Education "Facts": Brill v. Ravitch

Recently, I posted a response to Steven Brill’s piece for Reuters, “The School Reform Deniers” (it was reposted by Raging Chicken Press a few days ago).  In it, I call into question what he claims as his journalistic impartiality and also question what he resorts to calling “facts.”  In the latest issue of The New York Review of Books, Diane Ravitch reviews Brill’s Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools in an article entitled “School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade.”  Not only is she even harsher on Brill than I am, but she fills in a great deal of background.

Significantly for me, Ravitch takes on Brill’s ‘fact’ that “American public education is failing our children.”  The “crisis” in education, she shows, is a political concoction.  She writes that Brill:

seems to know or care little about either subject [education or education research]. His book is about politics and power, about how a small group of extremely wealthy men have captured national education policy and have gained control over education in states such as Colorado and Florida, and, with the help of the Obama administration, are expanding their dominance to many more states.

More importantly, she describes the history of the “crisis” of education in America:

To put the current “crisis” into perspective, it is well to recall that American education was in crisis a century ago, when urban schools were overcrowded, swamped with students from Eastern and Southern Europe who didn’t speak English. The popular press at that time warned that the nation was being overrun by a human tide from inferior cultures, and the very survival of our nation was supposedly at risk.

She makes it clear that the “crisis” has been continual, with new examples dredged up every few years to keep it before the public eye.  All the while, of course, when our schools were producing the most productive, the best trained and educated population in the world.

Though Brill tries to dismiss Ravitch (in both book and article), and Ravitch responds mercilessly, the facts, if anyone looks into them, fall on Ravitch’s side.  Brill is myopic and, in terms of education and education research (as Ravitch points out so clearly), has little experience or grasp of the history or the research.

The fact is that success in education is tied strongly to economic status.  Blaming teachers for perceived “failure” in education, as Brill and the “reformers” do, is simply a red herring.  If we are going to successfully address the problems in our educational system in America, we need also to be addressing problems of poverty.  We cannot succeed at the former without at least some success with the latter.

And that’s a fact.  (You can look it up.)

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