If you have not been reading RiShawn Biddle, this is one of the compelling blog posts he has written lately. You should add him to the blogroll or your daily read list. Here, Biddle responds to Diane Ravitch’s recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal.
Dropout Nation usually reserves commentary on education historian-turned-thoughtless polemicist Diane Ravitch for the Twitter feed, not on these pages. As proven by folks more willing to dissect her every thought, her use of data is often slipshod and her wrongheaded conclusions would be more-laughable if she wasn’t given so much credence by others who should know better. But her latest claptrap, an attempt to persuade congressional Republicans to essentially gut the No Child Left Behind Act published in the Wall Street Journal, is just too interesting to ignore. Why? Because Ravitch has seemingly lost her ability to master her career subject: The history of American public education.
The piece offers more than enough for Ravitch critics to ridicule….
…There are also her declaration that school districts are being forced to close schools and fire teaching staffs because of No Child’s accountability provisions — ignoring the fact that most school districts and states avoid using those (much-useful) prescriptions for stemming faltering performance. By the way: Obama’s School Improvement Grant program allows for other turnaround measures, which states and school districts have used instead of shutting down dropout factories and replacing teachers (as they should). Her declarative statement that value-added assessment is considered too flawed for use in evaluations by education researchers ignores the fact that this isn’t so. Such use is backed by researchers such as Eric Hanushek and institutions such as the Brookings Institution (which released a report earlier this month in support). The opposition largely comes from National Education Association-backed outfits such as the Economic Policy Institute (whose petition asking states to not use student test data in teacher evaluations counts Ravitch as one of its signatories).
The biggest problem with Ravitch’s piece is that she offers a history of the Republican Party and federal education policy that doesn’t square with the facts. While she is right in writing that the Republicans face an ideological divide on federal education policy (I’ve said this myself with greater nuance and thought), she misinterprets the role that Republicans have long played in expanding federal policy. If anything, Republicans have been as willing to expand the federal role in education decision-making when it sees fit.
…Given that Ravitch was a former U.S. Department of Education flunkie during the first George Bush administration, and an advocate for the very school reform policies she now opposes during those years, she should know this history well. But as typical with Ravitch these days, she engages in the kind of cherry-picking of historical facts that wouldn’t be tolerated by either an adjunct professor or an editorial page editor. The piece, like her book, is just plain shoddy.
It’s time for Ravitch to put down her pen and her Twitter feed, and get back to the books.