Jewish Leaders of the Education Debate

Four Key Players Who Can Change Our Nation's Schools


By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published February 11, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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3. Diane Ravitch: The Bomb-Thrower

Teachers unions couldn’t have hoped for a better ally than Diane Ravitch, a media-savvy public intellectual who has gone from being the education reform movement’s biggest booster to its biggest critic.

Less than a decade ago, Ravitch pushed exactly the sorts of initiatives that the unions most oppose: charter schools, voucher programs and standardized test-driven teacher evaluations. Those initiatives, Ravitch now argues, have failed.

“I was known as a conservative advocate of many of these policies,” Ravitch told National Public Radio in 2010. “But I’ve looked at the evidence and I’ve concluded they’re wrong. They’ve put us on the wrong track.”

In their place, she writes, only fixing basic social problems like child poverty can bring better student performance.

A New York University professor and former official in George H.W. Bush’s Department of Education, Ravitch sees the education reform fight as an ideological war. To her allies, her experience on the other side lends her credibility that a lifelong union activist might lack. To the education reformers, she’s Benedict Arnold.

Ravitch hasn’t kept quiet about her change of heart. She speaks and writes widely. According to a recent profile, she sent 1,747 tweets during a single month in 2011.

“There is a clash of ideas occurring in education right now between those who believe that public education is not only a fundamental right but a vital public service… and those who believe that the private sector is always superior to the public sector,” Ravitch wrote in a 2011 New York Review of Books essay. The stock market crash of 2008 should suffice to remind us that the managers of the private sector do not have a monopoly on success.”


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