Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Slate has a review of Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I found a lot of good information in Ravitch's earlier book, The Language Police, so I may have to read this one as well. Ravitch recently created quite a stir by opposing the No Child Left Behind Act and sharply criticizing charter schools, because she had been a strong supporter of both. This book is where she marshals the evidence that caused her change of opinion.

I suspect that I won't find anything too surprising in her book, but I'm curious anyhow. Ravitch takes a hard look at the work of William Saunders, who I have been critical of here and in other forums. Saunders pioneered the current fad for teacher effectiveness, but the concept has been picked up very broadly, by the Gates Foundation, the Brookings Institution, and even the Department of Education. However, despite its popularity, the best idea proponents have come up with is to fire teachers whose kids don't learn enough and hope the replacements are better, because no one has been able to predict which teachers will be good.

Ravitch also argues that charter schools are not a miracle cure for education. She is of course right. You don't make kids any smarter by putting them in a different building. The real value of charter schools is that they are smaller, they group kids by similar ability levels, and there is more local control. These are all good things, and helpful for education, but none of them can affect what we are really testing with standardized tests, which is mostly intelligence. This is of course a touchy subject, so it is not often addressed.

I don't know how to fix all the schools, so I focus on the one school I can actually do something about. Hopefully I'll do a good job.

h/t Steve Sailer

Jerry Pournelle's Comments

Wall Street Journal article by Ravitch

NY Times article about Ravitch