Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rotherham Critiques Ravitch New Yorker Profile

David Denby (yes, the film critic) wrote a lengthy profile of Diane Ravitch in the latest issue of The New Yorker (subscription required), in which I’m mentioned a few times. Below is Andy Rotherham’s critique of it – here are excerpts:

Just read the New Yorker profile ($) on Diane Ravitch (who I’ve known for more than a decade). The article is easy to caricature . It’s set against a Detroit backdrop, a place where parents are running for the exits - and few New Yorker readers would send their own kids. But a few thoughts on the article, some issues it raises, and my basic question about Ravitch.

First, the good.  The writer, David Denby, a film critic for The New Yorker, provides some context that I think gets lost in all the back and forth about Ravitch.  I don’t, for instance, think she’s wrong that the hysteria about international test scores is overblown (though Ravitch at one time flamed that herself).  And whether traveling with the right or the left she’s long been an important champion for a content rich education and a view of education that goes beyond purely private, utilitarian, or vocational purposes.  You can find some of what she’s saying now objectionable, inconsistent, or ridiculous but there are some common, and serious, threads that run through her work over the years.  The idea that she’s done a 180 on everything overstates what’s happening here.

The big winner in the profile? New York finance whiz Whitney Tilson! I know Whitney, too, and he’s done great work for KIPP and is a passionate and tireless (literally tireless as best I can tell) advocate for better schools.  But when Denby writes that reform has been championed by a “variety of entrepreneurs and fund managers including, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Whitney Tilson,” well, that is quite a promotion for Whitney! It’s also sort of a weird trio to choose, too, and one  that sounds more talking point oriented than analytical. Whitney doesn’t have $100 million to donate, at least as far as I know, but he’s more involved in education reform than Zuckerberg, who is still finding his way into philanthropy in general and education philanthropy in particular. And there are others, California education reform advocate and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings comes immediately to mind, with more history on this issue than Tilson and more activism than Zuckerberg.  There is Julian Roberston, too, of course.  Or the Fishers. On charter schools the Walton’s, especially the late John Walton.  The point here: The Zuckerberg-Gates-Tilson axis is a superficial way to look at what is not a recent phenomenon – rather two decades plus – and a more complicated one than the article lets on.

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