Archives for category: Disruption

This is a really great podcast that I enjoyed taping with brothers Mike and Fred Klonsky on their podcast “Hitting Left” while I was in Chicago. We borrowed time from our host Mario Smith, because the show occurred while Mario was on the air. Start with the photograph of the four of us holding baseball bats, the better to hit left with. Mike and Fred are veteran activists. While Mike was a leader of Students for a Democratic Society decades ago, I was a budding neoconservative. I remember reading about this fiery radical and never imagined that one day we would be friends. Fred and Mike asked some interesting questions, and it’s a wide-ranging discussion. Mario, a former art teacher in the Chicago Public Schools joined in. He referred to the”illustrious” Klonsky brothers, and so they shall remain.  We had fun.

This is an astonishing report about the destruction and privatization of public schools in Oakland, California, and the billionaires who facilitated the looting of that city. The article by Eugene Stovall appeared in “Black Agenda Report.” The audacity of this attack on public education is astonishing. The mechanism for the destroyers were graduates of the Broad Academy, known as Broadies. Since billionaire Eli Broad gave Yale University $100 million to take charge of his program, someone should warn Yale about its record.

Read it all. It will take your breath away.

Stovall writes:

Eli Broad (rhymes with “toad”) conconcted a scheme to privatize Oakland’s public schools and produce a revenue stream for his billionaire cronies.

Operating unethically and illegally, Broad managers used their training to cripple and plunder Oakland’s schools.”

Eli Broad is a liberal Democrat. He opposes Trump’s Muslim ban, immigration policies and withdrawal from the climate change treaty. In fact, like Democratic billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Blloomberg, Broad opposes Trump’s entire right wing agenda. However, just as the Trump Foundation created the Trump University scam, the Eli Broad Foundation created the Broad Superintendent Academy, an educational enterprise that has become so successful that it is now associated with the home of the Skull and Bones Society, Yale University. But despite its aura of respectability, the Broad Superintendent Academy is no less a scam than Trump University.

Billionaires Want More

Eli Broad created two Fortune 500  companies, Kaufmann-Broad Homes and SunAmerica Bank. With an estimated net worth of $6.7 billion, Eli Broad ranks as Forbes  Magazine’s 78th wealthiest man in the United States. But like many billionaires who create mechanisms to increase their wealth, Broad created a “non-profit” academy as his entré into the private education market. The Broad Superintendent Academy attracts applicants who willingly pay exorbitant tuition fees for the chance to get placed in a top management public education position. Broad academy applicants do not need educational degrees or teaching certificates. Neither are they experienced teachers or successful school administrators. The Broad academy is uninterested in strategies for improving student achievement and does not teach its students about fundamental educational issues, pedagogies and methodologies. The Broad academy only indoctrinates and commits its students to the privatization of public education and the generation of revenues for private corporations. Broad Academy attendees are taught the disruptive management tactics needed to ignore “best educational practices.” They are taught how to overcome objections when mandating school closures and school property sell offs to the billionaire-owners of private schools. When Broad placed his academy graduates in management positions at the Oakland Unified School District, they left a trail of fiscal mismanagement, budget overruns and demoralized staff, students and teachers. Operating unethically and illegally, Broad managers used their training to cripple and plunder Oakland’s schools.

The Broadies Who Plundered Oakland’s Schools

In 1998, Eli Broad recruited Jerry Brown, the former Governor of California and a former presidential contender, to become mayor of Oakland. Broad needed someone with Brown’s political clout with the Democratic Party to implement his plan to privatize Oakland’s schools. Broad had been a close personal friend of Jerry Brown’s father, Pat Brown, and had financed all of Jerry Brown’s political campaigns. Now Broad realized California’s top Democrat and his control over the statewide Democratic Party machine gave him a unique opportunity to make money from private education.

Broad’s scheme to privatize Oakland’s public education resources required the support of other billionaires capitalizing on the private education market. Netflix founder, Reed Hastings, a Bay Area resident with a net worth of $3.7 billion, was associated with the multi-million dollar Rocketship Charter Schools. The late founder of The Gap, Don Fisher, with a net worth of $3.3 billion, was associated with the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), one of the largest chains of charter schools in the country. With a net worth of $3.5 billion, John Doerr, partner in the investment firm, Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, the firm that brought Google and Amazon to the market, cofounded the New Schools Venture Fund which sucks public school resources into for-profit K-12 corporations. Another critical partner in Broad’s clique of billionaires was the bishop of Oakland’s catholic diocese, a representative of the multi-billion dollar, worldwide Vatican empire. With its profound interest in co-opting public funds and real estate for its own network of parochial schools, Oakland’s catholic bishop gave Broad’s unholy coalition a solid block of votes that not only put Jerry Brown in City Hall, but changed Oakland’s charter into the ‘strong mayor” form of government, that gave “Boss” Brown the power function as Eli Broad’s “bag man.” In return for its electoral support, the diocese of Oakland received a multi-million dollar cathedral on the downtown shore of Lake Merritt.

Once “Boss” Brown controlled City Hall, Reed Hastings went into action. Hastings funded another charter amendment that gave the mayor the authority to pack the school board with his own unelected appointees. Greasing the wheels of the Democratic machine, Hastings financed the passage of a State Assembly bill that permitted charter schools to operate without  accreditation and to hire teachers without  teaching credentials. Then Hastings funded the Proposition 39 campaign to force local school districts to share revenues with charter schools. “Boss” Brown’s buddy, Democratic Governor Gray Davis, who later was recalled on corruption charges, put Reed Hastings on the State Board of Education. In the meantime, Don Fisher gave Jerry Brown’s wife, Gust Brown, the position of CEO over The Gap Corporation.

Getting Control Of The Schools … And The Money

In 2001, the Oakland Unified School District had a $37 million budget deficit. The district’s fiscal managers decided to resolve the shortfall by borrowing from its construction fund, a practice other California school districts in similar situations routinely used. But Brown and Broad saw the school deficit as an opportunity to advance their scheme.

Brown contacted Tom Henry, CEO of the Fiscal Crisis and Management Team (FCMAT), a firm located in Sacramento and staffed by lobbyists and political hacks. Brown used Henry’s services, on occasion, when he was governor. FCMAT did “hit” jobs for anyone willing to pay. Brown paid Tom Henry to prevent Oakland from solving its fiscal problem. FCMAT lobbied the State Attorney General, Bill Lockyer, the former Democratic Assemblyman from Alameda, to rule that Oakland’s plan to borrow construction funds was a violation of state and local law. Then Henry worked with Don Perata, the State Senator for Alameda County, to lobby a bill through the state legislature that forced the Oakland school district to accept a $100 million loan to cover its $37 million shortfall. In addition, the bill put the Oakland school district under the control of a state administrator to be appointed by Jack O’Connell, the State Superintendent of Public Education. When Jack O’Connell campaigned for state superintendent, he received financial support from Eli Broad’s billionaire cabal. Reed Hastings contributed $250,000, John Doerr $205,000 and Eli Broad, himself, contributed $100,000 to O’Connell’s campaign. With the state takeover of Oakland’s schools, O’Connell agreed to appoint anyone “Boss” Brown wanted. Thus Eli Broad and his cronies got complete control over the $63 million slush fund  forced on the Alameda County tax payers. Jerry Brown described the state takeover as a “total win” for Oakland’s schools. In reality, the state takeover was a total win for Eli Broad and his billionaire cronies. For the tax payers forced to repay the loan and for the Oakland school children whose schools were plundered by malicious billionaires, the state takeover was a disaster.

The Table Was Set And The Feasting Began

The Democratic state superintendent of education, Jack O’Connell, appointed Randolph Ward, a graduate of Broad’s superintendent academy, as Oakland’s state administrator. Ward appointed Arnold Carter, another Broad academy graduate, to serve as his chief of staff. Both state administrators appointed a bevy of Broadies  to fill the Oakland school district’s top management positions. Then Ward implemented Broad’s privatization agenda. He closed public schools and opened charter schools. He created additional management positions for Broad academy graduates and issued multi-million dollar consultation and construction contracts to private corporations. Randolph Ward gave Broad’s billionaire cronies complete access to the $63 million slush fund created by top Democrats, Jerry Brown, Bill Lockyer, Don Perata, Jack O’Connell, Tom Henry as well as other members of “Boss” Brown’s Democratic machine.

When the state took over the Oakland schools in 2002, Randolph Ward fired the superintendent, Dennis Chaconas. When Ward resigned in 2006, Broadie Kimberly Statham replaced him. A year later, Statham left and her chief of staff, Vincent Matthews, another Broadie, took her place.

In 2008, Oakland Assemblyman Sandre Swanson broke with “Boss” Brown and introduced a bill to force the state to relinquish its control over Oakland schools. Eli Broad gave a Sacramento lobbyist $350,000 to oppose Swanson’s legislation, but Swanson’s bill passed and local control was returned to the Oakland School Board. In July 2009, the school board hired Anthony “Tony” Smith as the district’s superintendent.

Smith was not associated with Eli Broad. However, even though local school board resumed control over the schools, Eli Broad was not finished, He funded a front group, Greater Oakland [GO], which financed the election of five Broadies to the Oakland school board. In 2014, the Broadie school board forced school superintendent Tony Smith to resign and appointed another graduate from Broad’s academy, Antwan Wilson , Oakland’s next school superintendent, resuming Broad’s decade-long privatization scheme.

A Decade of Corruption

Under Randolph Ward, Oakland Schools struggled with the overwhelming debt imposed by the Democratic Party machine. When Ward left Oakland, millions of dollars went missing with him. Though FCMAT received a multi-year contract to help manage the debt, Tom Henry provided little substantive support, financial or operational. In 2007, Jerry Brown left Oakland for his cattle ranch in Northern California. In its 2007-08 report, an Alameda County grand jury investigation found that the Oakland Unified School District had been looted.

Between 2003 and 2006, Ward shut down 14 public schools and opened 13 charter schools. He increased the district’s shortfall by nearly $15 million. Ward’s successor, Kimberly Statham, another Broadie, opened 4 charter schools and Broadie Vincent Matthews, who followed Stratham as state administrator, opened 9 charter schools. Under state control, the district’s debt ballooned from $37 million to $89 million while school enrollment, the district’s primary source of funding, dropped from 55,000 in 2002 to 38,000 in 2009. When Assemblyman Sandré Swanson forced the state to return local control, Oakland’s schools had $5.6 million less than what was reported and a total of $9 million unaccounted for and completely missing. But with the return of local control, the district’s fiscal mismanagement problems only worsened. Eli Broad now directed his Broadie school board to support his schemes. 

Antwan Wilson: The Most Corrupt Broadie Of Them All 

When the Broadie school board replaced Tony Smith with Antwan Wilson, it hired a thoroughly corrupt, incompetent and morally reprehensible superintendent to run the Oakland Unified School District. Ignoring all budgetary, ethical and legal constraints, Wilson zealously implemented Broad’sprivatization plan. Wilson overspent the school district budget by overpaying Broadie administrators and conniving with Broadie consultants. In 2015, though the school board authorized only $10.4 million, Wilson paid consultants $22.6 million. The board approved only $7.1 million for administrators and supervisors, but Wilson spent $22.3 million. From July 2014 to January 2015, Wilson spent $22.3 million on district office managers while Smith spent only $13.1 million the entire previous year. From 2013-2014, Tony Smith spent $10 million on classified managers, but in 2015-2016, Antwan Wilson spent $22.3 million. Under Wilson, the number of students shrunk, but spending for administrators and supervisors with teaching certificates grew from $13.9 million in 2013-2014 to $20 million in 2015-2016. Wilson increased spending on outside consultants from $22.7 million in 2013-2014 to $28.3 million in 2016-2017. In Wilson’s last year with Oakland schools, he exceeded the budget for consultants by 32 percent.

These revelations galvanized Tom Henry’s FCMAT into action. Henry immediately lobbied for another state take over even as he collaborated with the Broadie school board to close even more schools and make even more valuable real estate available to billionaire-owned charter schools. But without Boss Brown’s backing, Henry was unsuccessful in getting Governor Gavin Newson’s support for another state takeover.

Open the article and read the ending. It doesn’t get better for the students of Oakland. Eli Broad, Jerry Brown, and their allies used Oakland as their Petri dish. Oakland was raided and looted. Antwan Wilson left Oakland to become chancellor of the D.C.schools, where he was booted out after seeking preferential treatment for his own child. Upon Wilson’s abrupt departure, the mayor of D.C. replaced him with Lewis Ferebee, superintendent of Indianapolis, who is also a graduate of the Broad Academy.

Jan Resseger, tireless champion for social and economic justice, reflects on the fading reputation of the charter industry. The decision by the Trump administration to axe the federal Charter Schools Program (DeVos’s slush fund for corporate charter chains) is the latest affront to an industry that once was regarded as the great hope for innovation and effectiveness but got overwhelmed by scandals and profiteering.

Resseger credits the dramatic turn in the public reputation of the charter industry to the work of the Network for Public Education and its executive director Carol Burris.

Burris brings to her work the experience of a veteran educator, a teacher and principal who spots scams quickly. Burris also has a rock solid sense of integrity that makes her unwilling to tolerate organizations that are designed to benefit the adults, not the students. She is the quintessential embodiment of the “David” I wrote about in my book SLAYING GOLIATH. She works with passion and dedication because of a sense of mission, not for love of money. She is a mortal threat to the Goliaths who wear the fake mantel of education reform. She can’t be bought and she can’t be stopped. Unlike the hirelings of Goliath, she really does work for the children, for whom she has worked all her life.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews SLAYING GOLIATH. This is the second part of his review.

This is an excerpt of a long and thoughtful review.

This second post will focus on Ravitch’s analysis of the research which predicted the defeat of accountability-driven, charter-driven policies. Perhaps the most striking pattern documented in Slaying Goliath is how they failed in the way that scholars and practitioners anticipated.

Decades of Disruption-driven reform began with the false claim “that American education was failing and the only way to fix it was with standards, tests, competition, and accountability.” As Arne Duncan’s public relations officer and Walton-funded reformer Peter Cunningham said, “We measure what we treasure.”

Ravitch’s response was, “I was taken aback because I could not imagine how to measure what I treasure: my family, my friends, my pets, my colleagues, my work, the art and books I have collected.” And that foreshadows the victory of the Resistance over Goliath. Most educators, patrons, and students agree that children are more than a test score.

No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top set impossible test score targets. They were based in large part on the weird idea that “no-excuses” behaviorist pedagogies could be quickly “scaled up,” providing poor children of color a ladder to economic equality. Drawing on the tradition of Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner, reformers “rigidly prescribed conditioning via punishments and rewards.” Previewing their fatal flaw, Ravitch observes, “Behaviorists, and the Disrupters who mimic them today, lack appreciation for the value of divergent thinking, and the creative potential of variety. And they emphatically discount mere ‘feelings.’”

When educators resisted, corporate reformers became livid and doubled down on the punitive. Perhaps their worst debacle was using value-added teacher evaluations to hold each individual educator accountable for test score growth. It combined inappropriate test outputs with an unreliable and invalid algorithm, the VAM, as a club to enforce compliance. In the short run, it forced educators, who had previously tried to keep their heads down and “monkey wrench” testing mandates to join patrons and students in the Resistance. By 2018, however, pent up anger exploded as teacher strikes spread across the nation.

Today, many or most of Goliath’s coalition have become disenchanted with standardized testing, but their Disruption model can’t function without it. Few have gone as far as Paymon Rouhanifard, the former Camden superintendent who abolished report cards after listening to complaints, and denounced standardized testing as he left the job.

The more common path is to spin their punitive tests as “personalized” learning, and their incentives and disincentives as the “portfolio model.” As Ravitch explains, “A portfolio district is one where the local board (or some entity operating in its stead) acts like a stockbrokerage, holding onto winners (schools with high test scores) and getting rid of losers (schools with low test scores).”

As was also predicted by Campbell’s Law, test-driven accountability (made more intimidating by the dual threat of test-driven competition with charters) led to corruption. The cheating was far greater than just the scandals where adults erased and changed bubble-in answers. Graduation rates were easy to manipulate. For instance, NPR reported a “heartwarming story” in 2017 about a school with 100% graduation rate. A subsequent FBI investigation and a district audit found 1/3rd of the school’s graduates lacked credits and only 42% were on track to graduation.

And that leads to the corruption associated with school choice. Today’s Disrupters seem to be doubling down on charters to drive transformative change. As explained in a previous post, in 1988 Al Shanker saw charters as a path towards innovation. Within two years, however, the promise of win-win experimentation started to be undermined when conservative reformers Terry Moe and John Chubb claimed “choice is a panacea.”

In this case, it was choice-advocate Paul Peterson who predicted the political future. Charters didn’t take off because of the balanced approach of Shanker, but because reformers “radicalized” the concept. And, of course, there was plenty of big bucks available for pushing their radical but false narrative.

Within a decade, a shocking number of non-educators had been convinced by Goliath’s spinsters that the KIPP’s behaviorist model could be scaled up. As Slaying Goliath explains, “The biggest innovation in the charter sector was the invention of ‘no-excuses’ schools.” It took nearly another decade for policy makers to accept the fact that charters get average results except for those with high attrition.” And it took nearly as long to reveal the much greater down sides of charters…

Regardless of whether we’re discussing high-stakes testing, charter expansion, or the other pet theories, we should all heed Ravitch’s most important lesson of the past few decades is that “Reform doesn’t mean reform. It means mass demoralization, chaos, and turmoil. Disruption does not produce better education.”

Slaying Goliath celebrates a great victory for public education and democracy. However, Ravitch reminds us that the Disrupters are still threatening. She compares today’s danger to that which faced a man who decapitated a rattlesnake but who nearly died after being bitten by the detached head.

So, we can’t lower our guard until the principles that inspired the Resistance are safe in our schools.


One of the regular commenters on the blog signs in as NYC Public School Parent.

She wrote the following:

The ed reformers have set up a game with rules in which they always win.

If 100% of students in public schools are meeting standards, then the standards are too low.

If 50% of students in public schools are meeting standards, then the schools are terrible.

If a charter comes in and cherry picks from the 50% of students who meet standards, then the charter is performing miracles because 100% of their students meet standards.

If a public magnet comes in and cherry picks from the 50% of students who meet standards, then the public school is wrongly cherry picking students and look, the 50% who are left are still not meeting standards.

If a charter has 100 students in 9th grade and 4 years later only 60 of them make it to 12th grade, the charter has a 100% graduation rate because all 60 seniors graduate.

If a public school has 100 students in 9th grade and 4 years later has 90 students and “only” 70 of them graduate, the public school is a failure.

The ed reformers could not get away with this if the education reporters at major newspapers did not demonstrate their incompetence every single day when they accept every press release and study put out by ed reformers as the gospel truth. Too many overprivileged education reporters are so terrified of numbers that they cannot even envision that a charter that starts with 100 students in 9th grade and graduates 60 is not performing the miracles in which 100% of their students are high performing scholars. It is beyond their very limited ability to take a deep dive into numbers. These reporters write as if they were simply acting as stenographers for the PR groups. Their stories are as ridiculous as if a medical/science reporter kept reporting: “This brand name cough medicine cures 100% of the children with serious coughs, as proven by this never peer reviewed study which started with 100 children taking this brand name cough medicine in which 50 children disappeared from the study. We know that the number of kids who disappeared from this brand name cough medicine study is irrelevant because the people at the brand name cough medicine company explained to us that all those children who disappeared had parents who – once they saw that their child would be miracle-cured – decided that they would rather see their children suffer.”

Would science reporters simply report that the cough medicine had 100% cure rates because they accepted as gospel that there were large numbers of parents who had enrolled their kids in that study and then decided they’d prefer their child suffer and stop taking this miracle medicine? Would science reporters say “it doesn’t matter if 25% of the kids disappeared, if 50% of the kids disappeared, or if 80% of the kids disappeared from this study because the people running it told me these missing kids’ parents wanted them to suffer with coughs once their kid started experience the miracle of our cure.”

Would science reporters ignore all the parents publicly explaining how their kids were pushed out of these studies? Would science reporters say “we already know from the cough medicine maker that you just wanted your child to suffer from the cough so we are still going to report that this medicine miraculous cures 100% of the kids who take it.” Or would they listen to parents and say “hey, it’s clear something very fishy and corrupt is going on”.

Would a science reporter make that judgement based on the race and class of the children who leave the study, and if their parents are white and middle class, then reporters are skeptical of the cough medicine company’s claims that they want their children to suffer more instead of being cured. But if those parents are African-American, do those science reporters simply accept as gospel what the cough medicine company tells them is true, that those parents prefer to see their children suffer than be cured and that’s the only reason their kids disappeared from the study?

It seems like education reporters don’t feel the need to ask any questions when the kids who disappear are African-American and Latinx with few other resources. They accept as gospel that their parents prefer to see them suffer, and it never occurs to those white education reporters that perhaps their parents are pulling them BECAUSE the charters are making their kids suffer. I have no doubt that those white education reporters would ask a whole lot more questions if all the missing students were white.

Jan Resseger describes the chaos and disruption caused by Ohio’s choice-made Legislature.  

The Ohio House is trying to curb the overreach of the expanded voucher program, which unexpectedly swooped up some white, affluent schools. The hardline Senate, lobbied by generous campaign donor Betsy DeVos, will hang tough to give out as many vouchers as possible, even if it bankrupts entire school districts.

I wonder why no one has put a referendum on the state ballot about whether the public wants vouchers to pay the tuition of religious school students.

At the end of Jan’s excellent article, there is a nugget of good news.

The failed state takeovers are under fire:

On Wednesday, the Ohio House passed another very welcome emergency amendment to Senate Bill 89: to end Ohio’s state school district takeovers established without adequate public hearings in the summer of 2015. The House amendment would end the state takeovers and the top-down, appointed Academic Distress Commissions in Youngstown, Lorain and East Cleveland. Elected representatives from Lorain and Youngstown spoke passionately for the need to restore local control and community engagement in their school districts, which were thrust into chaos in recent years by their Academic Distress Commissions and their appointed CEOs.



Parents, students, and local officials plead with Chancellor Lewis Ferebee:


No student was ever helped by closing schools!

Stop the mayhem.

Stop the pointless disruption!

Support the school, don’t kill it.

Do not pave the way for gentrification and more charter schools.


Carol Burris wrote about Michael Bloomberg’s education ideas several years ago when she was a high school principal on Long Island in New York.

You have to love New York City’s mayor. Michael Bloomberg speaks his mind, never holding back. While most self-proclaimed school reformers do the Dance of the Seven Veils, slowly revealing their agenda, the mayor jumps up on stage and gives you the ‘full monty.’ He’s sure he has the solution for all that ails New York’s schools, and he is not shy about sharing.

Last Thursday, he told an MIT conference audience how to quickly improve public schools. “I would, if I had the ability – which nobody does really – to just design a system and say, ‘ex cathedra, this is what we’re going to do,’ you would cut the number of teachers in half, but you would double the compensation of them and you would weed out all the bad ones and just have good teachers. And double the class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students.”

Now that’s an interesting proposal to promote college readiness: lecture halls for third graders.

The mayor never cites any research to support his claims about what’s a good deal for students. Nor does he explain a sensible way to determine the bottom half of teachers — the ones who would be sent packing. But he should be forgiven on this point since there is, in fact, no such research and no such sensible way.

Yet as astounding as his statement might be, the mayor’s solution is not pulled from thin air. In fact, his assumption is the foundational belief on which the State of New York has designed its teacher and principal evaluation system.

The evaluation system, APPR, actually assumes that half of all teachers are not effective (ineffective or developing), although there is no evidence that that is the case. In fact, the State Education Department has created a bell curve evaluative system on which to place teachers to make it so. Now that, Mayor Mike, is ex cathedra.

Mayor Mike loved test scores and data. The fact that New York City made no more progress on national tests than any other city during his twelve years in office says something about his shallow knowledge of education. He left behind a school system that had gone through four major reorganizations; that relied on business consultants rather than educators for major decisions; that fired many teachers and principals and closed many schools; that introduced dozens of new selective schools; that won the title of the most racially segregated school system in the nation. He was really good at disruption, not so much at actually improving education.

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.

Vicki Cobb is an award-winning author of more than 90 children’s books, mostly about science.

In this post, she reviews SLAYING GOLIATH.

The review begins like this:

For the past 25 years there has been a national war between so-called education reformers and public schools.  Education historian and indefatigable blogger on the topic, Diane Ravitch, has been chronicling the attacks, losses and now, finally, victories through her blog, where she posts up to ten times a day, every day, since April of 2012. In her new book Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools, she pulls the disparate threads together and writes a brilliant,  page-turner story of this war against public schools for a period that included my 5 grandchildren.

Who are the bad guys?  Millionaires and billionaires who come from a business background where forces of free-market choices,  competition, and new standards create disruption in the market place allowing the best products to rise to the surface.  Ravitch names names.  We know who they are and they include Bill Gates, Betsy De Vos, and the Walton (Wallmart) families.
Ravitch aptly changes their names from education “Reformers” to education “Disrupters.” Measurement is key to determining educational success in the form of high stakes testing that occurs every school year for grades k-12.  Right out of the starting gate the Disrupters’ premise was wrong-headed and untested. 

The methods of this warfare included slamming public schools as “failing” and demonizing teachers while supporting the creation of brand-new charter schools and vouchers to pay religious schools using  tax payer money and selling the concept that now parents have “choice.”  If you knew what it takes to create and sustain a good school, you would know that non-educators with dough  are not the people who should be starting one no matter how pure their motives. (I served 18 months on the board of a charter school that is now shuttered.) Politicians from presidents, G.W. Bush and Barack Obama, to local school board members jumped onto the shiny new Disrupter bandwagons.  It never occurred to them that America’s children were  Guinea pigs.  Disruption is not healthy for children. Using children to experiment with the profit-motive in education is an insane idea.