Synopses & Reviews
Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Christie, and Cory Booker were ready to reform our failing schools. What they got instead was an education.
When Mark Zuckerberg announced in front of a cheering Oprah audience his $100 million pledge to transform the Newark Schools — and to solve the education crisis in every city in America — it looked like a huge win for then-mayor Cory Booker and governor Chris Christie. But their plans soon ran into a constituency not so easily moved — Newark’s key education players, fiercely protective of their billion-dollar-per-annum system. It’s a prize that, for generations, has enriched seemingly everyone, except Newark’s students. Expert journalist Dale Russakoff delivers a story of high ideals and hubris, good intentions and greed, celebrity and street smarts — as reformers face off against entrenched unions, skeptical parents, and bewildered students. The growth of charters forces the hand of Newark’s superintendent Cami Anderson, who closes, consolidates, or redesigns more than a third of the city’s schools — a scenario on the horizon for many urban districts across America. Most moving are Russakoff’s portraits from inside the district’s schools, of home-grown principals and teachers, long stuck in a hopeless system — and often the only real hope for the children of Newark. The Prize is a portrait of a titanic struggle over the future of education for the poorest kids, and a cautionary tale for those who care about the shape of America’s schools.
Public education is a tough enterprise. It wont be fixed overnight. But if we stick with a back to basics approach, saturated with the solid American democratic values that Ms. Ravitch advocates, we wont be so prone to fall for the silver bullets that never seem to find their mark.”
Los Angeles Times
The Death and Life of the Great American School System may yet inspire a lot of high-level rethinking.”
Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
Her credibility with conservatives is exactly why it would be particularly instructive for everyone--whether you have kids in school or not--to read The Death and Life of the Great American School System.”
For readers on all sides of the school-reform debate, this is a very important book.”
Library Journal, starred
[A]n important and highly readable examination of the educational system, how it fails to prepare students for life after graduation, and how we can put it back on track
Anyone interested in education should definitely read this accessible, riveting book.”
Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Diane Ravitch is the rarest of scholarsone who reports her findings and conclusions, even when they go against conventional wisdom and even when they counter her earlier, publicly espoused positions. A must read for all who truly care about American education.”
Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University, and Founding Executive Director, National Commission for Teaching and America's Future
Diane Ravitch is one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. In this powerful and deftly written book, she takes on the big issues of American education today, fearlessly articulating both the central importance of strong public education and the central elements for strengthening our schools. Anyone who cares about public education should read this book.”
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., author of Cultural Literacy, The Schools We Need, and The Making of Americans
No citizen can afford to ignore this brave book by our premier historian of education. Diane Ravitch shines a bright, corrective light on the exaggerated claims of school reformers on both the left and the right, and offers an utterly convincing case for abandoning quick fixes in favor of nurturing the minds and hearts of our students from the earliest years with enabling knowledge and values.”
New York Times
writes with enormous authority and common sense.”
In an age when almost everybody has an opinion about schools, Ravitchs name must be somewhere near the top of the Rolodex of every serious education journalist in this country.”
Wall Street Journal
Ms. Ravitch [is] the countrys soberest, most history-minded education expert.”
Christian Science Monitor
Ravitchs hopeful vision is of a national curriculum shes had enough of fly-by-night methods and unchallenging requirements. Shes impatient with education that is not personally transformative. She believes there is experience and knowledge of art, literature, history, science, and math that every public school graduate should have.”
The book intelligently and readably addresses todays education controversies, using a combination of anecdotes, case studies, and statistics
[I]ts a must-read for education policymakers at all levels of government.”
Ravitchs critique is an essential one
“a brilliantly reported behind-the-scenes account of one city’s attempt to right its failing public schools. . . .Russakoff maintains a cleareyed distance, her observations penetratingly honest and incisive to what she sees and what she hears. I suspect some may have regretted letting Russakoff in. We couldn’t have asked for a better guide. . . . THE PRIZE is paradoxically a sobering yet exhilarating tale. For alongside the stories of those calling the shots, Russakoff tells the stories of those most profoundly affected by their decisions: teachers, students and their parents. . . . I repeatedly found myself writing in the margins, ‘Wow,’ either because of the heroic efforts by teachers and staffers or because of the obstacles facing their students. . . . THE PRIZE may well be one of the most important books on education to come along in years.”
—Alex Kotlowitz, New York Times Book Review
“A stunning account of efforts by wealthy outsiders and ambitious politicians to fix Newark's failing public schools. Veteran journalist Dale Russakoff's narrative is rich with details and anecdotes that showcase the quality of her writing and bring Newark to life for people who have never lived or visited there….The story likely will unnerve educators, reformers, taxpayers, politicians, parents and students anywhere."
"if you read Russakoff’s account and find your beliefs vindicated, you’re not trying hard enough."
—The Seventy Four
“Washington Post reporter Russakoff’s fascinating study of the struggle to reform the Newark school system reveals the inner workings of a wide range of systemic and grassroots problems (charter schools, testing, accountability, private donors) plaguing education reform today… Russakoff’s eagle-eyed view of the current state of the public education system in Newark and the United States is one of the finest education surveys in recent memory.”
—Publishers Weekly, STARRED
"This is of one the most disturbing and powerful books I've read in years. The point of this story is not that the well intentioned Mark Zuckerberg and his wife gave $100 million to help those less fortunate. The point is they gave it to the wrong people. This deeply researched story left me cheering for teachers, crying for schoolchildren, and raging at politicians. With The Prize, Dale Russakoff demonstrates why she is one of the great nonfiction voices of our time."
—James McBride, author of The Color of Water and The Good Lord Bird
"Dale Russakoff managed to get amazing access to the inside story of Mark Zuckerberg’s giant gift to Newark’s schools. And she shows how it all fell apart, derailed and compromised by arrogant reformers, ambitious politicians, and short-sighted special interests. An essential history of the modern education-reform movement, both infuriating and inspiring."
—Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character
"Dale Russakoff, one of America’s great journalists, illuminates one of the country’s great problems—the failure of inner city schools—with on-the-ground reporting that extends from the governor’s office and fancy philanthropies down (or up) to the small miracles performed every day by dedicated Newark classroom teachers. Defenders of charter schools and district schools will find not the usual talking points and platitudes, but hard truths contained in Russakoff’s brilliant blend of skeptical and compassionate reportage."
—Jonathan Alter, author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies
"With The Prize Dale Russakoff has brilliantly rendered the hopes, complexities, pitfalls, and flaws of the efforts to reform American education. This is not simply the compelling story of a single conflict-ridden school system, it is a metaphor for the failing institutions that have betrayed an entire generation of American children."
—Jelani Cobb, author of To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip-Hop Aesthetic
"The Prize is a riveting cautionary tale. Despite the best intentions of philanthropists and politicians, big money and big data will not save urban education, as long as reform efforts are undemocratic and overlook the realities of poor children's lives. With her deep ties to Newark, only Dale Russakoff could have told this poignant story. The Prize is essential reading for anyone who cares about how to give hope to America's most vulnerable kids."
—Dana Goldstein, author of The Teacher Wars"The fight for, or over, the children of Newark might have been “merely” an important story about the future of public education in America, but in Russakoff’s accomplished hands—and with a cast of characters including Chris Christie, Cory Booker, and Mark Zuckerberg—it has become a Shakespearean spectacle of cross-purposes: ambition, altruism, and just about any human drive that invites an equal and opposite reaction."
—Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Carry Me Home
A passionate plea to preserve and renew public education, The Death and Life of the Great American School System
is a radical change of heart from one of America’s best-known education experts.
Diane Ravitch—former assistant secretary of education and a leader in the drive to create a national curriculum—examines her career in education reform and repudiates positions that she once staunchly advocated. Drawing on over forty years of research and experience, Ravitch critiques today’s most popular ideas for restructuring schools, including privatization, standardized testing, punitive accountability, and the feckless multiplication of charter schools. She shows conclusively why the business model is not an appropriate way to improve schools. Using examples from major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, and San Diego, Ravitch makes the case that public education today is in peril.
Ravitch includes clear prescriptions for improving America’s schools:
- leave decisions about schools to educators, not politicians or businessmen
- devise a truly national curriculum that sets out what children in every grade should be learning
- expect charter schools to educate the kids who need help the most, not to compete with public schools
- pay teachers a fair wage for their work, not “merit pay” based on deeply flawed and unreliable test scores
- encourage family involvement in education from an early age
The Death and Life of the Great American School System is more than just an analysis of the state of play of the American education system. It is a must-read for any stakeholder in the future of American schooling.
Award-winning author, public intellectual, and former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch critiques a lifetimes worth of school reforms and reveals the simpleyet difficulttruth about how we can create actual change in public schools
As serialized in the New Yorker, a roiling, behind-the-scenes look at the high-pressure race to turn around Newark’s failing schools, with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Governor Chris Christie, and Senator Cory Booker in eyebrow-raising leading roles
About the Author
is Research Professor of Education at New York University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. From 1991 to 1993, she was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. President Clinton appointed her to the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees federal testing. She is the author or editor of over twenty books, including The Language Police
and Left Back
, and her articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. A native of Houston, Ravitch graduated from the Houston public schools, Wellesley College, and Columbia University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.