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Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them (with apologies to Al Franken)

By Charles Barone, DFER Director of Federal Policy

In the book with the above title, then-comedian/commentator and now-Senator and Senate Education Committee member Al Franken raked right-wing prevaricators like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter over the coals. Why? Well for lying about things for which there was clear and incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. I think Diane Ravitch is moving quickly to Limbaugh/Coulter status when it comes to education. She may be there already.

In a blog post from Monday, Ravitch stated:

“Isn’t it strange that you never see a group like ‘Education Reform Now’ or ‘Democrats for Education Reform’…. advocating for smaller classes or more librarians or a reversal of budget cuts.” [emphasis added]

“I might begin to think they wanted real reform if just once in a while they supported something that benefited hard-working teachers and community public schools, and not their self-interested agenda of privately-managed charters.”

In an act of astounding sycophancy, Alexander Russo played blogospheric telephone by posting Ravitch’s comment with the following headline: “Quotes: Why Don't Reformers Fight For School Funding?”

I think I read that it was Abraham Lincoln who first said, “Don’t believe everything you see on the internet.” And I’m almost positive it was Daniel Patrick Moynihan who said, “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts,” although admittedly some attribute the quote to politician James R. Schleshinger, and others still to financier and FDR-advisor Bernard Baruch.

At any rate, it’s in this spirit that we briefly run down some basic facts - illustrative rather than exhaustive - about DFER, ERN, and education funding:

November 7th, 2008 - DFER ‘s Transition Memo to the Obama team recommended:

“The big-picture goal [in the first 100 days] should be to exceed [George W.] Bush’s first year increase in key education programs. Title I funding (NCLB) increased 19% in the first year of the Bush Administration. So an increase in the 20% + range would be required to claim the mantle of ‘largest education funding increase in history.’ Coupled with evidence of an Obama Administration’s commitment to reform, President Obama could credibly say that his Administration will support schools more and demand more from them, than any administration in history.” (See here.)

What happened after? Obama blew the Bush increase away with a record $100 billion for education well within his first hundred days. Ninety-five percent of those funds were allocated across the board, from childcare and Head Start to class size reduction and school libraries to student loans and Pell Grants. A tiny sliver, 5%, was set-aside for education reform.

May 6th, 2010 - DFER and ERN Joined Other Advocates and Civil Rights Organizations in urging Congress to Provide Education Funding to Save Jobs, Serve High‐Need Populations, Drive Innovation, & Boost Effectiveness.

The letter stated:

“We have seen the negative effect that state and local budget cuts and revenue shortfalls have had on educational services, morale, and the ability of states and districts to plan for the 2010‐11 school year. Funding like that provided last year via the ARRA ‘Stabilization’ fund is the quickest and most appropriate way to save jobs and assure continuity in local school budgets.”

What Happened After? Congress appropriated $26 billion to shore up jobs for teachers, school librarians, and others employed by the public education system, which the President signed into law on August 10th, 2010. Congress subsequently funded key reforms like Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and Investing in Innovation (i3).

March 16th, 2012 - DFER signed on with the Committee for Education Funding and 900 other organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, the American Library Association, and the National Education Association, in support of adequate funding for education, health, and labor programs.

The letter stated:

“It is shortsighted to further cut discretionary funding in the interest of deficit reduction. We urge you to recognize the value of health, education, job training, and social services in improving the lives of American families and strengthening our global position. These discretionary programs should be protected from further cuts that will have profound consequences on our nation’s global competitiveness and our capacity to address the needs of the most vulnerable.”

In addition:

April 12th, 2012 - DFER and ERN joined 19 other organizations urging Congress to increase education funding. We actually went farther than the coalition letter above in supporting both a 2.5% increase for education overall and asking for funding for key education reforms like Race to the Top and Teacher and School Leader Training.

What Happened Next? Still to be determined. But last week the Senate Appropriations Committee passed out a bill that did a damn good job of juggling a variety of education priorities in a difficult budget environment. See our summary here.

I would add that throughout our work, we have repeatedly made remedying inequities a cornerstone of our federal advocacy efforts. We have asked the Government to invest in programs for at-risk students through Title I and IDEA, through policies that seek to expand public school choice options or to lessen the grave inequities suffered by poor and minority students with regard to talented and effective teachers. Through our effort to get federally funded schools to be comparable in terms of teacher salaries, we’ve already had a couple victories.

Last week, the website “Take Part” put Diane Ravitch at #1 on its list of top tweeters (31,000 + followers and counting). The author of the post stated that Ravitch is “honest, has an open mind and knows her stuff.” (Note to Take Part: as this post illustrates, not really).

I have little to no expectation that anything in this memo gives Ravitch pause. I’d bet big money that she either ignores it completely or, less likely but within the realm of possibility, refutes it with yet another characteristic distortion of reality.

But I wonder whether seasoned journalists like Charlie Rose or John Merrow, who have basically taken Ravitch at face value, appreciate being so artfully misled by her. I wonder how many of her 31,000 twitter followers want to be lied to? In the short-term, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. Because in the long-run I believe what Martin Luther King said, that "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Prior to joining DFER in early 2009, Charles Barone spent five years working as an independent consultant on education policy issues.  His clients included the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights, Education Trust, and the National Academies of Sciences.  In 2007, Barone authored the DFER briefing "Keeping Achievement Relevant: The Reauthorization of 'No Child Left Behind.'" Read his full bio here.