Loud voice fighting tide of new trend in education

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, September 12, 2013

Diane Ravitch made her name in the 1970s as a historian chronicling the role of public schools in American social mobility. In the 1990s, she went to work in the Bush administration’s Education Department, where she pushed for a rejection of 1960s relativism and a return to basics and standards. After leaving government, she called for the removal of incompetent teachers, for tying school performance to student scores, and for closing failing schools.

Now Ms. Ravitch, 75, is in the full flower of yet another stage in her career: folk hero to the left and passionate scourge of pro-business reformers. She has come to doubt the whole project of school reform, saying it will solve little without addressing poverty and segregation. “We know what works,” she writes. “What works are the opportunities that advantaged families provide for their children.”

She pumps out hundreds of barbed words on her blog and thousands of posts on Twitter. She calls the current formulas for evaluating teachers “bad science.” And she says that closing schools solves nothing.

Ms. Ravitch has a new book coming out, called “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” in which she criticizes what she sees as a useless distraction from the problems of race and income inequality. She warns of “the Walmartization of American education,” and “promised miracles that would shame snake-oil salesmen.”

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