Every movement has its true believers, and the Bush-initiated educational reform movement — which led to No Child Left Behind and a huge emphasis on state standards, testing, school choice, and market-oriented reforms — is no different. Nobody lent more weight to these policies than Diane Ravitch, considered by many the leading educational historian in the U.S. and the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education in the Bush Administration.
Ravitch’s conversion away from these positions came slowly, but gathered steam in recent years until it exploded in her just-released book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.
Ravitch’s critique of the testing and choice regime launched by the Bush administration and largely continued by the Obama administration is fierce and biting. It is based on her own thorough review about the failure of these policies. She now critiques not only NCLB, but also the entire direction of the educational reform movement, including its emphasis on competition and charter schools. In contrast to these failed policies, she looks around the world and notes what actually works in educational reform. As quoted in the New York Times,
“Nations like Finland and Japan seek out the best college graduates for teaching positions, prepare them well, pay them well and treat them with respect,” she said. “They make sure that all their students study the arts, history, literature, geography, civics, foreign languages, the sciences and other subjects. They do this because this is the way to ensure good education. We’re on the wrong track.”
What this will mean for the school reform debate is as yet unclear. But the entire intellectual basis of the No Child Left Behind movement has been critically weakened by the brutal attacks of one of its chief architects.