Friday, December 03, 2010

Rebutting Ravitch on my new web site

I've created a new school reform web site,, to replace the crude, text-only one I've been using for years at  It's still a work in process, but I want to go public with it because the first major content on the site is my rebuttal of Diane Ravitch (, who is truly prodigious in spreading her dangerous lies, distortions and misinformation. 


I've been waiting to send out some of the stuff she's been saying and writing until I can rebut it line-by-line, but I don't think I'll ever find the time, so I'm just going to send it out (see below) along with my overall critique. 


Here is the opening section of my rebuttal (the entire rebuttal is posted at

Diane Ravitch is a well known and widely respected historian, author and commentator in the education arena. Her bio is extraordinarily impressive: a professor of education at NYU, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, the author of 10 books and editor of 14 more, Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander from 1991-93 – you get the idea …

For many years, she was one of the leading champions of genuine reform of our nation's broken public school system, supporting No Child Left Behind, for example, and serving on boards of reform-minded organizations such as Education Next, the Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution (Stanford University), and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. However, in recent years she has completely disavowed her earlier beliefs and has become one of the most vocal critics of her former colleagues and the reform agenda.

In my opinion, most of what she is currently saying and writing is completely wrong-headed, based on shoddy and one-sided research and analysis, yet because of her sterling resume and the fact that she was once a reformer, her views are quite influential and thus she is one of the greatest obstacles to the reforms our schools so desperately need.

My goal is to expose her for what she is: a thinly disguised shill for the teachers' unions, advancing their agenda of entrenching the unacceptable status quo that's working very well for the adults, but screwing millions of children, especially the most disadvantaged ones. Ravitch is very clever in criticizing reformers and their efforts, and argues that because haven't produced "the quantum improvement in American education that we all hope for," the solution is to abandon reform efforts entirely. Rather than offering a compelling alternative plan, Ravitch retreats into vague platitudes and nice-sounding nostrums that will leave the abysmally failing status quo unchallenged and unchanged.

Ravitch's Motivations
Ravitch criticizes nearly every type of meaningful reform, but saves special venom for Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein and their efforts to reform New York City's public school, where 2% of U.S. schoolchildren are educated (or not). Her attacks on Chancellor Klein in particular are so fierce and biased that it reeks of personal vendetta, which a New York Times article even alludes to it: "Some said she was nursing a grudge because close friends had lost jobs in the mayor's shake-up of the schools' bureaucracy." Thus, I'm not convinced that the reason she's changed her views 180 degrees is simply new thinking based on new evidence, as she claims. Klein has given as good as he's got here, so there's no love lost between these two. The reason I bring this up is that I think Ravitch's feelings toward Klein (who is one of the highest profile, most outspoken reformers), has poisoned her mind against all reform and everyone who works with and/or supports Klein and what he's trying to do. I also think her close personal relationship with Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers, affects her views greatly.

I've always viewed the struggle to change our public educational system as a journey of 1,000 miles – one that will last beyond my lifetime, if we define the end of the journey as high-quality schools for all children. The system is so big, so broken, and so lacking in market mechanisms that might force improvement that this is going to take a long time. That said, I'm not discouraged – I think we're making progress, and at an ever increasing rate in recent years – but I'm also realistic that 20 years after Teach for America was founded, 16 years after KIPP started, 9 years after No Child Left Behind passed, etc., we're maybe 50 miles (only 5%) into the journey – and it's been a brutal, bloody journey to date, with reformers being attacked constantly from all sides every step of the way.

The difficulty of this journey and the modest progress so far makes it easy for critics like Ravitch to stomp all over it. When you're only 5% of the way forward, it's easy to misread or distort the data and make it look like there's been no progress at all. And it's equally easy to blame the people on the journey for the lack of progress and many setbacks along the way, rather than point the finger where it really belongs: on those doing the attacking, who over and over again throw children under the bus to advance their own (adult) interests.

Yes, what Ravitch is doing is easy – and deeply, profoundly wrong, both logically and morally.

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