Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools
Review by Anthony Cody
What Daniel Ellsberg was to the Vietnam War, Diane Ravitch has become to the battle raging over public education — a truth-teller with the knowledge that comes from decades on the inside of the education “reform” movement. This new book reveals a great deal about the nature of the epic struggle raging over the future of public education in America — and beyond.
Her prose is precise and accurate, and devastating. She does not mince words. The third chapter, “Who Are the Corporate Reformers?” provides a thumbnail portrait of the titans and their proxies. From Gates to Jeb Bush to Barack Obama, we see the web connected by the power of wealth.
Some have suggested that Ravitch applies too broad a brush in her indictment. Ravitch is not vilifying. She allows for good intentions as well as selfish ones. We do not need to look into the hearts of corporate reformers to determine that they are wrong for our schools. We just need to look at the results of their policies.
And that is where Reign of Error is most useful.
True to the title, the book takes on the errors that are central to the corporate reform narrative.
- While we hear that schools are failing, the truth is test scores and graduation rates have never been higher.
- Poverty is not an excuse for low achievement. It is a significant obstacle which must be dealt with.
- Using test scores to identify and get rid of “bad” teachers will do more to harm students than help them.
- Merit pay for test scores likewise has never worked.
- Schools are not improved by closing them.
Ravitch's last book was faulted for not offering solutions to the problems she identified. The last third of Reign of Error is devoted to concrete policy solutions, and evidence that they are sound. Prenatal care, early childhood education, and, of course, a solid, well-rounded education for every child. Smaller class size and wraparound social services are also endorsed.
Educators feel that Diane Ravitch speaks for us in a way that few others do. That is clearest when she writes this, in bringing her book to a close:
“Genuine school reform must be built on hope, not fear; on encouragement, not threats; on inspiration, not compulsion; on trust, not carrots and sticks; on belief in the dignity of the human person, not a slavish devotion to data; on support and mutual respect, not a regime of punishment and blame. To be lasting, school reform must rely on collaboration and teamwork among students, parents, teachers, principals, administrators and local communities.”
Ravitch’s own journey, which has taken her from inside the first Bush administration to standing alongside those protesting Obama’s education policies on the National Mall, is remarkable. This book provides us with a definitive study of the state of education reform in the modern age. This is a living history written by someone willing to make it, not just write about it.
In the year to come there will be study groups gathering by the hundreds to talk over this book and better understand what is happening to our schools. This book was not written simply to be read. Like the best books, it was written to be discussed, wrestled with, and acted upon.
Excerpted from Anthony Cody’s Education Week blog. Reprinted with permission. A National Board Certified teacher, Anthony Cody taught 24 years in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high-needs middle school.
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