Bold dissenter — or burnable heretic?

The Dissenter in the New Republic (subscribers’ only) analyzes education historian Diane Ravitch’s turn against education reform ideas she’d once championed.

Author Kevin Carey seems to attribute Ravitch’s change of heart to her long-time partner’s rejection by Joel Klein. As a new chancellor, Klein started a training program for principals, ignoring the work of an existing and well-respected leadership academy run by Mary Butz, Ravitch’s partner.

Ravitch had good reason to distrust Klein and his reforms, writes Mike Petrilli.

. . . Diane had a point about Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein running schools as if they were “selling toothpaste.” The leadership academy was a perfect example. . . . like many reformers who distrust the reformers who came before them, he didn’t consider that Mary’s program might be worth building on, rather than replacing. And instead of recruiting experienced principals to run his new initiative, he went to corporate America for its funding and design.

Keep in mind that this was the same Joel Klein who was trashing the federal Reading First program for being too prescriptive, lavishing money on Lucy Calkins and her hare-brained “writing workshop” ideas, and arguing that the content of a particular curriculum didn’t matter; what was important was picking one and sticking to it. Klein was agnostic about the education side of education. And that (understandably) infuriated Diane.

. . .  she is right to be suspicious of a school reform movement that still, to this day, has little to say about matters of curriculum and pedagogy.

“Successful movements seek converts; unsuccessful movements hunt heretics,” responds Core Knowledge‘s Robert Pondiscio in an e-mail.
. . . Look, I disagree with Diane on choice and charters, among other things (lest I become the next heretic to be burned at the stake). But I remain deeply appreciative of her unchanged and unflinching support of a core curriculum, and enormously influenced by her overall body of work. The speculation that she would gainsay a life of scholarship merely for the cheap thrill of settling a personal grudge is just plain silly.

In a 1983 essay, “Scapegoating the Teachers,” Ravitch wrote:

It is comforting to blame teachers for the low state of education, because it relieves so many others of their own responsibility for years of educational neglect.

Ravitch was affiliated with the anti-communist left and was a friend of teachers’ union leader Al Shanker, Goldstein adds.

Both Goldstein and Alexander Russo raise the issue of sexism.

About Joanne


  1. georgelarson says:

    Successful movements seek converts; unsuccessful movements hunt heretics

    Sorry I could not pass this up.

    How many monphysites have you found lately? Even today the monophysites I have met do not admit to being monophysites Hunting heretics has been effective for mainstream chrisitanity when combined with death or conversion.

  2. Disappointed says:

    This article is a career killer for Carey. No one who believes in test-based accountability wants to be anywhere near the scene of this crime. From Dana’s comment about it being “harsh” to Petrilli’s calling Carey out on Carey’s odd fixation with Ravitch’s sexuality, Carey must know by now that his foray into “journalism” is the end of his career as a serious pundit.

    The entire article is thick with unfounded assertions, dismissive summary judgments, and logical inconsistencies where Carey contradicts himself.

    Carey writes: “Under the mountain of Ravitch’s firmly held opinions, it is difficult to locate many enduring intellectual convictions. Only two stand out: the value of a common, core academic curriculum for all students and the role of public education as a pillar of democracy. These are fine things in which to believe. But they are nothing close to a comprehensive philosophy on which to base a lifetime of inquiry into something as complex as public education.” He says no convictions, then names two, then says those are fine, but dismisses a historian’s entire lifetime of work in a single sentence. Did no one involved in the editing of this article caution Carey that he sounds like the world’s most arrogant you-know-what? Does he have no sense of the image he projects?

    Carey writes: “I asked James Fraser if, as a historian, he could locate any consistent intellectual point of view in her work. He thought for a while before saying: “No. And that’s an interesting ‘No.’” Has Fraser actually read all of Ravitch’s work and come to that conclusion or was he just making a guess based on what Carey told him? Did Carey ask more than one historian or is just one enough if you get the quote you want? Like others in the article, Fraser is probably regretting he provided that quote.

    Carey has the nerve to criticize Ravitch’s writing style: “Ravitch’s transition into full-time, anti-reform crusader has not served her writing well; her style has become increasingly dismissive and strident.” Carey’s entire TNR article reads like one long blog snark.

    Throughout the article, there is a rampant intellectual hypocrisy where Carey immediately demonstrates the exact fault he accuses Ravitch of having. Carey accuses Ravitch of selectively quoting charter school data and then in the next paragraph he selectively quotes only the math results from a Stanford study. Can Carey really be so blind to himself?

    With this article, Carey has transitioned from eduction pundit to tabloid smear merchant. If you want to know how damaging this has been to Carey, ask Elena Silva what she thought about Carey’s article and how she thinks working with Carey may affect her reputation, not as a person with certain policy views, but as an objective, thoughtful researcher.

    Ask the others who work at Education Sector how they feel about it. Do they think it is good journalism? What was the most important thing they learned from the article?

    Not since the Thomas Toch Charter report fiasco has EdSector’s research reputation been so adversely affected by a single shoddy article.

    It is hard to imagine that Carey actually made a FOIA request for the e-mails on Ravitch’s partner. Of all of the stories that could be told (test score inflation, Wireless Generation contract, Weingarten’s secret meetings with Klein), Carey read through all of the e-mail about Ravitch’s partner’s job? That is how Carey spent his time? I guess he thought he had the scoop of a lifetime. Sad. Sad for him and the people who work with him who will now constantly be asked about Carey and this article for months if not longer.

    And he makes it sound so dark and mysterious that employees who were there are not willing to comment on a personnel matter. If he were back working as an state accountant in Indiana, would he have commented on a personnel matter involving another employee? Or maybe Carey was just hoping for some more anonymous slander. Sad. Very sad.

    People are really taking about this article, but they are talking about Carey, not Ravitch. He has revealed far more about himself than his subject.

    I could go on, but this is just too depressing.

    As I say, it is not his enemies that Carey has lost here; it is his friends. Ten years from now, Carey will look back and realize how much this trite adolescent rant cost him.


  3. I’ve subscribed to the New Republic for over 15 years. I’m finding its take on education reform increasingly wrong-headed.

  4. (Pondiscio): “I remain deeply appreciative of her unchanged and unflinching support of a core curriculum, and enormously influenced by her overall body of work.”

    The problem here is “a” core curriculum. With __Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms__, Ravitch demonstrated an impressive appetite for the scholarly slog through tedious, decades-old academicese and a commendable intolerance of successive Progressive fads with no common thread beyond the arrogance that treated other people’s children as their raw material. Like Solzhenitsyn’s __Gulag Archepelago__, __Left Back__ will make your skin crawl.

    Ravitch protested the abandonment of the classical Liberal Arts curriculum (including Classical Languages) in favor of successive Progressive fads. She never explains why her preferences should rule, why she gets to treat other people’s children as her raw material.

    What does society gain from a State (government, generally) role in the education industry, beyond the role that the State plays in the home appliance industry or the sports equipment industry, an original assignment of title to resources and a stable system of contract law?

  5. Ravitch’s Left Back is an illuminating history of Amercian education in the 20th Century. Unfortunately most educators I know only have a hazy conception of this history. It does do a good job of exposing many of the failures of progressive ed experiments –many of which are being repackaged as “21st Century education”.