I was disappointed by Jackson Lears’s uncritical summary (“Reform of the Reform,” November 15) of Diane Ravitch’s new book criticizing the education-reform movement, Reign of Error. Some of her points have merit. She’s right to draw attention to the troubling proliferation of online charter schools. And Ravitch rightly questions the value of standardized testing models. One would be hard-pressed to find an education reformer satisfied with the quality of standardized testing. On the whole, however, her arguments are flawed for the same reasons she claims education reformers are wrong.
First, Ravitch criticizes reformers for using data to posit an education crisis, yet it is her use of statistics that is incoherent. She seems to suggest that we have nothing to worry about: assessment data and graduation rates have been steadily improving, and schools alone can’t change economic outcomes. But she doesn’t account for the vast racial and socioeconomic gaps reflected in the data, nor does she take stock of the different quality of education received by students in under- and over-supported districts. We agree that there are “better” and “worse” schools—should we stop trying to make the worse schools better? Ravitch also fails to consider that these improving metrics may flow from the work of the reformers she criticizes.