Alter v. Ravitch

Diane Ravitch is wrong about education reform, writes Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Alter.  Schools are improving.

In New York Times op-ed, Ravitch described progress as mere “public relations.”

Bruce Randolph School, a middle and high school in inner-city Denver is graduating 97 percent of students, about twice the norm of typical inner-city schools. Yes, ACT scores are below the state average, Alter writes. But the school is improving at an impressive rate in most areas.

“This was a very cynical statement that she doesn’t believe teachers and schools can make a difference in high-poverty areas,” says Colorado State Senator Mike Johnston, a former teacher and principal whose sweeping tenure-reform law is a national model. “We can debate facts at particular schools but you just can’t deny that some places are getting phenomenal results — results that should be celebrated, not called out as fraudulent.”

Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama’s normally mild- mannered education secretary, has finally had enough. “Diane Ravitch is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day,” he said when I asked about Ravitch this week.

It’s a straw man to claim reformers think “poverty doesn’t matter,” Alter writes. “They merely insist that such conditions not be used as an excuse for inaction.”

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  1. CarolineSF says:

    How ironic that you should post this right after posting two successive gushes about miracle schools that actually have sky-high attrition, one of which also has an obvious record of making over the demographics of its student population.

    That’s exactly the kind of thing Ravitch is talking about, and for which Alter browbeat her in a highly unprofessional way.

  2. Diane Ravitch doesn’t describe progress in general as mere “public relations”: she is referring to the hype around specific schools or reforms. The stunning results are often not nearly as stunning as their champions make them seem.

    To question these miracles is not to throw up one’s hands or deny that progress can happen. That’s the straw man that Alter sets up when he writes that reformers “merely insist that such conditions [as poverty] not be used as an excuse for inaction.”

  3. Also, I recommend reading the 100-plus comments in response to Alter’s piece.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    “Unprofessional” is a slight understatement, Caroline.

  5. Stuart Buck says:

    Aside from the question of “miracle” schools (a word that only Ravitch seems to use), Alter does have her pegged on her dishonest approach to the evidence (among many examples, consider this). And he doesn’t even mention the strong likelihood that Ravitch fabricated (or was delusional about) her recent attack on a public official.