Diane Ravitch

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Diane Ravitch
Diane Ravitch.jpg
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education
1991 - 1993
Brown Chair, Brookings Institution
1995 - 2005
Member, National Assessment Governing Board
1997 - 2004
Bachelor'sWellesley College
Ph.D.Columbia University
Place of birthHouston, Texas
ProfessionResearch professor
Diane Ravitch is an education historian, education policy activist and research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. She served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education under Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander from 1991 to 1993. She publishes Diane Ravitch's blog, in which she periodically discusses popular issues in education. She is also a frequent opponent to Democratic education policy activist Michelle Rhee.


Ravitch is a native of Houston, Texas where she grew up in a family of eight children. She has two sons with her ex-husband, Richard Ravitch, whom she divorced in 1986. A third son, Steven, died of leukemia at the age of two. She lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York with her longtime partner, Mary Butz, a former New York City principal.[1]


  • Wellesley College, B.A., 1960
  • Columbia University, Ph.D., 1975

Honorary degrees

  • Amherst College, Middlebury College, Ramapo College, Reed College, Saint Joseph's College (New York), Siena College, State University of New York, Union College and Williams College


  • Delta Kappa Gamma Educator’s Award (1975, 1984 and 2011)
  • Ambassador of Honor Award, English-Speaking Union (1984 and 1985)


After graduating with her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College in 1960, Ravitch showed up at the offices of The New Leader, an influential anti-communist publication, and asked for a job. She worked there intermittently until 1967. She received her doctorate degree from Columbia University in 1975 from the University's College of Arts and Sciences and Teachers College. She teaches at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.[1]

Throughout the span of her career, Ravitch has been a prolific education historian, writing 21 books on education policy and analysis. In Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools, she argues against the charter school movement and the privatization she believes is destroying American public education.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education

In 1991, she was appointed by U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander to the position of Assistant Secretary of Education, which she served as until 1993 under President George H.W. Bush's administration. During this time, Ravitch became a supporter of educational testing, school choice and charter schools. Afterward, she also supported the No Child Left Behind Act under the administration of President George W. Bush. She has since shifted her position on these issues, beginning in 2006, which has brought her substantial criticism.[2] At the end of her term as the Assistant Secretary of Education, her successor, Richard Riley, appointed her to serve as a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress. She served on that board from 1997 until 2004.

Educational philosophy

Education reform vision

Ballotpedia contacted Diane Ravitch to request an overview of her positive vision for K-12 education reform in the United States. She prefaced her reply by saying, "Having studied at Columbia University with the great historian Lawrence A. Cremin, I understand that schools do not exist in a vacuum: they reflect the society in which they are embedded. A society with a humane vision has schools that reflect that vision. Our society is very unequal and that inequality is reflected in the schools. Test scores mirror the demographic composition of the school."[3]

After that acknowledgement, Ravitch stated the following as her preferred set of reforms to improve education:

Let me begin by saying that I strongly oppose the status quo in education. The status quo was shaped over the past thirty years or more, and it is wedded to testing students, ranking and rating them. It uses those tests to rank and rate teachers, principals, and schools. It sets up students, teachers, principals, and schools for failure, so they may be handed over to private control. Privatization, as I have shown in my books and blogs, does not produce better results. It weakens public schools while creating schools that are neither accountable nor transparent, due to the political contributions of their founders.

Here are my proposals, as detailed in "Reign of Error." It is a life-course view of social development.

First, we should provide good prenatal care for all women who become pregnant. This is crucial for the health and well-being of children. Second, young mothers should have nurses and child development specialists who aid them in their child's early years to be sure they get adequate nutrition and health care, as well as learn to interact with them in ways that build their knowledge and curiosity.

Third, we must recognize that the lowest school performance is caused by poverty and segregation, and as a society, we must develop actionable goals to reduce those conditions. Other nations have done it, and so should we. We have the highest rate of child poverty of any advanced nation in the world, and reducing that rate should have high priority.

In school, we should de-emphasize standardized testing; teachers should write their own tests and use them for diagnostic purposes, not for rating and punishing children.

Class sizes should be reduced, especially where children have high needs. We should aim for classes of not more than 20.

Every school should have a full and rich curriculum, with a range of subject matter, especially in the arts. Every child should have a chance to sing, play an instrument, dance, and engage in joyful activities. I place great importance on history, civics, foreign language, the sciences, mathematics, and physical education.

Teachers should be well prepared for their work, with at least a year of study and practice teaching. Principals should be master teachers.

Control of schools should be vested in local, elected school boards.

Education should have as its primary goals the development of good citizens with ethical character who are prepared to care for themselves and contribute to their community and our society.

Educators should be respected by their community and allowed the autonomy to do their work without political interference.

Public education is a public responsibility that should not be privatized or outsourced. We should build and sustain the kinds of schools that create the society we want to live in.[4]

—Diane Ravitch, (2014)[3]

Common Core

Common Core logo.jpg

Ravitch stated that she was opposed to Common Core in early 2013, describing the reforms as "fundamentally flawed by the process with which they have been foisted upon the nation." Ravitch advocated instead for voluntary national standards, stating that these standards should serve "not as a demand for compliance by teachers, but as an aspiration defining what states and districts are expected to do." At the heart of Ravitch's argument is Common Core's lack of trial in a controlled environment. In a February 2013 blog post, Ravitch continued:

The Common Core standards have been adopted in 46 states and the District of Columbia without any field test. They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.

Maybe the standards will be great. Maybe they will be a disaster. Maybe they will improve achievement. Maybe they will widen the achievement gaps between haves and have-nots. Maybe they will cause the children who now struggle to give up altogether. Would the Federal Drug Administration approve the use of a drug with no trials, no concern for possible harm or unintended consequences?[4]

—Diane Ravitch's blog, (2013)[5]

Charter schools

Ravitch is opposed to charter schools, as she believes that they are increasingly moving away from their original purpose to collaborate with public schools, rather than to replace them. According to Ravitch, the root of the low academic performance issue is poverty, and the continual growth of charter schools is harmful to the public school system. She has described the atmosphere that charter schools create as "aggressive and entrepreneurial," and that they fuel the agenda of the corporate elite.[6]

Merit pay

Diane Ravitch on standardized testing

In a 2011 letter to The Washington Post, Ravitch stated that she believes teacher merit pay undermines collaboration and teamwork in the public school system. She argued from a historical perspective that merit pay has been tried since the 1920s with no substantial success. She also cited a 2010 study conducted by the National Center on Performance Incentives, which offered $15,000 to teachers if they could garner higher test scores. The study measured results over a three-year period and found no conclusive evidence that merit pay contributed to higher test scores.[7][8]

No Child Left Behind

Once a staunch supporter of the No Child Left Behind Act under the George W. Bush administration, Ravitch maintains that it is "a timetable for the destruction of American public education." She described the act in 2011 as one whose mission was far too aggressive in closing schools. Her change in attitude came as a shock to many, as, in 2005, Ravitch had said that Americans "should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act" and that "all this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation." Ravitch now believes that that act had declined the progress made in public education, and that its allegedly unrealistic expectations focus more on the numbers and less on the children.[9][10]

Billionaire boys club

Ravitch is critical of what she calls the "billionaire boys club" and the corporate elite involved in education. She discussed this in her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. The "club" is made up of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and The Broad Foundations. Ravitch believes that since these three organizations funnel the most money into K-12 education, they control the agenda of the public school system. In a 2011 article in The Washington Post, Ravitch stated:

What does all this outpouring of interest by the wealthiest people in the United States mean? Some no doubt are motivated by idealism. Some think they are leading a new civil rights movement, though I doubt that Dr. King would recognize these financial titans as his colleagues as they impose their will on one of our crucial public institutions. Some hate government. Some love the free market. Some think that the profit motive is more efficient and effective than any public-sector enterprise. All of them share a surprising certainty that they know how to "fix" the public schools and that the people who work in those schools are lazy, unmotivated, incompetent, and not to be trusted.

For me, as a historian, the scary part is that our public schools have never before been subject to such a sustained assault on their very foundations. Never before were there so many people, with such vast resources, intent on dismantling public education. What does this mean for the future of public education? What does it mean for our democracy?[4]

—The Washington Post, (2011)[11]

Comments about Bill Gates

In June 2014, Ravitch called for Congress to investigate the role Bill Gates has played in the nationwide implementation of Common Core. She stated that the role the nation's richest man has played in the rollout of the academic standards should be considered a "national scandal." According to Ravitch, a congressional investigation is warranted because of the close involvement Gates has had with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and that an unelected entrepreneur like Gates should not have the right to dictate the direction for the nation's children. She described the method in which the standards were imposed as "high-handed" and "unacceptable," and one that undermines state and local control of education. In a letter to the Washington Post, she asked readers:

Who knew that American education was for sale? Who knew that federalism could so easily be dismissed as a relic of history? Who knew that Gates and Duncan, working as partners, could destroy state and local control of education? [...] Who decided to monetize the public schools? Who determined that the federal government should promote privatization and neglect public education? Who decided that the federal government should watch in silence as school segregation resumed and grew? Who decided that schools should invest in Common Core instead of smaller classes and school nurses?[4]

—The Washington Post, (2014)[12]


"Education hypocrite"

Ravitch received criticism as an "education hypocrite" after shifting her views on the reforms she once stood for, including, standardized testing, charter schools and school vouchers. Under President George H.W. Bush's administration and while serving as the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, Ravitch championed these ideas as an avid proponent. However, around 2006, Ravitch decided that these reforms had no actual effect on improving the U.S. education system. In a 2010 article in Slate magazine, she described her change of heart as gradual, but her primary reversal came after studying higher education in Pakistan. She found that their lack of a public school system, rather than higher education itself, was the issue. The findings made her question her beliefs "because here [she] was running with people that were saying that public education is the problem."[13] Ravitch now opposes NCLB, aggressive standardized testing and teacher merit pay, as she believes they "[undermine] public respect for one of the nation's most vital institutions, the neighborhood school, and for one of society's most crucial professions: teaching."[2][14]

Ravitch versus Rhee

Michelle Rhee and Diane Ravitch (right)

Diane Ravitch and education activist Michelle Rhee are largely at odds with each other in their views on improving education. Ravitch maintains typically liberal ideals on many of the main issues in education, while Rhee's are decidedly more conservative as she agrees with the more recent push of standardized testing, teacher accountability and Common Core. In 2013, Ravitch criticized Rhee for canceling a scheduled debate at LeHigh University in Pennsylvania. According to Ravitch's blog, the cancellation came after Rhee could not find a third person for her team, even though she was the one to propose a second and third debater in the first place. Ravitch stated on her blog that she was "very disappointed" and that it would have been "informative for all involved."[15] Also in 2013, the two published opposing texts, Ravitch with Reign of Error and Rhee with Radical. Ravitch's text focused on reform and historical research in response to the U.S. school system's falterings, while Rhee's Radical centered on the idea that teacher accountability and standardized testing will ultimately improve America's schools.[16]


Diane Ravitch On Fixing The Countrys Broken Education System

Diane Ravitch Defends Public Education

Diane Ravitch: 2014 Emerging Issues Forum

Are Teachers Too Easily Caught in Crossfire Over Student Achievement?

Published works

Ravitch has published more than 500 articles in public and academic journals. She has also published 21 books on education policy and analysis:

  • The Great School Wars: New York City, 1805-1973 (1974)
  • The Revisionists Revised: A Critique of the Radical Attack on the Schools (1978)
  • Schools in Cities: Consensus and Conflict in American Educational History (1983)
  • Against Mediocrity: The Humanities in America's High Schools (1984)
  • Challenges to the Humanities (1985)
  • The Schools We Deserve (1985)
  • The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980 (1985)
  • What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know: A Report on the First National Assessment of History and Literature (1989)
  • The American Reader : Words That Moved a Nation (1990)
  • National Standards in American Education: A Consumer's Guide (1995)
  • New Schools for a New Century: The Redesign of Urban Education (1997)
  • City Schools: Lessons from New York (2000)
  • Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform (2000)
  • Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex and Violence to America's Children (2003)
  • Making Good Citizens: Education and Civil Society (2003)
  • The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (2003)
  • Forgotten Heroes of American Education: The Great Tradition of Teaching Teachers (2006)
  • The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (2006)
  • EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon (2007)
  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010)
  • Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools (2013)

Note: The year in parenthesis indicates the date of publication.

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See also

External links

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Additional reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 New Republic, "The Dissenter," December 15, 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 The Atlantic, "Diane Ravitch: Teachers' Hero or Education Hypocrite?," June 24, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 Information submitted to Ballotpedia via email from Diane Ravitch on July 14, 2014.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  5. Diane Ravitch's blog, "Why I Cannot Support the Common Core Standards," February 26, 2013
  6. AlterNet, "Diane Ravitch: Charter Schools Are a Colossal Mistake. Here's Why," October 2, 2013
  7. The Washington Post, "Ravitch: Why merit pay for teachers doesn’t work," March 30, 2011
  8. Education Week, "Merit Pay Found to Have Little Effect on Achievement," September 21, 2010
  9. NPR, "Ravitch: Standardized Testing Undermines Teaching," April 28, 2011
  10. U.S. News & World Report, "Diane Ravitch: No Child Left Behind, Reform Killing Public Education," March 25, 2010
  11. The Washington Post, "Ravitch: Billionaires (and millionaires) for education reform," November 15, 2011
  12. The Washington Post, "Ravitch: Time for Congress to investigate Bill Gates’ role in Common Core," June 9, 2014
  13. Slate, "Diane Ravitch on Being Wrong," May 17, 2010
  14. The Washington City Paper, "Diane Ravitch, the Anti-Rhee," June 24, 2011
  15. Diane Ravitch's blog, "Rhee Cancels Debate at Lehigh University," November 20, 2013
  16. Economic Policy Institute, "Ravitch’s Reign vs. Rhee’s Radical," October 17, 2013