Friday, June 3, 2011

Duncan's Alter boy spearheads personal assault on Ravitch

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 Alter 
Diane 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 Digging deep for some profound historical reference, Alter compares Ravitch to Whittaker Chambers, the alleged communist turned anti-communist back in the 1940s.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

And more...


  1. Alter's personal attack on Ravitch is startlingly unprofessional -- an elder statesman journalist should surely know to stick to issues and not get so nasty.

    And if Ravitch is "insulting" teachers as Duncan says, why are hordes of teachers constantly praising and thanking her -- while voicing dismay, anger and outrage at Duncan's attitude toward them?

  2. Your post reminds me of the call I received from the Obama administration asking if I was going to support them in the 2012 election. I told the caller that I had not made up my mind. I told her I did not think the Obama administration was doing enough to assist education and educators. She said he was trying. I said he was not, because he still has Arne Duncan in the Department of Education. I agree with you. I do vote too, and I supported this administration in the last election, but I think it's time for the corporate reform regime to go. Thanks for this post.

  3. Duncan/Gates association has to go! Obama is wrong when it comes to education, and I voted for him! He is giving amunition to idiots like C Chistie

  4. See Alex Pareene's piece in He says Alter using Bloomberg to attack Ravitch is an ethical breach. I agree.

  5. Mr. Alter:

    Yours is perhaps the most mendacious essay I've ever seen. The outright dismissal of Dr. Ravitch's use of the very same statistics that privatizers use to tout their lucrative education schemes is humorous. The fact that she can derive the correct conclusion from them is what scares those bent on profiting from education.

    "[C]harter schools are in fact public schools?" Is it their unelected boards that make them public? Is it their negligible accountability to the community what makes them public? Is their nearly complete financial opaqueness (like a Form 990 really tells us anything) that makes them public? Is it their ability to avoid teaching children with special needs or disciplinary issues what makes them public? Oh, yes, Mr. Alter et al will remind us that since they take public funds, that that must make them public. How quaintly Randian. Blackwater/Xe takes public funds, are we to understand that they are a public institution as well?

    Indeed the most absurd part of your unmerited attack on Dr. Ravitch is the quote from Arne Duncan, who is a pariah amongst not only teachers, but most community activists. Duncan's disdain for public school teachers is legendary, his talk of "insulting all of the hardworking teachers" rings both duplicitous and insincere. His very occupying of his post is the ultimate insult to anyone that supports public education.

    Advocating Public Education and Social Justice

    Robert D. Skeels

  6. Thanks for publishing my letter to Mr. Alter, he had a snide reply to which I gave him probably more than he could handle. I will publish it soon.

  7. Thank you for the heads up.

    I took it and ran, and hope others do, too.

    I cannot continue to support an administration that allows a man like Duncan continue to distort the truth.

  8. When I hear Obama talk about education, his rhetoric does not match his ground game put forward by Duncan, Gates, et al. I find it ironic that we are spending so much money on school "reforms" here in the US that have nothing to do with the underlying causes of poor educational outcomes, poverty being the biggest single factor. In a recent analysis of PISA results, American schools with low rates of poverty were NUMBER ONE in the world. If you were Obama or Duncan, you'd probably sit up and take notice of that...if you weren't hell-bent on ideology.

    Diane Ravitch is so clearly ahead of the curve for the talking heads and politicians that is absolutely disarming to them. I want to hear Obama talk about poverty and how that doesn't affect schools. I want to hear Duncan say that teachers are the problem, when low-income students are suffering everyday with problems our schools cannot easily address (healthcare, hunger, homelessness, poor parenting, etc.). Diane makes sense. These bought-off corporate politicians, who have not taught public schools for any appreciable amount of time, can go test themselves, and let our kids learn from people who know how to do so...teachers.

  9. We've been discussing the Administration's curiously Bush-Wacked approach to education off and on at The Wikipedia Review, an independent forum for social media criticism. See, for example, the following thread:

    Will Wikipedia Replace Your Kid's Teacher? — The “Blue Screen Of Death” For Education

  10. It was nice to see teachers rip Alter in comments. They also ripped Arne at in response to his concern-trolling letter during the National Teacher Appreciation week.

  11. Totally agree. Diane Ravitch is a true heroine for teachers. This attack also is an attack on women too, in my opinion. Has this happened in any other self-regulating, licensed “profession?” Absolutely corrupt system producing victims of teachers and students- whole communities- as it is taken to Michigan’s extreme right with Snyder declaring powers to take over schools and governments. It’s not about learning, but money and assets.

    Tough to convey the degree of disgust felt for the Obama administration policy. The voting population to the center/left expected support and real Finland. Instead, these people are tools for the big money behind “reform” changes for their own benefit and it is sickening. Duncan has impacted educators as intended-good teachers are walking away in disgust and tired of disrespect. This result was likely desired. Shame on Obama and Duncan. It is so obvious. We will not be voting this back in. Alter? Another tool.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.