The Waltons’ hiring of an unpopular (among parents, if not billionaires) New York school official to contribute to their assault on conventional public schools put me in touch briefly yesterday with Diane Ravitch, the apostate school reformer who’s become a one-woman truth squad against the Billionaire Boys Club.
Ravitch has a new book on the education debate, “Reign of Error,” and it’s already hit No. 54 on the Amazon best-seller list.
The book is divided into two parts: the first is a point-by-point takedown of the mythology of reforminess. No, America’s students aren’t falling behind; the data actually shows they are making slow, steady progress. No, our schools don’t suck compared to the rest of the world, and education is not a “national security crisis.” No, merit pay has never worked. No, unions and tenure and seniority and local school boards aren’t the problem. No, charters don’t get better results; in fact, cyber-charters are an unmitigated disaster. No, closing schools doesn’t improve education; as Ravitch says, “Schools don’t improve if they are closed.”
In other words, just about everything you’ve heard about schools from the many-tentacled Walton-financed “reform” movement in Arkansas is, if not wrong, dishonestly misleading. And they think no outcome is too bad for their foes — those working to make a universal and coherent public education system work.
The Waltons’ new carpetbagger from New York, Marc Sternberg, had a cocktail party when he and the Bloomberg administration were able to close some New York public schools, all the while “co-locating” charter schools in crammed conventional schools. Nice bunch.
Amazon’s summary notes her criticism isn’t restrained by partisan politics:
She argues that federal programs such as George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top set unreasonable targets for American students, punish schools, and result in teachers being fired if their students underperform, unfairly branding those educators as failures. She warns that major foundations, individual billionaires, and Wall Street hedge fund managers are encouraging the privatization of public education, some for idealistic reasons, others for profit. Many who work with equity funds are eyeing public education as an emerging market for investors.
Reign of Error begins where The Death and Life of the Great American School System left off, providing a deeper argument against privatization and for public education, and in a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, putting forth a plan for what can be done to preserve and improve it. She makes clear what is right about U.S. education, how policy makers are failing to address the root causes of educational failure, and how we can fix it.
Ravitch, for me, is a daily tonic with her energy, facts and courage. Where education shortcomings exist, fix them, she says. But don’t abandon schools and children. Education can’t be conquered by dividing public dollars among haves and have nots, by fleeing tough situations or by throwing money at unproven alternatives.
Buy this book. The next time your legislator regurgitates prepared talking points from the Waltons’ lobby, ask them if they’d consult Ravitch for a counterpoint.