Speaking Up for Diane Ravitch

17 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/17/2017

January 7th this year, Diane Ravitch posted “STOP: Our Government Wants to Create a National Database about Everyone, Including YOUR Children.” As with many of Diane’s posts, she was amplifying the work of someone else. This time it was a post by Cheri Kiesecker at the “Missouri Education Watchdog.” It provided evidence about the dangerous loss of privacy facing American society – especially students. It highlighted the big money in datamining. I forwarded Diane’s post through Facebook and Twitter. Soon, that post was shared again on Facebook where it drew more than fifty mostly derogatory comments. Not about datamining or profiteering but about Diane Ravitch.

Attacking Public Educations Best Ally

The person who shared from my Facebook page wrote, “I stopped sharing any of Diane Ravitch’s posts but I had to share this one from Gretchen Logue ‘s blog from October 2016.” One comment read, “I stopped reading her blathering a while ago. To think she didn’t understanding what was being done until the latter part of 2016 is simply horrifying, her being a ‘leader’ in the education advocacy arena.” Another commenter impugned her integrity writing, “Diane has also promoted groups on her website that her sons company has major investments in… salesforce being one – and what do you think it’s mission is? Expansion of Digital learning.”

It seems that Diane’s mostly youthful and idealistic detractors charge her with not understanding that competency based education (CBE) is an existential threat to public schools and the teaching profession. I find this disquieting because I absolutely love what I see from some of these detractors. I see their passion for good, their skilled intelligence and their selfless dedication. I wonder why can’t they see that Diane Ravitch is their best and most important ally?

Outcome based education was one of those great education fads of the 1990’s and it was a total dud. Digital badging and students “learning” from software packages developed by Reed Hastings’ company are repugnant ideas. It is an attempt at profiting from education on the cheap. Is it possible that even wealthy corporate sponsors cannot continuously sell bad ideas? Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

Possibly Diane Ravitch judges the privatization movement supported by standardized testing, charters and vouchers as a more imminent threat to universal public education? Diane and I are not close friends but I have met her a couple times and enjoyed enough one on one dialog to know that she does not miss much. It is unlikely that she is not aware of the CBE threat. It is likely she has not developed the same sense of urgency for the issue as some of her detractors.



The trombone playing educator and philosopher from rural Pennsylvania, Peter Greene, gave voice to my feelings about attacks like this on Diane Ravitch:

“This is (one of) my problems with Movements– too often things descend into an argument about which people are pure enough, right enough, aligned enough, to deserve our loyalty or fealty. The Reformsters have had their ongoing sturm and drang about maintaining the coalition between left and right. On the public-school side, there are frequent arguments about whether or not certain figures deserve the respect they have, or should be cast out into the darkness because they haven’t taken the right position on A or X.

“I have never understood these arguments, these quests for purity. First of all, you know who sees the world exactly the same way I do? Nobody. Second, you know who in this world I give my unquestioning fealty and allegiance, whose word I will absolutely accept and follow, no questions asked? Nobody. You know who I expect to follow me without question and agree with whatever I have to say without debate? Also nobody. You see the pattern.”

Corporate Reformers and Fellow Travelers Take Aim

In December 2011, Kevin Carey who works for Education Sector, a think tank in Washington, wrote a lengthy biography and critique of Ravitch for the New Republic. The article paints a somewhat negative picture of Diane but it makes some interesting points. In discussing her becoming the face of the anti-corporate reform movement Carey theorizes:

“Ravitch was the perfect person to lead the resistance. Her identity as an academic gave her an implied expertise and impartiality; her government service gave her credibility. Added to this was the assumed integrity of the convert. In November 2010, she penned an influential critique of Waiting for Superman in The New York Review of Books, providing an intellectual blueprint for left-leaning critics of education reform. Jon Stewart invited her on “The Daily Show.” From there, it was a direct path to the “Save Our Schools” rally outside the White House. The die-hard reform opponents needed Diane Ravitch, and, in her own way, Diane Ravitch needed them, too.”

Diane routinely appears as a guest opinion writer in the most important newspapers and magazines in the country: The New Yorker, the New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington Post, etc. No other supporter of public education has near that access, but reformers like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown and many more have unfettered media access for their message.

Carey made two more points in his refutation of Ravitch that I found resonant with my own experience. Carey noted:

“MANY OF Ravitch’s former conservative allies declined to be interviewed for this article. She is, by all accounts, a warm friend who inspires strong loyalty and affection. She maintains a wry, level tone when speaking in public. And, although I had published a critical review of Death and Life, she graciously agreed to meet with me, and we had an amiable conversation over a two-hour lunch at an outdoor café.”

Carey’s article also reports on Diane’s important role in the conservative education reform community:

“In 1983, the Reagan administration published an iconic report titled A Nation at Risk, denouncing U.S. schools for lax academic standards. Ravitch was deeply skeptical of what she saw as the unstructured, relativistic ideas of progressives. She and Checker Finn, a conservative thinker (and, later, a Reagan official), formed the Educational Excellence Network to promote standards-based reform.

“Ravitch’s role in conservative education reform was not as a generator of ideas; others developed the framework of standards and market competition. Rather, she served as a kind of scribe who could communicate the movement’s agenda with clarity. Her arguments were mostly unconcerned with evidence—there was little at the time, since reforms like vouchers were largely untried.”

Carey concludes with his best attempt to demean and put Ravitch in her place:

“The most consistent thing about Ravitch has been her desire to be heard. In many ways, she has never left the cramped, argumentative office of The New Leader in the 1960s. Her genius was in the construction of a public identity of partial affiliation—a university-based historian who never wrote an academic dissertation, a former government official whose career in public service lasted less than two years, an overseer of the national testing program with no particular expertise in testing, and a champion of public school teachers who has never taught in a public school. She enjoys the credibility of the sober analyst while employing all the tools of the polemicist.”

Carey’s efforts to undermine Ravitch’s credibility are mild when compared with the tough piece written by Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute in City Journal. Stern’s attack is a throwback to McCarthyism:

“Another tenet of the far Left is that progressives should have “no enemies on the left,” and Ravitch apparently agrees. Thus, she has praised the former Weather Underground terrorist and radical educator William Ayers for his contributions to the anticorporate insurgency. (She concedes that Ayers made some political “mistakes” in the sixties.) Ravitch has also had kind words for leftist education activist and onetime Ayers ally Mike Klonsky. On her blog, she recounted visiting two universities in Chicago in 2010, with Klonsky as her host. “For me, the fallen-away conservative, it was a trip getting to know Mike, because he had long ago been a leader of the SDS, which was a radical group in the 1960s that I did not admire. So meeting him and discovering that he and his wife Susan were thoughtful, caring, and kind people was an experience in itself.” Ravitch apparently didn’t know, or preferred not to disclose, that Klonsky broke with Ayers’s Weather Underground faction to create a Maoist-oriented party in the U.S. and then spent several years in China during the horrific Cultural Revolution, attending state dinners with the Great Helmsman.”

One of the strangest attacks on Ravitch comes from Jim Horn, Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA., who has a blog, “School Matters.” Horn implies that Ravitch does not attack CBE and personalized learning as hard as he thinks she should because she is corrupt. This past August, Horn wrote:

“One has to wonder if she is aware that her son’s company could profit handsomely from some of those millions in federal seed money for turning children into alienated computer-compliant drones.

“What is clear is that the Ravitch team is always alert for any comment at her blog that could indicate Ravitch’s lack of understanding of an issue or any comment that would question her real commitment to the public education system that she claims to support.”

It is true that Ravitch’s son Joseph appears to be a successful banker. He left Goldman-Saks to form the Raine Group a few years ago and they appear to be doing well per this NY Times article. They are not focused on school profiteering but it would be difficult for an investment banking group not to have investments in a company that doesn’t have some connection to education technology, consulting, or publishing.

It is hard to fathom Horn’s dislike of Ravitch. Mercedes Schneider wrote about Horn taking a strange post charging Ravitch with being complicit in union busting to attack.

“When Horn read Carroll’s post and realized it provided an opening for him to attack Diane Ravitch, I wonder if he wet himself from glee. He launches right into Ravitch and her being paid by Pearson to speak at the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) convention in 2012 and of her receiving “her hefty speaking fee” as though Ravitch had been bought by Pearson. Horn assumes as much since he was unable to locate Ravitch’s speech online (his only link in his post other than a quote from The Hunger Games).

“Horn really did not want Ravitch to be paid by Pearson to speak. But she was, and she admitted it and added that she was “thrilled to be paid by Pearson to tell thousands of psychologists how lousy the standardized tests are.”

“Sounds fine to me. You see, I read Ravitch’s speech.

“The tone of Horn’s writing is such that one knows he wants Ravitch to be guilty of something. Surely her accepting “a fat payout” from Pearson to speak at NASP is evidence of the corruption he just knows is at her core, right?”

Diane Ravitch is Giving Voice to Educators

It was through Diane Ravitch’s blog that I learned of Jennifer Berkshire, Mercedes Schneider, Peter Greene, Jonathan Pelto, Carol Buris and a host of others. Any blogger who has had Diane link to their article knows about the “Ravitch bump.” With her large audience, Diane is amplifying wonderful voices who are fighting to save mandatory universal free public education.

Diane joined with Anthony Cody, Julian Vasquez Helieg and others to form the Network for Public Education (NPE). It was at the Chicago 2015 NPE convention that Mercedes Schneider told me how Diane reached out to her, convinced her to write a book and helped her find a publisher. Since then, Mercedes has written three important scholarly works detailing the big money interests with political power harming public education (Chronicle of Echoes, Common Core Dilemma, School Choice).

Diane has credited Debra Meier with convincing her that she was wrong about everything. Also, Ravitch notes John Maynard Keynes’s apocryphal quote: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’ When Ravitch first supported education reform ideas like standards and vouchers, there was no data. In her seminal book The Death and Life of the Great American School System Diane explained, “The more uneasy I grew with the agenda of choice and accountability, the more I realized that I am too ‘conservative’ to embrace an agenda whose end result is entirely speculative and uncertain.”

I am convinced that Diane is a lot more right than wrong. I did not agree with her about the Every Student Succeeds Act and I saw no reason to believe that Hillary Clinton would be anything but a misguided enemy of good public schools.

Yet, I still see Diane Ravitch as the greatest asset supporters of public education have.

23 Responses to “Speaking Up for Diane Ravitch”

  1. wrenchinthegears January 17, 2017 at 8:00 pm #

    I stand on the side of truth and transparency and am happy to stand alongside Jim, even though I am not specifically called out in the blog piece. As Jim notes, it is useful to have the threat of digital curriculum and educational surveillance in the spotlight, even if it comes with other baggage attached. We can take it; we’re pretty thick-skinned.


    • tultican January 17, 2017 at 9:11 pm #

      I have really enjoyed and admired your work and did not want to disparage you in the least. Horn seems to have a profound issue with Ravitch. I had a colleague that hated Ravitch because of her work in the 1980’s and 90’s. He just could not get passed it. Perhaps that is Horn’s issue. He certainly appears to look for things to criticize and then frames them as negatively as he can. I think his ire is misplaced. I agree with you that CBE is an important issue, but I believe reasonable people could conclude that it is not the only threat or even the most imminent threat to public education.


      • wrenchinthegears January 17, 2017 at 9:33 pm #

        Jim’s is a provocative voice, but one that is critical to the conversation. We are not going to beat this by half measures and nibbling around the edges. Jim realizes this. My fear is that we are being overwhelmed to the point of not being able to see the true end game or organize for it. Information is being suppressed in many circles. That is never a good way to proceed. There is a need for people who are not at the table. We may cause discomfort, but seeking solace in comfortable social networks isn’t going to get us where we need to be. Bottom line: I trust Jim, and I don’t trust that many people.

        And the threat isn’t CBE, that is just a small piece. The threat is learning ecosystems/badging, online educational surveillance, and changes to funding streams like micro-payment systems and ESAs.


  2. wrenchinthegears January 17, 2017 at 10:08 pm #

    I found this last night. US Army research into intelligent tutoring systems that are structured to monitor the emotion of the user and manage self-regulation and negative responses to online learning. It’s 400 pages long-and this is Volume 2!

    Click to access Intelligent%20Tutoring%20Support%20for%20Learners%20Interacting%20with%20Virtual%20Humans.pdf

    This isn’t the future, it’s here.


    • wrenchinthegears January 17, 2017 at 10:09 pm #

      Do you know about the Institute for Creative Technologies? It’s not so far from you. Based at USC: http://ict.usc.edu/prototypes/


    • tultican January 17, 2017 at 11:14 pm #

      I appreciate all of the wonderful resources. And I know that it is true that there are a lot of resources involved in promoting a digital eco-system (FYI – I use CBE as shorthand for badging, 1-1, blended, etc.).

      However, their are several times these resources involved in privatizing public schools right now. We already have nearly 10% of our public schools privatized. When you are outgunned and out resourced, criticizing allies in the fight to save public education makes it appear like public education is not the real agenda. In my opinion, it is more likely that a radical approach will do more to alienate most people than engage them as allies.

      I don’t know your friend Jim Horn, but I do know Diane Ravitch and I like her. Jim Horn’s writings have alienated me and a lot of other activists. How is that smart or productive?


      • wrenchinthegears January 18, 2017 at 3:24 am #

        Do you know that Pearson owns Connections Academy cyber school, which operates in 29 states and Pearson has a white paper advocating for broad use of AI in education and has recommended the creation of a DARPA like program for US education? That is the connection. Bricks and mortar charters are only a tool to take profit and weaken the system. Hybrid blended learning is being implemented on a huge scale nationally. That is akin to allowing a cyber charter to colonize chunks of bricks and mortar schools. Our schools will be consumed from the inside out.

        Two times in the past two days I have had high-level staff of statewide non profits who are supposedly public education activists tell me that the virtual schools being built “in-house” in PA intermediate units are a “good” thing because they allow districts to compete with cyber charters. They are pushing virtual schooling as a cost-saving, market competition measure. And the supposed advocates for statewide funding see NO problem with it. I was floored. FLOORED.

        I understand the bigger picture. Everyone is busy trying to deal with the disaster they are making, but they can’t see to plan ahead. And by the time it hits, we will be spent, and it will be too late.

        Maybe you need a tougher skin and a willingness to turn things over like Jim and me. And honestly, it’s not really nice to pull up comments from someone’s private thread and share them around. If I had a thinner skin, my feelings might be hurt. But we don’t get anywhere without open dialogue. It’s good to share information and debate. You have your feelings. I have mine. For better or worse, things are moving so quickly it probably won’t be long before we know how it turns out. Though if I’m right, it really won’t make me feel any better.


  3. wrenchinthegears January 17, 2017 at 10:14 pm #

    You see, there is a lot of money flowing into this research. It won’t stay in the military and behavioral conditioning is a huge part of it. Do we really want to take a wait and see attitude before speaking out about it?


  4. wrenchinthegears January 18, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

    Exactly. It’s all interconnected. Charters are pioneering hybrid/ blended learning. This is worth a watch-Reed Hastings at timestamp 58:00. He’s saying Charter Management Organizations will use tech to cut costs and build their brand and holdings. But eventually once all the profit is taken from real estate deals and insider contracts, they’ll go totally digital. Hastings is behind Dreambox, and Dreambox is in many, many neighborhood schools. It’s the ticking time bomb. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GKl_uj_LlU


  5. wrenchinthegears January 18, 2017 at 9:06 pm #

    Oh, and MacArthur is the force behind digital learning and check out the grants to/990s for Common Sense Media. They indicate they’re looking to be the gatekeepers for “good” digital education content. How nice for them. This was 2009. How far they’ve come. And you know we’ve spoken about the MacArthur Cities of LRNG-of which both Philly and San Diego are pilot members.


  6. Kristin P. January 19, 2017 at 1:25 am #

    I wasn’t going to waste time on commenting on a blog post dedicated to defending Diane Ravitch but since you’ve shared this post numerous times on social media I think it calls for a response.

    When I post to social media I have no expectations of privacy. However, my friends and family may not be aware that their comments could be shared publicly by others when my post is not set to “public.” In the future, please afford me the courtesy to at least inform me when you are sharing my posts so that I may make them aware.

    On the subject of sharing my Facebook post, why are you even wasting time on blogging about a conversation shared on a Chula Vista mom’s private Facebook wall over Diane Ravitch? How is this “smart or productive”? If I didn’t know any better, I might start to think that there is an orchestrated controlled opposition going on in this country over the privatization of public schools.

    “Possibly Diane Ravitch judges the privatization movement supported by standardized testing, charters and vouchers as a more imminent threat to universal public education?” As you know, in California we are adopting the “California Way” of continuous embedded assessment through personalized learning. It’s not that Ravitch doesn’t see CBE as an existential threat; it’s that she is completely ignoring this shift to continuous assessments through CBE at the hands of her good friends in California. By keeping the topic focused on yearly standardized assessments, defenders of public education will be lulled into a false victory when the annual test eventually goes away.

    As for fighting charter schools, it seems a Sisyphean effort in California when teachers and voters support propositions that give half of their funding to charter schools. If this is the Faustian deal that had to be made by the unions to secure funding for public schools then why put up the charade of fighting charters at all?

    Let’s pretend for a minute that charters disappeared overnight. How public are our public schools? Both CVESD and Sweetwater allowed Achieve3000 to pilot test in our schools using our children for their study without the informed consent of the parents. Achieve3000 has even assigned an employee to our district to tell the teachers how many articles they must have our children read and the principals tell the teachers how much classroom time should be spent with our children “learning” at the computer. A former CVESD cabinet member, Dr. Nelson, now works for Achieve3000, The teacher supported school board at CVESD made a big show of turning down Teach For America in our schools but then they voted to spend 3 million dollars on Achieve3000. Take a guess who Achieve3000 sponsors… Teach For America. And this is only one CBE program in our schools. I could go on and on about Imagine Learning, Edmodo, Class Dojo, Newsela, IXL Math, Pearson Math online, RazKids, etc..

    So, how public are our public schools? It seems to me that they are already being privatized from the inside out without the help of charters.

    I really enjoy reading and sharing your blog and I respect that you like Diane Ravitch. If you believe her to be a true friend of public education then blog about the umbrella of testing in California, aka, “California Way,” and the embedded assessments in CBE which are replacing district testing. Blog about Linda Darling-Hammond working for WestEd to help with the SBAC and blog about her involvement in the next generation of testing. Keep blogging about the shift to SEL and CBE in California. Blog about all of this and have Diane Ravitch share it on her blog to give exposure to the privatization of California’s public schools. If she’s a friend, I’m sure she will share it all.


    • tultican January 19, 2017 at 6:38 pm #

      Just a point of clarification. I did not share your post or identify you. I shared three quotes that I did not attribute as an example of the kind of slander that I view as unreasonable attacks on Diane. Put downs from people who seem to be on the same side of most issues. That spurred me to write this article.

      As for the organized attack on Ravitch’s enemies, the opposite is actually true. When I posted this, a close ally of Ravitch wrote to me that I was wasting my time – don’t bother its better to ignore them.


  7. Lloyd Lofthouse January 21, 2017 at 5:22 pm #

    Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé.


  8. GregB January 21, 2017 at 5:24 pm #

    Tom, this is a wonderful summation. I have been out of teaching since 1990 and out of education public policy since 1998, but that’s where my heart is. After brief exposure to Diane in 1994, I respected her but, to be honest, didn’t agree with her at all. I “rediscovered” Diane in the Jon Stewart interview you cite. I’ve read her last two books and am currently reading the updated version of “The Decline and Life…” I don’t respect Diane because she generally agrees with me, or to be more precise, because she has educated and informed me. I respect her because she represents the best of American intellectualism; she is not ideological. Her pragmatism is rooted in an objective scientific method informed by experience. She is much more than an education scholar. She is the best civic educator I have ever come across. I am not aware of anyone since Robert Wiebe, whose ideas about America are not as accessible as Diane’s, who can weave together so many disparate issues into a coherent narrative. Her critics tend to expose their inconsistencies when they criticize her. They need to recognize that she is their best and most effective ambassador.


    • tultican January 21, 2017 at 7:40 pm #

      Thank you Greg. There are many of us that appreciate Diane’s insight and integrity.


      • ciedie aech January 24, 2017 at 8:01 pm #

        Your blog efforts and the responses you attract illustrate that there are an amazing amount of arms to this School Reform Beast. 🙂



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