Saturday, August 06, 2011

Arne Duncan's Dirty Tricks

Mike Klonksy posted about rumors from USDOE insiders that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has convened a "Ravitch Group" to dig up dirt on Duncan critic Diane Ravitch and feed it to the press to undercut her credibility and damage her public standing.

Klonsky has no smoking gun on the existence of a Ravitch Group other than "word" from DOE insiders, but notes how Duncan-friendly journalists like Jonathan Alter and David Brooks seem to get their anti-Ravitch talking points simultaneously and run with their anti-Ravitch stories in synchronicity.

He wonders if any journalists are on the Duncan payroll, the way "journalist" Armstrong Williams was paid by the Bush DOE to write nice things (i.e., propaganda) about Bush education policy.

Finally he suggests journalists not on the Duncan payroll start asking questions about the "Ravitch Group" and see if it indeed exists and, if so, ask why Duncan and the DOE are spending money on it in a time of budgetary austerity.

Now I don't have any inside knowledge of whether the "Ravitch Group" exists or not.

I do know this.

Arne Duncan doesn't have to pay journalists like Jonathan Alter to carry his anti-Ravitch water for him when "philanthropists" like Michael Bloomberg will.

Arne Duncan doesn't have to fund or engage in pushback efforts against Diane Ravitch and other critics of corporate education policy when Bill Gates will.

Arne Duncan doesn't have to push to have anti-Ravitch stories published when corporate media like the Comcast-owned NBC/MSNBC or the Murdoch-owned New York Post and Wall Street Journal will be happy to do the work for him.

And yet, Secretary Duncan still seems to need to go after Diane Ravitch personally even when he has all these well-funded allies to do the work for him.

Why is that?

It seems at once a mix of Nixonian arrogance and paranoia on Duncan's part.

Duncan, who is feted regularly on shows like MSNBC's Morning Joe, is not used to somebody in public life calling him on his b.s.

He is used to getting his way on policy, however - from Race to the Top to the jobs bills that saw cuts to food stamps rather than cuts to RttT, Duncan has pretty much gotten his way on everything since he got to Washington.

At least until now.

He hasn't been getting his way on the No Child Left Behind re-authorization timetable he wants, nor on getting the Congress to pass the Obama blueprint for it.

And Duncan doesn't like not getting his way.

Not at all.

As Valerie Strauss noted in this post about the Obama administration's treatment of the Save Our Schools leadership last week, the people in the Obama White House and the Duncan Department of Education suffer from an "arrogance of certainty" that they are right about education policy and anybody who isn't on board is to be marginalized, disempowered, or, if the person is somebody with power and a platform like Diane Ravitch, to be attacked and discredited.

They have decided that failed policies like tying teacher evaluations to test scores and merit pay based upon those same tests are the right policy, research be damned (see here, here, and here.)

They have decided that a national standardized curriculum with national standardized tests that will be used to evaluate schools, administrators, and teachers is the right policy, federalism and local control of schools not withstanding.

They have decided that they will promote these reforms through NCLB waivers whether they are allowed to by law or not, they will continue down this BLAME THE TEACHERS road even when it is pretty clear that the problems in the public education system are NOT the fault of teachers.

When Ravitch calls Duncan on this stuff, he doesn't like it.

So he attacks or has his allies in the corporate reform movement attack in concert with him.

Whether Arne Duncan has actually convened an "official" Ravitch Group or not, whether he has hired some modern versions of Chuck Colson and Donald Segretti to engage in acts of political sabotage and dirty tricks against Diane Ravitch and other critics of the Obama/Duncan policies, or circulated an actual "Enemies List" within the USDOE, the effect is the same as if he had.

This is a White House and a USDOE engaged in promoting its top-down, corporate-friendly education agenda, bent on marginalizing or destroying anybody not on board with it and willing to lie, cheat and deceive in order to get their agenda across, as Duncan has been doing with his threats about AYP.

They're not interested in hearing from anybody on the other side of the issues, they are not interested in honest debate or actual scientific research - they have already concluded that the education reform policies promoted by Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg and the Walton Family are the ones that will be the law and practice of the land and they intend to destroy anybody who threatens that outcome.

Diane Ravitch happens to be the most public, most erudite and most vocal critic, so she gets the brunt of the Duncan/Gates/Ed Deform attacks.

But make no mistake, what they are doing to her, they are doing to all their critics and opponents.

And in that, they are very Nixonian indeed.

UPDATE: Mike posts that Duncan p.r. official Justin Hamilton issued a snarky non-denial tweet, saying the rumors of the "Ravitch Group" ought to be filed with rumors of "Black Helicopters."

Why not just emphatically say "No, there is no Ravitch Group at the Department of Education"?

Whenever politicians or their flacks issue hyperbolic dismissals of things, my b.s. meter starts to go off.
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