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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Diane Ravitch Focuses on the Reign of Error

By Peter DeWitt — September 17, 2013 4 min read
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“One of the most disheartening aspects of the current reform movement is its disdain for the education profession. In many states, governors and mayors have sought out non-educators, or people with meager experience in education, for positions of leadership.” Diane Ravitch

A few years ago I happened to turn on CSpan’s Book Talk on a Saturday morning. It was not a show I watched regularly but it is a program I value. That morning Diane Ravitch was a guest and she was discussing her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System.

The book had only been out for about a week, and I watched the interview intensely because I was a fan of her work, so I reached out through e-mail to Diane to ask her if I could interview her for the School Administrators Association of NY State (SAANYS). I had been, and still write for, their publication Vanguard Magazine. Within about an hour I heard back from Diane and she agreed to an interview about her book (read the article here).

As many of you know, The Death and Life of the Great American School System was a huge success, and is one of the most important educational books I have ever read. I’m not known for my timing, but my timing in contacting Diane could not have been better. Her energy is amazing, and her resume is awe-inspiring. She has the experience to back up everything she writes, and because of that she has critics.

Her new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools is released today (Tuesday, September 17th). I was fortunate enough to be given an advanced copy. I brought it to school to show my teachers with the same excitement that only JK Rowling fans can display when a new Harry Potter book comes out.

It is often said that lightning doesn’t always strike twice, meaning that a writer who writes a best seller may never write a best seller again. In Diane’s case, lightning has very much struck twice, and her critics don’t have the intelligence nor the energy to keep up with her.

Answering Critics
Dr. Ravitch has done well, with both books, when it comes to answering her critics. In the first book she wrote about her changing stance on standardization, which took courage. Ironically when she did that the critics had an issue. I feel that there are two types of people, those who change course when there is an issue so they can improve upon it, and those who steer the course even when they are wrong. We have too many policy makers and state education leaders who continue on the harmful course.

In Reign of Error, Diane begins by focusing on the misinformation that is provided by “Reformers” when it comes to corporate reform, graduation rates, and the “failures” of the public school system. She takes on her critics like Michelle Rhee (StudentsFirst) and Teach for America. In addition, she provides a much more holistic view of charter schools; how they began and where they are now.

Diane doesn’t focus solely on what is wrong with Corporate Reform, she also explains what we need to do differently to make the teaching profession stronger. Yes, Diane Ravitch believes we have room for improvement. She understands, as a historian and professor, we all need to strive for continuous improvement. She just doesn’t believe you have to brow beat people to get there.

Too much of the educational conversation about strengthening the profession is from people who do not spend any time in classrooms and schools, and lack any experience in public education. In Reign of Error Diane writes,

One of the most disheartening aspects of the current reform movement is its disdain for the education profession. In many states, governors and mayors have sought out non-educators, or people with meager experience in education, for positions of leadership."

She goes on to write that, “Some of the worst education policies today, especially those that rely exclusively on standardized testing, have been imposed by non-educators who were wrongly hired as state or city commissioners of education.”

We, as education professionals, need to have more of a voice in these changes to education policy. There are places where we can improve the profession. Diane offers some suggestions by writing,

States should raise their standards for certifying teachers. They should not accept credentials earned online. Future teachers need practical, hands-on experience in real classrooms with real children, not a point-and-click virtual experience."

Diane continues by writing, “Members of the public should insist that those who teach and lead schools enrolling their children be well qualified, well prepared and experienced.”

In the End
Diane, and her new book Reign of Error will no doubt spark debates in classrooms, schools and at the national level. Public education is fortunate to have someone with such a depth of knowledge and experience as Diane Ravitch. She has been, and continues to be, a lightning rod for education because of her outspokenness. Make no mistake, Reign of Error proves that she can take the heat.

Too often the educational conversation is controlled by those with the most money. Teachers, principals, students and parents may not believe they can compete with the power and money that is controlling public education, but with Diane’s voice they certainly have a better chance than they think.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.