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Events: Psst! Bootleg Audio From New America / Slate Event

MegaphoneThe voices you're hearing on this muffled bootleg tape (download herefrom last night's Slate / New America Foundation event in Tribeca include Steve Brill, author of the forthcoming Class Warfare, Megan Irwin (SFC), Lisa Guernsey (New America) Eva Moskowitz (Success Charter Network), Timothy Daly (TNTP), and David Plotz Editor, Slate Magazine.  Given the panelists and the setting it's perhaps not surprising that there wasn't much heat expressed among the panelists over all -- though I had the feeling that not everyone up there necessarily agreed with each other, either; deference, fearfulness, and heat fatigue may have played a part.  Bullet-headed Brill's take on the education landscape is pretty absolutist in its conclusions (that the unions are the problem) -- he's shaping up to be a reformers' version of Ravitch -- though he did have delightfully disparaging things to say about TFA's refusal to release ratings of its teachers' performance.  Moscovitz made the common but somewhat ludicrous claim that everything done in small nonunion charter networks can be replicated in a national system of 3.2 million teachers. Daley and Guernsey made reasonable, nuanced points -- largely to no avail.  Irwin didn't seem to have much to say.  The crowd was small and very well dressed -- a stark contrast to the Parents Across America event at a nearby school this past winter.  There was an open bar and more cheese and fruit than any group that size could have ever hoped to eat.  I may have been hallucinating, but I think I saw one woman in the audience wearing a one-shouldered cocktail dress.  

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The comparisons to Diane Ravitch are getting far into outer space -- first Whitaker Chambers and now Steve Brill?

That's really insulting to Ravitch, Alexander. Even her detractors acknowledge her vast experience and expertise in the field. Exactly what are Brill's qualifications and what is his background in K-12 education?

An apt comparison would be Brill to Jonathan Alter -- both of them, utterly and totally devoid of expertise and experience in K-12 education, saw the vast amount of money backing up corporate education reform and went to seek their fortunes. But do you really think opportunism equates to expertise and experience?

she's a fun comparsion, what can i say?
and of course it's not the views or the backgrounds that are the point of comparison -- it's the absolute certainty they share.

anyway, didn't you just email me a xeonophobic bulletin thing about the turkish charter schools?

I dispute that raising questions about the Gulen schools is xenophobic. That's an easy and cheap retort to sling. By that standard, only white people can be criticized. (White males? Straight white males? Non-elderly, non-disabled straight white males? Maybe nobody can be criticized.)

Alexander, when you slap down your commenters with disrespectful cheap shots (and on an unrelated issue in this case), it makes me wonder if that's why you get so few comments. I can take it, but a lot of people are not willing to put themselves out there as a target once they see this kind of thing.

It's quite possible to have a lively discussion that isn't clearly aimed at slapping down and stifling those who disagree with you.

Back to Steve Brill, it's just interesting that he would speak with "absolute certainty" on an issue he helicoptered into 5 minutes ago with no background, expertise or experience.

I think it's a little bit of an oversimplification to say Brill's uninformed about city schools. He grew up here, and his first big piece was a 1974 article for New York Magazine on the Educational Testing Service. And yes, he is apparently very close to Joel Klein. This schools advocacy means a lot to him, as it does to Klein, because they come from backgrounds not that far removed from that of the schools they are trying to promote. Several of Brill's children, who are in their 20s, are also very engaged in national education reform.

Having taught in the NYC school system and visited a number of local charters over the last 5 years, I agree with very little of his assessment of New York City education reform scene. That said, I still think he's an excellent journalist. (He has been a good professional mentor to me as well, so I'm biased.) Brill has been a consistent critic of gratuitous anonymous sourcing, the kind that leads to sycophantic reporting like that used to chronicle the Bloomberg administration in many national outlets. If he comes across at times as a righteous scold, it's because he believes that his peers' insistence on "objective" reporting is really a mealy-mouthed way of saying that you need to present "balanced viewpoints" when there are more than two viewpoints available to you, one of which you believe to be usually the most sound. He is a lawyer; that's how he was trained to think and write. So I believe the Ravitch comparison is pretty apt.

All I can say at this point is that I think that when the people who have commented above read the book they will all be surprised, though for different reasons.

Steve Brill

As longtime newspaper journalists, my husband and I subscribed to Brill's Content back in the day.

All I can say is that all this flacking for the billionaires' ed reform fads and going for the jugular of the teachers who actually work with challenged students day to day is not the kind of journalism I thought we were trying to achieve back then.

Remember "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable"? I guess that's a futile question.

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