What Kevin Carey Didn’t Say about Diane Ravitch, but Should Have

As everyone knows, Kevin Carey has a long essay in The New Republic about Diane Ravitch’s apostasy of the education reform movement, much of it fair and on point. But I’m friendly with Kevin, and I’m friends with Diane, so I was disappointed that, respectful tone aside, Carey nonetheless pursues a vicious attack on Diane’s personal integrity, hinting that her criticism of Joel Klein in particular and school reform in general was sparked by Klein’s decision not to hire her long-time partner. Here’s the key passage:

When [Harold Levy] created a program to train new principals, Ravitch suggested he tap [her partner Mary] Butz to lead it. Butz got the job.

When Klein became schools chancellor, he created a new principal-training program. This time, Butz wasn’t hired, and she left New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) a year later. In the course of reporting this story, I was given e-mails between Ravitch and Klein that had been obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). They helped to shed light on what may have happened behind the scenes.

In November 2002, The New York Times published an editorial calling for Klein to “give potential principals access to a sophisticated training program.” Ravitch sent a testy e-mail to the Times editorial-page editor, Gail Collins, noting that Butz was already running a principal training program: “Those who have struggled to make it happen deserve recognition for their successes; today’s editorial suggests that they don’t even exist.” Ravitch then forwarded the e-mail, which did not identify Butz as anything other than a department employee, to Klein. “Perhaps in the future,” she wrote, “if you talked about what the Department is presently doing to help inexperienced principals, more people in the press would know about it.”

Over the next two months, Klein and Ravitch exchanged a series of e-mails. Their contents were almost entirely redacted by the department when it responded to the FOIA request. But several people who worked for the department at the time, including one who saw the e-mails personally, say Ravitch aggressively lobbied Klein to hire Butz to lead the new program—and reacted with anger when he didn’t.

Ravitch disputes this, saying she did not ask for Butz to be put in charge of the program, was not angry, and only urged Klein to call upon Butz for her deep knowledge and experience. She also told me she was glad Butz was no longer at the New York City DOE, because it had constrained her own ability to criticize the department.

During the course of 2003, Ravitch met with former high-ranking Klein employees who were critical of his administration. And she began to question the Bloomberg administration’s efforts at reform, at first in private, and then very publicly. In early 2004, she went on the offensive. “Joel Klein is not an educator,” she told The New York Times. She also co-authored an anti-Klein op-ed in the Times with UFT President Randi Weingarten, accusing the Bloomberg administration of running schools as if it were “selling toothpaste.”

So what are readers to conclude? That Diane was so aggrieved that the Chancellor scorned her partner that she decided to launch a years-long jeremiad against him?

What Kevin didn’t say, but should have, was that Diane had a point about Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein running schools as if they were “selling toothpaste.” The leadership academy was a perfect example. Mary Butz had already established a very good program–so good that it received a federal grant through the School Leadership Program. (I was the deputy in the office that made the grant at the time.) Joel Klein wasn’t the first one to notice that ed schools weren’t doing a fine job training principals, and that the process needed a serious update. But, like many reformers who distrust the reformers who came before them, he didn’t consider that Mary’s program might be worth building on, rather than replacing. And instead of recruiting experienced principals to run his new initiative, he went to corporate America for its funding and design.*

Keep in mind that this was the same Joel Klein who was trashing the federal Reading First program for being too prescriptive, lavishing money on Lucy Calkins and her hare-brained “writing workshop” ideas, and arguing that the content of a particular curriculum didn’t matter; what was important was picking one and sticking to it. Klein was agnostic about the education side of education. And that (understandably) infuriated Diane.

Now, to his credit, Joel’s positions on these issues evolved over time, and he eventually came to embrace the thinking of scholars like Don Hirsch: Content matters! But Diane wasn’t wrong about the early Klein. And she is right to be suspicious of a school reform movement that still, to this day, has little to say about matters of curriculum and pedagogy.

I honestly don’t know whether Diane was angry at Klein for not hiring Mary. But what I do know is that the episode gave her insight into the Chancellor’s thinking about school reform–thinking that was entirely too dismissive of the stuff of education. And I’d bet that “New Joel Klein” and “Old Diane Ravitch” would agree about that.

* An empirical question is whether Klein’s leadership academy got much bang for the buck. It was incredibly expensive; did it work? That might have been a thread worth pursuing by Kevin.

-Mike Petrilli

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