Search results for: "slaying goliath"

This is an interview with Russ Roberts of the Hoover Institution about SLAYING GOLIATH.

The Hoover Institution has a huge endowment, and it is committed to free markets. Its funders do not like public schools. They disparage them as “government schools.” They like vouchers and charters.

Russ is a nice guy, and he believes in choice and charter schools. We disagreed. You might enjoy this podcast.

I was a Senior Fellow at Hoover from 1999-2009. Then when I realized that testing and choice were failing and were doing damage to schools and students, I left and began a campaign to stop what I once supported. At Hoover, testing and choice are dogma, and I no longer was a true believer. Hoover is situated on the Stanford University campus but has touchy relations with the university. While I was attached to Hoover, I donated my papers to the Hoover archives, which has a fabulous collection of personal papers of all sorts of people, including educators.

Frank Splitt is a retired electrical engineer with a distinguished resume and wide-ranging interests, including education. A friend gave him the hostile review of SLAYING GOLIATH that appeared in The New York Times. He decided to read the book and reach his own judgment. He wrote the following review for Amazon:

An Educational Whodunit with a Happy Ending

For anyone still wondering about what happened to the highly touted education reform programs, such as Common Core, Race to the Top, and Value Added Measures, wonder no more. Diane Ravitch puts on her education historian hat once again—telling a page-turning story.

It’s a whodunit that begins by naming the villains (Goliaths), the millionaires and billionaires who targeted America’s public schools—labeling these schools as poorly managed havens for bad teachers who are protected by their powerful unions.

The villains aimed to replace public schools with charter schools and/or voucher programs while ferreting out so-called bad teachers on the basis of student test scores. For some, public schools presented a rich marketing opportunity ripe for the taking. And take they did with the cooperation of federal, state, and local governments. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education under the administrations of President’s George W. Bush, Barack H. Obama, and Donald J. Trump have all been deeply complicit to varying degrees.

The heroes (Davids) in the story are the teachers, students, administrators, and parents who formed the ill-funded, passionate resistance to the privatization and corporatization of America’s public school system. It was this passionate resistance that slayed Goliath.

I would also count Diane Ravitch among these heroes. She sees public education as a basic public responsibility—warning Americans not to be persuaded by a false crisis narrative to privatize it while urging parents, educators, and other concerned citizens to join together to strengthen our public schools and preserve them for future generations.

In this book, Ravitch has exposed the rampant corruption involved with the villain’s takeovers, the baseless notion of evaluating teacher via student test scores, as well as the damage done to communities, schools, students and teachers that will take years to heal, especially so while dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although this is not another book about education reform per se, one is left to wonder where American public education would be today if the Goliaths respected the sound principle of giving to meet needs instead of giving to impose their ideas and take control of K-12 education in America.
My thanks go to primary teachers Holly Rothstein Balk, Katianne Rothstein Olson, Chelsea Gabzdyl, and Margaret Zamzow Wenzelman, as well as high school teachers Margaret Mangan, (the late) Joseph Hafenscher and to retired Illinois State Board of Education staff member Michael Mangan, for their insights into the Common Core State Standards, Value Added Measures, and the impact of the standards and related over-the-top testing regimes on school administrators, teachers, and their students.

This is a must read book for parents, teachers, government officials, and other concerned citizens as well.

Doug Little sent out this review of SLAYING GOLIATH to his readership in Canada, where some provinces support religious schools as public schools.

Some also have charter schools.

In recent conversation with activists in Alberta, it was clear that supporters of public education are worried about following America’s descent into privatization but that the camel’s nose is already inside the Alberta tent, and maybe even more than its nose. As she described the variety of charters and religious schools that already receive public money, it seemed that Alberta may be more privatized than American schools.

If you have an hour to spare, you might enjoy this no-holds-barred interview by Leonard Lopate, asking questions of me about SLAYING GOLIATH.

When I was in San Francisco, I talked about SLAYING GOLIATH with Susan Solomon, president of United Educators of San Francisco. It was videotaped by CSPAN Book TV and has been broadcast.

Here is the full interview:

Now that most public gatherings have been canceled, I am happy to share this conversation with you.

Please let me know what you think about the discussion. I appreciate your feedback.

If you read the book and like it, please do me the great favor of giving a copy to a local school board member and/or your state legislator.

The way to improve public education is to educate the public.

Two important chapters in SLAYING GOLIATH that you should pay attention to: Why standardized testing preserves the achievement gap (it is built into the design); and what cognitive scientists in the 21st century have learned about the sources of motivation.

Standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. The bell curve never closes. Advantaged kids dominate the top half. That’s true of every standardized test.

This interview on KPCC-NPR in Southern California by Larry Mantle was conducted a few days ago.

Mantle made it clear–at least to me–that he favors charter schools, so I was constantly asked to defend my criticism of them. I later learned that Los Angelenos know Mantle as a charter champion. One of the hypothetical questions are posed was “what would be wrong with a district that was half public schools, half charter schools?” Another time, he praised Eli Broad and wondered why I didn’t regard him as a generous philanthropist. You get the drift.

When the callers were put on the air, all of them were charter parents who challenged me.

There were no questions or comments from public school parents.

The parents who called in do not believe that charters divert funding from public schools, where most of the state’s children are. I suggested that they google Gordon Lafer’s study, “The Breaking Point,” which documents the many millions that three California districts lose to charters. I also suggested that California has been underinvesting in its schools for many years and is now below the national average.

I think every parent has the right to make the choice they think is in the best interest of their child, but I think every policymaker is responsible to improve and prioritize the public schools that enroll 85-90% of all American children.

In AIRTALK’s tweet about the show, which appeared pretty quickly on March 11, the show’s tweet says that I consider the 2010s to be “banner years” for public schools. This is ridiculous. Whoever wrote that line obviously did not read the book. The 2010s were a time of budget cuts, teacher shortages, the combined negative effects of NCLB and Race to the Top, VAM, Common Core, and worship of mandated standardized testing. It was a horrible decade for schools, with the only bright spot being the rise of the #Red4Ed movement in 2018. I am assuming that no one at AIRTALK read the book. The topic of conversation was: How dare you dare to question the need for and value of charter schools?

The show takes about 20 minutes. Listen and tell me what you think.

I confess that I was very disappointed by the review of my new book in the New York Times. The reviewer thought that I should have presented “both sides,” not argued on behalf of public schools, which enroll 85-90% of American children. If we starve the public schools that enroll most children, we harm them and the future of our society. I debated whether to respond on this blog but then decided against it. Sometimes it is best to remain silent.

Happily, Neil Kulick, a teacher, critiqued the review. He posted his comment here.

Thank you, Neil!

He writes:

Your new book gives public school teachers (like me) hope. You are truly our champion. Thank you.

A while back, I read the review of “Slaying Goliath” in the NY Times. I did not quite like the review. Here is my reply to it:

Readers of Annie Murphy Paul’s review of Diane Ravitch’s “Slaying Goliath” (in the February 2 NYT Book Review) can be forgiven for thinking that Professor Ravitch has lost her way and written a book in which she exults in the failures of all who are interested in strengthening our public schools.

In fact, “Slaying Goliath” is a work of meticulous scholarship that chronicles the failure of every single “reform” in recent decades, most of them market-based (as if children or their teachers were commodities, or schools factories) and virtually all funded by billionaires who know little about teaching and learning but are glad to call the shots when it comes to our schools. Professor Ravitch is not against reform but rather the particular set of “reforms” that have been foisted on our public schools and our teachers and students, including so-called merit pay and the oddity of evaluating teachers based on their students’ test scores. Her book ends with a call for genuine reform, which would require adequately funding our public schools so that they have a fair chance of educating a population that includes so many children born into poverty and who come to school already behind and lacking the supports at home of their more affluent peers. It would also require funding programs to support impoverished families. Our public schools are not broken; our society is.

Professor Ravitch accurately terms those who push (and, astonishingly, continue to push) for these failed reforms “disrupters,” because the purpose or effect of their actions is to undermine the very institution of the public school. And yes, Professor Ravitch does name names. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, for one, is not an advocate of public schools. Rather she favors “choice,” as if that were an end in itself. But that choice does not include a well-funded public school for every child, though if Secretary DeVos had her way it would include a charter school. Charter schools, unfortunately, are generally no better than public schools, and some are militaristic, so that students learn not to question but to obey. Nor are charters known for serving the needs of children with learning disabilities or who have emotional or behavioral problems or for whom English is not their first language. They do, however, succeed in draining money from public schools.

Ultimately, Professor Ravitch is optimistic, believing that today’s “reformers” will inevitably lose, despite their vast wealth, because the “resisters” — parents and grandparents, schoolchildren, and their teachers — are multitudinous and motivated by passion. And they cannot be bought. As a public school teacher, I hope Professor Ravitch is right.

Some might wonder why public schools matter. Apart from the fact that the vast majority of American schoolchildren attend them, public schools are our best hope for a flourishing democracy. In public schools, children from diverse backgrounds come together as one community. They learn together, and they learn from each other. John Dewey understood how essential public schools are to our way of life: “A democracy,” he wrote, “is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.”* It is just this “conjoint communicated experience” that public schools afford.

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights lawyer for the Education Law Center who writes regularly for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and the Stamford (CT) Advocate.

She writes:

Diane Ravitch is rare in American public policy — a public figure who very publicly admitted that the positions she once championed were wrong. Dr. Ravitch is a historian of education and former assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush — and was once a vocal champion of two pillars of education “reform”: school choice and standardized testing. In 2010, she published a book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” in which she meticulously critiqued these policies, and rued her role in pushing them.

Since then, Dr. Ravitch has tirelessly fought ill-conceived and harmful education policies and promotes a vision of public education that she believes is better for children and truer to our democratic ideals. She not only writes and speaks out herself, she also gives voice to many others fighting for public education, known and unknown. In her blog (, which has been viewed by tens of millions, she posts articles and commentaries on education policy from journalists, activists, teachers, parents, scholars and students. It is a must-read blog for anyone who wants to keep up with what is happening around the country in public education. (Full disclosure — Dr. Ravitch has posted many of my columns on her blog). In addition, Ravitch started, along with other activists, the Network for Public Education, a research and advocacy organization that connects supporters of public schools nationwide.

For all her critiques of education reform, or more accurately, “education disruption,” as she calls it, Ravitch is an optimist. Her new, well-researched, yet accessible book, “Slaying Goliath,” exemplifies this positive outlook.

The book doesn’t start out terribly optimistically. Early on, Ravitch presents a daunting list of the many billionaires and foundations that have funded this disruption, and the think tanks and policy organizations they fund to convince state and national politicians to impose their schemes.

For example, Ravitch notes that in North Carolina, that Tea Party extremists killed that state’s successful Teaching Fellows program — which worked with public universities to build a pipeline of career teachers- and diverted that program’s funding to Teach for America, whose minimally trained teachers make no more than a two-year commitment. Interestingly, in North Carolina’s long-running school funding case, a court ordered plan approved in January to ensure state compliance with its constitutional duty to provide an adequate education to all children, calls for reinvigorating and expanding the Teaching Fellows program.

Ravitch maintains that the influence these Goliath philanthrocapitalists buy, installing their chosen public policies and often trampling community will, is corrosive to democracy.

The book chronicles the failures of the reforms pushed by disrupters. For example, Ravitch details how standardized test-based teacher evaluation was devoid of evidence from the start, yet was pushed by Bill Gates and other influential disrupters, then imposed across the nation. Eventually, this scheme was exposed as fatally flawed, invalidated by experts and courts, and mostly abandoned. Even the Gates foundation ultimately admitted that it was a failed idea, but not before billions of dollars was wasted. Ravitch also surveys the corruption and dark money that pervades many of the disrupters’ privatization schemes, providing a clue as to why, despite their clear failures, these bad ideas seem to persist.

In every Diane Ravitch book, I always find new light shed on a topic I thought I knew. “Slaying Goliath” is no exception. In one fascinating chapter, Ravitch reviews the research on intrinsic motivation and its connection to the flawed reward-and-punishment philosophy that underpins education disruption policies. She describes in detail how renowned experts studying these concepts alerted Congress in 2011 to the faulty logic behind and dangers of test-based accountability, to no avail.

The author profiles some of the Davids battling these disruptive Goliaths: from Providence high school students objecting to standardized testing, to community members such as Jitu Brown, fighting school closures and privatization in Chicago, to the teachers around the country protesting deplorable conditions in their underfunded schools.

While these underdogs have not always succeeded, Ravitch’s book provides hope that sanity can be restored to education policy. Throughout the book she places the opposition to educational disruption in the context of the growing awareness about big money’s toxic influence on American politics and policy in general. She reminds readers that “no genuine social movement is created and sustained by elites.” Ravitch notes that those who have risen have shown others that grassroots organizing can have an impact.

Let us hope that Ravitch is right and these Davids will, for the sake of all our children, ultimately prevail.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

Mike Rose is a thinker, writer, and scholar whose works I greatly admire. He has the capacity to identify with the lives of those he writes about and to understand their point of view. He tends to align himself with those who live on the margins, not the rich and powerful who enjoy the exercise of power over others, the others who who did not choose to be the subjects of the powerful.

I was therefore deeply gratified to read his thoughtful review of SLAYING GOLIATH. He recognized that the underlying them was about power and control. Who makes decisions? By what right do they impose their will on others?and, how can those without power stand up for themselves and prevail? Whose narrative will dominate decision-making?

He writes:

The story told in Slaying Goliath is primarily a story of the clash between the long-dominant Goliath and the emergent and energized David, a story of power and politics, of grass-roots activism, of organizing and mobilizing— and a story of recapturing a narrative. I am also taken by a parallel story that runs through the book, one that is certainly present in Ravitch’s telling, but that, given my current fixation, I’d like to highlight. It is a story about knowledge and power—knowledge about schools and children and the art and science of teaching.

As I wrote earlier, there are multiple actors and multiple motives involved in the so-called school reforms of the last few decades, but one dominant characteristic a number of them share is a reliance on ideas and language drawn from business schools, economics, and the high-tech sector: the use of standardized tests to measure learning; the application of those tests to assess teacher effectiveness through “value-added” methodology; the creation of curriculum standards with the intention of systematizing instruction as well as the development of scripts and routinized behavioral techniques to direct and improve teaching; computer-based instruction to “personalize” learning. This technocratic orientation also encourages a certain kind of systems-level thinking: what are the mechanisms, the “levers” that will yield broad systemic change? The structural or technological magic bullet.
There is value in asking the kinds of questions the critics ask— How do we know students are learning? Can we improve teacher quality? —and certainly value in taking a broad, systems-level perspective on schooling. The problem is that the solutions the technocratic orientation yield tend toward the mechanistic and simplified. As I argued in Why School?, the faith in technology can lead to a belief that complex human problems can be framed as engineering problems, their social and political messiness factored away. Hand-in-glove is an epistemological insularity, a lack of knowledge about social and cultural conditions—or worse, a willful discounting of those conditions as irrelevant. It is telling how rarely one hears any references to history or culture in the technologists’ discourse. Also minimized is the value of on-the-ground, craft knowledge; experience in classrooms is not as valuable as abstract knowledge of organizational dynamics and technological principles and processes. A professor of management tells a class of aspiring principals that the more they know about the particulars of instruction, the less effective they’ll be, for that nitty-gritty knowledge will blur their perception of the problem and the application of universal principles of management —as fitting for a hospital or a manufacturing plant as a school…

After decades of Goliath’s public relations success in stomping all over the public schools and those who work them (remember that Forbes tagline “the largest, most dysfunctional field of all”), David and his slingshot crew were able to change the story, reach the public with what they knew, with a different way of seeing the everyday life in our schools: Kids without nurses or librarians; overcrowded classrooms; testing gone off the rails; teachers living paycheck to paycheck, if they could make it that far; parents giving first-person testimony about what their neighborhood school means to them. Ravitch is correct in characterizing this shift in perception as remarkable. The story she tells is a compelling political drama, and an account of the formation of social policy, and a master class for activists. It is also an epic tale about knowledge, whose knowledge counts, and what can happen when a kind of knowledge that has long been distorted and discounted gains authority and power. That is quite a story to tell.

G.T. (Guy) Brandenburg is a retired teacher who taught for many years in the D.C. Public Schools. He has a sharp eye and digs deep before he writes. He achieved a measure of fame when Michelle Rhee was chancellor. She boasted that as a young TFA teacher she had brought her students’ scores from the 13th percentile to the 90th percentile. A number of national publications quoted this remarkable feat, but Brandenburg did the research. The records for the classroom where she taught could not be found but he was able to find test scores for the school and the cohort and declared that her claim was implausible. Eventually, the mainstream media stopped repeating the claim and understood it as an urban legend.

I knew when I sent SLAYING GOLIATH to Brandenburg that it would be rigorously fact-checked. That’s the kind of reader he is.

Here is his review.