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Book Report: The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch
Diane Ravitch worked as the Assistant Secretary of Education in the early 1990s and effectively was a staunch supporter of the choice and accountability movements on education. However, two decades later after being a staunch supporter of the movements, she became a resolute critic of the same movements she defended strongly. In effect, she uses the opening chapter in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, to explain the reasons behind her change of heart sequentially detailing why her original position is the wrong approach to achieving success in the United State’s education system. Hence, Ravitch feels entitled to explain the reasons she “had returned to her roots as a partisan of American education” (13). In the process of explaining these reasons, Ravitch uses a three-stage process in her analysis. First, she explains the country’s history to a high-stakes testing of the education system. Secondly, she organizes a well-built case on the country’s failure to involve itself actively in the democratic functions of the public education system essentially explaining why a strong curriculum is the bedrock to a country’s success. In the third stage, she presents a thought-provoking case on the “public” slow erosion form the public education system.
While assessing the federal education legislation, like the “No Child Left Behind”, she calls such measures high-stakes testing environment responsible to ensuring that every child understood everything taught without considering individual student’s needs. Eventually, Ravitch’s assessment is that the situation paints a scenario whereby education’s concern is on students answering multiple-choice questions rather than focusing on what they learn in class. In addition, she notes that schools in most states in the country focused mostly on teaching mathematics, English, and science albeit occasionally. This focus, she notes, is an area of concern since the nation-wide budget focuses its cuts towards the arts, foreign language, and physical education. It is important to note that, at this particular stage of the book, she fails to give a clear argument. In effect, she leaves the reader with the option of creating a national set of values that are open-minded in nature as they dismiss the characterized curriculum that gives students little room for inspiration and imagination. This is a major flaw in the book in which, Ravitch spends much of her time explaining the problems in the education system while on the other hand; she spends less time to give the solutions. Case in point, she connects the Balanced Literacy movement to the shunning of parents from discussions at the schools in New York’s District 2.
To give credit to Ravitch, her coverage of the landscape of issues is a thorough and extensive one in scope. However, the little solutions she offers to the problems she poses are worth considering. In this regard, some solutions are the same old solutions that we have all had before and thus regurgitated. Case in point, Ravitch’s solution that “test scores should not be the sole measure of the quality of a school” is a line we have all heard before (238). Nevertheless, the book offers an insight in the education system and some of the issues raised are worthy of consideration by all stakeholders in the country’s educations system.