Dienne Anum, a regular commenter on this blog, reviewed “Reign of Error.”

She is a parent of two. As I have often said and written, parents are the sleeping giants. Once they become informed and energized, we are unstoppable in reclaiming our schools and improving education.

Dienne writes:

Reform or Deform?
Diane Ravitch has done it again. Starting where DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN SCHOOL SYSTEM left off, REIGN OF ERROR documents the hoax that is being perpetrated against the American people by corporate privatizers looking to profit off education by convincing Americans that public schools are “failing” and that the only solution is to turn education over to private providers through charter “public” schools, government-paid vouchers for private schools, and/or virtual on-line academies.
But as Diane thoroughly documents, these methods don’t improve education, they only eliminate oversight over public funds. Furthermore – and worse – the privatization of public education is creating a multi-tiered educational system in which those who have the resources are able to choose the best education for their children, while poor children, children with disabilities and those learning English are left behind in schools stripped of resources.
Diane opens her book with a brilliant introduction warning that our schools are at risk, reminiscent of “A Nation at Risk”,, the paper that kicked off the meme of “failing schools” and American students “falling behind” on international measures. But Diane turns this meme on its head. Our schools are indeed at risk – but the threat comes from the very sources which are promoting the failure meme. While there are certainly areas for improvement, American public education itself is in fact doing a fine job of educating America’s future citizens, as it has since the beginning of publically provided schools.
The first three chapters address the who, what, why and how of the corporate reformers and the next several after that refute the “failure” claims of the reformers. Armed with plenty of data, Diane explores the reality behind test scores, international test scores, graduation rates and the so-called “achievement gap”.
She next dives into the real reason for so-called “failing schools” and the so-called “achievement gap”: poverty. She explores the physical, mental and social effects of poverty and how those effects impact academic achievement, as reflected in test scores and other measurements.
The next several chapters explore many of the specifics of reform, from looking at Michelle Rhee and Teach for America to exploring some of the bugaboos of the corporatists and their favorite “solutions” – merit pay, tenure, charters, online schools, the so-called “Parent Trigger”, vouchers and school closures. Diane is really at her best in several of these sections as she explores and exposes the rampant corruption and trampling of our democratic rights and voices found in charter schools, voucher schools and online schools. The sections detailing charter schools and real estate deals alone would make the entire book worthwhile (if, of course, the entire book weren’t already worthwhile, which it most definitely is).
Finally, Diane ends with what really should be a redundant and superfluous section offering her own solutions to the “problem” of public education, supported by data. You might think that simply exposing the true problems of public education would be enough – the solution should be to reverse the problematic “solutions” that have been inflicted so far. If someone is hitting you on over the head with a hammer and you’re having trouble concentrating, the obvious solution would be for that person to stop hitting you, not for you to spend lots of money on new and “innovative” programs to improve your concentration.
But rather than be accused of offering no solutions, Diane, in very patient teacher fashion, lays out the real (and, frankly, obvious, at least to any thinking, caring person) steps we need to take to improve American education. Many of her solutions focus on reducing the biggest obstacle to academic achievement – again, poverty. Pregnant mothers and children need medical and nutritional support. We need to create universal access to high-quality pre-school education. Students of all ages and their families need wraparound services. We need to work to eliminate segregation. She also addresses class sizes, broadening the curriculum, strengthening the teaching profession and the proper use of charters and testing (since we probably can’t get rid of them altogether).
She concludes with a rather hopeful vision that as Americans wake up to the realities of privatization and the loss of democratic control of the Commons, people will more and more begin to stand up and take back their schools. I hope that she is right. There is evidence – from the explosion of education blogs like hers to the Chicago Teachers Union strike last year to the growing Opt Out (of testing) movement – that she may be correct. But at the same time, newspapers and other sources continue to crank out anti-teacher, anti-union and anti-public school propaganda, and the comment sections are very often filled with more of the same, only more vicious. They say that people get the government they deserve. I both hope and fear that may be true.
Disclaimer: I have been an active participant in Diane’s blog for well over a year now, almost from its inception. Although I’ve never met her personally, I feel like Diane is almost a personal friend (which is why I took the liberty of referring to her by first name, which I almost never do in reviews). I don’t know that I learned anything from this book that I haven’t learned in the hundreds of articles that Diane has lovingly and passionately posted over the months, but it is nice to have a well-organized, condensed compendium of all the arguments and the evidence that Diane has presented. I shared this book with a friend who’s been a teacher for 20+ years now who has not been a participant of Diane’s blog and she feels much the same way I do about the book. She commented, “I don’t know whether to be happy that someone gets it, or sad that so many politicians don’t.”