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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 ·  5,324 ratings  ·  768 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
Hardcover, 283 pages
Published March 2nd 2010 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
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
Jan 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Mar 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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
Scott Rhee
Aug 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Apr 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Kaethe Douglas
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
Laura Leaney
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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

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
Alie Stumpf
Jun 20, 2015 rated it liked it
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 competition could ...more
Leslie Reese
Oct 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Everyone with an interest in children’s education in the United States should read this and all of Ravitch’s books. In The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch discusses the school reform movement, the push by both political parties towards standardized testing and evaluating teachers, schools, and students by test scores. She myth busts the claims of school reformers and advocates for her common sense solutions to help schools and the children who attend them.
Merritt O'Boyle
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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

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  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, teaching
This book includes all the reasons why I value education, and all the reasons why I don't want to be a classroom teacher. Kudos to Ravitch for having the guts to change her mind about the values of the educational system, while still revering the values of k-12 education. ...more
May 23, 2012 is currently reading it
Still in process of reading - so far excellent
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is going to be a long review, because I have a LOT to say about this book. It's a little old, even with the recently updated epilogue, but I really appreciated the history behind why we have such trouble setting national standards of education in this country. I also appreciated the reasoned and documented arguments presented in the book for why testing and school choice are failing our kids. The problem is, the same arguments are made over and over and over, so by the end I'm skipping that ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Dec 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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