Dropout Nation: Back to the Books

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.

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1 Comment

Ed Jones

Having engaged Ravitch semi-weekly for some 18 months, I've had a chance to look deep at her data...and "tone".
Worse than being guilty of data skewing (specifically on CREDO), Diane's become just plain uncivil--which is sad. This week brought more personal bashing of Bill Gates. As I wrote elsewhere:
'So many things Diane could engage Gates about. For example, the lack of support for open source educational software. It’s near impossible to find funding for Open experiments, for including college students and others in the march toward the future. Gates could cure that, and Diane could be the positive voice to cajole him. (See this post for details).'
Instead, Diane attacks him personally:
“Since Gates is a multibillionaire, he can’t possibly understand what it means to work in an environment where you might be fired for disagreeing with your boss. Nor can he possibly understand that schools are collaborative cultures that need senior teachers who are ready and willing to help newcomers. He can’t imagine that school is different from Microsoft or other big corporations."
Likely we've all had Diane et al say the same to or about us. We couldn't understand because we aren't there. Well, I forget how much time Diane herself has spent alone with a class of 25 this year--none? And I've departed in disagreement with a boss; what about you? But more importantly,
By Diane's logic I couldn't have redesigned the avionics for the world’s most complex aircraft because I've never flown into enemy fire. I couldn't have removed the dedicated air data computers and ripped out the manual target tracking and rearranged the defensive buses because I've never had anyone shoot at me or flown a target run over a theater of war.
Yet I did (we cut weight, reduced cost, extended range, increased performance), and Bill Gates changed a billion offices and living-rooms he's never been in.
And Diane should apologize to him.
Keep at it RiShawn.

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