Sunday, August 18, 2013

Arne Duncan Sics His Flying Monkeys on Diane Ravitch

I'm often shocked by what passes for argument nowadays. I don't suppose it's big news that Diane Ravitch has an impending book release. While I can't wait to read it, I follow her blog, and am well aware of her point of view. So, too, is the White House, as represented by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan failed miserably to help Chicago schools, and thus was called upon by our President to work his magic on the rest of the country.

Former Duncan assistant Peter Cunningham tells us how our tax dollars were being used: of my jobs was to monitor criticism of our policies and develop our responses. 

In other words, he sat around reading blogs and news articles. Nice work if you can get it. And the salary surely must beat that of us lowly teachers.

Cunningham saw fit to attack now, rather than bother to actually read the upcoming book. At some point, the administration was actually communicating with Ravitch.

Over the years, her criticism of the administration became more and more strident. It was increasingly clear that she was not interested in a genuine conversation with us but rather was interested in driving her anti-administration message, even if it meant resorting to tactics that are beneath someone of her stature: ad hominem attacks on the secretary, cherry-picking data, setting up straw man arguments, taking language out of context and distorting its meaning, and ignoring sound evidence that conflicts with her point of view. 

Note that Cunningham does not offer a single example of anything of which Ravitch is accused. We are, I suppose, to simply take him at his word. I'm puzzled as to how accusing her of all these things with no evidence whatsoever is not in itself the ad hominem attack that he deems so distasteful. If there is evidence, or indeed a single example, why doesn't Cunningham share it with us?

Cunningham then quotes Ravitch, who says Common Core standards are too high. There is, in fact, evidence that this is absolutely correct. For one, there is the massive failure rate in NY State. For another, there is evidence that the benchmark is fatally flawed. It's shocking that someone who, at least ostensibly, represented us and our children, cannot be bothered to do such rudimentary research.

This is followed by an excursion into other-worldliness as Cunningham ventures to read Ravitch's mind. Ravitch says not everyone needs to go to college, and Cunningham informs us of who Ravitch has in mind:

When Dr. Ravitch says, "But maybe they don't need to go to college," who exactly is she referring to? It's certainly not rich white kids. 

Yet I don't actually see that specified in Ravitch's comments. Doubtless there is no such thing as a rich white plumber or business owner. Cunningham continues:

I know she has repudiated many of her earlier views on reform and I respect her right to change her mind. But openly and unrepentantly calling for low standards and implying that whole segments of the student population are not college material is indefensible.

Here, Cunningham refers to Ravitch's former position supporting national standards. I'd presume it would go without saying that an acceptable national standard would be researched, field-tested, and established as having validity. Common Core is none of the above. And yet, Duncan himself claims these are not national standards. It's remarkable that Cunningham hasn't even got the talking point right.

Worse, is his baseless accusation that Ravitch calls for low standards. I've never seen her call for any such thing. Cunningham would have us assume that any of us who fail to support his unproven "reform" oppose high standards for kids. He would have us assume that saying some kids don't or won't need college is an insult on some group. His citation of white kids would have us assume some covert racism on Ravitch's part, an implication for which he, again, offers no evidence whatsoever.

I understand that Dr. Ravitch is about to publish another book attacking education reform. She will go after my good friend Arne Duncan. She will attack alternative educational approaches such as charter schools -- even if they are successful. She will attack well-meaning and hard-working organizations like Teach for America. She will attack foundations and organizations she disagrees with, regardless of the benefits they provide to educators. She will lump them all together as one big corporate conspiracy aimed at privatizing public education.

Again, we are to take Cunningham's word Ravitch will "go after" his "good friend." First of all baseless personal attacks, like Cunningham's column, are very different from reasoned criticism of policies or actions. Second, it's pretty clear Duncan is the very same good friend who bribed cash-starved states to accept his baseless and unproven policies.

If some of these efforts are moving too fast for some and are off-base for others, we can discuss it like adults with intellectual rigor and mutual respect and adjust accordingly. 

Yet Cunningham himself does none of this as he launches yet another thinly-veiled and utterly baseless attack.

But we can never, ever retreat. 

No matter how hurtful, misguided or ineffective our policies are, we must continue. With all due respect, Mr. Cunningham, that notion is nothing short of idiotic. If that's the best argument you can muster, the title of this piece is surely an offense to flying monkeys everywhere.
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