Thursday, September 05, 2013

Attack of the Education Pseudo-Reformers

a review by Edd Doerr

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, by Diane Ravitch, Alfred A. Knopf, 2013, $27.95.

Make no mistake, America's public schools, an indispensable component of our democracy, are under serious siege. Hordes of pseudo-reformers, privatizers, voucherizers, charterizers, hucksters, snake-oil salesmen, privateers, wealthy right wing foundations, billionaire busybodies, hijackers, conservative ideologues, Religious Right gurus, political hacks, assorted non-educators, and media toadies are working day and night to undermine, weaken and destroy our public schools. Their tsunamis of funds spent on lobbying and influencing elections dwarfs to insignificance the paltry sums spent by the teacher unions on advocacy for children and teachers.

Education historian Diane Ravitch, author of the important 2010 book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Underming Education, spells this out in fine, well documented detail in Reign of Error, which may well be the most important single book on education in a century.

She shows how the pseudo-reformers are wrongly portraying our schools as "failing" when the reality is that they have been making steady progress, despite being being inadequately and inequitably funded and despite years of incessant conservative sniping. (The book has 41 charts of NAEP data in the appendix.) She shows clearly how the mania for testing testing testing undermines education and forces schools to neglect science, history, civics, the arts and languages in order to concentrate on preparing students for endless useless tests; how vouchers, charter schools and virtual or cyber schooling are horribly overrated; how wholesale closing of public schools (viz. New York, Chicago, etc) damages communities and children. She names names (like the execrable Michelle Rhee), identifies the powerful groups undermining public schools, pins the tail on the jackasses working to wreck public education.

Ravitch does not just expose what is wrong with the pseudo-reformers and privatizers, she offers common sense, reasonable, tested ideas for improving the already steadily advancing public schools: serious efforts to alleviate the poverty affecting 25% of American kids; prenatal care for all pregnant women; high quality early childhood education for all kids; enriched curriculum in all schools; lower class sizes (note that the private schools patronized by the wealthy all have small class sizes);  revamping charter schools to their original purpose as locally run community schools run by professional teachers working with, not against, local regular public schools; a full range of medical and social wraparound services; elimination of high-stakes standardized tests; upgrading the teaching profession (as in Finland); maintaining democratic control of public schools.

A mere review cannot begin to cover the richness of this book. It has to be read -- by every teacher, every administrator, every parent, every citizen (liberal, conservative, moderate, whatever) who cares about the future of our country and our children.

As a teacher for 8 years and as an education activist and writer for nearly 50 years, I cannot praise this book too highly. Buy it. Read it. Act on it.

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