To The Point

There will be plenty of pixels spilled over Diane Ravitch’s new book, but this sentence from Jessica Levin’s review is pretty to the point:

The real error Diane Ravitch has made throughout her career — first from the right and now from the left — is assuming the solutions to our complex education problems can be found at either pole, rather than in the far messier, nuanced grey zone of the middle…

Read the whole thing.

16 Replies to “To The Point”

  1. The real error Jessica Levin has made throughout her article–from beginning to end–is making inferential claims of objectivity while playing for the reformer team.

    “Ravitch claims all education reformers are bent on promoting privatization, vouchers, and for-profit schools.”

    Really? “All”? Come on, Levin, now you’re just playing a rhetorical game.

    “a new generation of college graduates deeply committed to social justice and educational equity was figuring it out on the ground.”

    And they did bravely go forth and did slay many dragons blah, blah, blah.

    “Their” biggest “misstep” wasn’t being naive, it was being wrong. Wrong about nearly everything, starting with “their” diagnosis of the problem. And why are solutions to difficult problems to be found in the middle? That’s the oldest and lamest excuse for not thinking through a problem ever invented. It’s just intellectual laziness.

  2. And yet from the get go, she gets it majorly wrong:

    Jessica LevinEducation policy analyst and researcher

    Will the Real Education Reformer Please Stand Up?
    Posted: 09/19/2013 11:43 am
    Michelle Rhee, Education Reform, Teachers, Teach For America, Centrism, Education Reformers, Left-Right Synthesis, Teachers Unions, Testing, Politics News


    If only Diane Ravitch had applied her formidable skills as a historian in her new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. No doubt she would have done enough legwork to realize that there is a critical mass of education reformers that bears little resemblance to the testing, pink slip and market-obsessed bogeymen of her book.

    Reign of Error indicts education reform and those who support it with sweeping simplicity. Readers are told reformers are ginning up a crisis in public education in service of a right-wing agenda: namely, over-testing our children, punishing their teachers, and privatizing our schools. Reformers as a group are said to believe that markets, competition and the private sector will solve our perceived education ills and, moreover, that poverty is irrelevant to student achievement. So argues Ravitch, who, borrowing a page from the teachers unions’ playbook, categorically derides an entire generation of education leaders as “corporate education reformers.”

    Earlier this year, motivated by concerns about education reform’s deteriorating image and possible missteps by reformers that have aggravated it, I interviewed 50 leading education reformers: state and district superintendents, policy makers, directors of national teacher recruitment and training organizations, charter school leaders, academics, and community organizers. None of them sounded remotely like the corporate education reformers Ravitch portrays. Not Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach For America (which Ravitch devotes an entire chapter to denouncing). Not even Michelle Rhee, Ravitch’s favorite punching bag.

    Consider Ravitch’s alleged “Hoax of Privatization.” Ravitch claims all education reformers are bent on promoting privatization, vouchers, and for-profit schools. However, most of those I interviewed have little faith in market solutions to improve schools systemically. They won’t actively oppose vouchers because they refuse to tell poor parents what they wouldn’t tolerate hearing themselves: “Your kids must stay in this failing school while we spend a decade trying to fix it.” But many talked about vouchers and for-profits as distractions more than game changers.

    Then there is testing and accountability. My interviewees believe (as does much of the pubic, according to recent research polls) that testing can provide important information about student achievement and should be factored into a teacher’s evaluation. But far from thinking only test scores matter, most reformers are concerned about over-testing, as well as the current perverse focus on the wrong type of tests.

    Finally, having taught in and worked with high-poverty schools for a decade or two, the reformers with whom I spoke have a deep understanding of poverty’s effects on student achievement. But having demonstrated what more high-poverty schools can accomplish with existing resources, they refuse to accept poverty and social conditions as reason to stop focusing on what schools can and must do better.

    * *
    So why does Ravitch get it so wrong? Does she assume this current generation of education leaders believes exactly what she believed before her oft-discussed conversion from one of the intellectual framers of the right wing’s agenda of accountability, choice and vouchers to one of its most ardent opponents — essentially, that reformers are all who she was and who her most conservative colleagues still are?

    The reality is the vast majority of this current generation of education leaders, many who began teaching in our highest-poverty schools in the early to mid-1990s through the Teach For America program, have never embraced this agenda.

    Kevin Huffman
    Michelle Rhee
    John White
    Michael Johnson

  3. Error,
    I meant to select just this paragraph:
    The reality is the vast majority of this current generation of education leaders, many who began teaching in our highest-poverty schools in the early to mid-1990s through the Teach For America program, have never embraced this agenda.

  4. We’ve had over fifty years of consistent research on how children become high achievers. We know what to do, but have not had the will to do it. Prof. Ravitch reminds us that these research-based interventions still need to be applied. When we decide to apply what we know, we’ll begin to see the improvements that we all say we want. A “middle ground” would mean moving away from strategies that work. Also, many of us see “smoke and mirrors” and just plain fraud in much of the current “reform.” Obviously, we can’t accept any of that.

  5. I’m convinced that Linda and Phillip are just online personas, and that Ravitch writes both of their comments.

  6. Thank you, Sybil! What a nice compliment! I’m actually just a little old granny who has never met Diane Ravitch. But like her, I’m a huge supporter of public education. Also, I’m convinced that if we are to see an improvement in education, we must heed the research and respond to it. I agree with Prof. Ravitch that we need improvements in prenatal care, early infant care, high-quality preschool, class sizes, highly qualified teachers and, of course, an improvement in the child poverty rate. These are all research-based strategies and it’s time to apply them.

  7. Although I am sympathetic to Ravitch’s critique of the so-called reformers, I do think that, in seeking to defend public education and make the point that US schools actually are doing better than most people think, she has gone a bit far in minimizing real problems that we have in today’s schools. Otherwise I am happy she is a voice taking on the reformers and some of their assumptions.

    I think that Jessica Levin sort of misses a key point about the reformers. In my experience, many TFAers and so-called reformers might be characterized as the following: individuals who are actually genuinely committed to the progressive goal of closing educational achievement gaps–I actually believe their commitments are genuine and don’t quite believe in a conspiracy to privatize education per se– but actually hold what are deeply conservative views and assumptions about human nature and society. This leads them to discount the role that societal structures and environmental factors (such as structural inequality) play in outcomes and to emphasize the role of individuals. In many ways, their world view is much like those of businesspeople who assume that America is a meritocracy and that individuals rise or fall based on their merits, not factoring in the role of circumstance, privilege, social location, and just plain luck in explaining some outcomes. This is why they adopt “No Excuses” as their mantra, since they assume that failure to achieve results is simply a function of individuals making excuses. And it is also why they have sometimes made common cause with business leaders who actually don’t share the same commitment to public education.

  8. Sorry to disappoint you Sybil.
    With what she puts out on her own website, Diane doesn’t have time to respond here on Andy’s.
    Nor has she quite demonstrated this: “He is a talented, despicable writer who enjoys vicious teasing as a kind of journalistic blood sport,”

  9. Yes, Cat, that’s a big part of it.

    When some of us talk about the business or corporatist models and interests in public education we do mean that triumphal mindset that suggests perceived failures are caused by ineffective/lazy teachers. We also mean the rise of non-profits staffed by 2 year TFAers and fueled by hedge funds and Wall Street interests. Go back to this blog on Sep 16 and take a look at that job announcement. Looks nice enough. Rich people giving back. Right. Here’s some of what they get for their investment dollars errr, donations:
    “Advantages of a corporate advised fund include:

    Easily suggest grants outside the United States. We are experts in international giving.
    Ability to outsource all or part of your corporate philanthropy program.
    No legal liability. The community foundation remains in full compliance with state and federal regulations as they relate to grants and contributions.
    Name your corporate advised fund and issue grants in the company’s name or anonymously.
    Maximum allowable tax advantages for donations.
    Ability to donate a wide range of irrevocable charitable donations including cash, appreciated stock, pre-IPO stock, real estate and other assets.
    No federal excise tax on the investment income, like with a private foundation.
    No minimum annual payout requirement, unlike a private foundation.
    No separate tax return, unlike a private foundation.”

    And, with folks and influencers like Gates with a TON of money, some things get funded and other things do not. The end result is a gradual shift towards a certain kind of reform that emphasizes the values and perceptions of the moneyed interests and less people like Ravitch and scientific research in general.

    And the one group almost never represented in any of this reform or in any of these non-profits are the very people who should be invited–teachers.

  10. Here’s the point Andy and Jessica should get:

    The four-point gains D.C. public school students achieved citywide on the most recent annual math and reading tests were acclaimed as historic, as more evidence that the city’s approach to improving schools is working.

    But the math gains officials reported were the result of a quiet decision to score the tests in a way that yielded higher scores even though D.C. students got far fewer math questions correct than in the year before.

    The decision was made after D.C. teachers recommended a new grading scale — which would have held students to higher standards on tougher math tests — and after officials reviewed projections that the new scale would result in a significant decline in math proficiency rates.

    Instead, city officials chose to discard the new grading approach and hold students to a level of difficulty similar to previous years’, according to city officials as well as e-mails and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

    The decision — made after students took the tests in April and May and about six weeks before city officials announced the results at a celebratory news conference in July — resulted in the largest overall testing improvement since 2008.

    Just another day in deception and lying by the Professional Education Reform Movement.

  11. Thankfully, reporters are now investigating these test scores and not just reporting them without question. The truth is coming out, just as I always knew it would.

    ” A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Mark Twain

  12. More on Polis:
    For me the final straw was when in the most recent email he told me he would apologize for calling her evil when she stopped being evil.
    TeacherKen, NBCT, Agnes Meyer TOtY.
    at Dailykos

  13. The thing about Diane Ravitch is that she worked under the Bush administration helping to push systemic standards based reform, which is the direct antecedent of the “corporate” reform models seen currently. I find it hard to believe that someone who is a trained historian can go from one pole to the other without having a motive– sometimes it pays to be a polemic.

    Is there a third way that recognizes both structural and systemic factors? It is true that many students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and that this is correlated with achievement– but there are also many levers we can influence inside of schools. Arguing either extreme is just silly.

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