Course Correction

The Death and Life of the Great American School System
How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education
Diane Ravitch
Basic Books, $26.95, 283 pp.

In her perceptive new book, Diane Ravitch makes a strong case that the national education “reform” agenda, driven by billions of dollars in funding from foundations and the federal government, is a sham.

She opens the book by acknowledging that she too was drawn in by the appealing idea that schools would flourish if freed from government bureaucracy and punished or rewarded according to their performance. In one chapter after another, she provides persuasive evidence to show why she now rejects the test-based “accountability movement,” charter schools, and other so-called reforms that take a corporate, market-oriented approach to education.

Beyond the damage being done to public education, Ravitch laments the overlooked impact education reform has had on Catholic schools. They often provide a better civic education than public schools, she says, because they have resisted educational fads and relativism. She writes that competition from tuition-free charter schools, which are supported with public and foundation money, has contributed to the closing of Catholic schools.

“Catholic schools have a wonderful record of educating poor and minority children in the cities,” she writes. “It is a shame that the big foundations have not seen fit to keep Catholic schools alive. Instead, they prefer to create a marketplace of options, even as the marketplace helps to kill off highly successful Catholic schools.”

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About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009).