The Providence Journal ran an article by journalist John Hill about my book and my appearance at the University of Rhode Island that was intended to discredit me. It declared that my arguments were “mostly false,” based on the writer’s skewed interpretation of the facts presented in my book,

Read it for yourself.

As best I can tell, the writer is defending No Child Left Behind, and was deeply affronted that I criticized NCLB. He doesn’t seem to know that NCLB has very few defenders.

Nonetheless, I am printing my response to the Providence Journal here because I don’t expect ProJo to print it; neither the editor nor the journalist has acknowledged receipt of my letter. So I post it here.

This was my letter to the Providence Journal:

To the Editor:
Providence Journal writer John Hill has contorted the facts about American education in his effort to discredit my well-documented book “Reign of Error.” Every claim in the book is accompanied by evidence, most of which comes directly from the U.S. Department of Education website. 

I contend in the book that test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are at a historic high point for white students, black students, Hispanic students, and Asian students. Nothing in his article disputes those facts. It seems that his goal is to defend the high-stakes testing and accountability regime created by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, passed in 2001 and signed into law in 2002.
On the regular NAEP, given every year since 1992, the biggest increase in test scores occurred from 2000-2003, before No Child Left Behind was implemented. The biggest decrease in the achievement gap between blacks and whites occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, long before the passage of No Child Left Behind.
On the Long-Term Trend NAEP, the gains for black and Hispanic students from 1973 to 2008 were astonishingly large for every age group, as I show on page 52 of my book, using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s website. 
During that 35-year period, white students at age 9 gained 14 points; black students at age 9 gained 34 points; Hispanic students at age 9 gained 25 points.
White students at age 13 gained 7 points; black students at age 13 gained 25 points; Hispanic students at age 13 gained 10 points.
White students at age 17 gained 4 points; blacks students at age 17 gained 28 points; Hispanic students at age 17 gained 17 points.
Mr. Hill misinterpreted what I said or misunderstood what I wrote. I said at my lecture that I withheld publication of the book until June 2013, waiting for the update of the NAEP Long-Term Trend report, hoping that the great progress of the era from 1973-2008 would be sustained. Unfortunately, the 2012 report (released in June 2013) showed that the gains came nearly to a halt during the period from 2008 to 2012. This was reported on page 357, footnote 7. Perhaps Mr. Hill doesn’t read footnotes.
No Child Left Behind is generally considered to be a failure by everyone other than those who wrote that burdensome law. Apparently, I should have included John Hill as one of the few Americans who still defends NCLB.
I encourage Mr. Hill to continue to educate himself about the facts of American education. Our nation’s public education system is performing very well; we are the most powerful nation on earth. Our economy is the largest on earth. We lead the world in technological innovation. Low academic performance is highly correlated with poverty. Our genuine crisis is not with our public education system but with the failure of our political and economic system to reduce poverty. If we want to improve academic performance, we should address the fact that 23% of our children live in poverty, which is the highest of any advanced nation in the world (second only to Romania, whose economy is far smaller than our own and whose resources are far smaller).
Diane Ravitch
I was not the only one who read the bizarre article in the Providence Journal (ProJo).
John Thompson, teacher and historian, wrote this letter to ProJo, unbeknownst to me (he sent me a copy):
To the Editor:
You owe Diane Ravitch a retraction. 
You wrote that the word “until” implies that progress stopped with NCLB and RttT.  Where did you get that from?  How is that the implication?
The reality was that decades of growth “slowed” after those reforms.  Ravitch’s statement is also consistent with her carefully worded explanations that the education system, as a whole, has improved while failing poor children. We’ve had forty years of growth, but progress stagnated after NCLB.
And, that raises the question of whether you read Ravitch’s entire book, footnotes, and tables.  Are you aware of the issues she is addressing and how they have been framed by various schools of thought?
It also raises the question of whether you read other NAEP reports.  The one you link to did not track low-income students.  That is a huge problem because the prime purpose of NCLB and RttT, like all federal education spending, is helping disadvantaged students.  Other studies have shown that the income-based achievement gap stalled after NCLB.
Apparently your methodology was to parse wording and look at numbers.  As I will explain, you don’t seem to understand what is behind the numbers.  That would be fine – you aren’t an expert, I assume – but it is not enough for grading the work of experts.
So, to quickly address your parsing of language, of course there are small dips over the decades. For instance, with black 8th grade reading, you see a 21 point increase from 1971 to 1988, which shows outstanding growth, almost certainly increased by desegregation and old-fashioned school reforms (now derided as “input”-based reform), but probably offset at the end by deindustrialization. Then as deindustrialization, crack, and the economic decline and damage to the family grew further, scores dropped 7 points until the economy recovered. Starting in 1996, scores increased by ten points and then progress slowed after NCLB.
Similarly, Hispanic reading increased by 10 points before NCLB and then one point afterwards.
Both would make Ravitch’s case even better if low-income and low-perfoming deciles were factored in, as can be done if you read other NAEP studies.
And, while I’m still on the point of parsing language, are you saying that NCLB worked, or wasn’t a failure? If so, you are virtually alone.  You grade Ravitch down for making a point that the overwhelming majority of scholars would endorse.
Moreover, you ignore the fact that slower gains occurred AFTER tens or hundreds of billions of NEW money (depending how you calculate it) was invested. This point is doubly important for the RttT, the SIG, and other Obama “reforms.” They threw billions of dollars at schools for poor children of color, and the best evidence was that they drove down student performance in a large minority of schools and produced few gains with that unprecedented and unrepeatable investment.  That is why the best single appraisal of school reform is Paul Tough’s.  The NY Times Magazine writer had supported reform, which he characterized as “liberal ptsd” from not winning the War on Poverty. Reform, at the cost of billions, helped some (who were “creamed” off into lower-poverty selective schools,) but damaged the poorest by leaving more intense concentrations of poverty and trauma and more teach-to-the-test malpractice.  That was certainly true of my inner city school.
Study NAEP and cognitive science and you will see why all its numbers are not created equally. The obvious example is scores for 17-year-olds, which are virtually meaningless.  More importantly, NCLB-type accountability has had successes in increasing math scores but not reading. There are cognitive reasons for that.(Its known as the Matthew Effect. If you don’t learn to read for comprehension by 3rd grade then you won’t read to learn.  NCLB reforms were based on the idea that that reality can be overcome by accountability, and they have, again, been proven wrong.)   I argue that 8th grade reading is, by far, the most important NAEP metric, and I would be glad to explain why.  Districts known as reform successes, such as D.C., have seen actual declines in low-income and black 8th grade reading (after years of progress.)
And that gets to the reason why you owe a retraction and, I’d say, an apology.  I don’t know how many hours you put into your evaluation of the years of work, building on decades of knowledge, of one of the nation’s top education experts. But, you didn’t put in nearly enough.
John Thompson