Saturday, June 4, 2011

Bloomberg's Alter-Ego

As if Mayor4life's ego wasn't large enough already, he created "Bloomberg View", because as you know, the world simply couldn't revolve without getting more of the midget mayor's opinions shoved down its throat. Initiating this week's gag reflex is Jonathan Alter, an ostensibly independent writer who just happens to echo every major talking point of Bloomberg's education deform agenda. It's quite fortuitous that Alter holds all the same beliefs as the man who writes his paychecks. Who'd have thunk it.

I don't know what Alter's price was for attacking teachers, but I'd say whatever it was, Bloomie got rooked, because Alter's anti-Diane Ravitch diatribe is an exercise in sloppy writing and faulty logic.

First, Alter regurgitates Bloomberg's mantra on seniority:

Amid grim news about budget cuts, the year brought new awareness that relying on seniority alone in determining teacher layoffs is mindless. It’s like saying that if the Chicago Bulls wanted to cut costs, they should start by releasing Derrick Rose, the NBA’s MVP, because he has only been in the league for three years.

This is stupid on the face of it. If the Bulls wanted to cut costs, they wouldn't do it by eliminating their players. They want the best team possible, because they know that produces results. Good teams are always a mixture of great veterans and promising rookies. What Bloomberg wants to do is eliminate a good percentage of the players. The correct analogy would be if the Bulls cut 8% of their players to save money and expected the same results as teams playing at full strength.

Alter attacks Ravitch's critique of the Bruce Randolph School in Denver. Its middle school, Ravitch noted, was in the 5th percentile in math and the first percentile in reading and writing. Its ACT scores were well below the state average. Yet Alter claims we should laud this school because it boasts a 97% graduation rate. Apparently, in Alter's world, success is measured by the number of diplomas issued, not by whether those diplomas were earned. Following this logic, we can solve all the education problems in America simply by issuing diplomas to every child, much as the Scarecrow's IQ increased when the Wizard gave him his sheepskin. Pay no attention to the illiterate students behind the curtain.

Alter also claims that "No education reformer has ever challenged the idea that conditions in the home and in the larger society are hugely important." Is he kidding? Just about every education reformer has said that in some form or another. They constantly claim that a great teacher is the most important factor in a child's education, while all the evidence shows that performance is directly linked to a child's circumstances.

Alter claims that Ravitch creates a strawman when she ...'charge(s) that political leaders are trying to prove that “poverty doesn’t matter.”' Actually, I've heard a number of politicians, including Alter's new employer, make that claim. The "no excuses" mantra is the embodiment of that idea. Alter then goes on the create a pretty impressive strawman of his own:

It’s a gross distortion to claim that reformers think charter schools -- a tiny fraction of all public schools -- are the only solution for all the ills of the education system.

I have never heard Ms. Ravitch make that claim. She knows, as we all do, that charters are just one chunk of the wrecking ball aimed at public education. Education deformers have lots of solutions to public eduation: demonizing teachers, busting unions, destroying seniority, closing schools, firing teachers, creating fake grassroots organizations, and controlling the media itself, much as Bloomberg is trying to do by hiring Alter.

Finally, Alter accuses Ravitch of using "selective data to punch holes in the work of good schools and turn reformers into cartoonish right-wingers." In fact, Ravitch was one of the few who acknowledged what teachers already knew was true: That the test scores in states like NY were cooked by a combination of easier, more repetitive tests and lowering of the cut scores. That data is undeniable, as the state itself admitted that the scores were false and re-calibrated them. When they did, it became immediately clear that critics of the reform movement, like Diane Ravitch, were actually correct. The scores in schools that had been held up as models of education reform, such as Geoffrey Canada's HSA, plummeted.

I don't know how much Bloomberg paid to get Alter on his team, but I'd say whatever it was, he got screwed.


ASTRAKA said...

Does Alter have an alterior motive?

California Teacher said...

Alter is a shill... recall his articles in Newsweek last fall, coinciding with all the PR around Waiting for Supermax.

As for reformers as "cartoonish right-wingers"... if the shoe fits!

Schoolgal said...

According to the NYTimes, Bloomberg is paying these guys $500,000.

zulma said...


You always know how to "alter" the course of those who are disseminating lies, lies, and more lies. Those who have severe "alter" egos will "alter" the truth. Great piece of writing!

No further "alter"ation is needed here.