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

Monday, June 08, 2020

Wishing Away Goliath, Part 4

by Jim Horn
Parts 1-3 here, here, and here.

Before I get into Diane Ravitch's role in the suppression of the Sandia Report (promised at the end of Part 3) and her subsequent silence on the issue, I need to offer some more context for my critique of Ravitch policies.  Over the years, Diane has recruited a number of eunuchs to serve as the royal protectors of her Court, so that each time a critic of her policies emerges, he or she is set upon with lambasting and accusations of ideological purity, animus toward the Queen, and aiding and abetting the enemy.  Today is no different.

Diane Ravitch's new book, “Slaying Goliath. . .,” follows on two previous books written since the lucrative reformer conversion experience in 2007, when it finally became clear to Diane that her think tank cronies had no interest in disarming the public school time bombs ticking inside No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Even though Diane had known at the creation of NCLB in 2001 that tens of thousands of schools and millions of children and teachers would be labeled failures because of an inability to meet NCLB's impossible proficiency targets, she waited until NCLB had become a highly unpopular toxic mess to make her move.  In fact, Diane's conversion was not much of a stretch from where she had always been. Let me offer a little bit of history.

With the Supreme Court appointment of Bush II as President in 2000, Tea Party conservatism was ascendant in the Republican Party.  As has been the history of Democrats since Jimmy Carter, the DNC, having already swapped principle for opportunism under Bill Clinton, rushed further right to claim the territory once occupied by Republican moderates.  Simply by standing still, then, Diane found herself aligned with the neoliberal Third Way Democrats, not because of any change on her part, but because the DNC’s rush rightward to fill the void left by Right flight moved backwards to where Republican moderates like Diane had always been.

With the DNC's rightward march, AFT and NEA, then, became the conduits for Clintonian education priorities such as charter schools, national standards (Common Core), testing accountability, performance pay for teachers, alternative teacher certification, computer technology, edu-preneurial privatizing of school services, and Business Roundtable policy priorities. 

By the time Ravitch was ready to ditch NCLB in 2007, the only K-12 education issue of substance separating Republicans and Democrats was school vouchers, which she quickly jettisoned as if she had never supported them.  Following her conversion, Diane became, and remains to this day, the chief apologist for awful policy positions by both AFT and NEA.

Her conversion, in short, was more transaction than transformation, with less pain and much more gain.  Even so, the fact that someone of Ravitch's status would publicly denounce NCLB and its poisonous outcomes as she did in 2007-08 made her an overnight hero to educators and policy progressives uninterested in her other policy positions. 

Since 2007, Diane's positions on Common Core, charter schools, performance pay and other corporate reforms have been all over the board, as she has simultaneously presented herself as a freedom fighter against CorpEd, while at the same time leading the propaganda effort to deflect and neutralize criticism of AFT-NEA's corporate collaboration with the DNC's Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), Stand for Children (SFC), and Save Our Schools (SOS).  

Ten year ago, AFT-NEA's embrace of value-added testing, Common Core, test-based teacher evaluation, charter schools, TFA, teacher performance pay, and big data fit pretty tightly with Diane’s policy preferences at the time she announced her opposition to NCLB.  In order to stay relevant to the real resistance to Corporate Education during the last ten years, Diane's NPE and AFT/NEA have been forced to shift away from or at least disguise some of their more odious alignments with the DNC's corporate education political hothouse, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

This has come as a result of the effective resistance work of teachers, parents, and students demanding change and making it happen.  For instance, the uncompromising dedication and fearless leadership of Long Island Opt Out and United Opt Out constrasted sharply with the tepid and ineffective gradualism of  AFT, NEA, and their new ally, Diane Ravitch.  Teacher and parent resistance to the Common Core, for instance, led corporate union leaders to muffle their earlier enthusiasm, and Diane went so far as to publish a revised edition of The Death and Life . . . primarily to walk back her previous support for the Common Core.

Over the past 15 years, a handful of critics have supported teachers' skepticism to CorpEd reforms by repeatedly ridiculing and exposing Diane's and corporate union leaders' acquiescence to performance pay, VAM, teacher evaluation based on value-added test scores, high-stakes testing, ESSA, and charter schools.   And one by one, their support for these corporate reform priorities have fallen by the way, moved underground, or have been shrouded in position statements that require careful explication to figure out what they mean.  NPE's position on charter schools is a prime example of a policy statement that appears on the surface to oppose charter schools when, in fact, it supports the continuation of racist charter schools, while blowing smoke about some amorphous and fantastic eventual absorption of charters by public education.

Within the small world of corporate education critics, Diane Ravitch has achieved a sort of demigod status.  She has many defenders, as I have discovered during the past decade of analyzing and critiquing her Janus-faced policy schizophrenia

By generously offering recognition and attention to her followers who desperately seek it and by marginalizing critics with ridiculous claims of personal persecution, she has inspired a hive of vigilant rhetorical activists, where loyalty is demanded and rewarded, criticism is vanquished, and the protection of the queen is paramount.  This political devise is on full display in Slaying Goliath, as Diane offers a catalog of attaboys to every activist who has carried her water without criticism or complaint.

I am not one of those.

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