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Reign of Error

Posted on Dec 6, 2013

By Patrick Walsh

To see long excerpts from “Reign of Error” at Google Books, click here.

“Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools”
A book by Diane Ravitch

As I write, historian Diane Ravitch is simultaneously the most feared and revered figure in American education. To the corporate education reformers, a group Ravitch has come to identify as privatizers of our public schools, she is a colossal and authoritative thorn in the side. Composed of billionaires Bill Gates, Eli Broad, members of the Walton family of Walmart fame, more hedge fund managers than can be named, and the most powerful political figures in the country including Barack Obama, these are people who are very used to getting their way. And get their way they have: For the past 10 years the privatizers have utterly dominated educational discourse, successfully forging untested and radical changes upon the system, using their virtually unlimited wealth to purchase anything and anyone who stood in their way while funding front groups by the dozens to block the way of others.

But Ravitch is a conscience that can’t be purchased. She is also an apostate. While serving as U.S. assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, Ravitch was a proponent of standardized testing and “accountability,” which constitutes the base of much education reform. But in time Ravitch did something unique in the Brave New World of education: She looked for evidence of success in the various reform policies and found fraud and failure. This led her to a period of radical reconsideration.

Then Ravitch did something extremely courageous and rare: She publicly admitted she had made errors in judgment. Even more, she concluded that some of the policies she had championed were actually harmful.

To the privatizers, Ravitch represents the authority and integrity they are quietly and desperately trying to discredit or purge altogether.

To reformers, Ravitch remains more than a problem. As the reforms themselves grow ever more strident, standardized and, yes, totalitarian in structure, Ravitch embodies the institutional memory that no totalitarian system can abide.

This is but one of the reasons that Ravitch has become so revered by teachers who bear the brunt of the reforms. Teachers bear witness to what the reforms are doing to their profession and to the students in their charge. For teachers, politically orphaned, Ravitch is a crusader who has done what their politicians, and, sadly, even their unions, have refused to do. She has spoken truth to power to the richest people and the most powerful political figures in the United States who have aligned themselves with the ruthless drive to privatize our schools, the most vital public trust in this nation.

Ravitch has written 10 books on education. Her new book is “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” It continues where her 2010 book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education” left off, and takes to pieces the myriad “reforms” that have been instituted since that work was published.

“Reign of Error” is encyclopedic in scope. There is no aspect of educational reform that Ravitch does not discuss. It is not an overtly political work, even as it provides ample facts on which to build a political analysis. “Reign of Error” delivers an extremely accessible narrative and exposé of what is happening, largely beneath the radar, in education in this country.

The reform assault began in earnest with President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind act. Modeled on the “Texas Miracle” (which was, in fact, a lie), NCLB “dramatically changed the federal role in education,” demanding and legislating the insane goal that students achieve 100 percent proficiency in reading and math scores by 2014, or schools would face increasingly serious sanctions.

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