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Diane Ravitch Out at Brookings, Romney Advisor to Blame?

Did a Mitt Romney adviser get education expert Diane Ravitch dumped by the Brookings Institution?

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The Brookings Institution, often described as a liberal-leaning think tank, has severed its relationship with Diane Ravitch, one of the most important education scholars in the country and an outspoken critic of Mitt Romney's education policy proposals. In fact, Brookings has not been liberal-leaning for a long time, if it ever truly was; rather, it's a voice of the Beltway establishment, and that increasingly means it's right-leaning. But that's a crucial point, since reporters are clearly sometimes checking the "get liberal opinion" box in their research by quoting Brookings experts. The Ravitch affair demonstrates how wrong that is.

Education policy one of the areas in which establishment Democrats have most embraced right-wing positions, but Brookings' director of education policy takes it a step beyond that. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst is an education adviser to Mitt Romney, and Ravitch is wondering if there's a connection between Whitehurst's relationship with Romney and Brookings dumping her.

Ravitch writes that she had been affiliated with Brookings in one way or another since 1993, for the last seven years as an unpaid senior fellow. Two years ago, when her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education was released, she contacted Whitehurst about setting up an event at Brookings to discuss the book. Quite unusually,

...he said that I would have to rent the auditorium and pay a variety of expenses, which would amount to thousands of dollars. I decided not to accept this expensive offer, and I soon received a request from Rick Hess to present my book at the American Enterprise Institute.

The very conservative AEI not only did not charge Ravitch to hold the event, it paid her travel expenses and held a panel discussion. The book became a bestseller, and Ravitch has continued to be a prominent voice in education policy debates. However, she writes, "I was never invited to take part in any panels or public events at Brookings."

Then on June 5 came the email from Russ Whitehurst informing me that I would be terminated as a non-resident senior fellow because I was inactive. Understand that it is impossible to be active at Brookings if you are never invited to participate in any of its forums.

My first thought was that Russ might be responding to my blog lacerating Mitt Romney’s education plan in the New York Review of Books. It went online that very morning, about four hours before I got Russ’s email. Russ is an adviser to the Romney campaign on education issues. Would he react that quickly? Then I remembered that I had written two other pieces critical of Romney on my own blog, the first appearing on May 25.

A Brookings spokesperson claims, in response, that the decision was made before Ravitch's criticisms of Romney, that she was one of three fellows terminated, and that "in each case, the fellows had little contact with the program and were not involved in programmatic activities. Their scholarly views had no bearing in the decision." Pressed on the "little contact and not involved" part by the Wall Street Journal's Christopher Shea, noting that Ravitch says she was not invited to be involved in Brookings activities, the spokesperson continued:

We’re not commenting much beyond the statement.

But I would add that programmatic activities with our nonresident senior fellows typically arise in one of two ways: we invite them to participate in research, events and scholarly pursuits in which they can offer expertise and can contribute in substantive ways, and, secondly, nonresident scholars approach Brookings with their own ideas. If it’s the latter, it’s up to the program or center director to agree to pursue and to identify the necessary funding.

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