The Death and Life of the Great American School System: A Book Review

  • Posted on: 1 March 2015
  • By: Tina McCoy

Are you invested in the state and future of public education? Do you wonder how the field of education in the USA has become what it is today? Well, understanding is the first step in advocating for systemic improvements. In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, well-known historian and writer Diane Ravitch describes the movements and events that gave rise to the age of accountability that has so profoundly influenced our schools. 

Dr. Ravitch integrates research, history and personal experience to tell a story that needs to be told. It's a story that can easily be lost between the 'foundations of education' courses and the current events in our newspapers. It's a story that is much more about politics, money and influence than what works for students. That being said, the story is very readable and anything but boring.  The recent history of American public education must be better understood if stakeholders are to work together to forge a better path to school improvement. Reading this book is a step that any teacher, parent or policymaker can take to understand the current situation and how it evolved.

Intelligent and caring people change their minds when presented with new and more reliable information.  When I heard Diane Ravitch speak at Dartmouth College, she admitted that she was a professional who 'changed her mind' about the standards/accountability movement in education.  She began as a strong supporter, but adjusted her thinking as she learned more about reforms that just weren't working. While the true story of the many failed experiments mandated by our government over the years can be disheartening, a thread of optimism runs through this book.  After all, the title is not the Life and Death, but the Death and Life. I recommend this book for anyone who cares about the present and future state of public education in our country.