by Max Brantley
The book is divided into two parts: the first is a point-by-point takedown of the mythology of reforminess. No, America’s students aren’t falling behind; the data actually shows they are making slow, steady progress. No, our schools don’t suck compared to the rest of the world, and education is not a “national security crisis.” No, merit pay has never worked. No, unions and tenure and seniority and local school boards aren’t the problem. No, charters don’t get better results; in fact, cyber-charters are an unmitigated disaster. No, closing schools doesn’t improve education; as Ravitch says, “Schools don’t improve if they are closed.”
She argues that federal programs such as George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top set unreasonable targets for American students, punish schools, and result in teachers being fired if their students underperform, unfairly branding those educators as failures. She warns that major foundations, individual billionaires, and Wall Street hedge fund managers are encouraging the privatization of public education, some for idealistic reasons, others for profit. Many who work with equity funds are eyeing public education as an emerging market for investors.
Reign of Error begins where The Death and Life of the Great American School System left off, providing a deeper argument against privatization and for public education, and in a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, putting forth a plan for what can be done to preserve and improve it. She makes clear what is right about U.S. education, how policy makers are failing to address the root causes of educational failure, and how we can fix it.