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How Do We Start a Discussion About What It Is We Value?


Dear Diane,

You ask: why are people so gullible? That includes both the writers and readers of our media. (Or should I say listeners?)

Many reasons, no doubt, including a natural inclination to believe there is some way to know what’s happening out there in the big world, and gullibility is perhaps better than instinctively dismissing it all. The kind of healthy skepticism you and I are talking about is not, I’d argue, a natural part of our evolutionary make-up. Probably through most of human history we didn’t depend on any media—but that which our own senses, and our neighboring allies agreed upon as truth. There’s no way I can check out most of what makes up my “immediate” environment today, and no amount of voracious reading could assure me that I had it right. After all, books, too, are part of “the media” and must be read with a proper skepticism. And on and on.

And, indeed, while we all have a “right” to our opinion, it’s an empty right if that’s all it is, or maybe a dangerous right!

In a democracy then, you and I might argue, learning how to reason (or empathize) our way into enough of the truth, with enough uncertainty to be open to new truths, needs to be “learned.” (Is that sentence too loaded?) Where might we learn such a mindset? In family, neighborhood, on TV, and above all, in those 12-13 years of schooling that are universal and free. And even required!!

The question for educators then is how to use those long years toward such ends. And, simultaneously, how to educate the larger public, as we learn more ourselves, as to why these newfangled innovations are worth doing. They cannot be imposed upon an unwilling public, or parents—because that in itself can’t happen in a democracy for very long. We tried it once with “new math” and lost fairly quickly, although I’m still of the belief we were on the right track a half-century ago. It’s also tricky to “experiment" on children—to admit that we truly don’t entirely know whether our new approach will get us where we want to go, but bear with us!

That’s why I’m for such experiments not being imposed, but being studied carefully and applied to volunteers. The voluntary part goes against “random sample experimenting,” etc., but that’s a limitation we need to accept. Of course, since the “traditional” paths are in fact still unproven experiments, I want the right to opt out of them for my kids, too. (That’s where some form of controlled choice enters into my equation.)

This was what the Eight-Year Study tried to do; this is what the Coalition and Central Park East schools tried to do. This is what we tried to do in the extraordinary Annenberg proposal we launched in 1994—which was abandoned shortly afterward when the new state superintendent and new city chancellor both quashed the project. We made the mistake of saying we didn’t know how to advance both a more powerful form of accountability and more powerful schooling. We proposed a design that would allow us to study this in action. Had we done so in 1994, today we might know the answer to questions we remain ignorant about. So we play around with knights on white horses riding into cities with their mayors' blessings, experimenting on entire school systems.

We’ve settled for the idea that democracy, and the U.S. economy, are safe if only we match our competitors’ test scores and more or less close test score gaps, and that this can be accomplished if we frighten people or reward people into just putting their minds to it.

Of course, in fact, they don’t just work harder under such pressure, they actually work “smarter.” But their “smarts” are almost entirely devoted to figuring out how to crunch the data in such a way that they win the reward, whether in fact, it produces better educated citizens or not, and in many cases, whether it truly even produces better “data.” Generally, the mayor also controls the way in which the data is developed, weighted, and reported.

They end up good at the Wall Street “game,” and begin to believe, as those on Wall Street probably did, that better numbers equal a stronger economy, and better test scores equal a better educated citizenry!

What to do, Diane? Because I am still intrigued by schooling’s potential to make what we now think of as mediocre teachers become very good ones and the good ones great, and so, too, our kids. But what would it take? That’s why I so enjoyed the conversation with my old grads a few weeks back. We were onto something at CPESS 20 years ago, and there are unsung heroic schools that are still out there. How do we keep them thriving, and how can we learn from them and their graduates?

The root of the word evaluation is value, so how do we start a discussion about what it is we value before rushing to technologies for evaluating our schools in a single top-down way?



By being more open to local and networked innovation.

Good morning, Deb, and a good question.

I've mentioned here the obstructive behavior of the CA unions who spent $750,000 fighting NBA star/now Mayor, Kevin Johnston's generous plan to use his money to convert his Alma mater into a charter school.

Consider, though, the loathesome treatment the state education organization has heaped on Whitehat Management founder David Brennan.

Brennan did exactly what you ask. He did not seek to inflict new programs on all students. Instead, he sought to offer voluntary alternatives with different base models. The offer was made to students who had very little to lose from their previous public school environments.

When others of his age and wealth are retiring to Florida and using their generous senior discounts to park the RV or get on the cruises, Brennan lives by this:

"Every single one of us recognizes that if we don't solve the education dilemma in this society, the poorest among us will remain that way. We owe it to them to solve this, or die trying.

"I will die fighting this fight. My last breath will be fighting this fight."

In response, the state and local education associations have done everything in their power to block his innovations, oppose his schools, and constantly drag his name into the mud.

They have lead the people of Ohio and the Nation to see Brennan as some sort of thief, preying on the children and taxpayers of Ohio to build his financial empire.

Brennan's kids are learning. They weren't before.

Diane asks "Why Are People So Gullible About Miracle Cures in Education?" Its the Ed Associations who are so gullible.

Instead of seeing men like Brennan for what they are, individuals trying to start small, local, networked experiments, the SEA's insist that they can do it all. They can make things better if there is just more money for the old school. They can fix education if only there is more money for welfare, more money for health programs, more money for preschool, early childhood, all day kindergarten, teachers salaries, technology, after school programs, ad infinitum.

Instead of allowing parents to choose, say functioning Catholic schools, proven over 100 years in poverty and elsewhere; the SEA's insist that we let those alternatives fail, rather than support them as we do the kids of parents who choose PS104.

Parents, Deb, don't really need a conversation about what they value. They know. We know.

The special interests who live in the big glass-and-block palace in Columbus? They don't get it anymore.

They proved that in their treatment of David Brennan.

Hands-down, the most influential piece of writing on modern education I've ever read was a piece David Labaree wrote several years ago, on the evolution of the perceived purpose of education in America.

I'm paraphrasing here--Labaree said the initial purpose of a free public education system was democratic equality--the melting-pot/good citizenship idea of the American common school. Later, the prevailing idea about the purpose of schools became acquiring skills necessary to build a better society: education needed to meet the growing requirements of business and industry (with a side dose of good old "worthy home membership"). People are still arguing about what kinds of instruction addresses those goals best--strong traditional curriculum? career-focused education?--but there aren't many who would argue that either of those weren't foundational.

Here's where Labaree contributed to the discourse, I think-- he suggested that the third great evolutionary purpose of education was credentialing, which serves as a kind of meritocracy, an existence-proof (often unrecognized and unacknowledged) that the right people are in charge of pretty much everything. It's about reproduction of power through the very educational structures that were designed to empower (and benefit) everyone.

Much of what passes for "reform" these days is based entirely on this third purpose: higher test scores, the drive to get all kids to go to college (whereupon the graduate degree and the difference between prestigious colleges and state universities that accept first-generation college goers becomes more important). We can see this in Teach for America and "Fellows"-type teacher recruitment, and the widespread scorn heaped on anyone who would choose to teach school for three decades.

We see it when a state like Tennessee creates standards and raises achievement--but then has their achievement is compared to achievement data from Massachusetts and found wanting. When we push more resources toward data analysis systems, or paying teachers for test scores. All of this hidden by a mountain of "scientifically based" data and a waving American flag.

But you asked what we can do. We can write about this, lay it bare as you have done. We can stop pretending that our schools are democratic and fair, and buying into the notion that an Ivy League degree makes a person a better teacher (for two years) than a person who grew up in that community and began their education at the local junior college.

I think the election of a black president, while it may not yield reliable increases in student achievement data over time, is hugely symbolic if our quest is a return to incorporating democratic equality into the purposes of education.

Mr. Jones,

I live in Ohio and write frequently about education. The reason why Mr. Brennan has received so much negative media attention is because of how he runs his for-profit charter school management company. It has nothing to do with whatever good comes out of his schools. It has to do with the failures of those schools, which the media uncovers. Mr. Brennan is notoriously secretive about the profits and in an extremely brazen incident, one of his corporations spokesmen outright lied during a radio show about White Hat Management profits. That is the kind of behavior that makes the media feel a need to be even more skeptical as they report on individuals and for-profit entities like Mr. Brennan's.

Likewise, he has given millions over the last several years to politicians who favor charter schools. Millions that, in a non-profit charter, would be put into instruction, facilities, operations and the students' future.

I would be happy to provide links but you can Google Mr. Brennan and White Hat just as easily as I can and find that all these things are true and not hyperbole or invective.

Thank you.


It's hard for me to believe that I am in a position of defending the for profit world of education. My knee-jerk liberalism kept me from even considering the available charter schools for my children. But there comes a time...Our current school superintendent withdrew her son from the district when her son didn't win a lottery seat in one of the two highly regarded high schools in the district. A former school board president did the same. They could both afford private schools for their children. I cannot. I actually held out longer--fighting through their high school careers until it became clear that they would not likely graduate unless I could locate a better option. My daughter was able to enter a charter with a very good track record for her senior year. She not only graduated, but received way more counseling about where she was headed after graduated than was likely in the school where the counselors would announce that they were "there" any time students wanted to come in and talk to them.

My son was a tougher case. Just as the district has multiple ways of eliminating the problems of tougher kids by ignoring them until the kids go away, so do some charters work to discourage tougher cases from even walking in the door. Even the district operated charter with a mission of "drop out recovery" proclaimed themselves full and with a long waiting list when they heard about disabilities. They tried first to explain that they didn't serve kids with disabilities--until they realized that I knew better.

So--I was scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel when I got to the "for-profits," including White Hat. It's hard to begrudge White Hat their little niche market of kids that are so plainly not wanted anywhere else. I was not at all impressed by their graduation rate, just desparate. I don't know if anyone is getting rich in White Hat. I do know that Ohio has gotten much tighter about what counts as a kid who is enrolled. For the drop-out recovery programs with rolling enrollment, they have to be pretty vigilant about attendance--where the districts only have to worry about "count week," (when they all have pizza parties).

No--White Hat is not "the answer," just as unions are not "the problem." On the other hand--they are doing some things that no one else was doing--flexible scheduling, rolling enrollment, computer delivery of classes, work assistance. They are doing a better job, with roughly the same population, than I was able to do when I was employed by a district as a GED teacher. Some one should be paying attention (in fact, the district has modelled their drop-out recovery program after what they were doing--except far less flexible).

From my view as a parent--I have a kid who may now make it through--who was not going to make it. So--I guess to echo Ed, yes, parents are pretty clear about what they want. They want their kids to be able to learn. They want their differences to be respected. They want to be welcome to participate as partners. They want a place at the table. They want to be heard and respected.

Margo/Mom - thanks for sharing your experience. Here's some of mine:

I worked at a mental health agency for eight years and in my last year, I wrote a legal brief on whether the agency should open its school for children diagnosed w/autism as a charter (in Ohio, community) school or as a private independent. This was 1999-2000, just after the law had been enacted.

I'm very familiar with the at least prima facie reason why charters exist and have written repeatedly about my support for them. Having worked at this mental health agency for so many years and having a background in law and social work (doing field work in a juvie court diagnostic clinic and an at-risk program for urban high school sophs. and juniors), I'm also very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of public school districts. I then followed the Gates Foundation's small schools reform effort in Euclid, Ohio for two years, spending about 500 hours in the high school there meeting with and following every stakeholder imaginable.

I'm also the parent of three school-aged children who have attended religious day schools through Pre-K and public school since then but with serious consideration of private school for two of the three. One of my neighbors is the founder of perhaps the best charter school in Ohio, e-Prep and it's a non-profit.

The niche for charters is, as your situation exemplifies, to fulfill the needs of students whose needs are not otherwise getting met in the schools and programs already in existence at a public school. It should not be a mechanism for making money, under any circumstances.

I would never begrudge a parent trying everything they can access to do the best they believe is available for their child. But as a taxpayer in Ohio, a parent in Ohio, someone who has studied education for a long time and is educated in the law and social work and has worked in the mental health field, I cannot say any more strenuously how much I object to White Hat's taking advantage of the fact that some parents will in fact try whatever they think might be the magic bullet.

However, your need, and White Hat schools' ability to fit your need, should not come at my expense of paying a big enough profit for David Brennan to give that money to lobby politicians.

Just as an FYI, I am also on the record as saying that to the extent that people want to examine how much of the pay that a teacher gets that then may go to a union then ends up being used for lobbying, I would support examining that.

But it is the deceit, caginess and extreme uneven performance of Mr. Brennan's schools that I object to when it is my taxpayer money involved. Not to mention, my own public school district will be flatlined this year by the state of Ohio and then my district's state funding will be reduced by 2%. I am not crying a tear about for-profit charters losing some of their funding. I'm just not.

I wish you the best and I wish that it wasn't so hard to be a good citizen and parent and get what we deserve from our schools. But supporting for profit education with tax dollars is not the answer.


Well, for once we're on the same page, at least I hope we are. I, as a teacher, also believe believe that parents have a right to be heard and respected. That they should have a seat at the table. I believe that strongly.

I also believe teachers should have the same rights. And administrators, and researchers, and politicians, and industry. And their rights should all be co-equal, though obviously someone should always chair that table.

Parents and teachers are natural allies. We both are the ones who are being shut out of the debate by the others. And only through working together will either and both of us break into their little club and effect real change.


You are at the table, dear. In my district the Union Prez sits right next to the upper level administrators at the Board meeting. The district cannot make a move without some inclusion of teachers. But, I can assure that parents are not granted the same deference. In a recent round of budget cuts, the school day was shortened--over everyone's protests and tears. One small sop, was a small fund for each school to offer after school enrichment/intervention for students with greatest needs. There was apparently a fair amount of flexibility regarding how these dollars were to be spent. The direction of administration was that the decision was to be made at each building--based on the input of teachers and parents. Input of parents was never gathered. Teachers vetoed the whole idea. Teachers that I have talked to relate that they were viewed as traitors to the cause if they were willing to work extra hours (for extra pay) in order to put something in that afterschool time for students that needed it. They were mad that the reduction had resulted in layoffs. It was a really ugly year of teacher non-cooperation.

As a result, an administration/labor committee was put together to "discuss issues." They formally included an intention to call parents in if and when appropriate. This, of course never happened. Make no mistake, Jason. Teachers are at the table. Parents are not.


I agree with Margo/Mom that parents and teachers are not necessarily natural allies.

At an individual level I think that it often works out that they are allies for a particular students (or, not, as apparently is the case for Margo/Mom.)

However, at a higher level, what parents want/need from a school system is good information about how a district/school/teacher is performing. And at this level that alliance may break down. School systems are not very good at giving out information about how they are doing. A cynic would say that this is intentional as they do not welcome comparisons between districts/ schools/ teachers.

Govt. Bureaucrat - Because the data is too often unreliable, used to make comparisons it isn't designed to make, to fit someone's pre-conceived notions. Other than that I agree.

Just determining what information to use is fraught with misuse which was one of the major reasons NCLB was and is such a failure. It relied on data before the data was worth relying on.

Jill, Good Morning!!

Tough problems and big advances often require a great deal of trust. Trust is the base of our whole way of living, from the food we eat to other drivers on the road, to the pension managers we give our state retirement funds to.

I had a computer monitor repaired last month. Did you know that many companies trust UPS to not only handle all their wares promptly, but in many cases to even run repair facilities? UPS supply chain management does what entire divisions used to do in large corporations. They have the trucks and the planes and the warehouses and the software and the training, why should a company duplicate all that when they can rent the service?

Trust. We're always breaking new barriers, new ways to trust each other. Its the foundation of our ability to grow from here.

I haven't seen a lot of trust in these threads the past month. I have seen excessive fear and mistrust.


Why do I think Brennan deserves more of Ohioan's trust?

Unfortunately, people do not pay me to speak or write. If I want paid, things must work before I sign off at the end of the day. If it doesn't work, my weekend is shot or worse.

Hence, there are certain habits of mind one must acquire to avoid falling into the pitfalls of trusting the wrong information source. My info will be proven unreliable immediately and sometimes disastrously, so I get in the habit of checking, rechecking, and triple-checking.

In his years of manufacturing, Mr. Brennan would have developed similar habits. He could not have afforded otherwise.

So lets look at the disconnect here.

Why would Brennan spend money on politicians?

First, whose money did he spend? Well, most of it was his money. He earned it with his manufacturing businesses.

During that time, he was also running remedial education programs at his factories in order to bring his workers to a respectable level of learning, one the public schools failed to provide.

...as CEO of a manufacturing company, he found many of his employees to be functionally illiterate, despite having attended public schools. Rather than accept the status quo, he opened his own schools in his plants, made education mandatory, and paid his employees to attend. Soon, spouses and children were asking for courses in these Learning Centers, and they were welcomed and taught.

Lets repeat that: Brennan was using his money to educate his employees and their families long before he got into the public sphere of education. He was also setting up scholarships, and then began serving on educational boards.

And he funded chairs at Case and Ohio State.

And, he provided jobs to many people for income for their families.

I can't see, then, how indignation over his life is so righteous. Or even fair.

Back to the lobbying, then? Why would a man so interested in generating profits give it to politicians?

The answer is that any legislator who tries to bring change to public education is immediately and violently targeted by the State Education Association.

If you want to try out a new idea in Ohio or elsewhere, even a small idea like a few charters or vouchers, you must first fight the political and media blitz that will come from the OEA or its brethren.

In a sector of trust and innovation, we would know much more about charters than we do now. That's because we'd have a twenty year record of experimentation across the states. We'd have many more charters, and they'd be allowed better economies of scale.

Instead, Ohio has less than 10 years experience, and has tied the hands of operators in many ways.

It was in those 10 wasted years that Brennan had to learn to support politicians.

You can ask them; they'll tell you: 'We would not have a charter school experiment in Ohio without David Brennan. Few of us could afford the battles with the OEA on our own.'

Who wasted the money on lobbying and politics? It was those who fought experiment tooth and nail.

They fought all experiment at the local and state level, throughout the 90's. That is precisely why we got the NCLB monstrosity at the federal level in the '00's.

We got NCLB because the SEA's wouldn't tolerate local experimentation, denied even that there was a problem in the cities, and spent their members money to fight any small trial that came along.

Money I'd claim should have been spent teaching OEA members content matter to pass on to their students: the art of Marc Chagall, the concept of Thermal Efficiency (for social studies), how to create a statement of Income and Expenses (so we can use the word 'profit' with some intelligence), where was and who won the battle that gave the US its independence, how do Shia view government vs. Sunni, and why is Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani so incredibly important to future peace; supply/demand curves; how do we more efficiently pass on basic writing excellence?

I learned a lesson from a parent during my first year in a neighborhood school that is relevant to what we value, and the resulting thread. She was a college graduate who understood my arguments but who would not bend. Finally, she interupted, "you do not understand. You keep talking about your repsonsibilities to all children. I am talking about MY CHILD. You may be right, but I don't care. I'm fighting for my child and I won't stop."

A few years later as we realized that school had been out for hours, my formerly rebellious student said, "you are the coolest White man I've known, respecting my brain and discussing New York Review of Books." We laughed about our conflicts during the freshman year, and he told me that I had no idea of what he faced at home for his rebellion. "My mom doesn't play."

This kid had also rebelled at home when he joined the Nation of Islam as a step toward orthodox Islam. He then told the story (that just happened to include race) where he realized that his individual demands should not interfere with the welfare of the whole school. He had seen Black kids take advantage of the school's laxness to abuse White kids, and he hadn't known how to intervene. At that he concluded that education needed to move beyond interest-driven politics.


There is far more reliable data that many folks are willing to admit. In fact the word "reliability" is thrown around a whole lot by folks who do not always understand the concept. Reliability is a measureable construct. On any state education website in the nation, with enough poking around, you can find the psychometric tech report for all of the state tests, including those numbers that signify reliability. I know I am not an expert in this field--so I will not go further in my explanation, but the data is there to establish reliability for many tests that teachers swear up and down are not "reliable." In fact they are far more reliable than measures (such as teacher made tests, the questions at the end of the chapter, or "professional judgment" in which teachers place their trust).

You are right though, that reliability does not render every data point appropriate for every use. Getting from an individual student score on an annual standardized assessment to an individual plan for that student's growth and development may not be possible. On the other hand, a school that over time has a simple majority of students who are repeatedly not mastering the concepts assessed on those tests has a pretty reliable indicator that what is going on in that school with those students falls below the goals. One could change the goals (this is advocated by many, with a straight face) for those students/schools. Or one could take a closer look at what is going on. There is enough evidence to suggest that in some cases schools are able to provide a better match between students' needs and the available education, resulting in better scores for even the groups for whom we have the lowest general rate of success.

This does require collection of more specific data--formative assessment in an ongoing and systematic way. Sad to say, many schools think this means chopping up the state tests and giving them in pieces more often--along with practice versions of the state tests. It doesn't help--this is still providing information at the same broad level-not specific enough to help teachers, parents and students understand where the specific successes and deficits are and improve. Formative assessments also have the advantage that they can take many forms--project based, group-oriented, etc. to meet individual needs and preferences. It keeps occurring to me that if every poorly performing school had started developing a toolchest of high quality formative assessments aligned with specific learning objectives when they were first identified they would have quite a storehouse by now--and a much clearer picture of what works and what does not, along with ways to offer (or prevent the need for) intervention and remediation.

What I have seen instead--in addition to the addition of mini-state assessments every time you turn around--is the use of whatever data is at hand that might look good for report out purposes. Each school in improvement is required to do things like set goals based on data and report progress. In my district the data sources from one year to the next change. So--if the problem in year one that was addressed was fourth grade reading; the data reported in year one might be fifth grade math--or some slightly more subtle variation on this.

Either no one understands the use of data in planning for improvements (or don't care), or they are willfully obfuscating. I really cannot tell which. I only know that there is no way to track at either the building or the district level whether interventions are successful. It's sort of throw everything possible that's going on into the plan, and hope that at the end of the day something good happens.

The resulting fragmentation is a sure guarantee that most things don't work very well, no one knows why (as in, how was the implementation? were there any parts that were successful? was there success with any populations? did some buildings/teachers experience success while others do not?) and there is enormous demoralization and frustration.

Ed knows far more about Brennan/White Hat than I do. What I know is intensely personal. A White Hat school has provided the last best hope for my son's education and I live in a state where the Governor has flat-out declared that state dollars should not be going to charters that are operated by for-profit entities. I also have a long history of work in health care--long enough to realize that the profit/non-profit division is far more of a continuum than a clear divide--and I have seen snakes and incompetents on both sides.


Your column implicitly raises an important question: what is "experimentation" and what is not? What ethical principles are appropriate for each level of experimentation?

In a sense the teacher is continually experimenting. Yet the teacher's experiments are different from "official" experiments. Why? It seems to be a question of purpose or agenda: the teacher adjusts his or her approaches in order to teach better. The researcher conducts an experiment in order to address a general question that might apply to many teachers or schools.

In between the teacher's experiment and that of the researcher, there lies the fuzzy area of the "researcher-practitioner" or "action researcher." The teacher might conduct an experiment known as "action research," which may be exempt from standard research guidelines and regulations. Ed schools require their students to complete an "action research" project.

I find "action research" troubling precisely because researchers are not subject to any sort of oversight or guidelines (not to mention that the findings are iffy). The "researcher-practitioner" does not even have to inform the children of the experiment.

In many cases, the experiment is not too different from what a teacher might do anyway. But even the subtle differences are important. The "action research" is supposed to lead to a "finding." It departs somewhat from the teacher's daily practice in that it has a purpose outside the classroom. Also, these experiments often lack rigor. The "researcher" may simply design an experiment to affirm his or her initial premise. It is logically sloppy and morally questionable.

I objected to the "action research" requirement in ed school and almost refused to do it. A friend (who had been teaching a little longer than I) advised me to go through with it. I did, but I devoted a section of the essay to my ethical concerns.

So, while acknowledging the fluid nature of definitions, it seems necessary to set up some categories. What is research and what is practice? How can we separate them so that the grey area does not pose dangers? What ethical standards should teachers and researchers (of every sort) observe?

Diana Senechal


Yes! regarding using formative assessment to inform instruction.

I'm sure you've read the below link to a chat on the same topic:

And I agree with you about data and how it is used. Something to consider is that she who holds the data holds the power. On-going formative assessment often places the cards in the teacher's hands, one place where it can do plenty of good, and may make the power base uncomfortable. In my experience, uncomfortable leaders may lead through coercion, and this style is not conducive to promoting positive systemic growth. However, it is great for maintaining the status quo.

Mr. Jones,

Your defense of Mr. Brennan is undermined by a few realities:

1. His people lie for him. I linked to that incidence.

2. He resists transparency. To wit, the same lying incident, among other reports of his refusal to provide financial information. Lucky for us, State Auditor Mary Taylor has started to provide some audits and we know from ODE resources that many of the WHM schools are not succeeding.

3. Your attempt to portray an intractable situation in Ohio regarding attempts at school reform ignore the $40 million from the Gates Foundation to the KnowledgeWorks Foundation from 2002-2008 that resulted in the small schools reform effort. As someone who spent hundreds of hours covering that effort, I can assure you that I'm familiar with the battles you describe. But your suggestion that only someone like Brennan could wage those battles is inaccurate.

4. I don't try to hide my preference: education is not a commodity whose distribution should be part of the for-profit world. That is my preference and opinion. I'm not expecting others to share it, I'm stating my preference about it - which is a preference against it.

I appreciate your passion and you should get on Mr. Brennan's payroll, as either a lobbyist or otherwise, because I'm sure that there are people who would find your arguments persuasive. I'm not dismissive of your arguments, except to the extent that I do not support for-profit running of education, as a general proposition.

That is me being transparent about how I feel about this issue. And, frankly, once I witness firsthand the lying by White Hat Management brass, baldface lying, to the face of the radio station's journalist? I can't trust that company. Period. And it would irresponsible of me to suggest that others should.

Education reform, experimentation and charters are all valuable and the challenges to implementing them are numerous and some difficult. But for-profit provision is not the silver bullet.

Hi All... hope this finds you well.

Russell Ackoff's newest work is worth checking out.

Some highlights:

Creativity is actively suppressed and in most
schools conformity—which is anathema to
creativity—is valued instead

Nature has provided every child with the key tool
for becoming fully adept at finding his or
her way in a world of increasingly rapid change.
The magical tool provided by nature is play.
Check out his highlights at:


Always liked Ackoff: Here is a favorite........

Look what the educational system does to creativity. Every child learns at a very early stage that when they’re asked a question in school they must first ask themselves a question: What answer does the asker expect? That’s the way you get through school, by providing people with the answers they expect. Now, one thing about an answer that somebody else expects is it can’t be creative because it’s already known. What we ought to be trying to do with children is get them to give us answers that we don’t expect—to stimulate creativity. We kill it in school. (The Deming Library, Vol. 21)

Worth a look!

Regarding Diane's comment on Teacher Research,
Teacher research is not considered "research" for IRB purposes precisely because it is not an experiment any more than than anything a teacher does is an experiment. In fact, since a teacher is making their decisions to alter practice based on more systematic look at his or her practice, it is actually more ethical than the way a teacher would typically decide to alter practice.

If the teacher is engaging in practices that are considered outside of what they might do normally, then they are required to get IRB approval and students assent and parental consent.

Our master program here at CSUMB has our students fill out and submit their teacher research projects for approval. The large majority are not considered "research" under their guidelines by these boards, as they, who are trained to look for any ethical dangers, do not see any.

When a district adopts a new reading program, or any other new text, should all the parents have to give consent, since they could always be considered "experimental." Such restrictions on districts choosing curriuclum and teachers examining their own teaching in a systematic way would paralyze the profession.

As one who studies the ethical implications, I have no ethical problems with the guidelines of the IRB. I have way more ethical questions about the whole scale implementation of experiments like NCLB, merit pay, paying students for good grades, and other such top down schemes imposed upon thousands and millions of students.

Those are the "experiments" that I have enormous concern about the impact of.

Jill, Margo, all, the conversation continues to be first rate! Margo, so good to hear you as a parent here. Not in defense of WhiteHat per se, but for support of the idea that there are many possible solutions. Do we have to a priori reject possible solutions just because they are outside our normal mode of thinking? Or are we willing to break out of old models if new ones seem promising?

Deb asked

…I am still intrigued by schooling’s potential to make what we now think of as mediocre teachers become very good ones and the good ones great, and so, too, our kids.

But what would it take?

That’s the real question. Not ‘can we make some schools great?’, but ‘how do we raise the bar across the entire profession?’ And in all schools? Do the answers all have to come from the vertically-integrated, old-line, government-union-ed school?

Jill mentions an inherent opposition to for-profit education. Yet clearly she doesn’t mean all profit. For example, she didn’t here ask to nationalize or convert to 501c(3)s the textbook companies. Or the publishers of Time, CNN, Worldbook, the Times, or the McGraw Hill social studies text series, all of which are frequently used to mold young minds in government-mandated education.

For that matter, I imagine we could take a lot of the profit out of education if we disallowed teachers from selling their labor at a markup. If, instead, we asked teachers to live as many early teachers once did, or as soldiers oft do now, we could save much profit there, and put the funds into educational resources.

My own community had a tiff last summer when it was proposed that meals be prepared by an external company, rather than the classified staff. Yet most of my meals in HS came from Pepsi and Mars; which is worse?

How do we value profit in our society?

What do we teach students about the nature and character of economic rent?

Which is more moral? My little parks board, run as a non-profit? The taxes we want to levy on the people of this Appalachian region? Or the businesses we currently beg money from?

Is a philanthropic foundation more moral than the company which generated its endowment? Than the broker who invests and increases the funds each year?

Randi Weingarten (president of the American Federation of Teachers) writes an OpEd in support of national standards...


There are so many groups coming out in favor of national standards these days that it is hard to keep track of them all. Could this really happen?

I remember the day that read my first OpEd, coming from an unexpected source, that promoted the idea. The first day that I thought that just maybe the nation is ready to take the shackles off. It was thanks to Diane Ravitch...


How can we have standards if people can't even agree that second graders should know their addition math facts to 10?

Just playing devil's advocate, here....

Mike: I like that Ackoff quote too--and have used it in (in a way) in my Thursday column. Thanks. I remember an 8 year old boy telling me that CPE was different from his old school--"there they were made at you for being ignorant, and here you act as though that's the school's job so it's okay to say 'I don't. know.'" Or something like that.

Rr learning the multiplication tables--and standards: To keep in mind: they're not even in school until 7 years of age in Finland, and yet they have the highest math test scores 2 years later. You echo the devil in me too, dickey.

Of course, re experiments--Nick and Margo--we also have to acknowledge a third or fourth meaning--doing anything for the first time. In short, life. The default position however is also an "experiment"--just one that's never worked for most people.

Finally, I shall - soon - write a bit more on parents and teachers. Alas, they are by no means natural allies (above all mothers and elementary school teachers). Could it be changed? I think so--but at a price that's hard to come by. (Of course, I don't mean all parents or all teachers, but there's some built-in "natural" friction, fear and anger that can easily be ignited). More later.

And alas, nationa stamdards (and tests?) may well come about under Obama--and Diane and I will have fun debating it.


How about multiplication facts (to 11s) by 4th grade?


National standards are coming to a school district near you, SOON! It's inevitable.

The big question will be who will be forced to cave more, Massachusetts or Mississippi? For the sake of kids nationwide and the good of the country I can only hope it will be Mississippi.


When I taught second grade I had my kids learn through the twelves table. They all got through and and I believe benefited from it as well.


It has to be Massachusetts (or Minnesota, or one or more of the other good examples.)

I think that we have hit a tipping point and enough of the nation's opinion leaders now understand that nothing lies down the Mississippi path but declining standards of living and national ruin.

I agree with you that it is coming. But I do not think that it will be easy. Still political opposition on the political right and the left. Many will lose power, teachers, school boards, local politicians, etc. but the nation's children will be the winners.


Here in Massachusetts we have a solid set of state standards as well as the MCAS tests all coupled with high expectations - from many teachers VERY HIGH expectations. One other universal component to our success has been the relentless understanding from all stakeholders that: ALL CHILDREN CAN LEARN. This is what's expected and working together we can get everyone to this level.

Parent and taxpayer support have, of course, been critical to all this being realized.

A quick little story reported in the Boston Globe in 2004 chronicled the story of Katy Bartlett from Arlington (a suburb just outside Boston) High School, a Down-Syndrome youngster who passed the MCAS graduation test ON HER FIRST TRY. That silenced many critics of MCAS immediately and essentially forever. It also reinforced the mantra I mentioned from above that ALL CHILDREN CAN LEARN. When you think about this philosophy or this remarkable young woman, how could anyone accept anything less?

GB and Paul:

I suspect that you are right that national standards are inevitable. But their biggest advantage is that they are more efficient (way too much effort to create them 50 times over, along with the creation of 50 sets of tests--plus DC). I think the conversation would be better directed towards what makes for good standards.

I don't know if 2nd grade is the right point at which to expect knowledge/memorization of addition facts to 10, 11 or 12. I do know that the standards of some other countries are written with a clarity that leads to understanding at what point that expectation falls. Ours, generally, are not. We might spend three or four years "exploring concepts of additive powers," or "applying addition to real life situations," or "understanding additive and subtractive properties." I am not saying that these other considerations should be absent from the curriculum--but standards written in these terms are not transparent, confuse the life out of any parents who might be expected to lend support, and don't do a whole lot for elementary teachers whose last higher level math class was in high school.

I suspect that if some national organization (perhaps even the DOE) was able to come up with a clear and coherent set of standards, there would be no need to make them mandatory--states would flock to them, particularly if there were a battery of standardized tests available to reliably assess students' progress.


When you state, "I suspect that if some national organization (perhaps even the DOE) was able to come up with a clear and coherent set of standards, there would be no need to make them mandatory--states would flock to them, particularly if there were a battery of standardized tests available to reliably assess students' progress," I think you're overlooking one critical issue - MONEY.

Too many states have set their standards at such low levels for the sole purpose of guaranteeing their federal NCLB funds. They've seemingly missed the big picture - improving our schools thereby improving the life chances of millions of US students.

Margo, again you are spot on!

Going back to '97 or so, I recall being appalled at the English standards issued from the Ohio Department of Education. It seemed the writer(s) had never personally read any quality prose. They certainly had not encountered Strunk and White.

You come to the heart of my bellyaching these past weeks. Having witnessed how other professions define national standards, it seems we could learn so much and apply it to education.

On the other hand, we have plenty of national standards. Core Knowledge, etc. What is missing is incentive/power for local districts to adopt them.

DOE as issuer of standards--I shudder!

Better would be for 12 states to band together with representatives from, say, Community colleges and the National Association of Manufacturers, to produce and one test. Then repeat that with another set of states with different partners.

From each of these, set up a participatory website for review and comment.

Then brand the result, and build support behind it.


There are standards and then there are cut scores. While they both go by the appellation of "standards" at times, they are different. I was speaking of academic content standards. Every state now has a huge volume of these things to delineate what every child should now and be able to do. Look into a few and you will detect that they are a pretty broad smorgasbord of what everyone wanted to keep on teaching at their own particular grade level--worded in ways that seek to avoid anything that anyone could reasonable be held accountable for. I understand why this is--we believe rather profoundly in the idea of "local control" and all kinds of professional freedoms. So--they are open to teaching addition, subtraction, multiplication, division OR addition, multiplication, subtraction, division OR addition, properties of addition, sets, data and measurement--followed by subtraction (or multiplication), etc. etc.

Despite the gesticulations of a few, who may actually have the skills to re-order things their own way and come out on top, I suspect that the majority of teachers in actual classrooms, are better off with some more concrete guidance (and the ability to cohere with the teacher who had the class last year and the one who will have them next year). If you take a look at Singapore's math standards, they are a slim volume, exceedingly clear, logically ordered, etc. I don't know that I would consider them to be "dummy proof" (or teacher proof), but I do think that they would work for teachers with a broader range of mathematical understanding.

But good standards/bad standards, it is still possible to follow Mississippi's lead just by requiring too low a proficiency score. I rather suspect that even Mississippi would have a better outcome with a well-written set of standards.

You are right, though--the states are now heavily invested in writes/rewrites/revisions and test creation for whatever their state system is. That is why a non-mandatory national system looks practical to me. This allows states the option at some point to scrap what they have at a point at which it makes sense--when they are ready for a major rewrite, when they are faced with a major budget crisis that might improve if testing costs could be minimized, when evidence from other states convinces them that there is a better way.

Personally, for my own state, I would rather, at this point, build on what has been learned than take a chance on some national effort in its infancy. But--down the road, maybe.

Say Ed:

Have you read Chistensen's "Disrupting Class" yet? I just started it. He has quite a bit to say about standardization from an organizational point of view. As I understand it, he is looking at how all the chunks fit together (interfaces). As systems mature, a level of standardization allows for customization. He uses Dell Computer as an example. Highly customizable because the parts are easily interchangeable. He suggests that this is a necessary step in making schools responsive to different learning styles, in a way that they are not now.

Margo, i read the essay, but not the book. Perhaps it is time, as I seem to be doing a pathetic job of articulating these ideas myself!

Dell is a great example of the chains of trust. In no way could the average American household afford the Dual-core, 2GB secured system necessary to run the modern WorldWide Web with Youtube, et al,...without the worldwide supply and support chains that Dell and competitors employ. Nor could the wealth of free software and web content be near as great if those other countries weren't benefiting from the wages and computers Dell et al send their way.

Learning in school could make a huge leap if we opened up!

Back in the day, the USAF began to trust contractors to do its contracting and systems integration - something previously thought possible only by officers and sworn DOD civilians, all supervised by SES executives and General Officers. The switch was a huge debate.

The forces of flatness won the day, and the 100 hour, low casualty war was the result of the systems built under the new model.


I just finished it and it's (almost) what I've been preaching to the choir all this time. He emphasizes that kids have different learning styles (from Howard Gardner) and should be taught accordingly. My emphasis has been kids learn at different rates and should be expedited through the system accordingly.

You can tell he is not an educator. The work is poorly/marginally written but he clearly presents some compelling arguments for the disruption of our public school system via customized computer software instruction. FINALLY!!!

The remaining question being; will anyone follow his advice? If they do we could be in for a major paradigm shift away from bloody (Diana, please don’t get upset with over this emphasis) whole group instruction and finally move TOWARD student-centric (centered) learning.

Paul - how about COWS (curriculum on wheels) for all! he he he. Just kidding.

I looked at Mass. standards for 3rd grade math - not sure if there is a 4th grade. They do the "grade band" thing like Oregon which I really don't like. We have the 4th and 5th grade teachers sitting down and hashing out which parts of the science standards will be taught in each grade - not what I consider helpful to teachers or kids (that might move to a different school).

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