word about how public education is under attack?

A little background on myself: I am a teacher at an urban high school in Stockton, California. When I attended high school in the ’90s, I was a stellar student, but our school had a bad reputation because it was located in a poor community and was plagued with problems related to gangs and poverty. However, I enjoyed the “underdog” status of my school and scoffed at kids from private schools who were scared to come to our campus. After I graduated, I attended UCLA and volunteered to tutor in an area notoriously known as “South Central.” Motivated by knowing the difference I could make in students’ lives, I applied to UCLA’s credential/master’s program and got a job teaching English at an LAUSD middle school in 2004. That’s when the disillusionment began.

What follows in this letter may seem like a rant, but it is a testimony that underscores the arguments made in your book.

When I started teaching, the realization that teaching was difficult was no big deal. It was just an awakening that my journey as an educator had begun. I was even excited gaining more experience and feeling like I was becoming a better teacher. What was a big deal was the feeling that the school environment could not let me grow as an educator, although I wanted to stay there and help the kids. Teaching was all about compliance because the school had to impose interventions to show that they were “improving” under NCLB law. I was assigned to teach a scripted reading program, but at English department meetings, our “literacy coach” demonstrated new ideas that were contradictory to the program the school had bought for me to teach. The program emphasized phonics and sounds, but the literacy coach suggested whole language strategies. When I pointed out this contradiction, the literacy coach agreed with me but did not know what to do about it. For her job was to deliver strategies, and mine was to deliver the script; all in an effort to show “improvement.” This was not real collaboration.

There were numerous trainings for this reading program, involving going to hotels and being fed a fancy lunch, and the “trainers” constantly asked for our feedback. For each concern about the possibility that this program did not work, the trainers suggested a new strategy, or suggested that perhaps we were not following the script faithfully enough. When I look back, what was I thinking addressing my concerns? These trainers are paid by the program to promote it! They even discouraged, no, condemned, the idea of supplementing the program with reading a class novel, or reading anything for that matter, outside of the script.

Then there was discipline. Some students were too unruly for me to handle, but I was made to feel inadequate for not being able reach defiant students. One administrator told me to “get tough,” and another told me to “make learning fun.” The bottom line was that the counselors and administrators were too busy to handle many students flooding into the office for disciplinary problems, and too many suspensions looked bad on the school’s record. My memory of “bad kids” throughout my schooling years was that if they were disruptive, they were sent out for good. Or, if they returned, they had to improve their behavior to stay in the classroom. I even have memories of very caring teachers reaching out to troubled students and turning them around. But at the school where I taught, students sent out with a referral were sometimes “spit back” to the classroom because the assistant principal did not think the infraction was worthy of his or her attention. I cannot imagine being a kid and having to learn in such an environment, or seeing the teacher’s authority undermined in such a way.

Notice how I said the “assistant principal” dealt with the referral because the principal did not believe it was her job to deal with discipline. After my second year at the school, she even called me into her office to address the number of referrals I had sent and to ask what is wrong. It was meant to be a non-evaluative and warm conversation, and it was, but after that experience, I had an “Oh, I should have said that!” moment. This is what I wanted to say: “My kids are misbehaving, but I am in the principal’s office. What is wrong with this picture?”

Shortly before my second year of teaching at that school ended, I called one of my favorite high school teachers to talk about my challenges. She said, “Come back home to Stockton, you will be hired in heartbeat!” So I did.

Teaching at my former high school, I felt on top of the world knowing that as many of my best teachers had retired, I, as a former student, was carrying on the legacy. Many of my colleagues are also former students who take great pride in the school and have made my work environment feel like home. The students are overall more cooperative than my students in LA, but I may partly feel that way because I have more experience in managing a class.

Yet, we serve a needy population, we are in program improvement under NCLB, and in my 4th year teaching at my former high school, I am seeing the problems I faced in LAUSD creep into our school dynamic. For one, our principal is telling us teachers that it is the “quality of instruction” that will influence our students’ attendance and behavior. Before, when he was an assistant principal (our school has had 3 princiapls in my 4 years), he vehemently backed up teachers having to deal with discipline problems, and I believe he continues to try to do so, but it seems there is growing pressure on him to get the issue out of his hair, out of any discussion on improving our school, and solely into the hands of the teachers.

English teachers are compelled to give out periodic “formative assessments” that are written by people in the district office and that fly above the heads of many of our students who lack reading proficiency. Instead of meeting the kids at the level where they are, we are compelled to show evidence of “data driven instruction,” even though it does not take data to notice that many of our students have come to high school lacking basic skills. Instead of planning novel-based lessons that our kids might enjoy or planning much-needed grammar instruction, English department meetings involve looking at what questions students missed on the assessment and pointing out what standards we should emphasize more. Meanwhile, adminstrators hover around our meetings to make sure we are productive. Their ominous pressence stifles honest conversation.

Teachers are offered trainings in teaching strategies from a company that specializes in instructional data. Honestly, these trainings can be helpful, but what is bothersome is that they preach the idea that if these instructional strategies are mastered, students, ALL students, can be taught at grade level. Perhaps this faith in instructional strategies helps to justify the rigorous pacing guides and formative assessments given for English, and it makes me feel I am being injust if I feel some of my some of my students need to go back to basics.

When teaching a class of varied English ability, common sense tells me to take time to brush up students’ grammar or get them in the habit of writing. To understand figures of speech such as metaphors or personification, it is appropriate for students to delve into a text in depth and learn by the context. But every two weeks, an assessment comes in, and that puts pressure on me to just deliver “mini lessons” to students or review the rote definitions of literary terms so I can be sure they get the answer right. I wonder, am I bad teacher for doing this? My students may get certain questions right, so the data may show that I am a good teacher. But I wonder if certain terms on which they were tested have imprinted in their memory, or does their next English teacher have to review this information again? I feel most disappointed in myself when I know I have checked off everything from our pacing guide, used every strategy I learned in training, and probably helped students on the assessments, yet see that my students are not better readers and writers than they were before.

With Title 1 money, our school also purchased a “non-scripted” literacy program that all freshman and sophomores must take along with their English class. The program and its trainers claim to be “non-scripted,” and the visits from the program’s creators claim to be “non-evaluative.” The trainings are not as fancy as the literacy trainings in LAUSD, so I thought our district was wiser with money, but again, concerns about the program’s effectiveness during the program’s trainings lead to more suggestions of strategies. When I talk with our department chair about weaknesses in the program’s lesson plans, she suggests I email the creators. When I boldly ask her if we teachers have to take on this program, her response is, “But the district bought it. This is for our program improvement.”

After all that has been said, I want to stress that I personally like and appreciate my colleagues in higher positions, and I believe they are doing the best they can. But it seems that systemically, they are not put in positions to work with us teachers in the interest of our students. I am deeply disturbed by students’ low reading and critical thinking skills, but it seems it is the job of administrators to only be disturbed by the numbers. I have been personally praised by some administrators as an “excellent teacher,” but in formal settings, the adminstration also tells me, tells me more often, in fact, that I better push the kids harder because we are a few points away from being labelled a “persistently low performing school” under Race to the Top. The staff and administration try to invoke pride and promote excellence in hopes that we can be labelled a “blue ribbon” school, but this “spirit” masks the ongoing threat that our kids are not making the mark, and it will be all our fault if they do not. Administrators have the task of somehow balancing enthusiasm and encouragement with reality and threat. Even the most caring teacher will wonder: is it worth the effort when the apathetic students, or even the students who just need a little encouragement, but accept mediocre performance, get away scott free?

This is what spirit looked like when I, my older cousins, and sister attended the high school. Teachers were motivated by excellence, not testing. I overheard that in the English department, egos clashed on what novels to teach. These disagreements seem like a luxury now, and many of my former teachers, like Ms. Ratliff, do not know what they would do in this current environment. Some disheartened veteran teachers at our school accept what is going on because retirement is just a few years away. Those who already retired echo a sentiment of getting out at the right time. At a national level, many teachers are retirement ready, but who is going to take their place now if teaching has become test preparation and scrutiny of the student’s performance as a reflection of none other than the teacher?

Today, I no longer enjoy the “underdog” status of my school. The need of many of our students was once the impetus for me to serve as a teacher, but I feel that teaching in an urban school is entering a trap where the challenges of our population make it easy for anyone to look like a bad teacher. I am not using the challenges of our community as an excuse for low performance, but I believe teachers should be able to openly discuss how these challenges affect the classroom and school environment without being brushed off as ineffective. They should also have greater say in appropriate intervention programs for the students with whom they interact daily. But rather than looking into comprehensive efforts to help struggling students and parents, or turning down an intervention package created by a company, it’s easier, and perhaps cheaper, to say that it was the teacher who failed.

Recently, five of our high school feeder schools have been labelled “persistently low performing” (PLP) and are compelled to undergo one of 4 draconian measures imposed by Race to the Top: close down, convert to a charter, fire at least half the staff, or undergo several changes that comply with RtTT. On Monday, April 19, an editorial in our local paper commented on the low performing schools. The editorial said that it is not certain these reforms “will work,” but low performance is “unacceptable,” and that this is a “civil rights issue.” I wrote a letter to the editor reiterating the editorial’s very point that there is no evidence that the reforms will work, but there is plenty of evidence (and I quoted your book for that one) that top-down reforms DO NOT work.

But what can I do? I really believe that public education is the cornerstone of our democracy, and what I was taught in public school has inspired me to serve this country and be an informed citizen. I thank you for exposing how the current reform climate is imposed in an undemocratic way, and I want to do everything I can to share my experience and your findings with as many people as possible who will listen. Where is the best place to start?

And again, for your work, and for reaching the bottom of this letter, I thank you!



April 20, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

The other day I heard you discussing your new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I could not believe what I was hearing: someone espousing the same concerns about public education that I have. I ran out and purchased a copy immediately. I just finished reading it and you are right on target. You have hit the nail on the head. I agree with you wholeheartedly! Are we the only ones that feel this way about public education?

I am a former educator in North Carolina (35 years) and South Carolina (10 years). I was not a politician, not a reformer, nothing more than just an educator wanting the best for students and teachers. I can’t say that my time (10 years) in South Carolina was positive or filled with fun. Matter of fact, it was downright frustrating.

I loved working with students and teachers and I wanted to make a positive impact. I wanted to make a difference, to enhance to public school system, but I ran into opposition at every turn. Opposition from politicians, from various publics and parents, from Superintendents, from other entities; all opposed to change, to adhering to law or policy, and/or to changing the “Status Quo”, at any cost. Everyone seems to want only their agenda to be addressed.

All of these things that you have pointed out in your book impacted everything that I was directed to do in my school. It became unbearable and very stressful. Many times I was left out on the proverbial tree limb by myself. I, like you, began to see the death of the public school system.

As well as agreeing with your concerns, I also have my Issues from an Administrator’s point of view:

No Support from Boards and Superintendents and other upper-level administration: All groups are not on the same page. School level administrators and teachers are working in the trenches without adequate support. They are in constant contact and conflict with unruly students and parents on a day-to-day basis. They are the only people being held accountable for the productivity of their students. The “Students,” the one thing teachers really don’t have control over, are not being held accountable by their parents and/or community.

Accountability: It seems that only Administrators and Teachers are held accountable. Students need to be forced to accept responsibility for our own education, to be held accountable, to put forth effort and work, to exhibit perfection, to follow rules , and to follow the reasonable directions of administers and teachers. Students should be taught the characteristics and qualities of a responsible adult i.e.

School Attendance: No one wants to hold students to the state attendance laws. Attendance does not seem to be an expectation. How can you teach students what they need to know if they are not in school?

Behavior: Student behavior is on a downhill spiral. Student behavior has taken on a “Life of its Own.” No one wants to establish rules and regulations for all to follow. School districts seem to develop procedures and consequences for misbehavior that go on like the half-life of uranium. There is no stopping point...no end. Students are allowed to misbehave over and over without any serious consequence. OBDURATE Students who stubbornly persist in wrongdoing take away the rights of teachers to teach and the rights of other students to learn. The incidents of Insolent students verbally abusing educators at all levels continues to rise.

Charter School Law: The Charter School Law does exactly what you point out. It allows existing public schools to become Charters by taking votes of administrators, faculty and parents. It provides money per student that is equal to the highest per-pupil expenditure in the state, thereby taking money away from existing public schools controlled by the school district. It demands that the district give to them everything that is given to public schools, i.e., buildings, grounds, transportation, etc. They don’t have to spend down their budget and therefore can carry over money into special interest-bearing accounts. Extra money for each charter school has to come from the moneys that would have normally gone to the non-charter schools. One charter school I know had a 2 million dollar surplus and continued to get more money than the other schools in the district. This is the same problem as with vouchers where it takes millions of dollars from the state’s public schools and gives those resources to private charter schools with no accountability and no guarantee of accessibility to all students.

Please continue working to get your ideas and facts before the American Public. You are doing a great job.

Dr. Jan Roberts


April 20, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

You are my hero! Actually, you have been my hero for about 25 years or so. I briefly met you at a conference in Fresno, and I have devoured your books since then.

In a recent article, you wrote,

“Education is a slow, arduous process that requires the work of willing students, dedicated teachers and supportive families, as well as a coherent curriculum.”

Truer words were never spoken. There is no magic bullet for improvement in student achievement, though many (in both political parties) would tell us otherwise. I have taught for 34 years, and one thing that I have learned is that there are no easy answers.

Real progress comes about in a slow, incremental fashion. It took me quite a few years to figure out what works in the classroom, and although that may seem to reflect poorly on me, I think that it is typical for teachers (at least the honest ones). Simply put, teaching is ... difficult.

As it turns out, I did develop into an effective teacher. I teach both AP U.S. History and AP U.S. Government & Politics. Nearly all of my students pass the AP exam. I’m a consultant for the College Board and ETS and have traveled far and wide in training AP teachers. But if you had observed me in my first few years of teaching, you might not have been very optimistic! In my case, it took time to develop. That is why your quotation really struck home with me.

Keep up the good work, Diane!

Pete Pew


April 20, 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I am a native Houstonian and a product of both public and private schools here. I attended University of Houston for my undergraduate in education and received a master’s degree in elementary science at U of H. I love being a teacher and the meaningful feeling of having an impact on children. I am in my 28th year teaching in the HISD. My years have been spent primarily teaching minority and poverty children. I would love to teach for several more years...if I can outlast the fear and mean spirit which is being promoted.

The program coordinator of our new math program (Reasoning Mind) recommended your book to me last week after I had a discussion about the TAKS test and all of the implications of value-added. I was complaining about all of the intangible variables and the variables that a teacher does not have control over that are overlooked with our new EVASS (value-added) system. This was introduced by the previous superintendent as a way to offer merit pay. However, this new superintendent has made it clear that he intends on using value-added as a means to fire teachers. His name is Terry Grier and he is from San Diego.

When I began reading your book this weekend, I could not put it down! I have never read a book that so precisely describes the types of changes that have been proposed in HISD and how eloquently you put into words what I felt so strongly was wrong with all of the rash implementations. Teaching to the TAKS is taking all of the creativity and fun out of my days with the kids.

Unfortunately, Houston does not have a strong union to fight what we are being led into. I am so worried about what the future holds for this school district. I wish every school board member would have to read your book so they could gain a sense of history about what they are affirming and maybe think about better solutions for our students.

I have recommended this book to so many people already and have ordered three more copies to give to others.

I would love to know when you might be speaking in our area. Where can I find your speaking calendar?

I am so grateful that you have brought to the public’s attention the errors in value-added “hard” data.

Thanks so much for your book!

Shirley Corte


April 19, 2010

Dear Professor Ravitch:

I heard your recent NPR interview (Diane Rehm, I believe), and I wanted to share a few thoughts with you. First, a bit about me so you understand the context of my observations. I am by training a social psychologist, with a subspecialty and one-time consulting practice in testing and measurement. When the Flint campus sought its first accreditation independent of the main (Ann Arbor) campus, the provost established an ad-hoc committee to develop assessment procedures. I spent nine years on the committee, my last couple as its chair. The procedures we developed became something of a model for the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges. It has worked extremely well precisely because it conformed to some very fundamental principles of validation, which No Child Left Behind blatantly (if not intentionally) ignored.

The first principle is that no assessment can be used at the same time for both counseling and for administrative decisions (retention, increment, tenure, promotion). As you emphasized (and as every organizational psychologist with an ounce of brains wailed when No Child was first described), all this does is promote cheating and teaching to the exam (much as does the staatsexamen in Germany). This principle is so basic that it’s often covered in the very first chapter of introductory texts on workplace performance evaluation.

Accordingly, in the very first meeting of the committee, we established an absolute firewall. Department chairs, deans, and executive committees would never be permitted to see individual raw data; they would see only departmental pooled data. This action did not immediately eliminate faculty resistance, but it went further in that regard than even you might imagine. The same should apply to K–12 teachers’ unions.

Like you, I don’t think the problem is testing—any more than the problem with a badly built house is with the hammers and saws. The problem in both cases is how potentially useful tools should be used. Many of the current difficulties would be reduced or eliminated if it were clear that

(1) K–12 education is a developmental process, so assessment in schools is a developmental measure, not a terminal measure. The concern should be with change, not simply “scores.”

(2) Assessment should be a counseling resource, not a source of extrinsic motivation, i.e., rewards and punishments for teachers, administrators, and school districts.

(3) Student evaluations are worse than useless; they are egregiously misleading. A 10-year study by the American Psychological Association indicated that student evaluations are correlated with only two factors:

i. Students’ expected course grades compared with their expected grades in other courses.

ii workload (negative correlation).

For untenured faculty, course evaluations—if used for administrative decisions—therefore have the effect of motivating both grade inflation and the dumbing down of course content.

(4) Instruments and procedures must be national in scope and standardized in their administration and reportage (cf. your interview comments concerning the superior validity of the national examination vs. state examinations).

(5) Data should be clustered rather than pooled. That is, performance of mainstream students, students whose first language is not English, and developmentally disabled students should be examined separately. It is clearly inappropriate to compare overall scores for students in, say, Birmingham, Michigan, where an overwhelming majority are native speakers of English, with students in Taos, New Mexico, where English as a first language falls behind both Spanish and Tiwa.

(6) Teachers should never have access in advance to test questions or even precise content. They should be given global guidelines—general areas in which student competence is expected.

(7) Ideally, the procedures should make no attempt to be exhaustive. They should represent a random sampling of content, and the sample should change annually so that past tests cannot be used to prep students but can and should be used to familiarize students with the form of the questions, the level of detail expected, and so on.

I hope these observations are consistent with your own views, and where they are not, I hope you will give them some thought.

Very truly yours,

Harry Frank, PhD
Professor Emeritus of Psychology
The University of Michigan-Flint


April 19, 2010

Dear Diane,

I not only learned a whole lot from your book, but the writing itself is superb and it was enjoyable reading. Part of that enjoyment was in seeing you nail down all the problems with the direction in which we have been tending.

The situation is worse than I thought, in that I did not know a lot about the three big foundations working together with similar agendas, or the extent of their support of advocacy groups and think tanks. I had noticed some cool receptions when asked for reviews of my publications from people in places that I have known and respected for decades. This is all very scary, as we move toward a partnership between foundations and the Department of Education, with a lot the critical eyes we have counted perhaps half closing them. You are right that it is test misuse and not testing itself that has gone astray. We know how to make good tests in NAEP, for example, or for AP.

I was on the standards-based reform wagon from the NCTM standards through about the 1994 ESEA amendments, which is about where the “hijacking” began, with publications with titles like Too Much Testing of the Wrong Kind, and Too Little of the Right Kind (about 2000), and Staying on Course in Standards Based Reform (about 2001)...where I was trying to document where it was going off course.

I hope your book marks some turning point in understanding what has been happening and the harm it is causing, but we seem to be digging the hole deeper.

I have a point of disagreement, concerning what was happening before the Nation At Risk report, but will leave it until sometime later. This email is an unqualified congratulations on a job well done.


Paul E. Barton


April 17, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I am sitting on my patio reading your book, and I am so excited that someone finally “gets it.” It is as though you are in our heads and saying the things that teachers all around me are saying. I am a 3rd grade teacher and also on the school board in the county in which I live. My husband is an assistant principal. As you can imagine, education is the most talked-about topic at our home. We live in Lauderdale County, Tennessee. Our claim to fame here is that we have the highest unemployment rate in Tennessee, and at one point we were 5th in the nation. Things are very bleak here. We are also in a county where our scores in some of the schools are not where they need to be according to the criteria for NCLB. We will more that likely go into “corrective action” next year. Now on top of all of that, we in Tennessee have been chosen to receive RTTT funding. Yippee. I hope you recognized the sarcasm. While the legislators are expressing joy, the teachers are moaning at the thought of more hoops through which to jump.

Our county recently sponsored a Q and A with the state Senate Majority Leader and the Senate Chairman of the Education Committee. About 100 teachers showed up, which was a HUGE success. We walked away knowing that a lot of Q’s had been asked, but no A’s were given.

We are creating a committee here locally to go speak before the education committee in Nashville. They need to understand what they are doing is a “one size fits all” solution that will not fit the XL mess we have in our county. We have children who have a whole set of problems at home that negatively impact their education. This situation is never taken into consideration by legislators. We may not get very far, but we feel it is something that has to be done. Your book will greatly help us in our endeavor. All credit will be given to you of course, and I intend to pass out a few books to the legislators as well.

I wish we could have you come to our county for a book signing/education summit. We cannot offer you much in monetary gains, but it would help Tennesseans learn more about the wrong direction this country is headed in education. If something like this is ever possible, please keep us in mind. We have a wonderful young superintendent who would be very supportive of this endeavor.

Thank you once again for your book. Teachers all over are reading it.


Sheila Ferrell


April 17, 2010

I work in rural development in Alabama, and last year we did a study of 10 high-poverty, high-performing rural schools around the state, which we called Lessons Learned from Rural Schools. It was one of the most heartwarming projects I’ve tackled in a career now spanning 40+ years.

In a nutshell, too few people seem to genuinely care about rural schools. This is partly because for the last 50 years, rural areas have sent their best and brightest off to college never to return, and consequently the “education foundation” of rural communities has steadily eroded. Now we’re trying to convince folks who have never really valued education that education is important.

And in many cases, communities have no clue what good schools look or feel like because they’ve never been exposed to one. It’s like trying to tell someone what banana pudding tastes like when they have never heard of a banana.

As I read your book, I underlined LOTS of passages and then took the liberty of compiling about eight pages of these, which I sent to probably 100 or so people. Had some interesting responses.

Just Wednesday I sat in a meeting of perhaps 200 folks at a rural school, and someone who runs a very successful IT company asked “How do you mine your data?”

I cringed because I knew that the questioner was thinking, “Don’t I have just the technology to help you do a better job of mining your data.” I immediately thought of some of the comments in your book.

To me, data is like a metal detector. It aims you in a certain direction. However, you damn well better have a shovel with you to do some digging or you will never find your treasure.

Yes, we used data to point us toward those 10 outstanding rural schools. But we also drove 10,000 miles and did more than 300 interviews in trying to figure out what the data did not tell us about those communities and their schools.

Alabama is one of 10 states without charter schools, so our Republican governor began a big push to get charter legislation so we would have a better shot at RTT funds (according to him). Unfortunately, this was far more about politics than education. The governor knew this bill would be opposed by the Alabama Education Association, and in this election year, he was looking more for political points than anything else. The legislation did not get passed, and Alabama did not do well in RTT competition (37 out of 41). But the governor never said that even with charter schools, our application was dead in the water, nor does he ever say this bill was also opposed by the superintendents assocation or the school board association.

And a close friend who worked on the application told me, “I’m not sure we want this money, because if we get it, Washington will have our left testicle in a safe deposit box somewhere in DC.”

Oh, just ordered 10 copies of your book to give to each of the principals of the schools we studied last year.

Larry Lee


April 16, 2010


I rarely contact people out of the blue, but I’m compelled to write to thank you so much for your interview on KPFA this morning. Your insight, experience, perspective and articulate presentation of the the state of public education nearly brought tears to my eyes. How refreshing to have someone who has spent a lifetime fully engaged in their profession, and STILL willing to reflect with integrity (not positioned in ideology).

As an advocate of youth community engagement, I was so inspired to hear an educational leader affirm that America’s public schools should prepare our students not only with academic proficiency, but with the skills necessary for civic leadership—love of learning and critical thinking.

Nancy Vogl


April 13, 2010


I am a retired high school science teacher and finally, finally someone with some authority is recognizing and stating emphatically everything I and my colleagues have been saying for the last ten years. I listened to the entire hour with you and Ronn Owens and I agreed with everything you said. Ronn has educational authorities on every so often, including our State Superintendent of Schools, and these people have these lofty unachievable goals and make statements that make one wonder if they have ever been in front of a class of kids. For 35 years I faced 150–160 kids a day and I am sorry, but not everyone can achieve at 100% or even at grade level. You actually said it. Thank you so much. I am anxious to read your book and am going to send a link of the podcast of this morning’s program to all of my teacher friends. I have been retired for 13 years and still wake up in the middle of the night writing and rewriting letters to the editor about the craziness of the totally unrealistic expectations that are being forced upon the education system in this country. Thank you for having the “guts” to change your mind about the horribly flawed “No Child Left Behind” program. I am an Obama supporter, but he doesn’t get it much better than Bush 2 when it comes to education. Why can’t some of these folks, besides yourself, look at the data, talk to classroom teachers and realize what is happening?

Robert W. Smith


April 13, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I just finished reading your most recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I want to first thank you for the courage it took for you to publish this. I admire you for your honest reflection of the journey you have been on. Your ideas about what is really important about the public schools are right on. I agree with you that the current administration has jumped on the “free market” bandwagon and is setting policy that is dangerous to the future of our nation. Thank you for exposing the truth through this thought-filled expose.

Thank you for sharing the research of the great charter school “choice” experiments that are ongoing in our country through your writings. I was unaware of the extent of the influence that Gates and the other “Billionaires” were having in urban communities. I had no idea... I live in AZ, where our charter school growth has succeeded in contributing to a serious “stranglehold” in our state budget and the weakening of strong communities. I live in a more rural area of the state, so our communities tend to value the local public schools, but the charter schools give us a run for our money. A vast majority of parents bring their kids back to the public schools. I think our young parents need to be educated.

I am a proud and experienced teacher and school administrator (32+ years). I have been on a reflective journey of my own this year. My position as Director of Special Services was eliminated at the end of last school year to effectuate economies in the district. Feeling the effects of what you might describe as “reform fatigue,” I elected to take the year off and go back to school to complete the certification requirements to become a school superintendent. I was hoping to renew my vision for the future of public education and re-energize for the next phase of my professional life. As I complete the final courses this semester and prepare for the “illustrious” test that will determine whether or not I will be an effective school superintendent, I have contemplated whether or not I even want to continue in this field. Our state faces drastic budget cuts. People are pitted against each other for survival. School boards and interest groups put so much pressure on the schools. The purposes of the schools are changing. It is a time when I question if public education will survive the pressures.

I have wonderful memories of some great teachers and of having great moments as an exceptional teacher. I wonder if I would “measure up” in today’s standards. I am thankful AZ was not chosen for “Race to the Top.” Most people think the “writing is on the wall” and that we will all be required to follow their guidelines. Is there no one willing to fight this strange initiative? I have often asked, “What will we do for money?” People will jump through all kinds of unnatural and inappropriate “hoops” for it.

Teaching is my greatest gift and love (except for my family, of course). Yet, in this climate of “data-driven” decision making, I lose my enthusiasm for the work in this field. Spending hours disaggregating data and pressuring teachers to improve their test scores is not my idea of fulfilling work. And I wonder, “Will I ever find the place to lead and serve that will embrace the core values that our public schools have held in striving to give every child access to a rich curriculum and meaningful learning activities?” I have to believe and “stay the course.” This is my life.

I pray that President Obama, Arnie Duncan and others read your book and seriously contemplate the many questions you posed throughout your book. If they do, I am sure they will experience enlightenment at some level (if that is possible). The “good old boys” seem to have a new agenda, and it’s not good for kids. Yet, they seem mightily determined... Does evidence change their thinking?

Again, thank you for your book, your life’s work, and the influence you continue to have on many powerful people in our government. I am inspired and encouraged. God bless you!



April 8, 2010

Once again, thank you for your outstanding scholarship!

Three years ago, I had to return to the high school classroom when my husband and I moved home to be closer to my ailing father. I quickly learned that the state tests dominated every facet of instruction and that the “slowest” children were expected to pass every test. I was judged by the extent to which I could take those who had previously failed the tests and “carry” them into the passing column. As you note in your book, teachers’ efforts are moved exclusively to the lowest common denominator. Students who already “get it” are ignored.

Again, thank you!!

Hilve Firek


April 8, 2010

I wrote to you about a month ago after hearing about your book on NPR. In that email, I said that I was looking forward to reading the book. I found the book to be excellent and, especially, liked the chapter about the billionaire boys’ club. That chapter has implications for Race to the Top, which put NCLB on steroids. I attended a Michigan legislative hearing regarding my state and its response to Race to the Top. The initiatives proposed by the legislators of Michigan were not school reform initiatives, but closing public school initiatives. I found their discourse to be quite sad.

By the way, I called the public school superintendents in this area and recommended the book.

Michelle A. Johnston


April 7, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I am currently on the Denver Public School Board, one of the minority who does not believe in the “REFORM” movement as currently defined. I am also in the middle of your book and am reading it very slowly so I can absorb all of your wisdom. You have given me renewed hope to speak out about things I believe are not in the best interests of our kids and our schools. Thank you very much for that! The sad part of the story is what I have been reading from San Diego and New York could easily be what is happening in Denver right now without any long-lasting positive results to date. And the philosophical debate has become fairly rancorous with good guys and bad guys, winners and losers in every situation.

I am so delighted that you are coming to Denver and I will be able to hear you in person. I have postponed a trip to the East Coast to hear you, because you have been a heroine of mine even before your latest book arrived. I have carried one of your quotes with me all during my re-election campaign last year, because your vision of public education is one you and I share.

Again, thank you for your vision, your willingness to admit mistakes in judgment, and your courage to fight for excellent educational opportunities for all public school children. I look very forward to hearing you at Manual on April 30.

Jeannie Kaplan


April 6, 2010

I am inspired by your eloquent description of the pitfalls in NCLB. Thank you so much for speaking up and describing so well the realities of what we do day to day. I’ve been a teacher for 25 years. I love children. I’ve always felt proud to be a part of our great Public School System.

However, since NCLB it’s a different story. The measurement tools are inaccurate, to say the least. Yet we base all program design on these scores. We’ve neglected many of the important aspects of nurturing our students toward adulthood in the name of hurdling over a mountain of narrow test items. I’ve become ashamed of what we do.

The worst part is that our blinders prevent us from seeing the miracles happening everyday. The child who finally becomes engaged after traumatic events made it nearly impossible to do so. The child who made leaps in their scholastic ability, though still not up to the arbitrary bar. The child who suddenly sees reading as a delightful activity.

I will be following your every word. Thank you so so much.


Kim Kunkel


April 2, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I’d like to thank you for writing your most recent book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I just finished reading it and it was a refreshing take on what is happening in public education and how we have come to where we are. Reading it reawakened my passion for education, and I can’t thank you enough for that.

I’d also like to share a bit of my story and ask for some advice—I’ll try to be as brief as possible. In 2009 I graduated and joined Teach for America. I was assigned to the Mid-Atlantic region as a middle school science teacher. I was and am outraged by the inequalities our education system perpetuates and so happy to become a corps member and try to do something about it. I’ve come to view the summer institute that began my “trial by fire” as close to a brainwashing experience. In two months, we were taught the “formula” for becoming a great teacher and told that keeping track of data was an essential part of being successful. I completely bought into this idea.

When I finally received my teaching assignment, three days before the school year began, it was as a K-8 science “prep” teacher. I saw nearly every class in the school once a week and was expected to teach them “science.” The grade teachers were supposed to be covering the subject as well, and I was to do the experiments, but I quickly realized that no science was being taught to any students (other than the 7th and 8th graders) except what was taught in my class. My school was so focused on testing that very little time was given to anything but English and math. We even had two completely scripted programs for the subjects that required every teacher in the building to read out of a book for two periods a day. I was at a loss about how to approach a years worth of science curriculum in one class a week. I came up with several versions of long-term plans for how to teach students as much science as I could, but was barely able to keep up myself. I majored in philosophy as an undergraduate and had only taken one ‘rocks for jocks’ class since high school.

My experience was hellish. I was sworn out on a daily basis and usually totally unable to get through a lesson. Many students told me I was not a real teacher, just a “prep” teacher. Most read far below grade level and had incredibly weak groundings in science. And the worst part was my inability teach the students who really were ready to learn. I was also unable to keep track of data for over 500 students and didn’t understand how to apply TFA’s approach to my classroom.

In December, after continually meeting with failure, I decided that I was not helping anyone by continuing in my current position. It was a difficult decision, but as you pointed out, “If teachers are treated with condescension by administrations, expected to work in badly maintained buildings, assigned to large classes of poorly prepared students, confronted by unruly students, and compelled to meet unrealistic goals, they are not likely to gain a sense of personal and professional satisfaction.” I have also come to view TFA as a stopgap measure that allows those in power to act as though something is being done while real problems go unaddressed. TFA will not close the achievement gap, and pretending that it will only hinders progress.

Reading your book has reminded me that I am still committed to improving education, even though my first experience was not a positive one. I am unsure of how to get involved again and hoping you could offer a few words of advice. I like the idea of working on a big picture level, though I do think I need to understand what happens in the classroom before I assume to understand how to influence policy for the better.

Thank you for reading this too-long email, and I hope to hear from you soon.


Kari Dalane


April 1, 2010

Hello Dr. Ravitch,

I just finished reading your wonderful book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I work in a school that is considered exemplary in its focus on data and accountability. The teachers (mostly very talented and intelligent young women) are justifiably fearful of speaking out against the leadership, and are silently miserable and questioning whether or not they can continue in this career choice.

Are you optimistic about the future of American public education, i.e., that this movement may turn around or at least put in balance with other theoretical orientations?

What do you think is the best way for school staff to invest their energy in making a difference toward ending the overemphasis on data and blindly applying business models to education?



April 1, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I just want to thank you for your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. You have helped to focus and crystallize the many thoughts and emotions I have had in response to the implementation of NCLB. I have deeply grieved for my students as I witnessed the devastating effects of this law on learning.

I am in my 37th year of teaching as a special education/reading specialist teacher and greatly enjoy working with 5th and 6th grade children in a rural school district in central Pennsylvania. I deeply yearn to impart a love for learning and the excitement that comes from engaging with the great ideas inherent in literature and history. Right now we are preparing for the April test mania. So much instructional time is wasted that would be better spent in classroom instruction. Will we ever come to our senses and recover the richness of our heritage and traditions that were so much a part of my growing up years where the neighborhood schools flourished and prospered? I truly believe that a deep renewal will need to take place in our souls as a people for this to happen. I hope your book will be widely read and have a sobering effect on the educational community.

I intend to share your book with our new curriculum director, with whom I have been working closely, as we are in the process of adopting a new reading program.


Drake Owen


P.S. (July 11, 2010): Since finishing the book I have passed it on to my school superintendent and also our curriuculum director. The curriculum director is especially open to Ms. Ravitch’s ideas and is now reading The Knowledge Deficit by E.D. Hirsch. I look forward to some good decisions coming out of such wonderful thoughts and ideas.


March 31, 2010

Greetings Diane Ravitch,

I am a person who’s taught for many, many years and loved just about every minute. I just finished reading The Death and Life of the Great American School System and am overjoyed. To me, it is the best, most comprehensive, most accurate account of schools and education that I’ve ever read. Today I will lend my copy to the superintendent of the district in which I work. Yesterday I wrote to the Maine Commissioner of Education and the Governor (and also to my legislators) suggesting they read the book.


Susan C. Smith


March 30, 2010

Hello Mrs. Ravitch,

My name is Brandy Alexander. I am currently reading your new book and felt compelled to write you. I am from a family of teachers. I have taught 1st grade in South Central Los Angeles for the last 14 years, and I teach teachers part time at Cal State University Los Angeles. I care deeply about public education, and have for some years had these very worries about the state of public education. I am working on a book at this moment which is my story of teaching during NCLB in a profession that I love, and yet I see it moving dangerously into a service position much like an assembly line worker. I am also very worried about the inner-city children that will be the biggest losers in what I see as a move back to a segregated school system, just under a different cloak. I LOVE teaching but have to tell you that the pressure to have students perform at high testing levels, with charters and private businesses taking over public schools, has made me think I need to leave teaching as soon as possible. If I can, I may. Like I said, I care deeply about public education and the children, but fear the worst is not yet here. I am saddened by President Obama and his step in the same direction of NCLB and its supporters; I thought for sure he would see the dangers of deregulating schools and opening the charter flood gates. I hate that Obama is in support of merit pay. I have long been against all of these movements. I work hard at my school, put in plenty of extra hours, co-wrote 5 books for teachers, and do not feel the need to be paid more than my fellow teachers, knowing the problems it will bring. It would be disastrous, creating competition in a place driven by teamwork. I have overseen several student teachers at the college, and many of them have graduated and found work at the charters here in LA. Many of them write me with a array of stories about their time at charters, many of them not so positive. I still hold on to the belief that public education is the one true thing that levels the playing field for all children no matter the background.

I wanted to thank you for writing this book. Finally I feel someone out there is seeing what many of us public education teachers have been seeing since NCLB became law. I have hope, and I still have hope for Obama, yet I remain very, very worried.


Brandy Alexander


March 30, 2010

Hi Dr. Ravitch,

I’m sure you have been thanked for many things in your life, but I would like to personally thank you for getting me through my 60-minute workout on the elliptical this morning. The US Postal Service was kind enough to deliver your latest book yesterday afternoon. I decided learning from the past to pave the way for a better future was a suitable read in my quest toward a healthier lifestyle. :-) I haven’t been able to put the book down since.

As someone who is writing a dissertation at Ohio State in educational leadership and a full-time high school administrator, I cannot thank you enough for your continued dedication to the field of education. I’m bursting at the seams to share some of your sentiments with our faculty and my fellow colleagues. You, simply stated, are just what the doctor ordered. Thank you, thank you, and thank you!

All my best,

Dustin W. Miller


March 29, 2010

Hi Dr. Ravitch,

Thank you so very much for your book and directing the ensuing discussion in the press and blogosphere. Your book has hit so close to home for our district, which for seven years has been in what California calls Program Improvement. We have been forced to restructure schools, displace students from their neighborhood school, and test excessively. I wince and apologize to my students for giving them yet another test; I teach in a CA Continuation High School, an alternative program for students who have failed through the traditional system—mostly because they are noncompliant, do not do homework, and couldn’t care less about a test. Many of them are working jobs to support their parents, and in many cases, their own children (the teen mom program is also housed at our school).

Your book has encouraged my activism and zeal for a truly public education. I fear that if we continue down the current road, my students will not have access to a diverse, inspiring, rigorous education—they will be put in a compliance testing camp and will just drop out, rather than graduate. This would be a tragedy.

In hope, I have purchased your book for each of our five school board members, and a sixth for our Superintendent of Schools.

I was wondering if you were planning a book signing after the lecture at Berkeley? If so, I’d like to get a book signed for our educational leaders. If not, will you be doing a book signing in northern California in the near future?

Five of us in Tahoe Truckee Unified Schools will be packing a car and leaving right after school to make the four-hour drive to Berkeley for your lecture. We can’t wait!

Ed Hilton


March 28, 2010

Good Afternoon Ms. Ravitch,

My wife and I saw you on C-SPAN this morning and couldn’t believe our ears. YOU SPOKE TO OUR HEARTS!!!!

We are teachers. My wife is retired and I have one more year before my retirement. I worked as a musician on Broadway for 20 years and also taught mathematics. Four years ago I transferred as a teacher to the South Bronx after a brief stint as an administrator believing that I could make difference. I have only been met with utter frustration.

Most of my students have horrible basic math skills. I am still teaching “the lowest common denominator” to some of my 11th grade students. Many of my students are below average primarily because of their environment and social/peer pressure. Their SAT scores are amazingly low.

My current problem is that I worked incredibly hard for the past 1.5 years to have 18 students take the NYS Math B Regents exam. I did differentiated instruction, portfolios, before- and after-school tutoring and even convinced an elective’s teacher to allow me to teach math during her period for two weeks prior to the test. NO ONE PASSED!!!

I am utterly frustrated because no one understands how hard I worked for so litte results. Note: I started out my career with a 80% trig pass rate in Manhattan.

My school is SURR and SINI for math and English because of the Regents scores of the class of 2005. Our last principal worked so hard that she died on her way home from work in October 2009. She was wonderful and most supportive. She cared about each child and knew each one by name.

The new principal sees me as a problem because of this passing rate, and I have been assigned (along with everyone else in the math department) to work with a retired math coach who suggests the same things that I have already done without success. EINSTEIN’s DEFINITION OF MADNESS!!!

Who can I talk to for serious guidance? The DOE officials just mumble canned gobbledigook and offer PD sessions that haven’t changed in 20 years.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and your writings.

God Bless,



March 28, 2010

Hello Diane:

I recently saw your interview on C-Span2 Book Notes. Your critical analyses of “No Child Left Behind” and the 100% utopian proficiency goals were both accurate and sad.

Back in the late 1980s, I was a proposal reviewer for federal alcohol and drug abuse agencies, one of which had the slogan “A drug free society by the year 2000.” Talk about utopian. That kind of slogan could only have been developed by someone who knew nothing about the history of alcohol and drug use in the United States.

That schools are expected to achieve 100% “proficiency” strikes me as absurd, if for no other reason that intelligence levels vary considerably among students (and superintendents). Didn’t any of these folks ever see (or understand) the normal distribution of IQ scores?

Here in Minneapolis, the public school system’s slogan is “Every child college ready.” That’s equally absurd, and I wonder what it does to the kids who aren’t college ready.

I wonder how the school district defines “college ready” and measures educational “success.” Maybe high school dropouts aren’t part of their equation. And how does being “college ready” fit with all the remedial courses first-year college students have to take because they weren’t “college ready?”

Thanks for your insights.

Mark Hochhauser


March 27, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch:

I am an inner-city high school teacher in southern California. The high school is located in a neighborhood that is economically low, highly dense in population, and culturally Hispanic. I felt the news of what happened in Rhode Island at the center of my heart. In response to that article, I commented to a colleague, “Oh my...! They can do anything to us now.”

Two days later we were informed that two of our high schools and one of our intermediate schools were named under-performing in order to meet and receive the funding offered by “Race to The Top.” We felt bad for our sister schools, but confident about why we had escaped the list. For the past three years, as the bar was raised higher each year, our test scores surpassed it. Last year we were awarded a 6-year accreditation as well, by the WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Schools) team evaluating the criteria we provided for our school to meet accreditation. Shockingly, at the end of the same week our superintendent held an emergency meeting with us after school to announce that we too, and two more schools in our district, were added to the list.

What do we do now? I am posting articles at my place of work regarding your words and point of view on current and past events on education reform. For a long time it has become more and more difficult to cope with what I am asked to do to kids in the name of education. I keep asking myself, where and how do I respond? I feel so insignificant and invisible. I explore the possibilities of leaving, but I don’t know how to go about it with out committing financial suicide. Yet, I am also afraid to stay. How long can my essence survive participating in what is an antithesis to my core beliefs? Help.




March 26, 2010

I cannot express enough gratitude for the recent book you wrote! I bought a copy the day your book hit the bookstore shelves and read it rapidly, then passed it on to my principal at my base school. It was perfect timing, as the students were just finishing up the last of the MD State exams, and everyone was feeling so all-consumed by this high-stakes testing. In Title I schools, real education comes to a complete halt months before the actual tests in order to prepare! Fortunately as an art teacher, I am not subjected to test-prepping students so some creative learning goes on DESPITE this climate. I am a public school art teacher in Prince George’s County, Maryland and teach at 4 schools. I “cut my teaching teeth” in the New York City public school system, however. When I read your chapter on NYC, I thought “Finally someone is exposing the ‘emperors that be’ (chancellor, mayor and DOE). Hey, they are not WEARING ANY CLOTHES!” It was so on target and just laid out the facts as they are—FINALLY! No spun data—just real facts.

I had wanted to remain in NYC and teach but really felt that every fiber of my intellectual being was being drained from me. I am not alone in these thoughts, as teachers with high potential and intellectual curiosity are leaving the profession (forced or not) in droves. I had a rigorous academic background and yet couldn’t use my wealth of knowledge in the classroom as I was busy preparing students for standardized tests, going to endless meetings on testing implementation, coordinating testing, and dealing with an administration that enforced very cookie-cutter teaching methodologies—ironically under the guise of “balanced” literacy.

If Bloomberg, Broad and Gates have their way, the NYC model will soon prevail nationwide. By the way, I cheered when I read your chapter on the billionaire club as I had done research on this very subject. Has Obama ever read Haney’s “Myth of the Texas Miracle”? I wondered, “Are there any super-billionaires who actually might oppose what the Broads and Gateses of our nation are doing and might financially support education policy suggestions from a panel of experienced teachers, administrators and academics like yourself without making it a “for (them) profit endeavor”?

Thanks again for championing one of the most important causes of our nation!



March 22, 2010

Dear Diane Ravitch,

I am a teacher in Florida, where Senate Bill 6 is about to strip teachers of—well, just about everything keeping us in the profession. I have been getting more and more depressed about the state of education the last few years, to the point of thinking I must leave teaching.

I happened on your book before even hearing about it this past week at Barnes and Noble, and the next day, after I bought it, started seeing your name everywhere. Reading your book this past week was a breath of fresh air and a tiny ray of hope.

Ironically, just before I bought the book, I wrote a piece for my local newspaper about a lot of the issues you talk about, and it ran in the paper the same day I finished your book.


Lastly, I have been trying to say the things you’re now saying about testing for the past ten years in a local comic strip about teaching that I do on the side. It’s called Mr. Fitz, and if you visit the site, I think you might appreciate some of the humor. I’ve poked fun at the testing (called the U-SKUNK, the Universal SKills UNderstanding and Knowledge test, in the strip) for years. You can see some of the strips at www.mrfitz.com.

Thanks for making my school year less depressing. I love what I do, and I’m good at it, but I feel like both sides of the political spectrum are trying to drive me out. Nobody listens to us.

Thanks for speaking out.

David Lee Finkle


March 22, 2010

I am a teacher who is totally dismayed at what I see in the classrooms at my school.

My school was an early America’s Choice school and implemented the design with success. After a leadership change, the school was unable to sustain the improvements. Thinking that I could impact learning and teaching in some other way, I left my school to teach at a charter school. While I enjoyed my class at the charter school, I was unhappy with the top-down management style. I was then recruited to became an administrator at a restructuring high school. The challenges at the high school were many. The principal was removed and I decided that I wasn’t willing to continue in that environment. My love is teaching and curriculum, not politics or bureaucracy.

After my three-year walkabout, I returned to my school as a Literacy Coach. In the time I was gone, the school had embraced teaching to quarterly benchmarks and test prep. Previously, the school was well known for quality writing instruction; the focus on testing and the constructed response has totally eclipsed other genres of writing instruction. We were on the way to implementing a constructivist math program. Now math teachers are busy looking at quarterly benchmarks and looking for activities/worksheets to support student achievement on quarterly benchmark tests. I do believe that standards which reflect quality student performance or product are a great help to teachers; the danger is in using narrow assessments that can’t capture what we really need to see when learning is happening.

In the interview you gave Democracy Now, you spoke about the poor education that is being delivered in our current NCLB state. I see it daily. Don’t get me wrong, there are teachers doing great things in their individual classrooms; but there are also classrooms where little learning of importance happens. As Literacy Coach, I am charged with helping teachers implement the school’s curriculum. This seems that it would be relatively straightforward. It’s not. Because of all the emphasis on testing, teachers seem unclear about what they should be teaching and what students should learn beyond the things that are explicit on the state multiple-choice tests. Your comments capture much of my feeling as a practitioner at the school level. Your insights are a bit frightening because I fully understand that true success for our teachers and students cannot be reflected in the multiple-choice test and we seem to be on the no off-ramp ride to test prep land. It is also a bit scary to see the federal government controlling federal funds as a way to force change that will be detrimental rather than positive. Common Core Standards are a good step; proliferation of for-profit charter schools is not. It takes more thought to make positive, sustainable change.

I agree that individually our voices are small and that any true influence will be collective. I’m just not sure how.



March 20, 2010

Your editorial in the Los Angeles Times on March 14 was like music to my ears. Someone other than me knows the truth. As a Los Angeles teacher it has been frustrating and heart-wrenching to watch public education being given away in pieces to private charters. I have never understood why the decision makers never want to spend any real time doing real research talking with real “in the trenches” teachers to find out what the realities are in schools today. Why are we the adversaries? Why are the only good teachers the “young energetic ones” with less than 8 years of experience? What happened to the value of experience? We want to have our students be successful too. We want them to have a real education, not a test-driven one. It is so depressing to sit in the lunchroom and hear my colleagues voice out loud “after next week (when testing is over), I can finally do some real teaching. I can finally spend time on science, art, and social studies.” These are comments from the least experienced to the most.

In public schools we take all comers, as you stated in your article. We can’t ask for students’ test scores before admitting them or turn away those with special needs, partly because it’s against the law. Why is it legal for the charters? Why don’t they have to comply with IDEA? Why is it legal for them to exclude the behavior problems? We don’t get to mandate parent participation like charters and private schools either. These are issues my school and I personally have experienced. If I could just have 10 less students in my class that in itself would make a difference. Giving teachers paid time to collaborate and work in PLCs would make a difference not test-based teaching. For the sake of kids every where I hope your words reach some decision maker’s ears. Their educational lives are at stake.

Elementary School Teacher


March 20, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch:

I just wanted to personally thank you for the voice of reason you have inserted into the media blather about education. As a teacher who considers this the darkest time my profession has seen in my 26-year career, I have been disenchanted by the lack of thoughtful response to the current condemnation of educators for all that is wrong with American education.

On behalf of my colleagues, and most importantly the students in our classrooms, thank you, thank you, thank you. Keep talking. We do need your help.

Most sincerely,

Michael Lambert


March 18, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I was completely riveted to your new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I have been teaching on the “front lines” in District 4 (East Harlem) of the New York City Department of Education for over 12 years. Having been raised and educated in the more intimate suburban schools of Rhode Island, I am especially captured by your reminiscences of your similar schooling in Texas.

I have recommended your book to every educator with whom I come into contact. Having endured the cutting and often personal attacks offered by the DOE pertaining to testing, practices, and micromanagement, I felt as though your book was the closest I’d ever come to reading my own biography! There have been so many junctures at which my colleagues and I have met in the teachers’ lounge to question, “Is this madness all in our heads? Is this a nightmare from which we will awaken?” Your empirical substantiation of the current trends in testing, evaluation, and management made for a page-turning literary event. Although I have kept abreast of these issues only superficially through union papers and the mass media, I learned an incredible amount of “behind-the-scenes” happenings that occur each day in Washington and the board offices of the nation’s wealthiest foundation moguls. I thank you for the insight into the machinations and mechanics of that which is causing this national breakdown in what ought to be a world-class education system, especially in 2010.

I write to encourage you to continue to voice your statements and findings to those in power who can render change in our nation’s schools. I wonder if your book might not lend itself seamlessly to a television documentary. I continue to be stunned by the number of very intelligent, educated citizens who have absolutely no idea of the crisis that is occurring within our nation’s schools. I was recently at a dinner party at which the guests remained appalled at my revelations pertaining to Mayor Bloomberg’s autonomy. They sat completely disillusioned as I recounted many of the same points made in your chapter about the NYC DOE. As a native of Rhode Island (where an entire high school faculty was recently fired for its school’s low test scores), I am particularly incensed at the fashionable scapegoating of teachers that is reaching bloodlust levels in the media and by word of mouth. I hope someone might be able to find a conduit through which your impeccable research might be disseminated to the nation’s citizens.

As I write to you now, I have already begun the process of relocating personally and professionally to a Connecticut school system that honors the two ingredients you have validated in your book—the art of collaboration between the community, administrators, politicians, teachers, and students and a varied and rich curriculum that restores its focus to more enlightened yesteryears. I am coping with the guilt of leaving District 4 mid-career, but have personally had enough of the micromanagement as well as the egregious lack of vision, foresight, and development that daily impedes our school administrators.

Many congratulations to you for a timely and pertinent book. I hope your sage advice will find its way to the growing number of indifferent naysayers before any more damage is done to our nation’s students.

With deepest appreciation and admiration,

Andrew Long


March 18, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I recently finished your new book and thought it was outstanding. I must confess I’m a little embarrassed that I had never heard about you before, because I should have. I read Education Week online and read an interview with you about The Death and Life and I immediately went out and bought it. I practically highlighted the entire book.

I’m working on my doctorate in education, and now I don’t even know why. I entered the profession ten years ago and I’ve slowly come to regret it. When my profession is criticized, I take it very personally, but I also see what is happening with education because of those criticisms and that in itself is much worse. Education has become a downward spiral that I don’t want to be involved in anymore. I should have gone to law school. I know...just what the planet needs is one more lawyer.

It’s a strange thing about this profession, that teachers know a lot of things but yet there’s a lot they don’t know. I can only speak from my experience teaching in Las Vegas, but many teachers and administrators will spit out phrases that begin with “studies show that” without really having read the actual studies. They’re just repeating what they heard their instructor say in the class they happen to be taking at the time, or what the district heads say to our administrators who then repeat it to us. No one who has ever spit out that phrase has produced the actual study or studies or even shown where we can find them or what the names are or who the authors are. I can’t quite describe well enough why there is the lack of awareness by people in this profession regarding things that affect education. I should have known who you are. At least one of my instructors while taking my master’s classes and doctoral classes should have mentioned you at least once. It’s like that Chinese proverb: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. I feel like I’ve been given a fish everyday, not taught to fish. I’ve done research, I currently do research for my doctorate, but there’s still a lot I don’t know. And what’s scarier is that I know more than most of what my colleagues know, because most of them don’t do research. They just ingest what is thrown out at them, like phrases that begin with “studies show that” and just accept it. Am I making any sense?

I was looking at your schedule of events and I really wished Las Vegas was one of your stops. Are there any plans for a Las Vegas event this year? I wanted to speak with my union president to see how we could get you to come here and who we would need to talk to. I tell everyone I see about your book and I also plan to bring it up at our next union meeting.

Thank you for writing this book, I can’t shut up about it to people!


Julie Hagerman


March 17, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

I have been an admirer of yours for several years, from the time about 5 years ago when I decided to move from practicing law to teaching math in urban schools in Los Angeles, where I thought it was needed most. I soon became familiar with your works, and admired (and continue to admire) your incisive analysis of much of the nonsense that passes for the current wisdom in education. I particularly have enjoyed Left Back, which brought into sharp focus for me the truly dark side of the Progressive Movement and how deeply and perniciously it’s embedded itself into the schools of education at American universities. And how can anyone with half a brain can read your demand for a literate and expansive curriculum as “back to basics” is beyond me. But much appears to be beyond me in the modern world.

It’s distressing that you’re having to defend what is at most a mild evolution of your thought based on evidence on charters and accountability tests. Those of us who know and admire you know better. Hang in there, and keep motivating us all!

Best regards,

Joe Hartley


March 17, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

It was exceedingly refreshing to listen to your wisdom on education reform on the Wednesday News Hour. I am a school teacher, about to retire, who is deeply concerned about the future of education in this country. I am concerned because once again the focus of reform is on teacher performance, punitive measures and copying a corporate “top-down” structure which is neither democratic nor effective (that includes the private sector).

I teach in a “white,” high-performing, parent-involved rural school district where the average educational level is high. Our students regularly achieve high test scores and perform above the state average. Nevertheless, administration, in an effort to garner federal funds, has assumed control of our curriculum and our classrooms and, frankly, doesn’t know what it is doing. I for one, do not want to be held accountable for the achievement of my students when I am pressured to teach curriculum material that is not adequate or effective.

Thank you for your thoughtful, reflective comments on the research you have read. I also have some reading research I am trying to get my district to look at but have not been invited into the discussion. I have nothing to lose. I will retire soon, but the children of our nation have everything to lose if we don’t give teachers a voice in the reform process and if we don’t provide support to failing schools. I know we can do better but my administration isn’t listening to me or my colleagues.

I especially appreciated in your discussion on the News Hour the fact that you pointed out that charter schools, on average, have proven to be no better than public schools. Charter schools, formed by parents and teachers, can become elitist and leave out the very children we are trying to help.

Thank you for a thoughtful, knowledgeable perspective on public schools. I believe deeply in educational opportunites for all and remember the “War on Poverty” under the Johnson administration when economics, language barriers, income levels, racism and other cultural factors were taken into consideration and inner-city schools were supported, not punished.

Yours truly,

Cherry Champagne


March 17, 2010

Dear Diane Ravitch,

I have just finished reading your vitally important, thorough examination and critique of what’s happening in education today, and I was amazed to “hear my echo” as I realized that we came to the same conclusions using different routes, yours as an academic historian and mine as an experienced teacher.

I applaud your outspoken courage in explaining the reasons for your past views as well as your reasons for repudiating them now, in light of evidence and research and studies.

I am a compulsive reader of newspapers, magazines and books, and nowhere do I see any signs of dissent regarding The Race To The Top Incentive and all the other so called reforms in education being “disseminated” widely. Yours is the only voice of dissent, and as I watch the TV news, and see interviews with Mr Duncan and others of his ilk who have jumped on the bandwagon (and know not what they do), I am appalled that the reporters do not ask any probing questions as to what evidence they have that these new reforms will work. Where are the journalists who investigate the easily obtained data and evidence that shows that the new reforms are more of the same failed iniatives of NCLB? Watching the channel 13 News Hour tonight, I was so pleased to see you and watch you do a fine rebuttal and make your point that these new reforms won’t work. To use Mayor Koch’s favorite saying, yours was the voice of reason and it needs to be heard loud and clear and often. I hope you have plans for further media attention.

Why aren’t more people coming forward to question the efficacy of the latest reforms? Do you think that the Billionaires Boys’ Club prevents the truth from being promulgated?

Your book is a powerful indictment of the current Obama educational initiatives and those of us who have made education our life’s work, applaud you for setting the record straight! CONGRATULATIONS!


Janet Mayer


March 16, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

I caught what I believe was most of your interview on NPR today and will be purchasing your new book as soon as I can find it.

Education was a second career path for me and the right one but, unfortunately, circumstances forced me to leave it. However, I still follow education news and policy closely and definitely counted myself among those who would have argued with you had we met when you held other opinions on charter schools and “No Child Left Behind.” But I can find nothing to argue with in your comments this morning. I can only appreciate the fact that you devoted yourself to researching these issues and were willing to make public your findings even though they did not conform with your earlier stated opinions.

I particularly liked your comments on Teach for America and on the importance of subject proficiency AND professional training. Here in New Jersey we have suffered from the influx of “on-the-job training” of teachers since the late 1980s, when “alternate route” was forced on our state. And yes, Teach for America’s alumni are seldom found in the classroom. They have moved on to easier and more lucrative employment.

I have found your website and intend to read your other recent writings such as your piece on the Texas textbook fiasco.

Thank you very much for your dedication to such an important part of our democracy—an educated citizenry. I hope that those who need to listen are doing so and that public education and teaching will be valued here as it is in other countries around the world.

Best regards,

Jacqueline Brendel


March 15, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

What an absolute disaster these last 10 years have been in public education!! As a mother of a 21-year-old college student, a 16-year-old sophomore, and a 10-year-old 5th grader, I have witnessed the gauntlet of the accountability trend first hand. When my oldest was in elementary school, the focus of education in the Sunshine State began to shift to the high-stakes FCAT long before the current NCLB was enacted under George Bush. As the gears shifted and FCAT took over our classrooms, my oldest daughter and her peers were treated to an education that focused only on reading and math while virtually ignoring the important core subjects of science and social studies until the last two months of school, after FCATs had been administered. Then, NCLB was introduced and a bad situation became worse.

Today we are watching as this first group of high-stakes tested students enter college and we are hearing that our kids are not competitive in either math or science while often being relegated to remedial coursework in reading. A fact which I do not find surprising, given that their elementary education in science in particular was nearly absent and the focus of their education thereafter was indeed FCAT. Instead of looking at these facts as rational people and concluding that the problem is not with the children but with the education that we gave them, we continue to blame our students. We are reaping what we have sown, and our kids are suffering the dry harvest. Yet we do not learn and continue to seek the path of formulary education—rote, dry and disengaging instruction centered on benchmarks, pace, scope and sequence while advocating more standardized testing and consistently placing bureaucracy in front of the needs of our students.

As an avid proponent of public education and student advocate, I breathe the thought that education is a right and not a privilege. I believe this because I believe that the robust education of the common people like myself has been the mortar of this democracy since inception. Now that education has become a politically controlled issue, guided by men and women who are far removed from the actualities of the classroom, our students are suffering from our own shortsightedness and being treated to a Walmart-style education—low priced, questionable quality and mass marketed. It seems we are now spending more time and money on the overhead of accountability testing preparation than we are on the quality of the item we produce. We have the equation exactly backwards. Put quality in as we build, and our students will perform when we test them. Who knows? They may even regain the American competitive edge once again.

All I know is that it is a disgrace to us all that our generation has not seen fit to value the next and provide for their prosperity through quality education.


Dena Wiggins


March 15, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

Thank you for your article in the opinion section of the Sunday March 14 edition of the Los Angeles Times. Coming up on my fourth year of retirement away from the fray of public education, trying to have the best test scores and all the political rhetoric surrounding the tired slogan of “what’s best for kids,” I have what I feel is a healthier perspective. I had almost 40 years in public education as a teacher, principal, and central office administrator in what I view as a rewarding career. Being closer to the kids as an elementary and middle school principal gave me many pleasant moments to cherish. Though I support President Obama, I have serious reservations about the current direction the adminstration has taken as they revamp No Child Left Behind. I always felt that the principal of the school is the linchpin for the teachers and the parents in opening up the school to become a real learning organization for students. If students are motivated and teachers are motivated and parents are an integral part of the school community, the job of the principal is to balance all of the moving parts so the organization works in a harmonious relationship on behalf of the children. The arts, music, natural and physical sciences, mathematics, the social sciences, history and government, language arts, foreign language, and physical education and other parts of the curriculum share equally and are not greater or lesser in their value toward educating the complete student.

I have serious concern that if testing and test scores become the only focus of teachers and administrators, critical thinking and learning will be suppressed and schools will be relegated to “pencil and paper” institutions. The improvement of math and science education are worthy goals, but not at the expense of the other parts of the curriculum that are equally important.

Again, thank you.

Dr. Frank Ware


March 15, 2010

Dear Diane,

I’m a retired CA elementary teacher who served on the CA State Curriculum Commission, 1997–2000, and served as chair of the History Social Science subcommittee during the 1999/2000 HSS Framework revision. I am reading your new book and I must say it strikes at the heart of the problem with all present, however well-intended, attempts at public school reform. Successful education requires hard work by all involved, and the current “bean counting” approach will only result in failure. Well-researched, strong, thoughtful curricula and respectful, effective, well-supported teaching are the keys.

It is so refreshing to hear your somewhat belated, quite enlightened voice of reason. Thank you, you have validated my lone commission vote in 2000 against the narrow-minded CA reading language arts framework. Your “lessons learned” chapter is right on!!

This teacher fully supports your work.

Ken Dotson


March 15, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch:

I want to thank you for writing this book; it has brought me a sense of sanity and peace of mind.

I am a New York City high school teacher. Although I have not yet finished the book, I have read through chapter 6 and have lived through the reforms you write about in those chapters. The profession that I have loved has been taken from me and replaced with something unrecognizable.

I currently work in a school which is home to students who have not been successful in a traditional high school. They are over-aged and under-credited. They are great young people who suffer from many social problems that interfere with their success in a traditional school. The staff at our school is under high stress to raise the graduation rate, credit accumulation, etc. so that we don’t close down. Most of the time it seems like a losing battle because so many of the problems are out of our control. Our principal believes that if we monitor data , teach strategically, test periodically, dot our i’s and cross our t’s on every aspect of their education, they will be able to meet the data requirements that are placed upon us by the city and state. In reality, it seems like an impossibility. These children can be successful, but unfortunately, many of them will still be “left behind.”

There is another down side to the pressure to produce good data...it is the “cheating” that is going on by schools who are under pressure to meet the mark. My school does not cheat, and therefore our scores are low; we received an F, and we are in danger of closing. However, in one “A” rated school, a friend who is a guidance counselor in the Bronx told me they had a 90% graduation rate. I was surprised and asked if they were a screened school. She said, no, we graduate 90% but half of them can’t read. She added that students who attend class never fail; they are passed along. So I naively asked how they would be able to pass the Regents exams. She responded, who grades the Regents exams?

When the stakes are so high for schools to succeed, the pressure to improve and the fear of job loss creates a culture of fraud and deceit in some schools. When teachers are grading their own students tests, they can use discretion in awarding points on questions such as dbq’s and essays. Teacher’s discretion can be stretched beyond what would be considered reasonable. I started to believe that the only way an exam could be graded fairly was for it to be multiple choice, but then heard about schools that have altered scantrons as well.

So what exactly are our students learning? One thing for sure, I cannot depend on the data to give me an accurate answer to that question.

I sincerely hope that the points you have made are read by educational policymakers. I fantasize about the school system being taken out of the hands of businessmen and returned to the care of educators. I used to have a good time being a teacher (and I am a good teacher) and would not have been running from the profession I love. Maybe we will see a change of leadership like they had in San Diego, but I doubt it will happen as long as Bloomberg is mayor.

Again thank you.




March 15, 2010

Professor Ravitch:

Thank you for your thoughtful and clear commentary, “The Big Idea.” It is the case in so many areas of human endeavor that, despite data that should be persuasive, changing our beliefs is the last thing we consider when confronted with information that suggests we should rethink things.

When I was freshly out of high school, Ray Cortines offered me a job working at a newly desegregated public middle school in Pasadena, California. Hundreds of children from historically poor and segregated areas of the city were bussed into what had previously been a middle class white school. The staff was geared toward educating ready-to-learn children who came to school possessing values and world views congruent with traditional teaching models of the time. The school administrators tried to punish the new arrivals into submission. It failed. The more it (and the children) failed, the more punishment was meted out. The principal said to me in despair, “I’ve never seen so many bad kids,” to which I replied, “These kids are really good. Look how good they are at getting kicked out of school. Think of how smart you have to be to figure out exactly how to behave to get tossed out of these terrible classrooms.” The principal said I needed to work on my attitude.

It was as clear to me then, at the ripe and wise age of 18, as it is to me now many decades later, that public educators could probably learn more about how to run an urban school from Disneyland Guest Relations than from No Child Left Behind.

Thank you for reminding us to beware of the seductive lure of grand ideas. In so many areas of public policy, this is sage advice.


Jed Shafer


March 13, 2010

Reading the March 13 Letters “The Ravitch Reformation Won’t Help Public Schools,” I feel spurred to defend Diane Ravitch and her book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” It is careful, research-based analysis with brilliant common sense. The final goal of No Child Left Behind—that all children be proficient in reading and math (proficient being defined as at or above grade level) by 2014—is absurd. Not everyone can be above average. As scores rise, the grade level average will rise with them. One hundred per cent proficiency by a certain year, conveniently in the future, reminds me of Mao’s great five year plans. Punitive testing now negatively dominates every school’s decisions.

Anyone involved in education knows the problems are complex. I admire Ms. Ravitch for countering the Journal editorial board’s silver bullets of reducing the influence of teachers unions and promoting private school vouchers.

Finally, it’s about time someone celebrated what’s positive about our public education system. When I went to public school 30 and 40 years ago, not every child got educated. Today, at my current middle school, we have children with mental ages of one and a half, children who live in homeless shelters, children whose parents are incarcerated. We accept every child who walks through our doors and try to move each one forward. The inclusiveness of public education in America is our greatest challenge but also our greatest moral strength.


Sara Stevenson
letter to the WSJ, published March 18, 2010)


March 13, 2010

I just listened to the podcast today with Diane Rehm, and I cannot agree more wholeheartedly with what you are reporting. I thought Diane was carefully neutral in her questions but very incredulous and finding it hard to believe that what is happening to public education is so destructive. I have been seeing this for years and blame NCLB as a primary culprit. I am a public school teacher of special-needs children age 3-5 in a big, poor, inner-city school district that struggles on all fronts. One of my nagging questions about the merit pay issue is: How am I supposed to qualify for merit pay when my job is to teach the “least of these” babies? Yet we know that early childhood education is the first step and ultimately most important step to later success. As Kurt Vonnegut says: “So it goes.” (I am from Indiana!) Thank you and keep the message up front where everyone can hear and maybe understand.

Ruth Penner


March 12, 2010

Dear Diane Ravitch,

It was with gratitude that I listened to you yesterday on the Diane Rehm Show, thinking, finally, the voice I have been longing to hear!

For thirty years I’ve worked as a poet in public schools along California’s central coast. First and second graders have always been the finest poets, seeing the world, as they do, for the first time and having the ability to express, free from hesitation, what they see and experience. Till now.

It’s been a gradual decline, yes, but this year, I’m stunned and leave school feeling horribly sad at the end of the day. It seems the children’s imaginations have gone on strike! Thinking for themselves and articulating it in poetry has become extremely difficult. It used to be that poetry, with its anything-goes attitude, was an open door that lead to the room of the imagination. It’s as if the young children haven’t the ability to think. I hesitate to write this, but the room that has been deemed acceptable to draw from has gotten awfully small. Kids aren’t able to move freely there.

So thank you for naming what is true! I am most grateful. I feel less alone.


Patrice Vecchione


March 11, 2010

Hi Diane,

Cyndy Chase here from Keene State College in NH. I am happy to tell you what I think of your book. I finished it yesterday and I think it is just fantastic. In fact, I am planning to make it required reading in my Education 200 class called Educational Environments, a sophomore-level class that the kids take before going into an intense methods program as juniors. Diane, I have been waiting for this book for 10 years! I have addressed some of the issues, but you have pulled it all together in a readable and organized way. I read it on my Kindle but will be purchasing a hard copy so I can highlight and write margin notes and such.

As we hear more and more about national standards, I was drawn to your observations about curriculum. Now, I have taught for 44 years (hard to believe!) so I understand what curriculum means, but your chapter on the need for a quality curriculum from which to plan for education really hit home with me. I am far more interested in some sort of plan that says what needs to be taught than I am in some political group writing standards for things they know little or nothing about. I guess maybe I could not see the forest for the trees, but I had never thought of curriculum as broadly as the way you presented it. It makes so much sense, and it will be discussed in my classrooms as long as KSC will have me (I am a small-time adjunct). I also liked your observations on all the foundations throwing money at schools. I particularly liked your question regarding who elected Bill Gates????

Call me old if you will but I am passionate about public schools! Without them we will continue to grow apart by race and by social class. As the rich get richer and the numbers of the poor grow, we are setting ourselves up for a classic confrontation that could turn both bloody and violent. I once heard Ira Magaziner say that “we are growing a third world country inside our own borders.” Without access to the means for social mobility for everyone, we are digging our own grave. The best solution, and maybe the cheapest in the long run, is quality public schools for all. Our children deserve no less. I love the bumper sticker that says “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” I have spent most of my career teaching in schools impacted by poverty in one way or another. I know how urban schools can hurt kids. I went to urban schools. After retiring from public school teaching in RI, (don’t get me started about Central Falls!) I taught for nearly 7 years at Community Prep in South Providence, which is an independent school (for grades 3 through 8) that takes promising students from failing urban schools and prepares them for high-quality high schools and colleges.

I come from a long line of teachers. My son is the choral conductor at Wellington High School outside of West Palm Beach. When I told him about your book he emailed back that it was already on his Kindle. My daughter is a social worker at Cooke Academy (a special needs high school) on MacDougal St. in Manhattan. She had not heard of the book before I told her she absolutely had to read it; because at our next family get together it was going to be topic number one for discussion, and she did not want to get “beat out” by her brother. My dad was a teacher, principal and superintendent. My grandmother was a teacher, and her mother before her! My own children grew up discussing educational issues around the dining room table as did I. All of us are products of various public school in Rhode Island.

I could go on and on about the inequalities in urban schools and some of the mistakes we made and continue to make, but you don’t have all day and neither do I. Thanks for asking for my feedback. I hope it is helpful. Don’t hesitate to drop me a line if I can help you get the word out in any way. I sure like all the waves your book is making.

Cyndy Chase


March 11, 2010

I am a retired school superintendent of Hauppauge school district on Long Island. In reference to your article in the Wall Street Journal, I wholeheartedly agree with your findings. Although I retired eighteen years ago, I have had the continuing experience of following the demise of our educational system as my grandchildren proceed through the public schools. The inception of “No Child Left Behind” made me aware, right from the start, that we were eliminating all the educational experiences in most curriculum areas for the sake of test preparation. It goes beyond the “dumbing down of our schools,” since politicians are putting finance behind test grades rather than sound educational programs. It doesn’t take a college education to recognize that our schools can only improve when we establish excellent curriculum programs and testing based on materials covered by teachers. Once we eliminated the educational objectives that could be measured and stopped advocating workshops for teachers to give them a better understanding of the material being taught, we went down the proverbial slippery slope know as the “dumbing down” of the educational process. I believe that the solution to educating our students is to identify the important areas of curriculum in all subjects and then to identify those objectives that should be tested. This concept is simply criterion-referenced testing and not standardized testing. Just as important is the ongoing support for teachers in both educational materials and sound in-service programs.


Conrad J. Knott


March 11, 2010

Dr. Ravitch—

I heard you on Diane Rehm this morning—and literally threw my hands in the air (briefly, as I was driving my car) when you said NCLB’s goal of 100% of students passing tests was never attainable, and folks within DoE knew it!

After 25 years of working on education finance policy in Texas, I know many of the folks responsible for crafting NCLB, and while our disagreement has always been respectful and professional, I have had numerous people suggest that I am willing to settle for sub-standard student achievement because I have said that anytime (not just with NCLB) you set a 100% success rate as your goal, you have set yourself up for failure.

I am one of the many on Amazon’s wait list for your book—and I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Warm regards—

Debra Haas


March 11, 2010

Hello, Dr. Ravitch,

I am a teacher of the “gifted” students for four schools in my rural, Florida County. I drive 40 miles on Tuesday and Thursday to service students at two of the schools. My home base is an elementary school in my local community as well as the local high school for one Monday monthly. I am in my first year of the “DROP” option of our state. Because my teaching career has spanned the last forty years, including ten of those that I chose to be a “stay at home mother,” I had decided that I would like to retire after this year. After all, I have developed hobbies and interests throughout the years. Most importantly, I have a two-year-old grandbaby, and I’m expecting that my daughter and her husband will have more and my son and his wife will soon have children. That excites me. However, something happened to me this year. I rediscovered “teaching” for the pure joy of teaching! I have just completed a second Teaching Module that will certify me to teach gifted students again next year.

I listened to you on the Diane Rehm Show driving back to my home base this morning in a heavy downpour of rain. I think that I have heard you speak but could not recall. I listened with eagerness because you touched my heartstrings. I respect you with your years of research and expertise in the field of education. You are a real friend to teachers. My husband, who came out of retirement to become an assistant principal, has always believed that the teacher is the key in the classroom. He thinks that the teacher is the connection between those who make directives on the local, state, and national level and between the homes of the children who attend public school.

I know how difficult it is to teach to a test. I see my colleagues frazzled and disappointed because they think that teachers are not respected, as they once “seemed” to be. I believe that one of your listeners stated that has happened since 1957 with the launching of the Russian Sputnik. I was only a child in 1957, but I had an excellent education. I also felt that our nation had a period of treating teachers as professionals.

I am glad that I can use creativity in my teaching. However, I know that there are many controversies about teaching gifted students in the public schools. I think that the public school should be the place to educate all children, including those with brilliant minds.

Your interview inspired me, and I appreciate you and your contribution to education. At times, I think that I may want to become a crusader and advocate for teachers to teach in their classroom. Then, I think about the recent news events about schools closing down and states firing teachers. Then, I take the road most travelled—that of complacency based on my anxiety about my future. I have decided to tell everyone I know (and it’s a large, rural county) about your new book. I plan to purchase one, too. I wish continued success for you.

Best regards,

Christine C. Faircloth
ELP Teacher


March 11, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

I am a mere 11 pages into your new book and must write to say thank you. Things have gotten so bad in education from a political standpoint that I have begun saying on a fairly regular basis to my colleagues, “Everyone hates us—even President Obama.” In fact, I’m sad to report that I said that to a group of future teachers from Purdue University who visited my classroom today. I’m not typically a negative guy—I’m active in my township in Indianapolis where my wife and I both teach and where we send our children to school. I’m proud of our organization while recognizing that we do have flaws. But all in all, I love what I do each day and am honored to have the opportunity to try to reach teens in my art class each day.

So, I’m inclined to thank you already for what promises to be a great read. I’ve already recommended the book to two others (I’ve owned it for about 2 hours) and will likely be discussing it for some time. My only hope is that it awakens those who still believe in some of the terribly flawed paths we are currently pursuing.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Michal Lile


March 10, 2010

Its so refreshing to to find someone in a position of power and influence explaining the truth about public education. I taught for 35 years at Jordan High School in the Watts section of Los Angeles. No one who has worked in inner-city schools can have anything but scorn for the misguided attempts at school reform. Whenever I was fortunate to have good students, there were good parents supporting them.

It took me many years and access to funding to finally learn how to teach inner-city students. As a history teacher I was fortunate to have my own fully equipped computer lab. Technology, rightly done, is a powerful tool for educating inner-city youth. I had great success teaching GIS, normally taught in colleges, to high school students and was surprised to see how readily they grasped the complicated program.

I retired five years ago and turned the social studies PowerPoints I created in my classroom into a business. Thousands of teachers all over the U.S. use them. The sad fact was that, while I was teaching, I could get no one in the LAUSD interested in the results I was getting. But that’s another story. Thank you so much for telling the truth.

Herschel Sarnoff


March 9, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

Your article [WSJ, 3/9/10] is exactly the plight of the schools. The boy I mentor tells me things like, “I don’t have to know THAT for the CRCT test.” Then I tell him, “It’s important to know.”

I think school children can get much more out of school if they have a mentor. There are lots of service organizations that could be encouraged to become long term mentors. Mentoring should become a national program.

I am a 59-year-old white woman and a college graduate. Due to factors beyond my control, I have been living in a lower-income black neighborhood. I took one of the kids named Alex under my wing since he was 6, and he is now 14. He has parents that have good jobs, take care of their 3 kids, but have had no higher education.

Alex and I have gone to the museums, botanical gardens, book signings, hockey games, etc. together. Before I started helping him with his term papers, his grades were mainly C’s and at least one D. Once I started helping with his social studies and English term papers he received high grades on the papers. The idea that he could get good grades and the knowledge on how to continue getting good grades gave him the incentive to try harder in all his classes. Now he has a 3.5 GPA. He wants to be a pilot, so I told him he needs short-term and long-term goals to succeed.

Ms. Ravitch, we need well rounded or college graduate adults to become mentors to children. Alex told me I care more about his grades than his parents. That’s because I know he needs to go to college to become an airline pilot and we have the HOPE Scholarship here in Georgia that he can receive if he gets good grades.

I wish I would have had a mentor when I was in high school. Neither of my parents had been to college and didn’t want it for the girls in our family. It took me many years before I graduated.

You are in the national spotlight. Maybe you could make the case for a national push for mentoring.

Vicki Van Der Hoek
("Alex" is a pseudonym)


March 7, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

As a teacher of twenty-five years and the father of a five-year-old autistic boy, I thank you for your eloquent efforts in defense of public schools. Bridging Differences and your new book give me solace and hope.


Vincent Precht


March 7, 2010

I read your newest book this weekend and have to say it left me pleasantly speechless—I don’t think there is anything left to say on the topic of how off-course we have gone in recent years, and why. I certainly found my own experience in the field confirming virtually everything you said, especially the inapplicability of the marketplace model to this most public of public goods. And the final chapter is simply inspiring in laying out an approach to education that should be common-sensical but sadly now reads as quite radical. Every policymaker in the field should read it, and you should do all you can to spread its reach. Congratulations.

Someday, I think there is an even broader book to be written, since some of the same dynamics are at work in health care and in the privatization of other essentially public functions. The problem for the US is that we seem unable to accept any other model for the allocation of goods than the marketplace approach, even when it is clearly ineffective and perhaps even downright dangerous. The corrosive effect of the “creative destruction” that is the marketplace on our national culture—whether in the popular media or the classroom—is also something we should worry about.

All of us who care about public education—and the country more generally—owe you a great debt of thanks for your scholarship, and most of all, for your commitment to the truth. Mrs. Ratliff was right: “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” still describes you pretty well.



March 7, 2010

I read the book twice word for word. My copy is now with highlights on every page. It appears that we both have been in the game of education for about half a century. The only difference is that I was on the firing line with secondary students every day while you were working with those who supposedly knew more than you did but didn’t. You did something I am not capable of but I respect you for it because I would have been totally frustrated. I might also add that my wife of over forty-eight years also agrees with you wholeheartedly, and she spent thirty years of her life teaching first graders. I have taken so many notes from your book that I was going to use to write you that this would be longer than your book so will try to make just a few comments from my fifty years of experience. None are as a result of formal studies I have done but will add that studies about teaching and education in general are about impossible because of all the variables which the so-called experts don’t understand.

I have served in Keene, NH, Laramie, WY, and West Hartford, CT; I retired after serving twenty-five years in Ashburnham-Westminster, MA. My education consists of BA’s and MA’s from colleges in NH and an MA+30 from the U. of Wyoming. Since my retirement in 1993 I have served as an unpaid volunteer giving back thousands of hours in the system from where I retired. We live in Florida four months and in New England for eight. My life has been one of serving kids and parents and I have never lost my love for education. I am not politically involved and consider myself completely independent with a lot of common sense which isn’t so common anymore.

The results of every study that you referred to in your book were of no surprise. I would have predicted the same. Foundations, whether they be Gates, Broad, Robertson, Dell, or whoever would have done a much bigger service to education if they had given the funds to whatever schools they wished and told them to use as they see fit. The more interference from the outside, the more corruption. In fact I would go so far as to say that most, if not all, were a waste of billions of dollars that could have gone to support schools rather than try to interfere with them. There are no magical fixes in education, no easy cures, and they certainly can’t be operated as a business as many try to do. During my career I came up with a few gimmicks that were helpful to kids for a few years, but any gimmicks and miracles, which don’t exist anyway, don’t last long.

Give me good teachers with good kids and they’ll get a good education. Give me good kids with a less than good teacher and I’ll give you kids with a lesser education. Give me excellent teachers with kids who struggle for whatever reason or are from dysfunctional homes and I’ll give you kids with a lesser education. “You can’t put a quart of water in a pint bottle.” (Not politically correct, but honest.) The large majority of public schools do a good job of educating. Interference by the government will only set them back. I do not understand why every student, good or bad, needs to take the same tests under high-stakes testing. It make no sense and only slows down our most talented students as well as being a waste of funds. From all of my experiences in public education and my knowledge of independent schools and charter schools, I would say that public schools do a better overall job educating when all factors are considered. Independent and charter schools only educate whom they want while true public schools have to educate all who get off the bus.

Teachers. Again in my career, of the hundreds I have worked with, no more than five per cent if that high would I consider poor. There are many factors to consider when evaluating teachers. Some of the best have been only “C” students themselves in college but could get the material across and had the classroom control that is needed. The best teachers I have ever met were trained at “Teacher’s Colleges” and/or state universities. The most inept have been from Ivy League Schools. They just could never understand why kids didn’t learn as easily as they did. A few years the State of Massachusetts tried to recruit teachers from business and industry with no educational training and offered them a 20K bonus. I am not sure whether that program is still around, but the few that came to the school I was working at lasted no more than a year. My guess would be that today fewer than twenty per cent of them are still teaching and few lasted more than a year.

With this I will try to close, as I could easily write all day and have 101 other things I’d like to write but want to play a little golf before it gets dark.

May all your travels be happy ones. You deserve it.

Dick Mackey


March 4, 2010

I’m an HISD sub teacher, so I go all over.....

I have to add this—standardized testing cuts both ways...there are bad teachers in the Gifted/Talented program, but because the tests are so easy for those students, those teachers have tenure, because they can draw those test scores around them to “prove” their abilities....

In the meantime, very dedicated, hard-working teachers have their careers on the line:


I could go on and on about what I’ve seen....but overall, I have to say, we aren’t building a better society....just an Enron/Bernie Madoff culture where numbers rule and common sense is thrown out the window....



March 4, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I applaud your courageous rethinking about our core public education format.

Retired now, I taught in public school for 25 yrs. in large city & small town schools in four states—New Orleans, LA; Atlanta, GA; Lawrence, KS; and Barrington, RI, my home now. In addition, I taught in part-time grant programs for 10 years in numerous RI public schools.

Our current problem in RI, which the New York Times noticed, is the crisis in Central Falls, where the entire staff of their one high school was threatened with being fired by misguided “hardball” tactics of the superintendent.

CF is close to my heart, as I taught part-time in grant funded programs there. Without hesitation, I would rank CF teachers among the finest I have ever worked with, anywhere, at any time.

RI’s smallest inner-city, Central Falls, is a crucible of poverty, a veritable poster-child of urban woes—chronically depressed, with large numbers of students whose English is a second or third language, a very high rate of student turnover, with many newly arrived families, hard-working but often with only borderline literacy in English. CF high school teachers have minimal resources, yet are excoriated for “low scores, unacceptable graduation rates.”

As you can see, it’s a dismal Dickensian story. Yet, if No Child could redirect its focus on testing, reshape its goals to include flexible levels of measurement, and embrace truly comprehensive school programs, there really is hope for meaningful change.

Is there some way for me to help? Meanwhile, I encourage you to continue your vital efforts in educational policy. Your voice matters.


JoAnn Putnam-Scholes


March 4, 2010

It is not unusual for historians, political figures, Supreme Court justices, party faithfuls and true believers of all stripes to change their minds in the middle of their career. It is rare, however, that a public figure with the stature of Diane Ravitch demonstrates the courage and chronicles the gradual mind-changing (and game-changing) process so that it is visible, “out-loud” and accessible to those within earshot and who follow her Bridging Differences dialogue with Deborah Meier. The Death and Life of the Great American School System is her latest in a long line of distinguished books, and I think it is not only an amazing accomplishment but a very important book. It must be read, widely.

I have worked for close to half a century in and with public schools and districts across the country. I have been a friend and colleague of, among many others who are deeply concerned with the quality and direction of American public education, e.g., John Goodlad, Seymour Sarason, Robert Stake, Harold “Doc” Howe and Frank Keppel, David Perkins. My first book, Changing Schools Through the Arts, chronicled in great detail the hope, promise and serious obstacles to school change in a network of six urban U.S. school districts. I am reminded on a daily basis as I work in the schools how difficult it is to initiate, implement and most of all sustain change whether in one school or a large number.

What Diane’s book teaches us, or at least reminds us, is the current notion that non-school people such as mayors, generals and lawyers should not be given the power and responsibility to run school systems in a functioning democracy. The research and results are plentiful about the problems, even when (and usually) none of the researchers agree with each other about the causes and results. But schools are complex, old-fashioned entities, essentially social communities, and no one district, school or classroom is like another. Schools tend to be latest-fad addicted, always hoping for the holy grail to solve whatever the latest problem may be, and in a bureaucracy like a school system that never has enough patience, resources or field-based and grass roots intelligence to figure out how to move forward, there is rarely enough time dedicated to gathering stakeholders and evidence for support. Even then, school change is really tough, and shortcuts, arm-twisting and top-down dictates will ultimately not get the job done. What it does, instead, as we witness today, is to force the disintegration of the tenuous structure of the system.

The beauty of Diane’s book is how she does it, disarmingly. Starting with the first chapter, she tells us how and why all this is ‘true’ while she recognizes her earlier mistakes and assumptions and then, through careful analysis of her and others’ recent research, uncovers, chunk by chunk, what doesn’t work, her opinions why, and the unfinished questions and answers that remain. What is particularly impressive for me is her inside look and take on periods in education history with which I am personally and professionally familiar. The chapters on the Standards Movement, the Transformation of District 2 in New York City, the Lessons from San Diego, all the way through to the brilliant Billionaire Boys’ Club, shine a powerful searchlight on what’s gone dead wrong with American education: Corporate America and the addiction to power, money and international supremacy now drive the schools with the worship of the new gods of data, metrics and literacy and easily adjustable numeracy scores.

In my view, Diane has always been a staunch humanist, a rigorous historian and an arts as education advocate. As I watched her recently, gradually find her new way carefully through the last several years, I got more and more excited and nowadays, I am continually thrilled by her blunt and beautifully written thoughts that hit the page and the reader between the eyes. She has given those of us who believe public education is about creating individualized and informed citizens for a democracy a series of arguments for tossing out the hollow blueprints and returning our schools to a focus on content and teaching and learning.

Now, are there magic and final answers to the tremendous challenge of top-notch education in a democracy as young as ours? No, of course not. But the last chapter, Lessons Learned, offers a number of ideas, suggestions that could keep a seminar on this critical topic going for a long, long time.

Thank you, Diane.

Jane Remer


March 3, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I am in my second year of Teach for America. I recently heard your interview on NPR and I admire your new opinions of the education system. I am a huge advocate of public education, and don’t want to see it become completely privatized! All around me, my fellow Teach for America corps members are leaning towards leaving their public school placements for charter schools.

I currently teach in a middle school that has abominably low test scores, no accountability, and an outrageous lack of student responsibility. However, the school is truly a microcosm of the streets outside its walls. If students were siphoned away for testing reasons, the beautiful and natural diversity of this community would be gone. The school needs a major management overhaul, but I really believe the students should stay put.

I cherish my public education and every single experience I had in Berkeley Public Schools. I look forward to reading your book.



March 3, 2010

The Death and Life of the American Public School System, Diane Ravitch’s new book, is perhaps the most important education policy book you will read this year. The book is highly readable, the arguments irrefutable, the conclusions disturbing. Ravitch persuasively makes the case that the crisis in our schools today is not so much that they are underperforming, as that they are under siege. The schools are being pressured by unaccountable corporate and philanthropic interests that use their vast wealth and political connections to impose technocratic and free-market reforms on the design and delivery of public education. It is ironic that many of this current crop of reforms focus on deregulation at just the moment when we see the devastating results of such policies on the world economy. Despite the fact that the effectiveness of many of these ‘reforms’—charters, threats, and excessive and misguided use of testing—is unproven, they appear impervious to critique in the current climate. Nonetheless, as Ravitch so clearly demonstrates, the corporatist model is antithetical to public education’s civic purposes. It is a profoundly undemocratic turn which could spell the demise of America’s greatest social invention, the public school.

Joan Baratz Snowden
President, Education Study Center


March 3, 2010

I imagine this is one of 10,000 mails in your inbox. I think you may have single-handedly turned the debate completely around. Your intellectual integrity and persistence is deeply appreciated out here in the hinterlands.

Here in New Orleans, with 61% of the students now in privatized schools, it is easy to see how privatization and the conversion of citizens into consumers has profoundly undermined the ideals of civic engagement and a commitment to the common good. There are virtually no parent groups advocating for the disadvantaged as were common before Katrina; instead, the community is a mirror reflection of the market competition of the charter movement. We have devolved into an atomized community of competing individuals driven by self-interest and self-fulfillment. It is ironic that the call for “civic engagement” was combined with an education policy that undermines that collective engagement at every turn.

Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Southern Institute for Education and Research
Tulane University


March 3, 2010

Dear Diane,

I fight everyday to maintain the highest academic standards in my inner-city math and science magnet school classroom. I sometimes wonder why I keep fighting, because my opponents are formidable and many: the local school administration, the education advocacy group whose lawsuit resulted in the decision that established our school and which is ostensibly pushing to better prepare the community’s students for college, all levels of government, the students, and their parents! You’re my new hero! Thank you!!!

Teacher in Connecticut


March 3, 2010

Thank you so much for rethinking the issues of education reform. As a retired teacher and former principal of a charter school, I agree with you—we have lost our way. Teachers have seen this for years. Standardized testing is the most negative influence we face, but there are others.

I look at my two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter and her passion for learning as play and I could not send her to what so many schools have become. She would wither.

I really have decided that anyone who makes decisions about schools should do so as if their grandchild would go there. I am a veteran of the math reform effort. What the original NCTM Standards proposed offered so much. The mathematics we teach now, driven by one-dimensional tests, has gotten so far away. I saw this so well in my AP Calculus and AP Stats classes, as kids had lost passion as well as the inclination to explore and to think deeply. It was not the content they lacked, it was the context. For the record, the charter school I helped start in 2008 is Charleston (SC) Charter School for Math and Science. I retired in January (Yes!). Most all of my career has been in traditional and magnet public schools.

Glaser is right—we have lost all semblance of quality and excellence, much less student responsibility for learning. And we did it ourselves by drinking the Kool-Aid.

Ironically, we have better teachers than ever, but they are giving up the fight.

Some charter schools, particularly conversion charters, have made progress, but the charter concept mostly only gives false security at best, and at worst—is sad.

So please continue to raise your voice.


Peter Smyth


March 3, 2010

Hello Dr. Ravitch,

I totally agree with and applaud your change of heart about high-stakes testing, and the fact that you are speaking out about NCLB/RTT bringing about the death of public education. I would love to help you fight for a school system that actually teaches children, and doesn’t reduce education opportunities to the lowest common denominator.

I currently teach in a school that has not made AYP for some years; as a result, we’ve been forced to implement a program called “Teach4Success,” which is absolutely about teaching to the lowest level. It has saddened and sickened the teachers at the school, and made us feel less like teachers and more like robots. Something has got to give. If you are interested, I would love it if you could come visit our high school (I know there are several hoops through which you would have to jump in order to do so, but I think the more you see, the more of a case you could make, although I am not sure at this point who would listen). I also would be willing to help you in any way to bring about some sort of effective change in the education system.

Keep up the good fight; there are many of us with you.



March 3, 2010

I am impressed with your ability and willingness to publicly change your mind about issues that you have been deeply committed to. At this point I don’t know what I think is the right thing to do re education reform, although I have always been convinced that the publicness of schools must be preserved—but we don’t have enough people willing to really follow the evidence where they think it takes them.

Jennifer L. Hochschild


March 3, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

My 4th grade son just completed the TAKS writing portion today, but did you know that he stayed at school until 5:30 p.m. to do this and he wasn’t the last child to leave? He is in the Vanguard program in Houston ISD and many of his classmates stayed after the final school bell (3 p.m.) in order to complete the essay. This absolutely disgusts me to no end. I’ve lost count of the number of classroom hours over the years since he began elementary school that were lost to practice TAKS, TAKS worksheets, TAKS strategies, TAKS benchmarks, etc. His father and I grew up together in public schools in Texas. We were both honor students and passing through the TX public school system took many standardized tests during our academic careers, but never did we spend so much as an hour being “taught the test” (and we always scored well, higher than average I might add). When is this insanity going to end??? If all the time spent on teaching the TAKS test had been spent actually teaching, perhaps those kids would have been able to complete the essay in a reasonable amount of time.

He was uncharacteristically anxious this morning when I dropped him off at school and repeatedly told me that if he didn’t pass the TAKS writing he would not get promoted to 5th grade. According to him, by the way, he would need to get a 3 or 4, which would be commended to pass. I told him that I didn’t believe this to be true and that since he had all A’s & B’s he would not have to worry about grade promotion.

I am deeply saddened by the current state of public education and feel no other alternative but to pursue other options for my children’s future. Given the level of involvement over the last 5 years in active PTA leadership, I feel especially disappointed by the thought that no matter how hard I work I cannot make a difference in our public education experience. Change must come from the top.



March 3, 2010

I agree wholeheartedly with your newer beliefs, but I am motivated to write because of the joy I felt seeing that someone with your incredible background could change positions and do it with such clarity and class. Thank you, thank you. And thanks to NPR. I will read this book.



March 3, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Having cut my teeth on your work in graduate school, I must write to tell you that I am heartened by what people consider to be your jumping of ship (NYT 3/3).

I understand it as intellectual honesty, something I believe to be all too rare in the academy—and in debates around school reform. As you show, we should all change direction when evidence points us that way. This is not often the case, as usually we fail to see the evidence or see it and prescribe more of the same. You are right, in schools standardized testing has run roughshod over learning, as the tool has become the task.

I have a 7-year-old in a “good” public school, and sit shaking my head as she fills out worksheets called “mad minutes,” in which she has a minute to do as many math problems as possible. I count the minute, and cringe at the madness.

But I am not writing to commend you for finally switching to the right team. It is more that having a scholar of your magnitude framed as changing course gives us new scholars permission to be wrong—which we all will eventually be if we really try to put our ideas into print and practice—and to learn right across ideological lines. It takes courage to change course on profoundly political issues like school reform, and I commend yours. I hope I will have it when the truth with a small t seems to be somewhere other than where I am.

Only good things,

Aiden Downey


March 3, 2010

I hope you won’t think this inappropriate, but I’d like to share with you that while many may be publicly critiquing your change of views, I think it represents fully what it means to be a thoughtful and deliberate public intellectual. For me, it shows how when you are deeply engaged you are also deeply affected and, mostly likely, often deeply changed. Honestly, as a young Black scholar, it just gives me a little more hope that we all really can see and do things differently. I believe that your influence is still very strong and that it will continue to shape the direction of educational thinking and policy.

I really do wish you well in the public space which you are now in, and hope that any fairweather friends are few and far between.



March 2, 2010

Hi Diane,

I heard your interview on NPR this morning. After, I went straight to B&N when it opened and bought the first copy sold there. I am/was a public school educator for over fifty years. I will not go into a further introduction of myself as it is in an e-mail that I will send you right after I send this. This book could end up being the greatest positive influence on education in twenty years. I am only into Chapter 3 but cannot disagree with a word you have written. It is simply sensational. The e-mail I will be sending to you I faxed to many Congressmen a week ago when I read that four of them were going to rewrite NCLB. It could have been taken from your book. We have the same problems with the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) as most other states do with theirs. I have been involved in the process for the last ten years. It might be a little better than some states, but it has the same and its own problems.

I believe that by the end of this day I will have in one way or the other been partially responsible for getting your book out there. I have suggested to a dozen superintendents that I know that they should not only read the book but get copies for every administrator in their districts. I have also suggested we flood Congress with this book, and that includes President Obama. As far as I am concerned, there is a bigger problem in our educational system than in our health care system. We could save the country billions of dollars by not sending good money after bad if education were overhauled and NCLB were sent to its resting place.

Thanks for writing the book.

Dick Mackey


March 2, 2010

This morning, before dawn, I was driving to work (6th and 7th grade, a public middle school, teaching history and language arts) when I heard your interview on NPR. My eyes welled up, and I pulled my truck off the road. I wept with joy—literally—upon hearing your thoughtful, sensible, and spot-on comments about the institution within which I serve.

When I left for work this morning, I was on the edge of resigning. Demoralized by attacks upon intellectual freedom and human curiosity, frustrated by poorly conceived top-down programs, micro-managed by administrators with no actual interest in pedagogy (but with a profound obsession for “accountability”), I had all but given up. Then I heard your comments.

Upon arriving at school, I logged onto the internet and ordered a copy of your book. I look forward to reading it, and I look forward to sharing your insights with my demoralized colleagues.

Finally, we have some hope that the worm may have turned. There will be much to do in the days and years ahead, but the hope remains that America may once again have a system of public education to ensure her democratic future.


Steve Hagel


March 2, 2010

Dr. Ravitch:

Thank you for making my drive to school today somewhat tolerable.

I teach in a school of 73% free/reduced lunch kids. NCLB is a lie, a political bill of goods sold to the American people. It was so obviously written by people (politicians) who have no sense of a classroom that I can’t believe that it’s still on the books.

Your interview today on public radio got me into the door (once again) and gave me hope. We’re not ‘there’ yet (however one defines ‘there’), but at least there is a voice, pointing out that the emperor truly has no clothes.

It doesn’t sound like the Obama Administration, (with some pretty harsh rules for ‘Race to the Top’ funds, and support for the mistreatment of the teachers at Rhode Island’s Central Falls) yet ‘gets it.’ I fear it might get worse, if/before it gets better.

grateful for your voice,

John Schmidt


March 2, 2010

I have taught high school social science for 18 years in Modesto, CA. What we are increasingly noticing is that students have no buy in to the testing craze. And in keeping our courses lock step, everyone on the same page in the textbook each day, we have removed the joy in both teaching and learning. In history, a subject that benefits greatly from current events and the teachable moment, it is no longer possible to provide students with a basis of understanding of the subject taught in a format that is meaningful to them. In English classes students are not encouraged to read what they enjoy and so dread reading...this surely won’t improve our test scores.

Statistically it is impossible for all of our students to be above average, yet that is the bar which has been set.

Janeen Zambo


March 2, 2010

The Death and Life of the Great American School System is a well-researched, compelling call for a much different kind of education reform than No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The standards-testing-sanctioning-shutdown approach to school change has been criticized before, but seldom so articulately and never by such a renowned movement proponent, radically transformed. (By data; imagine that!) Diane Ravitch’s new book may well become a game-changer in our national conversation about what works—and what does not—in American education.

Max McConkey


March 2010


Just finished Death and Life, an explosive review of education reform of the last 40 years. My wife was a counselor in one of the San Diego schools during the Bersin era—at a high school—and watched with dismay as students, teachers, and administrators were humiliated, brutalized, and driven out of schools. As a special educator for 35 years, I have watched, during this period, the control of public education slip from the public’s control to the private sector and high-stakes testing determine curriculum decisions. The Career Technical Education (shop) courses that used to keep Sp. Ed. and many non-college-bound students interested in school and offered a second way to teach mathematical and scientific concepts have been wiped out in California and many states. When graduation requirements were raised, the dropout rate increased greatly, although many school districts have tried to hide this by coding students as having moved, etc. I am working on a book regarding this and the college failure rate—where are the high-tech jobs graduates were promised? Thanks again for this wonderful expose of reform as it stands now.

Steve Hager


March 2010

As a teacher and former education journalist who has disagreed with you for most of her professional life, I want to now thank you for your leadership in combatting the reductivist mentality wracking public education. If there is anything I can do to help counter that mentality, please let me know.

Kaye Thompson Peters


March 2010

Thank you for your work in saving our public schools. I heard you on NPR and am buying a book today—through a site that will donate money to my kids’ public school.



March 2010

Thank you! Thank you for continuing to question and explore, for changing your mind in public, for speaking on behalf of what education should be—and once was, and can be again. Blessings on your work, and again, thank you!

I was educated partly in the States and partly in Europe, and there was no comparison in the breadth and depth of the instruction even in the late ’60s–early ’70s. When I hit college, the classes were hopelessly behind what I had learned in England and France in 6th through 8th grade. If I had not been the daughter of a teacher, and passionate about reading anything and everything outside of school, I would not be an educated person today. Many of my friends have children in school, and from their stories I deduce that the American public school system has been redesigned to discourage the curious mind in student and teacher alike. I no longer meet children who read for pleasure.

Whatever this singer and teacher (master classes) can do to help spread the word, I will do.

Laurel Massé


March 2010

I purchased Death and Life last week and have been reading ever since. Went thru 2 highlighters. How can I get this information to the State of Florida which is going crazy testing children?

I hope to pass it on to friends in the legislature. I’m a retired teacher from IL and they did not go as crazy as Florida with testing.

Dianne DeWolfe


March 2010

Dr. Ravitch,

I am a fifth grade teacher in Reno, Nevada. I recently completed an Administrative Licensure program and am eager to become a school leader. I was saddened last week at a district Leadership Academy presentation when one of the speakers, a highly respected local principal, literally bragged about the fact that they don’t teach science or social studies at her school. Her school is 95% FRL and over 80% Hispanic. Her defense for eliminating the “fluff” (science and social studies) was that because she needed to raise test scores there was no time for anything but reading, writing, and math. I am sick that this viewpoint is becoming pervasive in my district. I believe in accountability but I do not believe in eliminating culturally significant curriculum. I speak out but am increasingly finding my voice drowned out by a larger and larger number of school leaders who think like the principal above. I am so frustrated. I dread the thought of my country being led by people who learned nothing about civics, geography, history, or science in school. What can I do?

Susan A. McNeall


February 27, 2010

Ravitch’s book—as the title indicates—is both frightening and hopeful: frightening because it shows the destructiveness of our current reforms, and hopeful because it offers many important and inspiring lessons. Full of complexities and details, her argument points the way to more questions and investigations. We must read, argue about, and learn from this book.

Deborah Meier


February 26, 2010

I had ordered your book from Amazon last month, and last week it arrived several weeks early. I read it into the wee hours on a couple of nights.

I am hoping it becomes a best seller. It is prophetic and a great read. For people who haven’t been watching closely, it will tear the scales off their eyes.

For those of us who have been watching carefully, it is sort of like Pepto-Bismol...calms the stomach.

Jan Resseger
Minister for Public Education & Witness
United Church of Christ Justice & Witness Ministries


February 25, 2010

Dear Diane,

Two days ago I received from your publisher a copy of your new book. I have now read it—cover to cover—and I congratulate you upon it. While the renunication of your earlier views is of some “inside baseball” interest, by far more important is your eloquent argument about how we need to make better schools in which children learn important material. As both you and I have said on so many occasions, there is no magic bullet which will make all schools better and all children well educated, in both wit and character.

As I read along, I thought how enormously proud Larry Cremin would have been to be able to read this (and naturally to claim a bit of credit for your wise views!). A democracy needs this statement, that we need improved education for everyone and that single studies of this or that (value added, small schools, teacher qualifications) do not amount to genuine improvement in the learning of all our children. So, in short, Congratulations!


Patricia A. Graham

All letters have been reprinted with the permission of the writers.

Study Guide