Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters

Page 14


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 it 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

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


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