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Reform: Smearing Ravitch Could Blow Up In Reformers' Faces

image from i141.photobucket.comHow much do Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and Geoff Canada get paid for their appearances at various conferences and events, by whom -- and where are these payments disclosed to those who are listening and to the public?  How much did Steve Brill get paid to write his book and who was it who first suggested to him that he should look into Diane Ravitch's speaking fees?  These are some of the questions that come to mind in light of the attacks on Diane Ravitch in Brill's book that are the focus of Whitney Tilson's emailings this morning (see below).  I have issues with Ravitch -- earlier this year she demanded to have her blurb removed from the back of my book over my my expressing these thoughts -- but I have no questions about her integrity.  It's no secret that she has spoken to teachers at union events around the country, and (to me, at least) no particular problem that she's taken speaking fees for sharing her views without declaring the income at every opportunity. I have, however, had several Ravitch critics mention to me that I should look into her being paid over the past year or so. That Brill has made Ravitch's fees part of his book -- and Tilson has made them the focus - reminds me of the smear campaign conducted by Tilson and others against Linda Darling Hammond two years ago when reformers were (ridiculously, unnecessarily) woried about her role in the Obama administration. Ravitch supporters (especially those who think there's a secret Ravitch Group operating inside the USDE to destroy her reputation) will only be fueled by having their champion attacked (again). Reform supporters should be dismayed to see fearful people on "their side" resorting to cheap, below-the-belt, "blow-up-in-our-faces" tactics in order to try and sway opinion that is not necessarily trending their way. TILSON EMAILS BELOW 


Today is the first day I can write about Brill’s blockbuster new book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1451611994/tilsoncapitalpar), which Amazon started shipping today (it’s available on Kindle right now).  (Brill, as I’m sure you know, is the author of two seminal articles, Rubber Room in The New Yorker (www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill) and The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand in the NYT Magazine (http://edreform.blogspot.com/2010/05/teachers-unions-last-stand.html).) 

It’s a brilliant book about the rise of education reformers and the education wars over the past few years.  (Full disclosure: I’m one of the people featured prominently in the book, along with (off the top of my head – I’ve given my copies of the book away) Joel Klein, Joe Williams, Jon Schnur, Eva Moskowitz, Michael Johnston, Michelle Rhee – and, yes, Randi Weingarten, who perhaps gets more coverage in the book than anyone else.)

I’m going to be writing a lot about the book in future emails, but I want to start with the most important revelation: Diane Ravitch has been getting paid A LOT of money by the unions in the form of speaker fees – Brill estimates $10,000 per appearance and $200,000 over the past year – which by itself isn’t a problem EXCEPT that: a) she’s never disclosed these large payments, which anyone listening to her should know about; and b) she’s a total hypocrite for criticizing reformers like me for supposedly making a lot of money from our activities (when in truth I’ve never taken a SINGLE PENNY and have instead given countless thousands of dollars and hours), while doing precisely this herself.

Below is the full text of Brill’s 4-page chapter on Ravitch, entitled Going Over to the Other Side, and here’s the end, where he discloses the money she’s taking:

Randi Weingarten told me that she spoke with Ravitch often while she was preparing her book and urged her to take her message far and wide as soon as it was published, "because she had an important story to tell that no one else could tell." Weingarten and her union helped do that in a way that apparently rewarded Ravitch.

From February 2010 through March 2011, Ravitch would make fifteen speeches across the country, according to a schedule found on her own website, to local, state, or national units of the teachers' unions, plus nine to other groups--such as associations of local school boards or principals and a think tank funded by the NEA--that were also squarely in the anti-reform camp. During that time, Ravitch was listed by the Leading Authorities speakers bureau, which books speaking appearances, as charging a fee of $15,000 to $20,000 per speech, plus travel expenses.

Asked if she charged the unions whose cause was given such a life in her book Ravitch said, "Don't you charge for your speeches?" (Answer: Not if it's a group whose issues I am covering, or might cover in any way as a writer.) Assuming that Ravitch didn't get the sticker price for her speeches, but instead received an average of just $10,000 (which is what the Florida Education Association told me she was paid) that would mean more than $200,000 in little more than a year coming from the teachers' unions and others opposed to reform.

Ravitch told me in April 2011 that she had "an even fuller" schedule of speeches slated for the remainder of the year, although she declined to say how many would be paid for by the teachers' unions. "I was married to a wealthy man," she said, referring to Richard Ravitch, a successful construction company executive, real-estate developer, and banker, who served as New York's lieutenant governor from 2009 to the end of 2010, and from who she is divorced. "I live very comfortably. This is not about the money. I'm 72 and don't need money. If I want to speak to a group I'll do it for free or for a few thousand dollars if that's all they can pay.*

In her media appearances as the counterpoint to the reformers, Ravitch was identified only as an education historian and professor at New York University, not as someone who had accepted multiple speaking fees from the unions whose interest she was defending.

In light of this revelation, I will from now on ALWAYS refer to Ravitch as “paid union spokesperson Diane Ravitch” – and I urge you to do the same.  To be clear, I’m not saying that the unions are paying her to say things that she doesn’t believe – I have no doubt that she’s genuine in her beliefs – but these large payments are amassive conflict of interest that need to be disclosed every time she appears anywhere.  Imagine, for example, if I appeared on television commenting on charter schools, KIPP, TFA or DFER and not disclosing my tight affiliations with these organizations…

PS--You gotta love Ravitch’s response, once she realizes that her secret has been exposed and Brill is going to write about it – here’s Brill’s footnote:

In an e-mail following this conversation, Ravitch told me that she was donating her speaking fees to a pediatric oncology program, dedicated in May 2011, in memory of her son, who had died of leukemia at age two.

This is classic Ravitch: knowing how bad this looks, she cleverly scrambles to come up with a solution that’s designed to tug at the heartstrings and mute any possible criticism – and only AFTER she’s been caught in the deception and banked all of this money (notice that she doesn’t make clear if she’s donating the hundreds of thousands of dollars she’s already received, or only fees going forward).  I’m sorry if I appear heartless – I have no doubt that even after 40-odd years, she still feels acute pain at losing a child (I know I would) – but this is an obviously cynical move: given that she’s receiving speaking fees based on her work in education, wouldn’t it make sense for her to donate the fees to an education-related charity???

2) Here are the quotes on the back cover of Class Warfare:

"Education in America is THE national imperative of the 21st century and Steven Brill has done a brilliant job of taking us through the complexities, trials and triumphs, failures and food fights that define the struggle to get it right. We all have a stake in the outcome and owe it to succeeding generations to get involved. Class Warfare is the road map to what that means.”

--Tom Brokaw, journalist and author of The Greatest Generation


“Steven Brill’s Class Warfare is hard-hitting, illuminating, and inspiring. It’s also as fast-paced and gripping as a thriller. His vivid accounts of great teachers at work—and his play-by-play of the battle to remove the obstacles put in front of them by their own union—opened my eyes and changed my outlook about the possibilities for American education. A must-read call to action for all thinking Americans, especially parents.”

--Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance—and Why They Fall

“Class Warfare inspires! This is a unique and critically important story about true heroes in America who against great odds are making a real difference. More than this, Brill’s work sheds important light on the savage educational disparities faced by low-income communities across the country and through his work he trumpets what should be a call to action by all of us. Brill is brilliant in his writing and his work will inspire and fortify all those struggling with the challenges of education in America.”

--Cory A. Booker, Mayor of Newark, NJ


“An extraordinarily well researched and compelling account of the tectonic shifts in school politics over the past several years. This is a masterpiece, both as history and as a catalyst for continued change. Far from the usual one-sided account the subject typically engenders, Brill's work is balanced, sophisticated—and, amazingly, a real page-turner.”

--Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey


“Steve Brill has combined extraordinary reporting with smart passion to create one of the most important historical narratives of our era. This inside story of the school reform crusade is an inspiring saga filled with genuine heroes. This is investigative journalism and powerful writing at its best.”

--Walter Isaacson, CEO, Aspen Institute; Board Chair, Teach For America; author of Einstein and Benjamin Franklin

3) Here’s Checker Finn’s take on Class Warfare:

Jay Mathews isn’t the only smart person to rave about Steve Brill’s new book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools. Tiger-mom Amy Chua, Governor Chris Christie, Mayor Cory Booker, and Tom Brokaw are all pumped about it, too, or so they say on the dust jacket.

Brill is relatively new to the ed-reform wars—which may have been one of his prime assets while penning this volume; he doesn’t appear to have any particular ax to grind or ideology to advance. Though a neophyte in this realm, he’s a veteran journalist, and a fine one at that, who first passed through the ed-reform looking glass when reporting on New York’s notorious (thanks to Brill) “rubber rooms” for The New Yorker. He’s Gotham-based, himself, and many of the battle scenes in this long but compelling tome are situated there. (Joel Klein and Randi Weingarten get the most mentions in a fifteen-page index.)

His approach resembles Bob Woodward’s recent volumes on the real wars of the Bush and Obama eras: plenty of inside scoops, vivid quotes, extensive reportage, evocative vignettes and telling examples, lots of short chapters, a fast-paced narrative, and an ample supply of couldn’t-invent-‘em characters.

Not many ed-reform books are like this (Joe Williams's came close) and Brill’s repays attention, not just because it’s a rollicking romp but because it works through many issues, conflicts, interests, episodes, and people and comes to a measured set of conclusions that won’t please anyone in particular but deserve serious reflection. If you want just the conclusions, you could limit yourself to Brill’s final chapter (“A marathon, not a sprint”), but then you’d miss all the evidence that leads up to it.

Still, a few wee excerpts from that chapter will give you both the flavor, some of the wisdom, and at least a couple of ideas that seem totally harebrained at the start but, in the context of his overall examination, may not be so crazy after all.


1) Shortly after sending out my last email, which focused on paid union spokesperson Diane Ravitch, I received some pushback from Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and my favorite debate partner, Gary Rubenstein.  Mike wrote: 

 The Brill stuff about Diane is untrue. She's done the vast majority of these speeches pro bono. Furthermore, the unions only flocked to her after she published her book, because they liked her message. She's in agreement with the unions, not bought by them. (Anyway, she doesn't need the money.)


Here is Steve Brill’s reply:


Dear Mr. Petrilli,


Though I don’t know you I have admired your work. Nice to meet you.

 I hope you read what I said about Dr. Ravitch carefully. (In fact, I hope you read the whole book carefully; I’d love to get your reaction.)

 My point, which I think was expressed clearly, was not that the unions or anyone else had “bought” Dr. Ravitch’s views but that news organizations that booked her on television shows or had her writing Op-Eds would have wanted to know (so they could inform their viewers and readers) that she had accepted speaking fees -- such as the $10,000 she has acknowledged receiving from the Florida Education Association – for her speeches.

 To take another example, someone may come on CNBC saying that X is a great stock. And he may sincerely believe it. But CNBC would want to identify that person as more than a stock analyst (read “education historian,” or “professor”) if that person was short or long on the stock, was a consultant to X corporation, etc.

 I really don’t think it matters much whether Dr. Ravitch got five or ten or twenty such paid speaking assignments but I tried mightily to get her to tell me exactly what she had received. She repeatedly declined in several exchanges in which I enumerated my count of twenty-plus such engagements, though she did say she had done “some” for free, which I reported. So I was stuck making an estimate based on what I could find out elsewhere – and I made it clear to readers that it was only an estimate. As we were about to go to press, she said she was donating the fees to charity, which I also reported.

You now say she says she has done the “vast majority” for free. When we taped a CSPAN show last week (to be aired next week) I think she said she had done “many” for free. But, again, whether it’s $50,000 or $200,000, the point would be the same.

 Also, since these paragraphs comprise about .25% of the book, I don’t think it should be construed as an attack on Dr. Ravitch, whom I respect and like personally and whose cooperation as I was reporting the book I deeply appreciate.

 Best regards,

 Steve Brill

 2 Gary Rubenstein wrote:

 People deserve money for their time.  Rhee gets $50,000, not including first class all the way.  Does she 'disclose' her $50,000 fee?  No, and I don't think that she has any obligation to either.

My response:


I clearly said my beef wasn’t with her taking speaking fees, but rather her lack of disclosure – and her outrageous attacks on people like me for doing PRECISELY what she’s doing – except we’re not, and she knows it.  She lies again and again, knowingly…


Regarding your Michelle Rhee analogy, if she got the fee from, say, a for-profit charter network and then was interview by the media and was defending for-profit charter schools, then I sure as heck hope that she would disclose the fees she’d received, or that would be a similar breach.  Do you have evidence of something like this? 


For the right way to do this, see my Huff Po article on Rebutting Seven Myths about TFA (http://www.arightdenied.org/rebutting-7-myths-about-teach-for-america/).  Look at how I’m identified, plus I disclose my role in helping start TFA in the first paragraph.


3) Below is a Politico article about Ravitch, in which she denies (sort of) what Brill writes:

Ravitch’s public speaking schedule over the last year included more than a dozen speeches across the country to local AFT and NEA affiliates. Brill suggested that some of those appearances carried a price tag of between $15,000 and $20,000. But Ravitch, for her part, said she has never received speaking fees approaching the sums that Brill claims.

“That is a flat out untruth,” Ravitch told POLITICO. “Most of my speaking appearances to union groups have been for free.”

“Most of the time that I speak to unions it has been for free.”

This is just more Ravitch disingenuousness – she really is the master.  She doesn’t deny taking speaking fees – she just says that “most” of the time she doesn’t.  What does that mean?  51%?  If Brill’s estimate of $200,000 over the past year is too high, then what is the right number?  $100,000?  Why doesn’t Ravitch put this question to rest and answer it???  Assuming it’s a material amount – more than $10,000 (and I’m SURE it’s a LOT more than that; if it weren’t, Ravitch would come right out and say it) – then she had a duty to disclose, and of course she didn’t.  And then she has the gall to accuse people like me of profiteering…  Ya just can’t make this stuff up!


4) In summary, it’s hard for me to think of anyone in this fight who doesn’t have a strong point of view and/or agenda.  That’s OK – I sure do!  The key is to disclose board memberships, paid jobs or speaking fees, etc. so each person’s agenda and conflicts are clear.


What drives me nuts about Ravitch is that she – and she ALONE among major players in this debate – represents herself falsely, and this latest revelation is yet more evidence of it.  She is most assuredly NOT an unbiased researcher/academic/author who fairly analyzes and presents information and opinions in this debate.  Instead, she is 100% partisan and biased.  For a number of years now, including her latest book, Ravitch hasn’t said a single word that deviates one iota from the union line.  She is close personal friends with Randi Weingarten and now we know that she takes meaningful amounts of money (plus awards) from the unions.  And let’s not even talk about her well-known personal vendetta against Joel Klein…


As I said, Ravitch being partisan and biased is OK – AS LONG AS EVERYONE KNOWS IT.  For example, when Randi opposes all non-union schools (and, of course, vouchers), any form of accountability and measures to streamline removal of bad teachers, calls for more spending to lower class size (read: hire more teachers), everyone takes it with a grain of salt because she’s just (to use a phrase from my industry) “talking her book.”  But when Ravitch says the EXACT same things, people don’t filter it with the same skeptical lens – but they should!


Ravitch rallies teachers vs. 'astroturf'



Ravitch has made a 180 degree turn in her beliefs. | Photo courtesy of DianeRavitch.com Close

Ravitch’s public speaking schedule over the last year included more than a dozen speeches across the country to local AFT and NEA affiliates. Brill suggested that some of those appearances carried a price tag of between $15,000 and $20,000. But Ravitch, for her part, said she has never received speaking fees approaching the sums that Brill claims.

“That is a flat out untruth,” Ravitch told POLITICO. “Most of my speaking appearances to union groups have been for free.”

“Most of the time that I speak to unions it has been for free.”

Spokesmen for NEA, AFT and the Gates Foundation all declined to comment for this story.

“I think that the critique does still stand because if you were to look at the proportion of funding that AFT and NEA get from the Gates Foundation I would guess that it’s less than one percent of the revenue,” Cody said. “But if you look at a lot of these astroturf organizations, virtually all of their money is coming from these foundations.”

“They should not be taking direction from the Gates Foundation,” he added. “Many of the groups that are taking money from the Gates Foundation are taking direction from the Gates Foundation.”

Ravitch’s critics say her argument against foundations that fund education initiatives expose larger problems with her broad brush critique.

“Diane is selective about who she calls out on this stuff,” said Charlie Barone of Democrats for Education Reform. “There are schools in New York and all over the country that raise money by all kinds of private means, and they’re not called out because they’re not challenging the system.”

One object of Ravitch’s criticism felt compelled to respond when Ravitch attacked his school and two others that had been highlighted by Obama and Duncan as examples of successful education models in a New York Times opinion piece in May.

Tim King, president of Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy, a charter school for African American males that has successfully matriculated all of its graduates into four year colleges, challenged some of Ravitch’s facts as simply wrong in a rebuttal published in the Huffington Post. Ravitch said Urban Prep’s students actually fared much worse than their peers in public schools by some measures, but later admitted her source got some of those facts wrong.

“The sad and damaging part about this,” King said in an interview with POLILTICO, “is that folks like Ravitch and others…have a unique opportunity to elevate the conversation beyond the pro-union, anti-union conversation; and I don’t think they’re taking the opportunity to do that because they’re playing to their base.”

Ravitch responded that she did not criticize Urban Prep Academy but the politicians who used the school to claim that schools alone can fix inequality. She said she believes that schools and society must both improve. “The U.S. leads the developed world in child poverty,” she said. “More than 20 percent of our children live in poverty. That’s a national disgrace.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Diane Ravitch’s relationship with teachers unions. Ravitch was a close friend of Albert Shanker, the AFT’s late president, and has worked closely with the union over the years.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0711/60279_Page3.html#ixzz1UikyKreZ



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Why do you think Whitney Tilson represents "the reformers," whatever that means?

Regarding the rumored Ravitch Group within the USDOE, I at least am just not the type who would conjure up or readily believe a paranoid-sounding report like that. But I saw the rumors on Twitter, and then saw USDOE PR spokesman Justin Hamilton respond by snarking about "black helicopters" -- and pointedly refrain from denying the rumors, despite repeated direct requests.

That would give any reasonable person cause to give credence to the rumors.

It's interesting to watch the education-reform set in its pack behavior. All together now: Let's all try to make a big brouhaha out of the AFT's boring PowerPoint about a run-of-the-mill lobbying effort (to counter the Jonah Edelman fiasco). Let's all gang up and claim that Ravitch is only in it for the money. Let's all emblazon our blogs with the picture of a kid holding a misspelled sign at the Save Our Schools rally, and add sneering comments (to counter the Matt Damon vs. hapless Reason TV crew viral video). A new one: Let's all start disputing that reformers ever said schools should be run like businesses, and act like critics are wacko for ever thinking that was the case.

This is certainly not looking like the behavior of people whose primary concern is the best interests of children.

I never heard of Brill or Tilson, who chooses to call Ravitch "union paid" while Brill says he isn't saying that. I think these dudes are dopes. Too bad they prefer to go "personal" than critique the initiatives and stick to the "anti teacher, anti-union" part of the narrative. Ravitch is NOT the only one in the nation with legitimate concerns that go unanswered.

Fortunately, non-educators, community members, and taxpayers are getting the facts they need about these expensive and intrusive ed reform initiatives. We are not as dumb as they think we are. The facts and info are being spread by bloggers, who have done the deep research and spreading it as widely as possible.

The theory offers a better experience in the book.

The speaking fee issue is rather silly. The real impetus for her conversion was when Joel Klein fired her partner, which was an open secret for years until Dana Goldstein finally wrote publicly about it.

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