Tag: Diane Ravitch

Ravitch is a Reflection of Traditionalists

Once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch has long ago proven that she’ll plumb any depths of intellectual charlatanism and moral demagoguery — even to the point of engaging in blatant race-baiting…

Once-respectable education historian Diane Ravitch has long ago proven that she’ll plumb any depths of intellectual charlatanism and moral demagoguery — even to the point of engaging in blatant race-baiting and politicizing tragedy. So it isn’t shocking to your editor that Ravitch attempted to denigrate the views of former CNN anchor-turned-school reform advocate Campbell Brown in an interview with the Washington Post by claiming that her efforts to end near-lifetime job security for laggard teachers and overhaul teacher dismissal laws aren’t worth considering (and, in fact, “illogical”) because she is “telegenic” and “pretty”. Having already engaged in racism back in May when she wrote that 50CAN honcho and new-era civil rights activist Derrell Bradford should go into “sports or finance or broadcasting”, Ravitch’s sexist remarks against Brown are just another example of her despicable shamelessness.

wpid-threethoughslogoYour editor doesn’t need to defend Brown. For one, she’s proven more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the likes of Ravitch, and Jonathan Chait of New York has already gone to bat for her. There’s also the fact that Ravitch just doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Her racial myopia and racialism (along with her dilettantism) has been apparent since she dismissed black families in Ocean Hill-Brownsville attempting to become lead decision-makers in the Big Apple’s traditional district in 1972’s The Great School Wars: A history of New York City schools. So I expect nothing less from the likes of her.

What will be interesting is the reaction from hardcore progressive traditionalists — who as much proclaim themselves to be feminists as they call themselves opponents of racialism — to Ravitch’s latest remarks. If the past is any guide, it is more than likely that traditionalists will not only not call Ravitch on the carpet for her remarks, they will even defend them because Brown is one of those so-called corporate education reformers who are threatening their ideology and finances.

After all, they defended Ravitch after reformers such as Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute called her out for racialist remarks against Bradford. A year earlier, they defended another demagogue within their camp, American Federation of Teachers honcho-turned-Albert Shanker Institute boss Leo Casey, after he raised the specter of antisemitism against Brown by accusing her of committing a “blood libel” against teachers by calling out the union and its Big Apple affiliate for defending criminally abusive instructors. And they rallied around both Ravitch and Karen Lewis, the president of the AFT’s Chicago Teachers Union, after they both politicized the massacre of 23 teachers and children in Newtown, Conn., as part of their attempt to smear reformers.

So we shouldn’t expect anything less than a broad defense of Ravitch this time around. In fact, you can already see it in the responses to Chait’s critique of her demagoguery. Which proves this reality: Progressive education traditionalists like to claim to be foes of racialism and other social ills — until their own allies commit such nastiness against those whom they oppose. When their allies behave badly, progressive traditionalists will do everything they can to defend them, even when they should be shaming them and demanding them to apologize. As far as these band of traditionalists are concerned, bigotry and sexism is okay so long as it is committed against what they think are the right kind of people.

Simply put, Ravitch’s sleaziness is a reflection of the rather demagogic worldviews of progressives within traditionalist ranks and, in some ways, traditionalists in general, especially when it comes to dealing with minorities and women who dare oppose their failed policies and practices that have harmed kids for decades. Particularly when it comes to blacks, progressive traditionalists only oppose bigotry against them when they follow in lockstep with their ideology. But this shouldn’t be shocking. For all the proclamations from the Ravitch crowd that they care about children — especially those from poor and minority backgrounds — they continuously defend a system that harms them by perpetuating the legacies of Jim Crow segregation, nativism, and religious bigotry. Which makes all of them anything and everything but progressive.

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Diane Ravitch Has No Shame

It’s been long ago proven that Diane Ravitch no longer deserves to be taken seriously. Over the past few years, the once-respectable education historian has discredited herself with factual inaccuracies and…

It’s been long ago proven that Diane Ravitch no longer deserves to be taken seriously. Over the past few years, the once-respectable education historian has discredited herself with factual inaccuracies and and logical misfires in her sophistry. At the same time, she has disgraced her own legacy with incidents such as the attempt two years ago to politicize the massacre of 23 teachers and children at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., as well as wrongly tarring former energy trader and school reform philanthropist John Arnold as a participant in the frauds committed by executives at the now-defunct Enron. [To Arnold, she did apologize — a month later.]

So it isn’t shocking that Ravitch engaged in what can best be called cynical race-baiting (and, at worse, craven bigotry) with a piece she wrote on her eponymous blog bemoaning school reform advocate 50CAN’s hiring of new generation civil rights activist Derrell Bradford as head of its New York branch. After declaring in the original version of the piece that 50CAN was just “another of those fake “reform” groups”, Ravitch wrote that she wished Bradford would have gone into lines of work that some people would say is more-befitting a black man. Wrote Ravitch: “my fondest hope is that you find a different field, say, sports or finance or broadcasting, where your talents are needed.”

Apparently realizing that such a line may not go over too well with other people in this day and age, especially among some of the less-hardcore traditionalists and the progressives that make up part of her fan club, Ravitch revised the piece. But not before Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who has defended Ravitch in spite of her past misbehavior, called her out on the carpet for engaging in race-baiting. Ravitch has attempted to defend her statement by declaring that “I do not consider “sports” racist.” Her allies also attempted to white-wash her remarks. But Petrilli didn’t buy that statement. Wrote Petrilli: “You told a black man he should consider a job in sports. It’s OK to apologize.” [American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said she would do so if it was her who wrote it.] Bradford considered Ravitch’s words “unfortunate”. He’s a better person than Ravitch is.

Your editor would be disappointed in Ravitch — and yet, at the same time, forgiving — if this was the first time she engaged in such nastiness. To err is human and we will all make mistakes. But Ravitch has continuously engaged in intellectual charlatanism and rhetorical chicanery. So I’m not shocked at all that she did this. In fact, from her, I expect nothing less.

[Update: As you would expect, more of Ravitch’s fans, most-notably the teacher-writer whose piece led to Ravitch’s original commentary, are playing down and dismissing her remarks. Not exactly shocking. The most-hardcore of traditionalists are willing to embrace demagoguery, even racialism they declare that they claim to oppose, in order to sustain their ideology. Which, in turn, makes you wonder what they think about people of color, especially those with whom they disagree. And since many of Ravitch’s defenders also teach black and Latino children, makes you fear for the futures of our kids.]

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Education’s Status Quo to Parents: How Dare You Use Parent Trigger and Make Decisions!


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When it comes to the role of parents at the education decision-making table, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, school districts and folks such as Diane Ravitch…

Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

When it comes to the role of parents at the education decision-making table, the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, school districts and folks such as Diane Ravitch think parents should be like kids: Barely seen and definitely not heard. If you don’t believe it, consider the reaction by the Compton Unified School District, the AFT’s local affiliate and such commentators as Valerie Strauss and Larry Ferlazzo to the move by parents at McKinley Elementary School to make use of California’s  Parent Trigger law and oust the district from management of the school.  From where the status quo folks stand, the McKinley parents exercising Parent Trigger are either dupes for nefarious charter school operators and evil, money-hungry foes of public education such as Ben Austin; or the parents are evil for daring to toss out decades of abysmal school management and classroom instruction. In their minds, it’s simply not possible for parents to actually be able to make their own choices.

Yet evidence abounds that when parents are highly-informed about the quality of education in their schools, driven to kick mediocrity and abysmal education to the curb, and given the tools to help their kids, they will certainly do so. Minorities and parents in high-poverty districts, for example, were more likely than middle-class parents to request a teacher for their child based on how teachers improved student achievement, according to a 2005 study by University of Michigan researcher Brian Jacob and Lars Lefgren of Brigham Young University. The growth of the charter school movement, the continuing presence of Catholic schools, the growth of online and alternative education options such as Sylvan and Kaplan, and the work of such organizations as the State of Black CT Alliance in rallying support for school reform, are also signs that parents should be given their rightful places as kings and lead decision-makers in education.

Despite the evidence, the Ravitches and Ferlazzos  maintain an attitude that parents should stay at the kid’s table when it comes to actually making school decisions. And it isn’t limited to Parent Trigger. Whether one is in a middle class suburb or in a big city, the attitude is generally the same: Parents should stick to field trips, homework and taking blame when test scores and graduation rates are revealed to be abysmal or mediocre.

This is especially so in urban districts, where poor and minority parents — many of whom have suffered in the same dropout factories and failure mills their kids are now educationally imprisoned — are shunted aside as so much garbage. More often than not, many teachers look down at these parents as being their inferiors instead of treating parents as equals. The experience of Virginia Walden Ford, who launched the school reform movement in Washington, D.C., is echoed in a study by Sage Colleges professors Peter McDermott and Julia Johnson Rothenberg, who noted that urban and low-income parents often perceive schools to be unwelcoming and interactions with teachers to be “painful encounters.”

Certainly this attitude among the status quo is manifested in other ways: The opposition to charter schools among the Gary Orfield-Richard Kahlenberg crowd (most recently expressed in a Miller-McCune interview with Erica Frankenburg and Gary Miron) on the ground that they foster resegregation; Miron in particular, ignores the reality that parents seek charter schools as high-quality options by declaring that “parents choose based on race and social class”. Then there is the embrace of the Ruby Payne-promulgated poverty myth — that poor parents are simply incapable of playing strong roles in education — among teachers and administrators. The low regard for even middle class parents among teachers, who label these families as “Burger King Parents” and “The Grass is Always Greener” for daring to demand more on behalf of their kids.

Certainly the reality that the players within the status quo — teachers union bosses, ed school professors, school administrators and even many teachers — don’t want to give up their power and autonomy is one reason for this opposition to parent power. The other reason lies with their conceit (one they share with some school reformers) that experts should actually make education decisions. After all, an ed school professor and a teacher with an array of grad degrees should have more knowledge about what kids should learn (and how it should happen) than some parent. Yet, as we have seen over the past 150 years — from the comprehensive high school model (created because of the misguided belief that immigrants and African Americans were incapable of mastering college prep work) to the array of new math theories that have fallen flat and even the traditional system of teacher compensation — the experts aren’t so good at this thing called education. Combined with other problems among status quo circles — including the rampant anti-intellectualism, willful ignorance of economics and unwillingness to consider the developments in sectors outside of K-12 — and this conceited view of parents turns from mere condescension to outright hostility.

Yet the rise of the modern school reform movement — and the emergence of charter schools, school choice and Parent Trigger — has all but assured that parents will be playing a stronger role in education. The underlying infrastructure for exercising decision-making — easy access to useful information through guides, organizations or Web sites; actual mechanisms for exercising choice that exist outside of home purchases — is just coming into existence. Many parents are just beginning to realize that the old concept of education — that the school can educate every child without active engagement of families that goes beyond homework and field trips — has gone by the wayside. But as I wrote at this same time last year, the school reform movement (like the development of cellphones and other consumer goods) is fostering choice. And choice begets choice; once parents are exposed to having real power and engagement in school decisionmaking, they will not want the so-called experts — including NEA and AFT bosses and the Ravitches of the world — in their way.

What McKinley represents is a response to the status quo: How dare you argue that families can’t think for themselves! How dare you limit our kids only to the proverbial sky! And by the way: Work with us or get out of the way! You’re either part of a better future or just boulders to be pushed aside.

The hostility against parents among education’s status quo is essentially anti-children. What these experts are tacitly arguing is that the educational, economic and social destinies of kids — especially our poorest children — don’t matter a wit. It’s time for parents to shunt these folks aside and take the power that is rightfully theirs.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Take It Higher


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This week’s Dropout Nation Podcast focuses on the internal cleansing school reformers and other caring adults must do to reform American public education. Far too many within traditional public education…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

This week’s Dropout Nation Podcast focuses on the internal cleansing school reformers and other caring adults must do to reform American public education. Far too many within traditional public education are either defending the status quo of systemic academic failure, anti-intellectualism, obsolete organizational structures and poor practices that perpetuate a dropout crisis in which 150 teens every hour drop out into poverty and prison. Strong action in reforming public education — including calling out those defenders — is key to improving and elevating education for our children.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, Zune, MP3 player or smartphone.  Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast Network,  Zune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, add the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

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Rewind: The Dropout Nation Podcast: Building a Culture of Genius in Education


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As a further elaboration on Tuesday’s Dropout Nation commentary on the anti-intellectualism within traditional public education circles, listen to this Dropout Nation Podcast on the importance of fostering a culture…

As a further elaboration on Tuesday’s Dropout Nation commentary on the anti-intellectualism within traditional public education circles, listen to this Dropout Nation Podcast on the importance of fostering a culture of genius in education. Playing off John Taylor Gatto’s famed declaration, I discuss how schools and teachers should educate kids from the perspective that almost all children are geniuses. The emergence of high-quality alternatives to traditional public education, along with research on child development and teacher quality shows that all children can succeed if we foster a culture of genius in American public education.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, MP3 player or smartphone. Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast Network,  Zune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, access it on Viigo if you have a BlackBerry.

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Education’s Anti-Intellectual Problem


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Sure, the battle over the reform and the future of American public education is as much about who controls education decision-making and how players within education are held accountable for…

Sure, the battle over the reform and the future of American public education is as much about who controls education decision-making and how players within education are held accountable for student achievement, as it is about how to improve education for all children. At the same time, it is also a battle over the intellectual growth of a field that has eschewed anything resembling intellectual curiosity and creativity.

At first, this may seem strange given that K-12 education is charged with providing the knowledge children need for their own intellectual development — and that so much of compensation within education (especially for teachers) is dependent on accumulating graduate degrees and other credentials. Eighteen of the 26 states surveyed by the National Council on Teacher Quality in 2008 for Invisible Ink in Collective Bargaining Agreements required school districts to provide pay increases to teachers if they attain advanced degrees (even though there is no correlative or causative effects between degree attainment and student achievement). [Full disclosure: I co-wrote the NCTQ report.] Yet acquiring advanced degrees isn’t exactly a sign of strong intellectual activity within a sector. What makes a sector vibrant intellectually? An embrace of the use of data in analysis and decision-making; curiosity about how other sectors handle issues similar to those within one’s own field; creative problem-solving of critical issues within a sector; an acceptance of criticism from those within and outside the sector without arguing that those critics are “scapegoating” professionals within it.

Certainly one group within education — the school reform movement — has most (if not all) of these attributes. Many of the younger teachers coming into the profession also have this intellectual dynamic. But among the rest of education — especially those defenders of traditional public education considered the lions of the profession — this isn’t exactly the case. If anything, the reaction to anything resembling intellectual activity among the Diane Ravitches, Randi Weingartens, David Berliners and Dennis Van Roekels is akin to that of Catholic priests when confronted by the work of Galileo and Tycho Brahe on the solar system.

A recent example comes courtesy of Aaron Pallas of Columbia University’s Teachers College, who hasn’t taken well to the efforts by school districts such as D.C. Public Schools to student test score data to evaluate teacher performance (and the use of value-added assessment, the innovation that has made such evaluations possible). Pallas criticized such efforts — particularly D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation system, which was used in the dismissal of 214 laggard teachers — because it and other “complex value-added systems” use “sophisticated… complex statistical calculations” that lack transparency because they are, well, complex. Pallas didn’t consider how statistical analysis is used daily by companies such as Google to improve how people search for information or the solid record of value-added analysis. Not at all.

When Pallas’ lack of thorough research and overall lack of intellectual curiosity was nailed by American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess, Pallas hardly offered a substantive response. Instead, he compared IMPACT and the use of value-added assessment to the housing crisis of the past few years — failing to understand that much of the crisis resulted not from the use of quantitative analysis, but from a combination of overly lax financial regulation, loose credit, poorly-considered federal housing policies, the moral hazard posed by federally-protected entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and outright fraud.

This lack of intellectual dynamism (and abject hostility to reform-minded thinking) is evident throughout education, even in the use of such meaningless jargon as “authentic learning” and “authentic assessment” in response to discussions about using more-object measures of student achievement. Educators and researchers still argue about teacher retention while ignoring how organizations in other sector have stopped discussing retention altogether and focus on recruiting high-quality talents and giving them opportunities for career and intellectual growth. Education researchers and policymakers continue this argument as if other sectors haven’t successfully tackkled similar human capital problems.

There are other symptoms: Teacher education remains mired in “education as democracy” theories and pedagogies that lack empirical basis — even as the work of Teach For America and others have shown that it is subject-knowledge competency and caring for children that matters most. Then there is the reluctance among many ed schools to embrace medical college-style training — that would allow for aspiring teachers to learn teaching in real time. The overall unwillingness to embrace the use of objective data in any aspect of education symbolizes an unwillingness to tackle the underlying causes of system academic failure in any meaningful way.

The anti-intellectualism can be read in the rantings of Ravitch, who essentially declared this week that teacher evaluation isn’t worth doing because “no effective teacher evaluation model exists”. It is clear in the response of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (the trade association for ed schools) to Ed Crowe’s report on teacher training for the Center for American Progress — which offered clear examples of effective professional training coming out of such professions as medicine and nursing — and to the critical work of NCTQ (long a thorn in the side of ed schools everywhere). And it is especially clear in the silly, shrill, thoughtless responses of some veteran teachers, who proclaim that criticism of poor-performing teachers and their enablers (including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers) are attacks on teaching itself.

This anti-intellectualism explains why the responses to school reform efforts from defenders of the status quo have been, at best, lackluster and at worst, verging on mere insults and conspiracy theories of a corporate takeover of American public education. How can one mount a proper opposition when the intellectual arsenal includes warmed-over Buddhist sayings and arguments that defend tenure and seniority rights amid overwhelming evidence that such concepts do little for improving student achievement and teacher quality.

The results of this anti-intellectualism can be seen each and every day as 150 teens drop out of our schools and into poverty and prison. It does these kids no good. It keeps education from meeting the challenges of improving education and stemming the dropout crisis. This lack of intellectual dynamism cannot continue.

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