Diane Ravitch is outspoken in her criticisms of education in this country. Her latest book Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Knopf, 2013), pulls no punches in its arguments against testing, the charter school movement, and federally driven mandates.
When journalist Amanda Ripley was assigned to learn why the United States fared poorly on the global PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test, she was in for a surprise. PISA, administered every three years, evaluates education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in 70 countries. Ripley found that the highest ranked countries, not previously known for their “smart kids,” had made remarkable turnarounds in recent years.
David Kirp’s book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools (Oxford University Press, 2013), is different from many education titles on the market. While other authors go to great lengths examining where our schools fail, Kirp, a former journalist who is a public policy professor at the University of California at Berkeley, shows what works.
Even before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the city and the state had been the focus of school reform. The Recovery School District project aimed to turn around underperforming schools on a grand scale. But Katrina gave officials a reason to wipe the slate clean in poverty stricken New Orleans. Hope Against Hope (Bloomsbury Press, 2013), by Times-Picayune reporter Sarah Carr, examines those reform efforts from the perspective of the teachers and families they affected.
Terry Holliday knows something about what makes a school district work. Having come up through the ranks, from band director and assistant principal to principal, superintendent, and, in 2009, to Kentucky’s commissioner of education, Holliday has seen first-hand how schools and districts can get on track for success. He spoke to District Administration about what Kentucky has done to turn around low-performing schools.
One significant impact of this year’s federal budget sequester is its toll on scientific research, with many organizations and research institutes facing the likelihood of huge cuts to their funding. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, for example, could have $8.6 billion taken from its budget, while the National Institutes of Health anticipates $1.5 billion in cuts. And the National Science Foundation, which faces $283 million in cuts, is under additional pressure from Congress to fund only “approved” scientific research.