Following NPE's very late “call” for “a national opt,” it is not surprising to see the history of the opt out movement already being revised to give credit to education’s “American Idol,” Diane Ravitch. John Thompson writes at Huffington Post,
Three cheers for the Opt Out movement! When the history of the collapse of data-driven, competition-driven school improvement is written, the parents and students of the grassroots Opt Out uprising will get much - or most - of the credit for driving a stake through the heart of the testing vampire.
Of course, leaders like Diane Ravitch will be justifiably credited for guiding embattled educators through the dark days of the corporate reform era. . . .
Hearing this speed-of-light revisionism, however, from historian, John Thompson, is both surprising and disappointing. John is clearly not too young to remember that "during the dark[est] days of corporate education reform,” the few good guys like Susan Ohanian, Gerald Bracey, Kathy Emery, and David Berliner were doing their best to counter the propaganda by “crisis mongers” and voucher/charter advocates like Diane Ravitch and Paul Peterson, who were, at the same time, wining and dining at the Hoover Institute and Manhattan Institute with other doyens of corporate education reform. At a Manhattan Institute soiree in 2000 that featured all the corporate ed rock stars, Ravitch waved off the dire warnings about school privatization that were being offered by Bracey and others:
"Vouchers and charters will not destroy public education. This is an incredible and fantastic fear. There are more than 45 million children in public schools. There are about 12,000 receiving vouchers. There are 350,000 in charter schools. This is like an elephant complaining about the mosquito on its shoulder, saying that that the mosquito is going to destroy it. Why are people so frightened of such an insignificant prospect? It is hard to understand the hysteria stirred by the fear of choice with regard to the public schools."
Apparently, Ravitch could not foresee, or chose to ignore, the deadly virus that the little mosquito carried. Regardless of whether her innacurate assessment of the threat was due to bad judgment or the kind of stealth duplicity that had earned her a reputation when she was working for GHW Bush, today 18 states have approved school voucher laws and two and half million children are enrolled in charters, with millions more planned as a result of the new federal legislation that Ravitch and her new NEA/AFT patrons supported in 2015. Of the 90,000+ public schools in the U. S. when Ravitch made that statement above, 7,000 of them are now charter schools. Quite the mosquito, it turns out.
If Ravitch’s judgment could be relied upon to represent the best interests of children, teachers, and parents, it would matter not if she got credit for a movement that she came to four years after it began and only after it had reached national proportions. Sadly, however, her judgment cannot be relied upon, as she has shown with her full-throated support for the ESEA reauthorization, ESSA, which will set back education policy by at least a half century, according to civil rights lawyer, Gary Orfield.
However, Ravitch can be trusted to maintain a blind loyalty to AFT and NEA misleaders, who have an established history of selling their members down the river repeatedly, with support for NCLB testing, charter schools, and value-added teacher evaluation. It would seem that Ravitch wants everyone under her tent, even if there are well-known arsonists in the crowd.
Ravitch’s epiphany that she had been wrong for so many years about corporate education reform came only after it had dawned on most educators, policymakers, and a sizable percentage of the general public that NCLB was an unsustainable privatization charade from the beginning. Her quiet contrition and guarded confessions expressed in her two books after 2009 earned her the hero status that she enjoys today as someone who saw the errors of her ways and came over from the dark side. For teachers it is thrilling to hear, especially from a conservative, that they were right all along about matters felt so deeply.
No, Ravitch is not the hero of the Opt Out movement, and she deserves credit only for coming four years late to the party that others worked their guts out to make happen. I would suggest that the historian, John Thompson, dig a little deeper into the history of the opt out movement before he adds another jewel to the Ravitch crown.