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Tracy Dell’Angela

‘New Diane’ Fans Should Spend Some Time With ‘Old Diane’

Consider these words, and then guess who might have written them:
Every school should have a performance contract that clearly defines its goals for student achievement. Each school's performance goals would be based on its pupils' progress from year to year. Every school should be rigorously audited for educational and fiscal performance. The system we have serves adults, not children. Let's reverse that formula.
I’m betting that most of you won’t even come close. Here’s a hint: It’s the same person who just penned these words a week ago…
It's wrong to disrupt the lives of communities, schools, families, and children to satisfy an absurd federal mandate...This is why the Opt Out movement is growing across the nation, as parents protest what feels like federally-mandated child abuse...Just say no to annual testing. No high-performing nation does it, and neither should we.
Yep, it’s a little hard to wrap your mind around, but they are both Diane Ravitch. The first quote came from Old Diane, an education historian who spent three years as a political appointee advising former Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and was little known outside political and scholarly circles. The second comes straight from New Diane, the influential blogger whose fans quote her words as gospel, who has more than 103,000 Twitter followers, a Klout score of 84 (out of 100, a few points lower than Rush Limbaugh), and is quoted in education and mainstream press more often than any other education professor. In an incisive post on Huffington Post, Peter Cunningham responds to New Diane’s recent letter to Sen. Alexander with an enlightening letter from Old Diane drawn entirely from her writings. Diane Ravitch makes no secret of the fact that she has changed her views on testing, accountability and the federal role in education. But when she pens a self-aggrandizing letter to her former boss invoking one of his former 1998 rules—”No. 84: Read anything Diane Ravitch writes about education”—she invites her skeptics to do just that. A close analysis of Ravitch’s writing over time does not point to a scholarly evolution in her views. Instead, it points to a pundit who has done a complete about-face on nearly every issue debated in education today—choice and common standards, tenure and testing, poverty and achievement gaps, competition and closing schools. Her supporters and the education reporters who endlessly quote New Diane need to spend some serious time with Old Diane:
Education has been notorious for its aversion to incentives, accountability, competition, and choice. Policymakers' pressure for accountability has not run into a brick wall of resistance. It would be more accurate to say that it has plunged into a bowl of Jell-O, in which demands for accountability are eventually but inevitably transformed into demands for more resources.
I, for one, would have liked to meet the little-known Old Diane, the one who said, “I despair of the spirit of meanness that now permeates so much of our public discourse. I don't want to be part of that spirit.” Neither do I. But unfortunately, civility doesn’t feed the cult of punditry. And it doesn’t fuel Klout scores, drive blog traffic or sell books.
Tracy Dell’Angela
Tracy Dell’Angela is a writer, education nonprofit executive director and a mom passionate about education improvements. Previously, Tracy was Director of Outreach and Communications for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C. She came to IES from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, which produces research that ...

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