Diane Ravitch to/from Deborah Meier: The Inconvenient Truth About Waiting For Superman

This is from a regular conversation between Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier in the Bridging Differences columns of Education Week.

A Manifesto by the Powerful

Diane Ravitch

By Diane Ravitch on October 19, 2010 8:40 AM

Dear Deborah,

I am sure that you must have seen the “manifesto” published in The Washington Post and signed by 16 school superintendents. It was titled “How to Fix Our Schools: A Manifesto by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and other education leaders.”

The responses to this article have been fascinating. Some have criticized the use of the term “manifesto,” because a manifesto is usually a declaration of belief by those who are out of power, not by those who hold power. Think, for example, of the Declaration of Independence as a manifesto, though certainly it outclasses the superintendents’ manifesto in gravity and significance! Then there is the Communist Manifesto, which sought to rally the workers of the world to take power. Then there was the Unabomber Manifesto, a screed against technology by deranged mathematician Ted Kaczynski, who managed to kill three people and maim 23 others. In 1962, student activists issued the Port Huron Statement, the manifesto of the Students for a Democratic Society, which called upon the youth of their generation to act against social injustice.

The superintendents’ manifesto does not come from the powerless. It was written by men and women who are in charge of major school systems and who certainly have far more power than parents, teachers, principals, or ordinary citizens.

What are their basic principles? The superintendents want the public schools to operate according to market principles. Their manifesto is a companion piece to the film “Waiting for ‘Superman.'” Like the film, the authors of the manifesto want to be free of the rules governing the hiring and firing of teachers. They believe that teachers alone are responsible for whether students do well or poorly in school. They believe that poverty has no bearing on student achievement: Only the teacher matters. They want merit pay. They want more data by which to judge teachers and students. They want more online instruction. And they want more charter schools so that more children can escape the inadequate schools for which they are responsible as superintendents.  Read the rest of this article by clicking here.

Why ‘Convenient’ Lies Won’t Set Us Free

Deborah Meier

By Deborah Meier on October 21, 2010 8:51 AM

Dear Diane,

You offer the perfect response. The fact that some of the usual suspects are divided on the “bash the teachers” agenda is good news. It gives us new sources of hope. And I remember that even in a flawed democracy like ours (and is there an un-flawed one?), neither “we” nor “they” can ever declare a total victory.

When I came to New York City in the fall of ’65 my friends and acquaintances (like the real estate agent who was helping me locate an apartment) told me that “no one sends their kids to the public schools.” Of course, 1.2 million children couldn’t all have been orphans, but I understood the code. I hadn’t taken it for granted, since my kids had been OK at their prior public schools in Chicago’s South Side and Philadelphia’s West Mount Airy. So my children spent their pre-college years in NYC’s public schools. I grew accustomed to the guilt trips I listened to from folks like Davis Guggenheim, who tells us that “Waiting for Superman” was made to assuage his guilt.

Guggenheim—who also made the film “An Inconvenient Truth”—doesn’t explain in plain language what it was he couldn’t tolerate in the public schools in his neighborhood (or exactly what that neighborhood was). He seemed to have some concern about tracking in public schools. But apparently he was not uncomfortable with the fact that the school where he sent his child was not (probably) open to just anyone who could afford it, but had its own way of pre-sorting the kids: money—and high scores.

This background helps me understand the animus of his attack on teachers and unions. It’s perhaps too much to ask him why there are even worse results in the many states in which there are no teachers’ union contracts! He doesn’t tell us, either, whether he’d send his daughter to the schools he highlights, or the ways in which they do and do not resemble his children’s private schools. But I do know how different Washington’s Sidwell Friends (which Malia and Sasha Obama attend, and apparently Guggenheim did, as well!) is from the charter schools he glorifies in his film.  Read the rest of this story by clicking here.

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One Response to “Diane Ravitch to/from Deborah Meier: The Inconvenient Truth About Waiting For Superman”

  1. D Wolff Says:

    To me, the difference between Deb Meier and Diane Ravitch — beyond the latter being a (barely) reformed Republican hardliner — is Deb has been parent, teacher, administrator in the trenches. She believes not just in core curriculum and “excellence” but the possibility and excitement of learning.


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