“Reign of Error” by Diane Ravitch: A Review

 

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools

Dr. Ravitch shatters one corporate reform myth after another with clarity providing excellent background information in the Notes and Appendix of this book.

Because of her courageousness and direct approach, expect the corporate media to attack her because no one is left standing in this book, at least on the reform side, from President Obama’s support of school privatization to the machinations of Michelle Rhee.

This book is a perfect reference guide to all things ed reform. Don’t understand much about test scores? Check out the chapters “The Facts About Test Scores” and “The Facts About International Test Scores”. Don’t know the history of Michelle Rhee? Go to “The Mystery of Michele Rhee”. How about the Parent Trigger? Read the chapter “Parent Trigger or Parent Tricker”. (Love the title).

The best part is that after Dr. Ravitch explains all things corporate reform, she provides real solutions to the challenges of public education. The answers aren’t easy, there is no silver bullet as she explains, but the solutions are based on a wide range and depth of knowledge, history, experience and good old-fashion common sense.

And the cover? You can’t miss it. A marketing ploy? Possibly. This book will stand out in bookstores and in history as a go-to guide on public education in this decade.

Now for some specifics.

In the Introduction, Dr. Ravitch states:

“The purpose of this book is to answer four questions.

First, is American education in crisis?

Second, is American education failing and declining?

Third, what is the evidence for the reforms now being promoted by the federal government and adopted in many states?”

Fourth, what should we do to improve our schools and the lives of children?

A tall order but Dr. Ravitch accomplishes this by the end of the book and beyond with a comprehensive set of book notes and an appendix with all of the graphs and charts that any statistician would love.

Each chapter is detailed with information that makes this book an excellent reference guide.

In her chapter, “Our Schools Are at Risk”, Dr. Ravitch states:

“Public education is not broken. It is not failing or declining. The diagnosis is wrong, and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong. Our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation. But public education is not “broken”. Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.”

Dr. Ravitch continues further in the chapter:

“As a society, we must establish goals, strategies, and programs to reduce poverty and racial segregation. Only by eliminating opportunity gaps can we eliminate achievement gaps. Poor and immigrant children need the same sorts of schools that wealthy children have, only more so. Those who start life with the fewest advantages need even smaller class sizes, even more art, science and music to engage them, to spark their creativity, and to fulfill their potential.”

In the chapter “The Context for Corporate Reform”, Dr. Ravitch describes the hidden cost of the Common Core Standards, the part that the US Department of Education does not explain to the states or school districts. The estimate is $16 billion.

She then goes into more detail about the Common Core Standards, how it has not been field tested and yet has been embraced by edupreneurs thanks to the efforts of the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and his Chief of Staff, Joanne Weiss, formerly with the New Schools Venture Fund.

Dr. Ravitch has done her homework.

On the subject of test scores, Dr. Ravitch in the chapter titled “The Facts About Test Scores”, describes in detail the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reporting on student test scores in the US and abroad, how they should be interpreted and points out that Guggenheim, in his movie “Waiting for Superman”, misinterpreted the test scores.

In her chapter titled “The Facts About the Achievement Gap”, Ravitch responds to the claim that the corporate reform movement is the “civil rights issue of our time”. Dr. Ravitch writes:

It defies reason to believe that Martin Luther King, Jr. would march arm in arm with Wall Street hedge fund managers and members of ALEC to lead a struggle for the privatization of public education, the crippling of unions, and the establishment of for-profit schools. Privatization inevitably means deregulation, greater segregation, and less equity, with minimal oversight by public authorities. Privatization has typically not been a friend to powerless groups.

Then Dr. Ravitch continues with a thorough evaluation of what is termed “The Achievement Gap”.

In her chapter “The Contradictions of Charter Schools”, Dr. Ravitch writes:

Reasonable people may reach different conclusions on the question of whether charter schools are truly public schools. Charter school operators have asked the courts and the National Labor Relations Board to rule that they are private entities, private employers and private contractors. This seems reason enough to conclude that they are private actors and that their expansion represents privatization.

Later in the chapter, Dr. Ravitch breaks down the amount of money spent on students in charter schools as opposed to students in public schools. Charter schools spend significantly less on their pupils than their public school counterparts and instead spend more money on administration, not teachers.

Next, Charter Management Organizations (CMO’s) and Educational Management Organizations (EMO’s). Diane Ravitch describes how they drain school districts of money. She also describes online learning with a focus on the financial enterprise, Rocketship, and how that style of education compares to students attending a private school. It doesn’t.

In the “Parent Trigger, Parent Tricker” chapter, Dr. Ravitch describes the involvement of the Parent Revolution with the Adelanto and McKinley schools in California. If you are not familiar with these schools and what happened, read the book. Again, Ravitch goes into detail on the subject of the Parent Trigger and the Parent Revolution.

There is a chapter titled “Schools Don’t Improve if They Are Closed”. The title says it all in terms of the goals of ed reformers, to close schools if they are “failing”…and then turn them into charter schools. This chapter exposes the fact there is no evidence that closing schools aids the students or their community and in fact hinders the educational process.

Chapter 21 starts with solutions to the issue of public education and how to reach the goals that most of us share, an educated citizenry that has a solid knowledge base and is capable of critical and creative thought.

I’m not going to describe the solutions. You’ll need to read the book for that critical piece.

What I will say is buy two copies of this book, one for you and another for a friend, parent, teacher, an administrator or anyone else who wants to gain insight into where we are, where we need to be and how to get there.

Read Reign of Error.

Dora Taylor

Posted on by DoraTaylor Posted in Diane Ravitch

One Response to “Reign of Error” by Diane Ravitch: A Review

  1. Pingback: Parents United for Responsible Education » Blog Archive » PSAT for 9-24-13: Buy this book!