Diane\'s Blog

J. M. Beach

Dr. Ravitch,

I wanted to write you a quick note. I read your new book this week. I couldn’t put it down.

I think it is one of the most important books on U.S. education to come out in some time. I applaud both the arguments that you make, but also the courage to re-evaluate your previous position of school choice and assessment. However, as you indicate in your book, I fear that it may be too late to stop the accountability movement, but it may not be too late to re-direct its course. But to do so, you need to expand the focus of your book.

I fear the most corrosive elements of this movement are beginning to alter the institution of higher education, and these changes will no doubt have further unforeseen impacts on public schooling. I wanted to ask you to consider revisiting this topic in a companion volume looking at the accountability movement and standardized testing in higher education, both community colleges and public universities. I attempted to do as much in my new book Gateway to Opportunity: A History of the Community College in the United States, which will be coming out in Jan 2011. W. Norton Grubb was kind enough to endorse the book with a Forward. I don’t see many scholars attacking the accountability movement head on, or trying to expand the accountability debate to accommodate multiple measures of teaching and learning. In my book I referenced the work of Stigliz and Sen (2009) who began to re-envision GDP and how to measure the wealth of nations. I think a comparable re-visioning needs to take place in the U.S. focused on education, and I think you are one of the few educational scholars with positioned to create such a national dialog. I know Grubb is also interested in such a project and said in a previous communication that he was working on a new book addressing the ends of education in relation to the narrow vocationalism of the 20th century.

I would also recommend looking at the ends and effects of education is so-called “success” stories, like South Korea. I just returned from a year of research. One of my South Korean students explained that children are “dying inside” due to the high stakes testing and constant test prep both inside and outside of the school system. Many students (and sometimes whole families) are committing suicide each year over test scores. From a national level, South Korea looks like a highly educated society with high test scores, but from the inside students are pushed to the breaking point; students can’t think critically or creatively; and there are not enough jobs in the labor market to handle such an educated population. I have an article on the subject under review at Harvard Education Review and I’ll be presenting my basic findings at the AERA conference in New Orleans this April.

You have done this country a great service by writing your book, and I hope your able to maneuver your arguments to effect public policy before our educational institutions are corrupted beyond recognition.

J. M. Beach