Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters

Page 1


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.



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 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 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


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


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


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


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


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


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 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,


All letters have been reprinted with the permission of the writers.