Diane Ravitch

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Diane Ravitch
Diane Ravitch (cropped).jpg
BornDiane Silvers
(1938-07-01) July 1, 1938 (age 80)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Alma materWellesley College
Columbia University
Political partyDemocratic
Richard Ravitch
(m. 1960; div. 1986)
Partner(s)Mary Butz (1988 - present)
WebsiteOfficial website

Diane Silvers Ravitch (born July 1, 1938) is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. Ravitch writes for the New York Review of Books.[6]

Early life and education[edit]

Ravitch was born into a Jewish family[7] in 1938 in Houston, Texas, where she went to public schools from kindergarten through high school graduation. She is one of eight children. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University. She married Richard Ravitch (who later served as Lieutenant Governor of New York) in 1960 and they divorced in 1986. They have two sons; a third son died of leukemia at the age of 2.[8]

Ravitch lives in Southold, New York. Her longtime companion is Mary Butz, a retired New York City public school principal who also administered a progressive principal-training program.[7][9]


Ravitch began her career as an editorial assistant at the New Leader magazine, a socialist journal founded and supported by Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas. In 1975, she became a historian of education with a Ph.D. from Columbia University. At that time she worked closely with Teachers College president Lawrence A. Cremin, who was her mentor.

She was appointed to public office by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. She served as Assistant Secretary of Education under Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander from 1991 to 1993 and his successor Richard Riley appointed her to serve as a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which supervises the National Assessment of Educational Progress; she was a member of NAGB from 1997 to 2004. From 1995 to 2005 she held the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution[10]

She participated in a "blog debate" called "Bridging Differences" with Steinhardt School colleague Deborah Meier on the website of Education Week from February 26, 2007 until September 2012.[11][12] She now has her own blog, Diane Ravitch's Blog.[13]

In April 2012, Ravitch launched an education policy blog, posting up to ten times daily.[8] She criticizes reformers "for backing teacher evaluations based on student test scores, closing failing schools, expanding charter schools, and trying to impose a 'nationalized' Common Core curriculum on the states, among other policies."[14]

In 2013, she joined forces with a writer and former teacher, Anthony Cody, to set up The Network for Public Education which is a foundation dedicated to fighting against educational corporate reforms. Since President Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, membership in NPE has increased from 22,000 to 330,000.[15]

Writings and statements on education[edit]

Ravitch's first book The Great School Wars (1974) is a history of New York City public schools. It described alternating eras of centralization and decentralization. It also tied periodic controversies over public education to periodic waves of immigration.[8]

Her book The Language Police (2003) was a criticism of both left-wing and right-wing attempts to stifle the study and expression of views deemed unworthy by those groups. The Amazon.com review summarizes Ravitch's thesis as "pressure groups from the political right and left have wrested control of the language and content of textbooks and standardized exams, often at the expense of the truth (in the case of history), of literary quality (in the case of literature), and of education in general."[16] Publishers Weekly wrote: "Ravitch contends that these sanitized materials sacrifice literary quality and historical accuracy in order to escape controversy."[17]

Ravitch's writings on racial and cultural diversity were summarized by sociologist Vincent N. Parrillo:

[Ravitch] emphasized a common culture but one that incorporated the contributions of all racial and ethnic groups so that they can believe in their full membership in America’s past, present, and future. She envisioned elimination of allegiance to any specific racial and/or ethnic group, with emphasis instead on our common humanity, our shared national identity, and our individual accomplishments.[18]

Phonics vs. whole language[edit]

Ravitch is a proponent of phonics when it comes to reading instruction. She was critical of the then New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who, after taking control over New York public schools, replaced phonics with Balanced literacy helped by Joel Klein, the then chancellor of the New York City Department of Education.[19] Klein credited balanced literacy with raising the city’s fourth-grade reading scores. Diane Ravitch rebutted that claim by noting that the rise in reading scores occurred in 2002—before Klein became chancellor and implemented balanced literacy.[20]

School choice[edit]

Being initially a proponent of No Child Left Behind, by 2010 Ravitch renounced her earlier support for high-stakes testing and school choice. She critiqued the punitive uses of accountability to fire teachers and close schools, as well as replacing public schools with charter schools and relying on superstar teachers. She wrote, "I no longer believe that either approach will produce the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for." On her blog, she often cited low-performing charters, frauds, corruption, incompetent charter operators, exclusionary policies practiced by charters, and other poor results that diverted funding from public schools into private hands. High-stakes testing, "utopian" goals, "draconian" penalties, school closings, privatization, and charter schools didn't work, she concluded. "The best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers."[21]

Ravitch said that the charter school and testing reform movement was started by billionaires and "right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation," for the purpose of destroying public education and teachers' unions.[22] She reviewed the documentary Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim, as "propagandistic" (pro-charter schools and anti-public schools), studded with "myths" and at least one "flatly wrong" claim.[23] Of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's Race to the Top program, Ravitch said in a 2011 interview it "is an extension of No Child Left Behind ...[,] all bad ideas." She concluded "We are destroying our education system, blowing it up by these stupid policies. And handing the schools in low-income neighborhoods over to private entrepreneurs does not, in itself, improve them. There's plenty of evidence by now that the kids in those schools do no better, and it's simply a way of avoiding their - the public responsibility to provide good education."[24]

Putting together her comments about the policies she had formerly espoused, Ravitch wrote The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education (2010), which became a surprise best seller.[8] One reviewer noted that "Ravitch exhibits an interesting mix of support for public education and the rights of teachers to bargain collectively with a tough-mindedness that some on the pedagogical left lack."[25]

National standards[edit]

During the 1980s, Ravitch began calling for voluntary national standards in education. She became associated with Core Knowledge movement, championed by E. D. Hirsch. During her stint as an assistant secretary of education, she was tasked to develop national standards, despite that the federal government could not require the states to adopt them. By 2007, Ravitch began changing her mind about the free-market components of education reform, but together with Hirsch kept demanding more attention to curriculum and instruction.

In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education, published in 2010, Ravitch proclaimed:

Every school should have a well-conceived, coherent curriculum. A curriculum is not a script, but a set of general guidelines. Students should regularly enage in the study and practice of the liberal arts and sciences: history, literature, geography, the sciences, civics, mathematics, the arts, and foreign languages, as we as health and physical education.[26]

She continued:

Nations such as Japan and Finland have developed excellent curricula that spell out what students are supposed to learn in a wide variety of subjects. If we are willing to learn from top-performing nations, we should establish a substantive national curriculum that declares our intention to educate all children in the full range of liberal arts and sciences, as well as physical education. The curriculum would designate the essential knowledge and skills that students need to learn.[26]

By 2016 she became disillusioned by the first American national standards, the Common Core. The 3rd edition of the book changed the tone accordingly:

In the original edition of this book, I expressed my view that the nation needs national standards. I thought that the culture wars of the 1990s are behind us. I believed that common sense would prevail and that professionals in every field could agree on the knowledge and skills that all citizens needed. I did not make any recommendations about national tests.

The fundamental error of the Common Core standards is that they were written by a small group of people without the involvement of classroom teachers and scholars in the respective fields. They were written with remarkable speed but without any public review process. There were no means by which to revise them after they were published. States could add up to 15 percent additional content, but could subtract or change nothing. It was a missed opportunity to do it right. The toxicity of the Common Core standards persuaded me that it is fruitless to rely on national curriculum standards as a solution to education problems.[27]

Ravitch turned her attention to poverty and racial segregation, which she now considers the main causes of low student achievement. Ravitch claims that the Common Core "was a rush job, and the final product ignored the needs of children with disabilities, English-language learners and those in the early grades". She says that the country needs "schools where all children have the same chance to learn. That doesn’t require national standards or national tests, which improve neither teaching nor learning, and do nothing to help poor children at racially segregated schools".[28]

Published works[edit]


External video
Panel discussion of Left Back with Bill Bennett, Ronald Nessen, Diane Ravitch, and Donna Shalala, September 11, 2000, C-SPAN
Booknotes interview with Ravitch about Left Back, October 8, 2000, C-SPAN
Presentation by Ravitch on The Language Police, May 6, 2003, C-SPAN
After Words interview with Ravitch on The Death and Life of the Great American School System, March 10, 2010, C-SPAN
  • The Great School Wars: New York City, 1805-1973 (1974, reissued 1988, 2000) ISBN 0-8018-6471-2
  • The Revisionists Revised: A Critique of the Radical Attack on the Schools (1978) ISBN 0-465-06943-6
  • Schools in Cities: Consensus and Conflict in American Educational History (1983) ISBN 0-8419-0850-8
  • Against Mediocrity: The Humanities in America's High Schools (1984) ISBN 0-8419-0944-X
  • Challenges to the Humanities (1985) ISBN 0-8419-1017-0
  • The Schools We Deserve (1985) ISBN 0-465-07236-4
  • The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980 (1985) ISBN 0-465-08757-4
  • What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know: A Report on the First National Assessment of History and Literature (1989) ISBN 0-06-015849-2
  • The American Reader : Words That Moved a Nation (1990) ISBN 0-06-016480-8
  • National Standards in American Education: A Consumer's Guide (1995) ISBN 0-8157-7352-8
  • New Schools for a New Century: The Redesign of Urban Education (1997) ISBN 0-300-07874-9
  • City Schools: Lessons from New York (2000) ISBN 0-8018-6341-4
  • Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform (2000) ISBN 0-684-84417-6
  • Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex and Violence to America's Children (2003) ISBN 0-8018-7327-4
  • Making Good Citizens: Education and Civil Society (2003) ISBN 0-300-09917-7
  • The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (2003) ISBN 0-375-41482-7
  • Forgotten Heroes of American Education: The Great Tradition of Teaching Teachers (2006) ISBN 1-59311-448-6
  • The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (2006) ISBN 0-19-507729-6
  • EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon (2007) ISBN 978-1-4166-0575-1
  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010) ISBN 978-0-465-01491-0
  • Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools (2013) ISBN 978-0385350884

Ravitch has published more than 500 articles in scholarly and popular journals.


Delta Kappa Gamma Educators' Award
1975, for The Great School Wars, New York City, 1805-1973
1984, for The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945- 1980
2011, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Award of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences
Ambassador of Honor Award, English-Speaking Union,
1984, for The Troubled Crusade
1985, for The Schools We Deserve: Reflections on the Educational Crises of Our Times

Honorary degrees[edit]

Amherst College
Middlebury College Language Schools
Ramapo College
Reed College
Saint Joseph's College (New York)
Siena College
State University of New York
Union College
Williams College[29]


  • Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar, 1984–85
  • Henry Allen Moe Prize, American Philosophical Society, 1986
  • designated honorary citizen, State of California Senate Rules Committee, 1988, for work on state curriculum
  • Alumnae Achievement Award, Wellesley College, 1989
  • Medal of Distinction, Polish National Council of Education, 1991
  • Literary Lion, New York Public Library, 1992
  • Award for Distinguished Service, New York Academy of Public Education, 1994
  • Horace Kidger Award, New England History Teachers Association, 1998
  • Award of Excellence, St. John's University School of Education, 1998
  • John Dewey Education Award, United Federation of Teachers, 2005[29]
  • Guggenheim fellowship, 1977[30]
  • Honorary Life Trustee, New York Public Library
  • John Dewey Award, United Federation of Teachers, New York City, 2005
  • Gaudium Award from the Breukelein Institute, 2005[29]
  • Uncommon Book Award, Hoover Institution, 2005[29]
  • NEA Friend of Education, 2010
  • American Association of School Administrators, American Education Award, 2011
  • Outstanding Friend of Education Award, Horace Mann League, 2011
  • Distinguished Service Award, National Association of Secondary School Principals, 2011
  • The Deborah W. Meier Hero in Education Award from FairTest, 2011
  • Politico 50, one of the 50 people whose ideas are shaping our society, 2014

Grawemeyer Award in Education for Death and Life of the Great American School System, 2014

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Contemporary Authors Online. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC. Fee via Fairfax County Public Library, accessed 2009-05-16. Document Number: H1000081288.
  2. ^ Topek, Joseph S. (November 11, 1991). "Reflections on CUNY's Jeffries and the Jews" (PDF). Statesman. 35 (20). Stony Brook, New York. p. 13. Retrieved 2009-05-16.
  3. ^ Green, Elizabeth (1 July 2008). "Happy Birthday Diane Ravitch". New York Sun. Retrieved 2009-05-16. ...only Jew in Brooklyn to have her own priest
  4. ^ "The Albert Shanker Institute - Board of Directors". Retrieved 2009-05-16.
  5. ^ "Gaudium Award 2005 - The Breukelein Institute". Retrieved 2009-05-16. Gaudium Award 2005
  6. ^ "Diane Ravitch". New York Review Books. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  7. ^ a b Goldstein, Dana (June 24, 2011). "Diane Ravitch, the Anti-Rhee". Washington City Paper. Archived from the original on October 12, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d Carey, Kevin (23 Nov 2011). "The Dissenter". New Republic.
  9. ^ Denby, David (2011-11-19). "PUBLIC DEFENDER". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2016-10-23.
  10. ^ Ken Lovett (May 28, 2014). "Working Families Party eyeing Diane Ravitch as possible challenger against Gov. Cuomo". NY Daily News. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  11. ^ "Bridging Differences".
  12. ^ Ravitch, Diane (11 Sep 2012). "We Bridged Our Differences".
  13. ^ "Diane Ravitch's Blog".
  14. ^ Stern, Sol (2013). "The Closing of Diane Ravitch's Mind". City Journal.
  15. ^ Klein, Rebecca (2018-02-13). "One Year In, Betsy DeVos Has Supercharged Teacher Activism". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  16. ^ Tropea, Silvana. "Amazon.com Review: The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn: Diane Ravitch:". Retrieved 2010-03-02.
  17. ^ "The Language Police, Vintage Ser., Diane Ravitch, Book - Barnes & Noble". Retrieved 2009-05-16.??
  18. ^ Parrillo, Vincent N. (2009). Diversity in America (3 ed.). Sage Publications. p. 157.
  19. ^ Kolker, Robert (1 May 2006). "A Is for Apple, B Is for Brawl". New York.
  20. ^ Moats, Louisa (2007). "Whole-Language High Jinks" (PDF).
  21. ^ Ravitch, Diane (9 March 2010). "Why I Changed My Mind About School Reform". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-06-24.
  22. ^ WNYC, The Leonard Lopate Show, State of Education, interview with Diane Ravitch, May 25, 2010
  23. ^ Ravitch, Diane, "The Myth of Charter Schools", The New York Review of Books, November 11, 2010. Retrieved 2011-04-28.
  24. ^ Interview with Terry Gross, Fresh Air, NPR, April 28, 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-28.
  25. ^ Kahlenberg, Richard (March–April 2010). "Re-education: Conservative education scholar Diane Ravitch returns to her liberal roots". The Washington Monthly. Retrieved 2010-03-02.
  26. ^ a b Ravitch, Diane (2010). The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (1st edition). p. 231-232.
  27. ^ Ravitch, Diane (2016). The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (3rd edition). p. 249-250.
  28. ^ Ravitch, Diane (23 July 2016). "The Common Core Costs Billions and Hurts Students". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-03-05.
  29. ^ a b c d "Faculty: Diane Ravitch". New York University. 2014. Retrieved Sep 19, 2014.
  30. ^ "Diane S. Ravitch". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. 2014. Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved September 19, 2014.

External links[edit]