I missed this interview in USA Today earlier in the week with Diane Ravitch, NYU professor and former Assistant Secretary of Education under the first President Bush. Once considered a right-of-center advocate of school choice, vouchers and high-stakes testing, Ms. Ravitch has over the years had a change of heart. Her latest book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, is causing quite a buzz in education circles, because it is her strongest indictment yet of No Child Left Behind and other Bush-era policies she helped enact. To my mind, the most striking passage in a very interesting piece is this one, when Ms. Ravitch answers the question, “What should parents do to ensure their children are getting the best education?”:
There are two different questions. One is what should parents do, and the other is what should policymakers do. If policymakers simply say, “It’s every family for itself,” we’re going back to the early 19th century, before we had public education. Some people had private tutors, and some people sent their kids to religious schools, and some people got together and had little schools that they created. Then at a certain point, there was an awareness that the public had a responsibility to educate the children of the community. If we’re doing a bad job of that, we really should develop public policy that looks to improving the quality of those schools and not just close them down and hand them over to private entrepreneurs. Because then we’re creating a marketplace, and markets have failures. Markets do not succeed in providing equal opportunity. They succeed in creating winners and losers. We saw that in the [economic collapse] of the fall of 2008, and that could happen to our schools as well.