This is a good one!
Rhee vs. Ravitchby dianeravitch
My second objection is substantial and has to do with Rhee’s record as Chancellor. Not long after she departed, USA Today broke the story of widespread erasures on the DC-CAS, the city’s standardized test, during Rhee’s first and second years. We covered that in our Frontline film.
When I read “A Battle over School Reform: Michelle Rhee versus Diane Ravitch” two
weeks ago, I felt as if I had entered a time warp. This article couldn’t be new, I remember
thinking that it must have been written a few years ago. But no, it is dated January 2014,
suggesting to me that the author, John Buntin, relied on old news, inaccurate data and a stack
of clichés. “Rhee vs. Ravitch” is his hook. Indeed, he writes: “Reading Rhee (sic) and
Ravitch’s books together is like watching two accomplished pugilists fight a 15-round bout….
Think of this as an attempt to score the fight.” In one corner, Buntin has Rhee representing
‘education reform.’ And in the other corner, Ravitch represents those who oppose reform–a
semantic choice by the author that seems meaningful. He ignores Washington’s erasure scandal
that calls into question Rhee’s claims of academic success, and he fails to mention the current conditions of public schools in Washington, two points that readers have a right to know about.
Buntin hardly seems like an impartial fight judge. He writes of Rhee’s ‘most impressive accomplishments’ while she was in Washington; however, his tone when discussing Ravitch is markedly different. She writes ‘with grim determination’ and ‘like General Sherman marching to
the sea,’ he notes.
His real goal, we discover at the end of the piece, is not to referee a Rhee-Ravitch bout but to find
a new heavyweight champ. And so he urges us “….to step back from Rhee and Ravitch’s specific disagreements and consider the ingredients of educational excellence from a different perspective. That is precisely the strategy pursued by journalist Amanda Ripley in her new book, The Smartest Kids in the World (And How They Got That Way).”
Rhee and Ravitch are both wrong, he says, although–because Rhee believes that teacher quality matters (and Ravitch doesn’t?)–Rhee is apparently less wrong than Ravitch: “In the world
described by Ripley, Ravitch’s complacency is misguided. But so is the reformers’ narrow focus
on standardized testing. The best way forward is likely more nuanced, and more complicated. 
Upset by his factual errors and the central argument of the essay, I wrote Mr. Buntin, as follows:
Dear Mr. Buntin,He has not replied.
I have a couple of observations about your Rhee/Ravitch piece that I hope you don’t mind my sharing. The first is a minor quibble about the firing scene. We filmed that as part of my NewsHour coverage–we followed the young Chancellor for her entire three years in DC (12 NewsHour reports). Only later did we include it in our film for Frontline. I allowed Oprah to use the footage, and Davis Guggenheim appropriated it without our permission for “Waiting for ‘Superman,’” although he did eventually pay us for using it.
My second objection is substantial and has to do with Rhee’s record as Chancellor. Not long after she departed, USA Today broke the story of widespread erasures on the DC-CAS, the city’s standardized test, during Rhee’s first and second years. We covered that in our Frontline film. However, AFTER the film I obtained a copy of a confidential memo that made it clear just how much she knew of the erasures and how she failed to act. That is summarized here: http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=6232
While “Rhee vs. Ravitch” is a compelling headline and a sexy feature, it’s a roadblock to understanding American education. Ravitch is a passionate advocate who argues from facts. In contrast, Rhee’s policies were tried, and they failed. By almost every conceivable measure, the DC schools are no better than before her tenure. In key areas of student attendance, graduation rates, and principal and teacher turnover, they are worse. Central offices in abutting districts have shrunk, but DCPS’ has grown considerably. Even DC’s most recent gains on NAEP, which began 12-15 years BEFORE Rhee’s tenure, seem to have been fueled by an influx of better-educated families (gentrification) and quality pre-school. Here’s a summary: http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=6490
I urge you to revisit this story. There is a titanic struggle going on in public education, one that is complex and deserving of coverage. Using Michelle Rhee as symbolic of ‘one side’ is misleading, unfortunately. Wendy Kopp and Teach for America might better represent one side and Ravitch another, although the issue has more than two sides.
Thanks for reading this,
The magazine that published Mr. Burton’s article, GOVERNING , describes itself as “the
nation’s leading media platform covering politics, policy and management for state and local government leaders. Recognized as the most credible and authoritative voice in its field, GOVERNING provides nonpartisan news, insight and analysis on such issues as public finance, transportation, economic development, health, energy, the environment and technology.”
The magazine, which first appeared in 1987, says its core readers are “elected, appointed and
career officials in state and local government, including governors, mayors, county executives,
city and county council members, state legislators, executives of state and local agencies, and
those holding professional government positions…”
Those men and women ought to have accurate information. Perhaps they get it when the
magazine reports on transportation, public finance, energy and other key issues, but GOVERNING let its readers down when it published Buntin’s superficial piece about public education.
GOVERNING claims to have 85,000 readers. This blog does not always reach that many readers every week, so I hope you will share this post.
Superficial opining like Mr. Burton’s muddies the waters, not a good thing at a time when clarity
- 1. Here’s the link, if you’d like to check it out for yourself:
- 2. For more about the magazine and its publisher, the Governing Institute, go here: http://www.governing.com/about↵