Here are my Takeaways from Reign of Error by Diane Ravitch – (and a few comments on my experiences in reading Books)

(To skip ahead to the Diane Ravitch portion of this post, scroll down).

I read books, and prepare synopses of many of these books, and present these synopses to interested people.

Sometimes, I read a book, “get it,” and fully agree.

Sometimes, I disagree with authors of books. Authors, no matter how wise and famous, can be wrong. (So can people who read these books – like me). Frequently, I choose not to present synopses of such books. Occasionally, I present my synopsis, and voice my disagreement.

Sometimes, I read a book, and simply don’t know enough to know if the author is “right.” Maybe I don’t know enough because I am a novice to the field, or issue. (I am woefully ignorant about very many things). Or, maybe – the vast collective “we” simply do not know enough to know if the author is on the right track.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Example #1 — I read this week (sorry, I did not save the link) yet another article on how to improve employee engagement. You know what? There are books and articles galore on this subject. And yet, the dial has basically not budged on Gallup’s Employee Engagement percentages practically since they started surveying the issue. In other words, employee engagement numbers are not good, and we clearly haven’t really figured out how to move the numbers up.

Example #2 — How do we fix our education problems? This is a whopper of a question, and we clearly have not come up with the right works-everywhere solutions.

So, on the “big” questions, we keep looking for answers and solutions. I read books to learn, and to seek for answers. Not all books provide the answers we seek. This latest book by Diane Ravitch falls into the category of “let’s keep working on this” offerings.


Reign of ErrorSo, the latest book by Diane Ravitch is Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. I have previously read, and presented a synopsis of, The Death and Life of the American School System. And I will present my synopsis of this book today at the Urban Engagement Book Club (sponsored by CitySquare).

This book builds on that earlier book. She states her reason for writing this book:

The purpose of this book is to answer four questions. First, is American education in crisis? Second, is American education failing and declining? Third, what is the evidence for the reforms now being promoted by the federal government and adopted in many states? Fourth, what should we do to improve our schools and the lives of children?

And, in the book, she identifies some “Claims” and the corresponding actual “Reality.” They include these:

CLAIM  Test scores are falling, and the educational system is broken and obsolete.
REALITY  Test scores are at their highest point ever recorded.

CLAIM  The achievement gaps are large and getting worse.
REALITY  We have made genuine progress in narrowing the achievement gaps, but they will remain large if we do nothing about the causes of the gaps.

CLAIM  We are falling behind other nations, putting our economy and our national security at risk.
REALITY  An old lament, not true then, not true now.

CLAIM  The nation has a dropout crisis, and high school graduation rates are falling.
REALITY  High school dropouts are at an all-time low, and high school graduation rates are at an all-time high.

CLAIM  Our economy will suffer unless we have the highest college graduation rate in the world.
REALITY  There is no evidence for this claim.

CLAIM  Poverty is an excuse for ineffective teaching and failing schools.
REALITY  Poverty is highly correlated with low academic achievement.     

CLAIM  Teachers determine student test scores, and test scores may be used to identify and reward effective teachers and to fire those who are not effective.
REALITY  Tests scores are not the best way to identify the best teachers.

CLAIM  Merit pay will improve achievement.
REALITY  Merit pay has never improved achievement.

CLAIM  Teach for America recruits teachers and leaders whose high expectations will one day ensure that every child has an excellent education.
REALITY  Teach for America sends bright young people into tough classrooms where they get about the same results as other bright young in similar classrooms but leave the profession sooner.

And Ms. Ravitch proposes eleven solutions to the current education “problems.” (She does not fully agree with the notion that our schools are as bad as the harshest critics claim).

After reading this book, I came up with these nine takeaways:

#1 Unevenness is inevitable. A bell curve always has a high end and a low end. On every bell curve. In other words, not every school can be the best.
#2 Let’s honor our teachers – and not belittle “education training.”
#3 Let’s be cautios about adopting market and business solutions into the education arena. They may not translate. (In other words, maybe there should be a private and a public “divide”).
#4 It is the essence of our very foundational principles to be concerned for the common good – for all in the commons.
#5 Of course we can get better at education. But we are better!, and we are substantially better than we have been, and we’re not as “bad’ as we are being told.
#6 Really, the standardized testing approach may not be all that wise an approach. Really.
#7 Education (and, really , all learning) are life-long endeavors. It keeps going throughout a life-time. And!, it starts at the very, very beginning of life. Not just pre-school, but prenatal.
#8 We really do need to “teach” more than just the STEM areas (Science; Technology; Engineering; Math). Education shapes citizens as well as prepares for the work force.
#9 It’s poverty (and segregation), stupid!

I think we all care about education issues and challenges.  This book is another important book to read to help you think about this big whopping issue.


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