NEW SERIES: Top Newsmakers

New series on HNN, “Top Newsmakers” will profile the top news making historians. These are the historians making the most headlines, and grabbing the most buzz each week. Each historian is chosen based on media attention, and importance of the news story surrounding them.

This week…Annette Gordon-Reed: Awarded a 2010 MacArthur Fellowship

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History Shorts: Diane Ravitch named one of Atlantic’s 19 “Brave Thinkers”

Source: The Atlantic (11-1-10)

Antony Hare

When Diane Ravitch decided that reform ideas like robust testing, charter schools, and No Child Left Behind were imperiling rather than saving American education, she managed to break with her former Republican allies and start a fight with Obama Democrats, all at once. For Ravitch, this wasn’t merely a course correction, it was a complete turnaround: when she was an assistant secretary of education during George H. W. Bush’s administration, she was all for more standardized testing and for school choice. During the Bush II years, she cheered the passage of No Child Left Behind. But in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch says the evidence shows that vouchers and charters don’t actually serve kids better on average than regular public schools, and that testing has squeezed every creative drop out of the school day—who has time for art class when success depends on drilling students in math? Ravitch has also come to view the closing of “failing” schools that’s required by No Child Left Behind as an unfair attack on the teachers and principals who work with low-income students.

Teachers unions and some civil-rights groups sounded these alarms before Ravitch did. But her sharp writing and mastery of history (she’s an education professor and historian at New York University) mean that no one makes the case more forcefully. That has won her some new friends, but also cost her some old ones (she parted ways with a pair of conservative think tanks). Her latest target is Race to the Top, the Obama competition that rewards states for increasing the number of charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to test scores. Ravitch calls the program “a massive waste of money that will produce perverse consequences.” She doesn’t offer much in the way of an alternative (beyond the well-worn mantra of professional development for teachers). But sometimes it’s enough to be a critic. By facing off against most of the centers of power in her field, Ravitch has turned herself into a singular check on the ascendant education orthodoxy.

Emily Bazelon is a senior editor at Slate.

Political Headlines: Obama’s Miracle: He’s Making Bush Look Good

A new poll shows that people are becoming more nostalgic for the Bush years.

Source: WSJ, 10-12-10

Back in April, Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg was fairly confident that Republicans had peaked too early. While Democratic losses would be severe, he predicted, “it will not be another 1994.” Now the former pollster for Bill Clinton is less sure Democrats can avoid a blowout. The reason? His polls show that President Obama’s campaign refrain that the country must “go forward, not go backward” to the past actually loses votes for Democrats.

President Obama has been enamored of the theme that the country can’t afford to return to what he terms the discredited policies of the Bush years. “That’s the mantra that he wants to drill into voters’ heads between now and November,” ABC News reported last summer.

The only problem, according to Mr. Greenberg, is that it doesn’t work. “Though voters agree the economy was an ‘inherited’ problem, they do not like to hear politicians blaming Bush or looking backwards,” he concluded in his study. In an interview with Jane Hamsher of the blog Firedog Lake, Mr. Greenberg went on to say: “I’m really puzzled by Democratic leaders stuck in a message that demonstrably doesn’t work.” He puts it down to the president listening to economic advisers who want him to set a rhetorical tone that “will help confidence to come back.”

But so far the only thing that seems to be coming back is nostalgia for George W. Bush. A new CNN poll finds voters still believe Mr. Obama is a better president than Mr. Bush was, but by only 47% to 45%. That’s down from a whopping 23-point margin last year. “Democrats would be wise to think twice before bringing up the name of President Bush on the campaign trail this fall,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

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