Thursday, December 31, 2009

Comments on my last email and more idiocy from Ravitch

1) Not surprisingly, my email yesterday triggered many responses. The most
in-depth was from my friend James Forman, a Georgetown law professor and
co-founder of the Maya Angelou Charter School in DC (full bio at:
> &ID=1923):

Whitney: Happy New Year and thanks for another year of delicious emails.
Also, thanks for taking the time to reflect on the email you got back
regarding Deb Meier, and for then responding.

Please take this email in the way that it is intended, which is constructive
and friendly criticism from somebody who shares your core passions.

A couple more thoughts prompted by your Meier discussion. I agree with the
writer of the email who says that Meier has done great work over her career,
has helped to inspire many of us to get into this field, and should be taken
seriously and respected. And the issue is bigger than Meier of course, she
just illustrates the point.

You write:

I find it sad and counter-productive that the old and new guards aren't
working together more closely, and acknowledge that a less confrontational
approach than the one I've chosen might yield better results.

While I'm not sure I buy the old guard/new guard formulation, I agree with
the sentiment you express in this sentence. But if you find it "sad and
counter-productive" then let's stop! Let's stop lobbing bombs at each
other. Remember, most of the people in the world don't care at all about
the plight of low income kids, it is just not on their radar screen. If
somebody (like Meier) not only cares, but has made a career out of doing
serious sustained on-the-ground work on their behalf, aren't we better off
seeking and acknowledging the substantial common ground and building on it?
I know that is sometimes hard in this work, extremely so given that some
people who disagree with you truly are evil, but most are not, and figuring
out the difference is the hard part.

As an example, you wrote in your email,

Has she ever visited a high-performing charter school?! I can only assume

I have not done an exhaustive search, but I know that Meier has in fact
written positively about KIPP. Here are 2 examples:

And yet she also raises cautions about KIPP. Why is that so hard to
swallow? Sometimes I fear that in your enthusiasm for great organizations
(and I count KIPP as one that we both are enthusiastic about) that you adopt
a bunker mentality in which anything that is critical of your preferred
position outrages you. You don't always do this, but as a longtime reader
of your emails I fear that you are doing it more and more. Your emails, at
least to me, seem to be getting angrier, which I don't think is productive
to the cause.

Finally, you should read or re-read the chapter called Choice in The Power
of their Ideas. It is thoughtful, and while I suspect that you won't agree
with it all (I don't), you will see how Meier's work really did set the
stage for the work that you (and I) are engaged in now.

Best to you and your family, James

2) Another friend had a very different perspective:

Whitney, Do not change a thing. These people have been in the way of real
change for years. They have not engaged or worked with people of color. They
don't have the results of KIPP or Success. They want to be insiders so bad
they criticize real success. They had decades to groom new leaders for the
movement. Did they? NO!!! You keep speaking truth to power!

Meier never replicated her school or encourages the type of entrepreneur of
TFA, Uncommon, KIPP, Success, etc.

So please don't ease up at all. She does not mean well for any of us.

One last point, if they were real warriors making real change to a failed
racist system, the UFT would have vilified them like they try to vilify us.
The simple fact is that they are apologists for the UFT, the single most
destructive force to children of color in NY.

God Bless You!

3) From someone who knows Meier well, over a long period - hence the
first-name familiarity:

Meier founded a good school (although in the end it may prove to be a less
powerful model for college-going than many of the charters she maligns) but
her way is not the only way to run a great school or approach education. In
the last few years her comments on charters and reform have not been helpful
to reform efforts. Deb seems to have become very partisan and ideological
and, as opposed to Ted Sizer, more concerned about people and positioning
than ideas. The blog she writes with Diane is so inaccurate in its
characterizations of things that it loses whatever other value it may have.

4) And:

The difficulty of the work we have set out to do is so great, we need as
many smart and passionate people at the table as possible. There are many
sides to this--I know you understand it's more than charters vs. unions and
ed schools vs. business models--but the debate is getting shriller and I
think it's important we work to pull things closer together.

5) And:

Meier ought to appreciate charter parents' greater school involvement,
starting with the lottery frenzy... (from Meier's bio) " parents a
voice in what happens to their children in schools, and promoting a
family-oriented system."

6) Finally, an interesting bit of history:

Did you know that Deborah Meier got most of her ideas for Central Park East
(and therefore a great deal of grant money and fame) from Walden III High
School in Racine, Wisconsin? (She doesn't try to hide how much she got from
Walden; she just doesn't bring it up.)

Walden III was founded in the 1960's -- and is one of the only original
alternative schools to survive -- was one of the first schools to be added
to Ted Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools without lifting a finger to
change because the staff had already organized the school around all of
Sizer's principles before they heard of them. Dr. Linda Mabry of Washington
State University (with whom I frequently collaborate) has written
extensively about the school's high stakes demonstration of mastery
requirement. It was profiled in Life magazine, and the Japanese Ministry of
Education sent a delegation of top educators to visit the school as well
some years ago.

This winter Walden was named one of U.S. News and World Report's top 2000
high schools in the nation.

It's technically a magnet school because it's located in the inner city in a
building built when Lincoln was president, added to in the 1920 in decrepit
condition the district has been receiving desegregation funds for it since
the school district voluntarily desegregated in the early 1970's. However,
unlike most magnet schools, Walden has always operated on a school string:
the original books and the current language lab coming from the dumpsters of
other public schools. It has no gymnasium or sports program; the teachers'
union, conventional schools, and, until recently, superintendents and school
board members have targeted it for closing on a regular basis. Always it's
saved by students, parents, alumni and the business community which has
always been impressed with the quality of its graduates.

If you're going to be in the Chicago area and would like to visit Walden,
please let me know. Both of our children are graduates, I worked with the
U.S. Department of Education, Dr. Mabry and many others when they've come to
study the school, my husband and I were long time chairs of the annual "Save
Walden" committee and I'm still in frequent contact with many of the staff.
I'd love to show you around.

Eileen Teska

Teska and Associates Inc.

5023 Singing Trees Drive

Racine, WI 53406


(Eileen says she's happy to arrange a tour of Walden for anyone who's

7) Here's Ravitch's latest tweet - yet more idiocy:

The heavy hand of the Bush II administration is all over the Race to the

Who decided that the guiding principle of US education would be a "race to
the top" instead of equal educational opportunity?

I do wonder about the deafening silence re the ridiculous Race to the Top.
Where are the academics who know that it is pointless?

What charter school would accept a student who was 16 and illiterate? Sorry,
Precious, no room at the inn.

I saw Clariece Precious Jones and afterwards wished that Klein, Rhee, and
Duncan would see it too. Then see if they say poverty is an excuse.

To see exactly how idiotic this is, let's go through it line by line:

- "The heavy hand of the Bush II administration is all over the Race to the
Top." By "the Bush II administration", does she mean the Obama
administration or people who were in the Bush administration who are now
influencing RttP? If the former, well duh, of course the Obama
administration is "all over" RttP - it's THEIR PROGRAM! If the latter, she
couldn't be more wrong - it's a whole new cast of characters - and they're
all Democrats, which really drives Ravitch crazy because it's a frontal
assault on her warped worldview that Democrats - yes, DEMOCRATS! - could
actually be driving reforms that she hates.

- "Who decided that the guiding principle of US education would be a "race
to the top" instead of equal educational opportunity?" While she may
disagree with the tactics, the entire focus of RttP IS, in fact, equal
educational opportunity!

- "I do wonder about the deafening silence re the ridiculous Race to the
Top. Where are the academics who know that it is pointless?" I don't know
what cave Ravitch has been in for the past year, but there's plenty of
debate about RttP and there are plenty of academics (mainly her beloved
fellow ed school types) who share her dismay about RttP (along with the
usual cast of characters, mainly Ravitch's union buddies, fighting to defend
the indefensible status quo). That said, she's right that the debate has
shifted MASSIVELY thanks to an extraordinary (and wonderful) confluence of
events, most importantly the election of President Obama and his willingness
to be bold on this issue.

- "What charter school would accept a student who was 16 and illiterate?
Sorry, Precious, no room at the inn." Ravitch is picking an extreme case,
knowing that there aren't very many charter high schools, and even fewer
that accept new students half-way through high school. And why are there so
few charter schools? Mainly due to various barriers erected and defended by
politicians doing the bidding of Ravitch's union buddies, such as caps,
inadequate funding, no facilities, etc. The hypocrisy drives me nuts when
enemies of charter schools do their best (often with great success,
unfortunately) to weaken charter schools, and then point to their weaknesses
as a sign that more should be done to weaken them.

A better question is: how is it possible that a student can be illiterate at
age 16 and what kind of schools has this child been attending for more than
10 years?!?! Almost certainly not a charter school. In fact, this student
likely attended your typical chronically failing inner-city schools, in
which little or no learning is going on, yet nevertheless students are
passed along from grade to grade. But when someone like Joel Klein or
Michelle Rhee comes along and implements a bold plan to shake up the status
quo that permits such a travesty, what does Ravitch do? Everything in her
power to undermine reform! Shame, shame!

- "I saw Clariece Precious Jones and afterwards wished that Klein, Rhee, and
Duncan would see it too. Then see if they say poverty is an excuse." The
movie Precious focuses on a black 16-year-old girl in Harlem who is
illiterate, obese, and has "has been raped and impregnated twice by her
father, Carl, and suffers constant physical, mental and sexual abuse from
her unemployed mother." (
Ravitch is claiming that Precious is typical of inner-city children (hmmm, I
won't even go there...) and that schools can't be blamed for failing to
educate children who come from such dysfunctional family situations. In
other words, more of the old union "woe-is-us,
what-can-we-do-with-'these'-children" tripe that even the unions have
largely abandoned.

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