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Posted at 5:30 AM ET, 12/17/2010

A plea for peace among petulant pundits

By Jay Mathews

As the football season for my Redskins falls apart, I have become addicted to the shouting of sports talk radio. Great failures inspire irresistible passion and confrontation. The national debate over how to fix our failing schools attracts me for the same reason. But in my saner moments, I wish we were more considerate of those with whom we disagree.

I thought about this as I read a long and erudite assault on the views of historian and author Diane Ravitch by investor and charter school advocate Whitney Tilson. I know both Ravitch and Tilson. They are among my favorite commentators. For the sake of the schoolchildren we all care about, I wish they were more willing to give credit to ideological adversaries for the good sense and good works on all sides of the debate.

Tilson attacks Ravitch's latest book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” as well as some of her recent magazine articles and speeches. Like many who read the book, Tilson believes it is a refutation of Ravitch's long support for more testing, higher standards, more charter schools and more parent choice. Tilson correctly identifies several instances in which Ravitch criticizes nonexistent straw men, painting a distorted picture of what people like Tilson believe.

In a speech in Houston, for instance, she urges the Teach For America organization, which recruits and trains recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities, to "stop claiming that TFA will close the achievement gap. That may be a nice slogan but nobody can teach for two or three years and close the achievement gap." This is in contrast to what the Teach For America Web site actually says: The organization is "working to eliminate educational inequity."

That's a big difference. They are not promising to close the gap. They are trying to do so, like nearly everyone in the education field, including Ravitch.

In her book and speeches, Ravitch castigates innovators who, she insists, say charter schools are the silver bullet that will save inner city schools. In her book she says a 2009 pro-charter study "suggested to editorialists at the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and other national media that charter schools were the silver bullet that could finally solve the most deep-seated problems of urban education."

The Washington Post editorial she referred to says nothing of the sort. Here is its wording: "The desperation of poor parents whose children are stuck on waiting lists for charter schools is well-founded."

Ravitch is a brilliant analyst. Her book and other recent pieces point out the failure of the charter school movement to make much headway nationally in raising student achievement. Her review of the hit documentary "Waiting For 'Superman,' " [bias alert -- I am in it] notes that the film went overboard in making teacher unions the villain and charter schools the hero of our national educational drama. So why does she have to stretch the facts when taking on what she considers unhealthy trends?

The same goes for Tilson. In his critique, he says Ravitch "has completely disavowed her earlier beliefs" about improving schools. That may be the impression her publicists tried to create in order to sell her book, but Ravitch's actual writing doesn't support that view.

Some of the book is a tease, not uncommon in modern nonfiction. At the beginning, Ravitch says she used to think "that certain managerial and structural changes -- that is, choice, charters, merit pay, and accountability -- would help reform our schools." That seems to hint that by the end of the book she will have rejected all that old nonsense. I kept looking for the St. Paul moment when she denounces her former self, but it never came. Instead, at the end she endorses people who pursue choice, charters, merit pay and accountability, as long as they do a better job of it than she has seen recently.

Tilson calls Ravitch "a thinly disguised shill for the teachers' unions" and describes my colleague Valerie Strauss as "Ravitch's shill." That is neither nice nor accurate. Strauss is one of the most fair-minded journalists I know. She gives all sides, even me, a chance to make our points. Despite what Tilson says, Ravitch's criticism of the anti-union slant of "Waiting For 'Superman,' " is well-grounded. The movie does not mention several recent efforts by teacher union leaders to support merit-pay proposals and other innovations with which Tilson agrees.

Few of us argumentative education wonks are as predictable as we seem, so why not check our facts before buying into stereotypes? I suspect both Tilson and Ravitch will be more careful in the future. Instead of launching Web sites or speech broadsides against opponents, a few e-mail exchanges might be in order.

For instance, Tilson is one of the most energetic and generous supporters of the KIPP charter schools in the New York City area. He was offended by Ravitch's comments that charters like KIPP are robbing regular schools of their best parents and are too hyped by the press. He would feel better if he saw the e-mail Ravitch sent me a few weeks ago from Houston.

Mike Feinberg, the co-founder of KIPP, was showing her KIPP schools in Texas. They looked great to her, she said. She hasn't given up on any of the reforms Tilson is devoted to. She just wants them to do better. We should all, particularly we pundits prone to oversimplification and demonization, pursue the same goal.

By Jay Mathews  | December 17, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Trends  | Tags:  Diane Ravitch, KIPP, The Life and Death of the Great American School System, Whitney Tilson, education policy pundits distort each other's cases, how to help schools by being fair in the debate  
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Jay, I agree that we should be civil to those with whom we disagree about school reform. Sometimes, however, that is, well, difficult.

And it's difficult because there are some who continue to make the same inaccurate, disproved statements about public education, and who continue to offer the same, business-model approaches and policies to fix it. That these programs and policies have no research basis and demonstrably worsen high-quality education seem to matter not a whit to them.

So what is it that directs their behavior?

Is it ignorance (and I'm being civil here), willful ignorance, a political agenda? Some may claim that these "reformers" are motivated by a genuine desire to improve education. But if that's the case, how is it that they continue to turn a blind eye to facts and data that refute their ideas for change?

By analogy, taking at face value the public education critics who invoke the business model for reform is like believing conservatives who claim that tax cuts pay for themselves, or that tax cuts for the wealthy create jobs and trickle down to everybody else, or that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, or that Wall Street fraud, on a grand scale, was NOT a major cause of the mortgage and financial crisis.

The research seems to be clear that charter schools are, in fact, NOT a silver bullet. You try to exonerate the Post from suggesting that they are. Immediately after the Hoxby NY City charter report, here is what the Post told readers:

"Charter Success...Poor children learn... Teachers unions are not pleased... the facts are in"

Not only did the Post jump prematurely on this limited and criticized study, but it quite clearly said charters WERE a silver bullet. The first two words quoted above were the editorial title and were in bold lettering. The next eight words were the editorial subtitle. But, Jay, the facts were not in. The Post misled its readers, and bashed teachers in the process.

And speaking of teachers, you malign them too. You say that Waiting for Superman "does not mention several recent efforts by teacher union leaders to support merit-pay proposals and other innovations..."

First, merit pay is hardly innovative. And the research shows that it is ineffective, even detrimental (see Jeffrey Pfeffer's March, 2007 testimony to Congress).

Second, teachers unions are not the problem in education. If they were, how does one explain consistently poor academic performance in the Deep South (no unions) to the consistently good performance in union states like Maryland and Massachusetts?

Daniel Patrick Moynihan commented that "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." Yet many public education critics keep making up their own facts.

Should we be civil to one another? Yes.

But purposeful prevaricators make it more difficult.

Posted by: mcrockett1 | December 17, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Hi Jay; I appreciate your call to inject some civility into the current uproar over Education.....but it's time for all parties concerned to start listening and respecting what the 'other side' has to say. And I don't think the conversations need to be all about status quo vs. polarizes the conversation and makes a number of false premises.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | December 17, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Amen, to mcrockett1.

Posted by: edlharris | December 17, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I would say Jay Matthews supports Tilson's views but not Ravitch. This seems more like criticism of Ravitch than a true plea for people to work together.

Posted by: educationlover54 | December 17, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Jay: to put these two individuals on the same plane is pretty outrageous. Tilson has attacked Diane viciously and personally, over and over again, while Diane has never referred to Tilson in any of her voluminous writings, but sticks to the issues.

Your link to Tilson's “long and erudite” piece doesn’t work, but never mind. Tilson has never written anything erudite in his life.

I suppose you meant to link here: The piece is indeed lengthy, that is true, and almost unreadable, filled w/ the rehashed claims of the charter school lobby.

In it, Tilson even claims that Ravitch's opposition to Joel Klein’s privatization policies (which she has countered with facts and evidence, and applied nationwide, not just in NYC) is based upon some unnamed personal vendetta, repeating slander that Klein and his allies have tried to spread in their own defense, unwittingly revealing the weakness of their own positions.

Indeed, your attempting to put Tilson and Ravitch on the same plane is like putting a nasty hit-man on the same plane as true academic scholar.

You ought to be ashamed.

Posted by: leonie1 | December 17, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate what your article attempted to do but I respectfully believe it failed short of its goal. You unfortunately lump Dr. Ravitch in with your appeal here to maintain a civilized discourse with education reformers entitled "Petulant Pundits."

Whitney Tilson demonstrates regularly his lack of civility and integrity in his all out frontal assault on Diane Ravitch. Tilson has become childlike now-a brat. Play a new CD, Mr. Tilson, I'm bored!

It's exhausting & counterproductive for Tilson to launch unwarranted,unrelated to topics and lame attempts to discredit Dr. Ravitch-a woman who earned her place in life w/50 yrs of researching and working in education. Has he?

Dr Ravitch is incomparable-she's a leading expert in the nation and the world. A civilized man would acknowledge that,not forget it, and respectfully disagree w/her on issues not attack her personally.

Frankly, it's stupid and indicates he has nothing of substance to say.

When Tilson slams Dr. Ravitch so unprofessionally and harshly, he also offends many prestigious organizations who have, amid this reform controversy, chosen to honor Dr. Ravitch with accolades & awards.(Such as the New England Association of Schools & Colleges who recently bestowed their highest honor named after a Harvard President, Charles Eliot.)

There are many, many others like this org which Mr. Tilson and his cronies should note who are potential allies of his, yet he chooses to alienate them by attacking someone they honor and respect greatly. Make sense to you? Not me.

Particularly significant when ed reform is controversial and reaching a fevered pitch, that Dr. Ravitch is chosen to be honored time and again.

Atlantic choose Dr. Ravitch as one of the 19 brave thinkers of the world. Mr. Tilson -why did KIPP & TFA ask Dr. Ravitch to speak w/them? They respect her--they respect her knowledge, her expertise--her integrity. Mr. Tilson should do the same.

Mr. Mathews, you should post a correction to this article because Diane Ravitch does not engage in frontal assaults or name calling. Don't lump her in the same category as a "petulant pundit" please. It offends many of us.

I'm a F500 businesswoman, non educator, it's clear to me the Tilson's of the world have nothing of substance to say and choose low lying personal attacks. I stopped reading or posting his blogs on sites of over 800K readers-have no time for pettiness. Give me substance on ed reform or step aside.

We face a world of serious ed reform issues yet Tilson chooses to pick apart in your words,Jay," a brilliant analyst" who states her case eloquently and substantiates it with evidence.

I've never read or heard or observed one moment in time where Diane Ravitch lowered herself to 'name calling' (such as your reference to Tilson, "thinly disguised shill,") nor engaged in ad hominem debate w/Tilson or his cronies. She continues to take the high road. People respect that. Tilson should learn from it.

Posted by: rsolnet | December 17, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong with you Mathews! I've stopped reading you now that Michelle Rhee has been driven from the District by the voting parents of public school students. But my goodness, when I got wind of this nugget of lunacy, I had to check it out.

Whitney Tilson, a knuckle-dragging ignoramus put on the same plane as Diane Ravitch, one of the preeminent education scholars of our age?! When you lost Rhee did you lose your mind?

Posted by: natturner | December 17, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

In an attempt to take my own advice, I appreciate these well-written and sincere posts, but have trouble understanding parts of them. For instance, when mcrockett1, someone I respect from our many email conversations, says

"And speaking of teachers, you malign them too."

And then as proof of this surprising statement says, "You say that Waiting for Superman "does not mention several recent efforts by teacher union leaders to support merit-pay proposals and other innovations..."

and say that merit pay is not innovative (I didn't say it was, i just said teacher union support for it was recent) and say that teacher unions are not the problem (I didnt say they were), and that is the support for the statement that I malign teachers, I get very confused, particularly when I was making a point in which I strongly AGREED with Ravitch.

Anyone who reads my review of her book, linked in this piece, and says that I am not a big admirer of her and her work, puzzles me a lot too. I can be thick sometimes, but come on. Both Ravitch and Tilson said things that were not true, and I showed the contrary evidence. I would like good people like that to be more careful with their words. I will try to be careful too.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 17, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

I don't know who said what when, but as I am just now reading Ravitch's book, there is one conclusion I have come to about reform: The unprofessional treatment and disrespect for teachers is a common thread in just about every reform effort to date. That is why progress is minimal.

What the so-called experts say, or who points a finger at whom, is almost a sidebar because real reform will never occur until real teachers are part of the real discussion.

It's just not these 2 people, it is a marketing ploy that has convinced every media talking head that teachers and public schools are nothing short of pond scum. And for some reason, if a person advocates for better teaching/teacher conditions, it means they are anti-children. This is craziness! Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions. It saddens me to think that intelligent adults are not really looking at what is happening, are unable recognize the problems and rationally address them in an honest, forthright manner.

The lens isn't that out of focus. It doesn't take a PHD in Education to see some of what is happening...all it takes is common sense and asking a classroom teacher. We need to refocus that lens, and adjust the depth of field in order to clearly see the complete picture.

Posted by: ilcn | December 17, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Maybe I am excessively cranky about this because I have spent nearly a half century working with words in places where their meanings really matter, and there are daily debates about the best way to convey meaning to readers. So when you say

"it quite clearly said charters WERE a silver bullet."

I feel like tearing out what is left of my hair. The words "silver bullet" do not appear in the editorial. Their meaning, as used by Ravitch and all others I am aware of, is that this is the one thing that will solve the problem for all time, kill the vampire of poor education and bring us back to the light and the truth. But the words our good discussant mcrockett1 quotes don't say that. They say charters are succeeding, they are doing good work, helping kids learn. That is the equivalent of saying that they are reducing the incidents of vampire attacks, making progress. Silver bullet has a different meaning, that this is the miracle cure, once it is applied our problems will be over. The editorial does not say that.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 17, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

We're supposed to take the opinion of a crooked hedge fund manager, with negligible knowledge in pedagogy or education, seriously? Moreover, we're suppose to think he is qualified in any sense to criticize the foremost expert in our country on the history of education? That would be laughable on its face if it wasn't so insulting to Dr. Ravitch.

Tilson doesn't deserve the public's ear. Mr. Matthews, you shouldn't be providing him with a platform. He and his vile opinions don't deserve to be mentioned in the same article as a luminary like Dr. Ravitch.

Posted by: rdsathene | December 17, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews tries to do a nice job covering his dislike for Ravitch. She is an educational professional who has seen both sides of the reform movement while the other is someone whose agenda is to destroy the reputation of Prof. Ravitch. First of all, what magazine articles? There have been bits and pieces (and probably taken out of context), but I have yet to see a cover story on her or a full interview on any major talk show or publication. I can't help getting the feeling she is blackballed. Even NBC's Ed Nation made no effort to get her hooked up on satellite.

As for TFA, read any blogs by their "teachers", and they constantly put down educators and come across as the savior of public schools. Come on, you cannot make a dent in the system if you only put in 2 years, but they love putting down teachers and their benefits.

Ms. Ravitch's speech to TFA/KIPP was fantastic. She had kind words for KIPP and got a standing ovation from TFAs too. Her speeches are the most dignified and her facts are not inflated like the reform movement's are.

Posted by: Schoolgal | December 17, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Come on Jay,
You missed the point of your own argument by using Diane Ravitch as one of your fall guys. She has been the only one who has stuck to the facts, and remained honorable by not making personal attacks. You have done an injustice here at the very least. In essence you have become the scone of your own argument by joining the petulant pundits club yourself.

Posted by: readdoctor | December 17, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I may have to give up on this one. I present misleading statements from good people on opposite sides of an issue, hoping to create support for fewer misleading statements. Instead I get folks defending the misleading statements of the person they agree with and trashing the person they don't agree with. This may be a lost cause. Well, maybe it takes time for this stuff to sink in. Happy holidays. I will still be posting stuff through the rest of the year, just to keep the fires burning. Thanks to everyone this year who has helped to keep this blog lively and readable, including all of the fine posters above.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 17, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

The dreary commentary from the defenders of all that has failed: Sooo entertaining. Dian Ravitch now a heroine to the left? Sooo entertaining. Watching THEM defend HER is a scream. The shriekers will never stop. Michelle Rhee has the right idea about not just the unions: Cast them all out. Far, far out. It's all about the adults, isn't it?

Posted by: Craig_Colgan | December 17, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

It is not Tilson's views that are so offensive but his tactics -- too personal, out-of-bounds and repulsive to enumerate here. Your own Post colleague-of-sorts Miss Manners would firmly advise you to "cut" him, Jay. Please try to maintain some standards of decency.

Posted by: cgrannan | December 17, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Oh come on Jay--you present snippets of comments from both rather than examine the whole picture and your use of the word petulant sums up your feelings. Tilson is a financial pundit while Diane's whole life has been devoted to the field of education.
Comparing the 2 of them was just your way of trying to disparage Ravitch by pretending to be an admirer. And using the Christmas season as your cover was a very low blow.

Posted by: Schoolgal | December 17, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

I've come late to the public education world after spending many years working in the private sector (although in addition to working as an educator the past 6 years, I spent 25 years as a customer, first as a student, then as a parent of a student), and I must admit being very underwhelmed by Diane Ravitch. Her credentials give her reputation a glossy sheen, but her sound bites contradict them.

I agree with Jay about her lack of consistent thesis in her latest book, and to watch her make speech after speech to NEA and school board convention audiences is painful as she strings pro-teacher platitudes together like prayer beads.

I disagree with Jay's characterization that everyone in education is trying hard to solve problems, such as the education gap. Most employees in public education are busy maintaining the status quo, for their institution as well as for themselves. This is not to slander personally every teacher and administrator in our schools, however, or even say most aren't hard-working; but we all work in a culture evolved to insulate and isolate each and every employee from assessment and accountability. The public education environment attracts and selects for employees who thrive in working away from adults and who esteem effort over outcomes.

How these employees respond is human; their reactions are the same as those of anyone who works in an organization in which results are not rewarded or even considered essential. No one judges us, no one evaluates us. Our jobs aren't on the line if our students don't "learn." We serve on committees with no measurable outcomes identified in their charters. We initiate school-wide programs for which results are never measured and missions and goals are never adjusted as a result of reflection on progress, spending untold hours and dollars just to say we're "trying hard."

It is the institution of public education which is the cause. I understand the Ravitches of the world when they bristle at the fingers pointed at teachers, and I understand the Tilsons who anger at criticisms of their pet reforms. But I marvel and despair at their simplistic characterizations of the problems and the solutions, and especially at the broad stroke condemnations of poorly implemented reforms.

The problems of public education are complex and complicated, and the solutions cannot be implemented piecemeal. Take pay for performance: Experiments which try out merit pay, but ignore the facts that (1) most teachers are not motivated by money in the first place, and (2) administrators have neither the training nor experience to evaluate and coach performance in a merit pay setting are bogus. As are the critics who crow over the failures and ignore the obvious, that this is not how most of the world employs pay for performance.

We need to admit the failures of public education are institutional and all players must take responsibility for devising and implementing solutions that are appropriately institutional.

Posted by: ErvAddison | December 17, 2010 7:15 PM | Report abuse

Jay says, "I get folks defending the misleading statements of the person they agree with and trashing the person they don't agree with."

Jay - I haven't read through all this closely enough to comment cogently about that, but I do know that as a journalist, you have a much greater responsibility for precision and accuracy than your readers do.

I hope you don't feel so attacked or get bogged down in the details so much that you miss that.

Posted by: efavorite | December 17, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

The failures of public education are the same failures of the public. Society has deteriorated in this country and as such is reflected in its public institutions, deportment and general malaise with regard to doing anything for the good of all, rather than what can I get out of it.

That said teachers are being unfairly scapegoated for the failures of society primarily by people who have NEVER done their job. That's the injustice of it. Most ed reformers have NEVER been in the classroom as teachers, but claim to know all that is wrong and how to fix it.

For what? Short-term get rich quick schemes and ultimately a denial of access to an education for a population who cannot afford to go elsewhere when they are "counseled out" of charter schools only to find their public schools closed, (in the name of reform), and nowhere to which they can return.

This movement is aimed to kill public education and will affect the poorest and most powerless among us. The voucher scheme didn't work so this is the new conservative angle to do so.

The anti-union thing is a way to get cheap and obedient workers who will work for less money, for more hours and less benefits and have them beg to do so because they will have no choice or protection. Meanwhile, the rich will get richer exploiting the outcasts, the poor, and the rapidly slipping working class (formerly known as the American Middle Class).

Always follow the money.

Posted by: wilphil1 | December 17, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

"We need to admit the failures of public education are institutional and all players must take responsibility for devising and implementing solutions that are appropriately institutional."

Let me know when that happens, will you.

Posted by: peonteacher | December 17, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

What is civil about 3 years of r brash reformers typifing DC teachers, parents and community as 'less than', inept, criminal etc--- all the while being wholeheartedly supported by this newspaper and you Jay? What is civil about being fed a constant media diet of about magical and mystical programming(KIPP TFA) for lower income and students of color that is markedly different than the integration of rigorous programming and supports that middle class and higher income children enjoy? What is civil about reformers and media outlets that are more beholden to the hedge fund investment crowd than to the students who they supposedly serve? Kid First..yea right. What is civil about the politicizing of education while undoing the democratic processes that surround this public trust in order to feed personal egos, media profit centers (Kaplan testing) and agendas that have to do with profits now at the expense of our childrens' futures. I have a child in DC schools and I see no reason to be civil about a discourse that is largely supporting a separate but equal doctrine under the guise of reform. To me civility in the face of a re-emerging orthodoxy does not bode well for the future of my child and children like him. To adapt a phrase from your much admired Ms. Rhee-- I think Civility is overated!

Posted by: rastajan | December 17, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Ravitch's premise is simple. You cannot just use tests and test prep to help students succeed. She puts a great emphasis on the social situation which needs an overhaul. Recently a local newspaper wrote a article where the superintendent cared more about the testing outcomes than the fact that teachers were pooling money to help the families of their students get food, clothing and rent. To paraphrase the superintendent--helping these students was not the main function of a teacher. As far as the reform movement is concerned, it's not. Teachers can get each and every student to "pass", but that has no correlation with actual learning and being educated. And that's something the media does not get.

Teachers want meaningful staff development and they want input into the kinds of development they need. They want input into hirings, firings and curriculum. But most of all, they want to help a student develop emotionally and that cannot be done if academics is the only means of developing the student. Finland and Denmark understand that. You can talk about teacher evaluations til you're blue in the face, but I rather my child have someone who cares about the person and takes the time needed to help the child succeed socially, emotionally and academically instead of rushing it by taking away the Arts, sciences and recess.

Learning should be joyful. It should be investigative. And yes it should include skills. But children learn at different rates, and the teacher cannot be held responsible for that the same way the teacher cannot be held responsible if the student does not get a good night's sleep, a decent meal and a loving and caring home. God bless those teachers who take the time to find out about the whole child and put up their own money so that child can get a decent meal and not worry about a place to sleep. These are the factors that Ravitch brings forth in each and every lecture.

Posted by: Schoolgal | December 17, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse


You stated you "may be excessively cranky" on this. Certainly being a man who spent a half century, as you wrote, choosing the precise words, you had to know that casting Diane Ravitch in the same dull light of "Petulant Pundit" and reducing her to Tilson's level was not accurate reporting. Your crankiness, therefore, may be caused by your own angst for printing this piece!

Seriously, I challenge you to find one instance--just one--where Dr. Ravitch sunk to Tilson or his cronie's level and petulantly debated them. Try to --It doesn't exist. She's not in that arena, therefore, she didn't deserve the PP label or this article!

Tilson even trashed your colleague whom you admit is no shill for anyone. You admit that Valerie Strauss is thorough, accurate, fair, etc. Why, then, would you choose to shine a spotlight on an abrasive ignoramus who demeans your conscientious colleague?

I hope Valerie didn't pull your name out of the Office Secret Santa pool this year!

Ravitch & Tilson shouldn't be mentioned in the same sentence let alone a column comparing their views. They are not on the same plane nor, obviously, do they share the same integrity of character.

Ravitch vs. Tilson = Fact vs Hype, or, Fact vs Myth, whatever you want to call it, you owe Valerie, Dr. Ravitch & WaPo readers an apology in my opinion. When you're wrong, you're wrong. I seriously believe that whe you do apologize your crankiness will disappear! C'mon Jay, you can do it! Time to move on to real ed reform issues.

Posted by: rsolnet | December 17, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

My cent #1: The first time I heard about Whitney Tilson was in the spring of 2009 when I learned about the account he had posted on his blog about Ben Chavis' verbal attack on on NYC City Council Member Charles Barron. Chavis, Oakland’s notoriously chronically badly-behaved, "new paternalism" American Indian Public Charter School founder, had been invited to sit on a panel at Sharpton’s National Action Network EEP forum.

According to Tilson, after Barron spoke, Chavis made it a point to approach him and say, “You're a mother f-ing black pimp, you're f-ing our kids. Come to the reservation and I'll beat your ass. You want our kids to take Home Ec? YOU should wear a dress!"

Whitney Tilson’s enthusiastic blog response was, “I LIKE this guy!”

So such is the mentality of the "reformer" who is going after Diane Ravitch. Tilson earns NO respect from me.

Cent #2: The "silver bullet" phrase reminded me of some things I read in the chapter on the Gates Foundation in a 2008 report by Global Health Watch. The report “…draws on interviews with global health experts from around the world all of whom requested anonymity or indicated a preference to speak off the record. Several who recounted specific incidents or experiences asked that these not be described so as to protect their identity.”

Now re bullets: “The Foundation’s corporate background and its demand for demonstrable returns on its investment appear to have resulted in a bias towards biomedical and technological solutions. In the words of one interviewee: ‘The Gates Foundation is only interested in magic bullets – they came straight out and said this to me.’”

AND “But is vital in today’s world of immense wealth and enduring poverty to question the mainstream portrayal of philanthropy as being entirely benign.” AND “The Gates Foundation is governed by the Gates family. There is no board of trustees; nor any formal parliamentary or legislative scrutiny. There is no answerability to the governments of low-income countries, nor to the WHO. Little more than the court of public opinion exists to hold it accountable.” Etc.

Reading the many concerns about the GF’s approach in the arena of world health made me even more uncomfortable (than I already was) about the way that it is manipulating public ed.

Posted by: sharonh2 | December 17, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

As is evident by all of the discourse above, there are many different takes on how to solve the education crisis, whom to blame, what is effective and ineffective, etc. The point that is often not addressed is the basic underlying assumption that these social ills, gaps in achievement, inequalities, poverty, apathy, neglect, abuse, generational indifference, etc., etc., etc. CAN be addressed through the public educational system. After teaching for almost a decade, I still fail to understand why this assumption exists. What I see occurring is a public school system spreading itself thin by trying to tackle everything but education. Just what is the goal of public education anymore? Read almost any public school system's division goal statement and you will often be left scratching your head as to just what they are trying to accomplish. Until the assumption is addressed and education makes educating students the goal of the public school system, you will see the blame game continue with little results.

Posted by: holland21 | December 17, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, mcrockett1 for stating the facts so clearly. You are my hero.

Posted by: chicogal | December 17, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

Interesting post. (And provacative, judging by the above comments and your subsequent shrinking hairline!)

I do have to say that Tilson is a curious choice for a representative in this post. Yeah, he's written some on education, and he does sit on a few boards and such, but education is more of a pet project to him than his primary vocation, which last I heard was still the financial world. (That's one of the reasons, I suspect, he dislikes Ravitch -- he represents one of the philanthro-capitalists she savages in her book.)

Maybe a better choice for a Ravitch antagonist, is, say, Rick Hess. I'm not really much of a Hess fan myself, but educational policy is his primary focus, so at least he's got some credentials there.

Posted by: joshofstl1 | December 17, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

This country has been reforming for 100 years, so when is it going to wake up and stop reforming.

I was actually thinking about a new approach to education reform while driving home from work today after a long day of actually teaching kids, the real work in education which many try to avoid.

Maybe teachers should donate their free time to tell hedge fund managers and corporate executives how to do a better job at managing risk and marketing their products and services.

Oh wait, it's already been taken care of by the U.S. government via taxpayer bailouts and reprimands. It must be nice to work with products and services that don't talk back or refuse to want to be sold. Maybe Tilson can enlighten me on working his whole life in an industry with people that act and think just like him. Sounds to me that he has been living in a bubble that doesn't lend itself to a lot of reflection or critical thought...I love it when limousine liberals try and tell you how to do your job.

But what would I know, I'm just a lowly teacher without a degree from Harvard.

Posted by: skepticnotcynic | December 18, 2010 12:33 AM | Report abuse

Interesting topic and seems like the genie is out of the bottle and restoring civility to the education debate is a lost cause.

Its one of the most frustrating parts of being on the front lines for me. There are no easy answers, panacea programs, or silver bullets of any kind that can help me move the kids further along each year. I have to use pure grit and determination and employ different approaches and perspectives.

But the shouting and the noise coming from people outside classrooms is deafening. Their well-intentioned involvement has the adverse effect of making things more difficult for those of us who grind it out each day. There is a place for debate, but rehashing the same positions for 30 years seems a bit ridiculous. And administrators. Don't even get me started on how they gum up the process (IMPACT team I'm talking about you).

The Australian visitor who wrote on the blogs this week got the big picture right. We are teaching to an Industrial Age mentality at present. This is happening while Asia is ascending to the top of the world heap, and Americans continue to think they live in the best country in the world.

Yes, it is important that kids can show basic skills on muliple choice tests. But the emphasis on it by political/administrative types shows their ignorance and lack of vision. Kids need to play with fire, design and build things, create businesses, challenge adult authority (the way they test me is brilliant), play tricks, climb trees, daydream, waste time, stand up during class, hurt themselves occasionally, draw, etc.

But due to the utter nonsense of the evaluation instrument called IMPACT (and a long history of similiar instruments), I have to protect my position, and I cannot teach students as effectively as I could if the system actually respected me and supported me. Instead I am prescribed to constantly by people who wish they were teaching again on one side and people with utter contempt for the way kids actually are on the other.

I imagine that most educators feel the same way, but if they don't that's OK. Everyone in the classroom should be able to bloom in their own way. Schools should be like beautiful gardens, not pollution-generating factories, and every classroom is a different hue, shape, etc.

We just went on break. I love what I do, but because of the mismanagement that occurs at the central office and their stiffling policies and procedures and prescriptions, I could not wait to leave yesterday. That makes me sad. Its not how I felt when I started down this path.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | December 18, 2010 3:22 AM | Report abuse

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the following for its first definition of "silver bullet":

1.a. A bullet made of silver. Freq. with reference to the folk tradition that such a bullet can harm a werewolf (or other supernatural being) whereas an ordinary bullet cannot.

1.b. fig. A simple, miraculous solution to a complex and difficult problem. Also (Med.): = magic bullet n.

Now, we're obviously talking about the figurative meaning: "a simple, miraculous solution to a complex and difficult problem." Does the editorial in question treat charters as a silver bullet? It's a matter of interpretation, but I would say yes.

The editorial reports exuberantly on the Hoxby study:

"A rigorous new study of charter schools in New York City demolishes the argument that charter schools outperform traditional public schools only because they get the 'best students.' This evidence should spur states to change policies that inhibit charter-school growth. It also should cause traditional schools to emulate practices that produce these remarkable results."

And later:

"Most stunning was the impact that the charters had on shrinking the achievement gap between minority and white students. 'On average,' the study found, 'a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86 percent of the 'Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap' in math and 66 percent of the achievement gap in English.' Researchers were careful not to draw conclusions, but they highlighted a correlation to practices such as a longer school day, performance pay for teachers, more time spent on English and effective discipline policies."

The editorial fails to point out that the closing of the Harlem-Scarsdale achievement gap is hypothetical, based on projections. It presents the closing of the gap as fact.

Now, if the achievement gap is the complex and difficult problem, the editorial does indeed present charters as a simple (and even miraculous) solution--hence, as a "silver bullet." While cautious about naming the actual practices that might have led to achievement gains, the editorial confidently attributes such gains to charters themselves.

I am not involved in the charter question, but I see reformers' belief in a "silver bullet" as a serious problem. Even charter proponents like Rick Hess and Mike Petrilli criticize the excessive claims and self-certainty of the charter movement (or elements of it). A bit of skepticism and humility brings strength to any movement; a wise charter advocate would listen closely to anyone who raises important questions.

I see nothing misleading in Ravitch's use of the term "silver bullet." Some might object, "We never claimed charters would solve all problems." But many seem blithely confident that charters will shrink the big nagging problem, the achievement gap, primarily because they're charters--and that an increase of charters will shrink the gap still more.

Posted by: DianaSenechal | December 18, 2010 5:08 AM | Report abuse

Jay (and others),

Thank you for the kind words.

Now, I'm not trying to be picky here, and I'll do my best to be civil, but I think you are trying to distance both yourself and the Post from what was implicit in your column and in the Post editorial on charter schools.

First, if I write to say that I "often disagree with Jay Mathews AND OTHER education reporters," then haven't I clearly told the reader that you – Jay Mathews – is an education reporter? I think so.

What you wrote about merit pay for teachers is the same. You wrote the words "merit-pay proposals and other innovations." What should the reader take from this? This is not insignificant because merit pay (along with charters) constitutes one of, if not the major, "innovative reform" being pushed by critics of public education. (Oddly, or perhaps expectedly and perversely, big business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce demand "accountability" for public schools and teachers but then run away from it for themselves.)

You also claim that the Post (Ms. Armao) did NOT suggest charter schools were a "silver bullet" of reform because its editorial did not actually use those specific words.

If I hear the words "Help! Help! Somebody please help me," do I really need to hear the specific words "I'm in danger" to understand the meaning?

If I produce an ad titled "BANANA SUCCESS," in big bold letters, and follow that with
"tumors shrunk...drug companies displeased...the facts are in about bananas" haven't I just told readers that bananas help to cure cancer? Especially if I follow the lead-in with a testimonial on the cancer-fighting prowess of bananas?

The Post editorial said this (caps since I can't use bold):

"CHARTER SUCCESS....Poor children learn... Teachers unions are not pleased... the facts are in"

And, as DianaSenechal pointed out, the editorial then proceeds to laud charters as a very, very high-quality reform (if not a "silver bullet" or "panacea" in those specific words).

Again, this is not insignificant because charters are touted (Waiting for Superman!!) as one of the primary (and innovative) reforms needed to "fix" public schools.

The word CONNOTE means "to suggest or imply in addition to literal meaning. It seems to me you are arguing that literally –– word-for-word –– you and the Post didn't say what you both clearly connoted.

Let me be very clear here. There are problems in public education, and we generally know what and where they are. We also know, generally, how to alleviate them.

But the facts are in that charters, at best are iffy. Merit pay doesn't really work (the "technical issues" associated with value-added negate its fair and reliable use). And more testing does not improve learning, nor is it associated in any positive aspect with national economic competitiveness.

It really is time to stop blaming schools and teachers, literally and figuratively, for other, more serious problems that are not of their making.

Posted by: mcrockett1 | December 18, 2010 6:40 AM | Report abuse

Just a quick addition:

The World Economic Forum's current report on economic competitiveness shows the U.S. dropping from second last year to fourth for 2010-11.

The main reasons for the drop are weak auditing and reporting standards, corporate ethics, high fiscal deficits and and public debt.

I can assure readers that public schools and teachers are NOT responsible for these problems. They did not cause them nor should they be held "accountable" for them (but somebody should....I'm just sayin'.)

I can also assure readers that we know who the ethically challenged corporations and corporate officers are, and we know how to fix the weak accounting standards, and we know quite specifically who pushed the policies that caused the massive budget deficits and that piled up debt.

Thus far, not much mist of accountability has
touched the perpetrators.

It's far easier to blame the schools.

Posted by: mcrockett1 | December 18, 2010 6:54 AM | Report abuse

Jay, lets look a little more at what you discuss here.
I read this but didn't respond since I honestly had never heard of Tilson, so I checked out his site and read comments here. I then went back and read your linked review of Ravitch's book.
I previously read her book, and had been following her and Meir's debate. They respect each other throughout their debates, so honestly discussing how two people who have a great deal of experience in the education field, with often opposing views, who remain respectful would have been much more interesting than this...a long time respected person in education versus from all I can gather from his website, a self promoting investment/hedge fund person (and after seeing Inside Job, I kind of don't trust him:-) ).

At the start you claim Tilson's review of her book is "erudite" and he is seemingly upset because she is now going against testing, charter schools, higher standards and parent choice. That seems to me that you back up what he is saying.

However at the end of this article, and in your review of the book you actually criticize the book because she doesn't actually say do away with all "testing, charters, higher standards/parent choice etc"

So, how is Tilson at all erudite if his long critique basically says he is upset that she no longer supports those things, when in fact she does?

Again, I read her book, and I have read other books by her. I found this book fascinating, insightful, and historical. Anyone who is interested in education should read it to understand how NCLB came to be written, how those without education backgrounds came into the picture to offer, dare I say it, "silver bullets," how the media has distorted many issues within public schools and jumped on the band wagon of "reformers" with no education background.

We do need changes, but we don't need to create a two tiered system where poor children get tested weekly on "facts" via multiple choice tests, and their teachers get replaced every year when scores don't go up, versus a system with truly high standards both in curriculum and in assessment (i.e other types along with multiple choice) where teachers aren't let go every year, and are instead respected for the knowledge they impart to the kids in their community. NCLB, whether by intentional design or by not thinking through the implications, will do away with public schools if it continues in the fashion it is currently written. That was Ravitch's main point. She has realized we are creating a two tiered education system, and is now opposed to that.

I respect her for taking the time to write a book that goes through reform history, public education history, and her own historical views, and written it in a way that the lay person can truly understand and appreciate. A lay person (ex: parent) who has been led by the media promoting non-education reformers as a panacea, now knows he has been mislead for about a decade.

Posted by: researcher2 | December 18, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

mcrockett1 - thanks for explaining that so clearly. Maybe Jay will see through his defensiveness to get it.

Posted by: efavorite | December 18, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

I’m curious about why Whitney Tilson’s day job as a hedge fund manager wasn’t disclosed. Why do certain hedge fund managers, investors, side chair capitalists, billionaires, and for-profit charter operators seek protection for their greedy charter schemes?

For example Tilson, a hedge fund manager runs T2 Partners. He’s on the board of KIPP and a founding member of TFA. Hmm . . . These guys rant, spread lies, discredit public schools and at the same time they cash-in with tax funds via poor and middle class children to generate wealth for the investors. Numbers are cooked and journalists fail to investigate by following the facts, contracts and money.

Who’s benefiting from these scams? The horde of hedge fund managers and education industry entrepreneurs who work to take over neighborhood schools and replace them with for-profit charters.

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | December 18, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

I'll admit that I've not yet read Tilson's critique, but as a reader of his blog, which is heavier on hyperbole than anything my seventh graders have written, I'm not surprised that he's still attacking Diane Ravitch. It's the trendy thing to do. Thing is, I've never seen Mr. Tilson offer anything insightful or useful to the reform conversation, beyond his regular, uninformed bashing of unions. Only in the field of education do we give so much attention to those whose understanding of educating kids is so minimal as to be nearly nonexistant. But of course it helps that he's wealthy. We always listen to people with money, even if they don't know what they're talking about.

And nfsbrrpkk brings up some important points- people are making money off charters but the media is very unwilling to examine that side of the story. I suppose it won't sell papers the way random teacher-bashing will.

Posted by: beanzer | December 18, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

I'll admit that I've not yet read Tilson's critique, but as a reader of his blog, which is heavier on hyperbole than anything my seventh graders have written, I'm not surprised that he's still attacking Diane Ravitch. It's the trendy thing to do. Thing is, I've never seen Mr. Tilson offer anything insightful or useful to the reform conversation, beyond his regular, uninformed bashing of unions. Only in the field of education do we give so much attention to those whose understanding of educating kids is so minimal as to be nearly nonexistant. But of course it helps that he's wealthy. We always listen to people with money, even if they don't know what they're talking about.

And nfsbrrpkk brings up some important points- people are making money off charters but the media is very unwilling to examine that side of the story. I suppose it won't sell papers the way random teacher-bashing will.

Posted by: beanzer | December 18, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

To Mcrocket,

Your 1st post, I believe, cited a quote that Daniel Patrick Moynihan used frequently.

I thought it appropriate to mention that yesterday Diane Ravitch was selected as the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize Winner from the American Academy of Political and Social Science. This honor is in recognition of her lifetime dedication to "improving public policy in the nation in the academic arena." This tribute acknowledges her "commitment to the use of statistical evidence and quality data."

Earlier this month, Dr. Ravitch was the recipient of the New England Association of Schools & Colleges highest honor, the Charles W. Eliot (former Harvard President) Award. This award was in recognition of her "consistent commitment and keenest insight into the improvement of education on behalf of all students."

These awards represent, of course, many in a long line of prestigious honors bestowed upon her.

What I find telling is that these honors are coming at a time when the controversial dialogue on ed reform has reached a fevered pitch and at a time when Diane Ravitch's opinion on which reforms do/don't work is contrary to that of the Dept of Education. Personally, I find that a very significant sign and perhaps a indicator of what lies ahead in the form of formidable resistance to these reforms as they are written today.

Since mcrocket mentioned D P Moynihan, I thought I'd add another post!

Jay--a petulant pundit? I think many disagree with that characterization.

And, to Diana Senechal, I thoroughly enjoyed (and learned from) your informational comments on the origins of the term silver bullet. Thanks so much!

Posted by: rsolnet | December 18, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Why aren’t certain deformers - hedge fund managers, billionaires, education industry entrepreneurs, and politicians enrolling their own offspring en masse in their own self-serving for-profit K-12 charter schools and K-12 virtual charter schools? The scams are only designed to use poor and middle class children and their teachers as pawns to access federal and state funds for the purpose of lining their pockets.

If scripted corporate curriculum kits with matching corporate tests, merit pay, for-profit tutoring companies, on-line K-12 charters, for-profit charter managers, TFA recruits, and factory-model compliance systems are the panacea, then by all means enroll the deformers children in their own for-profit charter experiments.

We'll have a newsworthy story when the results are exposed.

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | December 18, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Jay -

"I feel like tearing out what is left of my hair. The words "silver bullet" do not appear in the editorial. Their meaning, as used by Ravitch and all others I am aware of, is that this is the one thing that will solve the problem for all time, kill the vampire of poor education and bring us back to the light and the truth."

Dear, dear. So mcrockett1 got his mythical creatures mixed up? Silver bullets are for werewolves. If he had said "wooden cross" would you have better understood his meaning and what you wrote?

Posted by: lisamc31 | December 18, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Jay left out something important: Ravitch isn't competent at interpreting empirical studies, even though she does so all the time. See

Posted by: educationobserver | December 18, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Jay left out something important: Ravitch isn't competent at interpreting empirical studies, even though she does so all the time. See

Posted by: educationobserver | December 18, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

See also this description of Ravitch:

Posted by: educationobserver | December 18, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to Diane for winning such a prestigious award!! The Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize Winner from the American Academy of Political and Social Science. This honor is in recognition of her lifetime dedication to "improving public policy in the nation in the academic arena." This tribute acknowledges her "commitment to the use of statistical evidence and quality data."

My question is regarding the above comment who attacks her use of stat evidence--the writer on that link works for a firm who may have been hired to disparage Prof. Ravitch on behalf of the charter movement, otherwise why would someone with expertise in real estate and retail health take on someone who is an education expert?? We have seen how some states inflated test scores, and we have seen how charters can control student enrollment by counseling out students or just deciding not to start an upper grade knowing their students won't be able to bring in the numbers.

It seems like the more awards and recognition she receives, those who want to rub elbows with the rich and powerful as well as the so-called reform movement big shots will find more ways to attack her.

Posted by: Schoolgal | December 18, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse


I think you're an excellent journalist; however, I'm afraid you have lost your critical lens and have thrown too much of your weight into the reformer camp - the so called "trendy" myths that have permeated the educational landscape. I respect that you value my opinions and find them "grounded" and "valuable." I too was once a naive TFA corps member who blindly followed the dogma that was literally shoved down my throat. Based on my experience, I do not think TFA and other organizations that have embraced the "reformer" mentality encourage enough critical thought or debate within their organizations because I honestly don't think many of the staff members and leadership of these organizations understand the unintended consequences of their approach to closing the achievement gap in urban and rural education.

In my opinion, this is due to two things, a lack of teaching and administrative experience in schools and a lack of understanding of the student population and communities they serve (Just like in any field, you can't develop this type of expertise in 2-3 years)

Unfortunately, this mentality leads to an organization that churns out robots and thought leaders who subscribe to the same ideology and mindset, which may work in corporate America because one can choose where to work or what to buy, but does not work in a school where students/clients don't always subscribe to the values that you believe they should. Indoctrination can be dangerous and it takes real understanding and experience to navigate the complexity of working with students who don't necessarily see it your way or haven't been reared in the environment you were raised in. When students in disadvantaged areas are held to an artificial standard that neither encourages creativity, critical thought, or self-reflection you will continue to see the same results, even if test data improves.

Raising achievement of students from impoverished backgrounds takes a village, which from my experience can be done, but not with a "quick fix" approach of holding teachers to an "artificial standard" and then axing them for not meeting those standards. This devalues our worth as human beings and leads to a culture that loses its soul.

This is they type of unscrupulous behavior that has lead to the downfall of corporations like Enron, Worldcom, and many banks on Wall street, which all lacked the moral compass or self-regulatory behaviors that preserve the integrity and stability of institutions across America. The best companies in America rarely make the press, and they are most definitely not run by narcissistic leaders who value the "hare" more than the "tortoise." They take years to build and must carefully balance growth, innovation, and discipline.

I used to believe a bunch of smart people could save our most disenfranchised students from so-called "low-performing" teachers, but after eating a piece of humble pie, I realized that maybe I was the one who needed reform.

Posted by: skepticnotcynic | December 18, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Jay, I think you should to listen and speak to Dr. Gradillas more often, rather than the so-called pundits in education today; he seems to possess a wisdom that allows him to see the “forest through the trees.”

Jay you may have already read it, but I think The "Talent Myth, are smart people overrated” by Malcom Gladwell is an excellent read along with one of my favorite Ed books, “In the Trenches,” a Teacher’s Defense of Public education,” written by a 31 year veteran teacher. In my opinion, those two reads keep you grounded.

Posted by: skepticnotcynic | December 18, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Schoolgal -- like most of Ravitch's supporters, you can't make any arguments outside of personal attacks. If you can actually refute the economist who pointed out her dishonesty, then you should try to do so. That is, explain how Ravitch is correct (rather than incompetent or dishonest) to ignore all of the specific findings in the charter school study that is her main talking point.

Posted by: educationobserver | December 18, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

In your comment, Jay, you say "I have spent nearly a half century working with words in places where their meanings really matter." Okay, this matters.

"Both Ravitch and Tilson said things that were not true," you claim, and the basis you present for your charge against Ravitch is the usage of the words, "silver bullet".

You say, "Their meaning, as used by Ravitch and all others I am aware of, is that this is the one thing that will solve the problem for all time, kill the vampire of poor education..."
In folklore, the silver bullet is supposed to be the only kind of bullet for firearms that is effective against a Werewolf, witch, or some monsters.

Ravitch is accurately and honestly trying to characterize the assumption of charter expansion proponents that charter schools, by their charterness itself, posess a power, without explanation or reason, that ordinary public schools do not. That claim is explicitly spelled out in the RttT guidelines.

I think you were embarrassed by Tilson's nasty tone and outright lies, but you want to attack Ravitch yourself. This isn't an honest piece of writing, although I don't believe it is ... exactly... consciously dishonest.

The point is famously hard to explain. Let's take an example of an exchange on Dec. 13.

You said –
“So this sentence of yours: “You are using your WaPo byline to specifically ATTACK parents, community leaders, and teachers without hearing them out. “ ... is at war with reality. In this particular column, what was I saying about parents, community leaders and teachers?”

I said –
“This is from another particular column, Jay. "Gray has let disgruntled parents and educators make political points for their side that threaten the academic progress at Dunbar, and has tossed in an unhelpful negative statement of his own."”

You said –
“Right. On reflection, I didnt think that was the right way to put it. I changed my mind. I do that fairly often. I consider it a healthy trait.”

You didn't actually change your mind, you just backtracked, and looked away. Your use of the words "in this particular column" shows you knew you had made the attack in another column, yet you still said the characterization was "at war with reality".

I'll let Sartre explain it himself.

"To be sure, the one who practices bad faith is hiding a displeasing truth or presenting as truth a pleasing untruth. Bad faith then has in appearance the structure of falsehood. Only what changes everything is the fact that in bad faith it is from myself that I am hiding the truth...
In bad faith there is no cynical lie nor knowing preparation for deceitful concepts. But the first act of bad faith is to flee what it can not flee, to flee what it is."

It is not I who am at war with reality. There is something here you are trying/trying not to understand.

Posted by: mport84 | December 18, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

From their website: "Econsult can help private entities seeking to participate in the policy process and businesses seeking to optimize in the context of changing public policies."

There are just as many studies proving few charters outdo public schools. And for the record you stated "Ravich isn't competent...." That's a loaded statement!! That article like this one is a veiled attack on her credibility. It doesn't get more personal than that.

Posted by: Schoolgal | December 18, 2010 10:07 PM | Report abuse

skepticnotcynic, have a look at Diane Ravitch's blog on edweek, okay? I'm hoping you'll log on, and join in the discussions. Diane Posts on Tuesdays, and Deborah Meier answers on Thursdays.

Posted by: mport84 | December 18, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

"That article like this one is a veiled attack on her credibility. It doesn't get more personal than that."

Of course, but it's also a true attack: she doesn't know how the most basic things about how to interpret research by real scholars. Or else she does know, but is being deliberately dishonest and misleading.

Either way, you obviously can't refute that guy's showing that what she says about that charter school study is just plain silly.

Posted by: educationobserver | December 18, 2010 10:21 PM | Report abuse

My point is that when someone is paid to refute a person's position, they find a way to make it valid. That's how most think tanks operate. I wondered about the author, so I looked him up. The author works for such a organization. We know Gates, Tilson, Bloomberg etal have the funds to hire such firms.

I just questioned the writer's motivation. Was he paid to investigate her statistical interpretations? And if so, by whom?

Posted by: Schoolgal | December 19, 2010 12:18 AM | Report abuse

Schoolgal, Thank you for shining the light on the deformers’ financial conflicts of interest and raising questions about their motives. I’m curious about why financial disclosure and transparency are not required. Journalists and the national media fail to investigate profit-making exploits and multi-million dollar contracts involving the deformers and their cronies as they cash-in using K-12 students and their teachers.

Who’s making the money? Big-brother corporate technology “data” tracking systems, state/national corporate testing and scoring conglomerates, value-added developers, for-profit charter operators, on-line school profiteers, certain foundations, scripted reading/math curriculum companies, unethical researchers, test prep companies, progress monitoring scammers, one-size-fits-all common core developers, lobbyists, TFA insiders, etc.

Since teachers are forced to implement deforms in the classroom, there's no time for learning.

Deforms are 21st century snake-oil wrapped in package, and deformers don’t exist in Finland.

Posted by: nfsbrrpkk | December 19, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Indeed, thank you, schoolgal! That's a treasure trove.

There's a list of Encore's 2010 press successes on their web site.

A lot of them are comical - like an anouncement they've been retained by a casino company, followed a few months later by the endorsement of a casino project by a former governor. For the current month, they earn their fee with "New Jersey Horse Racing and Gambling Bills Advance". Kudos.

Most of Tilsons's work has been on how the housing recovery isn't real, and isn't featured on the Encore site. Instead, there is one short informative piece on how to short-sell real estate investments. That's really low, but not the lowest. There's a workshop on non-profit tax law, including advice for investors looking to start their own non-profit front.

Encore didn't become experts on education reform until August, with this honey:
"Econsult Corporation and Fairmount Capital Advisors, Inc. have joined forces in a new venture known as The Econsult/Fairmount Group.

Here is Fairmount's client-base. Behold the "public-private partnership" in action:

In September, within a month, Econsult President David Crawford was on local Fox news, discussing the teacher contract.

It isn't clear which client(s) Tilson's piece is serving. We may or may not see an anouncement that it has been dignified by a column in the Washington Post.

The structure of Jay's column is kind of cunning. It enhances Tilson's profile under the pretext of criticizing him, and then attacks Ravitch under the pretext of even-handed journalism, even claiming to defend her against Tilson's excesses. This column looks totally cynical, but I still hope Jay is a clueless dupe rather than in on the deal.

His moral compass may not be pointing north (for complicated reasons even beyond the huge amounts of money involved), so even if he consults it, he winds up looking like a willing tool. There are many people in that category, and it's important to find ways to mobilize their independent perspective.

Posted by: mport84 | December 19, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Mport84 - jay is not a clueless dupe, but he may not be a willing tool either.

Perhaps there is something in between. Let's think about it. I think you're on to something.

Posted by: efavorite | December 19, 2010 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Mport84: Thank you for connecting the dots.
As for Jay and others in the media--I think it comes down to rubbing elbows or wishing to rub elbows with the rich and powerful. Not such a bad thing to want a week before Christmas :)

Every reader was able to see through his sham of pretending to be an admirer of Ravitch. Funny his article came out a day before her award was announced. Makes him look pretty petty.

Posted by: Schoolgal | December 19, 2010 11:10 PM | Report abuse

You guys are ridiculous. Lots of effort in googling someone's identity and silly speculation about him getting paid to write a blog post on Ravitch, but not a word showing that he actually says anything wrong.

In fact, he's right. Ravitch DOES misinterpret and misapply the main charter school study she cites. The study showed that charters have negative effects in some states, but positive effects in others. The question for any serious person would be: how do those states differ, and how can we get the good charter schools like the good states do?

The question for someone like Ravitch is: how do I paint the results in the worst possible way for charter schools so that I can demagogue on this issue and fool a lot of stupid people into thinking "charter schools bad"?

Posted by: educationobserver | December 20, 2010 2:23 AM | Report abuse

for the ever imaginative and witty efavorite and mport84---

"Somewhere between a clueless dupe and a willing tool." I kind of like that. I may suggest it for the jacket of my next book. There are a lot of potential readers in that category.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 20, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

and to mport84, I do apologize for confusing werewolves with vampires.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 20, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

My thanks to skepticnotcynic for the very good reading suggestions, and to educationobserver for seeing some worth in my argument.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 20, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

One more comment for the also erudite skepticnotcynic---I can only judge TFA alums by the people I have had some contact with, most of them teachers and school leaders in KIPP, and they are as far away from the sort of automatons you fear as any teachers I have know. They are very creative and unpredictable, and are happy to be in a teaching environment where they are allowed to be so. One example, Lisa Suben, a math teacher at the KIPP AIM academy in DC, decided to toss in the trash the entire KIPP approach to fifth grade math, the lesson plans first conceived by Harriett Ball and developed by KIPP founders Levin and Feinberg, who taught 5th grade math in their schools for many years. They let Suben do it her way, and she got results even better than the holy trinity of Harriett, Mike and Dave did.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 20, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse


I agree with you, some of my best friends are TFA alums and are still teaching or working in schools. I have no beef with the majority of corps members, the problems I have observed is with the organization itself, which is largely run by inexperienced educators. The teachers you refer to like Lisa, are still working in schools, which is great, we need more of them. But from my experience and the conversations I have had with many corps members who are still teaching in the classroom (5 plus years), they feel that TFA does not value their contributions as much as they value those who have moved on to rise up the career ladder. It may be dangerous to generalize, because many in the organization are competent, respectful, and hard working professionals; however, TFA as an institution needs to understand the value of internal criticism and debate among its staff members and alums so that the organization recognizes its weaknesses and flaws and becomes a better institution in the long-run. In my opinion, I just don't think this is happening as much as it should. That's all I was trying to point out. Of course, my comments are merely anecdotal and may not be shared by other alums or those who work for the organization.

My intention as an educator is to point out that if we are to move education in this country forward, we need to allow different view-points to be heard, and I have noticed the media dialogue in education today is not as even-handed as it should be. Civility seems to be dead, not only in education, but on the floors of Congress and in the corporate media today (ie.Fox vs. MSNBC, etc...). I think we need to tread carefully when we implement policy decisions from the top-down. Otherwise, as I have pointed out earlier, we will reap the damage of unintended consequences of "quick fix" approaches.

Posted by: skepticnotcynic | December 20, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

""Somewhere between a clueless dupe and a willing tool." I kind of like that. I may suggest it for the jacket of my next book. There are a lot of potential readers in that category."

But remember, Jay you're a writer. You have much more responsibility than a reader.

Posted by: efavorite | December 20, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

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