By Bob Braun/Star-Ledger Columnist
Photo from dianeravitch.comDiane Ravitch
As soon as Diane Ravitch finished speaking in New Brunswick the other day, public school advocates left the lecture hall to bring the message of saving traditional schools to other organizations. Deborah Cornavaca of East Brunswick and Julia Rubin of Princeton, among others, had the commitments before listening to Ravitch’s talk, but the imagery was nice: fired-up disciples going out into the world to bring her message of school reform to others.
What was odd about the scene — and what makes Ravitch so powerful an advocate for pre-privatized public schools — is that she is an apostate. The New York University historian worked for three right-wing think tanks. She was an official in the administration of the first President Bush. She embraced choice, testing and accountability.
Diane Ravitch was, in short, a conservative — and still thinks she is. In her latest book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” Ravitch argues she was “too conservative” to embrace an “agenda whose end result is entirely speculative and uncertain.”
She says she is an enemy, not of school reform, but of what she calls “corporate reform,” of advocates of privatization, of “treating the public schools as if they were branch offices of a corporate enterprise, as if they were shoe stores.”
Public education, she says, is “an institutional essential to American democracy” and, in cities across the country — and in the state — it faces dismantling. The closing of traditional public schools and the reopening, in their stead, of privatized charter schools.