Thursday, June 23, 2011

Diane Ravitch, the anti-Michelle Rhee

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

This from the Washington City Paper:
In the month of April, Diane Ravitch, the 72-year-old preeminent historian of American education, sent 1,747 tweets, an average of about 58 messages per day, many between the hours of 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

On May 20 alone, Ravitch tweeted 99 times to her 13,000 followers. Linking to the news of a D.C. Public Schools investigation into test tampering under former chancellor Michelle Rhee, she asked: “How can teachers be evaluated by student test scores, when the scores are so often manipulated and inaccurate?” Throughout the day, she mused on the shortcomings of standardized tests, whose ubiquity in American schools she has compared—with characteristic hyperbole—to “the Chinese cultural revolution.”

“Life’s problems do not translate into four possible answer[s],” she tweeted...
  • Ravitch...note[s] 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.
  • Somewhat improbably, this former education official from the first Bush administration has emerged as the most media-savvy progressive critic of the reform campaign embraced by everyone from Education Secretary Arne Duncan to billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates—a campaign that, in the public mind, is perhaps most associated with Rhee.
  • [H]er 13th book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System...was rejected by 15 publishers [before it] became a best seller.
  • Ravitch decided sometime around 2006 that there was actually no evidence that any of those policies improved American education. She now believes that the “corporatist agenda” of school choice, teacher layoffs, and standardized testing has undermined public respect for one of the nation’s most vital institutions, the neighborhood school, and for one of society’s most crucial professions: teaching. 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.
  • Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter dubbed Ravitch the “Whittaker Chambers of school reform,” declaring her Gates’ “biggest adversary” for speaking out against the Microsoft founder’s efforts to bring corporate efficiency standards to public schools.
  • If her late emergence as a liberal hero strikes progressives as ironic, it infuriates the Rhee fans who dominate both the Obama administration and the GOP. Critics call Ravitch a self-promoter, an opportunist, and a scholar who picks evidence to support her conclusions, rather than vice versa—in other words, a lot of the same things Rhee’s critics say about her.
  • 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 ... 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.
  • Ravitch claims she was swayed by peer pressure from the Washington free-market types she worked alongside at the Department of Education and then the Brookings Institution. “Having been immersed in a world of true believers, I was influenced by their ideas,” she writes in Death and Life. “I became persuaded.”
  • In 1983 she wrote a New Republic essay called “Scapegoating the Teachers” in which she noted that “it is comforting to blame teachers for the low state of education, because it relieves so many others of their own responsibility for years of educational neglect.”
  • Ravitch says she’s particularly offended by the suggestion—implicit in the media’s celebration of Teach for America, the organization that launched Rhee’s career—that perhaps teaching should not be a lifelong profession at all, but a bleeding-heart diversion for elite 20-somethings.
  • [T]here should be college loan forgiveness for people who become teachers. “Then you would have so many people applying to join this field that you could select the top 10 or 15 percent,” she says.
  • Ravitch became a go-to critic for anyone looking for a contrary opinion. The former DCPS chancellor made things pretty easy, giving Ravitch an opening to blast her for advising far-right governors like Rick Scott of Florida and Chris Christie of New Jersey. “Rhee maintains being bipartisan while being closely affiliated with the Tea Party governors,” Ravitch says. “The bipartisan agenda has become what used to be the GOP platform. I wonder if the Democratic Party will ever regain its sense about the importance of public education and equity.”
  • Ravitch was in Argentina in March when USA Today broke the news that half of all D.C. schools had likely corrected students’ mistakes on standardized tests. Nevertheless, she dashed off a column for The Daily Beast (where I am also a contributing writer). Rhee’s policy of tying pay to test scores, Ravitch wrote, had resulted in “cheating, teaching to bad tests, institutionalized fraud, dumbing down of tests, and a narrowed curriculum…
  • [A]n anonymous Twitter feed called “OldDianeRavitch,” opened in April, featuring a steady stream of hyperlinked free-market school reform arguments Ravitch once made, but now disclaims, such as: “NYC schools chancellor should have the power to close schools that consistently fail or engage in corrupt practices” and, “Without testing, there is no consistent way to measure success or failure.” The account was clearly a parody. But Ravitch pushed Twitter to shut it down as a violation of its anti-impersonation policy. The feed soon relaunched with the handle “NOTDianeRavitch.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Richard,

Maybe you could arrange for Dr. Diane Ravitch to meet our new superintendent. I think it would be an interesting exchange.