"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Wishing Away Goliath, Part 3

Jim Horn
Last updated May 17, 2020

Parts 1 and 2 here and here.

In Part 3, I probe Diane Ravitch's continuing neglect of the historical origins of NCLB, which was signed into law in 2002.  I also provide examples of her persistent soft-pedaling of the roles played by conservative think tank dwellers and education industry consultants with whom Ravitch worked during thirty years as a Republican education policy insider joined, as she was, in an aggressive, well-funded effort to sabotage public education in the United States.

Based on Diane's account from 2010, her support for No Child Left Behind "remained strong" until she attended an AEI conference on November 20, 2006, which Checker Finn and Rick Hess had put together to examine "whether the major remedies prescribed by NCLB — especially choice and after-school tutoring — were effective."

According to Diane, it was only when she left that meeting in 2006 that she had the dawning realization "that the sanctions embedded in NCLB were, in fact, not only ineffective but certain to contribute to the privatization of large chunks of public education."

She follows that recounted flash of insight with this: "I wonder whether the members of Congress intended this outcome. I doubt that they did."

Well, yes, many did intend that outcome, Diane, as has been documented in several books, numerous magazine articles, and ample policy analyses.  Congress did know about the NCLB's intended privatization, and to assure that outcome, a majority of legislators 1) approved the requirement that 100 percent of school children would be "proficient" in reading and math by 2014, and 2) included charter school conversion as a central remedy for failing schools.

As George W. Bush's Assistant Secretary of Education, Professor Susan Neuman, told Time Magazine in 2008, NCLB was a "Trojan Horse for the choice agenda — a way to expose the failure of public education and 'blow it up a bit'."

During the months leading up to NCLB passage, a number of hair-on-fire warnings were issued.  Did education policy maven, Diane Ravitch, miss the Staiger and Kane op-ed in the New York Times in the late summer of 2001 prior to Congressional passage of NCLB?  Doubtful, since Diane edited a volume in 2002, which included this piece that echoed the 2001 op-ed:
Thomas J. Kane and Douglas O Staiger, "Volatility in School Test Scores: Implications for Test-Based Accountability Systems."  In Diane Ravitch (Ed.), Brookings Papers on Education 2002.  Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002.
Two clips from that Kane and Staiger NYTimes op-ed:
The central flaw is that both versions of this bill place far too much emphasis on year-to-year changes in test scores. Under either, every school in America would have to generate an increase in test scores each and every year or face penalties like having to allow its students to transfer to another public school, being converted into a charter school or being taken over by a private contractor.

Both bills would be particularly harsh on racially diverse schools. Each school would be expected to achieve not only an increase in test scores for the school as a whole, but increases for each and every racial or ethnic group as well. Because each group's scores fluctuate depending upon the particular students being tested each year, it is rare to see every group's performance moving upward in the same year. Black and Latino students are more likely than white students to be enrolled in highly diverse schools, so their schools would be more likely than others to be arbitrarily disrupted by a poorly designed formula.
As we noted not so many years back, academics weren't the only people worried about what was about to unfold in 2001:
As White House staff, congressional aides, and a small contingent of think tank insiders huddled in Washington during the summer of 2001 to compile the final version of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA), state policymakers worried about new accountability demands that the legislation was to include.  In July, Missouri’s assistant commissioner of education, Stephen Barr, had described the 12-year window for achieving 100 percent student proficiency in reading and math as “an impossible dream,” and in the same article from The New York Times, Pennsylvania’s secretary of education, Charles Zogby said, “It’s unrealistic to think that in some places where 90 percent of the children are below basic that we’re going to turn this around in 10 years. And then everybody is going to throw up their hands and say none of this is possible” (para 29).
Elizabeth Debray's (2006) excellent ed policy history notes that two months earlier in April 2001, Dr. Joseph Johnson, who served as compensatory education director for the Bush Administration,
. . .  told the National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators in April 2001: "People are looking at the data and saying, 'This is going to be catastrophic because there are going to be so many low-performing schools and this isn't going to work'." Though Johnson himself urged a more positive response, by June he had submitted his resignation.
Even with an abundance of proof to the contrary, all of Ravitch's three books written since 2010 have essentially recycled the same gloss on No Child Left Behind, which repeatedly depict NCLB advocates as innocently misguided, strategically shortsighted, and/or naively well-intentioned individuals. 

In Slaying Goliath, which represents Diane's latest retelling of the story to save public schools from the onslaught of corporate education reform, she continues to proclaim a weird kind of erroneous innocence for those front-line ideologues in the No Child Left Behind school privatization scheme.  In an unfortunate example of self-plagiarism in Slaying Goliath, Diane recycles a paragraph from a letter she wrote to Lamar Alexander, originally published at Huffington Post in 2015:
. . . . I remember a panel discussion in early 2002 at the Willard Hotel soon after NCLB was signed. You were on the panel. I was in the audience, and I stood up and asked you whether you truly believed that 100% of all children in grades 3-8 would be “proficient” by 2014. You answered, “No, Diane, but we think it is good to have goals.” Well, based on goals that you knew were out of reach, teachers and principals have been fired, and many schools — beloved in their communities — have been closed.
In the recycled version that ends up (without citation) in Slaying Goliath, Ravitch writes: 
At the time, I attended an event in Washington, D.C., at the Willard Hotel, sponsored by the conservative Hoover Institution, where my former boss in the George H. W. Bush administration, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, was on a panel discussing the new law.  I stood up in the audience and asked whether he truly expected that 'every student' would be proficient by 2014.  He responded, 'No, Diane, we don't expect that, but it's good to have goals.'  Little did he know that many school would be closed and many teachers and principals would be fired because they could not accomplish what was patently impossible (p. 20).
Little did he know?  Lamar Alexander has long served as providing the "velvet gloves" for handling bare-knuckled policies developed by the likes of Checker Finn, Bill Bennett, the Manhattan Institute, and the Bush family. (As Thomas Toch recounted in 1991, one of Alexander's aides once told a reporter, "Finn's ideas are a lot more palatable in Lamar's velvet gloves.")

There are a couple of things that are striking about Ravitch's recollection of the Willard Hotel incident from 2002. The first is Diane's acknowledgement that she knew in 2002 that NCLB was setting schools up for failure with impossible proficiency targets.  The second is that, even though Diane knew this in 2002, she continued to support NCLB until late 2006.  And third: Diane is on the record in her 2010 book as saying that she only figured out in 2006 that the sanctions written into NCLB would lead to "privatization of large chunks of public education." 

Is that clear?  I know--it makes my head hurt, too. 

What is clear, however, in the 10 years of publishing since the Ravitch conversion is Diane's repeated attempt to portray the crowd she once ran with as having failed in well-intentioned efforts to improve education. What she ignores are the facts that 1) corporate education reform has not failed, and 2) corporate education reformers' initiatives were never intended to improve public schools but, rather, to make them weaker and more susceptible to the disease of corporate parasitism.  Rather than having failed to achieve the good, corporate education has succeeded in achieving the bad.

By continuing to miss this crucial distinction, Diane persists in a charade that has the effect of protecting the purveyors of privatization and, thus, her own complicity in their evil schemes, both past and present.  And by whitewashing the past, Diane denies history its purgative power, thus assuring that her salvation remains as incomplete as her heavily-edited confessions. 

Meanwhile, Diane's readers are left with bad information and false hopes for illusory victories built upon erroneous impressions. 

In Part 4, I will examine the real story behind the suppression of the Sandia Report in 1991, which occurred when Diane was Assistant Secretary of Education and Counselor to Secretary of Education, Lamar "Velvet Gloves" Alexander.  Diane was at the original briefing when researchers at the Department of Energy shared their findings on the condition of American public schools, which ran contrary to the lies and distortions that Reagan/Bush insiders had manufactured to beat down public schools and open the door to school vouchers and other forms of privatization and monetization.  In Slaying Goliath, Diane finally comes as close as she ever has yet to acknowledging the lies and deceit for which she earned the designation as the conservative talk show host of the corporate education reformers.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Wishing Away Goliath, Part 2 w/updates

Jim Horn
Part 1 can be found here

Updated May 3, 2020

Just over ten years ago when Diane Ravitch signaled that she was about to leave the corporate ed reform ship and walk ashore as an apostle of the Resistance, I and many others were hoping to read The Death and Life of the Great American School System as a roadmap to the inner workings of the corrupt education reform establishment.  Finally, I thought, if the world was ever to know the full story of the seminal events that had misshaped, corrupted, and, otherwise, damaged public education over the three prior decades, an insider-backslider like Diane Ravitch might be the one who could spill the beans.  After all, as an historian, wouldn't she want to set the record straight as part of her redemption plan?

What was the inside scoop, for instance, on the manipulations of NAEP cut scores to make American students appear underprepared and their schools grossly negligent in preparing them?  Diane was on the scene when those cut scores were set in stone by Checker Finn, who served as President of NAEP's Governing Board in 1989:

In an article titled "A Test Everyone Will Fail," the late Gerald Bracey (2007/2011) wrote this about the manipulated NAEP cut scores and why nothing has ever been done since 1989 to make them realistic metrics of American student achievement:
. . . these numbers are useful as scare techniques and bludgeons. If you can batter people into believing that the schools are in awful shape, you can make them anxious about their future and you can control them. In the 1980s the schools-suck-bloc used such numbers to make us fearful that Japan, now emerging from a 15-year-long recession-stagnation was going to take away all of our markets; today India and China play the role of economic ogres.
Diane served on the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), from 1997 to 2004.  During her tenure, she did nothing to change the cut scores, which the National Academy of Science described in 1993 as "fundamentally flawed."  

In fact, at a Hoover Institution press briefing in 2001, Koret Task Force member, Diane Ravitch, bragged:
The National Assessment of Educational Progress has gotten, I think, much stronger. When Checker [Finn] was chairman of the NAGBE Board, the governing board, they created real standards so that now we are able to report periodically to the nation about where American kids are in terms of learning different important subject areas in their school studies.
And to this day, Diane has said nothing in any of her three books written since 2010 about this ongoing scandal. The same scandalously high proficiency levels remain scandalously high and "fundamentally flawed," and they are the same unreachable proficiency targets that "reformers" use to hammer schools whenever new NAEP results are published.

And so it quickly became clear even in my initial reading of The Death and Life . . . that Ravitch was much less interested in blowing the whistle than preaching a message of redemption to her former allies.  Rather than sharing the facts about the NAEP scandal or the two other prominent scandals that will be the focus of Parts 3 and 4, Diane has offered the education reform establishment homilies, tsk-tsks, and finger wagging. 

Meanwhile, the real history American education policy's greatest manipulations remains untold by someone with all the facts to tell it.  To this day, Diane regularly presents the education reform establishment as simply misguided and misinformed individuals and organizations with good intentions, rather than as an ideologically and cash-driven movement to monetize and privatize public institutions.  

Monday, April 20, 2020

As Data Becomes "New Oil," Your Mind is for Fracking

I urge you to read the results of Alison McDowell's latest investigations into the new Silicon Valley money fronts, as Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc. angle to become the 21st Century equivalents of the early 20th Century oil barons.  As Alison points out, "[d]ata is the new oil and the electrical engineers and innovative financiers of Silicon Valley have teamed up to devise a plan to frack it from our minds and from our bodies while framing it as a social good."

Here's an example below of a patent request (click it to enlarge) that Microsoft filed this year.  I think it offers a pretty clear picture of efforts of a new capitalist model based not on "pay to play" but, rather, "get paid to play." Of course, the crypto-crumbs to be collected by human data-fuel sources will be insignificant in comparison to the real money saved by efficiency-seeking governments dependent upon Silicon Valley's social steering contractors. 

Certainly gives the term "social capital" a whole new meaning!

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Wishing Away Goliath

Wishing Away Goliath
Jim Horn
Part 1

Diane Ravitch’s Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America's Public Schools is the latest of the Good Diane’s three books written since the Bad Diane departed the corporate education reform ship around 2009, just as it was running into stiff headwinds from a fierce storm front developing over No Child Left Behind, which at the time was devastating thousands of public schools and threatening tens of thousands of others. 

In this third installment of the Good Diane’s recurring mea culpa and political distancing exercise from the Bad Diane’s 30 years of service to the corporate education reform agenda, the Good Diane makes a consistently-shaky case for the imminent victory of the “Resistance” over the “Disruptors,” of good over evil, of educators over the edupreneurs, of the informed over the clueless, of Davids over Goliaths, and, most importantly, of Diane Ravitch over her own past.

The first book, The Death and Life of theGreat American School System, was the Good Diane's first attempt to undo with words what she had spent her adult life doing with policy implementation and carefully crafted “free market” propaganda aimed to increase testing accountability, merit pay, phonics, school vouchers, national standards/curriculum, and corporate steering of public education. 

She explains in The Death and Life . . . that the harmful effects of the policies she previously spent so much effort pushing became clearer to her only when she descended from her flyover view as a high-rolling policymaker and edu-elite, where she had used her positions of power “looking at schools and teachers and students from an altitude of 20,000 feet and seeing them as objects to be moved around by big ideas and great plans” (p. 10).

As the emerging Good Diane explained, sort of, in The Death and Life. . . , it was around 2008 when the Bad Diane began to notice a negative aspect to the privatization of the public schools, which she had actively supported since the Reagan Era.  Yet even as the Good Diane inside the Bad Diane grew more worried that her privatization agenda might finally be realized, she continued to cycle from one conservative think tank to another, discussing abstractions such as “choice,” “national standards,” and “accountability” with the likes of Paul Peterson,Terry Moe, and Checker Finn.

Finally, when it became clear that her think tank pals planned to do nothing to alter the original timing device on the bunker-busting bomb buried in No Child Left Behind, which, by 2008, had become a toxic mess that was increasingly unpopular, the Bad Diane began to flounder for real.  A political esthete with a preference for debate over bomb making, the Good Diane says that, by 2009, her “basic conservatism about values, traditions, communities, and institutions” finally forced her to see the light: 

It remains a little unclear as where those “values” had been stored during the Bad Diane’s 30-year membership in the Privatization and Testing Accountability Club. When I now read the excerpt just above from The Death and Life. . ., it seems as likely as it did 10 years ago when I first read it that the Bad Diane knew from the beginning that the NCLB bomb to blow up public schools was armed even in 2002, when the 100 percent proficiency timer started ticking. 

Was it her "basic conservatism" that led her finally to salvation, or was it a realization that she had become a callous careerist on the wrong side of history? We'll probably never know, even though Ravitch is still making the distinction between the Bad Diane of her past and the Good Diane of the present. Just last week, for instance, in an interview with Education Week, she said, “In the last 10 years, I’ve become an activist on behalf of public schools and the importance of public education in a democracy, and this is a big change in where I was before then.”  (By the way, the five minute clip of the interview is worth watching, as it fits the corporate union version of the "Resistance" comfortably within the Clintonian boundaries that Joe Biden's candidacy demands.)

What we do know is that every other insider knew that, from the get-go, NCLB was a device to blow up public schools. That's where Part 2 of this meditation will begin.