Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Ravitch Wars - Lois Weiner Reveals Fault Lines in Ravitch Position

About 10 years ago the UFT gave Diane Ravitch the John Dewey Award. When I posted about it there was outrage from the anti-testing community which viewed Dewey as turning over in his grave in outrage at Standardista Ravitch getting this awar - Jerry Bracey was ready to fly in from Seattle if we held a protest rally. My fellow ICE founder John Lawhead had loads of stuff exposing Diane's roll in initiating corporate deform -- that was how I was educated about her. But then she did an amazing turn around and critics turned to giving (qualified) praise. From my perspective I view her support for many of the things I have been involved with as being invaluable, especially when she was the keynote speaker at our film premiere. And how welcome she made me feel when I was an isolated loner at Manhattan Institute events - when she (and I) were still being invited. Even a major admirer, Sol Stern, has broken with her - from the right.

While she has been attacked from the deform crowd, there has also been criticism from the left -- not the same type we saw over the past decades about her being a standardista bit for her ties to the unions (I often defend her for reasons I don't have time to go into).

There has been a lot of back and forth about Diane Ravitch between Jim Horn and Mercedes Schneider, two people I admire.

Read Jim at Schools Matter:  Attacking Diane Ravitch? Or Questions Too Uncomfortable for the Comfortable?

Mercedes: Kathleen Carroll Soars on the Wings of Research Blunder; Jim Horn Hitches a Ride

Buffalo teacher Sean Crowley, who savages the slugs who run his union, is also a critic where his comment is posted at Schools Matter: Read Sean Crowley

Though Ravitch comes in for a lot of love and a lot of invective, it is often without analysis. Lois Weiner digs deep into the weeds in her post on New Politics, offering praise and analysis of where she feels Ravich doesn't dare go.

Here are some excerpts from Lois' recent New Politics piece.

Probably the most important liberal defender of public education today is Diane Ravitch. In battling her former co-thinkers with the personal resources and connections she acquired in supporting neoconservative policies, Ravitch has contributed mightily to public awareness of the threat to democracy and to children in the current drive to create a privatized school system funded by public money but without collective, public oversight... Ravitch has almost singlehandedly developed and publicized a liberal rebuttal to neoliberal “reforms,” in effect substituting not only for the teacher union establishment but for labor as well....

....the overarching argument that U.S. public education was doing as well as could be expected given the effects of poverty is a serious flaw in her analysis and opens her—and the movement—to the charge that we want to defend an unequal status quo. 

Ravitch does not address the contradiction between schooling’s non-economic purposes, its role in educating the next generation of citizens and nurturing each individual’s potential, and its use as a sorting mechanism to allocate a diminishing number of well-paying jobs. Unfortunately, neoliberal reforms resonate with poor, minority parents precisely because they want the same opportunity for their children to compete for good jobs as children of middle class parents have. Calls for schools that make children happy and develop creativity will not assuage parents’ fears that their children will not be strong competitors in an increasingly punishing labor market. Arne Duncan’s contemptuous dismissal of opponents of high-stakes testing and the new Common Core curriculum as “suburban moms” who can’t face their children’s limitations demonstrates that our opponents will fully exploit the utterly hypocritical and inaccurate claim that they protect poor, minority children against white liberals who want to maintain the status quo, to advantage their own children.

Her electoral strategy also reflects a desire to return to the (idealized) past. Ravitch recognizes that big money and corporations control the Democratic Party, and her solution is to push Democrats to be the defenders of public education she says they once were. She therefore encourages opponents of corporate school reform to embrace Democrats willing to criticize (however vaguely) privatization, testing, and charter schools and defend (however meekly) teachers unions. However, she (and those who agree with this political strategy) do not explain how we will hold candidates responsible to the activists who have worked on their behalf and avoid betrayals. Yet this issue is more pressing with each election cycle and each desertion of Democrats whom progressives have supported.
Although pressed by activists to criticize teacher union leaders, in particular her long-time friend, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), for endorsing the Common Core and commending legislation that links teacher evaluation to students’ standardized test scores, Ravitch declines, arguing this creates divisions. But the divisions already exist because union reformers are challenging the local and national leadership in both of the teachers unions. The question is whether we will encourage activists to democratize their unions, to make them social movements, or whether we think the model of “service” or “business unionism” should remain the norm. 
This point by Lois and other Ravitch critics misses her support for GEM which she was able to do because GEM was not a caucus directly challenging the UFT leadership even though all the people active in GEM were also part of the opposition. And also the continuous support Ravitch gives Karen Lewis and the CTU. Here is the link.

New Politics Vol. XV No. 1, Whole Number 57 
Below the break Lois digs deeper into the social justice union activists following in the wake of CORE and the CTU where I think she makes some assumptions I don't totally agree with - and from my conversations with Lois I think she is missing some understanding of how CORE took control - people think it was more social justice than bread and butter. I don't agree - and given I've been in contact with CORE folks since almost their inception, I will offer some insights in another post.


1. See Jeffrey Raffel, The Politics of School Desegregation: The Metropolitan Remedy in Delaware (Temple University Press, 1980).
2. U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Education Awards Promise Neighborhoods Planning Grants. Press Release, Sept. 21, 2010.
4. Mercedes Schneider, “A Brief Audit of Bill Gates’ Common Core Spending,” Aug. 8, 2013, Huffington Post.
5. Ann Bastian et al., Choosing Equality. The Case for Democratic Schooling (Temple University Press, 1986).
6. Amy Stuart Wells et al., Review of Research in Education, ed. Robert E. Floden (American Educational Research Association, 2004), 49.
7. Connie Schaffer, “Unmasking the Reformers; Essay Review of Ravitch’s ‘Reign of Error.’” Education Review/ ReseƱas Educativas, vol. 17, no. 3, April 12, 2013.
8. Jeffrey A. Raffel, “The Changing Challenges of School Segregation and Desegregation,” Education Review, vol. 16, no. 5, Oct. 22, 2013.
9. Herman Benson, “Sober Thoughts After Inspiring Years of Union Organizing,” Union Democracy Review, April/May 2013, 3, 5.
10. Nelson Lichtenstein, A Contest of Ideas. Capital, Politics, and Labor (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013), p. 150. 
11. Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, The Making of Global Capitalism. The Political Economy of American Empire (Verso, 2012).

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