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Update: Diane Ravitch's Reform Vilification Industry

image from kevinrkosar.comI am happy to report that Diane Ravitch does not spend much time talking about herself in the updated paperback version of her book, which came out a few weeks ago.  The temptation to discuss her (mis)treatment over the past two years must have been strong, but the world doesn't need another "it's-all-about-me" Michael Moore.  (Or perhaps the most recent flare-ups with Brill and others took place after her deadline.)  Ravitch also admits to having been fooled about what was going on in Atlanta under Beverly Hall, which is good of her.  And she describes some of the recent setbacks and rigidity within the reform movement that I and others have been writing about over the past weeks and months.  (I keep going back and forth on whether to think of it as the popping of the reform bubble or simply "Reformageddon.") That being said, there are a few key things that I think Ravitch could have but didn't address or correct. Ravitch's description of NCLB's impact and destructiveness (closings, firings, charter conversions, etc.) is exaggerated and unsupported by data. She also vastly overestimates the power, coordination, and reach of all the reform groups, which suits her purposes in terms of creating a straw man but is also unsupported by the facts and does little to inform readers about what's really going on. 


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It's impossible to "overestimate" the power, coordination and reach of "reform" groups. You're getting tweets from the P.I.E. network, aren't you? "Reform" is so widespread and connected (through common Board memberships, common funders, common spokespersons and talking points) that the US Dept of Ed just handed their teacher recruitment portal off to Gates.

Ravitch is right. Paraphrasing Hillary, it's a vast right AND left-wing conspiracy, at this point. The reason so many parents and teachers revere Ravitch is because those on the other side (who believe schools belong to communities) feel their lifework is being controlled by people who don't know them and don't care about their children, beyond the preservation of a cabal of non-profits built to implement "accountability" policy.

reform groups certainly want their supporters to think that they're vast and unstobbable -- and it certainly makes reformers seem scary and bad -- but i don't think it's actually true. these reform groups are smallish, new, wildly overextended, and not nearly as well funded, coordinated, or effective as it may seem (or that big compared to other forces in the same space, including businesses, labor, and the DNC/RNC types). if reformers were all powerful then why is the harkin-enzi bill such a mess, why isn't Race to the Top going better, and why does pizza sauce still count as a vegetable?

Oh, give them credit for all that leveraging, Alexander. Talk about vast and unstoppable, though - I think Diane Ravitch clearly beats all their billlions.

A whole vilification industry, in one little afterward! Way to go, Diane!

Mr. Russo,

Perhaps you don't fully understand "NCLB's impact and destructiveness" because you do not interact directly with the children, their families, and the teachers whose lives it is destroying.

In my job working with youth with significant emotional/behavioral disabilities in Chicago, I hear the stories daily. Children think they are "stupid" because they did not pass that ridiculous ISAT. And after being retained for a year, their chances of dropping out rise substantially. They think they are worthless because their charter school, which they had been told would be their "miracle", kicked them out. They are exposed to violence because of school closings and having to cross gang boundaries just to go to school. They lose their favorite teachers as they are fired or so unhappy that they leave. They are forced to sit through mindless, boring, pointless test prep all day and then punished when they revolt.

Teachers are demoralized, schools have become factories of fear and intimidation, and there no joy in school anymore. And to add insult to injury, all the focus on NCLB accountability and other education deforms prevent real reform like equitable funding, rich progressive education for ALL, and a focus on addressing the underlying issue of child poverty to be swept under the rug.

How can you sit there and minimize this crisis?? It is unprecedented.

Diane Ravitch is spot on. I, as a teacher, am grateful for her lone voice of sanity.

Nancy hits the nail on the head. Alexander, I thought you were going to a good place at the outset of your post, but really... at the end you say her position on NCLB is "unsupported by data."

The invalid and unreliable "data" generated by high stakes standardized tests as measures of true learning are a sham, and they should not be used to justify or refute any position.

The assertion that Ravitch "vastly overestimates the power, coordination, and reach of all the reform groups" is flat out wrong, and naive.

What Katie is describing is the collateral "public advocacy" effort, which makes up the bulk of the various Foundations' "gifts" to education. The reformers are actually embarked on a hostile takover drive, and the public schools are competitors to their products and services.

Public relations strategies like sowing "Fear, uncertainty, and doubt" to undermine competitors have warped public policy itself, unleashing an avalanche of gibbering torment on children and their teachers.


Actual shutdowns and mass layoffs aren't a true gauge of the damage, but they are damaging. Who would go along with such policies? When Broad chooses a CEO stooge for a district, he inflicts a bad administrator on the children, teachers, and communities.

The acid test of an administrator's loyalty to the reformists isn't just promoting their proprietary online learning, data-driven student processing, scripted teachers protocols, and computer-based teahcer evaluation schemes. It's bowing down, knowingly, to actually toxic policies and strategies; it's a slippery slide into the willingness to put aside everyday truth, decency and reasonableness to become vehicles for the FUD effort. It's 1984 out here. This is morally wrong, and should be vilified.



Oh, and, Alexander? The "pizza is a vegetable" is a reformist program goal, not a sign of their weakness.

Where have you been? Did they tell you they were out here promoting healthy lunches? They actively promote Chartwell's and Sodexo profits, and Pepsi and Coke vending machine contracts. It's one of the first things that taught me to despise them.

How wonderfully reactionary and expected of you Mr. Russo. Are you sure you didn't mean to say "the world doesn't need another "it's-all-about-me" Michelle Rhee," or is anyone defending the working class from your plutocrat buddies a target for your biting invective.

You always rail against anyone standing up for public education, but you really outdo yourself when you lash out against the most celebrated experts on education of our era.

You make it a point to say Dr. Ravitch's various assertions are "unsupported" by "data" and "facts." How so? I write alongside and correspond with several of the top education researchers and experts in the world. None of the so-called reforms that you and the plutocrats you gush about favor, is supported by any legitimate peer reviewed research that I'm aware of. It is you sir, that is devoid of data and facts.

from ed sector's elena silver to regular contributor john thompson on the same subject:

"You can try to lump us all into one scary camp of accountability hawk reformers who are bent on launching an educational civil war, but you can’t make it true. More importantly, I’m not sure how it helps the cause of improving public education to do so."


mary, you are no doubt sincere but i'm struggling to take your comments seriously -- ravitch doesn't say that NCLB created a mood of fear and anxiety. she says that NCLB caused widespread closings, conversions, and layoffs, but there's not really accurate.

Wait, I'm confused. NCLB says specifically that (excuse my use of Wikipedia here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Child_Left_Behind_Act) "If a school misses its AYP target for a fourth consecutive year, the school is labelled as requiring 'corrective action,' which might involve wholesale replacement of staff, introduction of a new curriculum, or extending the amount of time students spend in class." and then goes on to say "A fifth year of failure results in planning to restructure the entire school; the plan is implemented if the school fails to hit its AYP targets for the sixth year in a row. Common options include closing the school, turning the school into a charter school, hiring a private company to run the school, or asking the state office of education to run the school directly."

Sounds like NCLB is DIRECTLY causing "widespread closings, conversions, and layoffs". It's what the law is all about.

Mr. Russo, what do you mean when you say Diane Ravitch's claim is inaccurate?

On the other hand, I'm taking you very seriously, Alexander. I was addressing your final fuzzy charge:

"She also vastly overestimates the power, coordination, and reach of all the reform groups, which suits her purposes in terms of creating a straw man but is also unsupported by the facts and does little to inform readers about what's really going on."

No, Diane doesn't overestimate their power and reach and yes, she does discuss the fear and demoralization they sow through their coordination, power, and reach. Maybe you're right and they should be no more significant than a dog's tail, but they're wielding the regulatory power of the executive branch, because they're wagging our commander and chief. Their lobbyists are subborning legislators.

If you are having trouble taking that seriously because you think you didn't claim it, reread your own paragraph.

You called her a vilification industry, didn't you? I especially like "which suits her purpose in terms of creating a straw man". Remember how you asked me not to attribute motives to your own "pro-reform but above it" posture?

Try to clarify the disconnect, not to me, but to yourself. This is important.

About Ravitch "vastly overestimating:"

Here's a quick take on just who's ganging up to defeat teachers and their organizations, not to mention public education itself:


It's a good description of the real vilification industry. They're not "smallish, new, wildly overextended." As for funding, can I point out that Michelle Rhee's PR budget for StudentsFirst is $250 million? Collectively, they're a steamroller.

• In December of 2010 the first SMART board in my school was installed as well as a few others.
• The year 2011 celebrates 20 years of SMART board technology in business and education. This technology has been used in suburban schools for years. It is only 20 years later that we who tech in a large, inner-city school with a poor population that we have access to this type of technology.
• In all my experience of teaching, NOTHING that was ever good for education begins in the inner-cities; rather the suburban schools get it first and when it finally trickles down to us, the other schools have moved way past.
• The Charter reform movement is targeted at inner-city schools and not suburban schools. (Red flag)
• It has divided people in those inner-cities who are unable for what ever reason to see the long-term consequences; the end of public education for them with nowhere to return when charters "counsel them out."
• It is a tactic to neutralize traditional supporters of the Democratic Party such as Blacks and Latinos and Unions and Teacher's Unions in particular.
• These factions are the last obstacle to be removed in order to make way for full corporate domination in all areas in of American life with a profit fort those corporations.
• It is an insidious threat to poor people, people of color and since suburban public education will remain pretty much as before, it creates educational apartheid.
• These businesses had no concern for me whatsoever when I was a student in public school. Where have they been since Brown v. Board of Education 1954 and why their interest now? Could it be to turn things back to pre-Brown days? I think yes.

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