John Thompson, historian and teacher, devoted several articles to reviewing “Reign of Error” with care.

Then he read Mike Petrilli’s critique, in which he accuses me of being “a double agent,” having learned the secrets of the rightwing, and turning their research against them.

Thompson did what a good historian typically does: He followed the evidence.

“Another way of putting Petrilli’s criticism is that Ravitch has studied both sides of the evidence. I wondered if the same could be said for him. So, I followed his links and allusions to “research.”

Again and again, he found that Petrilli was quoting himself or Russ Whitehurst (who headed George W. Bush’s research unit at the U.S. Department of Education).

After offering source-free criticism of Ravitch’s proposals for cutting class size, Petrilli links to an expert on socio-economic desegregation to attack her recommendation that we “devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty.”

Petrilli’s source, once again, was Mike Petrilli.

Thomas writes:

Most of Petrilli’s fact-related arguments against Ravitch are aimed at her “solutions” (which he puts in quotes.) They include good prenatal care for all pregnant woman, high-quality early-childhood education available to all children, and medical and social services to the poor.

Petrilli wrote that “evaluations of newer, large-scale programs (like those in New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Texas) suffer from “selection-bias” problems.” Again, why does that sound familiar?

Sure enough, Petrilli’s sources for challenging the effectiveness of early education programs in New Jersey, and Texas and Oklahoma, seem to be Russ Whitehurst and Russ Whitehurst. His other source for challenging early education and wraparound services was – you guessed it – Russ Whitehurst.

Russ Whitehurst is a solid scholar. Also, Petrilli and his colleagues are busy traveling around the country promoting their agenda. But, surely, they could find time to read other perspectives.

When rightwingers quote only themselves, it shows a certain narrow-gauged approach to issues. As Thompson points out, there are other highly credible studies of early childhood education and wraparound services than those conducted by Russ Whitehurst (who, coincidentally, fired me from my unpaid senior fellowship at the Brookings Institution in the midst of the presidential campaign of 2012, on the same day that I took apart Romney’s education agenda, whom Whitehurst was advising).

Thompson concludes:

I’d be glad to meet in the center with Petrilli, and I would propose a modest first step. Could we not agree to read research on both sides of educational issues? Petrilli could be free to continue to criticize Ravitch for knowing too much about the conservatives’ logic and evidence. He could continue to demonstrate his solidarity with the anti-science wing school of reform. Petrilli should follow Ravitch’s footnotes and links to the social science research, however, and then ask whether her historical perspective makes sense when viewed through the prism of actual evidence.