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Who Is Making the Decisions?


Dear Diane,

Thanks for the opener; the many ways in which those with no background in public education are shaping its future is truly astounding.

I'm sure many of our current “opponents” think democracy is served through privatization and market place incentives (read: money). Others would argue that you and I are making too fine a distinction between public and private. After all private publishers of textbooks and test makers (usually the same) have made loads of money off of public schooling.

I suspect we came to our work with a definition of public that’s different than mayors Bloomberg and Booker. The notion that we can leave it to the whims of individual parental choice—in marketplace fashion—is problematic. Or worse. Good parents are inclined to put their own children’s immediate interests first. I bent over backward when raising my own kids in NYC public schools, but I notice I’m inclined to use strings on behalf of my grandchildren. At what cost?

Who protects those who can’t pull strings or who can’t get into the increasing array of selective admissions schools?

The Senate passed the latest version of Title I (NCLB)—all thousand unread pages—without considering the side effects of their grandiose ideas. Conservatives used to criticize do-good liberals for this. The Mayor of NYC outdoes them by pronouncing equally major reforms—like placing hundreds of them under private management—in a few sketchy words. Who asks who is most hurt by the gutting of the intellectual, aesthetic and moral pursuits of K-12 schooling in the interest of test scores? Who “coulda/woulda” told them beforehand? Have you noticed that those who propose that we burn down the house and build a new one are not those whose children live in either? NYC no longer even has any school board as a check on absolute mayoral power. (If they could just cut the union down to size, they’d feel a lot freer.}

Despite widespread rhetoric requiring teachers to only use Federally approved “scientifically proven” reforms in their classroom, no one requires the Big (mostly) Boys from trying out their unproven ideas on other people’s children. Of course, I believe that “scientifically proven” methods of teaching is also one of those unproven ideas—a claim you and I might disagree about?

So, I’ve opened up a can of worms, Diane.

Best, Deborah


Prior to education reform public school teachers taught whatever they wanted (or didn't want), whenever they wanted to teach it. The educational establishment: school boards, administrators, teachers (I was one for 34 years), teacher unions, and schools of education were in charge of a pell-mell system of incomprehensible chaos with no formal plan or direction. That is precisely why a nonpartisan group of state legislators and business leaders had to take the reigns of our public schools by *default* as the New York Times stated in a September, 2005 editorial. If these *distant experts*, as you so disdainfully called the saviors of our public schools in your book "In Schools We Trust", had not stepped in a decade and a half ago, public schools would still be *graduating* youngsters who couldn't read beyond a third or fourth grade level or could not make change from a simple retail transaction.

FINALLY schools throughout the US have standards for mathematics and English/language arts, defining a common direction, a minimum amount of information each student is expected to know before they can earn their competency determination for graduation.


Your comments, Paul, intrigue me. That's why I love reading Rothstein's book--The Way Things Were. It's a reminder that our complaints about what kids don't know have been pretty consistent since Aristotle's time. Neither my own childre or I ever exprienced a school where techestaught whatever they wantede. Tell me more about where you taught for 34 years. Sometimes disagreements reflect different life experiences, so I'd love to know more about yours. Deborah Meier

p.s. When democracy isn't working well in other realms of life, would you advise wiser heads to take over "the reigns" and replace it? It's tempting, but,,,,,, It's also dangerous.


I have all the respect in the world for you and the work you have done in the inner-city schools you have run in New York and Boston. You are indeed a hero in the true sense of the word. In hindsight, I wish I had prefaced my initial comments (3/1) with my admiration for all your contributions. We simply appear to have different philosophies of education.

Please feel free to get my email address from EdWeek and I'd be honored to converse with you regarding the questions you've raised above. Not sure a public blog would be the appropriate venue.


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