Monday, April 11, 2011

Diane Ravitch Takes on ‘Bee Eater’

Speaking of powerful rebuttals, here's Richard Whitmire defending his fabulous new book, The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation's Worst School District (, against Ravitch's usual distortion-filled hatchet job:

Diane Ravitch Takes on 'Bee Eater'

Posted on by richard

Given the criticism I level at the Washington Post in my book, I can understand why Post editors would choose Ravitch (the same counter-school reformer who trashed Waiting for Superman) to review my book. A guaranteed hit job. Fair enough; I probably would have made the same choice.

Plus, Ravitch has extra incentive to lash out, given my writings about her critique of Waiting for Superman, not to mention what I said about her recently in the New York Daily News.

Given all that, I was expecting real fireworks from Ravitch. Instead, she offers up a cartoonish summary of the book, citing informal "studies" that don't hold up to scrutiny. The proper way to use NAEP scores is to compare like-school districts in the same time period. You can't use NAEP to compare different school chiefs in different time periods. (Rhee critics seem to think if they repeat this enough it will magically come true.)

When NAEP is used correctly, we see that Rhee's reforms produced unique gains from 2007-09 not seen in other urban districts. But Ravitch undoubtedly knows that. She'd rather pretend otherwise.

"There were significant gains (in the D.C. Public School system) in both fourth and eighth grade in reading and math between 2007 and 2009," said Michael Casserly from the Council of the Great City Schools, referring to the Rhee years in D.C. captured in NAEP data. "No other city participating in Trial Urban District Assessment could make the same claim over that period."

Interesting that Ravitch, like most Bee Eater critics, fails to address the core question in the book: Why, in 2007 when Rhee took over, were low income black children in D.C. scoring as much as two years of learning behind low income black children in several other urban districts? If you don't like my conclusion — low expectations and poor teacher quality — then provide an alternative explanation. Don't just ignore it. That's intellectual cowardice.

In the end, Ravitch comes off as no better informed than the writers who glorified Rhee when she started the job and now do their best to turn her into a villain. That's just the way press cycles work. What they all have in common is none of them actually visit D.C. schools to do any reporting, especially schools in Washington's impoverished 7th and 8th wards, where I spent most of my time.

What has come of old fashioned reporting? Richard Kahlenberg wrote a Bee Eater review in Slate and later admitted he had done no local reporting. Rhee's work is regularly trashed by Washington Post education columnist Valerie Strauss. Twice I've written Strauss to inquire about the school visits that inform her columns, and twice she has declined to answer. I can only conclude that no shoe leather reporting goes into her column.

Come on folks, do your homework.

Here's a review of the book written by Post columnist Jay Mathews, someone who has actually visited some of the schools I profile in the Bee Eater.

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