David Brooks, Diane Ravitch, and the education wars

As always, remember that John’s book The Influence of Teachers is for sale at Amazon.

Last week in this space, I speculated about the most influential educator in America. Although I put forth more than a half dozen names, most respondents ‘voted’ for Diane Ravitch, the historian/policymaker/apostate whose book, The Death and Life of the Great American Public School, is a best seller.

Her landslide victory is not particularly surprising, because she is a Five Star General in the ongoing education wars; her badly outgunned army includes the two teachers unions, Linda Darling-Hammond and a lot of teachers.

The opposing side includes Brian Williams and NBC’s Education Nation, Oprah Winfrey, Teach for America, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, charter school supporters, Waiting for Superman and a lot of powerful business and financial leaders.

Add to that list David Brooks, the influential columnist for the New York Times. That’s particularly disappointing, because the normally perceptive Brooks seems to have swallowed a questionable argument hook, line and sinker.

At stake in this struggle is nothing less than the direction of public education. (I write about this war extensively in The Influence of Teachers and won’t rehash the arguments here.)

Just a few days after Ravitch clinched the election on this blog, Brooks took her to task in harsh terms on the op-ed pages of the Times.

Here’s a sample:

She picks and chooses what studies to cite, even beyond the normal standards of people who are trying to make a point. She has come to adopt the party-line view of the most change-averse elements of the teachers’ unions: There is no education crisis. Poverty is the real issue, not bad schools. We don’t need fundamental reform; we mainly need to give teachers more money and job security.

Brooks acknowledges that Ravitch highlights a fundamental tension in education — teaching is humane, while testing is mechanistic — but then accuses her of simply wanting to eliminate testing and accountability.

Diane Ravitch

Is Diane Ravitch vs. David Brooks truly good for the future of public education?

Having accused Ravitch of intellectual dishonesty, Brooks seems to walk down that same path, with the help of a foil, Whitney Tilson, whom he identifies for his readers as ‘the education blogger.’ That’s the same Whitney Tilson who was a founding member of Teach for America and who now serves on the Board of KIPP New York, the same Whitney Tilson who supports Democrats for Education Reform and who was a major player in the campaign of rumor and innuendo to discredit Linda Darling-Hammond when she was being considered for Secretary of Education. That Whitney Tilson! Even he must have been surprised to be labeled merely as ‘the education blogger.’

Brooks approvingly passes along Tilson’s observations about test-obsessed schools like KIPP (!) and the Harlem Success Schools, places where students are far more likely to participate in chess, dance and drama than do their counterparts in regular public schools.

Brooks’ money line follows:

The places where the corrosive testing incentives have had their worst effect are not in the schools associated with the reformers. They are in the schools the reformers haven’t touched. These are the mediocre schools without strong leaders and without vibrant missions.

In Brooks’ view, Ravitch is simply wrong. “Ravitch thinks the solution is to get rid of the tests,” he writes. “But that way just leads to lethargy and perpetual mediocrity. The real answer is to keep the tests and the accountability but make sure every school has a clear sense of mission, an outstanding principal and an invigorating moral culture that hits you when you walk in the door.”

Brooks’ conclusion — if a school teaches to the test, it’s the fault of the leaders, not of the test — may follow logically from his premises, but it’s a house of cards, and not just because Ravitch is being painted unfairly. The flaw lies in Brooks (or Tilson’s) failure to examine the dominant default model of public education today, which is precisely Ravitch’s point: test scores rule. Yes, inspired leaders can trump that thinking, and kids lucky enough to attend one of those schools may well emerge as more than a score.

It’s true, as Wendy Kopp of Teach for America asserts, that more winning schools are opening every year, and a body of evidence proves that strong leaders, talented teachers, a powerful sense of mission and coherent curricula like Core Knowledge make a difference. However, the evidence suggests that their success also requires superhuman effort that produces a high burnout rate among teachers and school leaders.

Is this a model for genuine and widespread reform? Let’s look at the numbers. We have about 100,000 public schools. Perhaps 5,000 or maybe even 10,000 are defying the odds. At that rate, how long will it take? Where will the thousands and thousands of inspired leaders and teachers come from?

Why do Brooks and others defend a system in which success seems to require superhuman effort? To be blunt, our ‘answer factory’ approach to education is outmoded and counter-productive in a world that technology has transformed, and continues to transform at an unimaginable rate. What is needed is a major rethinking of the structure of school — a recasting of the basic operating model.

Pitting Ravitch against Tilson makes for a readable column in the hands of a gifted writer like David Brooks. While I regret his unfair treatment of Ravitch, she has proven time and time again that she can take care of herself. What bothers me more is that Brooks and most observers are missing the larger point.

Which is this: Our public schools are the equivalent of yesterday’s pony express. Just as a faster pony express would not be sufficient to deliver the mail today, the “faster horses” that reforms like KIPP, Teach for America and charter schools represent are not in themselves adequate for our 50 million school-age children, nor will they ever be.

I have some thoughts about what truly transformed schools would look like, and I imagine you do as well. Some of these schools already exist, others perhaps only in your imagination. Please share your thoughts on what to do next, not just on how to end this counterproductive ‘education war’ but also on how to proceed positively.

I look forward to your responses.

71 Responses to “David Brooks, Diane Ravitch, and the education wars”

  1. Robert 06. Jul, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    I agree with the Pony Express analogy and how the reformers you mentioned are just “faster horses”. When are we going to build the bullet train education system. I don’t want to jump on the blended learning bandwagon so fast, but that really does seem like the future. It is a way to make learning more engaging, ensure quality of instructional delivery, differentiate for learning styles and pace, free up teachers to do the important work without the mundane job of constantly grading papers, and offers students just in time help from a variety of sources. With that said, I haven’t seen many places doing it well, content is mainly in the form of direct instruction, and the technology is 10 years behind the educational apps our students are using at home. The digital divide is also a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

    Diane Ravitch is so influential because her and the forces she represents are digging in their heals and entrenching even more to try to prevent this from happening. Instead of trying to replace over a million teachers in the next 10 years, why don’t we find better means of delivery and finally rid ourselves of the agrarian educational system we still use today.

    • jack 08. Jul, 2011 at 12:05 am #

      We could use more people who think inside the box. David Brooks’s commentary reminds me that Tip O’Neill in his autobiography lamented that because everybody has been to school everybody thinks they’re an expert on education.
      What Joel Klein does is more about power than it is about education. I watched from the inside the waste and mismanagement, the dopey ideas that characterize the Bloomberg era. Here on Staten Island, it should be pointed out Joel Klein almost literally took his life into his own hands when he appeared before groups of parents, his policies had become so unpopular. What separates Diane Ravitch from the aforementioned is that she knows about and cares about her subject. Joel Klein cares about power education is just a place where he was granted it.
      As far as the historic inefficiencies of the NYC Board of Education, having spent near 30 years at its mercy, and mindful of the education field’s propensity toward half-baked ideas I often found myself thanking God for it.

  2. David A. Singer 06. Jul, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Great piece on the Eduwars.

    But all of this strikes me as fighting over deck chairs on the Titanic. This Eduwar between Ravtich and the unions vs the “corporatists”, Gates, Rhee, etc… is occurring against a backdrop of our society completely dropping the ball when it comes to redesigning our schools away from the agrarian/industrial model with which we persist. For instance, in New York, Governor Cuomo is in the midst of a victory lap touting his success in passing a draconian 2% property tax cap. Wealthy, homogenous school districts will easily be able to override the state cap with a 60% supermajority plebicites on school budgets. More diverse and economically challenged school districts will not. Apartheid in our public schools will come roaring back — leaving the core- property tax based schools with providing mandated special education services, and educating those who can’t find a way out of these schools into something more newfangled.

    These poltical battles are playing out across the country well– and frankly, I think that this is the fight that both sides in the eduwars should coalesce on– before it’s too late.

    • Gail V Ritchie 07. Jul, 2011 at 1:46 am #

      David,
      Agreed–all the arguing over accountability and who to blame is obfuscating the real problem–a society that is okay with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. While Brooks argues “The real answer is to keep the tests and the accountability but make sure every school has a clear sense of mission, an outstanding principal and an invigorating moral culture that hits you when you walk in the door,” that won’t solve the pervasive, insidious problem of poverty in America. Not to mention that finding outstanding principals and establishing invigorating moral cultures is much easier said than done. As John so eloquently points out, overcoming the negative factors associated with high poverty requires superhuman, difficult-to-sustain effort. Surely we can come up with a better system of education than that!

    • Mia 04. Aug, 2011 at 5:15 pm #

      David,

      I wholeheartedly agree that the opposing groups are holding up real progress, just like our bipartisian government.

  3. Mike Reno 06. Jul, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    I suspect that Ravitch tends to attract rebuttal because she so passionately derides any and all efforts at reform, but really offers no alternatives, save some poverty-free utopian vision: cure poverty and schools will cure themselves.

    Your article accurately points out that schools are like the pony express. They have changed very little in the past 50 years. A little technology aside, my school experience was not dramatically different than that of my parents… or my children.

    There is no “silver bullet” because public education today has a variety of problems, aside from being outdated and antiquated. The biggest problem is the one-size-fits-all approach.

    What works in urban schools is not likely to work in suburban schools or rural schools. And what might work in SOME urban schools will not work in ALL urban schools.

    The charter / choice movement has the potential of creating different models – different structures – that can have success for SOME children. We need to embrace that idea… and keep searching for various models and structures until we find enough to take care of ALL children.

    The problem with Ravitch’s efforts is that she attempts to squash the attempts at innovation. Sure, she’ll give a nod to it with comments like, “Some charters succeed because … (and)… We can learn from these lessons to help regular public schools.” But her logic doesn’t make sense… how can we incubate these ideas if, as she seems to propose, she had her way and charters were not permitted? They certainly couldn’t happen in today’s PubEd. The success she acknowledges in charters either requires more money that we don’t have, or required flexibility that the unions she so passionately defends will refuse to permit.

    Even the so-called successful suburban schools have their own sets of problems, which are generally dismissed by Ravitch. Suburban schools are pushing out unprepared kids that do get into college, but required five or more years to graduate… if they don’t drop out first.

    American needs to create more unique schools that are better tailored to the unique needs of students, rather than pursue the rather unsuccessful monopoly that Ravitch likes to defend.

    Better use of technology, “seattime waivers”, “flip schools”, paternalistic urban school… it’s innovation that will come from freedom to explore that will create solutions that might not even be conceived. That innovation will only come from charters, or expansion of vouchers.

    The current monopoly is has lived it’s life and is beyond tweaking.

    • JP 07. Jul, 2011 at 3:23 am #

      In response to Mike Reno, I think you are mischaracterizing Ravitch’s book. Her whole argument is that throwing money at yet another set of half-baked, unproven ideas is wasteful and often worse than doing nothing at all. She deconstructs several well-known reform experiments, describing their methodology and results. She’s not adding to the pile of reform ideas because she believes that many of the things we do in the name of reform are actually destructive for communities (things like busing kids all over the place instead of having neighborhood schools.)

      I’m a public school parent of two children in a minority-white grade school in an urban suburb. About 25% of our students are reduced/free lunch eligible. Our school is wonderful. We have a great principal and fantastic teachers. Fortunately our local tax payers see the value of public education and we are decently-well funded. My kids have reasonably-sized classes and they have art, music, instrumental music, and foreign language. Teachers make a real effort to use interactive learning and to differentiate in the classroom. There aren’t giant perks here. Just a very good neighborhood school with an involved community of parents and a great group of kids. (our alumni come back to visit for years!)

      Notice our school is majority-minority, and we have a pretty big group of kids who are financially challenged. We don’t have charters or choice or magnets or any of that stuff. Just a good school. I have a hard time imagining we’re actually all that rare. Support communities and neighborhoods. Support good local schools. Keep families out of poverty. Seems pretty simple to me.

      • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:36 am #

        Just curious: do other educators come to visit to learn what your schools are doing? One challenge is to create a ‘competition’ that doesn’t guarantee losers, if that makes sense. We need ways of making it unacceptable that our system produces losers. Ted Sizer used to talk about time being the variable, learning/achievement being the constant. Start thinking that way, and suddenly you find yourself questioning segregation by age in the early grades, for example.

        • David A. Singer 08. Jul, 2011 at 10:54 pm #

          My district belongs to a the Tristate Consortium, a self-described “dynamic learning organization of public schools…” It’s comprised of 45 member districts located in the ‘burbs of NYC. Teams of member districts visit other districts within the consortium — and they visit, share and critique district’s curricula and approaches to identify and validate best practices. Here’s the link to their website: http://www.tristateconsortium.org. Albeit that these are generally high resource districts —all are dealing with the onslaught of declining tax bases and less funding overall.

  4. CarolineSF 06. Jul, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    10+ years ago I became involved in researching and critiquing the education reform “miracle” of that time, for-profit Edison Schools Inc. Edison was being hailed by editorial boards across the land as the savior of public education, bringing the efficiencies of the private sector into the classroom.

    The spotlight in 2001 was on my community, San Francisco, in a nationally covered controversy over an Edison charter school. Local newspaper editorial boards came down vigorously on the side of Edison, bashing and mocking critics and challengers. (When it became apparent that Edison was a flop, they just shut up and stopped mentioning it.)

    Years later I sat down with one of the local editorial writers who had engaged in all that vehement support for Edison — a very nice person. She explained that the editorial board’s view was that the crisis in public education was so extreme that it was necessary to try something — anything at all.

    Given the lack of solid research supporting any of the current education reform fads — all of them the descendants of Edison Schools Inc. — that viewpoint still seems to prevail.

    I wondered how that school of thought would translate to, say, medicine. Isn’t that the thinking that brought us the lobotomy, for example?

    Has any successful reform in any field ever been wrought through the notion that “we have to try something — anything it all”?

    And as someone on the receiving end, I also wondered how bashing and mocking critics jibed with the “we have to try something — anything at all” viewpoint — wouldn’t “aw, c’mon, guys, let’s just give it a try” be more appropriate? And that’s still the case today.

    Instead, the “we have to try something — anything at all” folks are redoubling the bashing and mocking, now directing it at their most effective critic instead of spreading it around.

  5. Helen Sadler 06. Jul, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    In response to Mike R: Ravitch does have an answer for reform: decent curriculum and treating teachers as the professionals they are, capable of delivering instruction of that curriculum. Yes, poverty is a huge problem, and isn’t being properly addressed. But Ravitch definitely has more to say than you are suggesting.

    As a teacher, I work hard to innovate in my classroom. But always around the corner is another test, something that has to be addressed or my students will be unprepared. As a Language Arts teacher in high school, I deride multiple choice as simplistic and inauthentic, since in literature there is always more than one answer. However, my students have to “dumb down” the analytical thinking they have learned in my class in order to pass county tests now required by RTTT. I also have much less flexibility in, say, providing the science dept. assistance in research papers for the Science Fair because I am now on a tight schedule to get certain areas of literature covered before the next county test. And I won’t even bore you with all the issues online testing has now created. Suffice to say much of what needs to be done with students to prepare them appropriately for college (particularly in the area of research writing) is getting lost in the technology shuffle — simply not enough lab time available because of constant testing.

    The standardized testing culture is failing education. Period. I have worked in charter and county public schools, and it is the same everywhere. Faster horses definitely will not work. We need a new way. Teachers can innovate that way if the constant threat to their jobs was not so prevalent.

    • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:40 am #

      We need to look to other countries and regions that are doing better than we are, such as Finland and Toronto. They do not rely so completely on machine-scored tests.
      If ‘multiple measures’ are the key, WHAT do we mean? What other measures are reliable and valid (not to suggest that the machine-scored tests are, but they are decent indicators, after all)

      • Mia 04. Aug, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

        John,

        Your suggestion sounds simple enough, so why do you believe examining the success of other countries is not being done?

  6. Sandra 06. Jul, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I had no idea who Diane Ravitch was until February or March of this year. I have no idea who Whitney Tilson was until reading this blog posting. I thank you for that information. I am a non-educator and member of a community interested in legislative activities at the State and local levels. Brooks and Tilson, among other, demean the public by pretending our questions regarding costs, implementation, outcomes, privacy, centralized control versus local control are insignificant. The thoughts and questions from parents and everyday citizens matter.
    However, you present something to talk about. Charters in Florida have failed to provide the kind of innovation you are calling for. The limited vouchers under the McKay Opportunity scholarships are under scrutiny. Better use of technology is vague, schools have been incorporating technology for decades. May I point out that the last sentence of this piece is not written in correct English. While we wait for “solutions that might not even be conceived” – how about defining those specific problems. Surely, a nation that sent man into space has capacity to address targeted problems. Only through fact-based, serious, and inclusive discussion can innovation be released, not from afar, but close to those who are the recipients.

    • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:43 am #

      Thanks for catching me up on the error (and I a former English teacher!) That’s what comes from writing while on vacation, I guess.
      As for suggested ways of thinking about change, I hope you will take a look at my book, The Influence of Teachers, which is available on Amazon (and is written in standard English)

  7. Joe Beckmann 06. Jul, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    This argument is specious. Before venturing into a quagmire of Ravitch, Brooks or Duncan, look more carefully at the ecology of educational change itself. The current kerfuffle roused by RTTT, testing, “core standards” and the like is but an echo of changes moved, seconded, installed, and evaporated from the 1960′s, and 1930′s, and 1900′s. Everett Rogers, in his Diffusion of Innovations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffusion_of_innovations), now, oh so long ago, noted that it takes 20 years to change 50% of the schools or school programs. We’re right on track. Panic about Finland is remarkably like panic about China, panic about Russia, and even panic about Nazi Germany. Schools get new kids every year, and teachers retire – and are retiring at even faster rates. New people bring new problems…and solutions.

    What neither Ravitch or her opponents don’t quite realize is that more and more kindergartners arrive with an iPhone (or iPad or some simulacrum) with access to much more information than most teachers. This generational change will probably hit the average school around 2018 (given Rogers’ notions of diffusion), and settle into 50% of the schools around 2030 or so. By then we can be afraid of China, India, or Chicago for all I know.

    Change…happens. We can speed it up some places, but it doesn’t happen as slow as those whose hands are tied in wrings, nor as fast as the techies might imagine. And it rarely happens in one fell swoop. KIPP is a nice change some places, less nice in other places; as are most of what is good…or bad…or controversial. And the distinctions ‘twixt urban schools and their suburban brethren aren’t that different from the days of the Winnetka Plan, the adoption of typewriters in 4th grade, and the notion of levels in academic “rigor” in high school. Even then, in the 1930′s, the suburbs were – or thought themselves – “different,” and the urban schools had their own polite methods of segregation and intellectual genocide. Before we panic at what we face today, we might well look at what we faced – and did – long ago.

    We also might look forward to a day when we no longer presume all 7th grade teachers are interchangeable, or each 9th grade English class uses the same vocabulary for the same issues on the same day. But…that will also take about 20 years … from … now, just as it did 80 years ago when Dewey suggested it!

    • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:45 am #

      While it’s comforting to think that what is past is prologue, technology has changed the game. Schools that are ‘answer factories,’ with all that implies, are simply not preparing our kids adequately. Again, I reference my book and its opening question from a teenager to her mother, “What’s microfiche?”

  8. Dick Clark 06. Jul, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    Others who are commenting are missing a very important point that you make. The so-called reformers are seeking to perpetuate the policy emphasis that has dominated state and federal actions since the late 1980′s. They are not seeking reform.

    I think Dianne Ravitch loses the intellectual punch of her argument by constantly personalizing it and making it the bad-guys (Gates, Duncan, et. al.) against the good-guys (teachers).

    The nation needs an overhaul of its approach to education. There needs to be a clear focus on its fundamental responsibilities for developing citizens for a democratic society, nurturing the talents of the youth of our country, and enabling graduates to become productive contributors to our economy. None of these goals is being adeuately addressed by the tests that are being used to measure success. To the extent that Ravitch points out the limitations of the current policy initiatives she needs to be listened to. Meanwhile, Brooks needs to broaden his information base and rethink his diatribes against those who oppose the policies.

    • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:45 am #

      Amen…

    • Alee 25. Nov, 2012 at 2:44 am #

      I would send my child to Hawthorne if it had the program that Charlie Mas drbeeiscs. As it is we were assigned to Hawthorne and we are in private school. As it stands today, Hawthorne is not a school that is an appropriate fit for my son. My son is already behind academically he was my foster son before I adopted him. He didn’t come to me until he was 4 years old. We have a lot of make up to do to get him on grade level. I cannot perpetuate his lack of early learning by sending him to my neighborhood school. He doesn’t have anymore time to waste. When Hawthorne looks like that (what Charlie drbeeiscs), we can take a serious look at it. Until then, I need to send my child to a school that will actually help him catch up and reach his potential. No criticism to SPS is needed, foster kids often need more than the public schools are able to provide.

  9. Mike Reno 06. Jul, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    “What neither Ravitch or her opponents don’t quite realize is that more and more kindergartners arrive with an iPhone (or iPad or some simulacrum) with access to much more information than most teachers.”

    Harnessing this technology, and others like it, is a necessary part of the evolution cycle. Schools are too slow to recognize the potential educational and productivity benefits. Charters and non-public schools seem much more open to innovation and experimentation.

    Public schools are “stuck”. They still cling to an ancient teacher:student ratio model of instruction, lamenting the fact that the cost per pupil to maintain this model increases faster than the cost of inflation. They are oblivious to — or indignant about — the argument that says the public can no longer afford this. And what’s worse is that they toss out rhetoric that those who dare to question the structural flaws in school budgeting obviously don’t value children.

    Is it any wonder that this sense of entitlement is causing some backlash?

    • Sandra 06. Jul, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

      “Charters and non-public schools seem much more open to innovation and experimentation.”

      This is not evident in Florida. Public schools do not get the dollars for pricey computers and software. Secretary Duncan recently announced iCivics as a great product. It has the flavor of Where in the World Is Carmen San DIego or the Oregon Trail versus something innovative. Please be more specific about “innovation” and “experimentation.” What type of experiments do you have in mind when it comes to children going to school???

      I am a non-educator.

      • TheFrustratedTeacher (@tfteacher) 06. Jul, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

        The truth is there are no innovations or experiments. Originally, when Albert Shanker thought up charter schools, his vision was for motivated teachers to start them, tiny little schools, where some things could be tried, and if they proved helpful, scaled up.

        What we have now is the wholesale take-over of public education by the Whitney Tilsons of the world, supported by old farts with a crush on Rhee.

        Poverty stifles kids. New information shows some of these kids suffer PTSD, as well as rotten teeth, no books in the home and often absent parents.

        If you expect some new pedagogy to counter the effects of poverty you’re dreaming.

        • UrbanTeacher 07. Jul, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

          After 6 years of teaching in a crime and poverty stricken area, I, and many others in the trenches, have their fingers on the pulse of where the problem lies. Assessment will not fix it. I hear the wisdom in your post, and hunger for more of it to reach policy makers. The race to do well on state tests has caused tremendous panic at all levels of school districts, and responses to the short timelines given to be successful are very often misguided and are resulting in discrimination of individual children and employees. In my classroom, for example, I have several students suffering from PTSD. Some days they perform. Other days they do not. On MCAS day, one would not perform. How are we to feel when this happens? Imagine knowing you were being judged on this student’s performance and after six months of working your butt off preparing this student to do well for this test. That is what we do these days. Drill and kill. I would prefer to ignore it all and do project based learning, which is not part of my curriculum. These are human beings. I know of no teacher who is in favor of tests being used for anything but to inform instruction. Diane Ravich has it right. Since finishing grad school for urban elementary education, I have been astounded at the lack of alignment between best practice and policy. I am taking a leave of absence to rethink my direction and how I might be more effective than the current environment is allowing.

        • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:48 am #

          While Albert Shanker was present and participating in the meeting near the headwaters of the Mississippi in 1988 that led to the first charter legislation, it’s not accurate to call him the father of that innovation. Credit belongs to Ted Kolderie, Joe Nathan, Ember Reichgott and a few others. I ran that meeting and write about it in The Influence of Teachers.

  10. Mike 06. Jul, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    I’m not hearing much about an educational crises in private schools or well-to-do suburban schools. Why is that? Have they already made the dramatic reforms called upon for public education? Have they reformed their teacher-centered instructional approaches into models of “differentiated” learning? Or, do they continue to succeed using the same old teacher center approaches.

    • Sandra 06. Jul, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

      Private schools are not required to use standardized testing, nor are they graded the way public schools are. They do not have to accept all students that knock on their door either. They have no legislative requirements, such as ‘inclusion.” They can control the number of students. From what I know, a strong liberal arts curriculum is offered, with opportunities in art and music (all but disappearing in public schools). Kids have their own personal supply of mobile devices and other gadgets; and private schools are under no mandate to supply.
      Their parents are usually well-educated, and have the financial resources to fork over pricey tuition. So, it’s no wonder there isn’t much said about them. I think the condemnation of the entire U.S. public school system is hyperbole. We have problems, but fail to target them.
      That’s my view.

    • TheFrustratedTeacher (@tfteacher) 06. Jul, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

      Your question answers itself, once you realize which families populate private schools or affluent public schools.

      The only correlate of student success is the socioeconomic status of the parents. We’ve known it fo 60 years, since Coleman, and ever since then folks have been trying to diminish the fact that 60% of factors affecting student achievement come from outside of school. That’s the low number; some argue that out of school factors make up 90% of factors affecting performance.

      Poverty is the problem. All the rest is screwing around the margins.

  11. Hugh 06. Jul, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Great piece, John. This is the only really important story in education: we have two camps in the eduwars and both are wrong. This is truly tragic. We could easily lose another decade to “reform” efforts. And that might be the last one we have.

    There is only one solution that will work: transform teachers into creative professionals. Teachers are currently factory workers who work in rigid unforgiving systems and are not given the tools they need to succeed. Meanwhile, the outside world has developed a full set of the tools needed to transform teachers into creative professionals and schools into centers of 21st century success. These tools include collaboration formats, social and emotional skills, human potential management concepts, analytical tools, virality concepts, new forms of problem solving and, of course, enlightened technology.

    Where these tools have been used, they transform schools. They set up a win-win-win scenario that the unions can get behind and that can work well with today’s reduced budgets. These tools have induced forward-looking school districts to change their core culture and, in turn, improve the tools. This is the real action: a viral movement to replace the Pony Express with true 21st century innovation.

    Yet our leaders seem completely unaware that these tools exist and can be used for reform. Thus we are left with two failing camps: “excuses” and “faster Pony Express.” And our top leaders are in Aspen discussing solutions that won’t work.

    John, could there be a more compelling story to tell? This is an awareness problem first and foremost. Creating that awareness in the right minds could change the direction of school reform. Why not make this a focus of Learning Matters? If you or someone else with a megaphone doesn’t do this story soon, we will be left with schools that are Pony Express riders galloping around the deck of the Titanic as it sinks.

    • teachermomnj 07. Jul, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

      Hugh, I would shake your hand. Yes, and it is one of the points Ravitch has consistently made, we need to value educators as professionals like Finland and Japan. There is a Charter school, I know another charter school, but they have proven what can happen when TEACHERS run the show. The students are succeeding and have a lot more than rudimentary basic skills. Can’t tell you what their test scores look like, and frankly I don’t care, because like the flashy private schools, they are offering their student true education. There’s a video floating around on the web about what breeds motivation and innovation, and they discovered that the secret ingredient is AUTONOMY. PLEASE, treat me like thinking breathing professional. I do have a first class education. I do have the experience to have learned even better along the way. Many teachers are crying out tonight, “LET ME TEACH!!!” So let’s redesign teacher education programs and make them more consistent across the nation. Let’s treat them like professionals and compensate them like professionals. Let’s integrate curricula and technology and find a new normal for the next generation.

      • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:49 am #

        Amen to Hugh, a consistent and persistent supporter of positive change.

  12. Linda Johnson 06. Jul, 2011 at 6:42 pm #

    This is what I’d like to see:

    Public school vouchers for all children trapped in low-performing schools. These children need to enter the mainstream to see how the other half lives. Also, it sends a terrible message to minority children when they see themselves segregated.. Each suburban school should have to take a certain percentage of out-of-boundary students (5% of their total population?). The receiving school would receive enough money for each child to make it worthwhile.

    Subsidized housing. Every community in the United States (yes, even Beverly Hills) should have some low-income housing. These houses or (very) small apartment buildings should be spread throughout neighborhoods. This will afford poor children the opportunity to learn from mainstream society and to attend high-achieving schools.

    Private school scholarships paid for by individuals and corporations. Bill Gates and Eli Broad could do so much more if they just helped many students get into parochial, private and suburban schools. These children need to experience the greater society.

    Community centers in each urban area. These centers would provide services to children from the time of conception. The centers would provide prenatal care, infant care, parent education, preschool and enriching experiences. The goal would be to prevent the gap from developing in the earliest years.

    Professional status for teachers. Until teachers are treated as professionals and allowed autonomy, we will not be able to attract or retain talented people to K-12. I suggest higher salaries, autonomy (i.e. ability to run a school on their own) and improved working conditions. This will be difficult because of the cost but the federal government can start by sponsoring talented people for the most challenging schools by paying for their education and offering them magnet schools to run without interference from adminstrators and rich people.

    Very small schools in churches, museums or even large homes. Perhaps two teachers could meet each day with about twenty students. These children could do a lot of online learning and participate in many field experiences.

    Schools like Sidwell Friends for the very poorest of children. Each class would consist of fifteen students and two teachers. There would be lots of discussion, reading, writing, and projects. The cost would be prohibitive but perhaps the money could come from high-achieving schools where the kids would do well even with more students in each class.

    Whatever we do, it must be very different from what we envision at this time. Test-prep academies for black kids is a perfect example of “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

    • Sandra 06. Jul, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

      “Schools like Sidwell Friends for the very poorest of children. Each class would consist of fifteen students and two teachers. There would be lots of discussion, reading, writing, and projects. The cost would be prohibitive but perhaps the money could come from high-achieving schools where the kids would do well even with more students in each class.

      Whatever we do, it must be very different from what we envision at this time. Test-prep academies for black kids is a perfect example of ‘rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.’”

      Now this sounds like REFORM.

    • Liz Wisniewski 06. Jul, 2011 at 10:02 pm #

      Linda – Thank you for citing that many of the charters being put fourth as the answer for poor children provide an education that the elite would never consider for their own children. While wealthy politicians and education policy makers discuss the “wonders of schools like KIPP” they continue to send their children to schools that look worlds different that charter schools for poor children. I propose that all “reformers” put their children where their mouth is – if you are a supporter of KIPP, you should have your children being educated using the KIPP philosophy. Those who support TFA, should be insisting that every teacher in their children’s school be recruited from TFA. The hypocrisy of those who propose test prep academies for poor children but intellectual depth for their own children truly is sickening.

      • CarolineSF 06. Jul, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

        Don’t forget that the supporters of corporate education reform, led by Bill Gates, also call for larger class sizes. (That’s even though Bill Gates’ own private K-12 alma mater claims its alumni appreciate it most for its small class sizes.)

        So the reformers should be demanding those same larger classes for their own offspring. Oh, and less funding, too, since they’re forever applauding charters for supposedly “doing more with less.”

        • Joe Beckmann 07. Jul, 2011 at 11:50 am #

          Maria Montessori had a class of 72 diagnosed disabled kids. Class size is merely a matter of organization, not of substance, and she organized her classes into three year “loops” with 3rd graders learning responsibility by helping 1st graders and 2nd graders observing for their new responsibilities for the next year.

          Carping about shibboleths like class size only defer, delay and ignore the need to organize, to scaffold both curriculum and the activities it involves. It also, to the real disadvantage of kids themselves, ignores the shared responsibility that a real learning laboratory – a school – can provide. Sure, it’s nice to have small classes, but it is also nice to have some large ones. And all teachers do not teach equally well for all size classes. And all students do not “receive that learning” unfiltered by other kids and events. Get real: move to more substantive strategies than class size.

          • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:51 am #

            Small classes–that’s another one of our silver bullets. We are addicted to that false promise, and until we cure ourselves of the fantasy that ‘the solution is just around the corner,’ we are not going to make significant progress

    • TheFrustratedTeacher (@tfteacher) 06. Jul, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

      Or you could vote for policies and officials that don’t separate the halves.

  13. Helen Sadler 06. Jul, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    Hugh says: “There is only one solution that will work: transform teachers into creative professionals. Teachers are currently factory workers who work in rigid unforgiving systems and are not given the tools they need to succeed. Meanwhile, the outside world has developed a full set of the tools needed to transform teachers into creative professionals and schools into centers of 21st century success. These tools include collaboration formats, social and emotional skills, human potential management concepts, analytical tools, virality concepts, new forms of problem solving and, of course, enlightened technology. ”

    I agree letting us be the creative professionals we are will work far better than a “faster horse.” Everything we need is available now and most of the teachers are know are including these tools in their everyday teaching. The real issue is about what is being assessed, and the perception of the outside world that these tests measure student education or (everyone’s favorite word) “achievement” when they do no such thing. They are fine at what they measure, but what they measure is a very small window in the large picture of curriculum and instruction.

    • Hockey Mom 07. Jul, 2011 at 4:46 am #

      And in what way do unions support the idea of “creative professionals”? Right now teachers are given pay based almost solely upon years of experience and whether they get an extra educational credential. Meanwhile, it hasn’t been shown that getting a Masters appreciably improves teaching. I think any motivated, “professional” person would run away from a career like that. I wouldn’t want to be paid the same as everyone else no matter how much (or little) I do.

      Curriculum matters too. You can have awesome teachers but if you have lousy content that they HAVE to teach, they’re not going to be effective.

  14. James Harvey 06. Jul, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    Brooks says: “The places where the corrosive testing incentives have had their worst effect are not in the schools associated with the reformers.”

    Really? A plausible argument can be made that precisely the reverse is true.

    First, we have fairly compelling evidence from an investigation by USA Today that Michelle Rhee’s administration cooked the books in Washington, DC to overstate school improvement. In one high school celebrated for achievement improvement, the likelihood of so many assessment erasures turning incorrect responses in into correct answers approached the likelihood of winning the DC Lottery, according to on observer.

    Just today we learn that cheating seemed to characterize 80% of the assessment results in Atlanta schools.

    Results in two districts don’t indicate everyone is cheating, but these are places associated with the new “reformers” and the testing incentives in both seem have been corrosive.

  15. Beth 06. Jul, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    “On what to do next . . . on how to proceed positively.”

    Mr. Merrow, thank you for your invitation to share ideas on what to do next and how to proceed positively. Humbly, I believe I have a way to move forward. It’s opusomni.com.

    The problem is so much bigger than K-12 education in the U.S. All of the competency-based professions in the U.S. are experiencing a paradigm shift or a self-described “crisis” in their professions regarding how they train, and maintain, (and continually assess) competent performance of their members.

    . . . novel assessment methods, outcomes-based continuous improvement, movement of teachers along the continuum of an emerging “profession”, interoperability with other education tools/methods, evidence-based scientific research in education, and so much more are what the opusomni ecosystem is all about.

    And, I have bandwidth. I have awakened patients from comas and taught them how to drive again. I had the privilege of helping some of the best and brightest minds in our country, MD and PhD candidates, at one of our finest private universities learn the competency skills and ethical behaviors to become clinical and translational research scientists. And, I have had the utter joy of treating children with disabilities in some of the most disadvantaged inner city public schools in “the most dangerous city in America,” St. Louis, MO (according to the FBI’s most recent report). I met children eager to learn. I met principals and teachers with open minds, eager to learn and committed to finding a way to proceed positively.

    Best regards,
    Beth

    • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:54 am #

      Readers, she’s given us a place to look for ideas….that’s the endgame, after all.

  16. KatieO 07. Jul, 2011 at 1:50 am #

    I disagree that an entire re-vamping of American education is necessary. As some commenters have posted above, “the reformers” are not complaining about the state of education in our affluent suburbs or stellar private schools like Sidwell. I wish that charter schools were the answer, but unfortunately they are not actually performing miracles even with “superhuman effort”. (See http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/the-offensively-defensive-ideology-of-charter-schooling/) (And by the way, I worked in a public school and we worked OUT BUTTS OFF! Superhumanly, you could say…)

    Teachers are very clear about what could actually make a difference (although not necessarily eradicate the achievement gap) and none of them are the current reforms du jour. The organizers of an upcoming march on Washington talk about four guiding principles including “equitable funding for all public school communities” and “an end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation”. (See http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/about/guiding-principles/). Diane Ravitch will be there :)

    Diane Ravitch is not against testing. She worked for years with NAEP, for goodness sakes. All she is opposed to is tying in high-stakes to the test (i.e. punishing schools, firing staff, teacher evaluations, ultimately closing schools, etc.). The tests are designed to be diagnostic tools. The current NCLB legislation punishes schools that are struggling instead of giving them EXTRA help, which is what they need. What we need is equal funding, we need an experienced well-trained teaching force (TFA is NOT the answer http://www.scribd.com/doc/36149330/PB-TeachAmerica-Heilig#archive http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/the-offensively-defensive-ideology-of-charter-schooling/), and we need rich curriculum with full resources!

    I don’t fully understand the current pushback which demonizes anyone who acknowledges that poverty is a problem. It IS a real barrier to learning. The data is clear (although as any bell curve, we are talking averages here, any one individual can fall anywhere on the curve–See “Class and Schools” by Richard Rothstein. This phenomenon contributes to the outlier “miracle” schools. They are skimming off the higher achievers.)

    Teachers support Diane Ravitch because she is one of the few voices who actually seems to “get it”. I became a teacher later in my career so I understand partially where all these “non-educators” are coming from. Before I worked in the schools, I too thought charters were a great idea and even considered applying for TFA. But now that I see what the real barriers are, and I KNOW more about what reforms are needed. The fundamental problem is NOT our teaching force. “Reformers” need to stop punishing people who have dedicated their lives to helping kids. Listen to the teachers! Listen to the principals! Listen to the unions who speak for us and are staffed by us! And most of all, listen to Diane Ravitch.

  17. Krista 07. Jul, 2011 at 3:11 am #

    First, I find it ironic that the “leaders” of public education reform, with the exception of Winfrey and Kline, are not all products of the public school system and all have not sent their children to public school, but to private schools.

    As I read the posts on this blog, I get the impression many posters seem to come from urban areas and little has been said about the impact that charter schools or school reform would have on the rural school district. A voucher system in a rural area would give way to several potential disasters, the least of which would include raising taxes, transportation issues, meeting the needs of the special education/special needs student population, budgeting, class sizes, teacher job security, and the alignment of curriculums, are just the first issues I can think of that would be major issues for our schools.

    Is reforming our schools so important that we’re willing to experiment with our children’s education to this extent?

    I believe that change will happen with more local control and less federal government involvement in our schools. I believe that the unfunded mandates, such as NCLB, are causing our local districts to waste precious funds on standardized testing that could be used towards better programs, the arts and humanities, etc., so that all students can fail to meet the goal of 100% proficiency in math and reading by 2014. It simply cannot happen and is truly a “self-induced crisis”.

    Allowing more local control, more autonomy for the teachers, better tools to measure students’ progress/success, and less shame/blame of the standardized test system is a start to a better public school system. As we look at reforming schools, we should first look at how we fund education and begin our reform there.

    • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:56 am #

      I think the places to start are these: a dialogue about what we want for children (not just for our own) and a search for models that are working, with incentives for imitation..

  18. Joe Beckmann 07. Jul, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    In Massachusetts, “education reform” preceded NCLB by nearly a decade. Mandating testing it also mandated portfolios, at least in part as an alternative to tests for those who needed evidence of their learning. After 40 years of schools, universities, politics, and social action, I had the honor of joining a School Council. Every school, again by Massachusetts law, has such a council, and ours consisted of nearly 40 people – kids, parents, teachers, and those like me, community. About 2 years ago, the Council thought to convert those portfolios to electronic form, and urged the system to investigate the option.

    There was some discussion within the system, and a parent – who was also at Harvard Ed – more or less encountered a Ford Foundation planning grant to support projects like this. She did, and the portfolios have now had two rounds of pilot and demonstration. Kids identify their own best products, and promote them, and reflect on them using the same “soft skills” developed by the US Department of Labor in the 1990′s to define Necessary Skills (SCANS, described here http://wdr.doleta.gov/SCANS/whatwork/). None of that is new – self assessment, portfolio assessment, and necessary skills – yet putting those together has been a remarkable achievement. It’s remarkable both because (1) the idea started in the school itself, and (2) the resources to accomplish change were all already there.

    Next year all kids will do electronic portfolios, just as they take standardized tests. The presumption that one or the other is an exclusively good thing is absurd. Yet the resources to make both more productive for many different outcomes, ah, those resources already exist if you just look around a little.

    And this was not a rich, surburban school where they all go on to Ivy League. Nor was it the bottom of any barrel. It was merely good, well intentioned parents, students, teachers and others working to align their values and show off their best products. Keep it simple. Stop with the solutions. Listen, look, and build on what is there.

    • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:56 am #

      More food for thought for readers, more good ideas. Amen, and thanks

  19. Paul Muench 07. Jul, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    What to do about the education wars? Shift the politics by paying more attention to authors like Dan Willingham. Spend more time reading books than blogs or editorial pages.

  20. school social worker 07. Jul, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    A huge point that is missing from this blog post is the different rules that charter schools get to play by:

    Many charter schools require families to apply for a lottery six or more months before the school year begins. This in and of itself weeds out parents who for a variety of reasons don’t prioritize their child’s education. We have parents signing up their kids at my public school days after the school year has started. Guess what? These are often times the same students who bring with them a host of problems.

    Charter schools can kick out students who have behavior problems. Every year we get students who come from charter schools and bring with them severe behaviors all year long. We have to accept these students because they are in our boundary and we we have to accept them no matter how full the class is. Charters don’t.

    Public schools can’t mandate Saturday school or parental volunteering, charters can.

    Charter schools don’t have develop full-time ED programs or other programs for severely disabled students. Public schools have to. Statistically, charter schools educate less special education students than public schools- this is a problem.

    So charter schools are not innovative experiments that are working miracles along side public schools that have been struggling as the pony express after hundreds of years. Charter schools have never been required to carry the same burdens as public schools.

    • Richard Munro 12. Jul, 2011 at 12:34 am #

      good points. This above writer knows what he is talking about. Wither Charter Schools? I do not know. But the truth is among them are the good, the bad and the ugly the very ugly. Diane Ravitch has documented that they are , on average no better than public schools and in fact many are far worse with little accountibility.

  21. Peter 07. Jul, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    John,

    I wrote the below to the New York Times for potential publication in their Sunday issue, which will highlight the Brooks vs. Ravitch debate. I hope you enjoy.

    ———-

    John Merrow, the respected reporter and producer of education pieces for the PBS Newshour and other documentaries, recently “speculated [as he put it] about the most influential person in American education.”
    At the top of his list of influentials: Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America; Education Secretary Arne Duncan; former New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, the last at the very top “for his remarkable network of eleven protégés now influencing what happens in schools and classrooms around the nation,” and Big Bird.
    Forget the quibble that one of those four is not a person, and that three have never worked in a K-12 classroom.
    Forget that Klein, who made his name as the head of the antitrust division of the Justice Department and the lead prosecutor in United States v. Microsoft, now heads the new education division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., one of the world’s biggest media conglomerates, and making eight times what he was paid as chancellor of the New York City schools. He’s
    Forget that many of the claims of educational success that Klein made as chancellor, or were made on his behalf, turned out to be as inflated as his salary and bonuses from Murdoch.
    Yet even without those quibbles, the redoubtable Merrow has volunteered for a thankless assignment. On the list of possible influences, how about Bill and Melinda Gates or Eli Broad and the foundations they created with their billions? What about former Washington superintendent Michelle Rhee, who was at least as determined to beat up on teacher unions as Klein?
    Merrow acknowledges that he’s gotten some heat about his choices and has invited his friends and the readers of his website to suggest other names. http://takingnote.learningmatters.tv/?p=5156.
    But I’d bet dinner at the fanciest eatery in the lower 48 that a decade from now, maybe less, the Merrow candidates – all but maybe Big Bird — won’t even make it in a trivia contest in American Teacher magazine.
    How many of us can name, much less agree on, the most influential people in education in 2001 or 1991? George W. Bush, anyone? Rod Page, Bill Bennett, Checker Finn? Lamar Alexander? Richard Riley? Arthur Levine? Linda Darling Hammond? Paul Vallas?
    Or for that matter, name anyone in all of U.S. history, other than maybe Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann or John Dewey, who was a great national influence. Parson Weems? Milton Friedman maybe? Ellwood Cubberley? Robert Hutchins? Mark Hopkins?
    The question is impossible to address because American education policy and practice are ever-mutable, and because Americans are hopelessly ambivalent and often totally confused about what they want from their schools. Do we want a meritocracy with tough, unforgiving standards, or a democracy with endless second chances?
    Do we want schools to prepare students to be effective economic competitors and reliable workers for employers or to socialize kids and make them happy, well-adjusted individuals? Should they all be academically prepared for college? How sure are we that we want our kids to be intellectually engaged rather than popular with their peers?
    What about daily prayers and Bible reading? In a democracy, when a majority of local voters want creation science to be taught, should their will prevail? What about the teaching of contraception in sex-ed classes? Should community wishes or professional judgment prevail in the choice – and exclusion – of library books?
    Unlike most of the other places that we purport to envy for their academically successful education systems – currently Finland, Shanghai and Korea — we don’t have, or apparently even want, a single system, not a unified national system anyway.
    Even the object of our envy changes. A half century ago it was the Soviet Union; in the early 1980s, it was Germany and Japan. In culture like ours how could any individual voice, set of ideas or practices remain dominant or widely influential for any length of time?
    The hottest thing of a decade ago, No Child Left Behind, set goals from day one that a lot of people knew were impossible to achieve. Now we are only trying to figure out how we can gracefully abandon them. It’s a little like Afghanistan.

    • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:58 am #

      For those of you who don’t recognize the name, Peter Schrag is a seasoned and thoughtful veteran reporter who for many years covered education for the Sacramento Bee.

      • Richard Munro 12. Jul, 2011 at 12:15 am #

        Yes, I recognize his name. I follow the education news of the Bakersfield Californian, the Sacramento Bee and the LA Times.

    • Richard Munro 12. Jul, 2011 at 12:32 am #

      Peter is exactly right that we have, in fact, no national curriculum just as we have no single established church or religion. Educaton k-12 has one dash private another few dashes of private (religious) schools) but the rest is an amorphus confederacy with 50 certifiying boards (by state) and thousands of individual and autonomous school districts. It is possible that this system is no longer workable and gradually we are going to have to “nationalize” schools and put them under the administration of, for example, the DOD or the Department of Education. The emergency is that great that we might have to return to the actions taken in the 1930′s when some local schools WERE Federalized during the New Deal. I believe in freedom of choice and I have in fact tutored many home schooled students in my long tenure as a classroom teacher. Here, in Bakersfield, CA most home schooling is done k-8. Most home schoolers then transfer to public high schools where there are sports and a broader curriculum. We have a few private high schools (one Roman Catholic and one “Christian” i.e. Evangelcal protestant). There are some “Charter ” schools but these are mostly remedial or religious schools. I know there is a Turkish Academy in LA and others like it but for different ethnic and linguistic groups.

      Peter Schrag said “the question is impossible to address because American education policy and practice are ever-mutable, and because Americans are hopelessly ambivalent and often totally confused about what they want from their schools.

      HE IS EXACTLY RIGHT HERE.
      Do we want a meritocracy with tough, unforgiving standards, or a democracy with endless second chances?

      ENDLESS SECOND CHANCES may be coming to an end due to economic restraints.

      Do we want schools to prepare students to be effective economic competitors and reliable workers for employers or to socialize kids and make them happy, well-adjusted individuals?

      PUBLIC SCHOOLS NEED TO HELP STUDENTS BECOME SUCCESSFUL AND PRODUCTIVE CITIZENS OF THE USA. IF THEY STOP DOING THIS THEY LOSE THEIR PRIMARY raison e’etre.

      Should they all be academically prepared for college?

      EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE A CHANCE but some are not ready at age 14, 15, or 16. But that is what Junior Colleges are for and Adult Schools. As long as we have schools like this there are second chances.

      How sure are we that we want our kids to be intellectually engaged rather than popular with their peers?

      IF SCHOOLS DO NOT ENGAGE THEIR STUDENTS INTELLECTUALLY THEY WILL HAVE LOST THEIR PRIMARY PURPOSE.

      What about daily prayers and Bible reading?
      OF COURSE THE JOKE IN BAKERSFIELD IS THAT THERE WILL ALWAYS BE PRAYER IN SCHOOL AS LONG AS THERE ARE ALGEBRA and CALCULUS EXAMS!. We have TWO BIBLE CLUBS at my school. (they are voluntary and student run). But I think the days of state sponsored Bible readings are gone forever. Communities will influence practice in local schools, however. We celebrate Easter and Christmas officially as holidays (not Spring and Winter break). That was a decision by the local school board -they could find no evidence of who changed the old calendar. All of a suddent we changed without publicity or without debate and without a vote. So our commnity asserted itself.

      ….In a democracy, PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE VERY IMPORANT for the survival and success of our free society (our democracy, our republic using these words synonymously).

  22. Truman 07. Jul, 2011 at 6:32 pm #

    Our basic educational structure is still sound for agrarian and urban students. Instruction now adds computers and other technology to the mix, brain and learning style research, massive amounts of standardized testing, and year-round and other school calendar modifications, but a teacher with a classroom of curious students who have supportive parents to meet students’ basic needs is a sound model that does not need replacement.

    Factors OUTSIDE the school account for 60% or more of student outcomes according to various researchers. A dwindling middle class with parents working multiple jobs and still unable to make ends meet has even more impact on teacher and student success than what’s occurring inside the school.

    Federal and state governments and corporate moguls have RE-reformed schools constantly since the early 1980′s while often undermining families and student success with policies that
    increase the number of families in poverty. Now corporations want to take over management of schools. If what they’ve done to our middle class and economy is any indication of their success rate, no thank you.

    When families can afford to pay at least as much attention to their school and their children as they do to survival, teachers, students, schools and our society will all become more successful.

  23. Lacey 07. Jul, 2011 at 7:21 pm #

    Mr. Merrow,

    I’d like to know what are some examples of the schools that you consider truly transformed and why do you consider them as such.

    Thanks,
    Lacey

    • john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 7:59 am #

      Read through the previous posts for some thoughtful suggestions. May I also respectfully suggest you take a look at my book, The Influence of Teachers, for other models?

      • Richard Munro 12. Jul, 2011 at 12:13 am #

        I read your book last weekend and was impressed. There is a lot of good in it though it tilts toward the East and Big City schools. But I learned a lot from it and will write a more detailed review once summer school end July 16. I think it is very fair and I noticed no major errors. I would recommend this book highly. Certainly a person of your long experience has a lot to tell us. You also document much of what you have seen and that is important. I though your analysis of the true gaps in our schools is full of insight. Teaching is a better job when principals have the authority to hire their teachers; of course this is something that we have had for many years in the Kern HS District (the largest HS district in California with over 35,000 students including the Adult School).

    • Richard Munro 12. Jul, 2011 at 12:14 am #

      If you read THE INFLUENCE OF TEACHERS he talks about some of those schools.

  24. Nona Smith 07. Jul, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    John Merrow,

    Quite some time ago you and I had a brief exchange on “Learning In America: Schools That Work”. As one of the investigative reporters for that PBS documentary, your responses to the subject of discussion above is very disappointing.

  25. john merrow 08. Jul, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    I am trying….
    I am also on vacation in Ireland, and I try to stay away from this machine as much as I can…

    • Richard Munro 12. Jul, 2011 at 12:07 am #

      Enjoy the Auld Sod; it still is the Emerald Isle; My father’s mother was born in Argyll but her people were from Glenties (Donegal). They were joad-flittin hairst laddies and lassies (that means migrant farm workers chiefly Irish in 19th century Argyll).

  26. CarolineSF 08. Jul, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    (Wanting to reply to a response of John’s, but for some reason it doesn’t have a reply button.)

    Regarding small class sizes: I’m not saying they’re a magic bullet that leads to miracles — nothing is. But there’s plenty of research showing they increase student success.

    A little respect for the wealthy here: Small classes are a top priority for high-end private schools that serve the very privileged. They significantly increase the cost of private schooling. The wealthy tend to be pretty clear about spending their money effectively; if small classes were a waste of money, they would not be emphasized as a primary benefit in those elite private schools.

  27. Richard Munro 12. Jul, 2011 at 12:03 am #

    Education is is the foundation for a free society and a prosperous society. In successful societies teachers are honored and cherished not made scapegoats for the failures of families and society.

    I think there is a very real probability that America will be wiped out as a major industrial and financial power within my lifetime. I went to buy a Cross pen for a gradution gift and every model and every replacement cartridge was made in China. There were a few pencils made in America but almost every pen and marker was made in China, Taiwan or Japan plus a few made in France. Unbelievable. It is the same with shoes , shirts and pants. We may be on our way to becoming a giant plantation , mining and ranching Argentina for Asia (China and India). If we allow our industrial infrastructure to be completely wiped out it may never recover.

    How can we remain a great nation if we do not product furniture, wood products, shoes, computer chips, steel, plastics, machine tools, engines, bolts, nails, screws. Millions of Americans have lost their relatively high paying jobs in industry (4 millon? 6 million) and about 8 or 9 or 10 million of these jobs have permantely moved to China. Most will never go back to work for higher than $11 an hour and will remain chronically underemployed. I see families where the father is working 60 hours a week at two low paying jobs (no benefits) the wife is working as an adult aide in the schools (with medical benefits) and the 70 year old grandmother moverd back with her son and is working as waitress at Denny’s to help pay their mortgage. It is not likely that any of their children will go to collge; they are considering enlisting in the military. Of course the lower salaries and high unemployment mean that the states are short of income tax receipts and so cut back on the ONE PRODUCTIVE ENTERPRISE they have which is State Colleges and local Junior Colleges. To raise money they bring more foreign students (especially from China) who then will take their skills and expertise back to China. As more and more highly trained people return to China and all the production is there more more of the Research and Development will take place there as well.

    As Diane says “The charter concept is a promising one, but only if the charters commit to helping the kids who can’t make it in regular public schools.”

    I am a public school teacher. Of course, every year I have some wonderful students who have the ability and the desire to learn and progress. But to tell you the truth at best we are talking about 10-25% of the students. At least 50% or more of high school aged students are indifferent really to education. Their entire lives-including at school- has to do with their love affairs and social life. They are constantly plugged in to their ipods and iphones. Cheating is rampant but not as common as you might think mostly because the students don’t care enough to cheat.

    All the teachers I know at my school are highly qualified and work very hard.

    I haven’t met a teacher yet who does not love his or her subject material.

    We have (Bakersfield, California) the best texts and support materials money can buy. But most of our students are not ready for high school. Most of my students are not native English speakers. Drug use, alcohol use, truancy and teenage pregnancy are common. We have random K9 patrols to keep drugs, guns and explosives off campus.

    And our school is safe and clean. It is not the lowest performing school; it is somewhere in the middle and has brought its scores up to to 660’s and may hit 700 this year. . There are bright spots. But those bright spots really are dominated by a small AP elite. The fall off to so-called “college prep” classes is enormous. We have a considerable number of Special Ed students. In the small town where I live support for public schools is very strong as is support for the local sports programs. We also have a very strong JNROTIC program at our school.

    Schools like ours produce the majority of enlisted personnel to our US military. I was recently at San Diego State’s graduating ceremony; they commissioned 54 officers in the US Navy, Marines, Army and Air Force. Quick question: how many ROTC candidate have Harvard Princeton and Columbia combined produced since 1969? The answer is zero or almost zero though I know Columbia has, in a minor way restared its ROTC program. NYU shares its small program with Fordam and a couple of other schools (Fordam to its credit has never abandoned its ROTC programs). I don’t have the exact figures –I was told that San Diego State used to average over 100 ROTIC candidate a year but it is reasonable to assume that in 40 years San Diego State has produced over 2000 officers for our military oompared to zero or almost zero for the schools mentioned.

    We have some charter schools in our county. Here they are mostly remedial classes for those far behind in their credits. They are not prestige programs as they have no athletics or clubs. They are mostly for students who are working part time or have had an out of wedlock child. From what I have observed they are considerably lower in academic rigor as compared to the Adult School or general classes in the regular schools. Most of the teachers who teach in the Charter schools are full time public school teachers who teach at the non-union charter school or adult school for extra cash at a lower hourly wage than their day wage..

    The real concern of course is that the public schools will go the way of the Community Colleges where there are no good jobs for teachers. 70-80% of the Community College teachers are adjunct faculty who have no benefits, no retirement and who are paid just a fraction of what a full time professor is paid.

    There is fear than the school districts may eventually go the same way. When that happens public school teaching will no longer attract highly qualified individuals. Make no mistake the overwhelming majority of teachers in our school are highly qualified and may only teach in an area in which they are highly qualfied. Standards for k-12 teacher have risen markedly in the last 20 years. Tenure is not possible unless one has a clear credential; to get a clear credential one must pass, for example, a PRAXIS test in one’s subject area. A Praxis history or Spanish exam (i have graded both) is as difficult or more difficult than a corresponding AP exam. Both are administered by ETS.

    If charter schools become common place and the teaching profession is fragmented many highly qualified and experienced teachers will leave the profession or leave the state. I am a fully qualified translator and speak several languages fluently. If I so chose I could become a court translator or a medical translator quite easily. But I prefer working with kids and working in my academic subject area. Over the years I have tutored many hundreds of AP students in several subject areas.

    Any reformer who thinks there can be first rate schools and programs without the teachers is simply not aware of what it takes to have and sustain good programs. Ron Unz mentioned years ago that no modern nation has abandoned the ideal of universal free public education. Redently Diane Ravitch tweeted the same idea.

    In fact most nations have a more centralized federal or national program. Personally I think we need to have more vocational programs for students over the age of 14. The only way to improve high schools is to produce more selectivity. Of course the American way is to spend and spend and spend and give everyone equal opportunity. The WIlliams act (California state law) guarantees every child a book. Some students lose $400 worth of books a year and some owe over $1000. There is no way to get that money back under the current law for drop-outs. All we can do is withold transcripts and that is meaningless for drop outs. I think the day of reckoning will come and we will have to realize that we must husband our limited resources for the talented 10th or top 25% only. If High Schools are a privilege and selective I guarantee test scores will go up. The real question is what to do with the other students. We must have some alternative program on line.

    Perhaps, however, our overall level of culture and literacy will decline. Perhaps our class structure will become more stratified. But whatever policy we follow we have to remember new policies can help local schools or strangle them.

    When public schools are gone and when the era of comprehensive high schools in every town and neighborhood ends we may see the start of what might be the end of the America era. People criticize public schools but the majority of Americans love their public schools because they know they are the heart of their local community. I for one would never like to see community schooling wiped out.

    Perhaps there is a place for charter schools and for additional vocational schools. But we should have paths of academic rigor available for all students.

    Destroying the public school system and replacing it with a patchwork of charter schools would be like abolishing the Army, Navy, the Air Force and the Marines and their Reserves and replacing it with fragmented moth—like Popular Militia. Why have police forces? Just have vigilantes.

    You might think you are saving money but in the end you get what you pay for. Charter schools per se are no silver bullet though they may be paths to wealth for well-connected insiders like Wackford Squeers (his doppelganger is alive an well and hails from the City of Chicago schools system –one of the worst in North America.

    Yes, people like Bill Gates should read their Dickens and learn about the golden age of private for profit education in Britain prior to 1944.

    If they did perhaps they would not have such enthusiasm for untried experiments like “small schools” and “universal charters.”.

    FOR THE NYT RE: John Merrow on David Brooks vs. Diane Ravitch

    MUNRO’S COMMENTARY:

    I have read and followed Diane Ravitch’s work for the past 35 years

    and know it as well as any classroom teacher. David Brooks seems to

    base his article on anti-Ravitch blogs and a superficial acquaintance

    with her books, interviews and articles. As a teacher I don’t think

    his piece is even credible; if anything it is vague and uncertain

    especially with regards to its terminology. Diane Ravitch is right to

    consider that Brooks has misrepresented her attitude towards reform,

    towards integrity in education and towards American schools.

    When put under enormous pressure to “succeed” at 100% of course

    schools to game the system by easing out kids who might bring the

    average scores down. This is happening all the time NOW. “Hold back

    low performing 9th graders and Voila your cohort of 10th graders is

    smarter!! Hide low performers in special alternative programs (but

    retain their ADA for the district). This happens even in well run

    districts. This happens in Charter Schools which always are

    self-selecting to some extent.

    Brooks said “In sum, Ravitch highlights a core tension. Teaching is

    humane. Testing is mechanistic”. I disagree with this unless he means

    “scantron testing or bubble tests.”

    The best testing are learning exercises and are NOT mechanistic but

    humane. They allow for failure. They are spoken, they are

    written,they include listening and open responses. The are review

    exercises to help us find our weak areas so we can improve.

    Brooks said “Ravitch thinks the solution is to get rid of the tests.

    But that way just leads to lethargy and perpetual mediocrity. The real

    answer is to keep the tests and the accountability but make sure every

    school has a clear sense of mission, an outstanding principal and an

    invigorating moral culture that hits you when you walk in the door. ”

    Once again Brooks article suffers from a lack of clarity of terms.

    This is just rhetoric. I don’t think he really knows what he is

    talking about. Of course “an invigorating moral culture” I prefer to

    say “paideia” can be detected almost immediately.

    Teachers know when there is a good administration. In my distrcit individual high schools have the right to hire individual teachers and give them special assignments. They have the right to fire individual teachers whom they hire who are not tentured or change their assignment. Rookie teachers or teachers with emergency credentials cannot be tenured. Administrators are not tenured and if they fail can be returned to the classroom. High peforming teachers are rewarded with additional assignments (summer school, clubs, mentoring, creating study guides).

    The kids know who are the good teachers and they know WHEN they are

    progressing and happy. When they are they show up.

    My attendance rate

    in Summer school: day after day 100% and rarely a tardy.

    And I know

    it is just the beginning of a long relationship. I teach many

    students four years in a row staring with LITERACY then WORLD HISTORY

    then US HISTORY then EL GOVERNMENT and ECONOMICS. I also tutor some

    in Spanish literature on the side though I do not teach he AP Spanish

    class at our school. I am the Academic Decathlon advisor.

    Brooks said “Most important, she is right that teaching is a humane

    art built upon loving relationships between teachers and students. If

    you orient the system exclusively around a series of multiple choice

    accountability assessments, you distort it.” I think it far worse

    than that you PERVERT IT!

    By tests, I presume Brooks means MC Scantron Type test. Ravitch does

    not believe testing should be limited to bubble tests. Merrow, I know, having read his book THE INFLUENCE of TEACHERS is also opposed to overemphasis on “bubble tests.” This common ground we share with Deborah Meier , Ravitch, and Hirsch (and previously Gilbert Highet -read THE ART OF TEACHING).

    A real test can include definitions, essays, maps, terms. Or it could

    be a debate or an oral report. Ravitch says “tests should be used

    for information and diagnostics to improve teaching and learning, not

    to hand out bonuses, fire teachers and close schools.” Exactly so!

    AUTHENTIC LEARNING IS HUMANE and AUTHENTIC STANDARDS TESTING is NEVER

    more than 50% multiple choice (such as AP exams). Common Formative

    Assessments (especially in over crowded classrooms) lead to MORE

    CHEATING and FAKING (by students, teachers AND ADMINISTRATORS).

    Erasures MAY indicate cheating or they may not. I have had students

    with NO ERASURES but obviously they cheated to get 59 of 60 on a final

    exam. Significantly they showed no joy but fear at getting a score so much higher than the A or B students in the class!!!!

    But unless one has proof one cannot just disregard an exam.

    But no MC test should be worth so much; to me they are less important

    than homework and ORAL class participation in which a student

    DEMONSTRATES interest , curiosity and command of a topic.

    I have never opposed tests –I have always supported the CAHSEE

    (California Exit exams) in English and Math but I also fought tooth

    and nail to make it an UNTIMED TEST. I know from experience that

    excellent EL students are slower and more deliberate. One of my best

    and most diligent students of all time made VERY FEW MISTAKES but he

    had trouble finishing timed tests. As the CAHSEE is not timed it is

    fair for all students even non native speakers of English.

    There is no problem giving a common assessment for every section of a

    class each quarter and semester; but it should be up to the classroom

    teacher how much to count these tests.

    I am teaching EL students and I insist on grading them primarily on

    the special tests and assignments I give them.

    Giving them college prep tests they cannot read just humiliates them

    and defeats the purpose of a sheltered class.

    I want them to write.

    I want them to memorize definitions.

    I want them to ask questions.

    I want them to think and to

    analyze and learn from their mistakes.

    When all you get is a bubble test you don’t really know how

    good or how bad their written English (or Spanish etc. depending on the target language).

    Many of my students pass the CAHSEE and score 90% or more on READING

    COMPREHENSION (lower on conventions) and that is the crucial area. If

    they can pass the essay and have a READING COMPREHENSION OF 80% or

    more they are a sure thing to pass the CAHSEE in my estimation.

    But

    they don’t get that way rushing through readings and answering a few MC questions.

    They get that way

    reading slowly and carefully and re-reading and keeping glossaries for

    vocabulary and idioms (including phrasal verbs).

    Many of my students become EXPERT TRANSLATORS because I encourage

    translation and bilingual glossaries. One weakness many EL students

    have is in LITERARY TERMS (because there are fewer taught in the lower

    level).

    But students who take AP Spanish and AP Spanish literature have a very

    high graduation rate because their READING COMPREHENSION RATE and

    LITERARY TERMS are very HIGH often in the 90%.

    Reading literary Spanish or French or Latin as well as English WILL

    INCREASE YOUR ACADEMIC READING ABILITY.

    The key to academic success in

    any program is academic rigor.

    To get academic rigor you have to

    fight for it every day in every class every semester.

    Academic rigor

    begins with a highly qualified teacher in the classroom who creates an

    classroom environment in which the chief paideia is learning and

    self-improvement by all including the teacher.

    I often tell my

    student I have never stopped learning Spanish, English or history. I

    constantly look things up and double check definitions, dates and

    facts.

    Students need to learn the same habits of self-correction and

    revision.

    Ravitch says “Poverty has a strong influence on academic achievement,

    and our society must both improve schools and reduce poverty.”

    I agree with this. “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor it cannot save the few who are rich.” (JFK 1961).

    I have

    taught at risk immigrant students my entire career.

    The way to help

    them is to have special summer literacy classes as my school does six

    weeks a year.

    To have strong support at every level and tutoring by student mentors and

    core EL/ESL teachers.

    Students must be encouraged to mainstream into

    as many English medium classes as possible as soon as they are ready.

    They need special classes for writing and CAHSEE (exit exam) practice.

    But there is no magic bullet. Assimilation to an academic culture is

    a slow affair and is disrupted by the constant instability of the

    students home life which include constant moving and adding and

    dropping to programs and schools.

    Ravitch says “Top-performing nations like Finland and Japan have taken

    the time to build a strong public school system, one with a rich

    curriculum and well-educated, respected teachers. ”

    Finland and Japan are different from America but we still can learn

    from these systems which have in common a high level of

    professionalism, training and respect for teachers.

    If we disrupt our

    public school system and destabilize the teaching profession we will

    make our problems even worse.

    Judging a school merely by bubble

    testing is worse than foolish; it is idiotic.

    I know we succeed at my

    school even for those who do not graduate.

    Not graduating by 5 points

    on the CAHSEE and by 5 credits is not a failure. 99% of those students

    will graduate within a year and become productive citizens.

    But we should not be afraid to make hard choices to de-certify

    non-functional schools and to expel recalcitrant and incorrigible

    students from academic programs so as to protect the learning process

    and those students who are willing as well as protect our teachers one

    of our most valuable resources.

    Students who are unwilling or unable to perform should be put in

    alternative technical and vocation programs for whatever period is

    required. Those who do well can return to regular classes , the adult

    school or community college later.

    If student wants to be

    home-schooled more power to them; but their academic success should be

    documented, tested and regulated.

    Diane Ravitch says:”Our desire for fast solutions gets in the way of

    the long-term thinking and the carefully designed changes that are

    needed to truly transform our schools” We should listen to experts

    like Diane Ravitch who knows k-12 education, knows teachers and who

    cares about kids and standards.

    I would hesitate to turn reform over

    to inexperienced amateur and those whose motivation is only profit not the public good.

    No successful modern nation can exist

    without universal free public education.

    Let us never forget that truth.

  28. Richard Munro 12. Jul, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    Education is is the foundation for a free society and a prosperous society. In successful societies teachers are honored and cherished not made scapegoats for the failures of families and society.

    I think there is a very real probability that America will be wiped out as a major industrial and financial power within my lifetime. I went to buy a Cross pen for a gradution gift and every model and every replacement cartridge was made in China. There were a few pencils made in America but almost every pen and marker was made in China, Taiwan or Japan plus a few made in France. Unbelievable. It is the same with shoes , shirts and pants. We may be on our way to becoming a giant plantation , mining and ranching Argentina for Asia (China and India). If we allow our industrial infrastructure to be completely wiped out it may never recover.

    How can we remain a great nation if we do not product furniture, wood products, shoes, computer chips, steel, plastics, machine tools, engines, bolts, nails, screws. Millions of Americans have lost their relatively high paying jobs in industry (4 millon? 6 million) and about 8 or 9 or 10 million of these jobs have permantely moved to China. Most will never go back to work for higher than $11 an hour and will remain chronically underemployed. I see families where the father is working 60 hours a week at two low paying jobs (no benefits) the wife is working as an adult aide in the schools (with medical benefits) and the 70 year old grandmother moverd back with her son and is working as waitress at Denny’s to help pay their mortgage. It is not likely that any of their children will go to collge; they are considering enlisting in the military. Of course the lower salaries and high unemployment mean that the states are short of income tax receipts and so cut back on the ONE PRODUCTIVE ENTERPRISE they have which is State Colleges and local Junior Colleges. To raise money they bring more foreign students (especially from China) who then will take their skills and expertise back to China. As more and more highly trained people return to China and all the production is there more more of the Research and Development will take place there as well.

    As Diane says “The charter concept is a promising one, but only if the charters commit to helping the kids who can’t make it in regular public schools.”

    I am a public school teacher. Of course, every year I have some wonderful students who have the ability and the desire to learn and progress. But to tell you the truth at best we are talking about 10-25% of the students. At least 50% or more of high school aged students are indifferent really to education. Their entire lives-including at school- has to do with their love affairs and social life. They are constantly plugged in to their ipods and iphones. Cheating is rampant but not as common as you might think mostly because the students don’t care enough to cheat.

  29. Jon Madian 22. Jul, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    A quality approach to education–creating a vision of quality based on developing “smart” learning communities, reforming curriculum so it is built on inspiring ideas and projects, applying the sciences of child development and management would all take us a long ways toward education reform. Digital technology provides the NEW “pony express” for R&D in education; it enables us to respond to diversity in ways never imagined. It enables us to design for continuous improvement.

    We need to align our learning sciences w/our technology to form stronger, quality oriented learning communities–both face-to-face and virtual. Ultimately the need and opportunity are so great, we must engage at an unprecedented level in envisioning our possible educational future by creating a deeply humane learning culture that joins computer sciences to learning sciences.

    R&D that integrates curriculum design and assessment in ways that inspire rather than limit human development and learning will be at the heart of such an effort. Ultimately the creation is our inspiration. We need to develop a curriculum and assessment process that deepens engagement in the beauty of our world and the wonders our culture has come to understand by applying all our capacities for observing, organizing, knowing, creating and communicating.

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