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Update: The Narrow Absolutism Of Diane Ravitch

580751_10151853261200110_1866890809_nI was surprised to see that Diane Ravitch commented on my recent paper about TFA, HQT, and the use of political power - but then I realized that she hadn't actually read it, or if so only for narrow ideological purposes.  (She did the same with my book about Locke High School, for what it's worth -- boiling the story down into a single "turnarounds don't work" sound bite.)

In her very brief post, Ravitch describes my TFA paper as a piece about "how TFA has managed to have unusual influence inside the Beltway," but that's actually not what the piece is about.  Exactly the opposite, really.The piece is about how TFA for a long time lacked any real Capitol Hill chops, and still exercises its power mostly in the narrow pursuit of programmatic interests (appropriations, authorizations related to TFA). 

I pointed this out in the comments on her site last night, and the comment has been removed.  What's it like, I wonder, for Ravitch followers when she does things like this?  They must cringe a little bit, then justify it as only what reformers have done to Ravitch.  Some might argue that I've done her wrong as well for my heartfelt but skeptical post about her evangelical change of heart.   


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Pathetic, Russo. Ravitch had it just right. You are like the bad film maker who has to tell the viewer in text roll down, what the movie was really about.


I followed Diane link and read your paper. (By the way, it was excellent)

I don't think you can call Diane ideological, and here is why. She has a long record of scholarly excellence. It was clear to me thirty years ago when we were on opposite sides. And there is a clear pattern to her evolution. I would call it consistent, balanced, holistic, and professional, not biased towards anything narrow or simplistic. We all have perspectives. The scholarly issues is whether we use our evidence, in the context of our perspectives, in an intellectually honest way. To me, that is what separates ideas from ideology.

She is political. And in the weeks preceding the election, her blog has narrowed its focus. That is practical politics.

She has always been quotable. I see an evolution in her use of words, however. "Reform" is on the ropes. We still need to nail down the intellectual victory. We still need vivid prose to wrap up the case explaining why "reform" failed to improve schools. We need to persuade President Obama to shift gears in the second term.

"Reform" has been very effective politically, however. It launched the attack on teachers. After all, (at least before Diane became our champion) teachers have been awfully timid. As Diane has become our prime leader, her political arguments have become tougher. But that's politics. Her words are still tame in comparison to most others in the presidential political campaign.

Now, it could be argued that "reformers" were justified in launching a war on teachers because a decade ago it was not clear that "reform" would fail. They had the highest of motives and if "teacher quality" and standardized testing could have spearheaded a successful war on poverty, their brass knuckled politics would look good in the light of history.

But still, they launched this war of choice. They failed. We teachers now need to do both - contibute to the next phase of school improvment, as well fight back with all the appropriate political weapons at our disposal. Two of our greatest assets are Diane's knowledge and her political leadership.

Bernardo, I think you're overreacting. Can't we agree to disagree and leave out the caustic remarks?

i understand the objective, john -- no real mystery why she's doing what she's doing.

obviously there are short term advantages to making simple, narrow arguments.

the question is whether it's defensible, or wise, or even necessary.

you do, which is fine, but i don't think it is. but again, the question isn't about her objectives, but rather her means.

ps what do you think about her taking down my comments? is there anything she could do at this point that would cause you to raise an objection?


Did you do something outrageous like not using capitals?

Do you mind if I take the 5th?

OK you got me on that one. I hope she puts it back up with an apology.

Changing the subject, I think there are a lot of people who deserve praise for a lot of things. I'd say that coining the phrase "billionaires boys club" was one of the best things that has been done for students. And, as you know, I don't completely agree with her on that issue. My point is that educators have to learn to be bilingual, speaking in both our natural language and forcing ourselves to adopt a tougher political vocabulary. After all, "reformers" have done that. I doubt they speak the same way with friends and family as they do when coining misleading phrases like "the widget effect," or when(as one of your sources in the TFA paper did) accusing educators of designing the dysfunctional education system thus suggesting we are racists. That is the type of language that offends me.

I'd say that politics is a contact sport and its OK for Ravitch and others (like me, I hope) to throw an elbow. What's wrong is taking out your opponents knees, and that is what many reformers have tried to do to us.

by the way, I you sure that you properly filled out that spam catcher or that there wasn't a power failure?

Several years ago, when I first started following Ravitch's work, I would cringe reading or hearing some of her phrases. Though I thought her book was brilliant, I never expected she could be a credible voice, because of phrases like "billionaire boys club."

Turns out my cringes misled me completely; she had more impact than I predicted. So, now when I cringe, I ignore it. Instead, I watch and see what happens.

How do you size up her impact? Do you think her relentless and scorching debunking is changing the debate? I do. More than I ever would have guessed.

On Monday she spoke to the City Club of Chicago, invited and introduced by the Governor. (Think about those politics.) She had some new phrases, which I presume are a part of the new book she wrote this summer. She says in her new book she sketches out her reform vision for schools. Get ready…

PS. I think she should not have deleted your comment. I object to many things she says.

ravitch hasn't responded to the issue of narrow ideology but she denies any comments were taken down.

there's a mysterious comment from her last night "really?" that doesn't seem to be in response to a comment. maybe it just got moderated away, not taken down.

meanwhile, one of her commenters described me as fussy.

Did you happen to save the comment, Alex? I'd love to see it. I kind of doubt she did take it down, though, if she says not. She's been very clear about it in the past. Maybe it didn't post? Please try again.

When my comments disappeared mysteriously from a Forbes story last summer (on Gates' vision for the role of big pharma profits in his charitable goals), Matt Herper was able to track it to a tech error, and they were restored.

On the other hand, as one whose perfectly civil but oppositional comments you have taken down yourself, on the grounds it's your blog... I wonder, once more, where you're coming from.

Alexander ... I found the history you provided in your paper very informative. Keep up that kind of reporting.

I cringe at the extent to which education policy has been reduced to over-simplified sound bites, but, as John points out, Ravitch is hardly either a pioneer or the worst offender.

# of students attending charters continues to grow, despite Rav's misrepresentations.
% of Americans expressing support for teachers in PDK Gallup poll is well over 50% despite Rav's mis-representations
Programs to honor teachers all over the teachers are in place and active in virtually every day.

But hey, there is good money to be made by asserting that no one respects you and you should be paid a lot more money.

Here is a powerful summary of the "narrow absolutism" Ravitch is promoting:

Can you stand up in front of your readers (or a mirror) and oppose the vision she's actually defending? My life is actually dedicated to that very vision, and yet representatives of the data-driven eduventure industry come into my school, into my actual classroom, and threaten me with retaliation when I continue to provide a rich laboratory science experience for my students.

Diane's vision, like mine, like all the teachers' who oppose your powerful employers, is the actual substance of our work. It only gets narrow when it specifically opposes control of public education policy by profiteers. There's no place for that, absolutely none, and I actually do know it absolutely, from my own experience.

Diane didn't omit anything you wrote. Try re-posting it... if it's take down again, then you might have justification for what you wrote.

On subject of censorship, didn't you yourself ban Caroline Grannan last summer from this site when she pointed out that Linda Serrato (of Parent Revolution) was actually a highly-paid Parent Rev operative, not an unpaid, neutral Parent Rev volunteer? Caroline merely wanted that info about Serrato's highly-paid status included in your puffery about Serrato... her highly-paid status being just a nigglying little detail which you conveniently left out (I'm sure this omission was an oversight on your part... it just slipped your mind while you were writing it...)

When Caroline posted this clarifying information, you reacted like an insecure, immature high school boy who (mistakenly) believed someone had uttered disrespect towards his prom date... and lashed out in a ridiculous, petulant fashion... totally out-of-proportion and without justification.

Honestly, Alexander, you really made a laughingstock out of yourself with that one. What exactly were you doing with that? Sucking up to your corporate, school-privatizing, union-busting masters?


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