is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and former United States Assistant Secretary of Education
who is now a research professor at New York University
's Steinhardt School of Education.
She was born in 1938 in Houston, Texas, where she went to public schools. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, has a Ph.D. from Columbia University, and lives in Brooklyn, New York City.
Her most recent 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. (See political correctness and multiculturalism). The book asserts that "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". Publishers Weekly wrote: "Ravitch contends that these sanitized materials sacrifice literary quality and historical accuracy in order to escape controversy."
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. Her critique of multiculturalism and her calls for higher standards in public life have drawn fire.
However, she is not easy to characterize politically as she was appointed to public office by both President of the United States George H. W. Bush and his successor Bill Clinton. In her political views and in her record she is independent.
Her eight honorary degrees include degrees from Reed College, Williams College, Amherst College, State University of New York, St. Joseph's College in Patchogue, New York, Ramapo College, Union College, and Middlebury Language Schools.
In 2005, she received the John Dewey Award from the United Federation of Teachers of New York City; the Gaudium Award from the Breukelein Institute of Brooklyn; and the Uncommon Book award from the Hoover Institution. She is also a board member of the Albert Shanker Institute.
She has participated in a "blog debate" with Steinhardt School colleague Deborah Meier on the website of Education Week since February 26, 2007.
- The Revisionists Revised: A Critique of the Radical Attack on the Schools (1978) ISBN 0465069436
- The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980 (1985) ISBN 0465087574
- The Schools We Deserve (1985) ISBN 0465072364
- Schools in Cities: Consensus and Conflict in American Educational History (1983) ISBN 0841908508
- Against Mediocrity: The Humanities in America's High Schools (1984) ISBN 084190944X
- Challenges to the Humanities (1985) ISBN 0841910170
- The Great School Wars: A History of the New York City Public Schools (1988) ISBN 0465027040
- What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know: A Report on the First National Assessment of History and Literature (1989) ISBN 0060158492
- The American Reader : Words That Moved a Nation (1990) ISBN 0060164808
- National Standards in American Education: A Consumer's Guide (1995) ISBN 0815773528
- New Schools for a New Century: The Redesign of Urban Education (1997) ISBN 0300078749
- City Schools: Lessons from New York (2000) ISBN 0801863414
- Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform (2000) ISBN 0684844176
- The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (2003) ISBN 0375414827
- Making Good Citizens: Education and Civil Society (2003) ISBN 0300099177
- Kid Stuff: Marketing Sex and Violence to America's Children (2003) ISBN 0801873274
- Forgotten Heroes of American Education: The Great Tradition of Teaching Teachers (2006) ISBN 1593114486
- The English Reader: What Every Literate Person Needs to Know (2006) ISBN 0195077296