Diane Ravitch, Historian Who Changes History

September 18, 2012

Diane Ravitch continues to provide considerable comic relief.  I noted last week that she has adopted the role of super-villain by declaring that she, personally, can control the outcome of the presidential election and that President Obama should “heed my advice.”

Well, now the world’s most over-rated historian has decided to change history by erasing her blog post as if she never said those things.  This is not only very un-scholarly, but it is also a major internet no-no.  You can’t just erase a blog post if you are now embarrassed by what you wrote.  You can’t un-say something that you’ve said.  You can apologize, you can amend, you can elaborate, but you can’t just make it as if it never happened.

But the most over-rated historian appears to have simply tried to change history and erase her blog post.  If you click on  my old link, you just get a message that the page cannot be found.   And if you try to find the post by going through the chronology of September posts for September 9 (the date on which it was originally posted), you just won’t see her megalomaniac declaration: “I can determine the winner of the presidency.”  It’s gone.  Erased.

Except that the Internet Archive Wayback Machine happens to keep track of old web sites and you can still see her post here in the web cache.  If only, Ravitch could employ her own Winston from 1984, whose job was to alter and erase history so that the Party was never wrong.  As Orwell writes:

This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound-tracks, cartoons, photographs — to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct, nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.

Unlike Ravitch whose own historical record is thankfully preserved by the WayBack Machine despite efforts to the contrary, Winston only had to take the offending writings and then he “dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.”  As the 1984 Party slogan goes: “”Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

All of this would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetically sad.

[Edited for a typo and to update link to old web page]


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…