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The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  4,757 Ratings  ·  721 Reviews
A passionate plea to preserve and renew public education, The Death and Life of the Great American School System is a radical change of heart from one of America’s best-known education experts.

Diane Ravitch—former assistant secretary of education and a leader in the drive to create a national curriculum—examines her career in education reform and repudiates positions that
Paperback, 352 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Basic Books (first published 2010)
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Will Byrnes
This book should be required reading for every person with a child in public school, for every person who was educated in public schools, for every person who offers an opinion on what should be done with our public schools, for every politician who offers criticisms of public education or solutions to educational challenges, and for every person who has the right to vote in the United States. The author has drilled down beneath the quotidian sound bites of educational policy discourse to offer ...more
Aug 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: iteach, blog
I have been a public school teacher for less than a decade and already I'm suffering severe whiplash from the various educational fads that come and go at the speed of light. When I left college, I was excited about the opportunity to share great literature with my students, to explore universal themes that have shaped and influenced humanity, to encourage them to be avid readers and competent writers, to help them think for themselves and to eloquently articulate their thoughts and beliefs whil ...more
Mar 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
"Seasoned Argument--Needs to be Required Reading on Capitol Hill"

This week, the Chicago Tribune has been running a series of editorials calling for more vouchers, more teacher accountability, getting competitive, weeding out the bad teachers, giving kids a better chance at a good education, "dumping" failing schools, etc. It's no compliment to my intelligence that I had to have colleagues complain about Education Secretary Arnie Duncan for the past year now before I could truly share in their ir
Jan 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is one of those psychological experiments that they do on people that involves giving one person some money and they get to decide how much of that money they are going to give to a complete stranger. One person gets to decide on the split, but the other person gets to decide if the deal goes through. If they say no, no one gets anything. Standard economic theory suggests that as long as you offer even the smallest amount possible – one cent to a million dollars, say – the other person oug ...more
Greg Brozeit
Some things you read make you want grab the shoulders of anyone within reach and yell, “Dammit, pay attention to this!” This is one of those times. Diane Ravitch may well be America’s preeminent civic educator; her prism is education, but her writing exposes seminal truths about the U.S. She explains the history and politics of public education during the past few decades and how the issue has been one of the few areas of bipartisan agreement over that span—to the detriment of the nation. Americ ...more
Jul 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anyone with an interest in education should read Ravitch's polemic against the road our schools are headed down. If you're a teacher looking for classroom tips, forget it. This is all argument, persuasion, statistics, and rhetoric. A well-respected historian of education, Ravitch once played for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) team, but now she's on our team (I use "our" for "teachers'," assuming that most teachers oppose the fallout that has occured from NCLB).

Ravitch changed her mind about hig
Scott Rhee
If you care at all about the future of the educational system in this country, and if you have young children whose lives will feel the effects of the decline in efficacy of our nation's schools, you need to read Diane Ravitch's "The Death and Life of the Great American School System".

Ravitch, a Research Professor of Education at New York University, was one of the co-creators of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act started under the Bush administration in 2001. With the most current statistics
Mar 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Every teacher and administrator
Recommended to Claudia by: Dennis
"The schools will surely be faillures if students graduate knowing how to choose the right option from four bubble on a multiple choice test, but unprepared to lead fulfilling lives, to be responsible citizens and to make good choices for themselves, their families, and our society."

It took her long enough, but Diane Ravitch got it right. As a former supporter of NCLB, she sees the flaws now, and can bring an impressive voice and power to the discussion. For years we said it's impossible to have
Laura Leaney
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who believe that testing, data, and school choice will cure America's idiocracy
Well, well, well. Does that sound sarcastic? I surely hope so. In my mind, the title should be reversed to read, "The Life and Death of the Great American School System." Because despite former U.S. Department of Education assistant secretary Diane Ravitch's change of heart and best intentions, America's public school "system" is on its way to utter annihilation. How this happened is the story of this book - and Ravitch does a great job of pulling out all the numbers, doing all the research, and ...more
Mar 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
This should be required reading for all of our legislators as well as the entrepreneurs who are in the business of "reforming" public education. That is, unless they are actively seeking to destroy public education and ruin our schools, in which case they are already doing a fine job. Diane Ravitch is a brilliant education historian who served as an education advisor to the Bush administration and was a major proponent of No Child Left Behind. She drank the Kool-Aid. But after seeing the evidenc ...more
Jul 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I read this because a close friend suggested that I use it for my class. Damn, I hate it when I have to tell him that he is right.


The only reason I am not curled up in a whole crying about the coming apocalypse brought to us by stupid people is that it isn’t just an American problem if a conversation I had with a teacher from South Africa is any indication.

Ravitch’s book is a study in what went wrong in trying to correct the course of American Schools. It is politic in some parts, but t
Apr 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Diane Ravitch was U.S Assistant Secretary of Education from 91-93. She was Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander during the Bush 41 years, and Clinton appointed her to the National Assessment Governing Board, overseeing federal testing.

I mention this because it seems we live in an expertless age. Anybody can say anything about education and it's taken as fact. People who know nothing about education dictate educational policy. (Yes, Mayor Bloomberg, I'm talking to you.) Furthermore
Alie Stumpf
I'm with Ravitch on so many points, particularly her argument that our emphasis on collecting assessment data deprives students of opportunities to develop untestable talents & skills. I thought the chapter about the unchecked power of foundations to fund business model initiatives without paying consequences for their failures was really interesting. Also, I'm happy to be more informed about the history of vouchers & charter schools. Clearly, Al Shanker was a visionary hoping competitio ...more
Leslie Reese
Oct 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
Diane Ravitch traces the contemporary trajectory of public education reform, showing how social change, politics, and marketplace values have converged, resulting in the collapse of the traditional American public school system. The book reminds readers about democratic values---possibly indicting our miseducation or short memory of what those are and how we should have learned them in school!---and the ways in which recent educational reform dismisses and overrides public oversight, outcry, and ...more
Julia Shay
Jun 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the best reviews of the many attempts at reform I've lived through since I started teaching. Ravitch has the data to show that none of them have worked. Not vouchers, not choice, not small high schools, and certainly not testing. All of them have had the overall effect of making things worse. Really fascinating stuff. Wish Obama would read it. He is headed down the same wrong path with encouraging more charter schools and tying testing to teacher's salaries. Interestingly, the only reform ...more
Merritt O'Boyle
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To start: I saw this title at Half-Price and thought it sounded good. (I also grabbed Waiting For Superman, since it sounded like the two will argue opposite sides of the education reform debate: That book is next on my list).

I could start quoting all the lines of this book that just SHOUTED at me but it would end up about as long as the book itself. Let me start by acknowledging that I have limited knowledge of education: My degree is not in education, and the only work experience I've had is
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This was required reading for a graduate level course in teaching, and I plan on teaching 7th-8th grade English in public schools in another year when I earn my Masters. The more I learn, the more I see how ridiculous it is to focus education policy on standardized testing, and how denigrating, disrespectful, and ultimately damaging it is to treat teachers (and public education) like scapegoats for the ills of our society and the lack of compassion our political leaders have for the disadvantage ...more
Jun 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I was reluctant to buy Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System in part because she had worked for the Bush administration and I had heard that she had been a supporter of testing for accountability and charter schools. I was not thrilled to being buying a book that I thought would be allowing her to profit from the egregious acts that have been committed in the name of education reform in recent years. However, she admits to her erroneous ways and does thorough jo
Jul 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I recently retired from teaching after 46 years. All of my occupational efforts during that time were devoted to becoming a better teacher. I was puzzled by what was going on with politics and education outside my classroom but didn't have time to read enough to understand. Ravitch's book gave me all of the history of what has been going on while I was busy teaching. At times, it was so sad to me as someone who loves education that I had to put the book down for a while (which is why it took me ...more
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Okay, this is a field report on "The Death and Life of the Great
American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining
Education" by Diane Ravitch that I have just finished.

I always stayed away from education experts of all stripes and the
books on the subject. The field of education seemed so empirical that
that books or research on it appeared as useful as self-help books or
cooking manuals. However, the perpetual school reform and its
discussion in the media as well as this country's appa
Well, this is fabulous! Ravitch reviews the past twenty years or so of education reforms, and why they suck so much. What I've learned so far: it is too easy for everyone to choose a magic bullet, something that is offered to improve test scores across the board, particularly efforts that will close the achievement gap. Even people who can and do know better (like Ravitch) based on years in the field are still susceptible. The influx of money and interest on the part of business is particularly ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a hardcover edition my parents gave me as a gift for the holidays that I read during SSR.

To borrow a line from another blogger I enjoy, were both of us not already married, I'd like Diane Ravitch to be my girlfriend. Sure, there's a bit of a forty-some odd year age difference, but I like her grit and tenacity so much that it's something I'm sure our mutual affection could overcome. Ravitch has been a historian for education since the 1960's and served under George H.W. Bush and Bill Cli
Kathleen Hulser
Ravitch eats crow. The queen of testing, bean-counting, charterism, and privatization admits she was WRONG. Is redemption possible? I guess it takes guts, since Ravitch has been the gruesome frontwoman for the deathforce that has in the name of reform smashed teaching, curriculum, school budgets and the public system in the last 15 years. But, in this book she attempts to redeem herself by actually looking at the results.
It is scary.

There is no content there. No one can answer the question: what
Jan 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was please to have this book assigned to read in a Social Justice Educators book group I belong too. I had it in the back of my “shelf” to read. I purchased the eBook so I wouldn’t have to lug the hardback across the ocean on my December tropical vacation. Some quick research will allow all readers to get an idea of Ravitch’s background and you may, like me, be a bit surprised to see her writing a book with the subtitle “How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.” I would have thought M ...more
Sep 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: homeschooling
A highly researched and thoroughly explained indictment of the damage testing is doing to our educational system. I read this as a homeschooling parent, so probably did not get out of it what Ravitch intended, as it was definitely written as a proponent of public schools, of which I am a proud product, and I also taught in a public high school for a year. However, no one can deny that things have changed in the years since those of us 30 and up graduated, and the emphasis on testing since the la ...more
Some excellent arguments for educational change are made, although overall this book has to be taken with a grain of salt. Ms. Ravitch is highly controversial having supported/constructed Bush's disastrous No Child Left Behind policy. I do give her credit for changing her viewpoint and in seeing how destructive this policy certainly has become for children in the USA.

Some of her arguments were right on point, especially in terms of how we measure proficiency in education. No one has proven many
Sunday Cummins
Jun 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I decided to buy my own copy of this book after reading Chapter 8 "The Trouble with Accountability." Ravitch nails the problems with judging schools based on their test scores - tests are flawed, teaching to the tests can make the results invalid, test scores can vary in unpredictable ways (the weather, students' state of mind, distractions, other conditions), etc and then on top of that to assume that school A gets better results than school B because of better quality instruction is a flawed t ...more
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a very thorough look at reform in education over the past several decades. What it interesting is that the author was an ardent supporter of some of these reforms until she began to look deeper at the consequences they were having. Her final analysis to helping schools function better in America:
- have a well-rounded curriculum developed by experts and taught by teachers.
- use testing as one portion of assessment of a student's progress and not the only thing to determine whether th
May 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book because I am just starting to explore educational institutions for my son. It scared the death out of me. Now I feel like putting him in any American institution will be a mistake. I'm so discouraged about the state of our nation's school system.

That said, I am glad I read this book. I feel more equipped to evaluate schools, teachers, and curriculum. I also know how important it is for parents to make sure their children are healthy, rested, and motivated.

I also learned a new
Nov 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although I do not agree completely with everything Ravitch says, she's pretty spot on when it comes to the state of education in our nation. If you don't have time to read all the historical evidence, every teacher, administrator, parent, or person should be familiar with the findings presented in Chapters 1 and 11, as well as the epilogue. I highly recommend her work.
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“Can teachers successfully educate children to think for themselves if teachers are not treated as professionals who think for themselves?” 42 likes
“Our schools will not improve if we continue to focus only on reading and mathematics while ignoring the other studies that are essential elements of a good education. Schools that expect nothing more of their students than mastery of basic skills will not produce graduates who are ready for college or the modern workplace.


Our schools will not improve if we value only what tests measure. The tests we have now provide useful information about students' progress in reading and mathematics, but they cannot measure what matters most in education....What is tested may ultimately be less important that what is untested...


Our schools will not improve if we continue to close neighborhood schools in the name of reform. Neighborhood schools are often the anchors of their communities, a steady presence that helps to cement the bond of community among neighbors.


Our schools cannot improve if charter schools siphon away the most motivated students and their families in the poorest communities from the regular public schools.


Our schools will not improve if we continue to drive away experienced principals and replace them with neophytes who have taken a leadership training course but have little or no experience as teachers.


Our schools cannot be improved if we ignore the disadvantages associated with poverty that affect children's ability to learn. Children who have grown up in poverty need extra resources, including preschool and medical care.”
More quotes…