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Ron Radosh

Do you know who Diane Ravitch is? If not, you should. No other educator has been acclaimed in so many places as the woman who can lead American education into the future. Her new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, had a first printing of 75,000 copies and quickly made the New York Times non-fiction best seller list.

Recently, the leading magazine for left-liberal intellectuals, The New York Review of Books, featured a cover story about Ravitch by Andrew Delbanco. He compares the approaches of the educator most despised by the Left, Michelle Rhee, with Ravitch. He calls Ravitch “our leading historian of primary and secondary education.” Having established that, he goes on to note Ravitch’s condemnation of Rhee, which he says “borders on contempt.” Delbanco also dislikes Rhee. He does not agree with what he calls her “determination to remake public institutions on the model of private corporations.” Rhee is pro-corporate, a woman who wants “to introduce private competition (in police, military, and postal services, for example) where government was once the only provider.” In other words, Rhee stands with the enemies of the Left who want school choice for poor children, vouchers, charter schools, and competition, rather than more pay for teachers, smaller classes, and working with and through the teachers’ unions.

To Delbanco, people who hold such reviews are retrograde, “true believers” in “the promise of privatization.” To the journal’s readers, these code words are enough to know that Rhee is someone to oppose, and if Ravitch is on the other side, she is someone to support. Indeed, if they didn’t get the message, Delbanco adds that one lobbying group that favors charter schools is — horrors — funded by the Koch brothers, and the group also supports “stand your ground” laws.

Now his readers definitely know that Rhee is evil, and that Ravitch is good. He writes:

Through Ravitch’s eyes we see what Rhee refuses to see: the limits of what even the most skilled teacher can do in the face of such realities. “Poverty,” she says bluntly, “is the most important factor contributing to low academic achievement.” And so “we must work both to improve schools and to reduce poverty, not to prioritize one over the other or say that schools come first, poverty later.” This is an incontestably true statement — but not the kind of call to arms that gets you on the cover of Time magazine.

But, it definitely is the point you will see in the NYRB or The Nation, over and over and again and again.

So here are their differences, according to Delbanco:

Ravitch wants a return to broad-scale attack on social and economic inequities — to incremental, long-range strategies that do not promise quick results. Rhee, essentially, wants shock therapy for the schools.

In a nutshell, good teaching depends on a radical political program, one that pushes our nation to the Left and that will result in answering the problems of education. Thus Rhee does not like the teachers’ unions, which she accuses of being “a thuggish interest group that stands in the way of reform and holds the Democratic Party in thrall. She sees its overriding purpose as protecting weak or burned-out teachers who block opportunities for younger teachers who have better prospects of instructing and inspiring children.” Ravitch, on the other hand, makes her case for teachers’ unions “with more nuance and depth,” which means Delbanco agrees with the unions. So of course Ravitch is right. “She sees it as ‘the strongest voice in each state to advocate for public education and to fight crippling budget cuts.’” Of course, unions often stand against any reforms that would interfere with the power of bad teachers to keep their jobs at the students’ expense, because they have seniority and vote for the Democratic lawmakers who continually give them more benefits at the time of contract renewal.

There is much in Delbanco’s review that leaves out what Diane Ravitch really stands for. To learn this, one must turn to the very important article by Sol Stern that challenges and tears apart Ravitch’s views, and seeks to explain why and how Ravitch changed — she was once a major advocate for school reform who worked in the administration of George H. W. Bush, where she supported national standards and school choice. She gradually broke ranks and moved to the side of leftist political ideology as well as opponents of any school reforms.

With Sol Stern’s important critique, Diane Ravitch has met her match. Stern’s must-read article appears in City Journal and is titled “The Closing of Diane Ravitch’s Mind.” He writes:

She reinvented herself as a vehement political activist. Once one of the conservative school-reform movement’s most visible faces, Ravitch became the inspirational leader of a radical countermovement that is rising from the grass roots to oppose the corporate villains. Evoking the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Ravitch proclaims that the only answer to the corporate school-reform agenda is to “build a political movement so united and clear in its purpose that it would be heard in every state Capitol and even in Washington, D.C.” The problem is that Ravitch’s civil rights analogy is misplaced; her new ideological allies have proved themselves utterly incapable of raising the educational achievement of poor minority kids.

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Top Rated Comments   
“Poverty,” she says bluntly, “is the most important factor contributing to low academic achievement.”

She's correct. CULTURAL poverty is...
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Poverty, she says bluntly, 'is the most important factor contributing to low academic achievement.'"

If this is true how does one explain such luminaries like Thomas Sowell, Walter E Williams, Condoleeza Rice, John Boehner who comes from a family of thirteen or so, and all those illegal DREAMers?
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Instead of looking at rich versus poor, I bet if you looked at two-parent homes versus single parent homes you would see a greater correlation with academic success. But no liberal wants to acknowledge that because maybe it reveals that conservative, traditional, Judeo-Christian values are...uhhh...right? No no, let's just call it "poverty"- people are victims of this "poverty" and not responsible for their own kids' failure.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (22)
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Much as I appreciate and agree with Sol Stern's vision (vision, that is, not current implementation) for traditional education, his piece on Ravitch was both inappropriate and dishonest. And I say this with regret, but the second charge is serious.

The inappropriate part was the personal tone of the attack. It had no place in City Journal, and frankly I and many others are sick of the spectacle of a small core of academicians feeling they are behaving objectively by dint of their title as they engage in mudslinging with others (I am not denying that the mud goes all ways -- I'm asking that you all depersonalize). Tenure is no excuse for excusing yourself from standards you demand of others. The same is true here. Stop whinging about twitters, for God's sake. You are not the subject.

Stern's article was dishonest in two ways. First, he refused to engage in legitimate criticisms of the Common Core regime he is promoting. Instead, he built a strawman out of Ravitch and then conflated all criticism of Common Core with Ravitch and her current allies, including radical educational activists like Bill Ayers.

That he did this under the guise of criticizing Ravitch's demonization of others is appalling -- sophisticated character assassination is not an honorable tool to use against coarse character assassination.

Stern was also dishonest -- or at best he is being willfully blind -- about the realpolitick guiding the implementation of Common Core. While it may be true that he feels empowered by his status in New York City to guide that city to an unique version of CC that actually involves his and ED Hirsh's standards, he cannot possibly be naive enough to presume that the DOE is planning such educational reform for the rest of the country.

Stern's misrepresentation of and dismissal of the politics of Common Core are now too extreme to ignore. In City Journal, he asserts that he and other proponents of Common Core are using CC to undo the radicalization of pedagogy and educational administration promoted by Klonsky, Ayers, now-Ravich, and their ideological peers. Yet he fails to address how this will take place through the act of transferring power from the states to a highly radicalized Department of Education run by the very same people who were radical educational "reformers" alongside Ayers in Chicago -- Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, and Linda Darling-Hammond.

This power transfer is the real issue, as is the other power-transfer taking place -- the transfer of control of our education to unelected, unaccountable non-profits and kingmakers like Bill Gates. Stern needs to address this. However, given a forum to to do, he turned that forum into an attack on one convenient target and said curiously little about Common Core in the act of "defending" it. That was, in itself, questionable.

And now Radosh has done the same, refusing to address the real subject in favor of a rehashing of grudges and claims about charter-versus-public schools that is secondary to the subject at hand.

Respect your audience enough to start having a real conversation about Common Core, rather than a proxy battle of egos at the top.

28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Tina,

For one who has her hackles up as much as you do about the lack of any "real conversation about Common Core," I looked in vain through your long post for any single substantive point about the CC and found absolutely none. You make no substantive comment about the content of the Common Core standards and recommendations. You say nothing about its underlying assumptions about the relationship of literacy skills learning to content learning. You do not even deal with the substantive criticisms E.D. Hirsch has made of the development of assessments for Common Core, which are a good example of the responsible criticisms of the project you imply are needed. Hirsch offers these criticisms, by the way, as a supporter of Common Core, but one open to what you seem to say you want to see.

Instead, however, you resort to little more than guilt by association accusations -- Ayres, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama and Linda Darling-Hammond, being your choice of demons. Glen Beck might agree with your choices. Diane Ravitch's demons, however, appear to be Bill Gates, Jeb Bush, Sam Walton, conservative think-tank proponents of the Core like Chester Finn, and, in general, evil corporate "privatizers" at the opposite end of the political spectrum for the most part from your and Beck's list of evil-doers. It is the wonder of the times that a conspiracy so vast can even arrange a meeting, let alone at midnight in an undisclosed location as surely must be the case. How DO they do it?

In any case, if you want to elevate the tone and see some substance in the discussion of Common Core, next time leave off the personal attacks and guilt by association insinuations and provide some substance of your own. Perhaps you could start with one small example I am familiar with -- the CC Anchor standards and the correlated History/Social Science variants on them for grades 6-12. Tell me, please, why these constitute a danger to the republic. To me, they just seem like good sense, though only as a very vague starting point, and one that will require state action, not federal, to ensure they ever have any sort of good effect or any impact at all. Just one example of what substance in the discussion might mean. Boring, perhaps? But there you are.

And that example is offered here also to make this last point. This notion that CC is some vast and powerful engine of destruction of local school control is utterly laughable. CC depends on concerted and understanding action on the state and local level without which it will founder and disintegrate into ineffectiveness like all other top down education reforms have. The paranoid notion that CC is more than a match for the educational system's absorptive capacities is laughable. The exact opposite is the case. It is its weakness, not its power, that ought to be of concern.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
One more thing, Jon -- you forgot to mention that you or someone with your name owns a company promoting the very sort of programming you recommend above. How about acknowledging that in your comment?

How much are you making off Common Core implementation? Or, how much are you trying to make or stand to make? And why didn't you disclose that when you chose to go off on me?

Every time someone starts defending common core, they seem to have their finger firmly in the pie.

Like Darling-Hammond, for instance. I did not mention her out of some random desire to character-assassinate. She made gobs of cash drafting the DOE assessments, and she is a radical pedagogist and close colleague of Ayers, who is a terrorist and fellow school radicalizer.

But you know that, right? Because you are involved in this industry too. So why not do a little more disclosure instead of trolling the threads making false accusations while hiding your financial interests?
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
You really are digging yourself in deeper here, you know. No response at all yet again either in this reply or the even more intemperate one below to any single substantive issue regarding Common Core.

As to my "company," you've got to be kidding. I am a freelance curriculum developer. My "company" is ME, period. I did develop a line of materials called MindSparks when I worked for a company called Highsmith, and it is now owned by another group for whom I am proud to do work. MindSparks began in 1995, and it has consistently produced very high quality materials that, until THIS YEAR, had nothing to do with Common Core at all. It is of course none of your business how much I am "making off of Common Core." All I will say is I only wish I were making even a tenth of what it would take to buttress your view that I am riding some gravy train. I am thoroughly proud of the work I do, on Common Core related materials and all the rest. I would not be able to do the work on Common Core if I did not share its vision to a great degree (it is the very nature of the work itself that makes that so, actually, not any purity of my soul). I am also proud of the clients who have hired me and have supported my endeavors and see nothing in them deserving of the contempt you display. I will put my work up against any history materials out there you know if and be happy to bet you that any group of teachers you assemble would judge them to be at the top of that list. Your insinuations here might be insulting if they were not so laughable.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
So, to summarize, you're making money off Common Core.

You should say that up front when you defend it.

And, please, give the drama a rest. It's fine to make money. It's necessary to disclose it in order to ethically debate an issue.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
After offering you this information, I immediately regretted doing it. Despite the obvious fact, which I made clear, that my work has been almost entirely unrelated to Common Core, I was pretty sure you'd make as much hay as you could over what is related to it. You have done exactly that. I disagree one hundred percent with your claim that "it's necessary" for me to disclose anything about my sources of income to debate ethically here. Neither you nor anyone else here has been asked to do this, nor should ever be asked to do it. The logical fallacy of "appeal to motive" is one kids are taught in schools as a form of ad hominem attack to avoid. That's exactly how you have abused it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_motive

I'd say it's a "drama" of your making, Tina, and I for one am done playing my part in it.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
Jon, I had enough of pretend-arguing with you over your obsessive claims that Judith Clark deserved to be treated with tea and sympathy after killing cops. You go on threads and demand endless engagement while feigning debate and mischaracterizing other people's arguments.

Throwing names around is not arguing; your anger at Glenn Beck is not reasoned debate, and it is not my job to answer your silly demands for "substantiation." Find someone else to harrangue.

Plus, Jeb Bush is an ass making fistfulls of cash promoting CC. I think everyone pulling a paycheck consulting etc. on it while voicing opinions should be transparent about that.
27 weeks ago
27 weeks ago Link To Comment
One correction (someone below makes some reference to this also, I think). Core Knowledge is a curriculum based on E. D. Hirsch's work and his view that we need a common curriculum stressing a core of shared content knowledge. This is not the same as the Common Core Standards, which actually stress literacy and math skills. Hirsch is a backer of Common Core also, seeing the great potential in its more complex concept of literacy. However, he has also been critical (rightly, in my view) of the assessments being developed for it. He sees these as undercutting the need to foster and further develop core content learning sufficiently.

In other words, he is a moderate backer of Common Core. I am reasonably sure he understands the absurdity of both the hard left and hard right paranoia about the movement. What is so dismaying about Diane Ravitch is that her own skepticism about Common Core (as well as about school choice) has morphed into a paranoid and angry stand against some corporate conspiracy to abolish the schools. Many of the comments right here mirror this same mentality, which is now sickeningly dominant at both ends of the spectrum and spreading out from them all too rapidly.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
John, You are correct. E. D. Hirsch e-mailed me and I changed the paragraph about his thoughts to coincide with his wishes, and to make an accurate description of what he believes. Read the new version which is different from what I originally posted.

28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
“Poverty,” she says bluntly, “is the most important factor contributing to low academic achievement.”

She's correct. CULTURAL poverty is...
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sol Stern's article is good for the context it provides with regard to Ms. Ravitch's career and the influence of collectivism on public school policy. But Mr. Stern shows himself to be a collectivist when he acknowledges that the Common Core standards and their universal implementation are a good thing. Indeed it appears to me that his main reason for writing his critique of Ms. Ravitch is that she has withdrawn her former support for those standards.

This strikes me as yet another issue where we have vocal debate from two sides, both of which are collectivist. They are merely arguing about how their desired flavor of collectivism is to be implemented.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
HELP! I'm trapped under a bridge in a forest in Norway with - oh, God, help me! - a mean little troll who's speaking leftwingese disguised under a conservative veneer he hopes will help him pass as one of us. He isn't. I can spot one a mile away.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Poverty, she says bluntly, 'is the most important factor contributing to low academic achievement.'"

If this is true how does one explain such luminaries like Thomas Sowell, Walter E Williams, Condoleeza Rice, John Boehner who comes from a family of thirteen or so, and all those illegal DREAMers?
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
And Ben Carson, native of Detroit, who's someone that all of us should look up to and emulate.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
More than likely if Ravitch were to "take a shower" the drain would be circled with the golden proceeds with which she has been rewarded for her ideological switch. Money talks, as the saying goes, but on the left it's a whisper meant to hide the ugly truth that the proper ideology is nothing but a lucrative commodity. One cannot be too cynical when dealing with these monsters of the left.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Rhee is pro-corporate, a woman who wants “to introduce private competition (in police, military, and postal services, for example) where government was once the only provider.”"

'pro-corporate' suggests some Education Inc. little different from what we have. 'non-government' should do.

"...Ravitch became involved in a debate over the issues with the democratic socialist educator Deborah Meier, and soon she decided Meier was right and she had been wrong all along."

Just like that, eh? As with Schumer converting Gillibrand, this may be but a change from pose to position.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is the E.D. Hirsch Core Knowledge curriculum really the same as Common Core? I'm familiar with the Core Knowledge books outlining basic knowledge for elementary students, and consider them to be very good and very traditional.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Diane Ravitch's book The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn is a must read, IMO. My first exposure to Diane. Just last week I heard her discussing her new book on NPR. What a shame.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Instead of looking at rich versus poor, I bet if you looked at two-parent homes versus single parent homes you would see a greater correlation with academic success. But no liberal wants to acknowledge that because maybe it reveals that conservative, traditional, Judeo-Christian values are...uhhh...right? No no, let's just call it "poverty"- people are victims of this "poverty" and not responsible for their own kids' failure.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, and don't forget the leftists' favorite, and only, cure for poverty - government. More government.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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