If you plopped down in an airline seat next to Diane Ravitch, your first thought might be that this pleasant-looking gray-haired lady was a grandmother on the way to see grandchildren. And since she is a grandmother, you might well be right.
But what you wouldn’t know is that you were seated next to one of the country’s most well-known education scholars who has written 10 books and edited another 14, a former assistant secretary of education under President George H. W. Bush and someone who has received eight honorary doctorates and lectured throughout the world.
And it is her latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Choice and Testing are Undermining Education, that is generating widespread comment throughout education circles.
I recently read the book, which was on the New York Times best-seller list, and underlined more passages than I ever have in one previously. Dr. Ravitch makes a compelling case that almost everything now being touted as “education reform” is simply not working, is often based on flawed or scant research and is being driven more by corporate and foundation groupthink than by sound education logic.
And when it comes to reform, she knows of what she speaks because she was once a staunch advocate of many of the ideas that she now believes are doing great harm to public education in this country.
So when I learned a few days ago that she was making a presentation on April 28 to the Dallas Institute for Humanities & Culture I decided to gas up the car and head west. I was not disappointed.
She spoke to a group of 300 (many of them teachers) at Booker T. Washington High School in downtown Dallas. While hardly a flamethrower, she spoke with the conviction and self-assurance of someone who passionately believes in what she is saying.
Here are some of my notes:
I’ve been around a long time. I’ve interviewed a president, have testified before Congressional committees, been around governors, Senators, Congressmen and corporate leaders. Over time you begin to develop a sixth sense about who is real and who isn’t. I think Dr. Ravitch is real. She is not seeking recognition or fame or kindly editorials. For her, that all happened long ago. Instead, I think she has a genuine belief, backed by substantial thought, study and research that, in many ways, we simply have new voices urging us down paths we’ve already trod with limited, if any, success.
This is her web site. I encourage you to read it and, especially, listen to some of the interviews. I also encourage you to read her new book.