Last Friday, Diane Ravitch posted an article on her blog about three Rhode Island teachers who resigned from their school, Blackstone Valley Prep, after students of that school accessed an online faculty chat program and discovered disparaging and hurtful remarks made their intelligence. The teachers were immediately suspended and then, when an internal investigation proved the allegations were accurate, asked to resign.
This was the right thing to do. The teachers’ behavior – disparaging their students’ humanity and innate potential – is unacceptable. The administration was also right to terminate their employment – they conducted a thorough investigation of due process, including interviewing the teachers, before reaching a decision. And we agree with the principal of the school, as well as school network leader Jeremy Chiapetta: teachers who have an orientation that is fundamentally disrespectful toward their students should not remain in the classroom. This is crucial — as a movement founded on the premise that high expectations matter as well as a belief that all children can and should achieve at high levels, we have to practice what we preach.
Given her track record, one would expect Ms. Ravitch to criticize the charter school and network for not heeding to the same antiquated and draconian due process policies that the national teacher unions advocate for; one that is long, expensive, and that tips the scales in favor the teacher. These are the same unions who have paid Ms. Ravitch hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees and the same paradigm of thought that has resulted in Rubber Rooms and aided falsifications for cover-ups of alleged corporal abuse.
That didn’t happen. Instead, it would be hard not to discern the excitement with which Ravitch posted. Why? The teachers in question were corps members of Teach For America.
Following the investigation, they were dismissed from the program, lost all benefits of association, and will not be part of the alumni network. As Teach For America explained, “The language and actions of these teachers is not reflective of the values we expect our teachers to uphold.” Such swift action should be the rule and not the exception.
But Ravitch, never shy to jump into the fray when she senses an opportunity to attack Teach For America, presented her thesis anyway: “No experienced teacher would have done something so stupid.”
A powerful argument, if it resembled anything close to the truth. In Ravitchland, however, you are allowed to ignore that reality that teachers disparaging students happens far too often in our schools.
There was the case of the teacher, and former Teacher of the Year, in Atlanta who resigned after he was recorded calling his student an idiot and mocking a chronic eye condition in front of the class. Ravitch did not cover the story.
Or the case of veteran, traditionally certified Bay Area teacher who wished bodily harm upon her students on Twitter, as well as writing that her students made her “trigger finger itchy.” Ravitch did not cover the story.
Or the case of the three teachers in New Jersey, who were suspended or fired for mocking special education students, calling them “morons” and “Short Bus kids” while also being found to have masturbated on school property. Ravitch did not cover the story.
Or the case of the 10 year veteran teacher in Prince George, who received a mere two-day suspension by repeatedly insulting students, including a threat to beat one. Ravitch did not cover the story.
And the brutal case of an educator in New York, who was sent to the ‘Rubber Room’ after impregnating one student, was found to be sexting another from the ‘Rubber Room’ itself.
This is just a sample. There’s hundreds of stories like this available from newspapers across the country. Resignation is not vindication, and the teachers who have done so deserve every bit of shame they’re likely experiencing. The fact that disrespect toward students is commonplace does nothing, after all, to rectify the harm done to students who have experienced it. But contrary to Ms. Ravitch’s argument, it’s quite clear that this has far less to do with a teacher’s preparation pathway, certifying institution, or level of experience, and far more about their orientation towards, and belief in, their students.
The case in point: Ms. Ravitch neglected to note that the principal of the school – the same one who asked the teachers for their resignation – is a Teach For America alum himself, has worked as a teacher and principal in schools for the last twenty years, and believes in the school so deeply that his own children attend as students. Noting any of that would be problematic for Ms. Ravitch, as its contrary evidence to her belief that TFA teachers don’t stay in the profession.
Did Ms. Ravitch leave this out of her piece because she simply wasn’t aware? Potentially. For those of us that read Ms. Ravitch’s demagogic vitriol regularly, it’s more likely she just didn’t care to look because it did not square with her anti-TFA, anti-charter hate narrative. The very essence of her writing is highlighting and elevating the stories that jigsaw perfectly into her world view and ignoring the stories (or nuances within those stories) that do not.
Take, for example, the case of disgraced Los Angeles award-winning teacher, Rafe Esquith, who was suspended and later fired for sexual misconduct, including text messages sent to former students stating, “you’re sooooooo fine!” and “I spank really hard!!! Your bottom will hurt for months.” Investigators discovered dozens of similarly disgusting texts over the course of their lengthy investigation – though one that Esquith is still challenging in court.
Ms. Ravitch’s writing on the Esquith case could not be more different than her commentary on the three Rhode Island teachers. In the beginning, she framed the story for her readers that Esquith was “one of the nation’s most celebrated teachers… and was suspended for making a joke. Here is the story. Unbelievable.” In subsequent posts, she quoted a source calling the investigation into Esquith, “a classic witch hunt” and accused the Los Angeles Unified School District as agenda-driven conspirators while hailing Mr. Esquith as the story’s protagonist: “This sounds like ‘Les Miserables’, with Rafe as Jean Valjean. Not sure who is playing Inspector Javert.”
Further posts on the subject, before greater details of the investigation were revealed, similarly defended Esquith: “I tend to be skeptical because of a situation that occurred when I lived in Washington DC in the early 1990s. Half a dozen girls accused their teacher of inappropriate touching… but when questioned individually, they retracted their accusation… Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.” And despite the fact that she refused to let the investigation play out before jumping to an opinion and commentary, Ravitch took the opportunity to malign the Los Angeles Unified School District for taking too much time to investigate: “When will LAUSD file charges, present evidence, and give him a chance to clear his name?”
And then, through reporting by the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, the details of the investigation were made public. But rather than condemning Esquith’s behavior, Ravitch simply poses the question: “Were [the emails released in the Los Angeles Times’ report] grounds to fire Rafe Esquith, one of the most celebrated teachers in the nation? What do you think?”
Mr. Esquith was a traditionally certified teacher who had been in the classroom for decades. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of experience that led him to the egregious behavior that was uncovered by the Los Angeles Unified School District. If Ms. Ravitch states, “TFA is imbued with the idea they’re better than everyone else so they can get away with most anything,” should she not offer the same criticism of Mr. Esquith? Why did she not extend the same benefit of doubt and grace to three teachers in Rhode Island before she told her readers that the reason for their egregious behavior was due to Teach For America’s training model? After all, these three teachers represent a mere 0.00006% of the 50,000 individuals who entered the profession through TFA.
What does Ms. Ravitch actually believe? If she’s an advocate for the due process and tenure protections advocated by the unions that have donated thousands to her bank account, shouldn’t she have criticized the school, rather than the teachers? If she’s an advocate for student rights, why isn’t there a lengthy track record on her blog of covering similar incidents across the country? This is what happens when myopic demagoguery meets unbridled hatred; her dislike of Teach For America is so strong that it pulls her away from other values she claims to have.
The answer to these questions, as is so commonly the case with Ms. Ravitch, lies in the fact that she is not the academic that she claims. Academics form opinions based on a broad and detailed understanding of the facts, ones they research, test, and share in order to bring the illumination of clarity. It’s a far cry from Ms. Ravitch’s tactics here – ones that suggest her worldview has been so firmly ensconced that she no longer looks for nuanced facts, but instead picks those that suit her arguments while ignoring those that don’t.
An academic would have used the troubling events in a Rhode Island school to examine the state of student-teacher relationships and the orientations and mindsets that are essential for the instruction of low-income students in America – the growing research on restorative justice and culturally responsive pedagogy being primary examples of scholars benefiting the entirety of the system through their work. But Ms. Ravitch isn’t an academic, she’s a polemicist, and thus abdicates that responsibility in order to score a political point. Even her readers know her position on this is problematic, with one responding, “As much as I enjoy reading this site—and I do, and I always learn a lot—there is quite a bit of this sort of thing. A lot of cognitive dissonance. My other favorite common examples: Lack of peer-review is a knockout blow for studies that promote causes that Diane disagrees with, but she is quick to cite non-peer reviewed work when it fits her narrative.”
Some “academics” might call Ms. Ravitch’s faux scholarly idolatry professorial, but it’s really just shoddy punditry. Which is to say, it might have a place on Fox News, but it shouldn’t have one in the discussion about how we make sure children — our most precious resource — become the people they are meant to be.
This post was written by NYCAN Deputy Director, Ned Stanley. He writes from San Francisco.