Monday, August 26, 2013

Rebutting Ravitch

Back to my favorite activity, rebutting Ravitch (so much so that I have a web site dedicated to it). Let’s start with an article by Peter Cunningham, Former Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach at the US DOE, who takes issue with her recent, outrageous “maybe they don’t need to go to college” comment:

Over the years, her criticism of the administration became more and more strident. It was increasingly clear that she was not interested in a genuine conversation with us but rather was interested in driving her anti-administration message, even if it meant resorting to tactics that are beneath someone of her stature: ad hominem attacks on the secretary, cherry-picking data, setting up straw man arguments, taking language out of context and distorting its meaning, and ignoring sound evidence that conflicts with her point of view. At a certain point, I made the decision that, rather than engage with her, we would ignore her and, for the most part, we did.

Now that I have left government, I continue to track the national dialogue on-line. For example, I read the other day that Dr. Ravitch's blog has just received its six millionth page view. I extend my congratulations to her. She clearly has a following and with tens of thousands of tweets and thousands of blog posts behind her, she has earned it. However, I was taken aback to read the following passage in Friday's New York Times in anarticle about the new assessment in New York aligned with Common Core standards:

Some critics say the new standards are simply unrealistic. "We're using a very inappropriate standard that's way too high," said Diane Ravitch, an education historian who served in President George W. Bush's Education Department but has since become an outspoken critic of many education initiatives. "I think there are a lot of kids who are being told that if they don't go to college that it will ruin their life," she said. "But maybe they don't need to go to college."

When Dr. Ravitch says, "But maybe they don't need to go to college," who exactly is she referring to? It's certainly not rich white kids. It's definitely not the children of middle class parents, who view college for the kids as one of the core pillars of the American Dream. That leaves low-income and minority children. It includes the children of immigrants who come here with an 8th grade education and desperately want their kids to do better than them -- the kind of parents you meet at a graduation who speak little English and can't stop crying for joy.

I fully understand that all young people are not going to college.

Here’s another response from Grant Newman, a TFA alum who taught for 4 years at Achievement First in Brooklyn:

In today's NY Times, Diane Ravich was quoted on the rigor of the Common Core: 

“We’re using a very inappropriate standard that’s way too high,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian who served in President George W. Bush’s Education Department but has since become an outspoken critic of many education initiatives. “I think there are a lot of kids who are being told that if they don’t go to college that it will ruin their life,” she said. “But maybe they don’t need to go to college.”

Her line of thinking perfectly demonstrates the out-of-touch mentality of anti-reformers, who because of privilege (race, class, educational opportunity, health, etc) can make statements that demean the capabilities of all students without any retribution or questioning. Dr. Ravitch's notion that "they don't need college" speaks volumes about what she will never understand--teachers CAN and ARE capable of dramatically impacting the lives of their students.

 The sad irony however is that the students Dr. Ravitch writes off as possibly not having the potential to reach college are exactly the students who need that opportunity for any chance at upward mobility. Rich kids from Scarsdale can do fine in life through connections and experiences that grant them solid jobs and clear options.

 My students in Bushwick, Brooklyn have little chance of reaching the same success as that peer from Scarsdale unless they get the most extraordinary education to somehow level the playing field. While she consistently says she is a supporter of teachers and students, it is clear that she actually doesn't think either group can do much and instead should settle for maintaining the current state of affairs. 

Here’s a balanced review in The Atlantic of her new book, Reign of Error (what a great title that would be for a book about HER!), which mentions DFER and quotes me pointing out her “thuggery”…

The survival of the school-reform movement, as it’s known to champions and detractors alike, is no longer assured. Even a couple years ago, few would have predicted this turn of events for a crusade that began with the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, gathered momentum as charter schools and Teach for America took off in the 1990s, and surged into the spotlight with No Child Left Behind in 2001. As a schoolteacher, I know I didn’t anticipate this altered landscape. If one person can be credited—or blamed—for the reform movement’s sudden vulnerability, it’s a fiercely articulate historian, now in her 70s, named Diane Ravitch.
That Ravitch helped conceive the movement she now condemns makes her current role even more unexpected.

…A decade later, No Child Left Behind’s bipartisan push for federally mandated assessments brought Ravitch’s favored prescriptions into the mainstream. A growing cadre of social entrepreneurs—including Teach for America’s founder, Wendy Kopp, and many former TFAers, among them the creators of the KIPP charter schools—focused more intently on improving teacher quality. This was the key, they argued, to boosting achievement among disadvantaged students. They attracted generous backers, not least the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Executives from Silicon Valley and Wall Street hedge funds joined the cause, financing new organizations, such as Democrats for Education Reform, to push for more innovation. Soon the movement commanded allegiance from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, secretaries of education from both parties, and several big-city mayors and school superintendents. Ravitch, for her part, briefly advised George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign. The only figures conspicuously absent from this burgeoning coalition seemed to be traditional teachers and their unions, whom many reformers judged a primary obstacle to necessary change.

…Ravitch and her book instead further polarized an already strident debate. Movement crusaders denounced her as a doomsayer with no constructive answers. Although the reformist camp was more diverse than Ravitch acknowledged, its more hard-line proponents circled the wagons. They declined to scrutinize even the obvious excesses of their movement: the zealotry of D.C.’s superintendent of schools, Michelle Rhee, who soon found herself linked to a cheating scandal; the shady for-profit charters and so-called cyber schools with no record of serving disadvantaged children; the hastily adopted and unproven teacher-assessment schemes; a pricey new bureaucracy of McKinsey-style reform consultants, deployed even as classroom budgets were gutted.

Ravitch had taken to social media with the fervor of a teenager, and she responded to critics with fire-hose blasts of tweets and blog posts. Plainly thrilling to the role of polemicist, she accused one “loathsome” reformer of having “ruined the life” of a career educator “for filthy lucre.” Her opponents gave as good as they got. Whitney Tilson, a financier renowned for circulating pro-reform e‑mails, denounced Ravitch’s “thuggery.”

Ravitch was no longer engaging with her critics. She was rallying a base that grew rapidly as anti-testing fervor spread. This spring, she helped found the Network for Public Education to fight high-stakes testing and what she calls the privatization of public schools. (Meanwhile, Ravitch’s ideological adversaries have poured money into school-board and congressional races.) In less than three years, she has become the public face of a counterrevolution that shows no signs of abating, as many educators and parents now balk at the Common Core State Standards, a newly ambitious set of academic guidelines and accompanying assessments.
Ravitch presents Reign of Error as an overture to dialogue with opponents, but her subtitle suggests otherwise: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Her tour of the research is littered with bumper-sticker slogans—she indicts, for example, the “Walmartization of American education”—likely to put off the unconverted. The book reads like a campaign manual against “corporate reformers.” The first half challenges the claims of their movement; the second offers Ravitch’s alternative agenda. Her prescriptions include universal pre-K, smaller class sizes, better teacher training, and more measures to reduce poverty and school segregation.

These are worthy goals—and not one of them is necessarily incompatible with many reformers’ own aims. Yet Ravitch doesn’t address competing priorities or painful trade-offs. Further reducing class size in better-off suburban districts, for example, may leave less money for more urgently needed early-childhood programs in poorer communities.

…For her part, Ravitch might lead her own followers to recognize that the desire to improve teacher quality isn’t tantamount to teacher-bashing.

“If my child were in a school where he was not learning,” Ravitch wrote in the not-too-distant past, “I would not wait for a gathering of social scientists to tell me whether it was okay for me to put him in another school.” A reform movement convulsed by extremism shouldn’t hinder parents, or children, either. If only Ravitch, too, would dedicate her zeal to a less divisive vision.

To get a sense of Ravitch’s daily nonsense, check out this post in which she writes that TFA alums/reformers are “using their power to promote privatization of public education and to attack the teaching profession” and “At some point, TFA will be recognized as a crucial cog in the rightwing effort to destroy public education and dismantle the teaching profession”. In my book, when someone stands up and says “white is black, up is down, and the sun circles the earth”, we can safely say that this is a delusional crackpot…:

Teach for America has always said that its long-term goal
was to train future leaders who would take a significant role in
shaping education policy. That is happening. Such alumni as
Michelle Rhee, Kevin Huffman (state commissioner in Tennessee),
John White (state commissioner in Louisiana), and Eric Guckian
(education advisor to the extremist Governor of North Carolina) are
using their power to promote privatization of public education and
to attack the teaching profession. In Atlanta, four
TFA alumni are running for school board
 and have a good
chance of winning. “Incumbent Courtney English (at-large Seat 7) is
a TFA alum. So is Matt Westmoreland, who is running unopposed for
the District 3 seat being vacated by Cecily Harsch-Kinnane. “So is
Eshe Collins, who is running for the District 6 seat being vacated
by Yolanda Johnson; as well as Jason Esteves, who is running for
the at-large Seat 9 being vacated by Emmett Johnson. However,
neither Collins nor Esteves mention TFA in their extensive campaign
biographies which appear on their respective websites. “Overall,
the four are a largely pro-charter school group. If all four are
elected, TFA alumni will constitute a near-majority voting bloc on
the BOE.” The linked article suggests that the four will advance a
pro-privatization agenda. At some point, TFA will be recognized as
a crucial cog in the rightwing effort to destroy public education
and dismantle the teaching profession.

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