By Los Angeles News Group
The details of the online spat between New York University education professor Diane Ravitch and Parent Revolution executive director Ben Austin aren't very interesting to anyone except an education wonk. The highlights: Ravitch ravaged Austin on her blog; Austin responded with an open letter on Huffington Post. Ravitch kind of apologized, but then insinuated Austin was a bully. Who knows what will come next?
What is interesting for the uninitiated is what is revealed by the fact that two of the most influential people in the nation on education reform policy are going head to head publicly -- at least in the manner in which people go head to head in a 21st century civil society. It shows how much is at stake for the future of education in both California and the nation.
Ravitch is a former U.S. assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton and a one-time supporter of No Child Left Behind and charter schools. She famously changed her mind about both, denouncing them in her 2010 book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Undermine Education."
Since then, her dislike has expanded to include Los Angeles-based Parent Revolution, which has been using California's landmark Parent Empowerment Law to shake up education at the worst schools in Southern California. The action at Weigand Avenue Elementary school in Watts this spring, in which Austin's group helped parents organize to oust the principal, prompted the New Yorker to blog: "Ben Austin is loathsome. He ruined the life and career of a dedicated educator. She was devoted to the children, he is devoted to the equally culpable foundations that fund his Frankenstein organization -- Walton, Gates and Broad."
Stung, Austin responded in the form an a letter to Ravitch: "Parents, educators, and education advocates have a lot in common when it comes to a kids-first agenda. But we can never seize that common ground if those with whom we disagree are deemed to be 'evil' and sentenced to Hell, as you did last week."
This is not the first attack on the virtue of Parent Revolution or Austin, but so far it has been the most prominent. It shows that the local group has caught the attention of those who have held the reins of power for way too long in American education. And they are worried.