Archives for category: Personal

In 2011, I was interviewed by Terri Gross on “Fresh Air,” her NPR program. When my book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. When it was published, there was quite a lot of speculation about why I changed my views. Apparently, no one ever has a change of mind or heart. I have been consistent over the years in admitting that I was wrong when I supported charter schools, testing, and accountability. It was really hard for some people to accept the plain statement, “I was wrong.”

On the 10th anniversary of this interview, I post it now (I didn’t have a blog in 2011).

The book became a national bestseller, a first for me. (My next book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement, was also a national bestseller).

I had a wonderful appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart about Death and Life. When I heard I was invited on his show, I had never heard of it. I watched the day before I appeared. Stewart interviewed Caroline Kennedy, and my heart sank, thinking what a nerd I was. When I went on the show, the booker had me wait in the wings until he announced me. As he started to announce me, the audience began applauding loudly in anticipation of a celebrity, but the applause died down when they realized I was no celebrity, no big name. I hesitated behind the curtain, and the booker gave me a sharp shove that propelled me onto the stage. Jon Stewart was very kind to me, and I truly liked him. The next day, the book was the number one nonfiction book on Amazon. Seeing it rise to number one was one of the most thrilling moments of my professional life!

I appeared again on The Daily Show when Reign of Error was published.

Again, he was wonderful, and he helped propel the book to the bestseller list. No one was sadder when he retired than I.

When I served in the George H.W. Bush administration, I was Assistant Secretary for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

OERI, as it was then called, had almost no discretionary money. There was very little opportunity for any initiatives, which may have been a good thing at that time. I became very involved in advocacy for national standards, which I now regret. I also spoke up for the national goals (remember them?), most of which were out of reach (like, we will be first in the world in math and science by the year 2000). OERI has since been pretentiously renamed the “Institute for Education Sciences.”

However, there is one thing that I am very proud of. I initiated a statistical review of the history of American education and the best brains in the Office of Research gathered the data to show the progress of education. It was published in 1992.

It is called 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait.

I still refer to it when writing essays that require historical information about education.

It should have been updated by now, but it has not been.

It is a wonderful resource for scholars and others engaged in research about education.

This is the introduction that I wrote in 1992:

Diane Ravitch Assistant Secretary

As an historian of education, I have been a regular consumer of education statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. For many years, I kept the Department’s telephone number in my address book and computer directory. It did not take long to discover there was one person to whom I should address all my queries: Vance Grant. In my many telephone calls for information, I discovered he is the man who knows what data and statistics have been gathered over the years by the Department of Education. No matter how exotic my question, Dr. Grant could always tell me, without delay, whether the information existed; usually, he produced it himself. When I asked a statistical question, I could often hear the whir of an adding machine in the back- ground, even after the advent of the electronic calculator.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, to find myself in the position of Assistant Secretary of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), the very home of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The latter agency is headed by Emerson Elliott, the first presidentially appointed Commissioner of Education Statistics. And imagine my delight when I encountered Vance Grant, face to face, for the first time. The voice on the telephone, always cheerful and confident, belonged to a man employed by the Department or Office of Education since 1955.

Vance Grant, a Senior Education Program Specialist, and Tom Snyder, NCES’ Chief of the Compilations and Special Studies Branch in the Data Development Division, prepared 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. They did so enthusiastically, because—like me—they knew it was needed. Historians of education customarily must consult multiple, often disparate, sources to find and collect the information in this one volume. They can never be sure if the data they locate are consistent and reliable. This compilation aggregates all relevant statistics about the history of our educational system in one convenient book. It will, I believe, become a classic, an indispensable volume in every library and on every education scholar’s bookshelf, one that will be periodically updated. Vance Grant’s and Tom Snyder’s careful preparation of this report substantially enriches our knowledge of American education. But collecting these historical data in one volume not only benefits professional historians. As a Nation, we need to develop an historical perspective in analyzing change. Too often, newspapers report important political, economic, or social events without supplying the necessary historical context. We are all now accustomed to reading headlines about the latest test scores. Whether up or down, they invariably overstate the meaning of a single year’s change. And the same short-sightedness often flaws journalistic reports of other major educational trends.

Historical Context

One does not need to be an historian to recognize the tremendous importance of historical context. Each of us should be able to assess events, ideas, and trends with reliable knowledge of what has hap- pened in the past. If we cannot, our ability to understand and make sense of events will be distorted. This volume would become a reference for all who wish to make informed judgments about American education. We must struggle mightily against the contemporary tendency towards presentism, the idea inspired by television journalism that today’s news has no precedent. As we struggle to preserve history, we preserve our human capacity to construct meaning and to reach independent judgment.

In an age when we are awash with information and instantaneous news, it is meaning, understanding, and judgment that are in short supply. This collection of historical statistics about American education provides its readers with the perspective they need to understand how far we have come in our national commitment to education and how far we must still go in pursuit of our ideals.

I especially thank Vance Grant and Tom Snyder for their untiring efforts in assembling this book. Without their dedication, and without Emerson Elliott’s support for the importance of this work, it would never have happened.

Emerson was the career civil servant who directed the National Center for Educational Statistics, which was the heart of the original Department of Education, created in 1867. As I mentioned, in the thirty years since this publication was issued, it has not been updated. What a shame.

My spouse and I have a wonderful dog named Mitzi. She is a 57-varieties mixed breed. When people ask me what she is, I say she is a genuine pedigreed Muttheimer. She is black with white paws and weighs 100 pounds. She may be the sweetest dog I have ever known.

But Mitzi has one problem. Since puppyhood, she has suffered from bouts of diarrhea. A few years back, I used metronidazole, which was prescribed by the veterinarian. One time, her diarrhea was so bad in the middle of the night that I rushed her to a vet clinic, where they gave her the same drug and charged me with $250. Then I learned I could buy it online without a prescription because it is used to treat bacteria in fish-tank fish. I passed along that advice and was chastised for advising a medical treatment for other people’s dogs.

So I now offer you a far better treatment. A few months ago, Mitzi got the ailment again. The metronidazole didn’t help her; it was completely ineffective. So I went online, read reviews of other products, and found something new. It is basically Kaopectate for dogs, called Pro-Pectalin. It has no drugs in it that require a prescription. It works like a charm. I grind it up, mix it with her food, and within a day, she was feeling herself again.

I wrote this in late March. I am in intensive care in the hospital now.

I know this is an education blog, but I sometimes take excursions into other areas of life that interest me.

So from time to time, I will share a few things that I have learned that I want to share.

Today I am going to tell you about the best treatment for leg cramps that I have ever discovered.

After I had a total knee replacement in 2014, I started getting occasional leg cramps that were beyond painful. My thighs would start cramping, then the rest of my leg, and the pain was excruciating. It would always catch me unawares, watching television, or while sleeping at night. There was nothing I could do other than wait it out, as tears rolled down my cheeks.

A couple of years ago, my son told me about a cure for leg cramps. I am always skeptical but it was worth a try. It’s called CrampsAway. It comes as little packets in a small box of 10. I bought a box online to give it a try. There is nothing in it but vitamins. It works. It is amazing. On three occasions since I bought it, I have had leg cramps and immediately opened the packet and swallowed the couple of tablespoons within. Cramps gone.

I am not a doctor or a physical therapist. I have no credentials. This is an over-the-counter product that you can buy without a prescription. It contains no prohibited substances. It worked for me.

In case you are wondering, I wrote this post in late March before my surgery. I’m guessing that at the moment, I am totally sedated on the operating table.

I was born in 1938. I’m in pretty good health, considering my age. But one of the valves in my heart has a leak. It must be repaired. On April 8, I am having open heart surgery. The surgeon will break open my breastbone to reach my heart, then wire it back together. He assures me I will be fine, but fatigued, when it’s over.

I have tried to take it in stride, but it’s hard not to find it scary. Terrifying, actually.

To cheer me up, I keep thinking of hokey old songs that use the word “heart” in them. There are so many of them. Dozens. Scores. Hundreds. I’ve been singing Hank Williams’ “Your Cheating Heart,” and “My heart cries for you, sighs for you, dies for you, please come back to me,” “Peg of My Heart,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” “You’re Breaking My Heart Cause You’re Leaving, you’ve fallen for somebody new,” Doris Day’s “Once I had a Secret Love, that lived within the heart of me,” “ Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul, I fell in love with you,” Elvis Presley’s “Wooden Heart,” Patsy Cline’s “Heartaches,” another version of a different “Heartaches,” The Charms, “Hearts Made of Stone,” Billy Eckstine’s “My Foolish Heart,” The Four Aces, “Heart of My Hearts,” Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” and many more. “Heart of My Heart” is the one I keep singing to myself; it’s a barbershop quartet song. The Elvis Presley song is adorable, Elvis like you have never seen him before.

It’s a habit in my natal family to try to turn bad news into humor.

My heart is not amused.

When the nurse-practitioner called to review procedures, she asked me what kind of animal valve I wanted in my heart. Without hesitation, I said I wanted the valve of a Longhorn steer. My heart really does belong to Texas.

One of the first people I turned to for advice about a surgeon was Checker Finn’s wife, Renu Virmani, who is a world-renowned cardiologist. She assured me that the surgeon recommended by my cardiologist was the best in New York City. The more I inquired, the better I felt about the person I chose. When I met him, he relieved my anxieties. At least some of them.

The blog will continue while I am hospitalized. I have written some in advance. Some of of my good friends agreed to write special contributions for me in my absence (most are original and never been previously published). And I expect to jump in to comment and maybe even post a few things as soon as the anesthesia wears off.

So please think of me on April 8. I will be grateful for your thoughts, prayers, and good wishes.

I’m not going away. I will be back with a stronger heart and a passion for justice. And maybe the heart valve of a lion or a tiger or a Longhorn.

My youngest grandson is in second grade. His class was studying Black History, and each student was asked to make a project. He chose to create a poster about civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. I was thrilled to see his finished project, because it was not only well done, but because I knew Bayard Rustin and I started thinking about him. He was a good friend of my then-husband and me.

We got to know him in the mid-1960s. He was the bravest man I ever met. He was arrested many times for his pacifism and his civil rights activities. He was beaten many times by counter-demonstrators. He dedicated his life to standing up for others. He served prison time as a conscientious objector during World War II because he refused to fight. He told us that he realized later that he was wrong because he did not know then what a monster Hitler was.

He was very close to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was the chief organizer for the March on Washington in 1963. Bayard was a strategist and a thinker, in addition to being a fearless activist. He was a brilliant speaker and writer.

Soon after we became friendly with him, in the late 1960s, he asked if he could give a concert in our new apartment on Park Avenue and 85th Street in Manhattan as a fundraiser for the Young People Socialists League. We did not yet have any furniture other than beds and a few chairs, so we said of course. Bayard gave an a cappella concert for about 50 members of YPSL. At the time, I thought to myself that the building had never before had so many black people and Socialists at one time in its history (or probably ever). I learned that night that years earlier, Bayard used to sing with Leadbelly.

I recall a speech that Bayard gave about the Kerner Commission report when it came out. He was a great proponent of creating economic opportunity (jobs with good wages) for blacks. He proposed a Marshall Plan for economic development of black Americans so that everyone would have a decent standard of living. He said that we could expend all our energies on things that didn’t make a difference, or actually fund the changes that would make a huge difference. We didn’t.

While the Vietnam War (which he opposed) was still raging, many Vietnamese people fled to Thailand and were living in refugee camps. Bayard organized a planeload of aid, delivered by himself and other civil rights leaders, to fly to the camps. He invited my 15-year-old son to join them. I was a nervous mother and did not want to put his life in danger and I didn’t let him go. I have since regretted that caution, but knowing how fiercely protective I was of my children, I would probably say no again.

Bayard was deeply devoted to the labor movement. He helped to found the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which worked closely with the labor movement to advance civil rights and equal treatment of black and white workers. Bayard knew that the labor movement was vital to the struggle for equality because black workers who unionized were assured good wages, healthcare, and a pension, and had a voice in working conditions. He always referred to his mentor as “Mr. Randolph.”

One of my favorite Bayard stories occurred in Miami (we heard about it later). He was there at a meeting of the AFL-CIO executive council. He went to a nightclub to see Marlene Dietrich perform. He sat at a table in front of the stage. He later described her as “luminous,” wearing a shimmering silver gown. When she finished, he jumped to his feet, and tossed a bouquet of flowers at her feet. He said later, “I love that woman. She told Hitler to go f— himself!”

Bayard was gay and he was not closeted. He dressed elegantly. He wore several exotic rings. We had dinner at his apartment in a union-built cooperative (Penn Station South), and the walls were covered with beautiful pieces of African art that he had collected in his travels. We met his partner, Walter, who adored him.

There is no one quite like Bayard Rustin on the scene today. No one with his courage, his independent intellect and his fierce devotion to equality and principle. I miss him.

I started this blog in April 2012, because I had a lot of things I wanted to say, more than I could put into a tweet. Since that time, I have posted commentaries more than 26,000 times. Most of the posts have been about testing and privatization because they are, in my view, destroying public education and real education. But I have also posted humor, political commentary, poetry, and whatever I felt like sharing with you. You have sent about 625,000 comments. I have read them all. A few weeks ago, the number of page views passed 38 million.

I recently decided that it was too much to continue the pace, a minimum of four posts, sometimes 5, 6, 7, 8 times a day. Obviously, I enjoyed it and I loved sharing what interested me with you, as well as your feedback. I learned so much from your comments, because you told me and everyone else what was happening in your town, your school, your state. Thank you for being such a strong and active community of readers and commenters.

One of the things that I am proudest of with this blog is that it has been a platform for so many other bloggers. I helped them reach a larger audience, and some now have their own well-established, well-earned reputations for wisdom and insight.

So here is the new plan. I will post my original comments and articles. I will post news and reports about the Network for Public Education. I will post original articles that have not appeared anywhere else, such as the brilliant commentaries by our reader Laura Chapman. I will report research that is not likely to get wide circulation if it interests me. I may occasionally post breaking news bulletins of interest to the community. With rare exceptions, I will no longer repost blogs by others.

Other bloggers have important articles, and they will still be posted, but not by me. That role has been assigned to the new Network for Public Education website, and it will be curated by the estimable and tireless Peter Greene. So I will urge you again and again to open the NPE link so you can see the great work that other bloggers are doing.

If you have a post that you want to share, send it to Carol Burris at cburris@networkforpubliceducation.org.

If you want to read Peter Greene’s choices of the best posts of the day, go to this link.

https://networkforpubliceducation.org/best-posts/

Thus, in the near future, expect to receive fewer posts from me. Maybe one or two or none a day.

We will see how that goes. Meanwhile, browse the 26,000 posts and be sure to read the new stuff. I love this community and I want to keep you in my living room.

Merry Christmas to everyone who reads these words.

This has been a difficult year for people all over the world.

The end is in sight, as vaccines become available to more and more people. You can help to curb the pandemic by following expert advice: Wear a mask, avoid crowds, maintain social distance, wash your hands frequently.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanzaa, or whether you don’t mark any religious season, I wish you health and happiness for you, your family, and your friends.

Here is my blogging plan until January 1.

You will not see the usual four posts (or more) a day for the next several days. I will post whenever I see something that interests me and that I think will interest you. Expect probably one or two or three posts a day as I keep seeing interesting things that I want to share with you.

Let’s see what 2021 brings. We can hope that Donald Trump goes to Mar-a-Lago (even though his neighbors say they don’t want him back), that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are inaugurated on January 20, and that we have a new government in office that is not beholden to the free-market libertarians or the billionaire faux-Democrats who have been trying for years to disrupt public education and privatize everything to lower their taxes. We can hope that this horrible pandemic ends and that our government acts forcefully to help people who are struggling to survive.

Merry Christmas!

I always have this problem in early December: What shall I give to the children in my life?

This year I did something I have wanted to do for a long time. I got a gift catalog from Heifer.com and I ordered animals that will be given to a family that needs them to have a better life. I purchased a sheep ($120) on behalf of one child and a goat on behalf of another. I could have bought shares in either animal for $10. I will buy honeybees ($20) and chicks ($20) for other children in my life. The children will have the pleasure in knowing that they helped others.

If you go online, you will see many opportunities to give meaningful gifts. For $275, you can pay for a girl to attend school in India. For the more expensive animals, like alpacas or heifers or water buffalo, you can buy a share.

These are gifts that keep on giving.

Alternatively, you can support charities in the United States that are providing food and shelter for needy children and families. It is truly shameful that millions of people are hungry and homeless in this country, one of the richest in the world. The pandemic has widened inequality, by plunging millions of people into poverty while enriching billionaires.

Here is a list of ten charities that alleviate hunger in the U.S. and the world.

I wrote the other day that I am in quarantine. This was because my grandson was in a class where another student tested positive.

The students in the class were masked and socially distant.

My grandson tested negative. He will test again but it’s thus far looking good.

All this is a reminder to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and be vigilant.

Stay safe.