28 October 2013

Review: Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools
Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools by Diane Ravitch

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I can't remember the last time I was so frustrated reading a book. I don't like to say a book is one star very often, because I believe one star represents some sort of irredeemable qualities that cannot be rescued. Sadly, this is one of those books, as it's a pile of strawmen in a heap, knocked over by ridiculous conclusions and poor logic.

On the basic stuff, I actually found myself nodding in agreement with her. There are a lot of myths about education reform that should probably be addressed, there is a problem with testing, with Common Core, with all sorts of different ways to address it.

And then comes the "schools are being privatized by corporate interest groups" conspiracy theory.

It's like someone talking about global warming, making a ton of great points, and then blaming the whole thing on moon men. After spending pages talking about what is and isn't a problem, the solution is to say there isn't really a problem, teachers and education are better than they've ever been, and those evil ALEC corporate funded stooges are lying to you about all of it while privatizing public schools beneath our noses. Vouchers? ALEC-positioned attempts to get public money in private schools. Merit pay and tenure reform? ALEC-positioned attempts to run schools more like the businesses that now apparently own them. Common Core? Corporate enrichment by Bill Gates. There are great arguments for and against all of these things. Ravitch fails to make them, instead choosing to address arguments no one is seriously making and ensuring that she positions those who disagree with her as pro-business stooges.

The issue is not so much with her research (although there have been some murmurings about that) but with her conclusions. Beyond the conspiracy theorizing, her position is profoundly anti-technology, anti-reform period (except when it benefits whatever standard position she holds), and pro-expansion of the only things both sides of the debate agree with, yet she does not. For as much as she feels her position is based in data, her strong feelings toward universal preschool (and things that look like Head Start even though she doesn't name it as such) is especially baffling.

Overall, this is not a book that's worth your time. Even an education extremist as myself who really thinks the entire system needs to be imploded and reworked from the bottom up recognizes that it's an extreme position at its core. Ravitch not only fails to recognize her errors and her issues with the conclusions, but considers herself in the position of the stalwart defender of a system that, because it's working better than ever, needs few changes outside of the ones that would benefit her preferred groups. Very unfortunate.

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