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Last word on 'Class Warfare'

Diane Ravitch delivers what should be the last word on Steven Brill's new book, "Class Warfare." In a review for The New York Review of Books, Ravitch cuts to the core of Brill's wrongheaded assumptions about U.S. schools – primarily, that all problems are the fault of teachers and unions:

"Brill is completely ignorant of a vast body of research literature about teaching," she writes. "Economists agree that teachers are the most important influence on student test scores inside the school, but the influence of schools and teachers is dwarfed by nonschool factors, most especially by family income. The reformers like to say that poverty doesn't make a difference, but they are wrong. Poverty matters. The achievement gap between children of affluence and children of poverty starts long before the first day of school. It reflects the nutrition and medical care available to pregnant women and their children, as well as the educational level of the children's parents, the vocabulary they hear, and the experiences to which they are exposed."

Ravitch's broad knowledge of the history of American schools puts Brill's book in its proper context, deflating the myth of a current "crisis" by pointing out that education crises have been declared again and again. Without stating it expressly, she drives home the point that there is no school crisis – there's a poverty crisis. For whatever reason, the self-proclaimed reformers – wealthy, prep-school grads, for the most part – find it more appealing to fix schools than to fix poverty. Ravitch's review strips away the reverence Brill seems to have for them, pointing readers instead to Janet Grossbach Mayer's "As Bad as They Say? Three Decades of Teaching in the Bronx.," where the reality of poverty and its effect on schools is described by someone who experienced it firsthand.

Ravitch, by the way, will return to Indiana next March 13 for Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne's Omnibus Lecture series. She spoke in April at IU-Bloomington. Watch video of her Branigan Lecture address here.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at