In Afterword, Ravitch Brings Things Up to Date

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To say that the new Afterword in the paperback edition of "The Death and Life of the Great American School System," picks up where Diane Ravitch left off would be misleading; since the book’s original publication in March 2010, she hasn’t stopped.

“I’ve spent the last year traveling the country,” she said, when she delivered the keynote address at the 2011 American Association of School Administrators National Conference on Education in February. “I’ve talked to easily 80,000 or more people.”

In the paperback version of her book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education," which went on sale Tuesday, Ms. Ravitch continues her crusade against many of the trends in education policy and advocacy, bringing her perspective to the events, people and ideas of the last year and a half.

Here are some excerpts from the 45-page Afterword:

On the firing of teachers in Rhode Island, which she sees as inevitable after the No Child Left Behind act:

For the first time, teachers across the nation understood that the long-established rules of their chosen career had changed. They awakened to the possibility that their school and their career might be subject to the inexorable ticking of the NCLB clock.

On states' efforts to change rules and laws to be eligible for federal Race to the Top money:

In many cases, the laws imposed were poorly designed, ill-conceived policies enacted solely to be eligible to receive federal funding during a budget crisis, not because of evidence they might improve education.

On "Waiting for Superman":

Like the corporate reform movement, the film presents itself as a plea for liberal, enlightened political views but is in fact deeply reliant on free-market principles. She adds: 'Waiting for Superman' was a fairy tale, based on half-truths, exaggerations, and misrepresentations.

On high-stakes testing, she writes that it is likely to spawn cheating and misdirect efforts:

It's good to have data to guide policy, but it is important not to confuse data with evidence. Data are representations of reality, not reality itself.

On Milwaukee's voucher system:

Competition did not improve the public schools. It did not create a rising tide; no boats were lifted. Having spent $1 billion supposedly to help low-income African-American children, the State of Wisconsin had developed a dual taxpayer-financed system that did not benefit children in greatest need.

And on systems to evaluate teacher performance:

My strong belief is that data should be placed in each teacher's personnel file as confidential information. It should not be made public, except when averaged across grades, schools, and districts.

She says school reform "must occur in tandem with social reform," but:

Poverty is a fact, not an excuse. Schools can provide a route out of poverty for determined individuals, but schools by themselves -- no matter how excellent -- cannot cure the ills created by extreme social and economic inequality.