“It’s Not a School Problem”

Diane Ravitch used to be a staunch supporter of education reform. Not anymore.
Photograph by Ryan Dorsett

JAKE SILVERSTEIN: You are famous for having made a dramatic public reversal on the subject of education. As a historian and as somebody who was involved in the policy making process as a member of George H. W. Bush’s Department of Education, you were a supporter of some of the elements of what is now known as reform—high-stakes testing, accountability, competition, school choice. And then three years ago you broke with that movement and became one of its fiercest critics. Was it difficult to admit you’d been wrong?

DIANE RAVITCH: Writing a book is a very public way of saying I was wrong, and it was very important to say I was wrong. I won’t say it was easy because I alienated a lot of people with whom I’d been very friendly, and I had to break a lot of longtime associations with organizations and friends, and that was hard. The easy part was saying, “This is wrong. I’m sorry that I had anything to do with it, and I want to do whatever I can to reverse it.”

JS: In your new book, Reign of Error, you say that the well-meaning people who support these reforms—and presumably these are the people who used to be your allies—have “allied themselves with those who seek to destroy public education.” You really think the result of the reform movement will be the destruction of public education?

DR: I think that’s the direction we’re heading in. First of all, I have a lot of trouble with the word “reform” being attached to what’s happening right now. That’s why I call it the privatization movement. So if the privatization movement continues unchecked, then yes, it will destroy public education. There’ll be public education here and there in relatively affluent communities that are untouched, but it’ll be dead in the cities, and it’ll be dead in the inner suburbs. It won’t be completely privatized, but there’ll be a dual system. That’s what I say in the book. We thought that with the Brown v. Board of Education decision we’d gotten away from dual schools, but the rise of this privatization movement says, “Here’s a chance for your children to get out of the public schools and just be with kids like themselves, and if there are any kids who are trouble, we kick them out.” And lots of parents say, “Wow, that sounds like a great deal, I’ll go for that.”

JS: Your point is that accountability can lead to school closures, which can lead to privately run charters.

DR: Well, that is the point. And that’s the point of, for an example, the A to F grading system. No school ever got better because it was given a D or F grade—that’s

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...