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We Took Our Show on the Road

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Dear Deborah,

So we took our show on the road for the first time!

For our readers' benefit, let me explain. On March 7, Deborah and I blogged live—I guess that's what you would call it—at Channel 13's "Celebration of Teaching and Learning" in New York City. Before an audience of about 250, mostly teachers and principals, we talked about whether the business/corporate model would "save" our schools. (Some of those in the audience were not New Yorkers, as educators were sent to the event by their local public television stations, and I know we had people from other states and cities.)

Who controls our schools? Should the schools adopt a model of operations based on "results" (test scores) and "incentives" (paying teachers, students, and principals for higher test scores)? Are test scores the "profits" of the school system? Who are the stockholders?

This is one of those big issues that affects many school systems, not just New York City. It also happens to be an issue—or related set of issues—where Deborah and I find ourselves mostly in agreement. Interestingly, two days later, on March 9, The New York Times Magazine featured a discussion of education philanthropy titled "How Many Billionaires Does It Take to Fix a School System?" This was a good follow-up to our discussion, especially its fundamental assumption that one or more billionaires have the "answers" that have somehow escaped the lesser minds of ordinary educators who toil in the classroom. As you once said to me, Deborah, the new generation of reformers seems to believe that anyone who knows much about schooling is part of the problem; only those untainted by actual direct experience in education have the insight to "fix" a school system. If they are a parent, a teacher, or an administrator, they are self-interested and somehow disqualified from solving the problems.

In our discussion, Deborah made the interesting point that successful business organizations focus on the means, not the ends. I pointed out, borrowing from a recent post by eduwonkette at edweek.org, that corporations do not necessarily tie pay to performance; that we have recently seen examples of huge compensation packages to executives after their company went bankrupt or experienced a major downturn; the executives walk away with many millions while their stockholders and employees are left empty-handed. Certainly, lawyers are not compensated based on performance, but rather on billable hours (our school system in New York City is run from the top by a cadre of lawyers).

Too bad that our session was not videotaped for television. We had great questions from the audience, including one young man who works for Chase bank and was formerly a student at Deborah's school.

Debbie, it was fun being on with you. We were able to do in person what we try to do on the blog. Engage in a lively exchange; show respect for one another; probe controversial issues; try to be intellectually honest; speak our minds candidly and fearlessly.

Diane

5 Comments

Thank you both for letting us in our your insights. America is ready for a respectful dialogue, as is evidenced by Obama.

Another great example of bridging differences is found in Richard Sennett's new work on craftmenship. He is a cellist as well as a sociologist and he bridges both sides of the Atlantic. His concept of crafts applies so well to teaching and learning. His previous work on the distinctively American view of respect (here its something to be earned) with the Old World view (there it is supposed to be given) also has ramifications throughout education.

There is nothing inherently ugly about the word "accountability;" its just the way we've allowed it to pollute educational values. Given the beauty of the educational process, why can't we find a better vocabulary, returning to words like quality or craft?

Thank you both for letting us in our your insights. America is ready for a respectful dialogue, as is evidenced by Obama.

Another great example of bridging differences is found in Richard Sennett's new work on craftmenship. He is a cellist as well as a sociologist and he bridges both sides of the Atlantic. His concept of crafts applies so well to teaching and learning. His previous work on the distinctively American view of respect (here its something to be earned) with the Old World view (there it is supposed to be given) also has ramifications throughout education.

There is nothing inherently ugly about the word "accountability;" its just the way we've allowed it to pollute educational values. Given the beauty of the educational process, why can't we find a better vocabulary, returning to words like quality or craft?

Diane,

Your dialogue with Deborah has (and continues to be) a beacon of light.

Our schools desperately need champions (such as yourself and Deborah) that can both inspire and lead towards a better place than where we currently are both academically and socially.

Could you share your thoughts about what you think our schools need to do to succeed/survive in this brave new world of "testing and accountability"?

Erin Johnson

Its a puzzlement.

My mind thinks of the lost effort made to educate. At about $20,000 per child (including hidden costs like rent, food subsidies, etc.) a high school education would price out at $260,000. If one adds in the failures, one might double that cost.

Now, if I had the prospect of such an expenditure for each of my children, would I choose to enroll each of them in an obligatory county school?

The size of the public subsidy makes me think. If I could invest the money in an IRA for the child, would I send him to school? What if my child could already read and do basic math by the fifth grade, could I take the continued planned subsidy and invest it for him in an IRA?

If another school had a record of producing a high school equivalent in less time, could I count on the savings in an IRA, or the costs of college?

On the other hand, if my kid(s) were slow, would I like to have the choice of sending him or her to a special school? Or save the money in an IRA?

And what if at the age of 16 or so, the kid doesn't want to go to school and wants to work? Could I let him? And should he change his mind later, could I recover the funds for the time he didn't attend school to use toward his education?

Why is a high school education needed for employment? Why is it a prerequisite for post high school education? Why is it that some kids can get doctorates without getting a bachelors? Why do some college dropouts succeed? For that matter, why do high school dropout succeed?

Are we culturally, governmentally, and intellectually, hardwired and loopy?

I found each of your viewpoints opened up all sorts of additional discussion and questions. I made a copy of your interchange to discuss at my school, an affluent predominately Asian-American small middle school within a larger elementary school. I would hope Channel 13 runs the show you were on soon.

Thanks,
Susan

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The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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