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Video: What Ravitch Does Wrong (And Gets Right) On PBS

Let's start with the mis-steps:  Ravitch leads off with the notion that teachers have been "demonized" (ironic given her constant demonization of reformers), describes Gates et al as privatizers (a claim that's factually hard to support though it sounds good), and claims that the billionaires' influence is unprecedented (which Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Soros, and the Koch brothers might be surprised to hear).  

 

But she's right about reformers having picked some questionable or at least unproven strategies for reform (removing charter caps, value-added, and ending LIFO are my favorite duds), and that reformers have ignored poverty (and early childhood, and wraparound services) in their rush to make changes.  If she'd ease up on the red meat anti-reform stuff (let DVR or someone else take that role) I think she'd make it harder for reformers to ignore her.  

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Demonizing has become so routine in political and social dialogue, it hardly means much anymore. It's not that corporate reformers are demonizing teachers as much as they want to control the issues. What they can't control is the development of a human child. All the money in the world cannot change that. Using money to gain power is not going to work. Change begins organically, from the classrooms. Parents and teachers working collaboratively for the improvement of education at their neighborhood schools. We can't very well effect that kind of change when the public schools are being closed, teachers being humiliated and parents dazed and confused. If we teachers were given the time, encouragement and means to effect positive change in our schools, it would happen. We know what needs to be done. A. Open the buildings for extended hours for students and parents to meet, work, help, remediate, explore their learning. B. Make it manditory for families to participate, get involved, support and imagine the school they desire by forging contracts of support and involvement between the school and home. C. Teach, think and act outside of the status quo box of mundane and archaic lessons. Show students and families the 21st century that is available at their fingertips. Bring technology on campus in droves and unleash the innovation that is possible. D. Thank the corporates for their interest, ask them to continue to fund what we need for A-C to happen and get out of our way. The likelihood of D happening is, well, unlikely...for you see, once money is thrown at something and doesn't really produce the power and control for egos it was intended to do, that can make those funders very cranky. Now, they're gonna dig in their heels for even more takeover and perpetuate extreme measures to MAKE us behave. All I am interested in doing it behaving like a professional with my students and parents. So easy to do...so hard to convinve power mongers to accept. You see, I am in control. Students are in control of their own learning. Parents are in control of what goodness they want for their children.

You've been following this stuff for a while, Alexander, so I'm curious if you think there's a stronger push for charters and vouchers now than there was in the past. Gates seems to have little interest in vouchers, although it's pretty clear Walton and other (generally) conservative philanthropies are supporting that push.

I'm not sure it's possible to argue that philanthropic organizations are *not* funding and supporting the push for charters and vouchers through advocacy, building the infrastructure, and getting involved in politics (501c4s and PACs; or supporting organizations with those kinds of vehicles). And it seems fair to say vouchers (certainly) and charters (somewhat murkier) represent the "privatization" that Diane says philanthropic organizations support.

I asked you this on Twitter, but do you think the current philanthropic involvement in education is more significant/expansive than Rosenwald and others with the GEB in the South; Ford in NYC in the '60s; the later push for litigation; and the Annenberg Challenge of the 1990s?

A little surprising to hear the role of money being downplayed. As one who follows the money routinely, I can draw a bright line between what that money buys and efforts to privatize and profitize public education, and that money comes from both sides of the political spectrum because let's face it -- profits aren't partisan. Bill Gates wants a return on his billions just like Rupert Murdoch does. The same holds true for the others, and it's provable with actual data.

Ravitch is not wrong about that, nor is she wrong about the demonization of teachers. Look around at the wildly celebrating tea party and republican sites today where you will see them dancing on the graves of unions and those nasty teachers that are so greedy they want to earn more than $50,000 a year with -- gasp! -- benefits.

I don't belong to a union. I never have. I wish I had, but I didn't. I'm also not a teacher, but I wouldn't want to be one in today's climate, nor would I encourage any of my kids to take it up as a profession. What parent in their right mind would encourage their kids to actively train and seek a job where they're disrespected, underpaid, and the constant target of political actors?

Finally, with regard to poverty, I will say that the efforts I see to help lift children out of poverty come from...unions. The AFT effort in McDowell County, WV and other areas is a direct effort to address poverty as the primary reason children aren't learning at a pace that guarantees them success. There are similar efforts being undertaken and also underreported. Teachers battle on these front lines every day. They know what their students endure. Perhaps it would be good for reform advocates -- billionaire and politician alike -- to actually talk to them for a change.

thanks for the comments and tweets - keep them coming.

this is from leonie's listserv:

"FW: Please defend Diane on Russo's blog
He attacks her for saying the corp reformers demonize teachers! And other absurdities..."

So what? And why'd you take down my other comment?

If you worked in a school, you would appreciate the truth that Diane Ravitch speaks. Teachers are treated so poorly, subject to such absurdity in their review process, forced to present scripted lessons, given no autonomy, permitted no creativity, and the days blur into nothing but tests that are sent down from the state as a "got cha" for the teachers - If you really knew, you would never send your child to a public school and you would never allow a child of yours to teach in a public school. All the protesting and acting like it's really all right is simply insulting. It is so far from all right you have no idea. It is sickening. And the band plays on.

i haven't taken down anything of yours. leonie.
but thanks for all the readers and commenters today :-)

How many times have we heard the defenders of public education be demonized as "status quoers" or only interested in adults while the deformers are interested in children. Well the deformers have created an entire industry where the adults are making big bucks while the teachers are left holding the bag. If there were no artificially created ed crisis Russo might actually have to get a real job.

So one group of people says that teachers are super-important, that there are some really great teachers out there who should be rewarded, and that there are a few (maybe 5% at the very bottom) who should be moved out of the classroom as it isn't their strength.

The other group of people says that teachers aren't very important at all, because almost everything is determined by family and poverty.

It's the first group who is demonizing teachers? Stupid.

There are a few currents behind the reform movement. They don't move ahead in lock step due to different priorities.

The voucher people are really after the right to have religion in American schools. They feel Christianity (and other religions) are dying, the culture wars are being lost and only vouchers can save the day by putting state money into religious schools.

Charters were started by Albert Shanker as "experiments" not as a parallel system. Charters are popular with reformers because they are half way privatization since vouchers are unpopular and cannot win a vote anywhere.

Testing is almost non-existent in Finland, the world leader.

Ravitch is right that poverty is not just the main reason for lack of achievement, poverty concentrations of poverty and racial isolation explain 100% of the failure of the USA to compete with other nations in PISA for example.

I'm going to jump into the fray for a minute.
"
This excerpt is from a post that went up today titled Value Added Measures: What they are and what they’re not". All of the (Gates backed) has been added. You would have to read previous posts to see just how much Bill Gates is trying to manufacture consensus on education issues not only in Seattle but in every urban center in the country. Visit the blog Seattle Education and scroll down to the category of "Bill Gates" and then see if you still think that Gates is not trying to manipulate the public education system in this country by trying to put a charter school in every pot. And, charter schools are a privatized version of a public school.

Anyway, here is the excerpt:

"Value Added Measures, also referred to as VAM, and sometimes referred to as Value Added Modeling or Value Added Assessments, has made it’s way to Seattle. It has been pushed by Bill Gates and other ed reformers who are not educated in the field of education or for that matter in mathematical formulas and their meanings.

In our state, this evaluation system was heralded by the (Gates backed) League of Education Voters (LEV) and the (Gates backed) Washington State PTA (WSPTA) as a way to judge “teacher effectiveness”, a big item on the agenda of the ed reformers. Legislation was pushed through by legislators with the lobbying efforts of LEV, (Gates backed) Stand for Children (SFC) and WSPTA in Olympia and praised as a success by LEV when the legislation passed.

The reason for this push is to basically devalue the idea of seniority and place the emphasis of success or failure of our schools squarely on the shoulders of teachers rather than an entire set of circumstance that are not in their control. What it has done is dumb down the curriculum to the point where the focus in the classroom is on test preparation on a narrow scope of knowledge in the subjects of math and English."

By the way, the link to the post described above is http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/value-added-measures-what-they-are-and-what-theyre-not/.

For more information on the influence that Bill Gates has had on ed reform and the formation of charter schools in a rather insidious manner, see "The Lines of Influence in Education Reform", http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/the-lines-of-influence-in-education-reform/.

I need to update it but consider it a primer.

For some reason, the first comment didn't "stick" so I will try it again.

Today I posted "Value Added Measures: What they are and what they’re not", http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/value-added-measures-what-they-are-and-what-theyre-not/. To follow is an excerpt. I am adding (Gates backed) as appropriate. To understand the relationship of Gates to these organizations, you will need to read previous posts. In the meantime, you can go to the Seattle Education blog and scroll down the right hand column to "Bill Gates" to see the influence that he has had on the formation of charter schools around the country. In fact, he just contributed $4M to a charter school initiative in the state of Washington to try and get a bill on the ballot this fall about charter schools. We have voted them down three times so far.

And charter schools are privatized versions of public schools. If you don't believe that, again, scroll down the right hand column to "charter schools" on Seattle Ed.

Anyway, here is the annotated excerpt:

"Value Added Measures, also referred to as VAM, and sometimes referred to as Value Added Modeling or Value Added Assessments, has made it’s way to Seattle. It has been pushed by Bill Gates and other ed reformers who are not educated in the field of education or for that matter in mathematical formulas and their meanings.

In our state, this evaluation system was heralded by the (Gates backed) League of Education Voters (LEV) and the (Gates backed) Washington State PTA (WSPTA) as a way to judge “teacher effectiveness”, a big item on the agenda of the ed reformers. Legislation was pushed through by legislators with the lobbying efforts of LEV, (gates backed) Stand for Children (SFC) and WSPTA in Olympia and praised as a success by LEV when the legislation passed.

The reason for this push is to basically devalue the idea of seniority and place the emphasis of success or failure of our schools squarely on the shoulders of teachers rather than an entire set of circumstance that are not in their control. What it has done is dumb down the curriculum to the point where the focus in the classroom is on test preparation on a narrow scope of knowledge in the subjects of math and English."

Hmmm.

This is getting curiouser and curiouser.

My comments continue to disappear.

I will try again.

To understand the influence that gates has had on the formation of charter schools in this country in a rather insidious manner, see the Lines of Influence in Education Reform, http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/the-lines-of-influence-in-education-reform/.

I have cut and pasted this so if my comment disappears again it's just a matter of a cut and paste and a record of this occurring several times.

For some reason, the first comment didn't "stick" so I will try it again.

Today I posted "Value Added Measures: What they are and what they’re not", http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/value-added-measures-what-they-are-and-what-theyre-not/. To follow is an excerpt. I am adding (Gates backed) as appropriate. To understand the relationship of Gates to these organizations, you will need to read previous posts. In the meantime, you can go to the Seattle Education blog and scroll down the right hand column to "Bill Gates" to see the influence that he has had on the formation of charter schools around the country. In fact, he just contributed $4M to a charter school initiative in the state of Washington to try and get a bill on the ballot this fall about charter schools. We have voted them down three times so far.

And charter schools are privatized versions of public schools. If you don't believe that, again, scroll down the right hand column to "charter schools" on Seattle Ed.

Anyway, here is the annotated excerpt:

"Value Added Measures, also referred to as VAM, and sometimes referred to as Value Added Modeling or Value Added Assessments, has made it’s way to Seattle. It has been pushed by Bill Gates and other ed reformers who are not educated in the field of education or for that matter in mathematical formulas and their meanings.

In our state, this evaluation system was heralded by the (Gates backed) League of Education Voters (LEV) and the (Gates backed) Washington State PTA (WSPTA) as a way to judge “teacher effectiveness”, a big item on the agenda of the ed reformers. Legislation was pushed through by legislators with the lobbying efforts of LEV, (gates backed) Stand for Children (SFC) and WSPTA in Olympia and praised as a success by LEV when the legislation passed.

The reason for this push is to basically devalue the idea of seniority and place the emphasis of success or failure of our schools squarely on the shoulders of teachers rather than an entire set of circumstance that are not in their control. What it has done is dumb down the curriculum to the point where the focus in the classroom is on test preparation on a narrow scope of knowledge in the subjects of math and English."

Apparently you really don't want discourse on this subject that is informed.

That's par for the course with the ed reform crowd and their backers.

As my comments continue to disappear I see that you are no better than the rest of them, Mr. Russo.

Reformers are ignoring everyone, regardless of the merits of their arguments.

WAGPOPS! (Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents: Our Public Schools!) is a group of parents in District 14 in Brooklyn. We have a school choice model with 8 magnet schools, not no mention all of our district schools being under-enrolled.

We parents do not have the profound and widespread mistrust in our teachers that we read about CONSTANTLY in the newspapers, watch on the news, and hear from policy makers.

Parents do not want the reforms that are being foisted upon our district, not charter schools, not VAM, not the rejection of teacher tenure, not the continuation and proliferation of standardized tests, and not the core standards.

We don't believe in the status quo either. We want meaningful curriculum, diversity in our classrooms, supported teachers, and small class size.

Alexander is right, but he doesn't know why. He's also wrong.

The "real" reformers, or "original" reformers are amateur-hour compared to the slick, well-funded messages from StudentsFirst, Parent Revolution, Stand for Children, DFER, Waiting for Superman, The Lottery, etc., etc.

What those groups do that the earnest among us have not done is to settle on a few key messages, fund "research" to back up the assertions, use the media effectively to push the "data" to create a widespread public perception around the "problem", then use deep pockets to buy action from elected officials. LIFO, rubber rooms, dance of the lemons, declines in test scores, choice (charters and vouchers) are all examples of well-executed strategies.

Diane doesn't need to make nice. What she (and the others here) need is to come together with a few simple messages and goals and start pressing for action. It can be more grassroots than the other guys, but it's going to take a nationwide strategy, some real funding and organization. Time to play on the big field people. [Let SOS be an example of what not to do]

JD:

This "other group":

"The other group of people says that teachers aren't very important at all, because almost everything is determined by family and poverty."

DOESN'T exist. Like AR's opening comments in this post above, starting with a false characterization and then attacking your mischaracterization allows you to rant.

The "reformers" also like to position anyone opposing their claims and solutions (all by people without experience or expertise in education) as "defenders of the status quo."

These are all strawmen and either/or arguments that expose the lack of credibility among the "reform" agenda.

The "real other group":

• People with experience and expertise in education
• People who acknowledge the crippling social and educational inequity currently in the U.S.
• People who recognize that MEASURABLE student outcomes reflect MORE about out-of-school factors than school or teacher quality.
• People who are calling for genuine reform to society and education that confronts and overcomes that inequity.

First, I don't see why you bothered to repeat my post to our NYC ed list about your blog criticizing Diane. Obviously you subscribe to the list where I try to connect people to the informative and sometimes outrageous statements being made in the blogosphere, and encourage them to comment in response.

Secondly, I don't know what is remotely debatable about either of Diane's statements that you baldly assert are "wrong". Teachers have absolutely been "demonized" by the corporate reformers to dismantle and reshape our schools -- blaming all the ills of an underfunded, inequitable system on incompetent teachers who are protected by their unions -- as though this is really the primary problem afflicting our schools.

Third, Gates et al are absolutely privatizers, in that he, Broad, Walton, and a host of other foundations, hedgefunders, and wealthy individuals are making a huge push for charter expansion at the expense of our public schools, and continue to do so by funding a wealth of astroturf organizations throughout the country to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to press their case. You'd have to be blind not to see this.

Finally, this billionaire's boys club has wielded vast power over our public schools, through their foundations, their associated think tanks and astroturf groups, and now the Duncan administration, which apes them at every turn and inserted their top priorities into the RTTT program. Whether this is "unprecedented" or not, I do not know, but I would trust Ravitch's judgement on this matter, as one of the pre-eminent historians of public education in this nation, far more than I would trust yours.

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