Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters

Page 17


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

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


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