Ravitch takes aim at the No Child Left behind mandate that all children must be proficient in either reading or math by 2014. Teachers understand that to be an impossible goal, she writes, because of the "enormous variation among students and the impact of family income on academic performance."
Even so, she writes, many politicians and the snake-oil salesmen who've hijacked the education agenda claim "that the right combination of incentives and punishments will produce dramatic improvement. Anyone who objects to this utopian mandate, they maintain, is just making an excuse for low expectations and bad teachers."
With assistance from former LSU professor and Baton Rouge School Board member Noel Hammatt, Ravitch proceeds to demolish extravagant claims for success in some reconstituted schools.
Taking particular aim at two schools mentioned by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address, Ravitch says "the only miracle at these schools was a triumph of public relations."
One of those claimed a high graduation rate, but its published ACT scores were far below the state average. Another, which Obama said had "skyrocketed" since firing the principal and half the faculty, actually ranks 430th out of 469 high schools in math.
In conclusion, Ravitch urges the public to meet inflated claims of educational improvement with skepticism - a lesson yet to be learned in Louisiana, where credulous news media uncritically report bogus gains in the State Recovery School District.
The answer simply is not as easy as firing teachers or reconstituting schools because, as Ravitch puts it,
If every child arrived in school well-nourished, healthy and ready to
learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income, many of our
educational problems would be solved. And that would be a miracle.