A few months back, Whitney Tilson invited me to participate in an exchange of views. Whitney is a hedge fund manager and the founder of Democrats for Education Reform, a group of hedge fund managers who support charter schools and high-stakes testing. I gladly accepted his invitation. Our exchanges were posted, unfiltered, on his blog and this one. (See here and here and here.) After the three exchanges, I decided it was time for me to ask questions, so I sent him the piece below. I thought it would be the first of another three or four exchanges. Unfortunately, Whitney has been very busy and has not had time to write his response or continue the dialogue. I asked for and received his permission to post my statement/questions. He promised to answer at some point in the future.
I have enjoyed our exchanges, and I thank you for initiating this dialogue. It shows you are willing to listen, and that is a very important trait in our democracy. There are too many echo chambers, where people hear only what they already agree with. That doesn’t advance knowledge or understanding. I am reminded of something that Robert Hutchins said many years ago. He said you always have to keep listening to people you disagree with, because they might be right. So I will listen to you, and I hope you will listen to me.
I have a series of questions for you. We will likely have to cover these issues in several posts.
The topics are
1) The nomenclature of the reform movement you lead; 2) privatization (charters and vouchers); 3) high-stakes testing; 4) merit pay; 5) teacher evaluation; 6) Teach for America (you were there at the creation); 7) the future of the teaching profession; 8) the political goals of groups like Democrats for Education Reform, which you helped to found; 9) the long-term aspirations of the movement you lead.
First, let’s talk about nomenclature. Your side calls itself the “reform movement,” because you want to shake up and disrupt public education. People who believe in the importance of free and universal public education, like me, don’t think you are reformers. You don’t “reform” an institution by tearing it apart. Reform requires steady, persistent work, and it can be done best by those with knowledge of the institution they are changing. There have been education reformers numerous times in the history of American education. They always wanted to make the public schools better. They wanted better-educated teachers, higher salaries for teachers, more funding for schools, more equitable funding for schools, desegregation of schools, higher standards, better curricula, etc. Now, for the first time in the history of American education, we have a group of people who call themselves reformers but seek to replace public schools with school choice via privately managed charters and vouchers that may be used for religious schools. Unlike past reformers, this movement wants to replace public schools, not improve them. This is in reality a privatization movement, not a reform movement.
Speaking for the many educators and parents I know, we think that you are disrupters who are ill-informed about the challenges facing teachers and public schools. We think you are wrong to say that public schools are failing. In fact, as I showed in my last book, Reign of Error, students in public schools today have the highest test scores, the highest graduation rates, and the lowest dropout rates ever recorded. This is My Questions for Whitney Tilson | Diane Ravitch's blog: