Apparently, Diane Ravitch is miffed at Steven Brill for estimating in the new book, Class Warfare, that she earned as much as $200,000 in speaking fees from appearances before the National Education Association and other forums for education traditionalists, Ravitch sicced her lawyers on Brill and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, claiming that Brill’s estimate was “defamatory”, “fictitious” and “highly damaging”. Ravitch is demanding the excise of that estimate from future printings of the book, and an “errata sheet” on existing versions. Simon & Schuster responded by basically noting that Brill’s estimate was, well, an estimate, and stated as such. The publisher also stated that Ravitch was given “the opportunity to comment on the issue”. (Andy Rotherham brought this to light today on Eduwonk.)
The most-damaging possible allegation made by Ravitch against the book is that she wasn’t represented by big-named speakers bureau Leading Authorities as Brill reported. A search of “Leading Authorities” and Diane Ravitch does lead to a page that shows a (now-dead) link (http://www.leadingauthorities.com/speaker/diane-ravitch.aspx) to a page at the speaker bureau’s Web site. (Dropout Nation has sent out inquiries to executives at Leading Authorities asking if they ever had her as a client.)
Given the difficulty of proving defamation suits and that, unlike California, New York State doesn’t require any publisher to retract statements upon request by any accuser if they don’t immediately respond to them, Ravitch is basically wasting money on legal fees. Nor is Brill’s estimate actually all that damaging; no one in Philadelphia, Miss., is going to care anyway. As Dropout Nation has also noted, there is nothing particularly wrong with Ravitch collecting speaking fees and not disclosing them. Getting paid by groups with which one has like-minded views does not make one a shill. So Ravitch would have been better off leaving this one alone.
Dropout Nation has already said more than it wants on the speaking fees matter. More importantly, given that it is still waiting on response from Leading Authorities, there isn’t much more to report.
As for Ravitch? She couldn’t even get education history right in her Wall Street Journal piece last year exhorting congressional Republicans to embrace a history of opposing an expansive federal role in education policy that was never reality. She conveniently failed to mention Dwight David Eisenhower’s role in fostering the first mass use of specialized testing (courtesy of the National Defense Education Act of 1958), and the efforts of Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush in supporting the modern school reform movement.
Last year, in the New York Review of Books, she trashed Waiting for “Superman”, arguing that the film glossed over the fact that there are still too few high-quality charters. As anyone who watched the film could attest, if they are being honest, Waiting actually made clear that clear, in fact, citing the 2009 CREDO study, the same source for Ravitch’s own declaration in her piece. The fact that the CREDO study, a generally good and empirical report, is really a review of the strength and weaknesses of charter school laws in the states studied, and has been criticized for measuring the achievement of charter school students against the average results of groups of students in traditional schools, is conveniently not mentioned by Ravitch in her piece. And Stuart Buck, among others, has offered his own comprehensive review of Ravitch’s faulty thinking and data interpretation as displayed in stupendous fashion in The Death and Life of the Great American School System.
Considering the ridiculing Ravitch has done to her own storied career as of late, she should unleash the lawyers on herself.