The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How testing and choice are undermining education Diane Ravitch (Basic Books) Diane Ravitch – author, researcher and education adviser to both the Bush and Clinton administrations—is the perfect example of “poacher turned game-keeper”.

She brings a formidable pedigree to her understanding about testing systems and the concept of “choice” in schools, having strongly supported these as levers of change from within the highest echelons of governance in the US.

This book describes her journey from being a strong advocate for regular testing, public reporting of test scores, league tables for school performance, voucher systems, charter schools and merit pay; to arguably being their strongest and most informed critic.

She now spends a great deal of her life writing and campaigning to stop these damaging regimes before they do indeed, as the subtitle title suggests, completely destroy the US public school system.

Being curious as to how such a staunch advocate of the business model for schooling could do such a sudden u-turn, I went to visit her in New York when I had the chance. Reading this book started off as preparation, but quickly turned into a much more compelling interest. It’s a fascinating story and a pretty easy read!

Ravitch is an articulate and convincing advocate for another radical u-turn—this one to remove the corporate model from the school system and, in the case of the US, ensure that wealthy business and philanthropic organisations cannot simply buy schools and control the way that the public system operates. In her book, she doesn’t hold back in naming names and calling influential people to account. This gives it real authenticity and integrity.

Her integrity as an educator and researcher became a strong motivator to speak out when she discovered the clearly shonky findings that were being reported from education reforms.

Ravitch is a formidable and knowledgeable researcher who has unpacked the philosophical arguments and dissected the results of the reform programmes.

Her findings, combined with her significant knowledge and the skills to critique and reframe the debate, make this a “must read” book for anyone interested in the impact of the education reform agenda unfolding in New Zealand. Consider it a cautionary tale and an opportunity to be informed about the debates coming our way.

Ravitch’s expose will not have come without her turning some influential friends, into influential enemies. Her writing shows both that she has the courage of her convictions and the sway to shift opinion.

I leave you with one of Ravitch’s clear prescriptions for improving America’s schools—“Leave decisions about schools to educators, not politicians or businessmen.” Ring any bells?