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

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Duncan and BBC (Billionaire Boys' Club) Go After Ravitch

There's an old quote that comes out the early labor movement: "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."

From the heat coming off the attacks from ed journalism's junkyard jackass opinionator, Jon Alter, there is a fire being stoked by the Billionaire Boys Club, where an inability to buy the truth has reached a crisis point that demands that the truth tellers, now, be burned at the stake.

Long before the stakes were set and the wood piled, however, Alter was the well-worn, um, tool, shall we say, for the corporate thrusting that has long sought to degrade and humiliate those resisting the corporatization of schools.  A couple of earlier examples that would come to inspire the likes of Governor Scott Walker and Chris Christie, the first from 2008, when Alter was writing for the bankrupt rag, Newsweek:
. . . .Railing against the tyranny of tests is fashionable, but it isn't going to save our children and our economy in the 21st century. Nor will more money for important programs like art and music. The more basic problem is that we have no way of determining which teachers can actually teach. That's right: teaching is arguably the only profession in the country with ironclad job security and a well-honed hostility to measuring results.. . .

. . . .General elections are won among moderate swing voters, many of whom would respond well to a Democratic candidate willing to show he can slip the ideological stranglehold of a retrograde liberal interest group. Obama's right that the NCLB-inspired testing mania is out of control, but wrong to give teachers "ownership over the design of better assessment tools." That's a recipe for no assessment, because the teachers unions, for all their lip service, don't believe their members should be judged on performance. They still believe that protecting incompetents is more important than educating children. . . . .
This rant goes on with all the Gates/Broad/Walton talking points, expressed through Alter's tough-twerp rhetoric, but here is my favorite part, where Alter suggests holding back Title I funds (for those poorest children that Alter wants to help) as a way to bribe school systems (RTTT, anyone?) to make alterations in collective bargaining arrangements with teachers:
Obama should hold a summit of all 50 governors and move them toward national standards and better recruitment, training and evaluation of teachers. He should advocate using Title I federal funding as a lever to encourage "thin contracts" free of the insane work rules and bias toward seniority, as offered by the brilliant new superintendent in Washington, D.C., Michelle Rhee. . . .
And this from December, 2008, again reporting for his patron, Bill Gates:
He [Gates] called President-elect Obama last week and reports back cheerily that Obama "said all the right things" about including big money for education in the stimulus package and making fundamental school reform (not the fake kind pushed by teachers unions) a priority. . . . When I lumped Gates in with the "bomb throwers" on education, he chuckled and didn't disagree.
And a gem from 2010, again part of another borderline-erotic tribute to Alter's "micro-hard hombre" patron, Bill Gates:
There’s a backlash against the rich taking on school reform as a cause. Some liberals figure they must have an angle and are scapegoating teachers. But most of the wealthy people underwriting this long-delayed social movement for better performance are on the right track. 
I can see them, all former Corps (TFA) members, sipping lattes and hugging their clipboards around the table at the Gates Foundation and singing KIPP Shall Overcome.

The latest from Alter came yesterday, this poorly-written and hurried piece of drivel that recycles Alter's previously-used Whitaker Chambers insult aimed at Diane Ravitch, for whom the bonfire is now laid.  Alter was even handed a jibe to throw in from Oligarchs' chief stooge at ED, Arne Duncan:
Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama’s normally mild- mannered education secretary, has finally had enough. “Diane Ravitch is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day,” he said when I asked about Ravitch this week.
Eight pro-Ravitch comments were posted at the Bloomberg site before they stopped taking any more, even though hundreds of anti-Alter tweets have been posted.

The Oligarchs' strategy is obvious: Invite the shrinking minority of teachers at schools that haven't been blown up yet to the bonfire, where the stakes are in place for those who speak the truth.  Hope to divide--hope to conquer--burn the rest.  This came from Arne's press secretary yesterday afternoon:
EDPressSec @arneduncan: @DianeRavitch in denial & insulting hardworking teachers, principals & students proving her wrong every day me.lt/760ka
I hope everyone reading this has a hundred characters or so to say on the matter.

I was going to respond specifically to Alter's attack, but it seems that Alex Pareene at Salon has beat me to the punch.  And a good response it is:
Michael Bloomberg's opinion page goes after a Michael Bloomberg critic
Michael Bloomberg and Jonathan Alter 
The conflict of interest inherent in having a media company owned by a powerful politician would probably be easier to explain away if that media company's new opinion arm refrained from directly attacking prominent critics of the boss. But Bloomberg View, like Bloomberg himself, doesn't care what nitpicking critics say. That's why no editor there thought it unseemly of Bloomberg View to run a Jonathan Alter piece attacking education policy expert Diane Ravitch, a vociferous critic of Mayor Bloomberg's handing of the New York City schools system.

Bloomberg View is the unasked-for opinion arm of Bloomberg L.P., the financial information company founded and owned by the billionaire mayor of New York City. Before it launched, one of its editors promised that it would run only "ideology-free, empirically-based editorial positions about the pressing issues of our time," because the ideology of the wealthy elite does not count as ideology.

There was already a minor controversy when it was reported that the opinion arm of Bloomberg's media company -- a company he is not supposed to be directly running while he's mayor -- would be located not at corporate HQ, but at the offices of the Bloomberg Family Foundation, where the mayor is allowed to participate in day-to-day operations.
Alter, formerly of Newsweek, is no lazy hack. He is smart and hard-working. Mayor Bloomberg didn't directly assign some shameless attack dog to go after one of his critics. Alter obviously sincerely agrees with the Bloomberg philosophy. But it still looks seriously inappropriate, like Mayor Mike's P.R. department firing off a response to this recent Ravitch op-ed.

And Alter's piece is not very impressive or convincing! It basically says that Alter and his friends are right and Ravitch is wrong, and it is full of very un-self-aware passages accusing her of caricature while very clumsily caricaturing all of Ravitch's arguments.

Ravitch is the author of a very good book that deflates many of the "success stories" and arguments of the very well-funded and powerful education reform movement, a movement supported by the elites in both political parties and on almost every editorial board in the nation. All the money is behind it. The only powerful institutional force that isn't gung-ho about the McKinsey-ification of public schooling is the teachers' unions, and so Ravitch is generally painted as a pawn of that particular "special interest." (Right-wing think tankers, millionaire centrist liberals, and highly paid corporate consultants are not a "special interest," they are just the people who are right about everything.)
When Alter says Ravitch "uses phony empiricism to rationalize almost every tired argument offered by teachers unions," we're meant to hiss at the invocation of the bad guy in this story. "Phony empiricism" means "data that contradict data used by pro-reform sources." Like the data that showed that the miraculous test score gains made by New York school children after two terms of complete control of the school system by Mayor Bloomberg were illusory.

But it's fine for Alter to disagree with Ravitch or accuse her of misusing statistics or insulting hard-working MBAs opening up for-profit charter schools across this great nation. It's just doesn't seem right to read this side of the argument under the name "BLOOMBERG."
  • Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon. Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene More: Alex Pareene

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