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The Attack Against Diane Ravitch

August 20, 2013

Diane Ravitch is a threat.

A recent Huffington Post article confirmed it recently when she came under attack by author Peter Cunningham, former Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach, U.S. Department of Education.

Dr. Ravitch is a very classy lady. She chose to ignore the argument so-poorly presented by Cunningham, choosing only to acknowledge it in a brief post on her blog a couple of days later. She knows she doesn’t have to address his views. She knows the teachers will do that in the comment section of any article ever posted about it; she knows the edu-bloggers will do their parts to defend her positions, too.

Cunningham’s article, Ravitch Redux, is a mediocre-ly written “argument” meant to discredit Ravitch’s fight, but his lack of evidence regarding any of his claims has him falling especially short of that goal. Not only that, but there are a handful of assertions that are complete and utter lies, or else they are offered so out of context that their implications are very different from the reality of what Dr. Ravitch has said or done.

Most inexplicably, though, is Cunningham’s “review” of Dr. Ravitch’s upcoming book, Reign of Error, a book which has yet to be released, which Cunningham has yet to read.

The Indignant Teacher has had the honor to be offered an advance copy of this book and will be posting her own review of it in about a month’s time. She wouldn’t feel comfortable reviewing it before she even reads it, like Cunningham is; that’s silly, it’s so impossible! She does, however, feel like a confident enough follower of Dr Ravitch (& staunch supporter & believer) that she can safely argue against some of this silly man’s allegations nonsense.

Cunningham’s article was prompted, he said,  after he read this recent quote in a New York Times article about the new assessment in New York aligned with Common Core standards:

“Some critics say the new standards are simply unrealistic. “We’re using a very inappropriate standard that’s way too high,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian who served in President George W. Bush’s Education Department but has since become an outspoken critic of many education initiatives. “I think there are a lot of kids who are being told that if they don’t go to college that it will ruin their life,” she said. “But maybe they don’t need to go to college.”

And the attack begins…

“When Dr. Ravitch says, “But maybe they don’t need to go to college,” who exactly is she referring to?”

* She’s referring to the huge population of kids who don’t need to go to college. The kids who, for a multitude of reasons excluding that of the color of their skin or their parent’s income bracket just aren’t “college material”. Because every kid is not college material, nor should be expected to be such. Yes, we have hopes for all kids, but the reality is either their intelligence, personality, interests, family situations, and, yes, income issues, may render them not needing (or being able) to go to college. His argument about race is laughable. And if he read her blogs and even a quarter of her links to other articles, he’d know that. Silly.

“But for Dr. Ravitch to suggest that we should keep standards down and reduce expectations for a big segment of these young people is beyond belief.”

* She’s not suggesting any such thing. She’s rightly stating that we shouldn’t raise the standards so high that only a small handful of kids will meet them with ease. Because that’s what the Obama Administration has done and continues to do. Principal Carol Burris spoke the following analogy of that: “if a teacher in my school told me that he designed a test that was so hard that the passing rate would drop by 30 points and the majority of his students would fail, I would walk him to the door.” 

* Nor has she suggested expectations for a big segment of young people be reduced. She’s suggesting they be realistic and worthwhile for all young people. Blacks and whites; rich and poor.

 “I understand that Dr. Ravitch is about to publish another book attacking education reform. She will go after my good friend Arne Duncan. She will attack alternative educational approaches such as charter schools — even if they are successful. She will attack well-meaning and hard-working organizations like Teach for America. She will attack foundations and organizations she disagrees with, regardless of the benefits they provide to educators. She will lump them all together as one big corporate conspiracy aimed at privatizing public education.”

* This is probably my very favorite paragraph of all – it’s the one where Cunningham shows his ESP skills. Again, the book has yet to be released and Cunningham has yet to read it, but who knows? Maybe she will attack those issues. I’d suspect the better term would be she will address those issues, and state facts to support everything it is she says.

* She should go after Cunningham’s “good friend, Arne Duncan”; he’s wrong in his policymaking and should be stopped.

* She supports alternative approaches such as charter schools – at least how they were initially designed, as an alternative to “traditional” public schools for children who don’t quite “fit” in such an environment. She disproves of what they have become, especially the “successful” ones – they have become so by weeding out the special ed and english language learners in order to boost test scores.

* Teach for America is a 5-week training institute that places recent college grads in low income schools to teach for 2 years in return for tuition reimbursement and other entitlements. Enough said.

* The foundations and organizations she disagrees with are making key decisions and policies that are destroying the public schools; they provide no benefit to educators – just ask one.

She will call on America to invest more in fighting poverty, as if we have not spent tens of trillions of dollars fighting poverty since the New Deal and the Great Society and will spend tens of trillions more.”

* How have those trillions spent been working out? Poverty persists, and the effect of poverty on education of children living within it is just getting worse. I haven’t heard her say we’re not spending enough, just that we need to re-think how we’re spending it. Because what we’re doing isn’t working. At all.

“Worst of all, she will use poverty as an excuse to avoid any responsibility on the part of the federal government, states, districts, schools and educators — collectively — to somehow do a better job of educating poor kids.”

* This is the silliest. She’s not using poverty as an excuse to avoid anything. She’s saying we must address the poverty issue if we are to do a better job educating poor kids, because shuttering schools in their neighborhoods and displacing teachers within them is backfiring. The evidence abounds.

“If some of these efforts are moving too fast for some and are off-base for others, we can discuss it like adults with intellectual rigor and mutual respect and adjust accordingly. But we can never, ever retreat.”

* Bill Gates is the leader of these efforts. For over two months there has been a website called “Teacher’s Letters to Bill Gates”, where teachers can share with Gates the reality of his efforts in hopes of sending the message that these efforts are failing. Thus far, our collective voices continue to be ignored. Who’s retreating?

Bill Gates is retreating. President Obama is retreating. Arne Duncan is retreating. Most teachers are not retreating. Diane Ravitch is certainly not retreating. The Indignant Teacher is not retreating. Let’s have that discussion, Mr. Cunningham. Bring it on. It’s easy to hide behind a keyboard and attack someone. It’s time for Dateline, 48 Hours, Oprah, and the rest of them to invite Mr. Cunningham or his allies to a debate with Diane Ravitch and her allies, and let America decide who’s right.

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5 Comments
  1. Thank you! I’m looking forward to Diane’s next book and I’ll bet it will be a great read with substantiated details and persuasive arguments for those who believe in data-driven decision making.

  2. Michael Paul Goldenberg permalink

    A good, detailed dismantling of Peter Cunningham’s vicious, unprincipled, and utterly invented attack on Diane Ravitch. Kudos!

  3. thank you!! 🙂

  4. Of course Diane Ravitch is a threat. How many people, really, are as bright and even-handed as she is?! So of course bureaucrats who can never reach her level strike out ignorantly — the only way they know how. I doubt Cunningham has the dignity to be embarrassed. Americans should be embarrassed for him. Thank you for helping to move us in that direction.

  5. Well said, very well said, the “popular press” needs to run more articles and opinion pieces such as yours. And a note on TFA, I initially thought it was a noble idea and had much potential, and indeed, there have been many good TFA teachers, but as they and any solid educator will tell you, it takes many years (way more than 2 ! ) to become a good teacher, so their idea of a 2 year sentence for our neediest students is a disgrace. Again superb job, oh indignant one.

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