Why Policy Wonks and Academics Need to Understand Politics: The Diane Ravitch Edition

Diane Ravitch, along with releasing her new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, has been issuing a lot of mea culpas about her role in advocating for a lot 'accountability' educational reforms. When I first started reading this NY Times article, which signaled the beginning of the PR offensive, I had the same reaction Arthur Levine:

"She has done more than any one I can think of in America to drive home the message of accountability and charters and testing," said Arthur E. Levine, a former president of Teachers College, where Dr. Ravitch got her doctorate and began her teaching career in the 1970s. "Now for her to suddenly conclude that she's been all wrong is extraordinary -- and not very helpful."

Oh well. Better late than never, I suppose. But this Democracy Now interview reveals what Ravitch's fundamental mistake was: she assumed conservatives (aka 'educational reformers') wanted to improve public education, when, in fact, they wanted to kill it. While I don't think intentions matter very much in judging moral and ethical culpability (except in truly unusual circumstances), intentions do matter in terms of what the possible results might be. From the interview (italics mine):

Well, when I went to work for the Department of Education, I came in as a Democrat, and I thought, somewhat naively, that education was somehow a nonpartisan issue. And so, I came in to work on the idea of promoting arts education, science education. And in the department--part of the department I was in, we gave grants to different professional associations of educators to develop voluntary national standards of the arts, science, history, geography, economics, civics, lots of different areas. We wanted people, educators across the country, to say this is what an education is, this is what all American children should have. It was not a race to the top. It was based on the idea of equal educational opportunity means that all children get these wonderful things....

As I became a scholar and, you know, got into the academic world, I found myself--I don't know. I fell into a sort of a conservative mindset about a lot of things, but when I got into the Bush administration, I found myself trying to justify why--I believed always in a strong curriculum. That was considered very conservative. If you believed that children should study history and geography and real things, you're conservative in the academic world, because you're not supposed to believe in a real curriculum. I believe that it's not conservative; it's actually very liberal and empowering to have real knowledge. So this has always been my shtick, is kids of all backgrounds should have lots of knowledge. If you want to empower people, you give them access to the knowledge of the world. But having been castigated as a conservative for believing in having a traditional curriculum, when I went into the Bush administration, I found myself kind of getting caught up in the choice rhetoric. And so, for about ten years or so, I was advocating for charter schools. They didn't exist, so I didn't know how things would turn out.

Punch a Dirty Hippie in the Face! Moving along:

The Obama administration appointed somebody from the NewSchools Venture Fund to run this so-called "Race to the Top." The NewSchools Venture Fund exists to promote charter schools. So, what we're seeing with the proliferation--with this demand from the federal government, if you want to be part of this $4 billion fund, you better be prepared to create lots more charter schools. Well, it's all predetermined by who the personnel is. And, you know, so we see this immense influence of the foundations.

And I think that with the proliferation of charter schools, the bottom-line issue is the survival of public education, because we're going to see many, many more privatized schools and no transparency as to who's running them, where the money is going, and everything being determined by test scores.

Well, it's refreshing to see that even PhDs [/snark] can be suckered by the corporate manipulation of cultural resentments.


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intentions do matter in terms of what the possible results might be.

Which leads to the question, Why would you allow people who say "Government is the problem" to be anywhere near in charge?

And similarly, as you imply, why allow people who deride and dismiss educated people to be anywhere near running education?

she assumed conservatives (aka 'educational reformers') wanted to improve public education, when, in fact, they wanted to kill it.

In reality, Bush raised federal spending on public education by about 70%, more than the federal government had ever spent before. Nice way to kill it.

@John Doe: Of course volume of money is a secondary concern compared to where the money goes and what it's used for. You could increase it tenfold and if you're giving all of the increase and then some to testing firms and your brother other contractors, it tends to cause problems.

It was money wasted by an idiot. Which pretty well describes everything the man did.

By JThompson (not verified) on 22 Mar 2010 #permalink

Well, it's refreshing to see that even PhDs [/snark] can be suckered by the corporate manipulation of cultural resentments.

The only portion of the population that differs dramatically from the average in its vulnerability to corporate manipulation of cultural resentments is politicians - who are dramatically more vulnerable.

JThompson, federal education dollars almost entirely flow to public school districts. So your point is irrelevant.

I'm no expert here or anything John Doe, but if the fed ed dollars are going to the public schools, which are fucking required to spend them in the way NCLB dictated, then your point is irrelevant. Really fucking irrelevant in fact. I mean seriously, did you think that "revealing" that fed ed dollars go to local school districts would convince anyone of anything other than your firm grasp of the fucking obvious? I hope not.

By Rob Monkey (not verified) on 25 Mar 2010 #permalink