Diane Silvers Ravitch (born July 1, 1938) is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education.


Ravitch began her career as an editorial assistant at the New Leader magazine, a small journal devoted to democratic ideas. In 1975, she became a historian of education with a Ph.D. from Columbia University. At that time she worked closely with Teachers College president Lawrence A. Cremin, who was her mentor.

She was appointed to public office by Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Secretary of Education Richard Riley appointed her to serve as a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which supervises the National Assessment of Educational Progress; she was a member of NAGB from 1997 to 2004.

She participated in a "blog debate" called "Bridging Differences" with Steinhardt School colleague Deborah Meier on the website of Education Week from February 26, 2007 until September 2012.[6][7] She now has her own blog.[8]

Writings and statements on education

Ravitch critiqued the punitive uses of accountability to fire teachers and close schools, as well as replacing public schools with charter schools and relying on superstar teachers, in The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education (2010). In the book Ravitch sharply broke with policies she had formerly espoused[9] and the book became a surprise best seller a month after its release. One reviewer wrote "Ravitch exhibits an interesting mix of support for public education and the rights of teachers to bargain collectively with a tough-mindedness that some on the pedagogical left lack."[10]

While she originally supported No Child Left Behind and charter schools, Ravitch later became "disillusioned," and wrote, "I no longer believe that either approach will produce the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for." In the major national evaluation, 17% of charters got higher scores, 46% were no different, and 37% were significantly worse than public schools, she said. High-stakes testing, "utopian" goals, "draconian" penalties, school closings, privatization, and charter schools didn't work, she concluded. "The best predictor of low academic performance is poverty—not bad teachers."[11]

Ravitch said that the charter school and testing reform movement was started by "right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation," for the purpose of destroying public education and teachers' unions.[12] She reviewed the documentary Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim, as "propagandistic" (pro-charter schools and anti-public schools), studded with "myths" and at least one "flatly wrong" claim.[13] Of Education Secretary Arne Duncan's Race to the Top program, Ravitch said in a 2011 interview it "is an extension of No Child Left Behind ...[,] all bad ideas." She concluded "We are destroying our education system, blowing it up by these stupid policies. And handing the schools in low-income neighborhoods over to private entrepreneurs does not, in itself, improve them. There's plenty of evidence by now that the kids in those schools do no better, and it's simply a way of avoiding their - the public responsibility to provide good education."[14]

Her book The Language Police (2003) was a criticism of both left-wing and right-wing attempts to stifle the study and expression of views deemed unworthy by those groups. The Amazon.com review summarizes Ravitch's thesis as "pressure groups from the political right and left have wrested control of the language and content of textbooks and standardized exams, often at the expense of the truth (in the case of history), of literary quality (in the case of literature), and of education in general."[15] Publishers Weekly wrote: "Ravitch contends that these sanitized materials sacrifice literary quality and historical accuracy in order to escape controversy."[16]

Ravitch's writings on racial and cultural diversity were summarized by sociologist Vincent N. Parrillo:

[Ravitch] emphasized a common culture but one that incorporated the contributions of all racial and ethnic groups so that they can believe in their full membership in America’s past, present, and future. She envisioned elimination of allegiance to any specific racial and/or ethnic group, with emphasis instead on our common humanity, our shared national identity, and our individual accomplishments.

—Vincent N. Parrillo, Diversity in America[17]

Ravitch's first book The Great School Wars (1974) is a history of New York City public schools. It described alternating eras of centralization and decentralization. It also tied periodic controversies over public education to periodic waves of immigration.[9]

Personal life

Ravitch was born into a Jewish family[18] in 1938 in Houston, Texas, where she went to public schools. She is one of eight children. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, has a Ph.D. from Columbia University, and lives in Brooklyn, New York City. She married Richard Ravitch (who later served as Lieutenant Governor of New York) in 1960 and they divorced in 1986. They have two sons; a third son died of leukemia at the age of 2.[9]

Ravitch lives in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Her longtime companion is Mary Butz,[18] a New York City public school principal who founded a small, highly-rated non-selective public high school and subsequently administered a progressive principal-training program until her retirement in 2003.


Published works


Ravitch has published more than 500 articles in scholarly and popular journals.


Delta Kappa Gamma Educators' Award
1975, for The Great School Wars, New York City, 1805-1973
1984, for The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945- 1980
2011, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Award of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences
Ambassador of Honor Award, English-Speaking Union,
1984, for The Troubled Crusade
1985, for The Schools We Deserve: Reflections on the Educational Crises of Our Times


Williams College
Reed College
Amherst College
State University of New York
Ramapo College
Saint Joseph's College (New York)
Middlebury College Language Schools
Union College
Siena College


  1. ^ Contemporary Authors Online. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Michigan: Gale, 2009. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC. Fee via Fairfax County Public Library, accessed 2009-05-16. Document Number: H1000081288.
  2. ^ Topek, Joseph S. (November 11, 1991). "Reflections on CUNY's Jeffries and the Jews" (PDF). Statesman 35 (20) (Stony Brook, New York). p. 13. Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  3. ^ Green, Elizabeth (1 July 2008). "Happy Birthday Diane Ravitch". New York Sun. Retrieved 2009-05-16. "...only Jew in Brooklyn to have her own priest" 
  4. ^ "The Albert Shanker Institute - Board of Directors". Retrieved 2009-05-16. 
  5. ^ "Gaudium Award 2005 - The Breukelein Institute". Retrieved 2009-05-16. "Gaudium Award 2005" 
  6. ^ "Bridging Differences". 
  7. ^ Ravitch, Diane (11 Sep 2012). "We Bridged Our Differences". 
  8. ^ "Diane Ravitch's Blog". 
  9. ^ a b c Carey, Kevin (23 Nov 2011). "The Dissenter". New Republic. 
  10. ^ Kahlenberg, Richard (March–April 2010). "Re-education: Conservative education scholar Diane Ravitch returns to her liberal roots". The Washington Monthly. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  11. ^ Ravitch, Diane (9 March 2010). "Why I Changed My Mind About School Reform". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2010-06-24. 
  12. ^ WNYC, The Leonard Lopate Show, State of Education, interview with Diane Ravitch, May 25, 2010
  13. ^ Ravitch, Diane, "The Myth of Charter Schools", The New York Review of Books, November 11, 2010. Retrieved 2011-04-28.
  14. ^ Interview with Terry Gross, Fresh Air, NPR, April 28, 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-28.
  15. ^ Tropea, Silvana. "Amazon.com Review: The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn: Diane Ravitch:". Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  16. ^ "The Language Police, Vintage Ser., Diane Ravitch, Book - Barnes & Noble". Retrieved 2009-05-16. ??
  17. ^ Parrillo, Vincent N. (2009). "Chapter 9: Is Multiculturalism a threat". Diversity in America (3 ed.). Pine Forge Press. ISBN 978-1-4129-5637-6. 
  18. ^ a b Goldstein, Dana (June 24, 2011). "Diane Ravitch, the Anti-Rhee". Washington City Paper. Archived from the original on October 12, 2013. Retrieved October 12, 2013.