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Education Opinion

Reconsidering My Views

By Diane Ravitch — September 11, 2007 2 min read
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Dear Deb,

I hope we are not disappointing our readers by agreeing more than we disagree. I think I am letting down my part of the bargain by agreeing with you so often, but our areas of convergence became clear from the first time that we sat together almost a year ago to talk about our views about No Child Left Behind. The fact is that you are writing and saying the same things you have believed for a long time, and I am in the process of reconsidering and revising my views on many counts.

I have been doing quite a lot of soul-searching these past couple of years. I don’t think it is because of age, although one can never be too sure about that. I think I am reconsidering first principles because of the very topics that you hit so hard in your latest letter. Living in NYC, I see what happens when businessmen and lawyers take over a school system, attempt to demolish everything that existed before they got there, and mount a dazzling PR blitz to prove that they are successful.

Lest anyone think that what you described is purely a NYC story, consider this: I hear from various people who participated in the judging for the Broad Prize that NYC will win it this year. This is not much of a surprise. When Joel Klein was first named chancellor, Eli Broad held his annual prize event in NYC and handed Klein a huge dummy check and predicted that one day soon this would be his. The $1 million hardly matters to NYC, which has an annual budget that approaches $20 billion, but the prestige is what the city is after. It desperately wants the confirmation from Broad that its new regime has succeeded.

About 18 months ago, I was invited to meet Eli Broad in his gorgeous penthouse in NYC, overlooking Central Park. I hear that he made his billions in the insurance and real estate businesses. I am not sure when he became an education expert. We talked about school reform for an hour or more, and he told me that what was needed to fix the schools was not all that complicated: A tough manager surrounded by smart graduates of business schools and law schools. Accountability. Tight controls. Results. In fact, NYC is the perfect model of school reform from his point of view. Indeed, this version of school reform deserves the Broad Prize, a prize conferred by one billionaire on another.

Thanks for your recommendation about the James Scott book, “Seeing Like a State.” I happen to own it, as it had been highly recommended to me by Morton Keller, a historian at Brandeis University. It is a wonderful critique of reforms that seek to overturn the world, of the arrogance of reformers who do not understand the practical wisdom of those who must make decisions every day that respond to unique situations.

As I read “Seeing Like a State,” especially its concluding chapters, I kept thinking about the wholesale gutting of the NYC school system by Messrs. Bloomberg and Klein, who are now hailed in the media as our nation’s leading education reformers. Professor Scott, an anthropologist at Yale, would find in NYC a perfect exemplar of men who think they can “see like a state.”

Worse, Deb, they seem to have sought out even the cracks in the sidewalk and tried to pave them over. They seem to have succeeded.

Diane

The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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