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Diane Ravitch: Union speaking fees did not change my mind

Is Diane Ravitch a “paid union spokesperson,” her famous change of heart inspired by fees from the teachers union?

The accusation, levied by the philanthropist and hedge-fund manager Whitney Tilson recently, draws from a new book about the education reform movement by Steven Brill. But the suggestion that she was bought is simply not accurate, Ravitch told GothamSchools.

Brill, in an interview, also insisted it’s not the conclusion that his new book, “Class Warfare,” aims to draw.

In a short passage about Ravitch, one of the leading critics of the reform movement, Brill writes that she frequently spoke to teachers unions but did not disclose her speaking fees from them. He estimates that her take from groups that have resisted the movement, including teachers unions, might have exceeded $200,000 in just over a year.

In an interview this week, Ravitch told GothamSchools that she received “less than a third” of the amount of money Brill calculated from teachers unions. (That is, she has received under $67,000.) She said that the majority of her speaking engagements are done for free.

“What he wrote is factually untrue and defames me,” Ravitch said about Brill. “It says I changed my mind for money.”

In a letter sent to Simon & Schuster, Brill’s publisher, and posted today on Eduwonk, Ravitch’s lawyer asks the publisher to insert a corrections page into each copy of “Class Warfare.” The lawyer, David Blasband, argues that Ravitch received payments for only eight of 23 lectures to “unions and their supporters” during the time Brill discussed.

Brill told me that he wasn’t suggesting that Ravitch had altered her views because of union support. He said that he meant only to draw attention to the need for people who speak about education to disclose any payments they receive. He said he would have included the accurate accounting if Ravitch had given it to him when he interviewed her and will include the new details in future editions of the book.

“I certainly don’t think she in any way shaped her views based on speaking fees,” Brill said. “I think anyone who reads that into the book is just wrong.”

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