A scathing opinion piece deriding a prominent critic of Mayor Bloomberg's education policies was generated with the help of city officials, sources said yesterday.
The article, written by the president of the Partnership for New York City, Kathryn Wylde, and published in yesterday's New York Post, accuses Diane Ravitch of opposing the Bloomberg administration irrationally, despite formerly supporting the policies it has implemented, perhaps because of a personal grudge. It concludes that Ms. Ravitch is "no longer a source we can rely on for fair-minded commentary."
Ms. Ravitch yesterday said the piece plainly originated from the city's Education Department, calling it a "paid hit job" meant to silence all critics of the Bloomberg administration. "They're trying to intimidate me, and they're trying to silence me, and I'm not going to be silenced," Ms. Ravitch said.
Ms. Wylde said the idea for the piece was her own, but that she wrote it with the help of a research file composed by the Education Department that chronicles Ms. Ravitch's policy positions over the years. The seven-page document, titled "Diane Ravitch: Then and Now," tallies quotations by Ms. Ravitch on nearly a dozen topics, comparing comments she made in the 1990s to statements in recent years.
A spokesman for the department, David Cantor, defended the decision to make a file on Ms. Ravitch. "She's the most influential educational commentator probably in the United States. If she is typically either distorting what we're doing, or if she is reversing long-held opinions in order to attack us — that's an indication that there's something more there than fair-minded observation," Mr. Cantor said.
A former education aide to President George H.W. Bush who has written numerous books on American education, including the definitive history of the New York City schools, Ms. Ravitch was a strong supporter of Mayor Bloomberg's move to take control of the public system but has since ridiculed many of his education efforts.
Ms. Wylde's article accuses her of abandoning former support for more than a handful of policies, including merit-based pay for teachers; increased autonomy for principals; standardized testing as a way to set high expectations for achievement, and even the belief that every child is capable of academic success — all points that appeared in "Diane Ravitch: Then and Now." The reversals, Ms. Wylde writes, "seem more tied to her unhappiness with the personalities in the Bloomberg administration than its policies."
Ms. Ravitch condemned the characterization of "an odd Ravitch turnaround," saying it is grounded in misunderstanding.
The moment her disagreements with Mr. Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, emerged, she said, exemplifies the point. She had indeed long argued for setting a single standard curriculum in the schools, but when Mr. Klein implemented a new reading curriculum around the idea of "balanced literacy," Ms. Ravitch said she balked. Balanced literacy is a method of teaching that mixes phonics and other approaches, but Ms. Ravitch said she had never meant to advocate for a standardized pedagogy. What she wanted, she said, was a single curriculum mandating, for instance, when to teach American history.
Ms. Ravitch said her support for standardized testing has not wavered, either, though she has sniffed at Mr. Klein's emphasis on tests. She said that is because she has lost confidence in the ability of local and state governments to administer fair and reliable tests — the temptation to let political interests affect results is too strong. She said she still supports a national test.
Ms. Ravitch said her most serious concern with the Bloomberg administration is the way it responds to dissent. She said that many educators who are professionally reliant on support from the city, through grants or contracts, fear voicing any differing opinions.
"It's a very sad situation, when people don't feel free to speak their mind," she said.
"The Legislature eliminated the independent board; they eliminated the community boards, and now the mayor and the chancellor are trying to shut down all independent critics," she added. "That's dangerous to democracy."
Ms. Wylde disputed that characterization, citing the city's recent agreements with the teachers and principals unions over merit-based pay as evidence of its ability to cooperate with critics.
She said she and city officials have mulled their frustration with Ms. Ravitch for years, but she said the Bloomberg administration did not ask her to write the article. She said she decided to write it herself after Ms. Ravitch published an opinion piece criticizing a program to bring merit-based pay to public schools — a plan that Ms. Wylde's Partnership is partially financing. She said the attack was reminiscent of other critiques Ms. Ravitch has made against programs supported by the Partnership, which Ms. Wylde said she also felt were unfair.
"The largest fund-raising we have undertaken are in public education," she said. "It's damaging to those projects, to our fund-raising efforts."
The president of the teachers union, Randi Weingarten, said Ms. Wylde's article offended her. "Anybody worth his or her salt in education has been both criticized and praised by Diane Ravitch," Ms. Weingarten said. "That voice should not be silenced."
Another critic of Mr. Bloomberg's education policies, the Manhattan Institute fellow Sol Stern, said: "It's been clear for a while that City Hall and the DOE want to cut off all serious debate about their education policies. But they've never stooped so low as to try to delegitimize the country's leading historian of education."