Diane Ravitch, Super-Villain…. And Related News

September 10, 2012

I’ve avoided writing about Diane Ravitch recently because I think it’s now clear to all sensible people that she has gone completely nuts, lacks credibility, and was probably never much of a scholar.  But I just couldn’t resist noting that in addition to all of her previous vices, Ravitch is now seeking to play the part of a super-villain.  She always had the megalomaniac dimension of a super-villain, but has now added the dimension of making threats if her demands are not met.  In a recent post [UPDATED], she declared:

The election, I hear, will be decided in Ohio and Michigan.  As it happens, I have a very large following of teachers and principals in both states.  My decision could swing several thousand votes in both of these key states.  I hold the election in my hands.  Bwahahahaha! And if my demands are not met within 24 hours I will reverse the Earth’s gravitational pull and everything will go flying into space. Bwahahaha!

Actually she didn’t say the last bit, but she did say that President Obama should “read this and heed my advice… while you still can, puny Earthling.”  Again, she didn’t actually say the last bit, but I think you get the picture.

And in related news… The Chicago Teachers Union has decided to go on strike.  In their own effort to play the part of a super-villain, they are demanding that virtually bankrupt Chicago and its Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel transform all matter in the universe into currency to pay for increased teacher salaries,  gold-plated pension and health benefits, and a hot tub for each teacher filled with KFC gravy.

And in related news… the Chicago Tribune has reacted to the demands of these super-villains by calling for vouchers for Chicago students.

Scenes from the Transformation: Reactionaries Crying in their Beer

May 10, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Carpe Diem is moving into Indianapolis with their blended learning model that produced the biggest learning gains in Arizona. Result: teacher unions babble about the school not having enough teachers and a Tucson reactionary attempts to peddle already discredited criticisms.

Over at NEPC, Kevin Welner rather assuredly asserts that retention is bad for students based upon methodologically unsophisticated studies caried out on bad policies. The claim that retention increases dropout rates is approximately as well established as the belief that cancer drugs kill people with cancer and that rooster crowing causes the sun to rise. Or that Harry Potter books caused NAEP gains in Florida for that matter. Par for the course, Welner ignores the statistically sophisticated studies nearing a random assignment study from Florida and NYC that show significant benefits from those policies.

Over at Ed Week, Little Ramona is drinking the Vegetarian Conspiracy Theory kool-aid on ALEC.

Bless their little reactionary hearts, but at least all of this makes for good comic relief.

“How Do You Sleep at Night?”

February 7, 2012

Just fine, thank you.

But some teachers seem determined to disturb the sleep of people who do research they dislike.  When Heritage’s Jason Richwine co-authored a study on teacher pay, he received a message from his child’s second grade teacher asking him, “How do you sleep at night?”

Note that the teacher did not ask him to describe the source of the data analyzed or defend the interpretation of results.  The teacher was just engaged in bullying, a practice that schools say they are trying to discourage.  And part of the bullying is the not so subtle reminder that the teacher has Richwine’s children all day.  Parents are (at least partially) compelled to send their children to the care of adults who may threaten you if you say things they dislike.

Imagine a doctor similarly bullying a patient who advocated for reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates.  I imagine the doctor could face disciplinary action from licensing authorities for unethical conduct.  If teachers want to be treated as professionals, then they have to abide by professional norms of behavior, including separating one’s personal feelings from one’s job.

Most teachers do behave professionally, but these outbursts are not as rare as they should be.  Unfortunately, the teacher unions and their advocates, like Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss, encourage strident views and confrontational tactics that make unprofessional behavior far more likely.

Long run, it’s a bad strategy for teachers to get their way in policy disputes by threatening and intimidating parents.  It takes a couple hundred ads about teachers buying school supplies with their own funds to counter one such incident.

Review the Charter Research, Don’t Pick the Outlier

November 2, 2011

Julian Betts and Emily Tang at the University of California at San Diego have a new systematic review of the research on charter schools.  They look at more than 30 studies that meet minimal criteria for research quality.  They find that charters have statistically significant positive effects on math and reading achievement in elementary grades and on math in middle school.  There are no significant effects for reading in middle school or for high school student achievement.  The size of the effects are modest, ranging between 2% and 6% of a standard deviation.  (See Table 2)

It’s important to step back and review an entire literature, rather than focus on a single study.  It is sensible to focus on higher quality research, since results are highly sensitive to research design.  But it is completely inappropriate and misleading to pick a single study while ignoring all others of equal or higher quality simply because that one study produces the result you like.

Of course, highlighting the one study she likes is Diane Ravtich’s stock in trade.  All we hear from Ravitch and her Army of Angry Teachers is about the CREDO study.  That’s one study — and not a high quality one.  And even then Ravitch distorts what CREDO finds.

But Betts and Tang’s review includes CREDO and dozens of other studies.  When we look at the full set of research, we see some significant and positive results.  And in Table 4, Betts and Tang show us that if you exclude the CREDO study, the positive effects for charters get stronger so that charters significantly improve math achievement across all grades.

Of course, you shouldn’t exclude that one study, but it is informative that the one study that Ravitch and her Army of Angry Teachers hold up as proof of their view that charters don’t work is clearly an outlier from the full set of research.  And if we focus on the highest quality random-assignment studies of charter schools, the positive results are even stronger.

I wonder if Diane does this in her historical research.  Does she pick the one quotation or document that supports her argument while misleading readers about the entire set of information?  It’s harder to catch Ravitch in this sort of deceptive scholarship in historical work, but in quantitative empirical research, it is the essence of what she does.

(edited for typos)

Brill versus Ravitch

August 21, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

C-SPAN brought in Diane Ravitch to interview/debate Steven Brill. Check it out.

Too much Ravitch nonsense to refute, but her talking points about the PISA tests are just too simple-minded for words. So if you look at only the very wealthiest schools in America, they outscore the national average in Finland and South Korea.


No mention of how the very wealthiest schools in America compare to the very wealthiest schools in Finland and South Korea, or that our African-American kids score closer to the average score in Mexico than that in Finland.

Ravitch goes into her absurd poverty litany as if they don’t have poverty in other countries. Mexico will be delighted to learn that their poverty problem has disappeared! I wonder how much we spend per pupil here in America compared to other countries. Oh wait, they keep track of that sort of thing.

Brill says Ravitch’s attempts at spin remind him of Thank You for Smoking. That’s not fair. Nick Taylor was at least good for a laugh.

Ravitch on the RI Tape: My Goons Won’t Release It

June 14, 2011

Are we on Skull or Rhode Island?

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Diane Ravitch did an interview with the St. Pete Times last week in which reporters raised the subject of the Rhode Island tape. This came up after Ravitch made a series of falsifiable claims about trends in Florida education, the most egregious of which is to either assert that we have state level longitudinal NAEP data for 12th graders (we don’t) or to ignore all the 12th grade data we do have (FCAT, AP, graduation rates, college attendance rates) which are positive.

Here’s the RI part of the conversation:

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the education commissioner in Rhode Island is someone that the education powers-that-be in Florida would have liked to have seen as our new education commissioner. She’s on the same page with them and she has roots in Tampa, I think. You and her were recently embroiled in a back-and-forth where after meeting with her, you said she was pretty condescending and kind of nasty. Apparently, there is a video of that meeting. And I was wondering, can you go ahead and agree to a release of that video so we can see it?

It’s not my video; I can’t release it.

From what I understand, if you gave the okay, it could be released.

No, that’s not true. Every person in the room had to give their permission and three of the people did not. It wasn’t me.

So you’re okay with it being released?

Yeah, it’s not a problem for me. The filmmaker said she wasn’t going to release it anyway because she’s going to make a movie and she’s not in a habit of releasing her raw footage. The context of that meeting was that I came with the promise of a one hour private, a one on one meeting with the Governor and 20 minutes before the meeting that Debra would be part of the meeting. And we spend the meeting vying to get a word in. And I had the feeling, what is she doing in my one on one meeting and she must of thought, you’re here to hear what I’m doing, I’m not here to hear what you are doing. I felt very dissed, I got an apology from her. And then her PR guy saw the tape and he put it out to all the right wing bloggers that I was rude to her and I began to get all of this National Review, Jay Greene stuff, release the tape. I don’t have the tape, I don’t have permission to release the tape, it’s not mine and what it would show is we are both vying for time and it was supposed to be my meeting.

Translated into English: Gee shucks, I’d be fine with releasing the tape but my union goons won’t agree to it. Three of them are from a primitive culture that has an aversion to photography. They believe that it steals a piece of their soul upon viewing, that sort of thing. You would be surprised at how many people hold these beliefs in Rhode Island!

I must respect their customs and beliefs, regardless of how quaint they may seem to us.  I’ll let you know if all three of them adopt more modern attitudes at some point…

Don’t Go Wobbly, Mike

June 9, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over at the Ed Next blog, Mike Petrilli asks the question: if not the 100% proficiency requirement of NCLB, then what? Mike concludes:

So let’s get specific. Assuming that these 1 million kids remain poor over the next 12 years, what outcomes would indicate “success” for education reform? Right now the high school graduation rate in poor districts is generally about  50 percent. What if we moved that to 60 percent? Right now the reading proficiency rate for 12th graders with parents who dropped out of high school is 17 percent. What if we moved that to 25 percent? The same rate for math is 8 percent. What if we moved that to 15 percent?

To my eye, these are stretch goals–challenging but attainable. Yet to adopt them would mean to expect about 400,000 Kindergarteners not to graduate from  high school 12 years from now. And of the 600,000 that do graduate, we would  expect only 150,000 to reach proficiency in reading (25 percent) and just 90,000 of them to be proficient in math (15 percent).

90,000 out of 1 million doesn’t sound so good, but without improving our graduation or proficiency rates for these children, we’d only be taking about 40,000 kids. So these modest improvements would mean twice as many poor children making it–9 percent instead of 4 percent.

And what about the other 91 percent of our Kindergarteners? We don’t want to write them off, so what goals would be appropriate for them? Getting more of  them to the “basic” level on NAEP? Preparing them for decent-paying jobs instead of the lowest-paid jobs? Driving down the teen pregnancy rate? Lowering the incarceration rate?

Is this making you uncomfortable? Good. If we are to get beyond the “100 percent proficiency” or “all students college and career ready” rhetoric, these are the conversations we need to have. And if we’re not willing to do so, don’t complain when Diane Ravitch and her armies of angry teachers complain that we are asking them to perform miracles.

I agree that the 2014 cliff was utopian and counterproductive, and further that the safe-harbor provision does little to rescue NCLB as originally formulated. As Congress dithers on reauthorization (and when have we ever known Congress not to dither?) the 2014 event horizon approaches. Many states back loaded their proficiency requirements to the 2012-2014 period, and ooops, here it comes.

Our goal should be a system which encourages systemic improvement and academic growth rather than a system which requires “perfection on a deadline.” No one is better at creative insubordination than school administrators, making perfection on a deadline a dangerous proposition.

Rather than set goals, we need to focus on aligning the incentives of the adults in the system to match the interests of children and taxpayers. Let’s not bother with any Soviet style 5 year targets, and focus on incentivizing the behaviors we want, and disincentivizing the behaviors we don’t desire. Rather than bemoan a lack of parental involvement, let us promote policies that strongly encourage it. If we can do this, improvement will follow. Stretch goals should come in the form of raising cut scores over time and other forms of raising the bar. All the while, important incentive pieces like parental choice and financially incentivizing academic success must proceed.

Florida pursued this course, and coincidentally the ur-reactionary Ravitch is down there today. The St. Pete Times reports:

“Particularly in  Florida, it’s a disaster,” she said during a visit Wednesday with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board. “What we are doing is killing creativity, originality, divergent thinking. All the things we need in the 21st century are what we’re squeezing out of a generation of children.”

In a speech today at the Florida School Boards Association annual meeting in Tampa, Ravitch plans to continue her full-throated campaign to “save public education” from its obsession with testing.

“This is institutionalized fraud,” she said, referring to the phenomenon of ever-rising scores. “Because we are graduating just as many kids who can’t read as we did 10 years ago.”

She acknowledged that Florida’s focus on reading has produced real gains. But she said other test improvements may have come about partly from the state’s focus on reducing class

Ravitch and her “armies of angry teachers” are living in an alternative universe where she gets to make wild allegations about destroying the creativity of a generation of children without offering any evidence, make claims about education policy (in this case class size) which have been clearly refuted by empirical investigation and label the state which has produced more combined NAEP gains than any other for low-income children “a disaster.” Her point about 12th grade scores may be true in some states, but is not the case in Florida, where FCAT scores, AP passing rates and graduation rates are all improving. Why bother looking anything up if you can simply confidently assert nonsense?

Ravitch is noisily preaching to her reactionary choir as history blows past her, making her the George Wallace of the soft bigotry of low expectations-a sad but ultimately unimportant figure. Meanwhile, the serious conversation of K-12 carries on without her. Getting back to Mike’s post, I think the reactionary he should be worried about is not Diane Ravitch and her army of angry teachers but rather Charles Murray and his potential army of angry taxpayers.

The country after all spends about $10,000 per year per child-amounting to about $50,000 by the end of 4th grade-more if there was public pre-school provided. For that amount of money, which is largely the envy of the rest of the planet, it seems reasonable to teach the vast majority of children how to read. If it can’t be done because of “poverty” then why are we spending so much money going through the motions of pretending to try? Only educating an elite may offend our sensibilities, a Murrayite could argue, but only educating an elite while spending trillions of dollars on maintaining an illusion of educating the uneducable is far, far worse.

Far left meets far right at far gone, so to speak.

Americans are not quitters, and we are not going to give up on public education. Nor are we going to embrace some dorm-room bull session pipe dream of embracing state socialism to fix our education problems, which is just as well, because it wouldn’t work anyway. The grown ups in the K-12 reform conversation, both on the left and right, are pursuing greater productivity for the existing enormous investment in education.

I can forgive Mike for assuming we need some sort of gosplan, and that the gosplan needs to have an assumed rate of failure- he works in DC, and there is something in the water. Focusing on aligning the interests of adults with the interests of children while increasing parental involvement in a variety of ways will produce improvement. We’ve had enough utopian exercises (Goals 2000, NCLB 2014 with Common Core on hot standby). Our focus should be on thoughtful management of incentives in order to produce improvement. This is mostly going to involve sustained hand to hand combat in state capitals- a long hard slog.

Let’s get on with it-sometimes the hard way is the only way. Forget about a master plan or a schedule for improvement Mike- let’s get as much improvement as fast as we can get it.