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Summer Reading


Dear Diane,

One nice thing about writing you regularly has been that it sharpens my daily reading! Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been reading about lately that seem critical to future educational policy, in no particular order of important.

What does it mean that so many policy makers seem content to have teachers who only teach for 3-5 years, not to mention those who accept it as inevitable?

How important is it to really figure out whether the alarmist talk about the connection between America’s economic future and schooling is true or false? Myth or reality?

Connected to that: what about the data that suggests that if one just compared those above the poverty line, the US system comes in near the top every time? The trouble is we have more poor—and less social mobility. If that were true, what would be the policy implications?

How many white Americans accept the gap between rich/poor and white/black as “natural"—a la Charles Murray of The Bell Curve? To what extent do folks think the gap reflects the natural talents of different subgroups of Americans? In short: How alive and well is racism?

Does society as a whole have an obligation to assure that spending for those with fewer advantages should make up for what more advantaged families spend on their children’s afterschool, weekend, or summer educational experiences? (Not to mention inequalities in their health?)

Is support for democratic habits, values and assumptions an essential priority for our public education system, and if so does it rank higher or lower than “academics,” or job preparedness?

If it’s true that we can’t be experts on everything, does that have implications for how we run a democratic society—and an educational system? When should nonexperts have a voice in making decisions versus when should it be “left to the experts?” And even if we “left it to experts”—who classifies as an expert? Teachers? Parents? Kids?

Plus plus plus: the role of play in human development (see InDefenseofChildhood.org)? Should all educational research be designed like medical research? What are the boundaries between public vs private schooling and how far have we breached them?What other kind of data, besides test scores, could serve us well?

To quote Lawrence A. Cremin, writing 30 years ago, and republished by Teachers College Record’s Special Issue, July 2007, in discussing the connection between democracy and schooling,: “How do we achieve the educational balance between individualism and community….? I have a very simple starting point, to which I think there is no alternative. We talk.”` What’s missing is that “great public dialogue about education,” he argued. In a small way, Diane, that’s why I enjoy writing you regularly.

Meanwhile, tomorrow, I’m trying to figure out how to weigh in on the current Congressional debate over NCLB—including it’s name. When we resume our conversation in the fall, Diane, maybe we’ll be a few steps toward a saner policy? Probably not, but maybe. So now is the time for readers to weigh in.

And,, readers, over the summer, if you haven’t read everything written by Diane and me—do it! Try Cremin also. And look for Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker , and, on another subject altogether, my cousin Judith Larner Lowry’s The Landscaping Ideas of Jays. Actually there’s a lot about landscaping that helps us think about schooling, including about being good observers, attentive to each individual species (child), and careful to attend to how one thing impacts upon another. Even gardening is a matter that benefits from a public dialogue.




You are incorrect about the performance level of our students when compared to other countries. In math and science, our well-off students do not compare favorably to those in other countries.

In 8th grade, the top 5% of our students perform about just about average when compared to students in Singapore(TIMSS data). That is to say that our best, brightest and most well-to-do students would be considered about average in math ability if they resided in Singapore. They would certainly not be considered exceptional.

While it may be comforting to you (as well as most of us) to assume that our problems are due to poverty/racism/etc... and not to poor teaching, this faulty assumption does our children a great disservice.

Why is it that Singapore, a country where almost 100% of the students are English Language Learners, is able to teach math better and faster than our teachers? Could it be that they know something better about teaching math?

By promoting the mistaken notion that all our education problems are rooted in and only due to poverty/race/etc..., you ignore the substantial improvements that we CAN make in our children's education and lives. Have you considered that perhaps real education solutions are found in the everyday struggles of teachers in distant countries and not the theoretical, ivory towers of the US educational establishment?

The US does not have a monopoly on poverty/racism/etc... Social problems are seen across the globe. But education has always been the great hope that these ills can be minimized. I would hope that you would promote ideas that would advance educational attainment and not dwell on the poverty canard.

Erin Johnson.

We disagree on "the facts". So we'll pursue this in September.
Reminder: I hardly ignore the important role schools can play. hat's what I've soent forty years demonstrating.
Best, Deborah

we have debated quite enough and seem to be ruminating on the same issues. why not take gardening as a focus and debate that? why we could "encourage nurturing behavior in children by introducing plants and flowers as a curriculum focus. we could then cover social skills, emotional skills, ecology, the environment, math and science, art and music, history and civics all eminating from our focus on gardening. i would be glad to share my pre-k through 6 curriculum with anyone interested in looking at such. it is called the "tools to grow " curriculum and i've been working on it since forever. it is really good and could even fit with joel klein and mayor bloomberg's ideas for education.

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