Within the 242 pages of Diane Ravitch’s lightning rod of a book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” there appear exactly three references to Catholic education. Which makes sense, given that Ms. Ravitch is addressing and deploring recent efforts to reform public schools with extensive testing and increasing privatization.
Yet what subtly informs both her critique and her recommendations for improving public schools is, in significant measure, her long study of and admiration for Roman Catholic education, especially in serving low-income black and Hispanic students.
In that respect, Ms. Ravitch and her book offer evidence of how some public-education scholars and reformers have been learning from what Catholic education is doing right. What one might call the Catholic-school model is perhaps the most unappreciated influence on the nation’s public-education debate.
“If you’re serious about education reform, you have to pay attention to what Catholic schools are doing,” said Joseph P. Viteritti, a professor of public policy at Hunter College who has edited four books with Ms. Ravitch. “The fact of the matter is that they’ve been educating urban kids better than they’re being educated elsewhere.”
When Ms. Ravitch assails the emphasis on standardized testing, particularly under the No Child Left Behind law, and when she exhorts schools to use a content-rich core curriculum and emphasize character and build ties to parents and neighborhoods, she is, without overtly saying so, extolling the essential traits of Catholic education.
The message, in turn, may be reaching a larger audience than ever through the book. With 50,000 copies in print, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” has put Ms. Ravitch on The New York Times best-seller list for the first time in her 36-year, 24-book career as an author on education history and policy.
Part of the buzz has to do with the perception — actually, the misperception — that Ms. Ravitch has disavowed her previous dogma. While she does admit to “having fallen for the latest panaceas and miracle cures,” like charter schools and the No Child law, she also espouses positions that have been in her educational platform for decades. And many of them reflect the influence of Catholic education. (Click here to read entire article)