Ravitch also announced Wednesday in a talk at the University Club  that she would donate the $100,000 prize to her nonprofit group, The Network for Public Education. NPE (networkforpubliceducation.org) is a grassroots organization that opposes, among other things, high-stakes testing, privatization of public education, mass school closures and for-profit school management.

Because of education policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act and adoption of the Common Core standards, Ravitch said, schools that were once the centers of their communities are closing, teachers are being demonized and low-income students or students with special needs are being neglected.  While she once thought public education could use a “strong dose of testing,” she said, she now believes education is filled with “testing insanity.”

“What is called education reform is actually education destruction,” Ravitch said during her talk to a crowd of about 200.

The New York University research professor of education won the Grawemeyer award for her 2010 book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.” Her most recent book, published in September, is “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” Ravitch characterized it as the second part of the same narrative.

Ravitch served in the U.S. Department of Education in both the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations and was a strong advocate for reforms such as standardized testing, teacher accountability and school choice. She had a change of heart when she concluded that American students were failing to grasp a big picture of understanding of historical events, political issues and scientific phenomena.

During her talk, Ravitch called virtual charter schools the “educational equivalent of the Ponzi scheme,” and said policymakers who propose rewarding teachers financially for higher test scores assume “teachers are hiding their best lessons,” drawing laughter. The crowd applauded when she called for proper training for new teachers and said the purpose of education is “to learn to be good citizens.”

Watch a video interview with Ravitch here.


UofL presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music, composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion.

Janet Cappiello covers student success for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She has more than 30 years’ experience in journalism, including working for The Associated Press and magazines such as Vegetarian Times and Sustainability: The Journal of Record. She has been at UofL since 2014.