Education Letter to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

March 07, 1984 4 min read

Diane Ravitch Professor of History and Education Teachers College Columbia University New York, N.Y.

I would like to respond to several misstatements that were reprinted in your summary of Deborah Meier’s attack in Dissent on my book, The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980 (“In the Press,” Education Week, Feb. 15, 1984).

As an author, I have had good reviews, critical reviews, and even hostile reviews, but I have never received a review that was as unabashedly dishonest as Ms. Meier’s. Time and again in her article, she assails me for something that the book allegedly advocates or prescribes, when, in fact, the book advocates nothing and prescribes nothing; it is a history. Worse, she repeatedly takes her own words, puts quotation marks around them, and leads the reader to believe that they were taken from my book when they were not. Whether one is a teacher, a student, or a historian, this practice is simply dishonest.

Your summary says that Ms. Meier “attacks Ms. Ravitch’s call for schools to adopt ‘limited’ goals and to stress a ‘cognitively oriented’ school program.” These quoted phrases do not appear in my book; they are Ms. Meier’s words. The book does not “call” for anything, nor does it offer pedagogical advice for the future. Similarly, your summary refers to her malicious misinterpretation of my section on the Head Start Program. She would have the reader believe that I am opposed to health, nutrition, and improved family life for poor children, but no unbiased reader would draw this unwarranted and untrue conclusion.

In writing an account of the rancorous educational controversies of the past generation, I knew I could not please everyone; sure enough, I have been attacked by ideologues on the left (like Ms. Meier) and on the right (like those who claim that my book lacks a point of view and is too “balanced”). Ms. Meier apparently wanted to express her opposition to current efforts to reform public education. She would have been on firmer ground had she directed her anger at the reports of the various national commissions on education, instead of savaging The Troubled Crusade.

Lauren Weisberg Kaufman Deputy Director Connecticut Business and Industry Association Education Foundation

As a former staff member of the National Institute of Education in the education-finance program, I read with interest your article on the dissemination gap, “Study Finds Major ‘Dissemination’ Gap Between nie Research and Schools,” Education Week, Feb. 1, 1984).

After working at nie for five and a half years, where I monitored the research and dissemination activities of nie’s center at Stanford University--the Institute for Research on Educational Finance and Governance--I know that we worked very hard to assure that highly technical topics were translated into policy terms accessible and meaningful to educational and lay audiences. But I never felt completely comfortable that the excellent work being done by researchers at Stanford and around the country was actually being read or used by the people it was intended to serve.

Since May 1983, I have been working in Connecticut to improve the links between the education and business communities in the state. In this capacity, I have been invited to numerous conferences and meetings of teachers, education associations, boards of education, school administrators, universities, and business groups.

I have been surprised and very impressed by the number of references to the research literature that have come up in these forums. School-finance research, effective schools, teacher quality, and data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress used by the National Commission on Excellence in Education are just a few of the topics I have heard discussed in detail.

Without the efforts of the nie over the last decade, the rich body of research we have today on these and many other topics would simply not be available to these policymakers and practitioners. Often the people using and citing the research have no idea it was commissioned or funded by nie because, to nie’s credit, much of the work has been published by commercial presses.

nie certainly needs to improve its dissemination practices, but it also needs to do a far better job of taking credit for its successes and the many contributions it has made to the research literature on a wide range of topics. I certainly did not have the confidence to say that before I left nie, but I have been struck since moving to Connecticut by how widely known and used nie-sponsored research actually is, at least in this state. And I am pleased to see that there does appear to be some recognition of the critical role research can play in educational reform and improvement in the Administration’s fiscal 1985 budget request. I can only hope that the quality of the work produced over the last decade will be continued in the future.

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1984 edition of Education Week as Letters to the Editor