Diane Ravitch

Comments and Letters

Page 5


June 27, 2010


I write again so soon because I neglected to thank you for the great service you are doing for American education and American democracy. Although there are others who are speaking up for kids, teachers, and public schools, yours is the one voice that is being heard by the public at large and—I hope—by those in power. Many of us just keep on doing what we can and hoping that, ultimately, our voices will be loud enough and persistent enough to penetrate the wall of ignorance and mean-spiritedness that surrounds our lawmakers.

For me, the great glory of the American school system of the recent past was its inclusiveness and forgiveness. I think first of all of the World War II veterans who made careers and lives because of the GI Bill, of myself who never would have gone to college if it hadnšt been for a state scholarship and a waitress job, and then of three of my own children who were given second chances to make it through college when they blew their initial opportunities. Finally, I think of the (too few) poor and minority kids who have made it because some schools and some teachers cared about them. For the sake of all the children now in school and those to come, we must do whatever it takes to rescue our public schools, return them to their past virtues, guide them past the potholes of false reform, and push them forward to the greatness they can yet achieve.


Joanne Yatvin


February 25, 2010

Dear Diane,

Two days ago I received from your publisher a copy of your new book. I have now read it—cover to cover—and I congratulate you upon it. While the renunication of your earlier views is of some “inside baseball” interest, by far more important is your eloquent argument about how we need to make better schools in which children learn important material. As both you and I have said on so many occasions, there is no magic bullet which will make all schools better and all children well educated, in both wit and character.

As I read along, I thought how enormously proud Larry Cremin would have been to be able to read this (and naturally to claim a bit of credit for your wise views!). A democracy needs this statement, that we need improved education for everyone and that single studies of this or that (value added, small schools, teacher qualifications) do not amount to genuine improvement in the learning of all our children. So, in short, Congratulations!


Patricia A. Graham


March 3, 2010

Having cut my teeth on your work in graduate school, I must write to tell you that I am heartened by what people consider to be your jumping of ship (NYT 3/3).

I understand it as intellectual honesty, something I believe to be all too rare in the academy—and in debates around school reform. As you show, we should all change direction when evidence points us that way. This is not often the case, as usually we fail to see the evidence or see it and prescribe more of the same. You are right, in schools standardized testing has run roughshod over learning, as the tool has become the task.

I have a 7-year-old in a “good” public school, and sit shaking my head as she fills out worksheets called “mad minutes,” in which she has a minute to do as many math problems as possible. I count the minute, and cringe at the madness.

But I am not writing to commend you for finally switching to the right team. It is more that having a scholar of your magnitude framed as changing course gives us new scholars permission to be wrong—which we all will eventually be if we really try to put our ideas into print and practice—and to learn right across ideological lines. It takes courage to change course on profoundly political issues like school reform, and I commend yours. I hope I will have it when the truth with a small t seems to be somewhere other than where I am.

Only good things,

Aiden Downey


July 11, 2010

I spent xxx years in a charter running the school for the founder. He lacked education experience, and it showed. However, he was a master of data spin and manipulation. Early on, he had the notice of a lot of top people including Richard Reilly, Gerald Tirrozzi and [our senator]. Currently he is on the NCLB failure list and I am not sure how they handled the “fire the teachers and principals” stage. His lack of teaching and business background are not helping him. You are right on about how charters work. I became a master at keeping out the most difficult and finding ways to move on the most difficult. I think his problem since I left is his greed to fill seats, and he lacks experience in the signals of the troubled enrollment. In one example he took a student in haste, and because his mother was knowledgeable it took me almost 2 years to get him out, and that was because he brought a gun to school. (He is currently incarcerated for dealing drugs I believe.) I see so many of the same problems you have brought up with our current super. He suffers from PHDitis! He thinks every great idea must come from a PHD so we have hired many who have had little experience or success in classroom and have many theoretical ideas, and we run off on the “flavor of the week idea.” We have lots of great catch phrases like “accountability for all”; only the teachers are held accountable and students are not really required to perform. (There is a topic I could write my own book about, but it better sell because I would be out of a job for my criticism of our system.)

Anyway, again thanks for the book. To me you wrote nothing revolutionary. Anybody in the trenches for at least 5 years can see every bit of it.



March 12, 2010

Dear Diane Ravitch,

It was with gratitude that I listened to you yesterday on the Diane Rehm Show, thinking, finally, the voice I have been longing to hear!

For thirty years I’ve worked as a poet in public schools along California’s central coast. First and second graders have always been the finest poets, seeing the world, as they do, for the first time and having the ability to express, free from hesitation, what they see and experience. Till now.

It’s been a gradual decline, yes, but this year, I’m stunned and leave school feeling horribly sad at the end of the day. It seems the children’s imaginations have gone on strike! Thinking for themselves and articulating it in poetry has become extremely difficult. It used to be that poetry, with its anything-goes attitude, was an open door that lead to the room of the imagination. It’s as if the young children haven’t the ability to think. I hesitate to write this, but the room that has been deemed acceptable to draw from has gotten awfully small. Kids aren’t able to move freely there.

So thank you for naming what is true! I am most grateful. I feel less alone.


Patrice Vecchione


March 18, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch,

I was completely riveted to your new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I have been teaching on the “front lines” in District 4 (East Harlem) of the New York City Department of Education for over 12 years. Having been raised and educated in the more intimate suburban schools of Rhode Island, I am especially captured by your reminiscences of your similar schooling in Texas.

I have recommended your book to every educator with whom I come into contact. Having endured the cutting and often personal attacks offered by the DOE pertaining to testing, practices, and micromanagement, I felt as though your book was the closest I’d ever come to reading my own biography! There have been so many junctures at which my colleagues and I have met in the teachers’ lounge to question, “Is this madness all in our heads? Is this a nightmare from which we will awaken?” Your empirical substantiation of the current trends in testing, evaluation, and management made for a page-turning literary event. Although I have kept abreast of these issues only superficially through union papers and the mass media, I learned an incredible amount of “behind-the-scenes” happenings that occur each day in Washington and the board offices of the nation’s wealthiest foundation moguls. I thank you for the insight into the machinations and mechanics of that which is causing this national breakdown in what ought to be a world-class education system, especially in 2010.

I write to encourage you to continue to voice your statements and findings to those in power who can render change in our nation’s schools. I wonder if your book might not lend itself seamlessly to a television documentary. I continue to be stunned by the number of very intelligent, educated citizens who have absolutely no idea of the crisis that is occurring within our nation’s schools. I was recently at a dinner party at which the guests remained appalled at my revelations pertaining to Mayor Bloomberg’s autonomy. They sat completely disillusioned as I recounted many of the same points made in your chapter about the NYC DOE. As a native of Rhode Island (where an entire high school faculty was recently fired for its school’s low test scores), I am particularly incensed at the fashionable scapegoating of teachers that is reaching bloodlust levels in the media and by word of mouth. I hope someone might be able to find a conduit through which your impeccable research might be disseminated to the nation’s citizens.

As I write to you now, I have already begun the process of relocating personally and professionally to a Connecticut school system that honors the two ingredients you have validated in your book—the art of collaboration between the community, administrators, politicians, teachers, and students and a varied and rich curriculum that restores its focus to more enlightened yesteryears. I am coping with the guilt of leaving District 4 mid-career, but have personally had enough of the micromanagement as well as the egregious lack of vision, foresight, and development that daily impedes our school administrators.

Many congratulations to you for a timely and pertinent book. I hope your sage advice will find its way to the growing number of indifferent naysayers before any more damage is done to our nation’s students.

With deepest appreciation and admiration,

Andrew Long


March 17, 2010

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

It was exceedingly refreshing to listen to your wisdom on education reform on the Wednesday News Hour. I am a school teacher, about to retire, who is deeply concerned about the future of education in this country. I am concerned because once again the focus of reform is on teacher performance, punitive measures and copying a corporate “top-down” structure which is neither democratic nor effective (that includes the private sector).

I teach in a “white,” high-performing, parent-involved rural school district where the average educational level is high. Our students regularly achieve high test scores and perform above the state average. Nevertheless, administration, in an effort to garner federal funds, has assumed control of our curriculum and our classrooms and, frankly, doesn’t know what it is doing. I for one, do not want to be held accountable for the achievement of my students when I am pressured to teach curriculum material that is not adequate or effective.

Thank you for your thoughtful, reflective comments on the research you have read. I also have some reading research I am trying to get my district to look at but have not been invited into the discussion. I have nothing to lose. I will retire soon, but the children of our nation have everything to lose if we don’t give teachers a voice in the reform process and if we don’t provide support to failing schools. I know we can do better but my administration isn’t listening to me or my colleagues.

I especially appreciated in your discussion on the News Hour the fact that you pointed out that charter schools, on average, have proven to be no better than public schools. Charter schools, formed by parents and teachers, can become elitist and leave out the very children we are trying to help.

Thank you for a thoughtful, knowledgeable perspective on public schools. I believe deeply in educational opportunites for all and remember the “War on Poverty” under the Johnson administration when economics, language barriers, income levels, racism and other cultural factors were taken into consideration and inner-city schools were supported, not punished.

Yours truly,

Cherry Champagne


August 1, 2010

Hello Dr. Ravitch:

I am about to begin my twenty-fourth year of teaching. I love what I do, I love the students whom I teach, and the people with whom I work. Our schools are high performing, and children really do receive a top quality education, from start to finish in all subject areas.

I have been following your comments on Facebook for quite some time, and have commented on many of your postings. I have been reading The Death and Life... all while I am following the national trends in education. New Jersey, as you may know, is facing a major crossroads on how education is delivered. This weekend, I had occasion to speak with two friends who teach outside of New Jersey—one in the Raleigh, North Carolina are and the other in Arizona. The horror stories that they shared with me about non-union public schools in NC and “the CEO of our school” and “the company that runs our school” in Arizona have made it impossible for me to sleep.

I guess that I am writing to you today to ask just what people like me can do to help save public school education. I commented on the Facebook group that it’s too bad that the teachers’ unions are only viewed by the American public as being self-preservationist groups concerned only with salaries, benefits, and job security, and not as respected organizations who are trained, college educated experts in their field. I guess that if the American Medical Association argued for salaries, they too would have their opinions and experience discounted.

Anyway, it’s no surprise that the trends in education are being dictated not by educational need, but by economic conditions.

Public educations seems to have no advocates in government. President Obama, Secretary Duncan, Congress and countless governors and state legislators all believe that they have the answers. Every day we seem to hear things about the economy and national debt like, “we can’t leave this problem to our children and grandchildren.” However, I believe that if the trends in education continue, we will not only leave them with an unrealizable debt, but also without the tools and knowledge to address the problem.

A few months ago, my brother and I got into a discussion about unions, tenure, seniority, etc. —the hot-button items. He asked me why I, as a tenured teacher, should enjoy the benefits of seniority and job protection. I turned around and said that I believed the question should be reversed—why shouldn’t other workers have those benefits. Have we taken competition so far in the corporate and business world that we have entirely forgotten about cooperation? Whenever there is a competition—a “race” you might say—there can only be one winner. I think this is the problem with the nation’s educational direction, and indeed with the entire American economic situation. Perhaps rather than education being made to follow a business model, businesses should look to education for the model.

Well, I’m sure this must all seem like I’m babbling on at this point.

I would love an opportunity to meet you, perhaps to work with you or for you. I believe you are the nation’s strongest advocate for public education today. It would be great if you could address the New Jersey state legislature soon, and I hope that your message can reach the President and Congress.

I pray that it’s not too late.



July 19, 2010

Thank you for writing this clearly written and well-substantiated book in defense of Public Education at this critical juncture. I sent the following message to my public elementary school colleagues here in Eureka, California, and have since purchased five more copies of your book which I am sending to the members of our school board, urging them to read it as well.


Good article and video of Diane Ravitch speaking at following link:


I read her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education on a recent backpacking trip, and found it very enlightening, as well as heartening that someone with her credentials and gravitas is speaking out so strongly against NCLB and Obama’s “Race to the Top” and his encouragement of the “Billionaire Boys’ Club” support for charter schools.

Hope you're all having a terrific summer...



Steve Catton


March 11, 2010

Ms. Ravitch,

I am a mere 11 pages into your new book and must write to say thank you. Things have gotten so bad in education from a political standpoint that I have begun saying on a fairly regular basis to my colleagues, “Everyone hates us—even President Obama.” In fact, I’m sad to report that I said that to a group of future teachers from Purdue University who visited my classroom today. I’m not typically a negative guy—I’m active in my township in Indianapolis where my wife and I both teach and where we send our children to school. I’m proud of our organization while recognizing that we do have flaws. But all in all, I love what I do each day and am honored to have the opportunity to try to reach teens in my art class each day.

So, I’m inclined to thank you already for what promises to be a great read. I’ve already recommended the book to two others (I’ve owned it for about 2 hours) and will likely be discussing it for some time. My only hope is that it awakens those who still believe in some of the terribly flawed paths we are currently pursuing.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Michal Lile


March 13, 2010

I just listened to the podcast today with Diane Rehm, and I cannot agree more wholeheartedly with what you are reporting. I thought Diane was carefully neutral in her questions but very incredulous and finding it hard to believe that what is happening to public education is so destructive. I have been seeing this for years and blame NCLB as a primary culprit. I am a public school teacher of special-needs children age 3-5 in a big, poor, inner-city school district that struggles on all fronts. One of my nagging questions about the merit pay issue is: How am I supposed to qualify for merit pay when my job is to teach the “least of these” babies? Yet we know that early childhood education is the first step and ultimately most important step to later success. As Kurt Vonnegut says: “So it goes.” (I am from Indiana!) Thank you and keep the message up front where everyone can hear and maybe understand.

Ruth Penner


March 27, 2010

Dear Ms. Ravitch:

I am an inner-city high school teacher in southern California. The high school is located in a neighborhood that is economically low, highly dense in population, and culturally Hispanic. I felt the news of what happened in Rhode Island at the center of my heart. In response to that article, I commented to a colleague, “Oh my...! They can do anything to us now.”

Two days later we were informed that two of our high schools and one of our intermediate schools were named under-performing in order to meet and receive the funding offered by “Race to The Top.” We felt bad for our sister schools, but confident about why we had escaped the list. For the past three years, as the bar was raised higher each year, our test scores surpassed it. Last year we were awarded a 6-year accreditation as well, by the WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Schools) team evaluating the criteria we provided for our school to meet accreditation. Shockingly, at the end of the same week our superintendent held an emergency meeting with us after school to announce that we too, and two more schools in our district, were added to the list.

What do we do now? I am posting articles at my place of work regarding your words and point of view on current and past events on education reform. For a long time it has become more and more difficult to cope with what I am asked to do to kids in the name of education. I keep asking myself, where and how do I respond? I feel so insignificant and invisible. I explore the possibilities of leaving, but I don’t know how to go about it with out committing financial suicide. Yet, I am also afraid to stay. How long can my essence survive participating in what is an antithesis to my core beliefs? Help.



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


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