Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters

Page 18


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

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


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