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Reconsidering My Views


Dear Deb,

I hope we are not disappointing our readers by agreeing more than we disagree. I think I am letting down my part of the bargain by agreeing with you so often, but our areas of convergence became clear from the first time that we sat together almost a year ago to talk about our views about No Child Left Behind. The fact is that you are writing and saying the same things you have believed for a long time, and I am in the process of reconsidering and revising my views on many counts.

I have been doing quite a lot of soul-searching these past couple of years. I don’t think it is because of age, although one can never be too sure about that. I think I am reconsidering first principles because of the very topics that you hit so hard in your latest letter. Living in NYC, I see what happens when businessmen and lawyers take over a school system, attempt to demolish everything that existed before they got there, and mount a dazzling PR blitz to prove that they are successful.

Lest anyone think that what you described is purely a NYC story, consider this: I hear from various people who participated in the judging for the Broad Prize that NYC will win it this year. This is not much of a surprise. When Joel Klein was first named chancellor, Eli Broad held his annual prize event in NYC and handed Klein a huge dummy check and predicted that one day soon this would be his. The $1 million hardly matters to NYC, which has an annual budget that approaches $20 billion, but the prestige is what the city is after. It desperately wants the confirmation from Broad that its new regime has succeeded.

About 18 months ago, I was invited to meet Eli Broad in his gorgeous penthouse in NYC, overlooking Central Park. I hear that he made his billions in the insurance and real estate businesses. I am not sure when he became an education expert. We talked about school reform for an hour or more, and he told me that what was needed to fix the schools was not all that complicated: A tough manager surrounded by smart graduates of business schools and law schools. Accountability. Tight controls. Results. In fact, NYC is the perfect model of school reform from his point of view. Indeed, this version of school reform deserves the Broad Prize, a prize conferred by one billionaire on another.

Thanks for your recommendation about the James Scott book, "Seeing Like a State." I happen to own it, as it had been highly recommended to me by Morton Keller, a historian at Brandeis University. It is a wonderful critique of reforms that seek to overturn the world, of the arrogance of reformers who do not understand the practical wisdom of those who must make decisions every day that respond to unique situations.

As I read "Seeing Like a State," especially its concluding chapters, I kept thinking about the wholesale gutting of the NYC school system by Messrs. Bloomberg and Klein, who are now hailed in the media as our nation’s leading education reformers. Professor Scott, an anthropologist at Yale, would find in NYC a perfect exemplar of men who think they can “see like a state.”

Worse, Deb, they seem to have sought out even the cracks in the sidewalk and tried to pave them over. They seem to have succeeded.



Great points about Broad. He's got an easy answer for everything--the business model. Whe he sees a school, he thinks factory management and profit. To him, teachers are assembly line workers and the problem is mainly one of efficiency and easily measurable productivity. In a recent blog piece (Democracy Journal) he equates teacher empowerment and input on decision making to the workers running the factory. He says:

"To use a business analogy, this would be akin to saying that regardless of the top management at a company and the systems and tools in place in that organization, the line workers are the determining factor in whether the company turns a profit."

It's scary that guys like Broad have purchased real influence over public ed.


This is wonderful writing and gives me hope. We must work together to end this cult of micromanagerialism.

So when do we begin discussing genuine teacher and community empowerment?

We don't need MBAs running schools, but we do need accountability and consequences. When students are allowed to flunk their class and still move to the next grade level that hurts the students and the schools.

To improve schools we should have exits exams at every grade level and if a student is more than two grade levels behind, then they go to an alternative school. It is unfair to allow students to continue to the next grade level when they haven't succeeded at the current grade level.

Many students dropout when they get to high school. Why? In my opinion it is because they can't read or write and it finally catches up with them. In high school, if you flunk a class then you have to repeat that class. If we made students accountably earlier in their career, then more students would be successful in high school.

Also, blaming the teachers is not the solution. We could take the students from the highest performing schools and put them in the lowest performing schools and the high performing students would still succeed. We could take the students from the lowest performing schools and put them in the highest performing schools and they still would not succeed. Why? Because of lack of accountability, consequences, and parental involvement.

Last point, to improve our schools we need to be able to expel disruptive students. Either send them back to their parents or to social services, but do not allow them to stay in school and disrupt the education of all of the other students.

For those of you who say accountability and consequences do not work let me ask a question. Do you slow down and/or drive better and follow the rules when you see a cop? Why? Accountability and consequences work and without them our schools are doomed. MBAs, scholars, etc., will not be able to fix our schools without accountability and consequences for the students and parents.

Blaming the teachers is like blaming a doctor because his/her patient is fat. If a person won't eat right, doesn't get enough sleep, doesn't exercise is that the doctors fault?

If a student refuses to do his/her homework, disrupts class, doesn't get enough sleep, doesn't want to learn, and the parents don't emphasize education, then why is it the teacher/school's fault when that student can't read or write?


Are you concerned with the process and/or the educational model (accountability and “business like practices” will solve all ills) of the donations that wealthy businessmen are having on our school system?

While I hardly think that the “lets make education into a business organization” model will accomplish anything positive, I can hardly blame concerned citizens (wealthy or not) from trying to improve our schools. Clearly, our public schools as they now stand do not compare well with school systems in our peer nations and everybody should be concerned.

Given the fragmented nature of schools, the lack of clarity about what public schooling should accomplish and the implicit assumption by school administrators that money will solve all ills, our public schools are very vulnerable to the latest whim about school improvement.

As it stands now, we have no process/method of delineating what a public education should be.

So if not this educational model, what model?

Erin Johnson

1. Children drop out of school b/c they don't see any meaning in it for their lives.

2. There is not a single shred of evidence that other countries "outperform" American schools.

FACT: When disaggregated by class, our students perform first in the world.

That's not going to change until we do something about all of the other "gaps" in this country:

• The incarceration gap, where six times as many African Americans are behind bars compared to their white counterparts

• The homeowner gap, where 72.7% of white Americans own their homes compared to 48.2% of African Americans

• The healthcare gap, where 71.4% of white Americans are insured compared to 53.9% of African Americans

• The earnings gap, where white Americans average over $20,000 more a year than African Americans

• The poverty rate gap, where 8.7% of white Americans live at or below the poverty line while 24.7% of African Americans do so

• The unemployment gap, where 5.7% of white Americans are unemployed while 13.2% of African Americans are without work

• The happiness gap, where 72% of white youths say they are happy with life in general compared to 56% of their African American counterparts

• The murder gap, where 49% of murder victims in the United States are African Americans, who make up 13% of the population. African Americans are also more likely to be victims of sexual assault or rape than any other ethnic group save American Indians.

...schools that primarily serve these students will continue to "fail."

There is no evidence that deregulating public schools will do anything to help children grow and develop, though that is not what the captains of industry would have you think...

but its time we started thinking...think Enron, think HMOs...think about privatizing "failing" communities and turning "failing" families over to Big Business.

If you want a master narrative for education, then let's begin helping each child fully integrate her self in a complex and evolving world.

5 central questions to an education.

1. Who are you?
2. Where are you going?
3. How are you going to get there?
4. How can we (teachers, schools, communities) help?
5. Why should we?

I don't care if you are 6 or 106, these questions deserve answers, and once we have citizens who can answer all 5, we'll have a democracy worthy of sharing with others.

Until then, it will be tests, and bombs, and do as I say without question.

And that, my friends, is how you rant.

This response is directed to Phil. You bring up interesting statistics, but have you asked why the African Americans are incarcerated at such a high rate? Did they commit the crime or not? Why do so many people want to compare whites and blacks or whites and Latinos, but rarely compare blacks with Asians or blacks with Indians from India? I’ve had people tell me that African Americans are in jail, and not in the board rooms, because of racism. If so, then explain why those same racists are allowing Indians from India, who are darker than blacks in America, to make it to the top.

My experience in business has been that if you can make a company money then they will hire you. You can be green and from Mars, but if you have skills and can make money, then you will be in demand.

Educators always want to compare whites and blacks or whites and Latinos. Why? Why don’t educators compare Asians and blacks or Indians from India and blacks? Does it not fit the educators’ agenda? Would it take away the arguments of white privilege?

Would Phil have more explaining to do if he tried to compare the incarceration or unemployment of African Americans with Indians from India? Why is there such a disparity between those two ethnic groups?

I’ve heard the argument that the reason why “X” group isn’t succeeding is because they are poor and/or their parents are uneducated, etc. How do some immigrants who come to the United States with no job, no English skills, little money, and very little education succeed?

I think we should be asking why some groups and/or individuals are succeeding and why some groups are not. How do we encourage the groups who are not succeeding to develop the behavior that will help them succeed? (Giving handouts and not holding them accountable only makes things worse.)

The bottom line, there are two qualities that make individuals and groups successful:
1. The ability to pull yourself by your own bootstraps. What I mean is not to blame anyone except yourself for your failures and to figure out a way to succeed.
2. The ability to compromise. Individuals and countries that cannot compromise are doomed to failure

Last point, no amount of money, statistics, community involvement, caring teachers, engaging lessons, etc., will change things until the students and parents are held accountable. We could start by:
1. Retaining students who flunk their classes
2. Standardized exit exams at every grade level
3. Expelling students who are disruptive

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