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. -- Jonathan AlterDiane Ravitch is right on point with her critique of corporate-style school reform and with her exposes of so-called "turnaround miracles."
How do I know she's hitting the mark? Arne Duncan is using the full power of the DOE's overstaffed and over-budgeted PR department to launch personal attacks on Diane. Even during the Bush administration, when hack journalists like Armstrong Williams were paid big bucks to promote No Child Left Behind, I can't recall former secretaries of ed using willing writers to launch such vicious personal vendettas against individual critical educators.
Duncan's version of Williams (paid or unpaid) is know-nothing edu-hack writer Jonathan Alter, blogging for Bloomberg (how perfect!). Alter has proven himself the perfect lap dog for Duncan and Bill Gates. If either of them farts, Alter is right behind them, sniffing the air and writing joyously about the sweet aroma filling the room.
In this latest diatribe, Alter calls critics of Race To The Top and corporate reform "obstructionists" (ooh sizz, if only it were true). Digging deep for some profound historical reference, Alter compares Ravitch to Whittaker Chambers, the alleged communist turned anti-communist back in the 1940s. Could you stoop any lower or be any more obscure?
Alter claims that Ravitch "moved the other way, from right to left." I suppose that's a terrible thing now that the administration, and Duncan in particular, are moving so quickly to the right. Remember Duncan's April "salute" to Indiana T-Party Gov. Daniels' school reform initiative, which produced the nation's most far-reaching voucher program?
Alter also claims that Ravitch "now uses phony empiricism to rationalize almost every tired argument offered by teachers unions." Phony empiricism? How can empiricism be phony? And what makes the current arguments of the nation's unions "tired"? Their arguments sure resonated in Wisconsin.
Empiricism as a theory of knowledge demands that we provide evidence to back up our claims. Diane Ravitch has been out front with her criticism of reformers' claims of "miracle" successes made with little or no evidence to back them up. She has hit particularly hard at claims that schools alone can close the so-called "achievement gap," without regard to problems of poverty and racism and other out-of-school conditions. In her NYT op-ed piece, Ravitch takes apart with precision, a number of those claims and exposes lots of data-fudging. She remembers all too well, the way the Bush administration touted the so-called Texas Miracle as a way of spinning its own reform agenda. Alter and Duncan try to counter, claiming such exposes amount to "insulting teachers, principals and students." They're wrong, Educators don't need mythology to validate their work and don't appreciate being used for political spins.
What an upside-down picture of the ed-world Duncan and his apparatchiks have created, a world where liberals and pro-union activists are the enemy and teacher-bashing T-baggers like Daniels are warmly embraced. With the 2012 elections coming up, I would suggest that President Obama press his ear closely to the education ground and quickly figure out whose message is resonating with the nation's nearly 8 million teachers, and who they feel is insulting them and their profession -- Diane Ravitch or Arne Duncan.
Remember, Mr. President. Teachers vote. We'll see you in D.C. July 30th and make sure our voices are heard.
^^^^^^Here's some of the comments following Alter's piece:
"This is perhaps the most mendacious essay I've ever seen." -- Robert D. Skeels
" Speaking of straw men, Jonathan Alter, you have just provided a textbook case in media manipulation:."--Nancy Flannagan
"Your opinions are everything that working people have fought against for years." -- J-soh K-ritz
"I wish Jonathan Alter would take a job for a single semester at an urban middle school." -- Anthony Cody