Diane Ravitch, the Anti-Rhee Michelle Rhee went from DCPS to national crusader. Along the way, a 72-year old historian became her top critic

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“The problem with ‘I was wrong about everything’ as the prelude to an argument is that it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the repudiator’s judgment,” Kevin Carey of the think tank Education Sector complained in The New Republic. “[Ravitch] simply trades one pre-defined agenda for another: the collected talking points of the reactionary education establishment. It is a philosophy of resentment and futility, grounded in the conviction that public schools—and the adults within them—can’t really be expected to do better than they currently are.”

That’s a relatively respectful version of it. But the school-reform debate now has enough star power that there’s plenty of lower-brow criticism, too. If the idea of an education-policy historian popping up on Jon Stewart’s show is weird, the idea of a parody Twitter feed to caricature said education-policy historian may be even weirder.

But a review of Ravitch’s career, which actually began on the left, suggests a more complex narrative. A lifelong political liberal who has always wrestled with a sort of innate personal conservatism, Ravitch—like Jane Jacobs, the urbanist whose book she referenced—has been constant in her deep attraction to institutions that have survived the test of time, and her aversion to intellectual fads. “It’s the fierce urgency of no,” Ravitch says of her worldview. “I like institutions, in part because I like to rebel against them, but also because I think society needs them and needs to continually reshape them, not blow them up.”


Diane Silvers was born into a middle-class family in Houston in 1938, the third of eight children. Her parents owned a small chain of liquor stores. A bookworm, she also found time for adolescent thrills: At San Jacinto High School, she was a tomboy and an ardent drag racer. She’d been in three car accidents by age 16.

The Houston of Ravitch’s adolescence was embroiled in McCarthyism. Hailing from an FDR-loving, Democratic family, Ravitch was horrified by a campaign against her ninth-grade history teacher launched by the Minute Women of the U.S.A. The teacher, Nelda Davis, subscribed to a liberal internationalist worldview; she was eventually forced out. Another formative political experience came during Ravitch’s senior year, when she discovered a cache of books on the Soviet Union stashed under the school library’s circulation desk. They had been censored. She devoured them.

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At the suggestion of her family rabbi’s wife, Ravitch went off to Wellesley College, in Massachusetts. Her goal was to become a reporter, so she interned one summer at The Washington Post. The experience put her off newspapering: She says most of the women in the newsroom were “gal Fridays,” making copies and fetching coffee, which seemed boring. But in D.C. she met her future husband, Richard Ravitch, who was working for a Democratic congressman from California. The couple married two weeks after Diane’s 1960 graduation, settling in Manhattan.

Ravitch set out to find a job to match her writerly ambitions. Because she didn’t want “women’s work,” it was a slog. “The only jobs available for someone with my inexperience were secretarial, typing,” she says. “It was a big turnoff.” Then, in January 1961, she came across a New York Times editorial about the death of Sol Levitas, the Russian exile who had run the small democratic socialist magazine The New Leader. The Times called The New Leader “one of the most stimulating and valuable magazines of our day,” filled with “every variety of democratic opinion.”

Ravitch looked up The New Leader’s phone number and called the office. A flustered secretary invited her for an interview. By the close of business, she had landed a $10 per week editorial assistant job. For three years Ravitch worked there on and off, gaining an introduction to the New York anti-Communist left. She remained a part of that world for decades. Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, became a friend; in the late 1980s, he sent Ravitch to Eastern Europe to speak to newly organized teachers’ unions.

But Ravitch was never purely a creature of the left. As the counterculture took root in the mid-1960s, she was busy with two all-consuming projects—motherhood (her sons were born in 1962, 1964, and 1967) and research on what would become her celebrated 1974 history of the New York City public schools, The Great School Wars. She was attracted to the topic because she was fascinated by the era’s battles between community-control advocates, teachers, administrators, and the United Federation of Teachers. It was black vs. Jew, organized labor vs. New Left. And, in Ravitch’s view, the era also involved too many misguided philanthropists “playing God in the ghetto” by supporting new-fangled identity-politics curricula at the expense of traditional liberal arts.

Ravitch’s criticisms of that phenomenon yoked her to the conservative establishment, where right-leaning outfits like the Hoover Institution, the Olin Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute supported her work. She went on to spend 18 months in the first Bush administration and to produce another decade’s worth of policy writing in favor of introducing “competition” to education.

Our Readers Say

Yes, it is indeed a very BAD time. And yes, again...These are dark days. Ravtich is right.

Is the USDoE listening? Answer: I don't think so and this is sad for the future of this country.

First we had the dot.com bubble, followed by the energy bubble. Then came the housing bubble and I predict that there will be a testing bubble.

Our tax money is supporting lame educational plans that will make the rich even wealthier. What a boondoggle.
Like all debates, I think it is important to understand both sides. Through her careful checking of the facts, Ravitch has put a lot of holes in reported success stories of turn-around schools. I admire Ravitch for having the courage to change her mind and for doing the due-diligence necessary to present the other side of the debate.

Personally, I have been very disappointed with Bill Gates involvement in education from the time --10 or so years ago-- he started the "small schools" project. That project was a dismal failure, yet now he has become a leader in the future of education. I think Ravitch is doing a great job of educating people that education reform is complex and that we should not accept the notions of a few who have said they have made improvements -- but who cannot present sufficient evidence to support their claims.

I devote my time and energy to the study of positive youth development. At the moment, I don't see a focus on child development in our schools. I see the major emphasis in school reform on external tests that may measure academic performance at a single point in time but do nothing to measure if our kids will develop the abilities to be creative, innovative, and engaged.

I'm not sure where today's education debate will end, but I'm sure Diane Ravitch will have made a formidable contribution to the discussion.

Thanks for writing such an informative article.
Thank you for this article. How far Rhee rose.. and fell. Yet some news organizations still use her as a go-to on education. That must stop. Ms Ravitch, thank you for your persistence and vision. And, may I please share with you and other educators reading this article a delightfully biting Dr. Seuss-style video created by another educator just as passionate. Called 'Rhee the Reformer,' http://youtu.be/tAc6bcMetDM by TeacherSabrinaFSP. Sabrina describes her 6:06 video this way, "A Seuss-style interpretation of Michelle Rhee's "Erase to the Top" scandal.For more stories, commentary, and evidence from the other side of school reform, follow me @TeacherSabrina on Twitter!"
Dear WCP,

Neither the family of Whittaker Chambers nor Diane Ravitch herself understand why Jonathan Alter called her "the Whittaker Chambers of school reform" in his Newsweek article [" A Case of Senioritis" 11/28/2010].

How does her "intellectual heft to the National Education Association’s campaign" resemble anything about anyone from the Hiss Case?

Whittaker Chambers (my grandfather) wrote only one article relevant to Mr. Alter's piece. In "Foot in the Door" (National Review - 06/20/1959), he expresses concern with the "slackness about learning" in America. He champions the idea of raising the general level of education. He cites a breakthrough of that time: TV classes at George Washington University. "We shall have little choice but to raise the level [of education]…" Future scale of education requires "solutions in something approaching googol terms."

Clearly, Whittaker Chambers would have supported Bill Gates and President Obama as described in Mr. Alter's article (which Dr. Ravitch does not discuss in her reply).

Regardless, why should anyone care what any figure from the Hiss Case (all of them by now dead) says about education currently?

Will Washington ever grow up enough to stop name-calling a la Hiss Case?

Or, if compelled (out of habit or custom) to continue to do so, could this please in -- how shall we say? -- a more "educated" and accurate manner?

David Chambers | http://www.whittakerchambers.org/
Ms. Ravitch is correct, I am a teacher(20 years)...we are in deep do-do folks...children should be learning, and learning takes time and lots of patience...testing is for measuring the next step in that learning, not the worth as a teacher.

Good leaders have the humility to change their thinking when facts warrant it, or when policy is taken to the extreme as in NCLB...The Race to the Top is no better...if results are wanted there is an old saying, "the hardest part of teaching is getting out of the way"...

Folks...step aside and let the learning begin.
If Bill Gates combined his money with knowledge about how children learn, think of the good he could do, instead of backing the present nonsense. What a waste! Give it another year and everyone will know that "reform" is, as Ravitch said, (borrowing from Mark Twain), "lies, damned lies and statistics."
From an emotional standpoint, I understand why people like this woman and support her. The problem is, this is not someone who has any idea how to take control of an incompetent, sometimes downright mutinous, government agency. You cannot save a sinking ship by having meetings with stakeholders, making sure everyone feels their voice is heard equally, thanking the people who bult the ship and telling the crew that what's most important is their choice of career.
This woman might understand education, but she doesn't understand government. And that is where the problem usually occurs.

Diane Ravitch has been an amazing advocate for supporting existing public schools. If so called "philanthropists" want to truly help children, why are they giving their millions to charter schools and not struggling public schools? The sudden influx of unqualified people scrambling to open up charters shows that the current "ed reform" push is not really about improving the learning of kids...there's money to be made. I would suggest reading the following article from Dissent Magazine - Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools
http://t.co/it2YBQx to learn more about the true intentions behind much of this ed reform agenda.

Diane Ravitch has been "spot on" in her analysis of the current disruptive and damaging ed reform agenda and I am thankful she is speaking out. As a teacher in a Title I school, I can tell you that Ravitch is right about education. We don't need more testing to fix the true problems. We need leaders who will step up and address child poverty with health care, jobs, child care, and affordable housing which all negatively impact education. We have millions of hurting children in America and we need to provide them with services that address their needs (much of it attributed to poverty). Firing teachers and increasing testing will not fix the underlying problems. It will only serve to weaken our education system, narrow the curriculum and make a lot of millionaires and billionaires even richer.
@TeacherReality on Twitter
Whether one likes Ms. Ravitch or not, she certainly is right that current education reforms are ineffective on a broad scale. Higher standards are beneficial for high-end students, but will not keep drop-outs--some 25-30% of students--in the classroom. Many of the problems schools face are rooted in an economy that fails to provide jobs for what real human beings are, a culture that promotes consumerism and ease rather than the excitement of working for something worthwhile, and a schooling system that tries to provide both education and day-care on a mass scale--a combination bound to founder.
1. Effective education begins long before kindergarten, and should begin with expectant parents and focus on verbal richness.
2. The prime purpose of public schools should be to develop capable citizens, which involves basic academic (about 7th grade) and personal/social competence.
3. Beyond those basic requirements schools should subsidize industries with the higher education and trade skills appropriate to different students.
These steps require school restructuring to include parent education, separation of day-care from instruction to facilitate both academic and social development, and curriculum modification to value a variety of individual interests in an economy with varied needs. A fourth step, beyond the scope of formal education, is to develop an economy that supports having a parent in the home and careers that offer living wages to as broad a range of real human beings as possible.
I am just curious about Jay Greene's comment about Ravitch being a bully, I see in his blog some posts on 4/23, 6/3, and 6/14 regarding her placed by Bunkum Award winner (not an honor! See link.) Matt Ladner. Had Ms. Ravitch been bullying them?
Who would choose to place the words of a Bunkum Award winner on their blog? Many people lack that shadow on their credibility. Mr. Ladner's award was titled, "If I say it enough, will it still be untrue?"
Link to the award :http://nepc.colorado.edu/bunkum/2011/if-i-say-it-enough-will-it-still-be-untrue-award>
Unfortunately, I fear Professor Ravitch has lost the objectivity and scholarly perspective that once made her books such a pleasure to read. She is, I think, too caught up in the fight to objectively assess her opponents and the validity of at least some of their positions. It is undoubtedly a huge temptation to enjoy hearing raucous applause for one's proclamations; but while the media enjoy public policy pugilism, the lives of neither students nor teachers are benefited thereby, and the mean-spiritedness of our debates, which she rightly decries, demeans us all. I agree with the her claim that we need to address social inequities in this country; but the topic of her debates with Michelle Rhee is education policy, and any claim that we are not spending enough on education in the United States, or that the best 21st century education policy is to reinforce the established policies and practices of the 20th century, which Professor Ravitch in her career as an education historian (rather than as a policy advocate) has successfully devastated, will not emerge victorious in education policy debates.
For Bruce William Smith: Reinforcing the established policies is the work of the education reform movement. The high-stakes testing movement is now 10 years into practice under NCLB. Charters schools have expanded steadily for 20 years -- they are long past the incubator stage. The status quo we see today are the lynch pins of the reform movement. I agree with Ravitch: it's not working. Her position is to stop reinforcing the status quo education policy and move the focus to children, restoring the profession of teaching and rescuing the future of our democracy with a well-rounded curriculum in neighborhood public schools supported by communities addressing poverty and restoring hope.
I agree that the system of education that has evolved in this country is truly misconceived. I know a child who passes tests, has 9 credits in high school science, but is considered a failure in Charles County Public School system in Maryland. Teachers and administrators refuse to differentiate or assist him with his writing. When assistance is requested, the family is harassed and humiliated. If you look at test scores, the child is successful. How does one communicate with teachers who say, I teach honors or AP and do not HAVE to differentiate.
Beatrice, I would like to revise my comment by moving the word "established" behind "practices" and changing the preposition, thus yielding "policies and practices established in the 20th century". Having read both "The Life and Death of the Great American School System" and "Left Back", I am claiming that Professor Ravitch is a reactionary, and is peculiarly ill prepared to make the argument that we should go back to the policies and practices of the past when she was so very effective at demonstrating that they weren't very effective. It's hard to differentiate her policy prescriptions, in either her or your summary, from that of the mainstream of 1970, which began a decade of some accomplishments and setbacks but by no means a model for the present decade we are in.
In answer to David Chambers' question, I compared Diane Ravitch to Whitakker Chambers in Newsweek and more recently on Bloomberg View (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-03/don-t-believe-critics-education-reform-works-jonathan-alter.html) for an obvious reason: both made journeys across the ideological spectrum. In Chambers' case it was from the communist left to the anti-communist right; in Ravitch's case it was from the education reformer right to the teachers union left. I have an inherent distrust of these transformations (the most recent being the playwright David Mamet's move from left to right) because they reflect Manichean thinking that squeezes out nuance and intelligent reflection in the name of some "line." Even worse is Ravitch's "fierce urgency of no," which has become in her hands a kind of implacable cynicism. Skepticism is wonderful, but she directs it only at reformers (and their charter schools, even the highly effective ones)--never at the unions and their tired agenda. Her personal animus toward Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates colors everything she writes and discredits her once-fine scholarship, which now consists mostly of cherry-picking evidence to bolster her arguments for doing nothing about failing schools. I took her on after she wrongly said a Denver school was not worthy of praise from President Obama. In truth, that school had shown doubling and tripling of proficiency in just three years. The fact that those improvements came from a very low base hardly discredits their progress.
I agree with Ravitch on plenty. She's right, for instance, that the testing mania can incentivize cheating. But she can no longer be trusted as an analyst of American public education.
In her NY Times op-ed, Diane Ravitch argued that when schools seem to have overcome poverty and have achieved "stunning results," it is usually "the result of statistical legerdemain," and that "the only miracle at these schools was a triumph of public relations."
Jonathan Alter responded to only small details of Ravitch's investigation, but ignored other cases, past and present. Gerald Bracey regularly reported cases like this years ago, and I contributed an analysis as well. We both concluded that there were very very few cases in which schools in high-poverty areas achieved high scores on tests.
Individual cases of overcoming poverty are rare as well. When individuals do succeed despite poverty, they often give credit to the fact that they became voracious readers: Access to books is rare in high-poverty communities, but they found a way to get access to books, and gave reading the credit for their school success (I describe some cases, including Geoffrey Canada), in a recent paper). Oddly, providing access to books through support for school libraries and librarians does not seem to be a feature of school "reform" these days.
For references, please write me at skrashen@yahoo.com
Evidentally the American Academy of Political Science disagrees with Mr. Alter on his assertion that Dr. Ravitch can "no longer be trusted as an analyst of education."

The prestigious Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize is awarded to those who maintain integrity in their research. But Mr. Alter knows more than they do as evidenced by ...what?

What about the American Association of Schools & Colleges who awarded Dr. Ravitch the prestigious Elliot award in December--again, for her research and her dedication to public education.

What about the American Association of Secondary School Principals...no, Mr. Alter is the chief authority on the sound analyses that comes from Dr. Ravitch.

I especially like the 19 World's Greatest Thinkers Award she recently won for her brave thinking. It is that very brave thinking and those awards that paints a target on her back from the likes of Bloomberg's Mr. Alter.

Having her "Death & Life of the Great American School System" be named the top, most influential education book of the decade. How can that be when her work product/her analysis can no longer be trusted?

He generalizes his assertion, it appears, on her animus towards Gates, Rhee, and Klein. I suppose that means she must not acknowledge those who place themselves in the news by their bold actions. I don't know HOW you analyze public education in this nation without discussing the actions of two high profile Chancellors championing controversial ed reforms and whose cities were steeped in test cheating scandals and gaming the system were found.

Animus clouds whose thinking again? Enough!
Wow! Great article! Comments from Jonathan Alter and David Chambers amongst others. Where are Drez and NOODLZ?
Sorry folks, this is more like tabloid journalism. Ravitch is not the only voice challenging the perpetuation of the status quo in promoting more of the same in federal solutions, but she is the voice education reformers find most bothersome and the one journalists prefer to report on. Likewise, Rhee is not the only controversial Ed reformer and DC is not the only system that is under the cheating microscope. Rhee gets extraordinary coverage, I think. Coincidence? I don't think so. Neither is it a coincidence that no discussion nor examination is included in this article regarding the widespread concerns on the facts of current federal education initiatives. Instead of elevating meaningful discourse, observe the narrative focused on the personal and silent on the facts. Rhee and Ravitch are not the story. Parents and community members across the country, across the political spectrum want an end to test centric classrooms and the return of local control and decision-making. That is the real story.
IT DOESN’T TAKE A D.C.P.S. STUDENT TO SEE THAT MICHELLE RHEE-DICULOUS WAS IN WAY OVER HER HEAD. I APPLAUDED HER ORGANIZATION OF THE SCHOOL WAREHOUSE BUT BEYOND THAT SHE SET BACK THE D.C.P.S. SEVERAL YEARS OF GROWTH WITH HER PRO-TEST NO CURRICULUM, FIRING OF TEACHERS (GOOD AND BAD), DICTATORIAL STYLE. THE SAD PART IS EVEN HER HITLERESQUE STYLE WAS SUB-PAR.

IN THE SHADOW OF THE N.B.A. DRAFT WHERE BLACKS ARE CONSTANTLY AND CONSISTANTLY ROLLED OUT TO SHOW THAT AS LONG AS YOU GOT GAME YOU REALLY DON’T NEED AN EDUCATION. I EQUATE RHEE TO THE GUARD THAT CAN ONLY SHOOT THE BALL WITH NO TRUE SCORING CAPABILITY THAT IS DRAFTED BY A TEAM THAT NEEDS A REBOUNDER AND A DEFENDER. IN ESSENCE SHE WAS A BAD FIT!

JUST AS PRESIDENT OBAMA PICKED A VETERAN PRESENCE IN V.P. BIDEN BECAUSE HE UNDERSTOOD HE NEEDED A YING TO HIS YANG. RHEE’S INEXPERIENCE AND INABILITY TO SURROND HERSELF WITH SOME PROMINENT VOICES ON EDUCATION AND SOME VETERAN LEADERSHIP NOT ONLY COST THIS CITY FINANCIALLY BY OVERPAYING HER IT ACTUALLY RUINED W.D.C.’S CREDIBILITY BY PUTTING ALL OF OUR EGGS IN HER BASKET WHICH WAS FULL OF HOLES.

MICHELLE RHEE = SARAH PALIN

_____________________________________________________________

I TOTALLY AGREE ON THE FOLLOWING “…the era also involved too many misguided philanthropists “playing God in the ghetto” by supporting new-fangled identity-politics curricula at the expense of traditional liberal arts.” THAT IS SO TRUE TODAY. YOU HAVE ALL THOSE FOLK READING THEIR MONEY 'IN GOD WE TRUST' AND TRYING TO TRANSITION THAT PHILOSOPHY BY BANKROLLING SCHOOL SYSTEMS TO FUTHER THEIR INTERSETS. IN MY OPINION IT HAS A MILTON FRIEDMAN PHILOSPHY TINGE TO IT.

Hari Sevugan, a Rhee spokesman who used to work for the Democratic National Committee, says, “Ms. Ravitch may be satisfied that our students are placing at the bottom or middle of the pack in international assessments, but we aren’t. In order to increase our competitiveness with rising powers in China and India, we can no longer accept the status quo—as Ms. Ravitch is doing.” WHAT???? SO WE SHOULD RENAME AND RECLASSIFY TEACHERS AS PROCTORS? HARI MUST BE A STAT GUY. ALL HE SEES IS NUMBERS AS A WAY TO DETERMINE WHETER A PERSON IS EDUCATED OR NOT. SLIM YOU NEED TO UNPLUG. GET OUT OF THE MATRIX. ZION IS REAL!

IM PRO-TEACHER. PERIOD. YES THERE ARE SOME HORRIBLE TEACHERS OUT THERE HOWEVER THERE ARE GREAT ONES AND SOME GOOD ONES WHICH FAR OUT WEIGH THE NEGATIVE. LET TEACHERS TEACH. PROVIDE SOME INCENTIVE FOR FOLK TO TEACH IN URBAN SETTINGS AS WELL AS IN OUTLINING AREAS. THERE HAS TO BE BALANCE IN PUBLIC, PRIVATE AND PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS. WE HAVE TO MAKE LEARNING COOL. EDUCATION HAS TO BE ABLE TO COMPETE WITH ALL THE DISTRACTIONS THAT CHILDREN FACE TODAY.

IT’S A PROBLEM WHEN YOUNG FOLK LINE UP FOR THE LATEST I-PHONE OR TECH GADGET ONLY TO SPEND MORE TIME AND EFFORT LEARNING THE GADGET ON THE FLY RATHER THAN TAKING 5 MINUTES TO EVEN BROWSE THE MANUAL LET ALONE READ IT. WHAT IS EVEN MORE PITIFUL IF YOU ASK THEM "WHERE IS THE INDEX IN THE OWNERS MANUAL?" THEY GOOGLE IT!

PARENTS STEP UP! MENTORS STEP UP! WE ALL HAVE TO STEP UP OR WE WILL BOTTOM OUT!
I suggest you find the time to do a little investigating report on Michelle Rhee the darling of the so-called education reformers. You know those reformers, policy makers, and politicians that spent nearly a trillion dollars of our tax dollars on reforms that show little or no effect after a decade. Follow the money trail!
Try talking to parents and teachers for a change rather than talking heads.
You question Ravitch, but kiss every NCLB/RTTT reformer's your know.
The way I see it is the press can be a voice for the people, or they can continue to play the role of Ostrich’s with their heads in the Kool-Aid water of NCLB.
As for me I'm marching with Diane Ravitch to Washington DC to take back our schools this July 30 at the Save Our Schools March.
Children are more than test scores, and educational reform should come with audits,
Jesse
<i>.."the unions and their <u>tired</u> agenda. Her personal animus toward Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and Bill Gates colors everything she writes and discredits her once-fine scholarship, which now consists of <u>cherry-picking evidence to bolster her arguments</u> for doing nothing about failing schools. I agree with Ravitch on plenty. But she can no longer be trusted as an analyst of American public education."

I hope this isn't the same Johnathan Alter whose analysis I often enjoy on MSNBC. I'm sure it's not because the above commentary comes from a place that lacks the same objectivity decried here regarding Ravitch. How can you say that Ravitch can't be trusted when (as the facts demonstrate) Rhee's entire tenure in DC was bolstered by the media, Gates, Oprah, the Obama Administration who took surface looks at what were too often presented as facts. DCPS did not make historical gains but have continued a progression began in the late 90's.

According to the WPost, <i>"<a href="http://www.w3schools.com/">A draft of the report, obtained by The Washington Post, largely echoes the school system's Master Education Plan. Following that document as a guide, Fenty promises to beef up reading and math programs in kindergarten through eighth grade, expand Advanced Placement and vocational education in high schools and create incentive pay for teachers in troubled schools, offering bonuses for those who perform well.</a></i>

Yet, everyone from this administration on down to Joe Scarborough/the media never seemed to get that. Instead, she was heralded as "Superwoman" who through leaps and bounds, swept in to save it from the years of neglect and stagnation - something not addressed by her allegedly ill-equipped predecessors. In criticizing her predecessors and DC gov't/council, they conviently left out the fact that her boss, Adrian Fenty voted against then-mayor Williams' proposal for DCPS to be under mayoral control. These same entities carried the narrative across the nation that "those people" in DC were not supporting our then-mayor because we represented an antiquated cadre of "no's" whom couldn't give a damn about the students.

Paying particular inattention to "nuance" and "intelligent reflection" these groups led the way for the current national backlash against unions. Those lazy teachers. Those greedy 60k/yr auto factory workers. Hell, they even led the fight against ACORN based on what we now know was a doctored video.

So whichever Jonathan Alter this is, maybe you should consider the aforementioned things before you criticize Ravitch's "cherrypicking" of the facts and decide who isn't "righteous" enough to be an analyst of said topics.
I have mixed feelings about your piece. Many parts of it I enjoyed. You captured something of Diane Ravitch's personality and ideas, and some of the details and quotations were delightful.

I was disappointed in the skewed portrayal of her supporters and critics. If one came to the article without any context, one might conclude that her supporters were mostly swooning NEA members and naive young graduate students, and her critics were independent-minded individuals. And to anyone who has been following the arguments, some of the quotations were of dubious value (to put it kindly). Jay Greene calling Ravitch a bully? He has taken it on himself to attack her in every way possible.

Also, while you did devote some attention to her books and articles, it would have been great to see more of that--more emphasis on the ideas themselves, not the reactions to the ideas.

That said, your piece was ingenious in this respect: it gave a thoughtful and sympathetic portrayal while quoting critics amply.

On the lighter end of things, it gave me greater appreciation of tweeting, particularly Ravitch's. I don't use Twitter at all; I am don't particularly like online group conversation, quick exchanges, or the concept of "following" someone. But when I see Ravitch's tweets quoted, I admire her punchiness and her gift for saying a lot in a few words.
Just finished this piece. It's too bad that it at times seems informed with the simplistic dichotomy between "liberal" and "conservative" because when it comes to education, the lines have become blurred (and not by accident) to such an extent that it's almost as meaningless to use such terms in this regard as to cite who is a Democrat and who a Republican. When it comes to education, there are indeed a few hard-line union types who are more interested in preserving their own power-base than in doing a bloody thing to improve education. However, Diane Ravitch isn't part of that crowd, nor are the majority of those of us who are thrilled at the general turn she's taken over the past few years.

Many of us work in or with public schools from a very different perspective. There are union members who are harshly critical of mainstream union leadership while still wisely and staunchly in favor of teachers being organized. The problem with the simplistic black & white categories of pro- and anti-union is that they miss the clear fact that many rank-and-file union members are far more wise and progressive than are the leaders of those unions. Something about "power corrupts" might be in order in that context.

So it is incumbent upon progressive teachers who really care about improving the profession to criticize from within, while standing united against the attacks on unions from without, given that the vast majority of those attacks appear to be from people interested in getting rich off of the destruction of public education as a free, democratic institution. Ravitch, as a historian of education, has a far better vision of the overall context of these debates, much as did the late Gerald Bracey, than do the pundits and politicians who weigh in. From Jonathan Alter to Michelle Rhee, from Eli Broad to Chester Finn, there are plenty of puppets and puppeteers who must be shocked and appalled that Diane Ravitch has awakened from several decades of sleep-walking to see and help shed the light on what the privatizers are up to. And just in time, too.

It takes a lot of guts to admit that one has been badly mistaken and misled. When someone moves from the left to the right (e.g., Ron Silver, Dennis Miller, David Mamet, etc.), this is portrayed as some sort of insightful maturity and wisdom of middle- or early old-age. When things go in the opposite direction, however, it's called "self-serving." Fascinating.
America in the era of late stage disaster statism is a society founded on forms of slavery, including especially race slavery. It's right before our eyes and the tax predator ruling class pretends it does not exist, with a window dressing of welfare bennies, affirmative action, and a beige Nixon in the White House.

Yet our political system, our campaigns, and at least one of our major parties, the Democrats, our founded on and funded by the selling of black children, and other poor and minority children, to educrats who in turn give campaign contributions to the Democratic Party. These educrat cartels (perversely labelled "unions" in an outrage against the history of the American working class) imprison black kids in mind-killing brick warehouses from which they emerge 12 years later often illiterate and unemployable, wards of the state and cannon fodder for politicians for the rest of their lives.

Some of these kids liberate themselves, as an increasingly large number never finish high school. A few lucky ones live somewhere where vouchers, charters, home schooling or a benefactor, give them some freedom to attend an alternative school.

As the decades have passed and funding for state education has increased and federal control and intervention of all education has intensified, a reaction has begun among the poor and urban families. They have begun to demand charters and other liberalizations of the state monopoly, an education tea party brewing from below and from people of color. Stong black tea.

The ruling class has to find some way to fight this. It's hold on power depends on limiting political choices through ballot access, incumbency, and control of campaign financing. And selling black kids to educrat cartels is an important piece of the latter.

And so they have appealed to an "authority," Diane Ravitch, to counter the authority of educrat-cartel-ousted, reformist DC public school superintendent, Michelle Rhee.

It is no accident that "Washington City Paper," a faux alternative media that serves to create ideological hegemony among the cogs of the Washington establishment, would promote Ravitch. And it's a hilarious article (link below) since it leaves out what will be the only thing Ravitch will be remembered for decades hence in an asterisk: she's the world's most famous lesbian (former) neoconservative.

It's hard to be a lesbian in the Beltway world of the tax predator ruling class or its state-funded outposts in media and academe. I have two friends or former firends in DC who are somewhat politically incorrect lesbians in hiding. One, a libertarian, covers national politics for a major American newspaper, and never discusses politics in her column or at events, only when she is safely at a libertarian happy hour. Another raises money for the DNC and worked on Hillary's campaign and serves as a political appointee in Obama's State Department. At one event she said to the aforementioned journalist and me: "What does it mean that my two best friends are libertarians?" and proceeded to discuss her cognizance and appreciation of market based solutions and market institutions (she's a former health economist). But these girls toe the line. Only a third of gays don't vote Democrat and it may be less for lesbians (and more for gay men). Any honest account of Diane Ravitch and why she represents the definition of insanity (continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a better result), would have to ask if her virulent racism was caused by the strain on her social sexual and romantic life when she was a politically incorrect lesbian.

City Paper editors: will you stop selling black kids to educrat cartels for Democratic campaign contributions?

http://bighomocon.blogspot.com/2011/06/diane-ravitch-plantation-mistress.html
Jonathan Alter is right -- Ravitch's book, and especially her articles and tweets, rarely provide an honest depiction of what the research really says. See this, for example: http://jaypgreene.com/2010/04/05/ravitch-is-wrong-week-day-1/ or the first comment here: http://www.learningfirst.org/ravitch-gets-root-matter


See also this, for an example of Ravitch blatantly lying about research. http://stuartbuck.blogspot.com/2010/03/diane-ravitch-on-mayoral-control.html
Viz., Ravitch said that there isn't a "shred of evidence . . . in the research literature" to support mayoral control, even though there is precisely such an article in a book to which she had contributed!
And Diana: Ravitch's Twitter account is full of inflammatory nonsense (such as labeling reformers as "fascist"), and contradicts everything that Ravitch recently purported to believe about civility in public debate (witness her gleeful Twitter campaign to mock urban charter schools by offering up fake names such as Urban Preparatory for Youth-Oriented Uniform Robotic Systems, or "UP YOURS").

From what I've seen of your own writings -- which make me look forward to your book -- you are so much better than that.
I started my teaching career in 1961, so you know that Ms. Ravitch and I are contemporaries.

While I was reading The Death and Life of the Great American School System, I kept saying a loud YES to chapter after chapter. I could have written the first chapter from my own memories.

Her description of the gradual changes to public education in the 70's mirrored exactly my own experiences. I could not agree with her more on how the quiet revolution in how schools were viewed took place. Laws and court decisions changed the concept of the neighborhood school.

I was still in the classroom when "A Nation at Risk" was published during the Reagan administration, and people first began talking about "failing schools". I recall how we were urged to improve science and math education and were given more resources to accomplish that. I thought that was a good trend and saw much evidence that students learned more from the experience based methods involved.

Improving literacy was always a challenge and in Philadelphia, during those years, we had a nationally recognized elementary school Latin program that developed students' vocabulary and made them aware of world cultures at the same time. Gradually, with budget cut after budget cut, the program was lost.

Then, as my career was winding down, another document emerged, "Tough Choices or Tough Times" which described the very plan that Ms. Ravitch came to deplore. The proposal was for states to take over school districts and hire corporate managers to run entire districts. Not just privatize but corporatize.

Meanwhile, under a new law, the first charter schools were being founded. Later a state takeover law was passed in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was soon to be the testing ground for the ideas of "Tough Choices..."

Then came of course NCLB which provided all the criteria for deconstructing public education in our state. As the legislature continued to underfund our schools, Philadelphia ran into a huge deficit and the stage was set for a takeover.

Corporations vied for the privilege of running all the schools, but a "diverse provider" model was imposed instead. More experiments with charter schools continued.

Today, education in Philadelphia is a fiscal, academic and social mess. Schools are being closed and "restructured". More private managers are being hired. One entrepreneur wants to start an "empowerment zone" modeled after Harlem's Children's Zone. The Test is the curriculum.

Today, the funding crisis continues with thousands of teachers and school workers laid off. More programs are cut or threatened with cuts. Art and music education are practically gone. Anything that is not on the TEST is not taught.

And on and one and on. Every word of Ms. Ravitch's book is being lived by the School District of Philadelphia. And to provide the final blow, our state legislature is preparing to pass a budget that not only shortchanges public education AGAIN, but tries to introduce a voucher plan for the whole state.

Our public schools are literally dying.

I appreciate the article. I question some of the "facts" that are out there. One of which is that we (The US) are behind India. Seriously? We have a 99% literacy rate in the United States. India has a 61% literacy rate. Is my math wrong here? Or are we ahead? Are we willing to sacrifice close to 40% of our population to abject poverty in order to "get ahead" and be more like India? Let's talk about Japan. We are supposed to be behind Japan, too. Their literacy rate is just as our is, 99%. But there suicide rate? Double! They have half the population of the US and the same number of suicides every year. So how many of us are willing to lose our children, our spouses, our parents, our sisters, our brothers to suicide. I've seen the pressure put on 1st generation students when they come to the US. So, no we are not behind Japan either. China? There we go, let's become a Communist country. I'm not saying that their are not improvement that could be made, there are always improvements, no matter what your profession. But stop with the deceitful fear mongering of saying we are "behind" all these countries.
Skim through the comments here--many of which are from distinguished educators and media luminaries. Do you see a pattern?

Comments from educators and others who are actually doing the work and living the realities Ravitch has brilliantly captured in "Death and Life" strongly defend her take on what's happening, especially over the past decade. We're in danger of losing one of America's best ideas--a free, high-quality public education for every child. Ravitch has called it, correctly: this is the 11th hour and without serious shifts in media-driven thinking, the system will collapse, whether it could be saved and improved or not.

The anti-Ravitch screeds here, on the other hand, are focused on Ravitch herself, rather than her well-supported ideas. They note her "fickle" mind-changing and call her a bully. They mention her use of Twitter (as if a serious scholar wouldn't tweet). They trot out familiar memes--positioning the teachers' unions as "cartels," highlighting "reformers" to skew the discussion toward personality rather than policy, and playing "my links and research are better than yours."

This can only mean one thing: Ravitch is serious threat to the steamroller of "reform" (even the word is masterfully deceptive) that is now crushing public education. If the tide turns, and Americans wake up to the relentless privatizing of our most cherished public good--the huge education "market"-- Ravitch can rightfully claim to have led the fight.
Nancy -- I've explained in detail how Ravitch misrepresents the scholarly literature, as well as how she is ignorant of elementary social science principles. See the links in comment 27 as well as this: http://www.educationgadfly.net/flypaper/2009/05/the-massachusetts-miracle-and-teachers-unions-stuart-bucks-comments/

Ravitch is a "threat" because she has become such a skillful propagandist that she can flat-out lie about scholarly literature and still get intelligent people to nod their heads in agreement.
Stuart, when one has been around the education block as long as some of us have, we do not need a mountain of "scholarly literature" to tell us the score.

I agreed with the premise of Diane's book because I witnessed it's authenticity with my own eyes in my own state and city.

When GW Bush first proposed NCLB, I saw it for exactly what it was meant to be, a tool in the deconstruction of public education. I considered it a Trojan Horse posing as a gift but containing the seeds of destruction.

Have you ever heard of Edison Schools, Inc.? They are now a failed education provider, but once tried to get a contract to run all the Philadelphia schools. They were the flagship company in the great corporatization experiment.

Their MO was to use what they called "economies of scale" and direct instruction. They also had plans to use children, yes, children to do some of the rote work that adults were usually hired to do, such as simple office work, hall monitoring and even care giving for impaired students. That was one way of cutting down on staff.

I visited an Edison School while they were in charge of the Chester Upland School District, the first ever taken over by the state. There was no authentic science instruction, for example, just books and seatwork. The principal admitted that they used direct instruction. It was bare bones rote instruction in an uncompromising system.

It was all slick marketing of snake oil disguised as "reform".

Here is the kicker. It took Diane Ravitch YEARS to reach the same conclusion that experienced educators already knew. I am not thrilled that she came to the truth by the side door, but at least she is on the right track now.

It's admittedly a little overused, but the new barrage of attacks on Ravitch does emphasize the wisdom of the Gandhi quote about dissenters against the prevailing forces in power:

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

This issue has moved into the "then they fight you" phase.

Ravitch was not getting this kind of treatment a year ago.

My son, a poli-sci student at Oberlin College, sums up the current position of education reform nicely.

He points out that when Michelle Rhee went from working for centrist Democrat Adrian Fenty to working for far-right union-buster Rick Scott, a whole wave of liberals (at least in the political insider category) took a new look at Rhee-style education reform and came around to associating it with the hard right.

When Rhee dropped her pretense, my son observes, the Overton Window (see the end of this post) shifted. Rhee/Gates/Bloomberg/Obama-style education reform is now heading toward unpopularity as the window moves.

Ravitch articulated the issues and energized the opposition -- but it was Rhee's activity that made the big difference, according to my savvy son. The corporate-education-reform defenders are attacking Ravitch as they flail in increasing desperation -- they can hardly attack Rhee, even though she's the one most responsible for shifting the window.

By the way, as a veteran journalist myself, I find one of the most offensive aspects of Alter's commentary to be his characterization of dissent -- disagreement with the prevailing opinions of the inside-the-beltway "Village" -- as "sliming." Alter is no longer a journalist but rather a flack. But it's alarming that anyone who EVER considered himself a journalist would disparage dissent, disagreement and debate in such a manner. (I've seen sliming in the education reform debate, but it wasn't coming from Ravitch.)

Wikipedia entry on the Overton Window:

The Overton Window is a means of visualizing which ideas define [a] range of acceptance by where they fall in it. Proponents of policies outside the window seek to persuade or educate the public so that the window either “moves” or expands to encompass them. Opponents of current policies, or similar ones currently within the window, likewise seek to convince people that these should be considered unacceptable.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window
And the mention of Edison Schools, the corporate-reform miracle fad of 10+ years ago, brings up another overused but wise and valid line: Fool me twice, shame on me.

That's aimed at Chris Cerf, Terry Moe, John Chubb and more. How many con games are we going to tolerate from these hucksters?
I like Jonathan Alter's response. I remember Diane Ravitch's behavior during the time I served on the NYS Board of Regents. She has found truth. After 50 years in public policy on education and a lifetime of observing neighborhood schools, I continue to place my confidence on James Coleman's research in the 1960s in Chicago schools. He placed all bets on parents or a caregiver who guided children toward achievement, success and high expectations as the most significant factors. The recent popular film, "Waiting for Superman" carried the same message; although few commented on this message in community forums on the film. Parents or others who sat with their children, while the lottery for acceptance at a charter school was in process, gave me the happy thought that these children would be OK whether or not they "got" into a charter school. They had someone up at bat for them. It is that simple.

Hello, Caroline, and thanks for your insights. I have been tracking Edison Schools off and on for longer than ten years. I see they have morphed into other ventures and those old alumni you mentioned are still players in the privatization movement.

Chris Whittle managed to bail out before the total collapse of his brain child. I wonder what he's up to.

I am glad you think the present model of education is fading. I have been in education for the past 50 years, including being part of teacher preparation and the endless parade of fads astonishes me. Someone is always trying to reinvent the wheel and make a buck doing it.

Meanwhile, children still learn about fish by watching them swim and about plants by watching them grow and about money by "buying" something in a pretend store. They still get excited about raising butterflies and playing the xylophone.

And Laura is right that those children fortunate to have good parents have a better chance at success in school and in life.
Great post, Gloria. And yes, I agree that Laura IS right, though I'm a bit reticent about the "good" and "bad" labels on parents.

Whittle has made a couple of attempts to start brand-name private schools that get a blaze of publicity and then fizzle. He did apparently give up on trying to profit from public education funding on the backs of our neediest children -- though only because it didn't work, not for any high-minded reason. Edison's stock (publicly traded on the NASDAQ for several years) hit a high of more than $38/share during the height of the media frenzy and then fell to 14 cents (yes, that was correct -- 38 dollars to 14 cents), and Edison took big losses in every quarter but one of its existence as a publicly held company.

I expected Edison to flame out in some spectacular event, or maybe for Whittle to fake his own death, but actually it just quietly fizzled into nothingness. How these new variations on the same shiny fads will fade away is yet to be determined.

Caroline --

You're making a logical fallacy there -- just because people who are about to win often find themselves attacked does not mean that anyone who is attacked is therefore about to win. When someone is attacked for what are indisputably lies about the scholarly research, and for lying about her encounter with a public official (note how quickly Ravitch backtracked once it turned out there was a video), that's not a sign that she's about to win.
Thanks, Caroline. You know, I actually remember the day that Edison Schools dropped down to 14 cents on the Nasdaq. It failed of course because it could not maintain the charade that it had a real program. Just a glitsy package but no substance inside.

When I use the words "good" or "bad" to describe parents, I am of course talking about parents who are lovingly supportive of their children's growth. It can be a single parent of course, or a foster family, or any of the many combinations that constitute family.
Stuart, I didn't mean that as a pure logic statement but rather an observation. We shall see. As with Edison, the hokum and falsehoods and con jobs do eventually fall apart.

I wasn't there so I can't say what happened in the encounter Ravitch described, but I will say she's not a liar -- and I DO dispute that she told "lies about the scholarly research."

But as my son points out, it's actually Rhee who has knocked the wind out of the corporate-education-reform movement right now. You all are attacking Ravitch because you can't attack Rhee.
Saying there isn't a "shred of evidence" in the scholarly literature in support of mayoral control is an indisputable lie: there was just such an article in a book to which Ravitch had contributed (otherwise she could claim ignorance, but she can't claim not to have known that THAT scholarly article existed).

Saying there's a "research consensus that the children in voucher schools get no greater performance gains than the children in regular public schools" is a lie as well. There are a few studies that suggest no performance gains, but there are a greater number of studies that DO show performance gains for at least some groups of kids, including two recent studies on high school graduation rates. To describe this as a consensus against vouchers is as much as a lie as if I said that there is a "research consensus that vouchers will eliminate the achievement gap."
OK, "lie" might be too strong . . . . a lie requires personal knowledge, and Ravitch may really be so ignorant that she thinks her summaries of the research are accurate.
Stuart,

I can't accept a compliment that insults Diane Ravitch. I admire her work and frequently pull her books out of the shelves. My emphases and style are different from hers, but that in itself speaks to the quality of her influence. And I have a long way to go, I hope.
I am heartened by the many excellent comments here. Yes, the foolish "reform" movement is thankfully giving way to reason as parents everywhere are rejecting test prep pedagogy and corporate attempts to steal the neighborhood school. But the "reform" movement has shown a bright light on the one variable that is so crucial to student achievement: parent involvement. As another poster pointed out,the film Waiting for Superman features the fierce determination of the parents to obtain a better education for their children. We know that their sons and daughters will be OK whether they get into a charter school or not. These parents will not allow their children to fail.

And that is what we have learned from the "reform" movement: Parents are critical. This doesn't mean that a child without involved parents is hopeless; it just means that if we want to educate that child, we must find a way to support him. Other countries have done it and so can we.

Jonathan Alter, please come over to the side of children by supporting the people who care for them each day: parents and teachers.
He can't, Linda -- he's paid to speak for the corporate education reformers, attack and blame teachers, and disdain and ignore parents.
Stuart, your comments cause me to ask: What reliable evidence do we have that vouchers have any significant impact on student performance when there is no direct accountability for outcomes?

Has there been a significant narrowing of the achievment gap in Cleveland for example since their voucher program started there over a decade ago?

This very week in Harrisburg, our legislature is finalizing the budget and vouchers will be discussed. But in no version of the proposed bill that I have read, is there any requirement of accountability on the part of the receiving school. The line usually goes that parents will hold the school accountable and vote with their feet.

Not exactly a scientific measure.

The hokum involved in the school choice rhetoric is too obvious to mention. While public schools are held to the fire of standardized tests until the Test Prep becomes the curriculum, private schools that accept vouchers have no such obligation. They also have the power to select their students according to their own criteria.

So any objective comparison is really impossible.

Over 100 years ago ...

There are many quotes attributed to Mark Twain concerning education, but one of those most often referenced, BUT NOT AUTHENTICATED, is this;

"I have never let my schooling interfere with my education."

Mark Twain actually respected many committed educators of his day, but he distrusted the bureaucratic institutions that sought to narrowly define what education was, and what the even narrower goals that education were directed towards.

With this in mind, here are some far more insightful quotes from Twain that have the necessary pedigree:

1) "The self taught man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have known if he had worked under teachers, and besides, he brags, and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going and doing as he himself has done."

2) "Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge."

3) "Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but Cabbage with a College Education."

4) "All schools, all colleges, have two great functions: to confer, and to conceal, valuable knowledge. The theological knowledge which they conceal cannot justly be regarded as less valuable than that which they reveal. That is, when a man is buying a basket of strawberries it can profit him to know that the bottom half of it is rotten."

5) "Everything has its limit--iron ore cannot be educated into gold."

6) "In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then He made school boards."

7) "It is noble to teach oneself, but still nobler to teach others--and less trouble."

------------

I have no doubt that Mark Twain would consider today's reformers, such as Michelle Rhee, representative of the same narrow minds that he found threatened education in his day. He also understood that such influential policy makers were not paper tigers, but could do much harm; as they "confer" a false legitimacy to unproven theory and practices, and "conceal" that "valuable knowledge" that both individual students require and our aggregate society needs to be truly educated, enlightened, creative and successful. These new reformers of public education are not only shortchanging our most gifted students, but significantly harming most the unfortunate victims of poverty and home instability.

Mark Twain was an exceptional talent who understood his unique abilities. And realistically, he understood that not everyone was (or would be) college bound, or born and raised with the same potential in any endeavor they wish to pursue. This was not elitism, racism, or classism, as many new reformers would charge, as they often contend that every child has the same potential, but teachers (or principals) fail them. Ironically, for those who interested in more robust range of curriculum, school voucher advocates prescribe private or special charter schools, even if most of these have admission standards. Public schools, under this system, become the repository of the unwanted, further widening the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots."

The expectation of NCLB for 100% student proficiency by the year 2014 is absurd by any standard of measurement. This prescriptive, bean-counting, business model approach to school reform is completely misguided, as the term "failure" to meet such standards is considered a deserving brand on students, teachers, families, and whole communities. A frustrated electorate wants accountability, and these new reformers are going to give them the illusion of one. As the political stakes become higher, so does the practice of labeling those who don't meet the standard as "failures." And, if you were wondering who defines these new reformers success or failure; the short answer is, they do.

Today, Twain would be a strong ally of Dianne Ravitch. They DO NOT believe in a overly prescriptive and impersonal approach to education that denies the uniqueness of the individual student, and are NOT in denial about the external environmental conditions that each student brings to the classroom. Of course there are are legitimate strategies that can employed to meet the differing needs of students, families and communities, but even in the most committed and capable hands these may have limited success. Furthermore, these remedial efforts take time and usually cost money, two commodities that are in short supply.

Unfortunately, the convenient rationalizations of false prophets of education reform like Rhee have the strong support of many private for-profit education businesses. The monies spent on public education in the U.S. are estimated to be near one trillion dollars annually. As Rupert Murdock said in a statement about the purchase of Wireless Generation (a Brooklyn based education company), “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.” When so much money is involved, which group of organized parents or educators might get in the way of such visionary progress?
The plan to discredit Diane Ravitch's scholarship on testing and school choice reminds me of how the Trojans treated Cassandra when she warned them not to bring that giant wooden Horse into the city of Troy.

I find the attacks on unions particularly galling. I am no naif. Any organization of human beings can be flawed. But unions have consistently lobbied for changes that not only benefit their membership (their primary purpose) but also benefit the students. Lowering class size is one example.

It is all about creating an effective teaching/learning environment.

Ravitch talks at length about the school system in Finland, recognized as the highest ranked in the world. Their teachers are also unionized, but the key difference there is that teachers are treated with uncommon respect. Only the brightest are accepted into the profession and there is no shortage of applicants.

The big difference between our nation and Finland, as Diane correctly notes, is that the poverty level is near zero in Finland. They have a higher standard of living with guaranteed health care and free education until college. So their children come to first grade healthy and advantaged. Combine that with the smartest teachers in the world and is it any wonder they outrank all other countries in achievement?

One can criticize the messenger till the cows come home, but her message is clearly on the mark.
Allan, thank you for summarizing the issue. It boils down to making a profit by imposing the business model on education (and using the mostly reliable source of revenue, taxes).

I heard a great story once about a businessman who was lecturing a group of teachers on how best to apply market principles to education. He bragged that he had a very successful pie company. Yes, pies. So of course, he knew what made a business successful.

One of the teachers asked him a question about how he made his famous blueberry pies. He told her that first of all he bought the freshest blueberries and that he made sure they passed inspection before being sent to the bakery.

The teacher asked what that inspection meant. The pie maker told her that of course the blueberries were put on a conveyor belt and workers trained to look for defective fruit picked out the unacceptable blueberries and discarded them. The rest went on to become the main ingredient in a perfectly baked pie.

The teacher quietly reminded him: Children are not blueberries.
"The expectation of NCLB for 100% student proficiency by the year 2014 is absurd by any standard of measurement."

Ita vero.
What Diane Ravitch knows, because she is a student of history and most of America's journalists are not, is that the entire history of education in the United States has been a battle between children and American capitalism. From the start in the 20 years before the Civil War, there was the struggle between William Alcott's observations as a committed teacher (he designed "the classroom" and introduced the newest technology - the "black board" and individual student slate - in pursuit of student experiential learning) and the work of Henry Barnard, who saw students as raw materials to be processed into units of value for the American economy. Later, we had Dewey vs. Cubberley - education vs. Carnegie-financed processing. Now we have educators desperately trying to protect children from the Wall Street of Goldman-Sachs and the Gates Foundation.

I have, in my life, more often been a highly vocal opponent of Diane Ravitch than a supporter. I believe that a misreading of history allowed her to be part of an effort which destroyed progressive education during the late Reagan and Bush I administrations. And then led her, as many well-meaning late 19th Century educators were similarly led astray by the arguments of the rich, into support for ideas like NCLB (remember, even Ted Kennedy supported that).

The rich, whose primary goal is to preserve the status quo - and thus their wealth advantage - will never be friends of equal educational opportunity for all. Their goal will always be, as Woodrow Wilson said, "We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." Which is exactly what Rhee's agenda has always been - and you can see that clearly in the demographic geography of that DC election.

As this battle is "eternal" - so is the use of patsies by the rich. These divide into two groups - the seduced (Horace Mann originally and Geoffrey Canada today), those taking the money and selling out the children - and the climbers - those like Michelle Rhee and Wendy Kopp who see fame and fortune if they promote the mega-capitalists right-wing agenda for keeping the poor poor through reductionist education.

The difference - the biggest differences - between Diane Ravitch and Rhee, Klein, Duncan, and Gates, are continuing, deep, education and basic intelligence. Wherever Ravitch has been intellectually, she has kept pursuing knowledge. This has led her back from her assumptions of 20-30 years ago. And this constant education, combines withe the intellectual capability of change. Rhee, et al, lack Ravitch's original education, her ongoing education, and that intellectual capacity to continue learning. They abandoned their learning years ago, preferring (perhaps) or being unable to be anything more than flaks for the worst intentions of the Wall Street billionaires.
Thanks, Ira, for reminding us that education has always been in flux.

I find it fascinating that many of today's children are using a "whiteboard" rather than a blackboard and, instead of slates, have individual white boards with special washable markers. Many schools also have laptops and "smart boards" which can show animations, slide shows and all kinds of interactive presentations. These are all part of a pedagogy of "active learning" where the students immerse themselves in the material rather than merely sit passively for a lecture.

The enemy of experiential learning of course is the current reduced curriculum of test based literacy and math with a smattering of science allowed.

At a time when American students are showing a dearth of knowledge in history, social studies is pushed to the side to make time for subjects like "corrective reading" or "corrective math". There are lessons in how to chose the best multiple choice answer using "test taking strategies." Even writing is reduced to a formula of "constructed response".

With art and music underfunded in urban schools, there is precious little time devoted to anything creative or invented. Even science is taught by direct instruction rather than actual experience with materials.

My biggest shock was observing student teachers working in kindergarten which has now become first grade. No more sand and water, blocks, puzzles or dramatic playtime. (Those things may be found in preschool.)

Again, this bringing down of the curriculum to earlier years fits in with the plan in "Tough Choices or Tough Times" to graduate children from the 10th grade to hasten their entry into post secondary training for the working world.

I understand that education has always been partly used to acculturate or assimilate children into American society and work. But to abandon liberal arts, including creative arts, social studies, languages, and even science is in my opinion barbaric.
Sometimes one misses the "n" for the "m". The above post is really mind. 8-)
<i>Ravitch went on to note that President Obama, whose education policies she opposes, is given more time to prove himself—four years—than the average teacher, who usually gets two or three years to win tenure.</i>

Odd. I wasn't aware that if Obama "proved" himself in four years, he'd be given lifetime tenure in the Presidency. I'd go on, but this kind of sloppy thinking and demagoguery is the hallmark of her writing these days. (Another example: "The best way to improve American education, the post-epiphany Ravitch argues, is to fight child poverty with health care, jobs, child care, and affordable housing." If your argument is "We can only fix Thing A by doing Thing-Which-Will-Never-Happen B", you're only saying that Thing A will never get fixed.)

Ravitch is past her sell-by date.
Shorter Ravitch: We can make no improvement whatsoever to public schools until we eliminate wealth disparity in America.

Shorter shorter Ravitch: We can make no improvement whatsoever to public schools.

oboe - here is the problem with your logic. When Ravitch compares the time the president has to prove himself, 4 years, to that of a new teacher, she means of course that the presidential term of office is longer than the probation for a new teacher, which is three years or less. That's all.

Moreover, a new teacher without tenure can be dismissed at will. The president must be impeached or resign. Right now in Philly, hundreds of rookie teachers are being let go because of unconscionable budget cuts.

There is nothing in reaching the end of probation that guarantees a life time of tenure or employment. Teachers must by law be evaluated every year and if found lacking are put into a series of steps that could lead either to improvement or dismissal. That is known as a fair labor practice embedded in the contract.

Site selection is another way to insure quality by interviewing tenured teachers for jobs they seek. In other words, tenure is not a guarantee of a job for life in the public schools. There is some competition built in always.

Neither is seniority, another much misunderstood concept. The purpose of seniority is multiple. Seniority matters for example when two teachers are EQUALLY qualified and applying for the same job, especially within a building. Seniority eliminates most favoritism. And that is its point.

Once a teacher transfers, all seniority is lost.

If your comment is leading to a discussion of merit pay, you will be challenged on that also.

Oboe - " 'The best way to improve American education, the post-epiphany Ravitch argues, is to fight child poverty with health care, jobs, child care, and affordable housing." If your argument is "We can only fix Thing A by doing Thing-Which-Will-Never-Happen B", you're only saying that Thing A will never get fixed.)

Again, your logic is at fault.

Nothing in your quote of Ravitch suggests that "eliminating wealth disparity" is her argument. She suggests rather that we must at the very least deliver better health care and reduce poverty or ameliorate it as much as possible in order for children to learn.

That is not an impossible dream. It is not all or nothing as you suggest. And she keeps referring to the Finnish model.

There are policies that would help alleviate poverty in America. As it stands, we have a self-perpetuating system that underfunds health care and education, thereby encourages illiteracy, while at the same time spends trillions on the world's largest system of incarceration.

There really is an industrial/prison complex making huge profits on illiteracy and mental illness. In Pennsylvania we had a horrible scandal last year where judges were funneling juveniles based on frivolous charges into a for profit prison for the kickbacks. So don't say it cannot happen. It just did.

The income gap and the achievement gap are real issues and hindrances to universal literacy.

To ignore that truth is the crux of the matter.

Oboe is attacking Ravitch based on misrepresenting her positions. (And Stuart is just name-calling, in the absence of any actual case to make.)

Somewhere behind Oboe's comments appears to be the philosophy that "we have to do something -- anything at all; it doesn't matter what."

No, actually, doing harm IS worse than doing nothing -- and it is not that critics of reforminess advocate "doing nothing" in any case. Unfortunately, right now the priority has to be to fight the infliction of extreme, if not fatal, harm.

Try applying that notion -- that doing something, anything, even if it kills the patient, is better than doing nothing -- to medicine.

By the way, Ravitch didn't bring up Finland out of the blue. All this discussion of Finland is based on its being held up as a model in "Waiting for 'Superman'," which espouses doing pretty much everything the opposite of the way it's done in Finland.
I should not have said "all seniority is lost." I meant that all "building seniority" is lost. Teachers retain their system seniority for some purposes.

I am also not familiar with any recent contract concessions that pertain to any particular school district.

Oboe joins the demagogue routine. What he avoids is that (a) all over America teachers are being punished because their students are poor, and that (b) the rich, including the Obamas, consistently insist that their children require much more support to "get educated" than the children of the poor or middle class - http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2011/06/rich-are-different-from-you-and-me.html

The issue is one of racism and classism. Whether it is Bill Gates or Joel Klein, Eli Broad or Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan or Wendy Kopp, the rich and powerful are working overtime to ensure that their children and grandchildren get a better education than the rest of America, in order to ensure that the rich and powerful never have to share a dime of the nation's wealth with the people who do all the work.

Rhee's racist reductionist educational policies are a big part of that strategy.
Caroline, it's absolutely not name-calling to point out when someone egregiously misrepresents the scholarly literature. That's a substantive offense against intellectual honesty.

I hate to think what vitriol you'd level against Jay Greene or someone like him if he said, "There's not a shred of evidence in the scholarly literature that class size reduction accomplishes anything." Especially if it turned out that Jay Greene had himself contributed a chapter to a book wherein another chapter consisted of a study showing the benefits of class size reduction. You'd say that there's no way any respectable person could ever trust him again.

The same is true of Ravitch. She said there's "not a shred of evidence . . . in the research literature" in support of mayoral control.

Not a shred? To the contrary, here's a study by Kenneth Wong, which appeared in 2009: http://books.google.com/books?id=U38CLB9zuLUC&pg=PA64&lpg=PA64&dq=kenneth+wong+mayoral+control&source=bl&ots=QSFI2IfjUL&sig=Hs0RLxSfOQnYsHa1qzKZ8W9BzH8&hl=en&ei=3MaqS5inFIusNpGasbAB&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CBoQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=kenneth%20wong%20mayoral%20control&f=false

Note that on page 65, he cites a separate scholarly book that shows the benefits of mayoral control.

Now note that Ravitch herself contributed chapter 8 to the same book in which Kenneth Wong's article appeared.

It would be one thing if Ravitch had said, "There's not persuasive evidence," etc., because then she'd have the out that she doesn't think the studies are persuasive. But she baldly denied the very existence of the mayoral control studies by Kenneth Wong.

So there are only two possible conclusions: Ravitch is such a pathological liar that she denies the very existence of articles and books that she full well knows about; or she is so astonishingly ignorant that she didn't even remember the 2009 book to which she contributed, nor did she have the intellectual honesty to look up the scholarly literature before pronouncing that there's "not a shred of evidence."
Shock of shocks! Stuart Buck, the author of the "Make Them White!" theory of education calls Ravitch a liar.
Well, Diana, if it makes you feel any better, I take back what I said about you being above inflammatory mockery of urban charter students.
Ira, the problems are more complex than simple elitism, which does exist of course.

Even middle class working parents want what is best for their children. I took a short poll of the parents of young children in my neighborhood. We have access to parochial, charter and public schools where we live. What I am hearing is that parents are "blending" schools depending on several factors, including money, personal values, and concerns for the quality and the safety of the schools.

So they may use the parish school pre-k or kindergarten program and then transfer to the local charter school, which they see having more amenities and which is free.

Middle class, educated parents do make choices for their children based on their income and their location. Some, like my nieces relocate to the suburbs and pay higher property taxes so their children can make use of a public school system with all the bells and whistles.

The trick is to restore the value of the neighborhood public schools which always served working people of all faiths or no faith.



I do not fault the Obamas for sending their girls to private school accompanied by armed secret service. They want them to be safe before all else. As do all parents.



Ira doesn't refute what I said about Ravitch, nor does he describe my book in terms that are recognizable by anyone who actually read it.
Calm down, Stuart. Sometimes people exaggerate for effect. We are not talking about the Rapture here where people gave up everything to meet their Maker only not on schedule.

Your use of the words "pathological liar" is a perfect example of hyperbole for effect. An error in judgment maybe, a bit of semantic overkill, maybe, but "pathological" suggests being nuts.

Gloria,

I don't fault parents for doing what they think best for their children, but I do fault parents who do that and then vote in ways which hurt other people's children. We are supposed to be a society.

So, I deeply object to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder who cuts per student funding to Michigan's poorest schools to under $7,000, and then says that $20,000 a year is not nearly enough to educate his daughter. And, I deeply object to anyone who voted for the man - on moral grounds - yes.

And I object to middle class Americans who "do the best for their children" and then vote for state legislators who will oppose taxes and funding to give others the same opportunities.

And I fault Barack Obama for sending his kids to a great, creative school, while keeping a Secretary of Education determined to turn public schools into reductionist testing academies - a Secretary of Education who personally campaigned for Rhee, and personally intervened on behalf of Cathie Black. That is hypocrisy at the highest level.
Sadly Stuart, I did read it. I use it as an academic example of really biased research.
Ira -- you have no basis for saying that, and indeed you've never been able to say anything about my book that would show you read or comprehended anything outside of a side point on page 20.

Thanks again for the publicity, though.
Stuart,

As with Michelle Rhee's words, the more people who actually read your book, the more people will truly understand your right-wing, "white elite rule" agenda. So you are welcome to the publicity. I talk about your book a lot.
Thanks! If people actually read past page 20, though, they'll know how stupid your summary is. So you might want to tone it down a little.
Thanks, Ira
I do get your point. I agree with you in principle. And I am, like a lot of other educators, deeply disappointed in the way the President and Arne Duncan have neglected to promote real education reform in favor of the hideous test driven model.

Things might have been a lot different if Linda Darling-Hammond had been our Secretary of Education.

What heartens me, Ira, is tha more people are becoming conscious of the threats to public education and how that will impact them and others. Here in Pennsylvania there is already a backlash to the voucher bill and a good chance it will be tabled.

I have really enjoyed commenting on this panel of bright people. I note that most avoid ad hominem attacks and urge that no argument is winnable with such tactics.

Thanks all.

Stuart,

I did a search on the mock charter name you cited, and it was a retweet. A retweet. You are using that to disparage Ravitch's writing, and it isn't even hers.

I reject the concept of being "above" it, having been around scholars who told outrageous jokes in familiar company.

Jokes have their place. A stifling world it would be if we had to be proper all the time and could never offend anyone.

Twitter adds a complication to it all. It seems that tweets are informal, transient, and off-the-cuff, but they leave a permanent trace.

That's one reason why I'm not on Twitter--I see no reason for my passing remarks to be public and permanent. But I don't compare tweets with other forms of writing. They still seem transient to me, even if they do stay.
It's off topic, but I actually do fault them:

"I do not fault the Obamas for sending their girls to private school accompanied by armed secret service. They want them to be safe before all else. As do all parents."

If the Secret Service can't secure a public school, how pathetic is that?

Wise words from Diana S.

Stuart, do you write scripts for Desperate Housewives or the Kardashians by chance?

Seriously, while this renowned scholar is working tirelessly to put public education back on track, even if not the track you wish to see it on, why must you attack her character?

I don't understand this aggressive and orchestrated push to resort to name calling and lame, offensive personal attacks. I am breaking my own rule to respond to this. It is tiresome a d somewhat laughable.

Its in your best interest to stick to facts, evidence and the topic at hand. Otherwise the needle on the credibility meter plunges. (Note: wrote this while on a plane, apologize for any grammatical errors.)
Rita, like Caroline and others, you seem to think it's "name calling" to point out that someone isn't truthful about scholarly research. Like I said to Caroline, it doesn't seem likely that you'd be as nonchalant about basic honesty if it were your ideological opponents who were falsely claiming that there's "not a shred of evidence" as to some point.
Diana-- a retweet, yes, which meant that Ravitch thought enough of it to rebroadcast it to the world. If you found the original joke (and many others) offensive, as I did, it's irrelevant that one was merely repeating someone else, any more than retelling a n***** joke is OK merely because someone else said it first.
I had the pleasure of working a bit with Diane during her tenure as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Research & Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, during the George H.W. Bush administration. My role was as federal contractor and representative of a small professional association concerned with OERI's oversight of an important national education program designed to improve schools through the transfer of proven practices.

She approached our conversations with a healthy intellectual skepticism. Was this a wise federal expense? How could the program be improved? I never found her expressed concerns ideologically based. The focus was always on effectiveness.

I remember her once saying, "I'm not sure that I'm cut out to be a federal administrator." Yet, it was my observation that she did that job remarkably well.

Dana Goldstein has captured well Diane's contrarian nature, her intellectual curiosity, her tendency to buck trends.

Unlike Mr. Alter, I'm less offended by those who change their minds. Such intellectual transformation has always seemed to me like an indicator of growth, of maturity, of informed perspective. In Diane's case, we are all benefiting from the evolution in her thinking, whether all of us agree or disagree with all of her current conclusions.

I feel that I have had the benefit of observing considerable consistency: 25 years after our conversations in Washington, Diane is still asking, "What works best for our schools, teachers, and kids?"
Hi, Caroline.

The point in saying that the Obamas have every right to send their children to private school, if that is what they believe is the most secure environment for them, is that it is a right everyone has.

Education may be compulsory but not where we send our children. They could have kept them home in the White Hose and hired tutors if that was their choice.

I am sure that the secret service could have secured a public school, but can you imagine the frisking and searching that would have taken place every day? The morning patrols of roof tops, alleys, etc. Please.

Again, we are talking about the president's children whose names and faces are known around the world. Their vulnerability to danger is automatically increased just by their fame.

Remember how they pulled Prince Harry out of Afghanistan as soon as his whereabouts became common knowledge. No amount of security and secret service can protect someone that famous from a dedicated assassin while in a war zone.

While I heartily disagree with the way Obama is handling the American school system, in his own family, what he does to educate his children is his business.

I will say, however, that it is very convenient that his girls are sheltered not only from attacks but also from high stakes standardized tests.
Stuart,

You seem to equate the mere existence of an article or study with positive evidence. I would point out that many discerning reviewers of research would reserve this term, evidence, for valid and credible studies. It is possible that the articles you mention rely on anecdotal or poorly designed research that simply is not convincing. There is certainly no shortage of weak educational studies that fail to define terms, interpret ambiguous statistics by "reading-in" meaning or causation, or otherwise fail to establish clear procedures or criteria. Presenting any of these as "credible evidence" would be misleading.

As others noted, the failure to hold charters and private/vouchers to the same standards & testing regimen as public schools greatly undermines the ability to draw any conclusions concerning the educational effectiveness of such programs.

Now I apologize that I have not yet reviewed the specific items you cited, but appreciate the links for my further research. Thanks.


Max,

I appreciate your contribution of personal experience with Diane. I think that her continuing intellectual curiosity - something perhaps lacking in Jonathan Alter, Stuart Buck, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and all the other "advocates" of Orwellian "Education Reform"* - is what allows Diane and I to be both respectful opponents and allies on different issues in education.

So though I think Ravitch did tremendous damage during her tenure in the GHWB administration - that her assaults on progressive education cost a whole generation of kids real opportunity - I know that she is intelligent enough, and interested enough, to look back at that period with the eyes of a scholar, not the political agenda carved from limited personal experience which seems to define Stuart Buck's work, or the personal enrichment agenda which defines Michelle Rhee's career.

As for Jonathan Alter, well, you cannot possibly have any respect for a writer on education who objects to people learning and changing their views. Education is the art of the expanding, and changing, worldview. To have a set opinion, unchangeable by new information, is to be uneducated.

* "Education Reform" in Rhee-Language means preserving the socio-economic status quo





Stuart will cite as "scholarly research" the Mathematica study commissioned by the Gates Foundation and not subject to peer review. He is a shill.
MBAllen -- the Mathematica studies of KIPP are actually pretty well-done, although they're probably over your head if those are the only criticisms you can think of.

Ira Socol seems to be incapable of describing my work correctly. He said that my book's theme is to praise "white elite rule," which is as silly as describing Ravitch's book as a celebration of charter schools and standardized tests. My book, in fact, is more properly described as a tribute to the black people who resisted white elite rule over the past 150 years (for example, by studying Latin rather than the shoemaking or gardening trades that white elites thought more suitable), as well as a rumination on the harm unwittingly caused by white elites in destroying black schools.
Stuart proves my point with his words.

Stuart Buck has a deep nostalgia for "separate but unequal," sure, but much worse is his insistence that minority groups imitate elite white society if they are to be allowed entry into American society.

So yes, they must study Latin, absorb the Common Core of Protestant White Americans, speak "correctly," and learn to see the world as whites do. Sure, Mr. Buck will allow a few African fabric choices into African-American life - he might even let Latinos keep cooking food from their native culture, but that facade - the Disneyfication of American diversity - is all he'll allow.

This is colonialism at its 'Potemkin Village' worst. We only accept diversity of skin color, but not of culture, behavior, language. It is exactly what Benjamin Disraeli wanted for his British Empire - what he hoped to impose on Ireland, India, Kenya.

That indeed may be much more benevolent than the racism of Michelle Rhee and KIPP and others that Stuart Buck shills for. But it remains extremely problematic for me.
I have to say from the outset that I am partial to learning Latin and for a lot of good reasons.

In Philly, we have a charter school for males only and modeled after Boston Latin, that just graduated its first class of all African American boys. The mission of the school is to prepare black boys, the most neglected of all demographics when it comes to education, to enter college actually prepared to work at that academic level. Is it elite? Of course it is. All college prep schools are elite.

I have not read Stuart's book and his snark is very evident here, but I do not believe that learning Latin is "acting white" as much as it is learning part of a skill set needed for post secondary education by students from any background.

At Boys Latin, they have a rigorous college prep curriculum, including Latin, and sports program. Only a little more than half the original freshman class lasted until graduation but of that number, 96% received college acceptances. For those boys, this is the ticket to the middle class. Their founder David Hardy admits that he was not selective enough in admitting students to the school.

Let's be very realistic here. To enter the professional world in this or any other nation, a certain level of academic achievement is required....way beyond the scope of the dumbed down test driven curriculum inspired by NCLB.

Latin is more than an ancient language. It is a discipline. It unlocks word meanings of 75% of English and is a Rosetta stone for the romance languages like Spanish, French and Italian. And it pertains to our entire Western culture.

It is most certainly not white Anglo-Saxon Protestant chic.

The subject of single sex education is a whole other issue. But one cannot argue against a clsssical education as part of strong academic foundation for all children.

Gloria,

There is nothing wrong with learning Latin, there is nothing wrong with learning anything. As the father of a child who took Latin in high school, I'll say it has value.

Learning Click Languages though, also has value. So does learning Chinese, or Hindi, or Irish for that matter.

But then you put two phrases together which are tough to reconcile: "And it pertains to our entire Western culture." "It is most certainly not white Anglo-Saxon Protestant chic." Living in an Anglo-Saxon Protestant "Western" culture (not the "western" of, say, the Irish or the Basque), the decision to focus on the roots of that White Protestant Anglo-Saxon culture rather than the roots of any of the other cultures which make up the vast majority of America is a colonialist decision.

I'm not saying culture need be "a democracy" - that because Hindi/Urdu was the largest native language in the British Empire need not mean that the right thing to do was to have all learn Hindi/Urdu - but that national cultural policy be "democratic" - that people need not "convert" in order to succeed.

Perhaps the best read on this is Ignatiev's "How the Irish became White" - http://www.amazon.com/Irish-Became-White-Noel-Ignatiev/dp/0415918251 - which explains the process Stuart Buck favors in his writings.

"Becoming White" is not the only path to success in America, if "we" allow it. The opposite model is what I call "The Bank of America Narrative" - http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2009/11/colonialism-of-michelle-rhee-or-tfa-v.html - which allows a minority group to choose a path which retains identity, and does not force conversion.

What sets me apart from Buck and - to keep this conversation focused - Rhee, is not that minority groups cannot benefit from separate schools, but that when that occurs, I believe it only works when those schools are firmly and absolutely under the control of the minority group (see Catholic Schools in the US - which were set up to resist Protestant colonialism) and when those schools are built on the culture of the minority group (see Black Panther education in the Oakland of the 1960s or Jewish and Islamic day schools in the US now). My observations suggest that few of the Orthodox Jewish schools in Brooklyn or the northern New York suburbs push kids into Latin - and though I have seen Latin available in Detroit area Islamic schools, it is certainly not a course for everyone.

I'll quote myself from the above link - offering a shorthand...
"Yet the prevailing wisdom today is that African-American and other troubled minorities can only climb the American success ladder by being second-class whites: by letting whites set the bar in all things - in speech, in literature, in governance-style, in social mores. Michelle Rhee believes it. Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg believe it. Paul Vallas believes it. Arne Duncan believes it. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there are black leaders who believe it as well. But, my Gramscian thought, is that you can only believe this if you believe that Black culture is inherently and historically inferior. And I don't believe that."
Hello, Ira, and thanks for the instructive response. What bothers me about this debate about culture is that we should not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

I am familiar with the origins of parochial school. I went to one and was told that it was a "sin" to go over to the public school mainly because they taught from the Protestant bible. As long as there was prayer and bible reading in the public schools, Catholic parents kept their kids in parochial schools where they would not become contaminated by Protestant theology.

Of course it also has a lot to do with the Irish/British-Catholic/Protestant conflict as anything else.

I am also very much aware that our British founders were not only products of the Enlightenment but were all classically trained. The grand ideas of citizenship in a Republic came directly from their understanding of the rule of law as it came to them from the Code of Justinian by way of the Magna Carta.

Not saying that people need to abandon their identities and cultures once they study the classics, but to fully comprehend our basic history as well as the primary language we speak, it is an enormous help. For goodness sake, we have our very own Latin motto right on our money.

I am not Irish. Endres is my married name. I was born into an immigrant Italian home. But I did grow up in the old Roman Catholic Church where Mass was said in Latin, so I was exposed to it all my life. I studied it for four years in high school. It has enriched my life beyond belief.

I have also used Latin in my classroom many times. Children exposed to latinate roots have a better understanding of its many uses in subjects like math and science. There are endless applications to literature, including the ancient myths. I could go on and on.

But to politicize any subject is incomprehensible to me. As you said, all knowledge is good and should be encouraged unconditionally.

Back to Finland, and most European countries, children are all taught to speak English as a second language. Latin is also taught. We should indeed be encouraging multilingual education for the beauty of it alone.

I have been to South Africa and heard the click language spoken during a salute to gold miners. There is no question that some of those special sounds and rhythms have survived in American music.

In short, Ira, we are a pluralistic society which should celebrate all its multicultural benefactors that have enriched our language, customs, arts...

...et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. 8-)
Gloria,

No real argument to that, but, just two additions. We have to be careful that in "understanding" our origins we do not accept them.

Last year I sat at Salisbury Cathedral and heard a discussion of how badly Americans misunderstand the Magna Carta. Of course that was pretty much a "lost document" until resurrected (or "re-imagined") by Protestantism in support of Cromwell's ["Commonwealth" or "Dictatorship" depending on point of view].

Likewise, language is a cultural organizing tool. The use of Latin does limit our vision of the world by imposing categorizations which respond to "western" cultural norms. Yes, it builds an entre into certain technical fields, but unless balanced, it creates limitations on our ability to structure knowledge differently.

Lastly, at a keynote in Colorado last week I reminded Colorado school leaders that "education is the most political thing we do." Education is, always has been, about controlling the future. This isn't just about the "Welsh Not" or the "Native American School," it involves every subject, every school building, every school schedule. (Henry Barnard introduced the idea of "being on time for school" at the behest of mill owners who needed to train people to the new idea of laboring in shifts.)

So, everything we do in education is political. We think it is not political when what we do matches our political/cultural views.
<i>much worse is his insistence that minority groups imitate elite white society if they are to be allowed entry into American society.</i>

And again, you are misrepresenting my book. You really didn't read anything except the paragraph on page 20, did you? Didn't it give you any pause to be arguing with a book's author and insisting that a book meant X when the author says, "Um, no, it's closer to the opposite of X"?

[Note to other commenters: on page 20, I briefly say that I disagree with so-called 'progressive' educators who have suggested that asking black kids to learn to read and do math is unfair because black kids aren't as suited for that kind of thing. I said that I do think black kids are able to learn to read, write, etc., but that stuck in Socol's craw for some reason.]

It's ironic beyond belief that you purport to use my book as an example of "bias," when 1) you have never yet said anything about my book that isn't a ludicrous caricature, and 2) my book goes further out of the way than any other book I can think of to discuss all the possible counterarguments and sources of bias that might be present in the evidence.

Ira, "What sets me apart from Buck and - to keep this conversation focused - Rhee, is not that minority groups cannot benefit from separate schools, but that when that occurs, I believe it only works when those schools are firmly and absolutely under the control of the minority group..."

And so I again point out the benefit of a special charter school like Boys Latin of Philadelphia whose founder is black and whose mission is to prepare black boys for the academic world that will give them a ticket to the middle class.

What we as educators must do, Ira, is prepare our children, not only to be life long learners and infused with a life long curiousity about the world, but to manuever in the real world of commerce. They must learn standard English for example.

I worry about a creeping anti-intellectualism that threatens to downgrade the core knowledge that children should learn in order to best understand that real world. The testing regime is part of that. The many attacks on science education are a symptom of that. As is the refusal to learn.

I talked to two people yesterday who left me shaking my head and close to tears.

The first was a young man from my neighborhood, the son of Italian Catholics, who during his young life had somehow developed a neo-Nazi atheism and profound hatred of the Jews. He actually told me that he believed in Hitler and that Jews and gypsies were not human. He compared them to vermin.

He showed me the wallpaper on his cell phone. It was a demonic portrait of Hitler. He is 28 years old.

My head still reeling, I came across another neighbor who began talking about her religious fundamentalism. She had homeschooled her children to protect them from learning about evolution and secular humanism, the great "evils" that some ascribe to public education.

These two people voted for George W. Bush and who would have no problem seeing the public schools disintegrate.

They live in fear and hatred.

What have we done???
Stuart,

You know that because your parents and buddies at Harvard told you you've done a good job, right? We call this "Rhee/Kopp Syndrome."
Ira: "The use of Latin does limit our vision of the world by imposing categorizations which respond to "western" cultural norms. Yes, it builds an entre into certain technical fields, but unless balanced, it creates limitations on our ability to structure knowledge differently."

I really do not see anything wrong with "responding to western cultural norms". We live after all in the West, and our historical roots cannot be denied. Immigrants understand that they need to absorb that culture in order to be assimilated. Otherwise, we are creating intellectual and economic ghettos.

I once had a knock down drag out fight with a black journalist who insisted that "ebonics" should be used in classrooms populated by African American students as a background for learning English. I went ballistic. While ebonics may have a distinct grammar and structure all its own and has even seeped into some literature, especially poetry, if reinforced, I guarantee you the students would be lost in a real prison of ignorance.

I do not accept your concept of Latin as somehow limiting. Ebonics is limiting, not Latin. We need Latin and the culture that gave birth to it to fully appreciate our origins, our connections to world cultures, our appreciation for the entire history of literature, the arts, science, and yes politics.

We need to study that history especially for the lessons of what happens to imperial nations like ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Sorry, Stuart, have not read your book. Instead of arguing about p. 20, why don't you give us a synopsis of your main ideas.
This has been fun. Will be back later.
8-)

Gloria,

I fully appreciate and understand your concerns, but I hope you don't go too far. Let me explain.

I may be a "complete" postmodernist and postcolonialist (and I never try to hide those affiliations), but I do believe in a concept of essential human morality - all things are NOT morally equal. In this I appreciate the balance I learned from Terry Eagleton, the Catholic/Marxist.

Where I think you may have wandered into a "border area" is in "Standard English" and the concepts which go with that. What, exactly, is "Standard English"? Is it what is written and spoken in West London or in West Belfast? New York or Jamaica? Among programmers in Brooklyn or academics in Cambridge, MA?

Must I express my academic ideas in the stultified, unreadable English of print-publish journals is or blogging - with highly informal language - a better way to pull the most people into the conversation? Should I speak to kids in Derry, NI in the same way I speak to kids in suburban Detroit? Same language? Same words? Same pronunciation?

Do we really all have to have an absolutely common language? Again, remember that language limits as it enables. There are so many ideas which literally cannot be translated between languages - this goes beyond "Smilla's Sense of Snow" to concepts of the world - http://books.google.com/books?id=1vE2EP38O0YC&lpg=PA16&dq=%22ira%20socol%22%20language%20ulster&pg=PA16#v=onepage&q&f=false - where diversity is part and parcel of lingual diversity.

From my personal data point, I found growing up among a wide diversity of accent and speech patterns incredibly valuable. I learned how to listen and adapt. There was no "standard" in the neighborhoods I grew up in, no standards of sound, of words, of grammar. I think that really has helped me as I move about the world as an adult.
Gloria, I'd be happy to describe my book, but it's not really relevant (Ira brought it up only as an ad hominem argument, as if my book's theme has any bearing on Ravitch's honesty in describing the mayoral control literature . . . a point on which no one, not even Ravitch's research assistant, has been able to respond).

If you're interested, there's a brief summary at the Washington Post here: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/political-bookworm/2010/08/desegregations_unintended_cons.html

The New Republic: http://www.tnr.com/book/review/guilt-trip
Slate: http://www.slate.com/id/2257453/
Post Scriptum: Oh, ah, Stuart, when I do return to this amazing discussion, I will tell you what I REALLY think about Teach for America.

Infra dignitatum meum est.

Valete omnes. ;-)
Stuart,

If you are referring to me when you speak of Ravitch's research assistant, I have a few things to say in response.

First, I am not at this point her research assistant. I was editor and research assistant for the book, and that was a great honor.

Second, it would be wrong for me to represent her views. Sometimes I respond to unfair and hostile charges against her, but I am not her spokesperson. I speak up when I have time, energy, and inclination to do so.

Third, you are so bent on finding fault with her that no matter what I or anyone else said, you would likely persist.

Fourth, here's my response. It's limited, because I am busy, but here you go.

You claim that Ravitch is making these statements about mayoral control, when in fact they pertain to lack of democratic governance (which, in the case of NYC, came with mayoral control). Ravitch's point is that there's no evidence that the elimination of democratic governance--specifically, independent school boards--correlates with school improvement. She makes this clear in the article.

And guess what: Wong makes a similar (though not identical) point. He notes that "allowing the mayor full power to appoint school board members without oversight from a nominating committee is inversely related to elementary reading achievement." Similarly, "we observe the same inverse relationship between math achievement and allowing mayors full appointment power without committee oversight."

Did you read both articles carefully?
Ira, thanks again for your response. When I say "standard English" I mean the general rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling acceptable in the country where it is spoken. I realize that there are variations in spelling, accent and even some grammar in places like England versus Australia. I fully recognize the variations in speech among American cities and states.

I should therefore have qualified it for your sake as American standard English. Within that category, there are many ways to express ideas using even colloguialisms as color and contrast. When I speak to my neighbors here in South Philly, we sometimes add phrases and a peculiar accent that might not be recognized in other parts of the city. We might say for fun,"How 'bout them Phillies!" (Our illustrious baseball team). I might say that to my pals who hang at Dunkin' Donuts. But I would never say that to my college students during a lecture.

I read Huckleberry Finn when I was in high school. It was filled with old Southern vernacular. I could get the gist of it, without adopting those verbal mannerisms to my own speech, thanks to the brilliant composition skills of Mark Twain. As I said before, literature can contain any variation on sound and vocabulary as the author chooses to add richness to his thoughts.

We do not have an authority in our country that regulates English, which means it is a living, evolving language. I truly get that. Today we use words like "tweet" and "text" as verbs for electronic communication.

But in the classroom, if nowhere else, the students must hear and speak and write the best version of the language possible so that they can express themselves as clearly and succinctly as possible.

Otherwise, it will all become babble.
Gloria,

I think this requires a full blog post, because I wonder if, because I grew up with no "standard" of American English, with teachers who used colloquialisms, with the "educated" around me speaking in many ways, I ended up better at code-switching.

I had Northern Irish English one year, classic "New York-ese" the next, Italian-American vernacular, versions of Black English. I really have never lived without that mix in my life.

So to me the standard is "communication." Can a student use the various forms of language media to communicate with differing audiences. Because, honestly, the five paragraph essay with "correct" grammar communicates to no one but the "standardized" teacher, and the "correct" language of, say, the American Educational research Association communicates to no one at all.

I guess I'd rather the classroom embraced the diversity of the globe - in language, culture, and thought - than have it emphasize Protestant values such as [linear] "clarity" and "succinctness."

But that's me.
And yes, Ravitch and Wong are making different points. Yes, Wong supports mayoral control, with committee oversight over the mayor's appointmment of school board members.

But Wong's article does not serve as a counterexample to Ravitch's statement that "there is not a shred of evidence in Miller’s article or in the research literature that schools improve when democratic governance ends." Wong's conclusions are in fact compatible with her statement.

Gloria Endres: I agree with you heartily on Latin and grammar.
OK, so Ravitch may have been talking solely about the idea to eliminate all school boards entirely, and she may be correct that there's "not a shred of evidence" for that idea (given how unfamiliar she seems to be with most of scholarly literature on school choice, however, I have little confidence that she searched all that strenuously).

But then, as you yourself suggest, she shifts gears immediately into talking about New York City as a test case (your words: "You claim that Ravitch is making these statements about mayoral control, when in fact they pertain to lack of democratic governance (which, in the case of NYC, came with mayoral control)").

But guess what: Wong and Shen specifically cited New York City as a place that, in their scholarly study, improved with mayoral control. See http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/10/14/07wallace-wong.h29.html for example.

So while I take back the "pathological liar" possibility, the best one can say is that Ravitch is being very slippery here: She first defines a straw man that has never happened ("eliminate all school boards"), says there's no evidence for it, and then discusses New York City as a "test case" for her "no shred of evidence" comment, when the exact opposite is the case.
http://theloop21.com/society/acting-white-my-ass-beyond-the-myths-black-student-underperformance

http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2010/09/acting-student-and-issue-of.html

http://www.slate.com/id/2257453/pagenum/all

The "Acting White" hypothesis is essential to any discussion of Rhee, who's primary policies are based in the assumption that Black culture is second class and must be suppressed - which is, perhaps, the real reason she doesn't want creativity in African-American schools.
Ira, I am surprised. I never knew that "clarity" and "succinctness" were Protestant values. I had nothing but Catholic education up to college and those "values" were instilled in me from day one. I went to a Jesuit college where logic and rhetoric were required subjects. Expressing an idea in anything but standard English would earn you a nice fat "F".

My elementary school teachers wrote their own English book of grammar called, if I recall it, "Voyages in English".

Seriously, Ira, are we having a problem understanding each other? I think we are communicating quite well using clear English.

Does that mean I cannot understand or use vernacular when I want? Of course not. Teaching in Philadelphia schools all my life taught me many patterns of speech.

I found out from doing lessons in Latin, that black children loved experimenting with language. They were my best pupils. They did not consider it demeaning at all to be learning an ancient tongue. In fact it gave them a new "code" to use in communicating.

Once, for example, I accidentally tripped over the shoe of a little boy who had been placed by his teacher against the board ledge for misbehaving. I said an immediate "Oh, excuse me!" He responded in Latin, "Me piget!" (I'm sorry). I was floored.

Here is another one you will love. The children learned to sing "Jingle Bells" in Latin for their holiday assembly. They sang it in its original musical melody once and then they began to give it a hip hop rhythm, making it their own. It was wonderful.

Another time, I was teaching a lesson on the Solar System as mythology, with children acting out the parts of the planets. I also had a group of kids playing Greek Chorus with loud comments to the players. All the lines were on flash cards that the kids could read. Two things happened. The children began to change the dialogue to suit what they thought should be said, and the Greek Chorus, seeing the words, "Hit the road, Saturn" burst into a spontaneous singing of "Hit the road, Jack"!!

Children never cease to amaze me. They will own their own education if we allow it.

I don't respect Rhee enough to care what she thinks.

I just know my students were never insulted by learning all kinds of new ways to express themselves.

Diana, gratias!
Gloria,

I do some of my work (and research) with a local state Voc/Rehab office, working with both "adults" and students "in transition" to post-secondary education. Just about every week a Latino student comes in who has been marked down on a Community College placement exam for not being "linear" enough, or "brief" enough in thought and writing. Those are both Anglo - and thus Protestant - characteristics, what, for example, separates Irish fiction from Anglo fiction (and perhaps why "colonial" books tend to win the Booker Prize over those from the Anglo heartland).

I myself have been accused of "writing like a European" by university professors - in other words, I tend not to write in the linear form preferred by the Anglo elite. But, as James Gee once asked while visiting Michigan State - "why is the shortest route, the most direct route, preferrable? Why would you want the 'clearest paragraph' or the shortest mathematical proof?"

So, speaking Latin is not about translating our thoughts into Latin, it is about understanding a culture which did not share our worldview. Latin poetry and dramatics function very differently - conception-wise - then equivalent works created in English. If I say to you, as they might in the Gaeilge of the old Ulster, "I have put on an illness this morning," or "There is money near me," do you understand the worldview those statements encompass? If I write a story in which characters do not change or grow, do not deal with a crisis, but simply "exist" (think James Joyce), is it a "novel" as Anglos think of it?

This, to me, is the heart of the issue. Words are not just words, and language is not just language. Though nouns are always translatable, ideas are not. Because culture is not translatable. And if "school" enforces one type of culture, it demeans the other.

When our communities - or our schools - are polyglot - as great cities are, it is this combining of worldviews, of ideas, of understandings, which produces our most creative and most advanced societies. The New York which built America's 20th Century did not do that through Standard English enforcement - huge sections of the city did not speak English at all - rather it did it via the complex combinations of cultures - resistant to Americanization cultures - which produced people who saw differently than those in the existing mainstream.

Children never cease to amaze me as well. But I find that rarely do they need a standardized form of communication to make themselves understood among themselves, and those who grow up in multilingual environments, seem to have skills which serve them quite well throughout life.
Stuart,

Ravitch's "not a shred of evidence" comment is part of a larger point about the dangers of ending democratic governance. The "test case" of New York City illustrates the larger point, not this particular statement.

It is good that you took back the "pathological liar" statement. That was beyond hyperbolic; that was flat-out wrong and irresponsible.

But you're still missing her point in this article. She isn't setting up a straw man; she's referring to an actual vision articulated by reformers and pundits such as Matt Miller, whose article she cites.

Miller writes, "What of school boards? In an ideal world, we would scrap them—especially in big cities, where most poor children live. That’s the impulse behind a growing drive for mayoral control of schools." Right there, he's suggesting that current drives for mayoral control have school board elimination as one of their ultimate goals.

Miller concedes that school boards won't be eliminated any time soon. But in his ideal world, that's exactly what would happen. Ravitch argues that this would be dangerous, and she explains why.

New York City is a reasonable test case, because Bloomberg appoints eight of the thirteen members of the Panel for Educational Policy, and his appointees always endorse his plans. Bloomberg has made clear that that is their duty. So, what meaning does the vote have, if the mayor sets the outcome?
Ira: "Children never cease to amaze me as well. But I find that rarely do they need a standardized form of communication to make themselves understood among themselves, and those who grow up in multilingual environments, seem to have skills which serve them quite well throughout life."

But, Ira, that's my point. Of course, one size does not fit all. And looking at the world with different sets of lenses, produces critical and creative thinking. (Which is what makes standardized testing so reprehensible.)

I grew up in a bilingual home. I also went to school and read classics by different authors. Did I not say that? I am absolutely in favor of exposing children to all kinds of literature and languages.

The beauty of public school can and should be that mix of cultures and languages that enrich all children. Thanks to a never ending influx of immigrants from all parts of the world, children who are fortunate enough to attend a multicultural school have an advantage. I think we might call it a comopolitan education.

But we also live in a world of commerce. In that world, the coin of the realm is English. That is why it is taught all over the world. It took the place of the ancient languages of commerce, Greek and Latin.

Look, scientists speak one language, mathematics, because it is the most easily understood for their purposes. Likewise to conduct business, get our news reports, write articles for the mainstream media in America, we use English, not a dialect of English, not an esoteric vernacular of English, but plain old bread and butter English.

I tutored a Chinese woman once in order for her to pass her citizenship test. She had to be conversant in basic English plus have some knowledge of our civics. I went with her to her swearing in ceremony in a huge ceremonial courthouse in Center City. She was one of about 80 news citzens from all over the world. They all had to pass the same exam.

But I am sure, once they left that courthouse armed with their new citizenship papers, they went back to their homes and said and did exactly what they wanted, just as my grandparents did. A big part of them never leaves their homeland.

That is why we have one of the most beautiful mottos in the world:
E pluribus unum - From many one.
But as happens so often, Ravitch makes her point in the most devious way possible -- she leaves her readership with the misleading belief that there's no evidence in support of NY-style mayoral control.

Another of many examples was her recent post saying that there was never a "Texas miracle," and her chief evidence was that Texas 8th grade reading scores on NAEP were flat between 1998 and 2009. Technically correct, but she conveniently forgot to mention that 4th grade reading, 4th grade math, and 8th grade math scores all rose over the same time period.

No decent scholar would conclude anything from one NAEP trend for one subject in one grade while ignoring three scores that trended in the opposite direction.
Gloria,

I do not think we are far apart... so let me approach the details.

We live in a global world. But the language is not always English. So, when someone translates my writings into, say, German, or Portuguese, this requires a conversation, because the structure - the underlying understandings - may differ. So, we talk it out, we do not depend on standards, nor do I expect that every German or Portuguese, Brasilian, or whoever, will speak English.

Likewise, if I want my books to be accessible, I turn to a blind friend in Australia, who helps me structure the technical reading experience so that it works "for her." I will not depend on the standards provided by Adobe.

And similarly, when I speak outside Denver, there is a difference in my phrasing, in my language presentation, than when I speak in Tipperary - http://youtu.be/7UXh7Vb1XL8 - no, it might not be a massive difference, but it is an important one. And I can understand people in both places, or on the streets of my own hometown. This is roughly the same as dressing differently. While New York offices might have "casual Fridays" when my son worked in Mountain View, CA they had "dress up Fridays" - the day they didn't wear shorts and T-shirts. In New York I'd be unlikely to do a presentation in jeans, in the western US I very well might. It is a world of commerce, but it looks and sounds different in each place, with each audience.

And this code-shifts are essential. Can I write on Twitter as I do on my blog? No, and I should not. Is Twitter "rougher" - "more judgmental" - "more abrupt" than my other writing or my speech. Yes. That is a cultural street difference.

So, for me, the issue is this - I don't want schools where kids of African heritages, or Asian heritages, or Latino heritages need to take Latin to be seen as, "as good as whites." And I don't want schools where grammar rules are enforcers of views of intelligence. And I don't want schools where reading differently or constructing paragraphs differently determines success.

It is one thing to know that there are differences. It is quite something else to enforce those differences out of the school.

In the end I'd rather have every kid in the school be able to understand Thomas Wolfe's story "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn" than to have a school where every child thought it important to structure a sentence correctly. Because when we create schools with those "business standards" - what I call "white Protestant standards" - we are always - always - creating schools in which those in power now have a massive and insurmountable head start.
Ira,

I've read your exchange with Gloria with interest. While I appreciate the need for equity and recognition of diverse cultures, both as a human right and asset for learning, I have to take issue with the idea that cultural pluralism is somehow incomparable with the Western tradition. Your characterization of white anglo values, while politically relevant in some ways is also misleading in its portrayal of the liberal arts and sciences.

I think a truer understanding of the western tradition recognizes it as fundamentally multi-cultural. If one sets aside cherished dogmas and biases we find a rich tradition that stretches from Greco-Egyptian arts and sciences, further by Roman, Mosaic, Persian, Hindi and a host of other cultures that interacted through the silk road and maritime trade. Cultural inter actions created opportunities for insights and discovery that no single culture could attain. Modern science, while often held captive to economic engines, is itself a product of ancient logic and diverse cultural perspectives applied to observation of natural conditions and technological innovations. I would agree that this reality tends to be hidden by poor instruction that presents dogmas as a substitute for living inquiry.

To me, there is no big contradiction between a classical curriculum and a multicultural curriculum when these are approached through open minded collaborative inquiry. In this model students have every right, indeed an obligation, to question the claims of authority. A healthy mind does not shrink from difference but seeks greater knowledge and understanding. I would even suggest that the western liberal arts are strengthened and made less"elite" by multicultural perspectives which not only open the door to student engagement but enrich the tradition with a truer representation of the human experience. At the same time, the foundations of democracy and free inquiry are deeply connected to this tradition and every generation should have access to these authentic sources, to form their own viewpoint so free citizens.

The "test mania" that has gripped our educational institutions is no more conducive to developing deep understanding is of the Western tradition than it is of other cultural traditions. Real learning is personal and open-ended; something far better assessed through writing, performance and direct communication than any fact-based test can possibly capture.

I hope that makes sense (my tiny keyboard is making this very difficult!)


-Sue
Sue,

I appreciate what you say, but I challenge you to compare the "stated aims" of "western culture" and their actual operation in the field - historically and now.

As someone who has been "marked down" for "writing like a European" (as noted above), and who watches students being labelled as "less intelligent" because they communicate in the circular rhythms of their own culture, I can tell you that the particular Anglo version of "western culture" is not the accommodating, inclusive place you describe.

There is also a long history of Anglo culture working very hard to destroy minority and indigenous cultures and languages, from the "Welsh Not" to Native American Boarding Schools to "Black English." And you can always watch the opening scenes of Ken Loach's "The Wind that Shakes the Barley."

We might also note that the American school "canon" tends to avoid the Dos Passos and Kerouacs while focusing on the Fitzgeralds and Salingers - in other words embracing a standard (and I love "The Great Gatsby" - it is not about that) but not the attempts to change that standard.

So I think you are absolutely correct - "the western liberal arts are strengthened and made less"elite" by multicultural perspectives which not only open the door to student engagement but enrich the tradition with a truer representation of the human experience." That is both true and important. But it has to actually operate that way if it is to be democratic.

I'd make another note: Along with saying, "the foundations of democracy and free inquiry are deeply connected to this tradition and every generation should have access to these authentic sources, to form their own viewpoint so free citizens" (and I might doubt "the foundations of democracy and free inquiry are deeply connected to this tradition" but not at this point), I want to add, "but democracy may mean very different things to different people - quite legitimately. That European "democracy" means something very different than Anglo-American "democracy," and Iroquois "democracy" something else again." This kind of interactive statement is essential, it demonstrates the limitations of our standardized language, and admits, up front to our students, that English-speaking whites do not have a copyright on truth.

In the end, your vision of multiculturalism is quite similar to mine, but I find that tolerance in various places in earth's history, and I do not find it in other places. We can find it in Moorish Spain or in 18th/19th Century Morocco and Sarajevo. We would find it less in the United States of the 1870s or 1950s.
Yet another example of Ravitch's slipperiness and deviousness.

In the same Feb. 2011 address, she said this about charter schools:

"Mathematica Policy Research conducted a study comparing charter
middle schools with lotteries to regular public middle schools and found that there was no difference either in terms of academics or behavior. The National Assessment of Education Progress has tested charter students since 2003 and compared them to regular public students. In the assessments of 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009, there has never been an advantage for charter schools—not for Black students, not for Hispanic students, not for low-income students, and not for urban students, no difference.

"But nonetheless it continues to be a powerful idea that is advancing with no evidence. The people promoting charters simply don’t care about evidence. They talk data all the time, but they don’t care about data when it contradicts what they want to do."

The listener or reader would take away from that passage three points: 1) There is no evidence that charter schools ever work; 2) Charter schools don't work for low-income or urban students; 3) There was a Mathematica study that proved points 1 and 2.

But all of those points are lies, and Ravitch was doing her level best to make her audience believe in those lies, even while what she said about the Mathematica study and NAEP was technically correct.

The NAEP comparison comparisons (as Ravitch knows) are meaningless. It is impossible to conclude anything about the effectiveness of charter schools that way.

As for Mathematica, the study did find no average difference, but it is a much more important fact that this "no average difference" finding came about because charter schools were HELPING poor black kids while HURTING rich white kids.


When someone leaves a Ravitch lecture thinking that there is "no evidence" in support of charters, he or she has been made to believe a lie. Even if all of Ravitch's words were literally true, they were obviously chosen so as to mislead.

Always entertaining

"There was a Mathematica study that proved points 1 and 2"

You can buy research from Mathematica as easily as you can buy music from Amazon.
As usual, Ira has no evidence for his hackish posturing.
No peer review. Simple as that. Non-reproducible studies done for massive amounts of cash for people with agendas.
Ira,

I think we agree on the main points, although I do think the Socratic method is still sound and am yet to find an author who equally conveys the power of rhetoric to work for or against truth and freedom. I also find that having to seriously engage with Plato is good medicine for pretentous academics who claim the wisdom project false norms onto innocent children.

I guess my point is that recovering the true nature of the larger liberal tradition and incorporating a cultural perspective can be seen as allied aims. Granted, what we see in practice rarely comes close to this at present. But the injustice is robbing privileged kids of the truth as well. Maybe speaking truth to power could have a broader universal appeal if we drop the conflict theory and focus on
Peer review isn't that important. (I say that even though my book was peer reviewed.) All that peer reviewers would do is quibble over the methodology, etc., but they wouldn't be checking the original data. If you were qualified to read education research in the first place, you wouldn't need to rely on other people to do the "peer review" for you; instead, you would be able to say whether a study is good or bad out of your own expertise.

As for "people with agendas," the Mathematica middle school study was done for the Institute of Education Sciences. All of the people involved with this study have much less of an agenda than you do.
(cont)
truth and building respect through collaborative inquiry. I think there may be a place for a core curriculum, but it should be half classics and half multi-cultural, and selected democratically. This would offer us the foundation for a real national dialogue about freedom, knowledge, justice, truth, etc. Let our kids investigate many versions of democracy and recognize the deeper knowledge that humans in many places have sought freedom throughout history.

Incidentally, I teach math to at risk kids and adults and am all too aware of the damage done by tests and poor teachers who convince students that a low scoremeans they are not intelligent or competent learners. The tested industry has shut the door to higher learning on far to many people and the charade has to end.
Stuart,

Your revised analysis of Diane's statements is still seriously flawed. The NAEP study is about the closest thing we have to an objective comparison, but a finding of no difference in achievement levels does not "prove" that charters don't work, it merely supports the claim that there is no evidence for overall improvement. This is pretty straight forward and rational. Your further dismissal of this data, and allegations that white kids are harmed is simply unfounded. Your continued attacks are doing nothing for your credibility here.

Peer review is important because someone does need to review methodology. This is not trivial at all and speaks to the credibility of the results and conclusions. The principle of triangulationcomes into play here as well. If several qualified readers agree on a sound methodology, there is still room for group think, but usually an honest effort to find independent reviewers helps avoid this. If a study is important enough, examining it in greater detail is warranted, but being able to review summaries that have passed muster of a peer review journal helps saves time and offers some assurance of reasonable quality. However, this too is no guarantee, and a skeptical attitude towards all research is recommended practice

Sue --

No, a review of overall NAEP scores does NOT support the claim that "there is no evidence for overall improvement." NAEP just shows you the average scores; it doesn't show where individual students started out. Thus, it can't tell you anything one way or the other. NAEP could show that charter schools on average are ahead, but that wouldn't in any way mean that charter schools were more effective (their students could have started out ahead). Or NAEP could show that charter schools are behind, but that wouldn't in any way show that charter schools were less effective (their students could have started out even further behind).

Any competent researcher knows this.

As for my "allegations that white kids are harmed," that's not my allegation. It's what Mathematica specifically found. See pages 70-72 of the report: http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/pdfs/education/charter_school_impacts.pdf

As for peer review, I would agree that for people who don't know anything about education research, the fact that a study is peer reviewed can add something small to its credibility. But certainly not always: there are many problems with peer review in the social sciences and in the physical sciences. Some studies don't get published because they're "merely" trying to replicate a prior study, even though this is hugely valuable. Some studies have problems getting published not because they are low quality but because they are challenging the sacred cows of the "top" researchers who are tasked with being peer reviewers.

And the Mathematica study I just cited would never be published anyway, because it's a 264-page empirical evaluation that doesn't make any theoretical advances. What journal would publish that?

Anyway, my point to Ira is that no self-respecting researcher should be complaining about the Mathematica study not being peer reviewed. If he were a competent researcher, he would be more than able to act like a peer reviewer himself and explain what's supposedly wrong with the substance of the study. But I don't think he's competent to do any such thing.
This education reform is the new "sub-prime" scam. The scam is the pro-testing, teacher bashing, charter schools, private school(s) reform-type of gansters. Just like sub-prime loans were given to people who really did not qualify for a traditional loan for a house, and they defaulted, now the newest game is "education". Parents need to to their jobs as parents, educate your own child. Parents should not trust the government to provide an education for their child. We are a viral generation, and there are still libraries, parents teach your own children, because Gates, et al are educating theirs.
I haven't had a chance to jump into the grammar/liberal tradition discussion, and don't have more time for this thread, but I wanted to make one point.

Learning something well takes focus, and to give something focus, one has to make certain selections. You can dabble in many varieties of English, but if you learn standard English (and its many applications and possibilities), then you can also appreciate divergences from it.

The close, focused study of language and literature opens up possibilities for a broader view. Quintilian wrote in his Institutio Oratoria, 1.4.6:

"Let no man, therefore, look down on the elements of grammar as small matters, not because it requires great labor to distinguish consonants from vowels and to divide them into the proper number of semivowels and mutes, but because, to those entering the recesses, as it were, of this temple there will appear much subtlety on points, which may not only sharpen the wits of boys, but may exercise even the deepest erudition and knowledge."

("Ne quis igitur tamquam parva fastidiat grammatices elementa, non quia magnae sit operae consonantes a vocalibus discernere ipsasque eas in semivocalium numerum mutarumque partiri, sed quia interiora velut sacri huius adeuntibus apparebit multa rerum subtilitas, quae non modo acuere ingenia puerilia, sed exercere altissimam quoque eruditionem ac scientiam possit.")

This "subtlety on points" allows a person to notice variations within English and analogous variations in other languages. It makes a person aware of balance, rhythm, and tone. It sharpens the ear.
Jonathan Alter - because she disagrees with you, because she changed her mind based on the evidence, you don't think Diane Ravitch is to be trusted as an analyst on education? Whereas you make arguments with NO evidence whatsoever for your positions, so therefore you are qualified to make judgments on the quality of her analysis? What a crock of manure!

Ravitch thoroughly explains what she has changed in her point of view and why in her book. She has also done so in multiple essays. And she has a pretty strong command of the relevant research and data, which apparently you have never bothered to read.

I thought you learned better than that when you were on the Crimson.
Let's just note that Stuart Buck doesn't want studies he agrees with analyzed or challenged, he only wants that for studies which might show him to be wrong. This is from someone who claims to be an "academic" - LOL to code shift - but, in fact, has always been a spoiled kid at heart, with pre-determined conclusions and an absolute certainty that his thoughts are correct, an unfortunate ending for many a "child prodigy."

Diane, not disagreeing with the overall, but "focus" is a funny thing. It is also a cultural statement. KIPP (and Rhee) requires that "you" (or at least Black children) stare to be focused. Marie Montessori suggested something very different. Deep focus during a Catholic Mass may be very different than focusing on a prayerbook in a Calvinist Church. fMRIs show us that humans "focus" in very different ways. Just a critical caveat.
No, Ira, once again you need to learn how to read. I'm happy for you to analyze or challenge the Mathematica middle school study that Ravitch originally cited, if you can do so. But you can't. Thus all the whining that other people haven't already done it for you (in the process known as peer review).

No competent education researcher would be caught dead complaining that the Mathematica study wasn't "peer reviewed" -- to do so means admitting that you're not a "peer" who is capable of analyzing a study for yourself.

Gloria -- note that it is Ira who is the only person in this thread who resorts to ad hominem arguments, i.e., namecalling as a substitute for addressing what someone actually said. (I've seen more than one argument with him go like this: Ira: "Your book said X." Me: "Um, no it didn't." Ira: "Nyah, you're just a spoiled brat who got a fancy-shmancy education.")
Stuart,

If you had been listening in all your "fancy-shmancy" classes, you'd know that a quantitative study is not valid unless reproducible. That's basic. The concept of peer review is not about whether I can read the study or not, its about making all the data in the study available to those who have the specific skill set to analyze what is being evaluated, who is being evaluated, and how it is being evaluated.

As noted (including above) by many others, Mathematica has not made all its data available to anyone. Thus, it is not peer-reviewable (or peer-reviewed), and it is not reproducible.

Thus, by the standards of anyone who would choose to quote quantitative research to claim "proof" of something "working" - the Mathematica study is not a valid piece of research. (You may want to read "Scientific Research in Education" on this - it is a book I truly dislike for its influences, but it offers a quite clear explanation of the problem you seem to fail to grasp.)

And Stuart, I think you are a "victim" of your childhood and your education. I am sorry about that - like Scott Fitzgerald I've tried to figure it out - http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2011/06/rich-are-different-from-you-and-me.html - but it is a problem, which like your continued efforts to stalk me on Twitter, I cannot solve for you.
Peer review does not consist of reanalyzing a dataset. No one has time for that. Moreover, saying that the Mathematica middle school study (originally cited, however misleadingly, by Ravitch) is not valid is silly; lots of researchers are working with proprietary datasets, and anyway it's a federal government report for which you could probably get the data eventually if you tried. You just don't like part of the results.


And I'm a victim of my childhood? The only reason you're technically not lying in suggesting that I grew up "rich" (which I most certainly didn't) is that you're too ignorant to be lying: you know absolutely nothing about my childhood.
Jane Jacobs may have been an urbanist, but she was also the consummate elitist. She may have saved a few public spaces, but she also displaced thousands of low and middle income people out of Greenwhich Village.
I recently retired after thirty-seven years as a teacher. I loved every moment of my career and feel blessed that I was able to be a teacher. I went to Catholic Schools for my education and taught in them for five years before working in California public schools. I not only taught, I worked with the California Teachers Association in many capacities on the local and state level. I am convinced that "A Nation at Risk", the foundation of all of the criticisms of public education and the enabling philosophical underpinning of Michelle Rhee and others of her ilk, is the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on the American public. It is refreshing to see someone like Diane Ravitch enter the fray and expose the truth about "corporate" education. It's all about pulling money out of the public sector to enrich the private sector. Private schools should be separate financially as well as politically from the public schools. Thank you,Diane, for helping all of us.
I have to say this in defense of Ravitch: as much as she twists the evidence, and as much as she attacks the personal lives of actual billionaires, at least she doesn't resort to completely fabricated descriptions of someone else's childhood. To do such a thing requires a combination of malevolence and stupidity that is rare indeed.
And then Ira had the nerve to brag about his invented slurs on his Twitter account! I can't think of any explanation other than some sort of deep-rooted chip on his shoulder (he can't bear to admit that other people have accomplishments greater than his out of merit, so therefore it must be due to a privileged upbringing).

(I'd note also, for the benefit of anyone who cares about research, that I've been to several academic conferences where Mathematica researchers were presenting multiple studies. There is never any actual scholar, not even the chief researcher at the AFT, who ever makes a comment that remotely resembles what Ira says about Mathematica and their research. Ira doesn't know what he is talking about.)
Linda Johnson: Note that the rebuttal documentary "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman" - http://www.waitingforsupermantruth.org/ - also stresses parental involvement, while also making the case for real reform.

I think it can be widely agreed that parental involvement is the key to success in K-12 education.

Yet almost no official or media commentator in the corporate-driven "reform" blob seems to go anywhere near this thought, instead trying to heap all the blame for education woes on teachers.
I have read this article as it is and find it too biased. Ravitch, who is , IMO, one of the bulwarks of retrograde influence in this abysmal state of public education in America. The ongoing hysteria over testing composition, design and results is what one would expect when you have a dogged determination of the top "education administrators" ( I use the phrase loosely ), to gut the only true standard of learning and that standard is " Can you pass a test that actually tests your grasp of the material?" The answer to this question seems to be "Yes, if it is the RIGHT TEST" ( Quoting the new Superintendent of MD public schools ) or "No, because its not the RIGHT test." These and other similar arguments highlight the "double speak" used in "education" that has reduced it to a jumble of detached PhD's drawing hundred's of thousands of dollars a year with huge administrative staffs. The american public school system is as bad off as it could possibly be - and Rhee is absolutely spot on about her assessment and criticisms of the waste, lack of RIGOR, and lack of discipline.

Ravitch's comments and criticisms of Rhee are patently absurd and it is an amazement to me that Ravitch is even listened to. One of Rhee's clarion calls has been the terrible comparative performance of America's schoolchildren relative to the European tests. Ravitch dismisses this by saying " That doesn't mean anything : the US has never scored well on those tests!"

Oh really? That's an argument that is to be seriously considered? I think not. But Ravitch's position is grounded in a self serving denial of reality that is willing to blame horrid performance on "wrong" tests and lack of money.

Will someone please write a book entitled "The Poverty of Education"? I think it's high time it was written and it is Rhee that will write it.
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