Shrill On Brill

In The Times, Mike Winerip writes-up the new Steven Brill book “Class Warfare.” Here’s Brill’s response (submitted but not yet posted):

I appreciate that Mr. Winerip thinks I have “seen the light” at the end of the book. What he doesn’t realize, though not for lack of my trying to explain it to him, is that I was simply reporting what I found over two years. I was not trying to render, let alone reconcile, a verdict for or against his (anti-reform) point of view.

However, despite his distinguished prior career as an reporter, I am not surprised by the apparent anger in Mr. Winerip’s opinion column, let alone his decision to distort my book by ignoring all in it that describes teachers (and even teachers’ union leaders) in a positive light and strains to explain, and depict from the classroom, how difficult effective teaching is. When he talked with me, it was almost as if he’d been waiting to unload on me for years. He freely cast epithets, some profane, at many of the men and women portrayed in the book, and refused to consider that his reporting about alleged “skimming” of the best students at the Harlem Success charter network might be based on faulty data. (Though he did, I guess in attempt to humor me, chuckle when I tweaked him for ignoring in a prior article that I was the product of Queens, New York elementary and middle public schools, before winning a full scholarship to go to a prep school – whereupon he repeated this revelation in this article.)

After he slammed a phone down on me on Friday when I tried to get him into the weeds of that Harlem Success data, I sent Mr. Winerip an email urging him to reconsider. I never received a reply. Whether my reading of the data on Harlem Success is right or wrong (and I believe it is correct), I think his approach to dealing with the issue, let alone the near-venom of his piece today, speaks for itself.
Update: Winerip responds.

7 Replies to “Shrill On Brill”

  1. I’ve seen HSA claim several times now that the state’s data on the number of ELLs, reduced/free, and special ed kids at HSA schools is faulty/wrong.

    How is it wrong, why is it wrong, and what are they doing to fix it?

  2. Are these the “weeds” Brill is going to discuss:
    At P.S. 149,
    20 percent of the kids are special education students; and 40% of these are the most severely disabled, in self-contained classes.
    13% are English Language Learners.
    In 2008 (the latest available data) more than 10% were homeless.
    68 percent of P.S. 149 students are eligible for free lunches
    2 percent for reduced-price lunch.

    The city’s School Report Card on the Success Academy shows that
    49 percent are eligible for free lunches and
    21 percent for reduced-price lunch.

    At the Harlem Success Academy,
    2% of the students are English Language Learners (compared to 13% at P.S. 149 –more than six times as many).
    16.9% special education students, (compared to 20% at P.S. 149) and of these, few if any are the most severely disabled..
    three homeless students in the 2008-09 school year, less than 1 percent of its population (compared to P.S.149’s 10 percent).

  3. I love how Brill puts “seen the light” in quotes. Winerip doesn’t use the phrase – it is not a direct quote. And, certainly slants Winerip’s description of Brill’s last chapter.

    Brill may say he is just a reporter – but he is sloppy at best, and frequently makes any discussion of his book into a polarized debate.

    Why would he use the term “anti-reform”, if he wants to real discussion?

    Why can’t reform or change have nuance and not just a platform or party-line?

  4. What is significant about the Winerip article is the fact that journalists are finally beginning to ask questions about the “reform” movement and coming up with the same answers that many teachers have. Let’s hope this continues before we see a proliferation of storefront academies in poor neighborhoods with underpaid and overworked teachers and rich “managers.”

    It’s time to defeat the status quo of unequal education based on income and race. And let’s not forget that education begins at birth.

  5. Another take down of Brill:

    “Class Warfare reveals their single-minded efforts to suppress any evidence that might challenge their mission to undermine the esteem in which most Americans held their public schools and teachers.”

    “You wouldn’t know from Class Warfare that students don’t do any better where teacher collective bargaining is prohibited. In non-union Texas, for example, students perform about the same as socioeconomically similar students in union-dominated New York. This is no secret.”

    “Given the charter school hype in Waiting for Superman and Class Warfare, it may seem hard to believe that students in charter schools do not, on average, outperform those in comparable regular schools.”

    “… there is nothing but anecdotal evidence of KIPP’s purported success… KIPP’s promoters have never sought the kind of careful study that could establish whether its students have the long term success that education aims for. ”

    “… there is now considerable evidence that both KIPP and the Success Academies have high attrition rates. ”

    “In the final pages of Class Warfare, Brill reports that this January, his chief exhibit, Jessica Reid, quit her charter school job… She signed up to work instead in a regular public school”

  6. Also from Rothstein in Slate:

    Central to [Brill’s] argument is the claim that radical change is essential because student achievement (especially for minority and disadvantaged children) has been flat or declining for decades. This is, however, false. The only consistent data on student achievement come from a federal sample, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago. (There has also been progress for middle schoolers, and in reading; and less, but not insubstantial, progress for high schoolers.) The reason test score gaps have barely narrowed is that white students have also improved, at least at the elementary and middle school levels. The causes of these truly spectacular gains are unknown, but they are probably inconsistent with the idea that typical inner-city teachers are content to watch students wrestle on the classroom floor instead of learning.

  7. Brill is a liar??

    Of course, Mr. Winerip’s response goes unpublished by Andy.
    Never fear that Andy will be even-handed or honest:

    Michael Winerip
    Education Reporter, New York Times
    August 29th, 2011
    12:19 pm
    I have not been waiting to unload on Mr. Brill for years; on the contrary, I have admired much of his previous work. As I told him during the reporting for my column, I was a big fan of the Teamsters book and I was also very, very impressed with “American Lawyer,” a truly original creation.

    In terms of my interaction with him last week: our interview was originally scheduled for 9 a.m., but he had a limited amount of time. We then agreed to talk at 6 a.m., when he had an hour; we talked again for about a half hour at 9 a.m. I have the email string; I sent him 11 and he sent me 11. In addition, I’d estimate he made several additional phone calls to me after the second interview. Eventually, I told him I had to cut short our conversation to write the piece; the very last words I said to him were: I have to go, I apologize. I did not slam the phone.

    As for the substantive points in his email, he and I clearly have pretty different perspectives on school reform. Here’s my take on his take on my take on his take:

    First, on the data from Harlem Success:

    In his book, Mr. Brill says: “Union critics of charter schools and their supporters have repeatedly asserted that schools like Harlem Success ‘skim from the community’s most intelligent students and committed families’ or that they teach fewer learning challenged or impoverished students and fewer students who are English language learners. None of the actual data supports this.”

    As I indicated in my column, the city Department of Education Web site clearly has data that contradicts what he says. I sent Mr. Brill the link for verification. Here it is:

    I also told Mr. Brill that there was a recent study by the city’s charter school organization that said the same thing — that charters serve children with fewer challenges.The study says that students at charters score better but district schools have more students with special needs — precisely what I said in the column. Mr. Brill sent me emails claiming that the city was wrong, and that he had the right information. But in his 437-page book, none of this information is included. If he had said there is disagreement on this issue, and provided the data, I would have included a reference. But in the notes in the back, he cites the same source as I did — the city Web site.

    As for Mr. Brill’s statement that he was just reporting what he found, I don’t understand: is his recommending Randi Weingarten for chancellor “simply reporting?” When I asked him if he meant that as some metaphor or he actually believed it, he said he was serious, and joked that some of his friends wanted to cut off his head for taking that point of view.

    I stand by my characterization of his attitude toward teachers and the union: He spends most of the book detailing what’s wrong with the union, and then changes this point of view at the end — which I noted. As for his point about supporting teachers, I think what he said about “thousands” who are “skilled and motivated” supports my perspective. Thousands out of 3 million is a modest percentage.

    Finally, Mr. Brill noted in the back of his book that he and his children attended private schools, so it seemed like fair game for me to as well.

    In 35 years as a reporter, I have never been accused of being profane or inappropriate. Nor was I in my many conversations with Steve Brill.

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