Archives for category: Common Core

The munificently-funded Thomas B. Fordham Institute, based in D.C., controls Educatuon Policy, graduation requirements, curriculum, and testing in Ohio. Mr. Fordham, for whom the institute is named, had no known interest in education, but his namesake is part of the rightwing ALEC nexus, where contempt for public schools, hatred for unions, contempt for gun control and environmental regulation are reflexive.

Laura Chapman, who lives in Ohio, writes:


This numbers game is routinely pushed by the Ohio arm of Thomas B. Fordham Institute/Foundation. Oped’s written by employees at criticize the Fordham routinely criticize teacher unions for pointing out the debilitating affects of poverty on students. In a typical rhetorical move, the Fordham “expert” will find one exceptional school with an “A” rating of the state report card rigged to ensure few schools are rated A. Then when you read in detail, you will see that the most exceptional thing about this school is really rare. The same principal has been there for 18 years, lives in the community, and has an uncommon level of trust from her community, the teachers, and students. Test scores were a byproduct of that not the aim of her work as an educator.

In Ohio, the writer most responsible for this misleading journalism and “research” is Aaron Churchill, the Institute’s Ohio Research Director. The Institute says this: Since 2012, Aaron has worked on “strengthening” Ohio policy on standardized testing and accountability, school evaluation, school funding, educational markets, human-resource policies and charter school sponsorship. He writes for the Fordham’s blog, the Ohio Gadfly Daily and contributes op-eds to the Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Dayton Daily News, and Cincinnati Enquirer. Aaron previously worked for Junior Achievement.”

He has not an ounce of documented experience in teaching or studies of education as an undergraduate or graduate student. He gets a free pass on almost everything he submits to the Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, Dayton Daily News, and Cincinnati Enquirer. These local newspapers are shrinking and have few if any staff available for questioning this “throughput” of misleading but ready to post news.

The controversy over the Common Core standards has died down since so many states have renamed and rebranded them as if they no longer exist. But below the eye of public attention, Common Core does what it was intended to do: It has created a marketplace for vendors. 

Alex Harwin, in her update of the marketplace, writes that more than two-thirds of district leaders say they are still buying CCSS products.

This is a good time to recall that Arne Duncan’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss wrote in the Harvard Business Review blog that building a national marketplace for vendors was one of the central goals of CCSS:

Technological innovation in education need not stay forever young. And one important change in the market for education technology is likely to accelerate its maturation markedly within the next several years. For the first time, 42 states and the District of Columbia have adopted rigorous common standards, and 44 states are working together in two consortia to create a new generation of assessments that will genuinely assess college and career-readiness.

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

In this new market, it will make sense for teachers in different regions to share curriculum materials and formative assessments. It will make sense for researchers to mine data to learn which materials and teaching strategies are effective for which students – and then feed that information back to students, teachers, and parents.

If we can match highly-effective educators with great entrepreneurs and if we can direct smart capital toward these projects, the market for technological innovation might just spurt from infancy into adolescence. That maturation would finally bring millions of America’s students the much-touted yet much-delayed benefits of the technology revolution in education.

Weiss previously ran Duncan’s Race to the Top program, and before that, was CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, which raises money for charter schools.

Laura Chapman writes:

“EdReports, an independent curriculum review nonprofit, rates curriculum on three gateways: Text Quality, Building Knowledge, and Usability. Amplify CKLA earned a green rating in all three.”

This should not be regarded as a trustworthy endorsement. Here is Why. Recall that the Common Core State (sic) Standards were first marketed as if they were not intended to be about curriculum (but they were), because the owners of the CCSS soon offered up “publisher’s criteria” for curriculum materials (2011). Those criteria morphed into a system for reviewing curricula, based on absolute compliance with the CCSS, including grade-by grade alignments. In 2013, the initial criteria for reviewing curriculum materials for compliance with the CCSS were called “drop dead” (meaning comply with these criteria or do not waste the time of reviewers). A year later, the language was softened to the idea that materials had to meet “gateway” criteria (2014), but with the same meaning,—comply or else the reviewers will not bother to look at anything else.

By 2015, the promoters of the CCSS had set up a non-profit called to function in the capacity of a consumer-reports of newly published math and ELA materials. The purpose was to rate publications that claimed to be in compliance with the CCSS.

EdReports is said to be the result of a meeting at the Annenberg estate of “the nation’s leading minds in math, science, K-12 and higher education.” I have not been able to find a list of participants in that meeting or the sponsors, but in 2014 professionals in branding and communications were hired to promote EdReports. You can see the strategy and their pride in getting coverage in national news, from Peter Greene at

In August 2015 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $1,499,988 to EdReports for operating support followed in 2016 with $6,674,956 for operating support. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation gave $1.5 million in 2015 and $2 million in 2016.

Ed is also funded by Broadcom Corporation (Board member from Broadcom is with EdReports), the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Overdeck Family Foundation, the Samuel Foundation, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, and the Stuart Foundation.

You can find more about the quest for absolute continuity from the writing of the CCSS, largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to current efforts to impose “approved curriculum materials” for any state that has adopted the CCSS…

EdReports is a Gates funded review process initially marketed to ensure that “approved” curriculum materials were in compliance with the common core. Any curriculum materials that did not pass muster with three gateway “drop dead criteria” would not be subjected to further review.

Amplify does not want you to know the history of this phony system of rating materials. Bob Shepard has offered another excellent history of this absurdly wrong effort to standardize ELA curriculum.

I see that Margaret Spellings, former Secretary of Education, has found a position at Amplify. She also serves on the board of Gates’ relatively new lobby shop. She is not competent to make judgments about education, but that seems to qualify her to be a crony of the disrupters who will do almost anything to please a billionaire.

Bob Shepherd, a frequent contributor, also a textbook writer, assessment developer, author, and classroom teacher, writes about the effect of Common Core on the teaching of literature. He omits my biggest gripe about CCSS: the arbitrary requirement that teachers must devote 50% of their time to literature and 50% to “informational texts” in the early grades. As students get older, the proportion of “informational texts” is supposed to increase. There is no rational basis for this prescription. It is based on the NAEP instructions to assessment developers; these instructions were never intended as guidelines for teachers. Literary reading can be as challenging as informational text. Teachers should make their own choices.

Shepherd writes:

For many decades now, as in any occupied country, the Deformer/Disrupter occupiers of U.S. education–the invasion force that went forward, financed by Gates and Walton dollars, to take over our federal and state governments, has dominated discourse about education in the United States. In Vichy France, the motto of the Revolution, liberté, égalité, fraternité, was replaced by the motto of the fascist collaborationist Pétain regime, travail, famille, patrie. These were high-sounding words–work, family, and country–but they masked a terrible reality as the Jews and Socialists started disappearing. Conservatives embraced the official collaborationist view as a corrective to the licentiousness of an era of jazz and night clubs, short skirts and sexual libertinism. There was a resistance, yes, but it operated in the shadows. Moderates found it easy to ignore the disappearances and the surveillance state and to embrace the discourse of the occupiers–to become de facto collaborators–because the alternative was dangerous.

For many decades now, the language of the Deformers/Disrupters has become the official language of the federal government, the state departments of education, of administrators of our schools, and of our textbooks, print and online. It’s as though there were an unwritten but rigidly, severely enforced rule that one was never to mention the puerile, backward Gates/Coleman bullet list of abstract “skills” without prefacing the term “standards” with the adjective “higher.” Everyone throughout the educational system is forced to speak in terms of “data-based decision making” and “accountability,” even if they know quite well that the tests that provide this supposed”data” are sloppy and invalid–a scam. Teachers are given no choice but to post their data walls and hold their data chats. All coherence in ELA textbooks is gone, their texts and study apparatus having been replaced by random exercises, modeled on the state tests, on applying random items from the Gates/Coleman list to random snippets of text. The goals set by the occupiers–school letter grades, the average test scores needed to get an “exemplary” rating as a teacher or administrator, the test scores for avoiding third-grade retention or necessary for high-school graduation–are very like the constant barrage of production figures for pork bellies and pig iron constantly broadcast by fascist regimes. And everywhere are the reports on the glorious successes of regime–the graduation rates, the improved scores, cheered and written about in news stories even as everyone knows them to be lies.

The Chiefs for Ka-ching are The Party running the Vichy Occupation.

But enough with the abstraction. Let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s look at U.S. literature texts before and after Gates and Coleman. Before, there was no top-down curriculum commissariat, but habits of the tribe and tradition and teacher concerns about quality ensured that from one basal program to another, the contents were pretty much (about 90 percent) the same. Poe’s “The Raven” and “The Cask of Amontillado.” Check. Wordsworth’s “I Wondered Lovely as a Cloud.” Check. Hughes’s “A Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Check. The Allegory of the Cave from Plato’s Republic. Check. Substantive literary works. Classics from the canon. And almost all schools used these basal lit texts.

Every selection in these literature textbooks was followed by a series of questions, beginning with factual questions, moving to analysis questions, and ending with evaluation questions, that took students through a step-by-step close reading of the substantive, classic selection. These were followed by extension activities–language activities about grammar or usage or vocabulary in the selection. Writing in response to or in imitation of the selection. Walk into any school in America, and kids were using these texts. In high-school, almost all schools were using a basal world literature text in Grade 10, an American literature survey text in Grade 11, and a British literature survey text in Grade 12. In the non-survey years, the texts were usually organized coherently by genre–poetry, the short story, drama, the nonfiction essay–or, by theme. But always, one had the substantive, classic selections and the close reading questions–facts, analysis, synthesis, following Bloom’s taxonomy.

Enter Gates. Gates wanted a single bullet list, nationally, to key depersonalized education software to. He saw the current system for educating Prole children as terribly wasteful of money spent on facilities and teachers, who could be replaced by computers. And by doing that, he and others in the computer industry could make a LOT of money. So, when he was approached by Coleman and another guy from Achieve, he was all over the idea of national “standards.” Any bullet list would do, and any guy, even Coleman, despite his lack of relevant expertise.

And what did Coleman do? Well, he and his pals reviewed the mediocre, skills-based, lowest-common-denominator existing state standards and cobbled together a list based on those. And his list, like the execrable state “standards” that proceeded it, was almost content-free–it was a list of vague, abstract “skills.” In his ignorance of the fact that there was a de facto, default canon in U.S. literature textbooks of substantive works from British, American, and World literature, he called for “reading of substantive works” for a change. In his ignorance of the fact that EVERY basal literature program was organized around close reading questions, he called for “close reading.” In his ignorance of the fact that every high-school in the U.S. was using a basal lit text in Grade 11 that contained a survey of American literature, including foundational documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, and in ignorance of the fact that almost all schools were doing a Brit Lit survey in Grade 12, he called for reading of “foundational documents” in American literature in Grades 11 and 12 (one of the very, very few actual bits of content-related material in his “standards.”

And what was the actual result of this? Well, before Gates and Coleman, editors and writers of U.S. literature texts would sit down and coherently plan a unit to teach, say, the elements of fiction. It would contain substantive short stories from the canon and treat, in turn, such elements as the central conflict, plot structure, character types and methods of characterization, setting, mood, and theme. After the Coleman/Gates bullet list and the high stakes attached to tests based on this (school, administrator, teacher, and student evaluations, punishments, and rewards), the bullet lists and the tests became all important. Educational publishers started making TEACHING THE BULLET LIST the goal of education. (They didn’t do this when there were differing, competing state “standards.”) The publishers started beginning every project with a spreadsheet containing the bullet list on the left and the place where the item from the list was “covered” to the right. The “standards” and the test question types became the default, de facto curriculum. COHERENCE AND CONTENT IN US LITERATURE TEXTOOKS WAS GONE. They became a random series of random exercises on random snippets of text meant to teach incredibly vague “skills,” some in print, some in online replacements for textbooks. Vague, content-free kill drill.

And now, a whole generation of teachers has entered the profession and grown up under a Vichy regime that treats this madness, this devolved, trivialized curriculum, as ideal.

And after decades of this, after the utter failure of Deform to improve test scores or close achievement gaps, the Deformers want to double down. Stay the course, but add a national Curriculum Commissariat and Thought Police to serve as curriculum gatekeeper. And, ofc, put some idiot like Coleman in charge of it–someone who gets his or her marching orders from Gates or the Waltons. Kill any possibility of innovation by researchers, scholars, and classroom practitioners, whose ideas for modifications of the curricula won’t matter because THEY ARE NOT ON THE LIST. Hew to the list! Do as your betters tell you to do! Yours is to obey. Your superiors will take care of the command and control (and coercion).

Enough. It’s time to start challenging the Deformer/Disrupter NewSpeak at every turn. No, this is not “actionable data” because it comes from invalid, sloppy tests that don’t measure what they purport to measure. No, writing that applies the “standard” to the text doesn’t reflect normal interaction with texts, in which we are interested primarily in the experience of the work and what its authors and characters had to say. No, these “standards” are trivial and vague and backward, not “higher.” No, these test questions are tortured and awkward and invalid and do not reflect normal interactions with texts. If anything, they are superb examples of misreading that misses the point of why people write and why others read. No, teachers are autonomous professionals not to be scripted. No, teaching is a human interaction between people, and computers can’t do it.

Enough. Send the Deformers packing. Vive la révolution!

Mercedes Schneider listened to Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos deride what they call “America’s failing government schools.”

She writes that these two deep thinkers put the hyphen in the wrong place. To understand what has happened over the past two decades, you must realize that the schools have been victimized by failing-government policies, by policies based on flawed theories and uninformed hunches, starting with a “Texas miracle” that never happened and followed by federal mandates that were unrealistic and just plain dumb.

Who failed? Not the schools. The politicians.

This article in TIME summarizes my new book SLAYING GOLIATH.

Read the book to learn the stories of the brave heroes who have stood up to billionaires, financiers, and profiteers intent on harming the democratic institution of public education.

This article just appeared in TIME magazine, explaining how the “education reform” movement has failed America. 

This short article encapsulates the themes of my book SLAYING GOLIATH. Piling on tests and punishments for students and teachers and closing schools doesn’t solve any problems, and it certainly doesn’t improve education.

The article gives a much abbreviated history of “reform” from George W. Bush to Barack Obama to Betsy DeVos. Testing and choice, they assumed, would fix all the problems.

Not true.

For almost twenty years, the Bush-Obama-Trump program of standardized testing, punitive accountability, and school choice has been the reform strategy. It has utterly failed.

So the question remains: How do we improve our schools? We begin by recognizing that poverty and affluence are the most important determinants of test scores. This strong correlation shows up on every standardized test. Every standardized test is normed on a bell curve that reflects family income and education; affluent kids always dominate the top, and poor kids dominate the bottom. Nearly half the students in this country now qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, which is the federal measure of poverty. We can ameliorate the impact of poverty on children and families by making sure that they have access to nutrition, medical care, and decent housing. Pregnant women need medical care to ensure that their children are born healthy.

If the billionaires supporting charter schools and vouchers are serious about improving education, they would insist that the federal government fully fund the education of students with disabilities and triple the funding for schools in low-income districts. Teachers should be paid as the professionals that they are, instead of having to work at second or third jobs to make ends meet. Teachers should write their own tests, as they did for generations. States and districts should save the billions now wasted on standardized testing and spend it instead to reduce class sizes so children can get individualized help from their teacher.

Children and schools need stability, not disruption. They need experienced teachers and well-maintained schools. All children need schools that have a nurse, counselors, and a library with a librarian. Children need time to play every day. They need nutrition and regular medical check-ups.

All of this is common sense. These are reforms that work.

There comes a time for Bill Gates and other billionaires to acknowledge that what they have done has failed. That time is now.


Melanie McCabe, an English teacher at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, and an author, wrote this terrific and accurate review of SLAYING GOLIATH.

Unlike the reviewer for the New York Times, who is not a teacher and gives no hint of ever having set foot in a classroom since she finished school and college, Melanie McCabe knows full well about the billionaire-funded attacks on public schools and their teachers, which continue to seek their privatization of our public schools and to impose business ideas about closing schools based on spurious data.

Teachers get it. Teachers know that their students are being strangled by high-stakes testing and their schools are deprived of resources when forced to compete with charters and vouchers, which do not offer better education than the public schools they harm.

McCabe writes:

[Ravitch] has written a thought-provoking, painstakingly researched account of those who have sought to privatize and monetize America’s schools. She calls them the “Disrupters,” and they are indeed a foe with all the intimidating strength of Goliath. Confronting this opponent is the “Resistance”: the ordinary teachers, parents and citizens who are fighting back and winning.

Ravitch exposes the self-serving motivations of the Disrupters — many of them among the richest people in America, such as the Walton family, Bill Gates, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Koch brothers and Mark Zuckerberg. Their belief that schools should be operated as businesses, with private ownership and data-driven decision-making, has resulted in dismal standardized test scores, the closure of public schools and the demonizing of teachers. The charter schools they have championed and have been enriched by have not resulted in promised improvements, but instead have drained much-needed funds from struggling public schools. The Disrupters are not supporters of education, Ravitch argues; rather, they are in pursuit of the money to be made not only by running charter schools but also through involvement in such lucrative industries as student testing, educational hardware and software, curriculum development, and consulting services…

Though the history of the school reform movement and its impact on schools and students are alarming, the story Ravitch sets out to tell is not one of hand-wringing despair; rather, it is a heartening account of how teachers, parents and union leaders across the nation have been fighting against the damage caused by the Disrupters. The Resistance opposes privatization and misuse or overuse of standardized testing, and seeks adequate compensation for teachers and funding for public schools that has too long been diverted to charter schools….

Ravitch’s message is not one of gloom and doom, but rather she offers a rallying cry that shows how people everywhere are wising up and fighting back. “The great lesson of this story is that billionaires should not be allowed to buy democracy, although they are certainly trying to do so,” Ravitch writes. “The power of their money can be defeated by the power of voters.”

There is much to learn from this book, and much inspiration to be found. The book is not written as a how-to guide for the Resistance. It is a scrupulously thorough study of a tumultuous period in American education. However, the conscientious reader who seeks strategies to combat the pervasive damage done by the Disrupters will find useful information here, along with affirmation that fighting back is possible. To paraphrase one of the chapter titles, Goliath has stumbled. The reign of terror is not yet over, but it has been brought to its knees.

Christina Samuels of Education Week reports that philanthropists continue to pour a large percentage of their donations into education, but are losing interest in K-12 due to the poor record of their efforts to “reform” the schools. 

ironically, this is good news because the philanthropic money was used to impose “reforms” that disrupted schools, ranked students based on their test scores, and demoralized teachers.

Schools that serve the neediest children definitely need more money but not the kind that is tied to test scores, stigmatizing students and teachers, or the kind that funds charter schools to drain resources from public schools, leaving them with less money to educate the neediest children.

Samuels reports that a growing number of grant makers to early childhood education are looking to help children before they start school, and giving money to issues such as “education and mental health, education and criminal justice, education and the arts.”

In 2010, I visited Denver and met with about 60 of the city’s civic leaders. I was supposed to debate State Senator Michael Johnston, the TFA wunderkind in the legislature, who arrived the minute I finished speaking, never hearing my critique of test-based “reform.” Johnston proceeded to sing the praises of his legislation to introduce exactly what I denounced and proclaimed that judging teachers, principals, and schools by test scores would produce “great teachers, great principals, and great schools.” The philanthropists bought these promises hook, line, and sinker.

They were false promises and a total failure. Now, as this article shows, philanthropists in Denver realize they made a huge mistake. Good intentions, wrong solutions.

Samuels interviewed Celine Coggins, the executive director of Grantmakers in Education, who said,

What we saw in our recent study was that members were more thinking about the whole learner and moving away from just thinking about the academic standards,” she said. Working outside the boundaries of the K-12 system is seen as a way to have more impact, as well as more freedom from governmental controls.

The Donnell-Kay Foundation, created to improve public education in Colorado, is an example of a charitable organization that is moving away from trying to influence education at the K-12 level, said Tony Lewis. Once known as the executive director of the Denver-based foundation, Davis said he eliminated staff titles about a year ago, to create a more egalitarian structure in the organization.

“Over the past five or six years, we’ve gotten frustrated with the lack of progress in improvement in the K-12 system,” Lewis said. “We’ve tried hard, and our partners have tried hard and everyone is still trying hard. The results have been disappointing at best. That’s a Colorado story and it’s a national story.”

Lewis said the organization has pulled back from areas such as school performance frameworks, district accountability, and “turnaround schools” because the gains have been minimal. The organization is also less involved in supporting new charter schools and in early-childhood education than it was several years ago.

Instead, Donnell-Kay is now taking a closer look at the out-of-school space, including afterschool and summertime. That’s where children spend most of their time, he said.

“We keep layering more and more work on schools, reading, math, STEM, nutrition, mental health,” Lewis said. “I don’t think loading more onto the school day is actually the answer any more.”

But, he continued, “What if you really intentionally maximize the time in the out-of-school space? You can make a huge difference in both academics and in life skills.”

Next question: Will Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Bloomberg, and the other billionaire funders of disruptive reforms get the message?

Bob Shepherd has worked as an editor, author, assessment developer, curriculum writer, and most recently a classroom teacher in Florida.

In this post, he reviews the review of my book SLAYING GOLIATH, which was written by journalist Annie Murphy Paul and published in the New York Times Book Review.

To summarize, he thought the review was uninformed and mean-spirited.

He writes:

On January 21, 2020, Annie Murphy Paul’s “review” of Diane Ravitch’s Slaying Goliathappeared in The New York Times. Being reviewed in the Times is a big deal.  Such a review affects public opinion and sales. That’s why a hatchet job done on a truly important book is truly irresponsible.

In her new book, education historian Ravitch presents a recent history of the popular resistance to an “Education Reform Movement” led by billionaires interested in

  • privatizing U.S. PreK-12 education via charter schools and vouchers,
  • foisting upon the country a single set of national “standards,”
  • busting teachers’ unions,
  • selling depersonalized education software, and
  • evaluating students, teachers, and schools based on high-stakes standardized tests.

Here’s Ms. Paul’s opening salvo:

“She came. She saw. She conquered.”

This opening is, of course, an allusion to the boast about his role in the Gallic Wars attributed to Julius Caesar by Appian, Plutarch, and Suetonius—Veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). Caesar’s is doubtless the most famous boast in Western history, and the allusion is meant to be deflating. Technically, the term for what Ms. Paul is attempting here is bathos, a powerful rhetorical technique in which one plunges from the sublime into the ridiculous. She means to ridicule Ravitch as someone who sees herself as the great conqueror of the “Reform Movement.” Paul’s implication is that Ravitch’s book is an exercise in self-aggrandizement. That’s a pretty heavy (and nasty) charge with which to begin a review, don’t you think? I do.

And so the reader of Ms. Paul’s review is led, up front, to expect Ravitch’s book to be like Don the Con’s Art of the Deal. Trump’s book (if one can call it that; he didn’t write it) is ostensibly about how to become successful via negotiation, but it’s not, of course, about that. Like everything that comes from Trump’s mouth, this book is actually about Trump—about how great he is. It’s a work of pathological narcissism. Paul leads us to expect that Ravitch’s book, ostensibly about resistance to “Reform” or “Deform,” will actually be about Ravitch, a portrait of herself as conquering hero. But there’s a problem with Paul’s opening (and, as it turns out, her thesis): it’s false and therefore dishonest. Ravitch’s book tells the stories of and heaps praise upon a great many fighters in the Resistance movement, but the one she doesn’t tell us much about at all is the de facto leader, or chief among equals, of that Resistance, Ravitch herself. Throughout, she makes the gift to her readers of inspiring stories of ordinary heroes—students and parents and teachers who spoke truth to power and won. Ravitch’s book is overwhelmingly, clearly, about them. Ravitch rarely appears in her own book, and when she does, it is as someone cheering these others on. (Oligarchs don’t appreciate or understand spontaneously emerging, self-assembling grass roots movements like the Resistance because they think that the only way to get “Out of Many, One’ is via coercion or bribery by an authoritarian.)

As an English teacher, I must give Paul’s opening a D-. Why? Well, there’s a reading issue. Yes, I understand that journalist’s deadlines are tight, and there’s often little time to read the book, write the copy, and submit the piece, but seriously, reviewers are actually supposed to read the books they review. And then there’s the writing issue. One of the most common flaws of puerile writing is the inability to “kill one’s darlings,” as Arthur Quiller-Couch put it. Yes, Ms. Paul, you came up with a cute opening, but it was dishonest, and you or your editor should have put a line through it. Not having done so is, well, in a word, amateurish.

After a little de rigueur background on Ravitch, Paul goes on to attack her for

  • taking an “imperious” tone,
  • engaging in “empty sloganeering and ad hominem attacks,”
  • lacking “the subtle insight and informed judgment for which she was once known,” and
  • being interested primarily “in settling scores and in calling [people] out by name” and cataloguing “her vanquished foes.”

In other words, Ms. Paul makes against Ravitch, in a clearly imperious tone, a clearly ad hominem attack completely lacking in subtle insight and informed judgment.

Let’s consider, first, Ms. Paul’s lack of informed judgment. She blithely accuses Ravitch of “dismissing the call for a common standard as a corporate plot to create a uniform market for educational products” [sic; by “a common standard” Paul means “common standards”; is her reference to “a common standard” simply sloppy writing, or is it an attempt to be more Deformy than the next guy; one can’t tell]. If Ms. Paul had done a little background research, she would have learned that

  • Bill Gates, who made himself the wealthiest nonsovereign person in the world by leveraging ownership of the world’s most widely used personal computer operating system, was approached by Gene Wilhoit of the Council of Chief State School Officers and David Coleman, an education biz entrepreneur, and pitched the idea of a single set of national standards;
  • Gates enthusiastically endorsed the idea, paid for the development of these standards, and then paid out hundreds of millions of dollars (and influenced the spending of 4 trillion in taxpayer funds) to promote them; and
  • he did this, in his own words, so that with a single set of standards, “innovators” could “design tools that a lot of teachers could use.”

In other words, Gates believed that just as the standard Microsoft operating systems led to the creation of products like Word and Excel and other DOS- and then Windows-based PC software, a single set of standards would lead to products of which Gates would likewise approve. As Gates himself put it, a single set of national standards would mean that “[f]or the first time, there will be a large uniform base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn.” Or, as the Gates enabler Joanne Weiss, Chief of Staff to Education Secretary Arne Duncan in charge of Race to the Top, put it:

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

I give Weiss credit. She knew exactly what was going down.

So, Gates himself extolled as his purpose precisely the one that Ms. Paul tells us sprang totally from some lunatic imagining on the part of Diane Ravitch, and Gates’s messaging was parroted by his collection of official bobbleheads and action figures. Of course, having one set of national standards would create economies of scale that educational materials monopolists could exploit, enabling them to crowd out smaller competitors. Sound familiar? And Ms. Paul seems not to have noticed that the very corporate plotter who paid for the creation of this single bullet list of national “standards” also created a company, InBloom, the purpose of which was to serve as a gigantic national database of student test scores, grades, and other information. In other words, it would have served as a kind of national gradebook, and curriculum developers, in order to use it, would have had to pay to play, would have had to become “partners” with InBloom, making the Gates company, effectively, the gatekeeper of U.S. curricula. Fortunately, student privacy issues and heroic Resistance fighters like Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters killed that monster in its cradle….

Let’s consider the other charge she lays to Ravitch—a lack of subtle insight. Ms. Paul devotes much of her “review” to attacking Ravitch for giving to “Education Reformers” the title “Disrupters” and calling the opposition the Resistance, with a capital R. Paul is clearly quite incensed by this. One would expect a journalist to understand, having studied political movements and messaging, the value of giving names to movements and messages. But, of course, the education tyro Paul is imagining herself as some objective observer, above factionalism of the kind indulged in by mere mortals like Ravitch. Paul accuses Ravitch of treating the other side unfairly, of not telling their story. Here, again, Paul channels Trump, who infamously referred to the neo-Nazis and their opponents gathered in Charlottesville as the “good people on both sides.” This is the same kind of moronic distortion of a legitimate goal of reporting—that it be fair and balanced—that led journalists, for decades, to report, dutifully, the “two sides to the argument” about whether tobacco caused cancer, that leads them, today, to write as though there were actually two legitimate and opposing scientific views concerning whether anthropogenic climate change is real. Darn that Ida B. Wells, why couldn’t she have been more fair to the Ku Klux Klan? Why did she just report on the lynchings? Darn that Rachel Carson. Why couldn’t she have been more fair to the makers of DDT?  Darn that Greta Thunberg, why can’t she be more fair to Exxon and British Petroleum and Aramco? After all, it’s only the future of the planet at stake.

Putting on, again, my English teacher hat, I must point out another issue with Ms. Paul’s reading: she totally missed the genre of Ravitch’s book. Much of Diane Ravitch’s work over the past few decades is in the grand tradition of the muckraker, represented in our history by people like Lincoln Steffens, Julius Chambers, Nelly Bly, Helen Hunt Jackson, Henry Lloyd, Ambrose Bierce, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Frank Norris, Jane Jacobs, Rachel Carson, and Ralph Nader. Ravitch’s job, her scary duty, is to call out those doing damage—the wealthy and the powerful—and to do so by name, but this is the very thing, the courageousness with which Ravitch call the powerful to account, to which Ms. Paul objects. (There are so many unintended ironies in Paul’s review that I can’t treat them all, alas.) Ms. Paul’s failure to understand the genre of the book she was reviewing leads her to a catastrophic failure of insight into what Ravitch accomplishes in this book—mapping a constellation of evils and showing how they can be righted….

Ms. Paul’s uniformed, vituperative, shallow, amateurish “review” is entitled “Diane Ravitch Declares the Death of Education Reform.” But, of course, in the book, Ravitch does no such thing. Nowhere in her book does Ravitch claim to have “conquered the forces of Disruption,” as Paul snidely suggests (to be fair, Paul might not be responsible for the headline; newspapers often have dedicated headline writer/editors who do that, but she makes the same spurious accusation in the body of her “review”). So, the “review” is not only wrong from the start; it is wrong before it starts. Slaying Goliath is a powerful reportfrom the beginnings of the battle for the preservation of our sacred democratic institutions from oligarchical control. It’s about schools, certainly, but it has resonances far beyond the classroom. Ms. Paul didn’t get that. But then, again, she didn’t get much about Ravitch’s book, it seems.

Please read Shepherd’s review in full. It is brilliant.

Thus far, the review by Ms. Paul is the only hostile review I have seen, though I don’t expect it will be the only one. It has been heartening to me to seethe outpouring of positive reviews from people who are or were classroom teachers. They are the experts about education whose views I most respect.