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Accountability for Cars vs. Kids


Dear Diane,

The intellectual and informational inaccuracy, sloppiness and thoughtlessness of so much of education reporting still shocks me—I know I ought to have gotten over it. The story you told me about the reporter who bought NYC's claims that the latest NAEP results are a sign of the DOE's success is such a perfect example.

Investigative reporting is a lost art. They too often see themselves as conduits for press releases, with perhaps one quote from someone "on the other side" to show that it's impartial. It's their style even when I'm delighted with it! E.g.: I loved the front-page story in the Boston Globe proclaiming the success of the Pilot Schools in Boston, with its obligatory demurer from one critic. But that's not good newspaper reportage.

Thanks for alerting me to the fact that NAEP scores—representing the only national comparisons available—demonstrate that NYC hasn't moved forward or back since Klein and Bloomberg took over; except in one test at one grade level. Since tests are all the DOE cares about they can't, like me, claim that testing is not the only way to judge their work.

Another example. I ran into a headline today—NY Times, I believe—proclaiming that while we're not doing badly compared to most European rivals, we are being badly beaten by Asia. Yes, Japan and Singapore do better. But Asians? Neither China nor India are doing better—nor are their scores even mentioned in these international comparisons. Americans believe it must be true because they are the primary locations of outsourcing, and we've bought the lie that outsourcing is related to our poor public educational system—rather than appallingly low wages in outsourced sites. The headlines shouldn't obscure these realities.

Yes, wouldn't it be nice if there was something comparable to Consumer Reports on education. Maybe we can interest them in working on this?

Such a "simple" idea. Reporting that is not self-interested, that tries to explain the complexity of automobiles (toasters, etc.) in ways that acknowledge that we're not all looking for the same thing, and that we might want to easily scan the alternatives to see what the trade-offs are. I want 4-wheel drive, but….I also want…. And on and on. We don't actually have to reinvent the wheel.

I think "accountability" has to start by separating the different purposes and audiences to which we feel accountable. For example, I'm accountable to my students—they have a right to know what I think of their work and how it can be improved. I'm accountable to my colleagues to share my work in the interest of improving collective practice. I'm accountable to families to bring them into the full picture of what I see happening and what I hope together we can do about the situation. This can include standadized tests. But since such tests are designed to be statistically indirect "indicators"—at best (see psychometrician W. James Popham's piece in Education Week…), it would be odd if we ignored the fact that we have access to direct evidence. We have the hard data—the kids and their work.

But while individual schools are the best place for this assessment to originate, there's the kind of data needed by more distant publics: professional and lay, politicians and academics.

Some years ago we designed a 5-year "experimental" project in NYC—with $50 million in Annenberg funds, to explore a large-scale experiment with the above in mind. It involved an institute at Columbia headed by Linda Darling-Hamond, Michelle Fine at CUNY and other research backup, about 130 schools with 50,000 students, organized into 15 networks. It gave schools direct access to their full budgets and a great deal of freedom from union, city and state mandates in return for developing new forms of accountability. It managed to get the support of the then-chancellor, mayor, teachers' union and state commissioner. Unfortunately, as we were about to "go", both the chancellor and the commissioner departed and their replacements said "no way."

It's an oddly distorted version of this idea that emerged 10 years later under Bloomberg and Klein. It gutted what we believed was the essence of the plan: that it was voluntary, small scale (the size of the average American city), invited networks to develop self-designed plans, and had the support of some of the best independent research institutions in town to track different aspects of the work as it played out over time. We hoped that the work would help us find answers suitable to the various audiences involved. We were genuinely curious and thought it quite likely that we would end up with some shared agreement about "what works" and many different answers as well!

We lost that chance. So, now maybe you and I can try to imagine what some of these different solutions might have looked like.



In the spirit of Bridging Differences, I am curious about your readings of other blogs. I was stunned to learn that Marc Dean Millot of Edbizz is a supporter of NCLB, but I see a lot of wisdom in his blog that is similar to you two. While you discuss the need for a Consumer Reports-type system, he makes a similar appeal to his own industry, the Software and Information Industry (SIIA)
(since I get lost in his acronyms, I’ve done some editing of Millot’s statement)
“What is to be done?
1. "Buyer beware" is not the perception of industry quality we want to foster. ... However you describe it, this approach only contributes to the widespread perception that all the private sector cares about in k-12 education is profit.
That perception is a political problem for the whole industry, one that contributed mightily to the near-gutting of NCLB I, and one we have maybe two years to correct before we get back on that awful track to reauthorization.
• It’s time for SIIA to start making objective demonstrations of effectiveness ...
• It’s time for providers whose products and services are based on evaluation to either move their trade groups in a direction where results matter, or to form one that places evaluation at the forefront of industry values.
• It’s time for the buyers’ associations – that is educators (teachers, principals, administrators, superintendents) to 1) start insisting that purchases be grounded in evidence of effectiveness based on program evaluation, and to 2) start recognizing providers that build evaluation into their programs with awards and, more important, contracts.”

I’m terrified by the potential for overuse of online tutorials, testing, etc. But I want to learn from Millot’s experience. And Debbie, moving on to your other point, the best format for collaboration is pilot and "experimental" programs - especially voluntary ones like you describe. And if we could have some space for peer review and holding ourselves accountable to our students with the realism you describe, we can also mentor the reporters who have been so gullible.


Thanks for some interesting ideas, John. I was reading the same comment from "a parent" re Medicare and NCLB. Your response is very appropriate. In fact, NCLB stands Medicare on its head (in Linda Darling-Hamond's words). It doesn't touch inequities in funding, but demands ending "inequities" in outcomes. It would be as though Medicare threatened doctor's if they didn't close the gap in the disease rate (life span, birth weight) between rich and poor within x years--without additional funds, etc. Just "work harder" and "better" or else. Possibly if we had an NCLB re closing the gaps in income, housing, incarceration rates, health we'd really get a closing of the gap in test scores! If we did all together....maybe?

Paul Hoss comment is worth reading, because he so clearly summarizes the story of public education that has become popular mythology since A Nation At Risk--probably older. I always recommend Rothstein's The Way Things Were to those holding such ideas - and wish (Paul Hoss) would read it and discuss it with me.

Having taught since 1963 in urban schools I never found one that didn't have a curriculum--grade by grade! Hoss' image of teachers "doing their own thing" is one of those great urban myths. Mass. (where I didn't start teaching until they gave up their honored non-mandate tradition) was the least regulated, NY State probaly one of the most regulated. But Mass.--with its laissez faire locazl control approach-- has always led New York, the nation and the world re test scores! Maybe other things too--like education.

(But not baseball. And, change of subject, despite 10 years in Mass. I didn't become a Red Sox fan--and if I give up on the Yankees it's not because they lost, but because they lost Torre to a misguided "merit" pay scheme.)


Hey, everybody should check out National Public Radio's take on the invalidation of our international test due to an error in the instructions. It was acknowledged that the testing industry is stretched to the breaking point, but they weren't making excuses because a good copy editor should have caught it.

"For more information, check NPR.orJ."

Hey, everybody should check out National Public Radio's take on the invalidation of our international test due to an error in the instructions. ?????

I didn't know whether the humor would translate over the blogoshere where types are common.

NPR did a serious report on the testing error, and it then did a serious discussion of a problem with NCLB as the testing industry becomes more overwhelmed.

Scott Simon, the son of a comedian, then closed the segment with the words, "For more information, check NPR.orJ."

Maybe you had to be there.

where TYPOS are common. I meant to say where typos are common.

Well, did you hear the one about ...

The punch line for that one was, "some people just can't tell a joke."

Deborah and Diane,

Sometimes differences are best revealed through a reaction to a common text. If you have the inclination or the time, I would be interested in your different reactions to this statement by Bertrand Russell, with the obvious adjustments for the period when it was written.

Thank you for your lively conversations.
Diana Smith

Education and Discipline
Bertrand Russell

Any serious educational theory must consist of two parts: a conception of the ends of
life, and a science of psychological dynamics, i.e. of the laws of mental change. Two men who differ as to the ends of life cannot hope to agree about education. The educational machine, throughout Western civilization, is dominated by two ethical theories: that of Christianity, and that of nationalism. These two, when taken seriously, are incompatible, as is becoming evident in Germany. For my part, I hold that, where they differ, Christianity is preferable, but where they agree, both are mistaken. The conception which I should substitute as the purpose of education is civilization, a term which, as I mean it, has a definition which is partly individual, partly social. It consists, in the individual, of both intellectual and moral qualities: intellectually, a certain minimum of general knowledge, technical skill in one's own profession, and a habit of forming opinions on evidence; morally, of impartiality, kindliness, and a modicum of self-control. I should add a quality which is neither moral nor intellectual, but perhaps physiological: zest and joy of life. In communities, civilization demands respect for law, justice as between man and man, purposes not involving permanent injury to any section of the human race, and intelligent adaptation of means to ends. If these are to be the purpose of education, it is a question for the science of psychology to consider what can be done towards realizing them, and, in particular, what degree of freedom is likely to prove most effective.

On the question of freedom in education there are at present three main schools of
thought, deriving partly from differences as to ends and partly from differences in
psychological theory. There are those who say that children should be completely free,
however bad they may be; there are those who say they should be completely subject to authority, however good they may be; and there are those who say they should be free, but
in spite of freedom they should be always good. This last party is larger than it has any
logical right to be; children, like adults, will not all be virtuous if they are all free. The belief that liberty will ensure moral perfection is a relic of Rousseauism, and would not survive a study of animals and babies. Those who hold this belief think that education should have no positive purpose, but should merely offer an environment suitable for spontaneous development. I cannot agree with this school, which seems to me too individualistic, and unduly indifferent to the importance of knowledge. We live in communities which require co-operation, and it would be utopian to expect all the necessary co-operation to result from spontaneous impulse. The existence of a large population on a limited area is only possible owing to science and technique; education must, therefore, hand on the necessary minimum of these. The educators who allow most freedom are men whose success depends upon a degree of benevolence, self-control, and trained intelligence which can hardly be generated where every impulse is left unchecked; their merits, therefore, are not likely to be perpetuated if their methods are undiluted. Education, viewed from a social standpoint, must be something more positive than a mere opportunity for growth. It must, of course, provide this, but it must also provide a mental and moral equipment which children cannot acquire entirely for themselves.

The arguments in favour of a great degree of freedom in education are derived not from man's natural goodness, but from the effects of authority, both on those who suffer it and on those who exercise it. Those who are subject to authority become either submissive or rebellious, and each attitude has its drawbacks. The submissive lose initiative, both in thought and action; moreover, the anger generated by the feeling of being thwarted tends to find an outlet in bullying those who are weaker. That is why tyrannical institutions are self-perpetuating: what a man has suffered from his father he inflicts upon his son, and the humiliations which he remembers having endured at his public school he passes on to “natives" when he becomes an empire-builder.

Thus an unduly authoritative education turns the pupils into timid tyrants, incapable of
either claiming or tolerating originality in word or deed. The effect upon the educators is
even worse: they tend to become sadistic disciplinarians, glad to inspire terror, and content to inspire nothing else. As these men represent knowledge, the pupils acquire a horror of knowledge, which, among the English upper-class, is supposed to be part of human nature, but is really part of the well-grounded hatred of the authoritarian pedagogue. Rebels, on the other hand, though they may be necessary, can hardly be just to what exists. Moreover, there are many ways of rebelling, and only a small minority of these are wise. Galileo was a rebel and was wise; believers in the flat-earth theory are equally rebels, but are foolish. There is a great danger in the tendency to suppose that opposition to authority is essentially meritorious and that unconventional opinions are bound to be correct: no useful purpose is served by smashing lamp-posts or maintaining Shakespeare to be no poet. Yet this excessive rebelliousness is often the effect that too much authority has on spirited pupils. And when rebels become educators, they sometimes encourage defiance in their pupils, for whom at the same time they are trying to produce a perfect environment, although these two aims are scarcely compatible.

What is wanted is neither submissiveness nor rebellion, but good nature, and general friendliness both to people and to new ideas. These qualities are due in part to physical causes, to which old-fashioned educators paid too little attention; but they are due still more to freedom from the feeling of baffled impotence which arises when vital impulses are thwarted. If the young are to grow into friendly adults, it is necessary, in most cases, that they should feel their environment friendly. This requires that there should be a certain sympathy with the child's important desires, and not merely an attempt to use him for some abstract end such as the glory of God or the greatness of one's country. And, in teaching, every attempt should be made to cause the pupil to feel that it is worth his while to know what is being taught-at least when this is true. When the pupil co-operates willingly, he learns twice as fast and with half the fatigue. All these are valid reasons for a very great degree of freedom.

It is easy, however, to carry the argument too far. It is not desirable that children, in avoiding the vices of the slave, should acquire those of the aristocrat. Consideration for
others, not only in great matters, but also in little everyday things, is an essential element in civilization, without which social life would be intolerable. I am not thinking of mere forms of politeness, such as saying "please" and "thank you": formal manners are most fully developed among barbarians, and diminish with every advance in culture. I am thinking rather of willingness to take a fair share of necessary work, to be obliging in small ways that save trouble on the balance. Sanity itself is a form of politeness and it is not desirable to give a child a sense of omnipotence, or a belief that adults exist only to minister to the pleasures of the young. And those who disapprove of the existence of the idle rich are hardly consistent if they bring up their children without any sense that work is necessary, and without the habits that make continuous application possible.

There is another consideration to which some advocates of freedom attach too little
importance. In a community of children which is left without adult interference there is a
tyranny of the stronger, which is likely to be far more brutal than most adult tyranny. If two children of two or three years old are left to play together, they will, after a few fights, discover which is bound to be the victor, and the other will then become a slave. Where the number of children is larger, one or two acquire complete mastery, and the others have far less liberty than they would have if the adults interfered to protect the weaker and less pugnacious. Consideration for others does not, with most children, arise spontaneously, but has to be taught, and can hardly be taught except by the exercise of authority. This is perhaps the most important argument against the abdication of the adults.

I do not think that educators have yet solved the problem of combining the desirable forms of freedom with the necessary minimum of moral training. The right solution, it must be admitted, is often made impossible by parents before the child is brought to an enlightened school. just as psychoanalysts, from their clinical experience, conclude that we are all mad, so the authorities in modern schools, from their contact with pupils whose parents have made them unmanageable, are disposed to conclude that all children are "difficult" and all parents utterly foolish. Children who have been driven wild by parental tyranny (which often takes the form of solicitous affection) may require a longer or shorter period of complete liberty before they can view any adult without suspicion. But children who have been sensibly handled at home can bear to be checked in minor ways, so long as they feel that they are being helped in the ways that they themselves regard as important. Adults who like children, and are not reduced to a condition of nervous exhaustion by their company, can achieve a great deal in the way of discipline without ceasing to be regarded with friendly feelings by their pupils.

I think modern educational theorists are inclined to attach too much importance to the negative virtue of not interfering with children, and too little to the positive merit of enjoying their company. If you have the sort of liking for children that many people have for horses or dogs, they will be apt to respond to your suggestions, and to accept prohibitions, perhaps with some good-humoured grumbling, but without resentment. It is no use to have the sort of liking that consists in regarding them as a field for valuable social endeavour, or what amounts to the same thing as an outlet for power-impulses. No child will be grateful for an interest in him that springs from the thought that he will have a vote to be secured for your party or a body to be sacrificed to king and country. The desirable sort of interest is that which consists in spontaneous pleasure in the presence of children, without any ulterior purpose. Teachers who have this quality will seldom need to interfere with children's freedom, but will be able to do so, when necessary, without causing psychological damage.

Unfortunately, it is utterly impossible for over-worked teachers to preserve an
instinctive liking for children; they are bound to come to feel towards them as the proverbial confectioner's apprentice does towards macaroons. I do not think that education ought to be anyone's whole profession: it should be undertaken for at most two hours a day by people whose remaining hours are spent away from children. The society of the young is fatiguing, especially when strict discipline is avoided. Fatigue, in the end, produces irritation, which is likely to express itself somehow, whatever theories the harassed teacher may have taught himself or herself to believe. The necessary friendliness cannot be preserved by self-control alone. But where it exists, it should be unnecessary to have rules in advance as to how "naughty" children are to be treated, since impulse is likely to lead to the right decision, and almost any decision will be right if the child feels that you like him. No rules, however wise, are a substitute for affection and tact.

Yes--it's harder to capture humor on e-mail than in person! But there are writers who revel in the media and have figured out how to get the tone just right.

Diane Smith. Thanks, even if the quote is rather long I read it and loved it. Balance is the key? But the balance is related to the ends intended.

The last part speaks to me most deeply--enjoying keeping company with the young! When that affection dies, all is for naught. It's the quality that prevents our work from being manipulative--shaping others to our ends. But we've created institutions that do their best to crush or strangle that affection--that even make it seem illegal, illegitimate, "soft", irrelevant. It's a sin in Boston, e.g., to pat a kid on the back during a test, or utte reassuring words. It's a sin for male teachers to touch children in many parts of the nation--maybe women teachers too. It's "not teaching" to sit back and watch--observe with affection--children at work or play. Imagine how nice it is to be a child who "feels" that gaze of appreciative, attentive, mindful affection!

Thanks for sharing that piece with us.


Hey, everybody should check out National Public Radio's take on the invalidation of our international test due to an error in the instructions.

Unfortunately, it is utterly impossible for over-worked teachers to preserve an
instinctive liking for children; they are bound to come to feel towards them as the proverbial confectioner's apprentice does towards macaroons

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