Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters

Page 21


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.

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