Diane Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a historian of education. In addition, she is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
She shares a blog called Bridging Differences with Deborah Meier, hosted by Education Week. She also blogs for Politico.com/arena and the Huffington Post. Her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines.
From 1991 to 1993, she was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. She was responsible for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement in the U.S. Department of Education. As Assistant Secretary, she led the federal effort to promote the creation of voluntary state and national academic standards.
From 1997 to 2004, she was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federal testing program. She was appointed by the Clinton administration’s Secretary of Education Richard Riley in 1997 and reappointed by him in 2001. From 1995 until 2005, she held the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution and edited Brookings Papers on Education Policy. Before entering government service, she was Adjunct Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
She is the author, most recently, of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010).
In addition, she has edited fourteen books, including The American Reader (1991); The English Reader (with Michael Ravitch) ; The Democracy Reader (with Abigail Thernstrom) ;Forgotten Heroes of American Education (with Wesley Null) ; Learning from the Past (with Maris Vinovskis) ; and New Schools for a New Century (with Joseph Viteritti) . She has written more than 500 articles and reviews for scholarly and popular publications.
She has lectured in Poland, the former Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania, the former Soviet Union, Hungary, the former Yugoslavia, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, and throughout the United States. Her lectures on democracy and civic education have been translated by the USIA into many languages, including Polish, Spanish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Russian, Belarussian, and Ukrainian. Her books have been translated into many languages, including Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, Swedish, and Japanese.
She is an honorary life trustee of the New York Public Library and a former Guggenheim Fellow. She was a member of the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution (Stanford University) from 1999 to 2009. She was a member of the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation from 1996 to 2009.
In 1989, she advised Teachers Solidarity and the Ministry of Education in Poland. In 1991, the Polish Government awarded her a medal for her work on behalf of Solidarity.
She was elected to membership in the National Academy of Education (1979); the Society of American Historians (1984); the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1985); and as the Eleanor Roosevelt Fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (2002). She was selected as a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar in 1984-85, the first person chosen from the field of education studies. She was awarded the Henry Allen Moe prize in the humanities by the American Philosophical Society in 1986. In 1988, she was designated an “honorary citizen of the state of California” by the State Legislature in recognition of her contributions to the state’s history curriculum and its human rights curriculum. In 1989, she received the Wellesley College Alumnae Achievement Award. She was honored as a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library in 1992. The Library of Congress invited her to deliver lectures in 1993 in honor of the 250th birthday of Thomas Jefferson. She received the Leadership Award of the Klingenstein Institute at Teachers College in 1994 and the Horace Kidger Award of the New England History Teachers Association in 1998.
In 2004, she received the Leadership Award of the New York City Council of Supervisors and Administrators. In 2005, she received the John Dewey award from the United Federation of Teachers of New York City; the Gaudium Award of the Breukelein Institute; and the Uncommon Book Award from the Hoover Institution. In 2006, the Kenneth J. Bialkin/Citigroup Public Service Award was conferred on her.
In 2010, the National Education Association selected her as its “Friend of Education” for the year, and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges conferred its Charles W. Eliot Award on Dr. Ravitch. In 2011, she has been honored with the Outstanding Friend of Education Award from the Horace Mann League; the American Education Award from the American Association of School Administrators; the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ Distinguished Service Award; and the Distinguished Alumni Award from Teachers College at Columbia University. In June of 2011, she received the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
She was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, by the following institutions: Williams College; Reed College; Amherst College; the State University of New York; Ramapo College; St. Joseph’s College of New York; Middlebury College Language Schools; and Union College.
A native of Houston, she is a graduate of the Houston public schools. She received a B.A. from Wellesley College in 1960 and a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1975.
Diane Ravitch: I expect that No Child Left Behind will be reauthorized because the people in Washington, D.C. who work in the Congress and serve in the Congress are totally clueless about what a disaster No Child Left Behind is throughout the country. Here we have a law that sets as a goal that by the year 2014 100 percent of children will be proficient in reading and math. This is a goal that has never been reached by any nation in the world, or any other nation in the world. It’s a goal that will not be met by any state in the United States. And we’re close to 2014, and right now about 80 percent of our public schools are considered failing schools by No Child Left Behind standards.
If the law were not reauthorized, we would, by the year 2014, have close to 100 percent of our schools considered failing schools.
This is such an insane law that it’s hard to imagine why it hasn't been repealed or why the accountability provisions have not been repealed. What this law has done has been, first of all, the federalized control of public education to the point where people now are looking to Congress to say, what are the rules by which we’re supposed to operate our local schools? And Congress is calling the tune. We have a federal system, and the federal government before No Child Left Behind really was not the decider. The decision point was at the state and local level, not in Washington, D.C, so we have federalized control of education. We have also set into motion -- not we, but the No Child Left Behind -- has set into motion a process that causes almost every school in the country to be considered a failing school.
I think the reason that we’re now having this sense that there's a crisis is because of No Child Left Behind, because it has unleashed all of these attacks on public education, setting totally unrealistic goals. And while it’s important to work to close the achievement gap, all of the solutions seem to be based on the No Child Left Behind framework of only schools and only teachers must be held accountable. There's nothing about accountability for the leadership. There's no accountability at the district level. There's no accountability for Congress itself.
The law has failed and the slate should be wiped cleaned and they should start, I believe, they should start by saying, what's the purpose of the federal role in education? And the number one purpose, the reason it was passed for the first time in 1965, it was called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, was to level the field for poor children, to make sure that the districts enrolling large numbers of poor children had adequate resources. That's a very, very important role. And we’re moving now, particularly with the Race to the Top, we’re moving towards a competitive model of saying states should compete for federal funds. And I think that's a mistake, because some states will win, many states will lose, and that repudiates the whole purpose of federal aid education.
I just came to realize that what we got involved in and what I had been supporting was turning education into a desiccated, data-driven, anti-human activity and this would not encourage the love of learning.