Outspoken education historian Diane Ravitch has won a $100,000 prize for her 2010 bestseller, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education,” which chronicled her sharp shift from school-reform champion to critic.
The prize, the University of Louisville’s 2014 Grawemeyer Award in Education, honors individuals who have proposed ideas “that have [the] potential to bring about significant improvement in educational practice and advances in educational attainment.”
Ravitch, a New York University research professor who served as assistant education secretary under the first President Bush, offered a high-profile repudiation in her 2010 book of reform policies she once favored, notably standardized testing, school vouchers and charter schools. She also detailed how New York City became a “testing ground” for some of those “market-based reforms” under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former-Chancellor Joel Klein.
In her latest book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” published this fall, she attacks what she considers a business-minded fixation on testing and accountability, which she argues ignores the impact of racial segregation and poverty on student learning.
Melissa Andris, the Grawemeyer Award administrator, said Ravitch’s 2010 book provides an “important historical perspective” on education-reform policies that gained widespread support even as they produced mixed results.
“Ravitch marshals an impressive body of evidence to show how, on the whole, these reforms are not working as promised and are leaving many schools in the same or even worse shape than before,” Andris said in a statement.
The University of Louisville grants four Grawemeyer Awards each year for work in music, composition, world order, psychology and education, and another, with the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, for a religious work. Each prize is worth $100,000.
Recent winners include Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish education official who wrote about that country’s much-admired school system, and Linda Darling-Hammond, an influential education professor who, like Ravitch, has at times attracted the scorn of those in the education-reform movement.
Last month, Ravitch shared on her blog that she had been hospitalized for blood clots and walking pneumonia, but yesterday she posted that she is “on the mend” and scheduled to speak in cities across the country next year. On Dec. 11, she will talk about her new book at P.S. 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn, at 5 p.m.