Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters

Page 4


July 8, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I know you must receive hundreds if not thousands of emails each day. I hope you will take the time to read mine.

I recently finished reading your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I also just finished reading your speech to the recent NEA convention. Thank you for both of those and thank you for all you do and say on behalf of teachers.

I am an ESL teacher in DC Public Schools. I left a very successful [career]and joined the DC Teaching Fellows program—an alternative certification program with which I’m sure you’re familiar. To be honest, I was like most people who go through those programs: I intended to stay for a couple years and return to my previous career/vocation. XXX years later, I’m still here.

I entered that program because I have always enjoyed teaching... However, I live in DC and had heard horror stories about DC Public Schools. As a resident of the District, I wanted to help students and get a firsthand look for myself. I chose ESL because they are a “minority among minorities” in both our school systems and our country.

I was fed the propaganda as I came through the DC Teaching Fellows program that we “newbies” and career switchers were the answer to failed public education. We were to be the reformers who would save the children of DC. Veteran teachers were incompetent, lazy and ineffective. I bought into it. During my first year teaching, I began to see the light. Were it not for those “incompetent, lazy and ineffective” veteran teachers, I probably wouldn’t be teaching any longer. I soon found them to be collegial, helpful, encouraging and possessing a wealth of knowledge and skills which they graciously imparted to me.

Now I have just completed my XXX year as an ESL teacher and am now holding workshops for other ESL teachers and imparting strategies I have learned and developed over the course of my brief teaching career. I would not be in the position to do that had it not been for those veteran teachers who helped me early on.

As you well know, we are under assault nationally and locally here in DC—especially under the “leadership” of Michelle Rhee. I hailed her arrival but soon changed my mind about her. Aside from the fact that she is not qualified for the position she holds, I have watched her repeatedly disrespect teachers in DC as she continues to hold us accountable for things which are totally out of our control. Our union is completely ineffective as it is embroiled in its own internal discord. I could go on and on but I’m sure you already know much about the nightmare unfolding here in DC Public Schools.

What can we as teachers do to combat the current contempt for us and our profession and our unions? Most of us in DC Public Schools are afraid to speak out for fear of losing our jobs now that we have a new evaluation system and there is no recourse for teachers who disagree with the scores we receive from principals and master educators. How can our collective voices be heard? Who, besides you, will stand up for us? I am willing to speak out—and have—because I believe injustice is injustice and must always be spoken out against. I know there is no easy answer. I guess what I’m saying is “thank you” for all you have done and continue to do, but what can we do? You are a beacon of hope to those of us who are on the front lines and are continually assaulted by our principals and superintendents/chancellors. Please continue to speak for us and speak out against the assault on public educators. You give many of us the courage to speak out as well.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!




June 5, 2010

I just finished reading your book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I ordered it in advance, based upon the early reviews I read in Education Week. I have since been talking it up at my school, and both my Principal and Assistant Principal have purchased your book, too. Much of your book’s allure was its careful review of the history of education in America. I have been teaching for 24 years and fit the description of a poor beginning teacher. I had no master teacher to help; I just found a way that works—at the expense of a couple of years of students trying to learn from me! Reading your accounts of the stirrings of “Back to Basics” movement and early forms of standardized testing was like a walk down Memory Lane. I remember hearing about the “Pendulum” from the older teachers, but I embraced each new trend with enthusiasm and rigor. Eventually, I became disillusioned, too, with each new program and never getting the results I had hoped for. Your book helped me understand the “why and how” of each new movement. Now, I am tired and discouraged.

I voted for Obama, hoping that he would “see the light.” I have become increasingly disappointed after his Race to the Top program. He is the same old corporate puppet in a new disguise. I believe that we are witnessing the end of equal opportunity by equal access to equal education in America. I am sad for the recent and future generations of “testing” kids. Our schools cannot teach quality, when we teach multiple-choice tests. Our nation may never recover from the losses of multiple generations of drone lessons. It is no wonder so many kids play exciting video games full of color and creative plots, when their classes have zero creativity. As we close equal access to quality, we become less of a democracy. The America for which my father fought for (and for which I teach with pride) will become a video available on a side aisle in Walmart.

I hope it’s not too late. I plan to teach for several more years and want to take action, but I do not know where to start. What can I do?

Thanks again, Diane. You are my new hero!

Daniel Morgan


May 6, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I am a third-term school board member in suburban Philadelphia and I am writing on behalf of the Southeastern Pennsylvania School Districts’ Education Coalition. Founded in 2006, SPSDEC is a grassroots, informal public education advocacy network of 124 school board members and administrators from 62 school districts, primarily in suburban Philadelphia but also reaching suburban Pittsburgh and the Lehigh Valley.

We have been grappling with the testing and choice juggernaut and your book has really resonated with us.

The PA Senate Education Committee recently voted out of committee an “Education Empowerment” bill sponsored by the Chairman, Jeff Piccola. It would continue the focus on choice and state takeover of struggling districts. The state has had control of the impoverished Chester-Upland School District since 2000 with dismal results; in 2008-09, just 18 percent of Chester-Upland’s 11th-graders passed the state PSSA reading test.

Coincidentally, a wealthy Chester-Upland charter school owner has given copious amounts of money to the Republican Party and it was recently reported that he has given $136,000 to PA gubernatorial front-runner Republican Tom Corbett.

However, this is bi-partisan: a couple weeks ago it was reported that three hedge fund managers who share Democratic gubernatorial candidate Senator Anthony Williams’ passion for charter schools had given a whopping $1.5 million to his campaign.

We are working to get copies of your latest book into the hands of at least 115 Pennsylvania education policymakers. These include:


The newly designated Secretary of Education, Tom Gluck

The Chairman and members of the State Board of Education

The Executive Directors of the General Assembly’s Education Committees (these are the folks
      most likely to actually read the book)

All members of the PA Senate Education Committee

All members of the PA House Education Committee

PA Senate Leadership

PA House Leadership

Pennsylvania’s Federal Congressmen and Senators

PA Gubernatorial candidates


Please see the attached email that was sent to our entire SPSDEC network this morning, asking them to pledge a few dollars to support the effort; so far we have pledges totaling $1070 – not a bad start. We are also working on media coverage.

We are hoping that you might be able to lend some support, perhaps by providing a note that we could attach or by signing the books. Our goal is to educate our policymakers, promote public dialogue and hopefully impact public policy. We are open to any suggestions.

Thanks and Best Regards,

Larry Feinberg
Lawrence A. Feinberg, Co-Chairman
Southeastern PA School Districts Education Coalition


June 23, 2010

Hi Diane–

I am writing to follow up and let you know that we ended up raising over $2200 and purchased 100 copies of your book.

Today a group of 6 school board members from around the state went to Harrisburg to deliver those books at the Capitol. It gave us an opportunity to discuss these issues with several of our legislators. We are still working on getting some press.

It takes time and effort to turn a large ship—thanks again for writing The Death and Life; I am hoping it will help us mobilize and focus the effort needed to do so.

I understand that the Delaware County Intermediate Unit has invited you to speak to a Southeastern Pennsylvania regional group of school board members, administrators and other education advocates. I am hoping that you might be able to fit us into your busy schedule.

Here’s an update on the three hedge fund managers and charter school supporters who contributed to State Senator Anthony Williams gubernatorial campaign; school choice has become the crack cocaine of foundation and political giving:

“Pa. ’s Record Campaign Donors: Trio Give $5 Million Plus to Sen. Williams”

No one had ever donated anywhere close to this much cash for a political campaign in Pennsylvania. Previous reports showed that a trio of executives at Susquehanna International Group in Bala Cynwyd already had ventured far into historic territory by giving at least $3 million to support State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams’ Democratic primary race for governor.

“The three executives had said through a spokesman before the primary that they were backing Williams because they liked his stance on school choice, particularly the use of publicly funded vouchers to enable more families to pay for private education. ”


Lawrence A. Feinberg
Southeastern PA School Districts Education Coalition


May 7, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I watched the program yesterday because I am very much interested in the charter school situation.

First let me tell you that I am an ordinary citizen who was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I am 47 years of age. I have a public school education and only went as far as a two-year degree from CUNY. At present, my youngest son is a student in CUNY. I am not someone who is well read in the field of education. However, I have always felt strongly about how important the education system is and how it is failing.

I, too, agree with you one hundred percent that charter schools (the way they are being run) are not the answer. I, too, believe that it is common sense that the entire school system be changed and improved and not just a very small percentage. It is just outrageous to me that some charter schools are put right into another public school, taking space and programs away from a system that is already overcrowded and underfunded. It so happens that my son’s junior high school was chosen to have a charter school added. The parents in my neighborhood (Marine Park) went nuts. They immediately took action and fought it. Even though my children have been out of middle school for some time, I was still furious and paid attention to see what the outcome would be. The parents won this battle but I feel that the war is just beginning. There are so many people out there who don’t see the whole picture and think the charter schools are the greatest thing. I also don’t believe that the criteria for being admitted to a charter school is being followed. I happen to know two parents whose children were accepted or are applying to charter schools. I truly believe that the lottery system that is supposed to be used is not working and am sure that some type of screening is taking place.

The future of this country is our students. Why do our politicians NOT see this?

P.S. Now that I’ve seen the list of books you authored, some will be going on my reading list.




June 18, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Thank you for your timely response on the current state of public education under NCLB in The Death and Life of the Great American School System. As a high school principal I am frustrated about the disruptive nature of this legislation. As Dr. Seymour Sarason so eloquently said many times, the standardized test scores tell us next to nothing about what goes on in a classroom on a daily basis.

I constantly feel that I walk a tightrope as I try to promote good teaching while playing the game of standardized testing. I can tell you that I have many good teachers—from the same mold as Mrs. Ratliff, at Eastside High School in Greenville, SC. I believe it is my job to protect them from the disruptive nature of current educational policy, to allow them to provide the very best educational experiences for students. This is no small task, as any downturn in test scores or the graduation rate sends waves of concern about possible problems at the school.

All this occurs while we try to promote sustained silent reading, argumentative research and writing, inquiry-based instruction and other student-centered instruction that attempts to make the theoretical nature of high school courses more relevant for students. Then, the 67 question multiple-choice U.S. History End of Course test, for example, provides no assessment of students’ development of the historian’s craft of researching and writing. You can guess what gets sacrificed as teachers worry about judgments made about them based on these test scores!

I completed my dissertation in 2007 and published it as a book, Breaking the Cycle of Failed School Reform: What Five Failed Reforms Tell Us. I based my qualitative research on Dr. Sarason’s ideas about why reform predictably fails. I started from the beginning of public education in America, with the Lancastrian Plan, and researched the development of schooling and reform to the present day. Much to my chagrin, I found that our school reform attempts follow the same path and they all fail as a result.

It is my hope that Arne Duncan and other educational policy experts will read your book and gain an understanding of the field of education and what is at stake at this moment in time. Based on what I have learned about policy experts to this point, I know that I should not hold my breath on this. Furthermore, I think we are finding out that Mr. Duncan and his Race to the Top are taking NCLB to new lows. I again say thank you for your analysis of the current state of educational policy, and maybe it can serve as a beacon of light in this moment of turbulence.

Yours truly,

John Tharp


June 18, 2010


I just finished your book and I want to thank you for all that you’ve done on behalf of public education, for articulating so clearly what so many of us educators are thinking, and for helping us understand the route of public education and how it ended up where it is today. Your book has inspired me to continue to stand up “to improving the schools, infusing them with the substance of genuine learning and reviving the conditions that make learning possible.”

I am a fourth-grade teacher in Mankato, MN and have two children enrolled in the district. I am honored to be in the position that I am in. I feel so fortunate to wake up every day and have the opportunity to work toward a common goal of helping our students to reach their potential and become all that they can be. To quote John Dewey, I feel strongly “that what every parent wants for their own children, so too should a community want for all its children.” I am increasingly concerned about the direction that education in the U.S., and Mankato in particular, is going as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act that was passed in 2002. As a result of this concern that I feel on a regular basis in the classroom and at home with my own two children, I have spent many hours researching NCLB and reading numerous articles and books written by leading educators in the U.S. to get their perspective on the latest information regarding the affect of this law on education and our public schools. I recently finished reading your latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I wish that all educators and policy makers would read it. To say that I am deeply concerned about what you and these other educators say about the impact of this law on K-12 education, and the direction that education in general is going, is an understatement. Sadly, our schools have become “test prep centers” forcing students to memorize correct answers for standardized tests and teaching to the test, reducing instructional time for subjects not required by NCLB, limiting the quality of education in an effort to raise test scores. I fear that if we don’t do something to change the perception that high test scores are equivalent to a good education we are going to have a generation of students who receive an inferior education and look upon learning as a means to a high test score rather than as a lifelong goal. We may have students who score high on a reading test but won’t want to read tomorrow. I also know the frustration of teachers who are rapidly becoming burned out by the ever-increasing mandates being imposed upon them in an effort to raise test scores. We are so busy trying to appease these NCLB mandates handed down to districts, which in effect censor teachers and force conformity, that we often neglect to stop and question the pedagogy of all that we are doing. True teaching cannot be done under such circumstances. To once again echo the words of John Dewey, “Education should be seen as a process of living, not solely a preparation for future living. To take children seriously is to value them for who they are right now rather than seeing them as adults-in-the-making.”

Thank you again, Diane, for helping to give me hope that American public education can be saved. I am going to accept your challenge “to create a renaissance in education, one that goes well beyond the basic skills that have recently been the singular focus of federal activity, a renaissance that seeks to teach the best that has been thought and known and done in every field of endeavor.”

In closing, I would like ask you what can I do to be most effective in promoting change.


Tim Hatlestad


April 25, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

I want to thank you for writing your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I heard a book talk on KGO radio recently and immediately bought it (yes, I recently bought a kindle, so it was IMMEDIATELY).

I am a retired teacher (as of June 2009) and special educator. I came into education when everyone, including the custodian, at my school in Santa Barbara, California, had a teaching credential. My first job was as an aide. I went from English major intent on teaching high school in 1970 to special education because (1) that’s where there were jobs and (2) I was appalled by the lack of reading skills in high school and junior high school where I student taught.

Your book and your talk both resonated with me and disturbed me, and I say that with highest praise. I could never quite master the p.c. language and thought of what education was doing since about the mid-90s in my district in Newark, CA. Everything you have said was/is happening right down to this very small district. When I began, our staff would determine a focus for improvement each year. When I left, everything had spun so out of control that multiple multiple new “trainings” were being thrown at us every month. I used to joke that “they” would listen to me if I prefaced any opinion with “research says...”

I felt I was within a sequel to “The Emperor’s New Clothes” if you get my comparison.

I left with a frustration about education, not about the kids. I am volunteering (I joke that the retirement is being paid for me to stay away) 3 hours a day in an ELD classroom and in a general education 6th grade class. I can work with students, model teach with younger colleagues, and not have any of the paperwork that is absolutely burying special and general education teachers. It is fun!

Thank you for speaking up. I had considered running for the school board in my small town/district, but decided against it because the issues are too deep and the mindset too set. However, I am recommending your book to our superintendent and to each member of the school board, personally. I was considered an excellent teacher, but my program of improvement was internal. I knew my weaknesses and strengths. I never felt “they” were asking the right questions, the things that I saw as incomplete and bothersome. Instead, inservice and staff development were done to us. Often there were issues teachers felt needed to be explored and discussed, but... All the while, teachers are vilified in the media. I was patient for a long time (maybe next year, they’ll...). It never happened. When NCLB said “jump,” administrators seemed to say “how high.”

I needn’t go over my frustrations with education with you. Thank you for speaking up. Thank you for doing the research to validate what teachers all over this nation are feeling.

Melinda Pickens
Special Education, Elementary Lead Teacher NUSD, retired 2009
Lecturer, California State University East Bay, retired


P.S. (July 11, 2010): Since I wrote, I have convinced my book club to read this book. I feel that it is the most important book I have read in a very long time. There is so much right with education and so much wrong. I am disappointed in the politicians who have picked up a few buzzwords without really understanding the issues and without really asking questions which will lead to substantive changes that benefit students, teachers, parents, and communities.


April 1, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I just want to thank you for your book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. You have helped to focus and crystallize the many thoughts and emotions I have had in response to the implementation of NCLB. I have deeply grieved for my students as I witnessed the devastating effects of this law on learning.

I am in my 37th year of teaching as a special education/reading specialist teacher and greatly enjoy working with 5th and 6th grade children in a rural school district in central Pennsylvania. I deeply yearn to impart a love for learning and the excitement that comes from engaging with the great ideas inherent in literature and history. Right now we are preparing for the April test mania. So much instructional time is wasted that would be better spent in classroom instruction. Will we ever come to our senses and recover the richness of our heritage and traditions that were so much a part of my growing up years where the neighborhood schools flourished and prospered? I truly believe that a deep renewal will need to take place in our souls as a people for this to happen. I hope your book will be widely read and have a sobering effect on the educational community.

I intend to share your book with our new curriculum director, with whom I have been working closely, as we are in the process of adopting a new reading program.


Drake Owen


P.S. (July 11, 2010): Since finishing the book I have passed it on to my school superintendent and also our curriuculum director. The curriculum director is especially open to Ms. Ravitch’s ideas and is now reading The Knowledge Deficit by E.D. Hirsch. I look forward to some good decisions coming out of such wonderful thoughts and ideas.


March 3, 2010

Hello Dr. Ravitch,

I totally agree with and applaud your change of heart about high-stakes testing, and the fact that you are speaking out about NCLB/RTT bringing about the death of public education. I would love to help you fight for a school system that actually teaches children, and doesn’t reduce education opportunities to the lowest common denominator.

I currently teach in a school that has not made AYP for some years; as a result, we’ve been forced to implement a program called “Teach4Success,” which is absolutely about teaching to the lowest level. It has saddened and sickened the teachers at the school, and made us feel less like teachers and more like robots. Something has got to give. If you are interested, I would love it if you could come visit our high school (I know there are several hoops through which you would have to jump in order to do so, but I think the more you see, the more of a case you could make, although I am not sure at this point who would listen). I also would be willing to help you in any way to bring about some sort of effective change in the education system.

Keep up the good fight; there are many of us with you.



March 2010


Just finished Death and Life, an explosive review of education reform of the last 40 years. My wife was a counselor in one of the San Diego schools during the Bersin era—at a high school—and watched with dismay as students, teachers, and administrators were humiliated, brutalized, and driven out of schools. As a special educator for 35 years, I have watched, during this period, the control of public education slip from the public’s control to the private sector and high-stakes testing determine curriculum decisions. The Career Technical Education (shop) courses that used to keep Sp. Ed. and many non-college-bound students interested in school and offered a second way to teach mathematical and scientific concepts have been wiped out in California and many states. When graduation requirements were raised, the dropout rate increased greatly, although many school districts have tried to hide this by coding students as having moved, etc. I am working on a book regarding this and the college failure rate—where are the high-tech jobs graduates were promised? Thanks again for this wonderful expose of reform as it stands now.

Steve Hager


March 2010

As a teacher and former education journalist who has disagreed with you for most of her professional life, I want to now thank you for your leadership in combatting the reductivist mentality wracking public education. If there is anything I can do to help counter that mentality, please let me know.

Kaye Thompson Peters

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


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