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Quick Take: Diane Ravitch’s Soul Mate Charlie Pierce Adopts Ravitch's Approach To Education

Charlie Pierce was once an insightful – and often funny – political commentator and sportswriter. For years, his columns appeared in the pages of the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, and he’s written for such publications as the New York Times, GQ, and Slate. Loyal NPR listeners also know him as a fixture on the popular game show, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…

However, a review of his recent output over at Esquire, where Pierce serves as the magazine’s lead political blogger, makes clear that the writer has lost his edge. Where once readers could turn to Pierce for a trenchant analysis of the political issues of the day, one now finds an effluvium of terse and exceedingly caustic rants, in which he derides his perceived enemies as “idiots,” “dopes,” and “sideshow freaks.”

Pierce's output these days consists of little more than lazy, caustic rants.
Pierce’s output these days consists of little more than lazy, caustic rants.

In these respects, his career trajectory and overall disposition seem to be following that of Diane Ravitch, who he approvingly cites whenever he raises education issues on his blog. Like Ravitch, Pierce portrays reformers as “grifters” who are “trying to destroy the public school system” at the direction of an evil cabal of billionaires, including “the Walton Family of Wingnuts.” Moreover, he shares Ravitch’s fixated emnity for CNN anchor-turned-education activist, Campbell Brown, who he called “a public spokesperson for the latest attempt to privatize American public education,” who “doesn’t know what the fck she’s talking about.”

(It’s worth noting that while Esquire apparently believes this is substantive political commentary worth paying for, Pierce’s previous employers at the Boston Globe parted ways with him after he insulted another woman, Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, back in 2011.)

An example of a recent blog post from Charlie Pierce.
An example of a recent blog post from Charlie Pierce.

Pierce and Ravitch also share a proclivity for making broad, unsubstantiated accusations about education reformers with little regard to facts or evidence. This flaw was on full display in a post Pierce published last week, entitled “Reminder: Education Is Not a Damn Marketplace,” in which he cites low-performing charter schools in Detroit and Jacksonville as evidence that “public school ‘reform’…has been an abject failure and an almost limitless vista of low-rent scams and high-tech brigandage.”

Unfortunately for Pierce, his colorful prose can’t disguise the weaknesses in his argument. While he highlights the admittedly dismal performance of charter schools in Detroit, he omits any mention of the equally dismal performance of the city’s traditional public schools. He also points to the lackluster performance of charters in Jacksonville as evidence that charter schools as a whole have failed, when in fact, Florida’s charters outperformed the state’s traditional public schools this past year.

Graphic from the Florida Times-Union.
Graphic from the Florida Times-Union.

That’s all the evidence Pierce feels he needs to muster to support his contention that, “Of all the sanctimonious fckwads infesting our politics, the school reformers are unquestionably among the fckiest and the waddiest.” In short, Pierce simply regurgitates Ravitch’s attacks on education reform, adds a dash of his own special infantile rage, and presents his half-truths and hyperbole as profound revelation.

Not only is it unoriginal, it’s lazy and also pretty sad.

Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.


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