Diane Ravitch: No Child Left Behind, Reform Killing Public Education

Diane Ravitch discusses The Death and Life of the Great American School System

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What should parents do to ensure that 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. 

In education, is it more important for the leadership to be collaborative or assertive? 

The leadership should collaborate with teachers and should not coerce them. It should not force changes that the teachers think are unwise. If the people who are in the classroom with children every day become alienated and disaffected and say that you're making them do something that they don't think is right, it's not going to work. Forcing people to do something they think is wrong is not a successful tactic. If you're going to be the general, it's a bad idea to turn your heavy weaponry on your own troops. 

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