About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Events: Uncertainty About Ravitch's Upcoming "Daily Show" Appearance

Picture 107Later on today, education historian Diane Ravitch is going to head out from her Brooklyn Heights home and make her way into the city to be a guest on tonight's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" for the first time since May 2003 (pictured). Perhaps they'll send a town car for her. There will be a green room of some sort, probably some water bottles and snacks.  A makeup artist will offer to touch her up.  If there's time between rehearsing bits and script rewrites, the host will come in and say hi and tell her how happy he is to have her on the show.  Until the headsetted staffer comes to get her, Ravitch will likely sit quietly in her chair as she does before most of her speeches.The Comedy Central appearance will be a tremendous victory for Ravitch, who has been pushing to get on one of the two shows in the 11 pm time slot for almost a year now.  It will be a happy moment, too, for all of the educators and parents who have welcomed Ravitch into their arms.  For me, however, Ravitch’s appearance will be another moment to reflect on the nagging unease I have with what she’s saying – and in particular the absolute certainty with which she is saying it.

Ravitch is correct that the reforms of the last two decades -- charters, alternative certification, standards and accountability -- have all proved insufficient thus far.  She obviously has the right to change her mind -- I'm a big fan of those who are brave enough to reflect, admit doubt, and take action.  

In fact, Ravitch isn’t the only reformer to have major concerns or want to try something new -- Bill Gates has stopped funding charter expansion efforts and George Miller wants to revamp the NCLB teacher quality rules he co-authored. Nor is Ravitch the only major education figure to change views after a long career. Later in life, union leader Al Shanker questioned some of the value of the trade union approach that he brought to education.

But I'm just not sure that, given the circumstances, Ravitch has the right to so much damn certainty about either her critique or her new/old prescriptions for improvement. In her book and in person Ravitch dismisses questions surrounding her change of heart in a couple of sentences, invokes the value of self-reflection and adjustment, and then seems completely without doubt (or remorse).  She is absolutely certain that she was wrong before, and absolutely sure that she is right now.  It’s that hardened certainty that I find so troubling, even after all these months and despite agreeing with her and admiring her on so many levels. It's also not so certain to me that there's no hope in standards and accountability, or that there's any viable path for a return to a rich common curriculum and respect for classroom teachers.  

Certainty, like confidence, is appealing (to a point).  And conversion stories are inherently compelling, whether they be political, religious, or educational.  But they're not enough for people like me who can’t help but think that if Ravitch was wrong before, then why not again now?  Someone who admits that she was so profoundly swayed by 18 months in the Bush administration that she spent the next 25 years expounding market based reforms doesn’t inspire confidence or certainty.  For me, Ravitch is the unreliable narrator, the witness caught contradicting herself on the stand, the girlfriend who’s been caught cheating once but says she won’t ever do that again (and wants your trust to be fully restored a week later).  I just don't trust her.

That being said, I have major trust issues. There aren't many people or ideas that I really believe in; convinction is just not something I'm comfortable with. I admit to liking things better when Ravitch was using her considerable powers of skepticism to debunk fads, panaceas, and fairy tales -- even if she was failing to monitor her own beliefs carefully enough.  If her book was simply a takedown of charters, choice, and accountability, a giant mea culpa for the past 25 years or so, that would probably satisfy me immensely, intellectually and emotionally. So you might dismiss my concerns as unwarranted or even mildly disturbing. 

I also know that maintaining skeptical distance is intellectually and psychologically exhausting. We all want to believe in something, to have hope, and to be welcomed by colleagues.  Living in constant doubt is a umcofortable.  There are pressures, internal and otherwise, to say what you’re for. You don't get invited to speak on panels, or keynote conferences, or (apparently) get onto The Daily Show if you don't have a simple, clear story to tell and certainty in what you're saying.

Here's Ravitch's 2003 appearance:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Diane Ravitch
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Events: Uncertainty About Ravitch's Upcoming "Daily Show" Appearance:


Permalink URL for this entry:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Whenever I read about Diane's change of heart on reform, I'm always struck by how little attention is paid to what she has not -- adamantly, aggressively not -- changed her mind about: the importance of a comprehensive and rigorous curriculum.

This is what gets lost in the to and fro over ed reform. So much clash over who's in charge, who gets, who gives and how. So little attention to what gets taught.

There has been a near major media blackout on anyone who disagrees with the current wave of education reform: privatization, more charters, more testing, and scapegoating of teachers.

Bill Gates has changed his mind more times that you can think of, and yet proclaims with great assurance that his favored policies (including increases in class size and video cameras in the classroom) are the best way to go. And he gets grovelling media attention from Daily Show, NBC, Washington Post and every major media outlet you can think of. (It doesn't hurt that he often helps buys the time himself, as in that non-stop propaganda fest, NBC's Education Nation.)

And you question the authority or right of Diane Ravitch to have an opposing opinion, because she once thought otherwise? I say listen to the strength of her arguments, and the evidence she cites.

The charge leveled most frequently at Diane Ravitch (by those who fear her prodigious scholarship and articulate delivery) is that she's a shill or mouthpiece for the status quo. Nothing could be further from the truth. I heard Ravitch speak in Detroit, and she pulled no punches, saying that the public system there was a disgrace. Nor does she defend lousy teachers or bloated budgets.

The other criticism people have about Ravitch is that she hasn't produced a comprehensive reform package. Ravitch has seen enough reforms come and go to know that there are few enduring truths about what good, effective schooling looks like: broad, rich curriculum for all kids; equitable funding that doesn't require schools to compete for federal money; quality instruction.

It took courage for Ravitch, who has been around for a long time, to say--"I've looked at the evidence, and what I once thought would work does not." I deeply respect that.

Granted, much of Professor Ravitch's work is deeply respectable--I thought "Left Back" was superb. But if a message of that book is that American schools were never all that great, and of "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" is that we ought to go back to the good old days of schools like those she went to, the logical conclusion is that we can't expect ever to do very well in American education--a conclusion I think quite depressing, and unwarranted.

Alexander Russo: "I just don't trust her." (Dr. Diane Ravitch)
Then, why, Mr. Russo, would you ask her to endorse your book?

A contradiction of sorts? I think so...or how did you put it, like "a witness on the stand caught contradicting themselves.."

The epitome of contradiction, mistrust, and professional jealousy is demonstrated by you in this article. When I have more time, I will submit my reply point by vicious ad hominen point, to your mean spirited, ugly, and disrespectful attack on a scholar who dedicated a half century to studying, researching and working in the field of education.

I'm sure those many prestigious organizations who recently honored Dr. Ravitch with the Daniel Patrick Moynihan award, the NAASP award, the Association of Schools & Colleges highest honor, Columbia University's Award, etc would appreciate your attack on their thoughtful examination of Dr. Ravitch's work and contributions too.

Unreliable narrator, Mr. Russo? That remark more accurately reflects you.


I could not agree more with your posting, as the focus should be on reforming the curriculum and getting those who are in charge together to get the ball rolling. Instead, the turf wars that have been created and as you noted who is in charge is dilluting what is really important in shaping the future of education.

I used to think rock and movie stars were ego centric and narcassistic, but those leading or have the current momentum in ushering in reform can definitely keep pace.

I appreciate there are no simple answers to the questions and issues facing our national public school system, but those who appear to be in charge are not impressive and never really put themselves out there in the development of a coherent plan, always hedging their bets and promoting the idea of compromise when I doubt that is the last thing on their minds.

Any thoughts? Again, I appreciate your response as it was right on the money.

It's simplistic and unclear on the concept to read Ravitch's message as "we ought to go back to the good old days of schools like those she went to."

She cites some inspiring high points from her own education and points out that the path the corporate education reformers are on today leads away from those high points. Her message is that the current education reform path is making education worse, not better. That's a far cry from claiming that everything was nirvana in the "good old days."

Diane gets too much media hype??? Unlike...Rhee, Gates, Klein and dozens more? Alexander...come on! Think of how few of us who share Diane's viewpoint ever get media hype. How often are folks like Linda D-H, Angela Venezuala, Gloria Ladsen-Billings and on and on asked? I haven't been able to get a word in the NY Times in years. I've given that up. Ed Week occasionally has a back page commentary that represents the viewpoint Diane is speaking for. Each week I see less balance in Ed Week. Thank god she's willing.

There are various things Diane has not changed her mind about: she's always been pro-union, always been pro-public school, always been for substantive vs "skills-only" learning and has never been a fan of standardized tests. She has actually taken her viewpoint, I think, to its logical conclusion. Which is why for 30 years she and I have been arguing, because I thought that she ought to take that one next step. It's the extraordinary change of mind of the rest of the education establishment (which never included teachers voices) that has made a U turn.

Re changing his mind: Klein/Bloomberg changed their mind every year or two re how NYC schools should be orgnized, what their curriculum should be, what tests to use, etc, etc. That may have been deliberate, but that's a target worth going after.



Content, content, content Alexander. I saw you at Ravitch's appearance at the Parents Across America event where she spoke for 38 minutes. She laid out a blueprint on the failures of the ed deform movement - boom, boom, boom. one after another. Now in this post you have not one word about the content but it's all about her changing her mind and how certain she is. Where do you stand on what she was saying? Why not address those points - What if I said the same things Diane does - which I do and I was a critic of hers before her conversion. I have always been certain. But so what if Ravitch saw the light? I put up a video of her at PAA - http://vimeo.com/19755379- maybe watch it again and address what she was saying, not her certainty in saying it.

And by the way, maybe I missed it but I didn't notice anything posted by you about that event. How about the Seattle, Chicago (which you should know) or the New Orleans story where parent "choice" has come down to KIPP or KIPP? Which by the way, many of we critics of charters have been predicting with much certainty is what the charter game is all about.

At least Ravitch is willing to talk about the exceedingly high U.S. child poverty rate and its effects, and understands that urban public schools are dealing with an even higher proportion of suffering children from that group -- more now than ever before.

For some reason, Duncan, Obama, and the others don't seem to be willing to utter one meaningful word about the topic. Talk about having one's head in the sand!

Just under the warped, manipulative, and undemocratic approach of the big education "venture philanthropists" (Ravitch's Billionaire Boys Club framing is perfect), the biggest problem I have with the reformers is how they seem to live in a fantasy world where the effects of poverty don't matter. They seem to think public schools and their teachers are somehow powerful enough ("if they only tried!" - stomp feet, stomp feet, stomp feet) to overcome those effects. They come off as silly romantics who believe, in their heart of hearts, that EVERY single American child who suffers from the nightmare consequences of lifelong and generational poverty could become upper-middle class -- if only the teacher unions were all dead and charter schools reined the world. And if isn't happening fast enough, too many of these are people perfectly willing to resort to expressions of contempt.

I am so sick of Gates, Bloomberg, Rhee, Canada, Duncan, Oprah, Kopp, John Legend, etc. being given so much primetime airtime to spout off their side. At long last, tonight the world will get to hear a different point of view.

Maybe TDS should get started on lining up Richard Rothstein next.

If she wasn't wrong she wouldn't be famous. Consider all the people who were wrong about beginning the war in Iraq. Those who were wrong are famous, those who were right are has beens. Gates has the worst reputation among software vendors. People expect his products to fail. He has essentially no esteem in the software field so he turned to being an education critic.

Consider the evidence. Louis Gerstner head of Achieve was essentially a failed investment "raider" who turned education critic because he had lost credibility in his field. Craig Barrett of Intel left with a legacy of using monopoly power to thwart the innovations and market gains of rival AMD, thus lacking any esteem in his field he became an education critic.

Failure is not simply an option, it is a requirement to be known in the education field because nearly everything is concocted by the media. Bloomberg and Klein had such great success until it was revealed their test score gains were fictitious. Duncan was such a success in Chicago, until it was revealed his test score gains were fictitious. Same with Rhee.

The media do not cover success. You can't be famous being successful. The Los Angeles Times gets international coverage for a value added story that every expert you can contact treats with disdain. But that is the point. If the story was accurate nobody would have noticed and fewer newspapers would be sold.

Saying something stupid is easy, an entire political movement and television news network is based on it. Saying something intelligent is more complicated and bores people. So I believe your real concern is that Ravitch has been making too much sense lately and is thus doomed.

What an odd post. I've re-read it several times looking for the substance of your concern. Are you uncomfortable with Diane because she's changed her position? Or are you saying you don't buy her conviction about what needs to change?

Is this the substance of your concern? :
"It's also not so certain to me that there's no hope in standards and accountability, or that there's any viable path for a return to a rich common curriculum and respect for classroom teachers. "

I can relate to your skepticism. Fan-dom makes me cringe. And I am often more critical of those of whom I expect more. I'm much more publicly critical, for example, of Obama than I was of Bush, partly because I just wrote Bush off--there wasn't really much for me to be disappointed in as I didn't expect much in the first place.

I've had some similar reactions as I follow Diane Ravitch on twitter, as in, "That's a bit of an exaggeration" or "That sounds a bit too certain or dismissive for my taste." But when I read her writings, her speeches, and her interviews, I see there's much more complexity, substance, nuance and, even, lack of absolute confidence than you are giving her credit for.

I actually ignored your blog for a long time because you seemed to be doing the same thing--making false equivalencies, being overly simplistic, exaggerating. (For example, the tweet leading to this post read, "Commenters are slaughtering me for this post about Diane Ravitch's unnerving certainty." Slaughtering you? All of them? Really?)

When I started paying more attention and actually reading some of your work, I realized that your work was much more thorough and thoughtful than I was giving you credit for. That's just part of your style and how you get people to come here to discuss the issues.

I respect your skepticism, but I think your criticisms are overtstated and in that way misplaced. You should give Ms. Ravitch a bit more credit, especially when you consider how you draw people to pay attention to your sometimes sensationally presented, but ultimately valuable work.

from nyc education news:

On the day of her appearance on the Daily Show, Alexander Russo has the nerve to criticize Diane for having changed her mind, and having the confidence to critique the wrong-headed prescriptions of the corporate CEO’s and privateers who are wrecking our schools.

Go leave a comment today!

This post makes you look like you're just trying to be relevant, but not succeeding.

I share your concern re the unreliable narrator. Was her original research faulty? Did she push for what she is now against before doing adequate research? Has she disavowed her own previous research?

There's a leap in illogic in her realignment that is aggressively ignored.

When you boil it down, you get:

A is broken
Let's embrace B.
Wait, B isn't any better.
Therefore, A wasn't really broken.
Let's embrace A.

This quote from her goes straight to the heart of the problem:

"Yes, we should reduce class size; yes, we should increase teachers' salaries; yes, we should break up the large factory-st­yle schools in which kids get lost. But surely the emergency requires more. We must do whatever we can to end the awful cycle of wasted lives—whic­h includes giving vouchers a chance, and thereby giving poor kids a chance to escape the schools that are cruelly not educating them."

She rails against reforms she previously championed, but her new stance fails to counter the problems she was previously pointing out.

Have the factory schools closed? No.

Was the emergency alleviated­? No.

Are those cycles of wasted lives a thing of the past? No.

Are those schools that were cruelly not educating, now better? No.

It's troubling that those who deem her the champion of their cause don't seem to be troubled by this. As long as she's on their side, that seems to be all that matters.

posted on behalf of bruce smith, responding to a response to his comment:

"The point of my criticism above is that, reading through several hundred pages of two major texts, it is hard to find what positive models Professor Ravitch stands for. Yes, a rich, balanced curriculum, respect for the professional judgment of classroom teachers, steady and fair funding for traditional public schools, support for effective instruction . . . all unexceptionable principles undisputed by nearly all professional educators, and all therefore bordering on the banal. What I have looked for, in her work, beyond the criticisms of movements, is actionable ideas that might be put into practice in order to improve students' lives; and those I find wanting. "What Would Mrs. Ratliff Do?" is the nearest I've found."

<<< Yes, a rich, balanced curriculum, respect for the professional judgment of classroom teachers, steady and fair funding for traditional public schools, support for effective instruction . . . all unexceptionable principles undisputed by nearly all professional educators, and all therefore bordering on the banal.

Sorry, Brother Russo, but you're off base on this. The idea that a rich, balanced curriculum and support for effective instruction is "undisputed by nearly all professional educators, and all therefore border[s] on the banal" is simply not correct.

The trouble with the dominant accountability-driven reform narrative is that it assumes we know exactly what should be taught and how. All that's left to do is measure the results, reward high performers and manage poor performers out of the profession. Ain't so. There are real and compelling differences among educators about what, if anything, should get taught and how.

"What Would Mrs. Ratliff Do" is not a banality. It is a clear and compelling vision of what a well-rounded education looks like for the benefit of a profession that is reluctant to define it on the one hand, or blithely assumes it's well understood and standard practice on the other.

In short, it's not hard to understand the model Diane Ravitch stands for at all. It's hard to understand how anyone can think it is unexceptional. It is quite exceptional but (alas) beneath the notice of pundits and policymakers.

My apologies, Mr. Russo. My criticism should be aimed at Bruce Smith, not you.

Mr. Pondiscio,

I am a professional educator with 17 years of experience, and so not primarily a pundit or policy-maker. Also please note that my word was "unexceptionable", not "unexceptional"--therefore my contention is that virtually no one working in education decries a rich curriculum or effective instruction. If you can find quotations from anyone to the contrary, please post them. I also believe that the attack of Fred Hageman, posted above, on the logic of Professor Ravitch's contentions is compelling. On the other hand, I must say that I found her actual appearance on The Daily Show answered my criticism effectively, to her credit. I would appreciate it, however, if you would read my writing more carefully.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.