Diane Ravitch has become one of the fiercest — and most lucid — critics of many commonly accepted ideas about education in America. Once a supporter of charter schools and the standardized testing movement that inspired George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, she now lambastes the tests as ineffective and even harmful to schools and children. With her new book,“Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” the educational historian writes that the reform movement – pro-charter schools, anti-teacher unions, dedicated to teacher evaluations built on test scores — threatens to undermine democracy.
Ravitch has been derided by critics as a tool of the unions, an apologist for failing educators, and as a reductive thinker who doesn’t capture the complexity of the charter-school movement. But she is a hero to many teachers, who have not fared well in the fiery debates about the future of education.
Here, she describes her change of heart on testing and charter schools and takes on reform queen Michelle Rhee, Teach for America and the upcoming Common Core standards. She also offers up a very different vision for closing the ever-broadening achievement gap that threatens to derail our public education system and, quite possibly, our society.
She spoke to Salon from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y., while dealing with a bad back.
Let me throw out what we hear on the radio on our drive home from work: Billions and billions of dollars spent without evidence of improvement; many teachers are just plain bad and it’s almost impossible to get rid of them because they’re so protected. Test scores are declining, students aren’t learning what they need to learn to compete in the world. Considering all of this, isn’t it time to just scrap it all and start over again?