February 6, 2014

From the Desk of Dean Jane Ashdown

Jane AshdownThe winter intersession gave me an opportunity to catch up on some reading—Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch, Ph.D., was one of my reads. Last April, Dr. Ravitch presented at our inaugural Ruth S. Ammon Endowed Lecture in Education. She is well known as an education historian and, from 1991–1993, served as the assistant secretary of education in the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

Reign of Error documents Dr. Ravitch’s deep concern for the fate of public education in the context of what she sees as an education reform agenda masterminded by corporations and private foundations. She makes the case that, in many instances, this reform agenda lacks a reasonable evidence base. For example, evaluating teachers based on student test scores, implementing merit pay for educators and replacing public schools with charter schools are all strategies that proponents claim improve outcomes for students. However, they all fail Dr. Ravitch’s reality check and constitute the “reign of error” in the book’s title. Dr. Ravitch provides plenty of examples of evidence-based solutions for improving outcomes for students—early childhood education being, to my mind, one of the most important and well researched. 

My other reading choice was The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley. Ms. Ripley, a journalist for Time magazine, uses her book to examine education from the perspective of three high school students who opt to study abroad for a year—in Finland, South Korea and Poland, respectively. Following each student’s journey across the globe, engaging with their hopes and educational aspirations, and comparing and contrasting their experiences with their American high schools makes for compelling reading. Using a survey of United States and international students studying abroad, Ms. Ripley reports on how those students perceived the curriculum, the differences in technology and whether the significance of doing well in scholastic sports was a factor in their academic performance. The survey certainly raises provocative comparisons.

As educators, we face so many complex issues in working to improve schooling, and both of these books make thoughtful and distinct contributions to that ongoing effort. Get reading and let me know what you think!

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