Diane Ravitch takes on a movement
ABSTRACT: ANNALS OF EDUCATION about Diane Ravitch, who has emerged as one of the leading opponents of the education-reform movement. Now seventy-four, Ravitch has been a forceful voice in education debates for more than four decades. A research professor at New York University since 1995, she has taught at Columbia University’s Teachers’ College, served as an Assistant Secretary of Education, and edited education journals. She has written ten notable books on education history and policy. Most recently, she has written a series of scathing rebuttals of reform measures in The New York Review of Books and some two thousand posts on a blog she started in April, which has received almost a million and a half page views. Since the publication, in 2010, of her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” she has barnstormed across the country giving speeches berating the reform movement, which, in addition to test-based “accountability,” also supports school choice and charter schools (public institutions that often receive substantial private funding and are free from many regulations, such as hiring union teachers in states that require it), and which she calls a “privatization” movement. The reform movement has the support of President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan; it is also championed by the Republican Party; by many governors, mayors, and schools chancellors; and by a variety of wealthy entrepreneurs and fund managers, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Whitney Tilson. It has changed educational thinking in states such as Florida, Wisconsin, and Louisiana, and in cities such as Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Ravitch argues that the reform movement is driven by an exaggerated negative critique of the schools, and that it is mistakenly imposing a free-market ethos of competition on an institution that, if it is to function well, requires coöperation, sharing, and mentoring. Before she opposed the reform movement, Ravitch advocated for it: for years, she supported many reform goals, but now that the ideas she championed have taken effect she is dismayed by the results and has disavowed her previous positions. Her disillusionment has been slow and painful and has ended some old friendships. Today, Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, describes Ravitch as “the intellectual leader—and the intellectual soul—of the resistance to reform.” Writer visits Ravitch at her Brooklyn home, and describes her career and evolving political sensibility.
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