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Is Arne Duncan Really Margaret Spellings in Drag?


Dear Deborah,

I have been watching and listening to our new secretary of education, trying to understand his views on the most important issues facing our schools and the nation's children. I wanted to believe candidate Barack Obama when he said that he would introduce real change and restore hope. Surely, I thought, he understood that the deadening influence of No Child Left Behind has produced an era of number-crunching that has very little to do with improving education or raising academic standards.

We truly need change and hope. I thought he understood. He chose to keep his own children far from NCLB. He decided to send them to a private school in Washington, D.C., that shuns the principles and practices of NCLB.

However, based on what I have seen to date, I conclude that Obama has given President George W. Bush a third term in education policy and that Arne Duncan is the male version of Margaret Spellings. Maybe he really is Margaret Spellings without the glasses and wearing very high heels. We all know that Secretary Spellings greeted Duncan's appointment with glee. She wrote him an open letter in which she praised him as "a fellow reformer" who supports NCLB and anticipated that he would continue the work of the Bush administration. (Recall, Deborah, that the media today defines an education reformer as someone who endorses Republican principles of choice and accountability.)

Everything I have seen and learned since Duncan came to office has supported Secretary Spellings' admiring comments about Secretary Duncan. It turns out that Duncan, like the Bush administration, adores testing, charter schools, merit pay, and entrepreneurs. Part of the stimulus money, he told Sam Dillon of The New York Times, will be used so that states can develop data systems, which will enable them to tie individual student test scores to individual teachers, greasing the way for merit pay. Another part of the stimulus plan will support charters and entrepreneurs.

Duncan paid his first visit to New York City last week ("New Education Secretary Visits Brooklyn School," New York Times, Feb. 19, 2009). He did not visit a regular public school, but a charter school. Such decisions are not happenstance; they are intended to send a message. Bear in mind that the regular public schools enroll 98 percent of the city's one-million-plus students.

At the charter school, Duncan endorsed the core principles of the Bush education program. According to the account in the Times, Secretary Duncan said that "increasing the use of testing across the country should also be a spending priority." And he made this astonishing statement: "We should be able to look every second grader in the eye and say, 'You're on track, you're going to be able to go to a good college, or you're not...Right now, in too many states, quite frankly, we lie to children. We lie to them and we lie to their families."

Wow! More testing is needed. In New York City right now, students take a dozen tests a year. How many more should they take? How much of the stimulus package will be used to promote more testing across the country?

Are we lying to children? Deborah, you were principal of an elementary school. Could you look second-graders in the eye and tell them that they were on track to go to a good college—or not? Did you know? Did you lie and say that they were when they were not?

Doesn't this inflated and grandiose rhetoric grate on your sensibilities? Are teachers "lying" to children and their families right now when they can't project whether second-graders are on track to go to a good college? Isn't this claim—that we know which 7-year-olds will go to a good college and which will not—a baldfaced lie?

I am sorely disappointed in Arne Duncan. I don't see any change from the mean, punitive version of accountability that the Bush administration foisted on the nation's schools.



Hey Diane,

Your phrase "Republican principles of choice and accountability" made me lose my breath for a moment. It's striking that the debate has reached a point where the terms "choice" and "accountability" can be casually written as partisan concepts. I don't blame that on you, but it is sad to see that we have arrived at this place.


Hi Diane,

Two points:

First although Mr. Duncan could have been a bit more diplomatic, his expectations from educators are far less draconian than most of us outside of education face every day. I fear your sensitivity to his rhetoric is far too common among educators and is part of the problem.

Secondly I have seen precious few alternatives from educators. For instance one reason to tie students’ test scores to teachers is to have that part of an evaluation. Teacher evaluations are difficult, as Mathematica recently pointed out. How else could we identify failing teachers? Even the Obama people admit that is a major part of the problem.

Diane, What a Great headline! No matter what one feels about testing.

I think testing is stupid.

Its important to return to that point, as anyone who has read me has oft heard me say what appears to be the opposite. I defend Spellings and NCLB, and I'll defend Duncan on these points, and I get pretty rowdy at people who heap on the criticisms of the above.

I'm not schizophrenic.

Yes, let's rather see a new generation of tools which combine learning and dignostics, just as a well formed video game does (What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, James Paul Gee, 2nd ed.). Send me cash or a ruby programmer if you want to advance this day.

Yet that future day is not the point. The point is current organizational failure. Whatever the particulars, the current educational system fails more that 1 in 2 urban, African American children. It is also failing to produce enough engineers, disciplined scientists, medical doctors, and, I would argue, ethical bankers and financial engineers.

We can't claim that the problem is poverty. Poor people learn regularly. We can't say the problem is purely financial. States spend the bulk of their budgets on education; the feds chip in immensely, and foundations and donors add much more. Money spent rarely correlates with education.

When organization is the problem, and attempts to reorganize are thwarted, what managers do is bring in management tools. We the managers of this country (all 300 million of us) are giving you a starting set of tools.

You can work with the tools. You can improve them. You can abuse them. You can rant against them if that is the most creative thing you can think to do with the starting set of tools we gave you. I'm sad that that too often seems the case.

I wish I could go to a website--ImprovingtheTools.com, or BetterDiagnostics.org or whatever--and see teachers working together at improving the way they check each other's quality of work.

Wouldn't it be great if this column pointed out the best parts of the science test for 4th graders in Maine and the History test for 9th graders in Oklahoma and the graduation test in Alaska. Or whatever. Wouldn't it be great if we were specific; building, and positive? If we offered solutions?

In programming, hatred for the 1st generation of metrics (lines of code, etc) lead to the Agile Alliance. It was a rebellion of the ground troops against their leaders. Ironically, now testing plays an even greater role in the life of a modern agile programmer than it did under the old handed down rules. Yet its done is a way that makes sense to the professionals on the ground.

What will teachers do to move to a modern way of educating, supporting, and evaluating each other? It remains a mystery.

Meanwhile, thanks Arne. Keep on the pressure.

Everyone who thinks that more testing is the answer, or more testing tied to even more serious consequences for more people, should read this report from the National Center on Performance Incentives authored by Richard Rothstein. Apparently, economists (!), business management theorists (!), sociologists and historians have known for decades what teachers and other educators have been saying about the use of quantitative output performance measures for accountability and performance incentive plans. (Merit pay is the latter--it has nothing to do with accountability.) Specifically, there are negative consequences to 1) exclusive reliance on quantitative measures because they cannot accurately capture the complexity of human endeavors and 2) making the quantitative measures high-stakes for the people whose performance is being measured. At the very least, these negative consequences have to be weighed against the benefits in formulating policy. Preferably, the quantitative measures have to be balanced with the use of qualitative measures in order to mitigate the negative consequences of each.

To simply ignore this reality--pretend we don't know about the downside of, in our case, exclusive reliance on high-stakes testing for accountability and performance incentives--only guarantees that those negative consequences will have full sway and will play out until they bring the system down, or at least become so obvious that the most determined can't ignore them.

Rothstein cites three problems, with much supporting evidence extending back to the early 20th century. All three are familiar to those of us living daily with the testing-and-accountability craze and its consequences. They are:

1) conventional definitions and measurements of educational outputs are so oversimplified that they cannot support valid accountability or performance incentive systems. Goal distortion results, . . . .
2) Adjusting expectations of performance for the characteristics of inputs has proven more difficult than anticipated. With students at different risks of failure because of the varied background characteristics, accountability and incentive systems can be credible only if sanctions and rewards can be adjusted for these variations. . . . .
3) Untrustworthy statistics undermine the credibility of accountability and incentive systems. They would do so even if measurement of outputs and inputs could be defined more precisely. Inadequate data reliability is one impediment: . . . . Because standardized test items are too few to fully represent the curriculum, sampling corruption results. . . . . explicit gaming can manipulate accountability data:. . . .

Rothstein goes on to say

These challenges--in defining outputs and inputs and in the accuracy of data themselves--surprise many education policy makers. Some conclude that the problems stem only from the inadequacy of publich educators. {emphasis added; sound familiar?} For example, one critic argues, good teachers "can and should" integrate subject matter so that raising mathe and reading scores need not result in diminished attention to other curricular areas. But this expectation denies the intent and power of incentives which, if successful, should redirect attention and resources to those outputs that are rewarded.

The corruption of performance incentive systems stimulated by a too-heavy reliance on quantitative measurement is not peculiar to public education. It has been extensively documented in other fields by economists, business management theorists, sociologists, and historians.

The bulk of the report documents these claims, not only from the public sphere but also from private enterprise.

The thing that gripes me about this is that all these economists and business experts that have been weighing in so heavily on education policy lately either do or should know about all this already, since so much of the research is from economists and business.

I urge everyone to read the whole report, and maybe send copies to Duncan and Obama by special delivery. Maybe if several humdred landed on their doorsteps, they'd actually read it also, and take the results seriously.

Jean, you've got it -- you just didn't realize what you said!

We do know the limitations and abuses of quantitative performance measurement systems. And,... we don't care.

Look, no one knows better the limitations of any kind of sociological math than those of us who have used math in the physics and engineering labs, to balance a company's books, or to keep an airplane flying at 120 feet above the treetops on autopilot. We understand the difference between hard math and statistics, between physical laws and human populations.

Now, maybe among teachers, you all are competing to see who gets 83% vs. 81%. We know that a 20% difference probably means nothing.

What we also know is that some test exists which can tell us whether the kids in classroom P are learning to read or not.

We know that if 80% of the kids in a 4th grade classroom in Lodi, OH can pass test Q, and only 20% of the kids in a classroom in Memphis, TN can pass that test, then a) we need a better test, or b) the kids in the Memphis classroom are not learning something that the kids in Lodi are.

Conclusion c), blame the parents who ask that they be compared, is a conclusion that could only come from the entrenched and self-interested Educracy.

So, send your reports. I need kindling against the cold.


Thanks for the image...

It's really sad that testing and accountability is considered reform. Neither will have a direct effect on the number of scientists, engineers, inventors we produce. At best, we'll know from where they won't be coming.

Real reform would be better preparing and supporting teachers and students. There should be a law that you can't write or analyze a standardized test unless you already have a strategy that will guarantee success. What, you can't do that? Then either you aren't qualified to create the assessment or the assessment is a poor measure of learning. Let the teacher design the goal and the strategy and then the test can be generated according to the teacher's needs. Until then the data you collect is of limited use.

The problem with management tools is that the maker and the user don't have common goals. The user wants function and the maker wants performance. The maker never asks the user what they need, but berates the user for not doing their best work with a tool that wasn't designed for them.


You missed the boat on two fronts in your response to Jean. First, the point is not that quantitative measures are limiting, it's that they are damaging. Second, show me the parents that are demanding these measures. No one is blaming parents, and as far as I can tell, parents are not up in arms demanding more testing.

Sam--count me as a parent who wants measures. I may be the odd duck, but within the community of folks raising kids with disabilities, I would say that I am more typical than not. We rely on concrete measure because we have learned over time that the the glowing reports of how well little Johnnie is learning are to be taken with a grain of salt (and the glowing reports seem to reflect more about whether little Johnnie is an agreeable child who does as told than about what little Johnnie is/is not learning).

And, if you think no one is blaming parents--well, you just haven't been around. Parents of children who are not doing well are generally judged to be poorly motivated, not sufficiently caring to ensure that homework is done, not good supporters of teachers, or just general rotters who ruined their kids before they even got to kindergarten by not saying enough words to them.

For anyone interested, I could (and sometimes do) go all qualitative and a provide a case history of a single parent raising a child with disabilities in an urban district. The saddest part, Sam, is how few people believe the experience. That's why I prefer sticking to the numbers.


The conclusion I would draw from your post is that we need a balance of qualitative and quantitative data. It's hard to see the big picture without some numbers, but it's equally important not to treat our students as black boxes with imput and output data. If we rely too much on data we take the teacher and student out of the educational picture, and then what's the point?

Ed, first re-read this:

"At the very least, these negative consequences have to be weighed against the benefits in formulating policy. Preferably, the quantitative measures have to be balanced with the use of qualitative measures in order to mitigate the negative consequences of each."

from my original comment. Then, go read the actual report. Apparently you think you already know what it says, but your response indicates very clearly that you do not.

I'm not, nor is anyone I know, suggesting that we replace the current test-until-we-drop system with no assessment at all. Rather, what I want is for people to admit the known problems with the current system--the damage being done to our schools and to kids, never mind teachers--and replace the current disastrous policy and assessment system with something more nuanced, more realistic, and more honest and accurate. What I want is for the opportunity for teachers and those who theoretically are there to enable us to do our jobs to have the opportunity to do what you say programmers were able to do. As long as NCLB is restricting us to a single inadequate measure for accountability purposes, we can't do what you claim you want us to do: "move to a modern way of educating, supporting, and evaluating each other."

If you DO understand how damaging the current system is, and still don't care--what's that about?

Fair enough, Margo/Mom. I over-generalized, and I should clarify.

In education, everyone gets blamed: kids, teachers, parents, administrators, politicians.

I just did not think that it was fair for Ed to say that critics of testing are, in effect, blaming parents. I don't see that.

I also can understand why you support testing, especially as NCLB has mandated the disaggregation of testing data. I'm not in favor of high stakes standardized tests, but as long as we have them, the disaggregation of student data seems like a good thing to me.


"We rely on concrete measures because we have learned over time that the glowing reports of how well little Johnnie is learning are to be taken with a grain of salt (and the glowing reports seem to reflect more about whether little Johnnie is an agreeable child who does as told than about what little Johnnie is/is not learning)."

Talk about hitting the nail on the head. How totally revealing. Not enough people remember that this was exactly the rationale behind state departments of education becoming the neo-monitors of our public schools. There were too many social promotions and graduation rates were far too good for the students our schools were producing. The achievement gap? There was no such thing as an achievement gap until NCLB testing began. Everyone was doing just fine.

Rod Paige said while he was Commissioner of Education, "I can get rid of the achievement gap tomorrow. Call a halt to the NCLB tests and the achievement gap will disappear over night.”

However, Diane is correct. THERE IS FAR TOO MUCH TESTING. In the reauthorization of NCLB, it would be helpful if somehow Washington could minimize the testing. Maybe those kids who perform well only need be tested every third year and those who seemingly have a problem every other year? I don't have a definitive answer other than to suggest we somehow need to overall reduce the number of tests given in grades one through eight.


Thanks for your honesty in writing,

"We do know the limitations and abuses of quantitative performance measurement systems. And,... we don't care."

Teachers, obviously are not deserving of basic fairness or the basic protections of due process and contract law.

Why do you allow people so unworthy to be around children? Are you just waiting for the next unreliable technological fix to replace us?

So far, I have not seen any evidence that Arne Duncan will provide any assistance or opportunity for math and science teachers working as substitutes. He should streamline the application and testing process, training structure and fees so that those teachers will have a chance to teach what they know.

Many have a wide range of exceptional talent yet they are largely ignored by the education bureaucracy because their talent does not dovetail smoothly into program dogma.

$100 billion to disadvantaged children and special education, while well-intentioned, will not increase the math and science position of the United States.

You're right, Sam. In education everyone gets blamed. I have been reading Senge, lately on systems thinking. Based on his world-view (or organizational or management theory), the condition within a system that causes this kind of blaming behavior is an inability to think systemically--that is to see the system as whole, or beyond our own individual piece of the system. We make bad decisions because consequences do not occur in close proximity and we miss the connection. So we repeat the error until our system founders or requires a massive correction of some kind.

I know that the system goes beyond any single home or classroom--most likely even beyond a building or district. Certainly there are realities with regard to the way that we have constructed our "system" that create inequitable outcomes. Personally, I am very uncomfortable with classifying students as inputs--although perhaps prior learning/culture/access to resources are reasonable inputs. But we have, through a long serious of choices build our system to concentrate resources in some areas and lack of resource in other areas. As Rod Paige pointed out--there were no gaps in outcomes--because we didn't measure the outcomes (except in district specific and highly guarded testing situations that allowed no comparisons between the haves and have nots). The consequences of these choices have always been far removed from the decision-makers. I don't know if we need to examine our "system" from that macro level in order to achieve meaningful reform. If we do, we are a long, long way from understanding why this would be important. Maybe the testing data will help.

With that said, I am unwilling to accept that there is no level of improvement available to us even amongst our current maldistribution. For this, even "the tests" are too distant (and too general) to provide help within the timeframe and with the specificity needed. I don't understand why it is that teachers/schools/districts (or whoever is making decisions in those buildings) have flocked to more and extra tests that do more of what the state tests do. Ed said, "I wish I could go to a website--ImprovingtheTools.com, or BetterDiagnostics.org or whatever--and see teachers working together at improving the way they check each other's quality of work." This (whether a website,or just two or three teachers working together in a school) would in fact be helpful. What I don't understand is why this doesn't happen. If we are to believe that the teachers, as a whole, are a pretty decent lot, well versed in appropriate methods of teaching and testing--how can they have missed the potential here. Having read, at least portions of the "harms" attributed to testing and accountability (it amazes me that nobody ever thought that these things were bad when it was only students who were assessed or held accountable), I suggest a read into Black and Wiliam on formative assessment and the extent to which it can provide feedback to improve learning (in ways that are measureable on standardized tests). Rothstein seems to me to be presenting a rather disrespectful and robotic view of the teaching profession--insofar as he suggests that when challenged, teachers will most likely opt for anti-intellectual and dishonest means of "getting over," with complete disregard for any harm done to children as a result.

Ah, great conversation again!! Thanks, everyone!

John, In 1979 to 1981, the Federal Reserve, under Chairman Paul Volker, raised the Federal Funds rate from 11% to 20%. The howls across the nation were deafening. How unfair. How could anyone be so cruel. Inflation was broken, and remained broken (until the present board of governors held rates at 1-2%) for 27 years.

You can think of your own example in re medicine, surgery, etc., and you'll see that temporarily imposed pain is not always a bad thing.

Sam, about the only point of agreement from both sides of the aisle about Presidet Obama is that he has some sense of what is needed in terms of education. Its a rare moment when I would agree with Al Sharpton or Ted Kennedy, so in the sense that Americans voted for Obama and his education policies, its fair to say that teachers are blaming parents.

John, also, if you read my comments across the weeks, you will see that I trust teachers as much as any population of six million; I do not believe the organizations leading them are properly structured for the 21st century.

Jean, funny that the National Academies study on "Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Public Education" (promised by Rothstein) is 8 months overdue on its report!!! :-)

And I've not yet been convinced that the NCLB remedies are as damaging as is oft claimed. Some state implementations may be. However, as I recall from my day at the Beyond the Basics conference cited by Rothstein, the corelation nationally wasn't really there.

Nonetheless, even if it is damaging, see the Volker model, and lets get everybody working to get past the period of pain to a period where teachers organize, train, equip, and evaluate using agile processes that seem more like 2010 than 1970.

(Oh, and dump the blatant partisan leadership for professional leadership. The partisanship reflects poorly on all teachers, and hampers your ability to be heard.)

Hi All... hope this finds you all well.

It is my take that we have major problems in America and our schools reflect the society they are embedded in.

We have Apartheid schooling all across America.... this i would suggest is an issue of importance that is rarely spoken. The i would suggest to Mr. Duncan is a civil rights issue!

Apartheid education, rarely mentioned in the press or openly confronted even among once-progressive educators, is alive and well and rapidly increasing now in the United States.

Hypersegregated inner-city schools--in which one finds no more than five or ten white children, at the very most, within a student population of as many as 3,000--are the norm, not the exception, in most northern urban areas today.

In Chicago, by the academic year 2002-2003, 87 percent of public-school enrollment was black or Hispanic; less than 10 percent of children in the schools were white.

In Washington, D.C., 94 percent of children were black or Hispanic; less than 5 percent were white.

In St. Louis, 82 percent of the student population were black or Hispanic;

in Philadelphia and Cleveland, 79 percent;

in Los Angeles, 84 percent,

in Detroit, 96 percent;

in Baltimore, 89 percent.

In New York City, nearly three quarters of the students were black or Hispanic.

Even these statistics, as stark as they are, cannot begin to convey how deeply isolated children in the poorest and most segregated sections of these cities have become. In the typically colossal high schools of the Bronx, for instance, more than 90 percent of students (in most cases, more than 95 percent) are black or Hispanic. At John F. Kennedy High School in 2003, 93 percent of the enrollment of more than 4,000 students were black and Hispanic; only 3.5 percent of students at the school were white. At Harry S. Truman High School, black and Hispanic students represented 96 percent of the enrollment of 2,700 students; 2 percent were white. At Adlai Stevenson High School, which enrolls 3,400 students, blacks and Hispanics made up 97 percent of the student population; a mere eight tenths of one percent were white.(Kozol)

Interesting where and who we decide to experiment on!

Other American Issues:

Moments in America for Children
March 2008

•Every second a public school student is suspended.*
•Every 10 seconds a high school student drops out.*
•Every 17 seconds a public school student is corporally punished.*
•Every 25 seconds a child is arrested.
•Every 35 seconds a baby is born into poverty.
•Every 36 seconds a child is confirmed as abused or neglected.
•Every 41 seconds a baby is born without health insurance.
•Every minute a baby is born to a teen mother.
•Every 2 minutes a baby is born at low birthweight.
•Every 5 minutes a child is arrested for a drug offense.
•Every 9 minutes a child is arrested for a violent crime.
•Every 18 minutes a baby dies before his first birthday.
•Every 3 hours a child or teen is killed by a firearm.
•Every 5 hours a child or teen commits suicide.
•Every 6 hours a child is killed by abuse or neglect.
•Every 14 hours a woman dies from complications of childbirth or pregnancy.
Based on calculations per school day (180 days of seven hours each)

Children’s Defense Fund

Until we begin to really begin to address these issues....and others....
we will find ourselves arguing about test scores and teacher quality... about money and poor organization...about the surface of problems not the roots....

when will we begin?

I agree with many of your criticisms of Duncan. But your equating Obama and Bush is absurd. Shows how isolated you and many progressives are and how irrelevant.

To C. Bell:
I did not criticize Obama, I criticized Arne Duncan, who was appointed by Obama. Although maybe I should have criticized Obama,because in his message to Congress last night, he endorsed charter schools as a big feature of his education policy. Reminder: 2% of American students go to charter schools. I have not seen any reason to believe that Duncan and Obama differ on Obama's education policy.
Hey, Deborah! "We progressives!"


Hey Mike Kozol,

The hand-wringing is a bit overboard, don't you think? While these issues have surfaced since Brown, what's your proposed fix for them? Michigan discussed busing white suburban kids to Detroit (?) and Black city kids to the suburbs but it was shot down by the courts. You cannot force people to live where they don't want to live nor can you force them to live where they cannot afford it. It was also proven in Boston in the 70’s by Judge Garrity how ugly and ineffective force busing can turn out to be, regardless of its good intentions.

So other than your attempted grandstand call to rectify these acknowledged problems, what would you propose?

I'd love to see two black families in every neighborhood of ten and four black students in every classroom of twenty but this is America. No one can MAKE this happen anywhere.

Again, you've listed a litany of problems but you seem to be lacking a bit on solutions.


In my community, from time to time, we have suburban folks sneaking their kids in to the popular magnet schools. It happens that we also have had (until the current recession) a thriving rec system that provided low-cost arts, music and theater programs--as well as a summer day camping program. There were no geographic barriers to participation and the suburbanites flocked to them (and I can only wonder--if they were paying their own way, would these programs have survived).

I rather suspect that if urban centers became infused with the resources needed to lift the educational achievement of the kids living there, the isolationists in the suburbs would reverse their flight pattern. We would then have to ensure that the systems that they left behind did not become the new ghettos.

The primitive mindset of this blog says much about the backwardness and violence of America.

What do I mean? How could I say that these two erudite and morally charged souls could be "primitive"?

Both Ravitch and Meier support socialist schools and the centralizing of administration in D.C. Add their worship of Obama, our Dear Leader who is sending 17,000 imperial troops to Afghanistan, then the picture becomes clearer.

In other words, they are both National Socialists.

But that is not all. Their uncritical support of unions- in spite of the long history of union extortion, violence and economic destruction- is also telling. Both were adults when the McClellan Committee Report, the US Congress's investigation into union corruption, came out some 50 odd years ago. It has thousands of pages of condemning evidence. (See Sylvester Petro's analysis here: http://www.mises.org/books/powerunlimited.pdf)

Yet Ravitch and Meier will tell you that unions help workers get better pay and working conditions. One might call it a romantic blindspot in their erudition.

Then let it be said that R & M are National Socialists for the workers. I won't insult the reader and will caution myself not to paint too wide a brush. True though, following WWI there was a rising political party in Germany called the "Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei" or National Socialist German Worker's Party.

Of course, R & M don't hate Jews, but they do believe that the state should handle racial policy- they just call it affirmative action or myriad other Orwellianisms. Further, unlike the Nazi's, they are pro-union, as already stated. So they are not outright fascists.

But what they have in common with the Nazis is a complete disdain for laissez faire and the freedom of the individual.

To complete their profiles- since they are all-the-way socialists but not complete fascists, one has to see the Soviet side of their mentality as well.

The total school system they support is indeed bureaucratic like Bolshevik Russia. But R & M sell these 'gulag archipelagos' of education (indoctrination) to the public using romantic semiotic labels like "progressive", "scientifically managed", or "democratic" even. This tactic they do share with both the Nazis and Soviets.

Even though the domestic situation is not yet entirely on the scale of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, it should be plain to see that the ideological underpinnings, which necessarily result in such totalitarianism, are spreading. It is evident among leaders such as Ravitch and Meier. This backwardness was also the case in both Germany and Russia in the decades leading up to their historical tragedies.

This is not to say that R & M have malice or bad intentions. But this failure to recognize the destructiveness in the anti-market mentality will have serious consequences. The 'capitalism has caused the problem and the state can fix it' mindset has already condemned our current age to what might may be the greatest economic depression ever. Sadly, this is just the beginning of the tragedy.

Ideas have consequences. Children indoctrinated into the same Ravitch and Meier ideological spectrum grow up to create the calamities such as we have seen in the past and are suffering at the present.

Hi Paul Hoss...
hope this finds you well.

Not really ringing my hands Paul...i actually work in some of these places.

"So other than your attempted grandstand call to rectify these acknowledged problems, what would you propose?" Mr. Paul

I would propose having this be a part of the discussion.
Seperate but "equal" will not be a good enough long term solution.

Paul, i certainly do not have all the answers... but to ignore this as we attempt to look for solutions seems premature.

I also recognize that this is America ... thanks for the reminder....i would suggest that America can do better then this....


Oh, dear, within the space of a few hours, I have been denounced as "a progressive" and a Nazi by different respondents to the blog. I don't like labels. I think they are a stupid shortcut that relieves the writer of actually thinking about ideas. But in this case, I will ignore the claim that I am a "progressive," (which is certainly no insult), and refute the charge that Deborah and I are Nazis. This is stupid, and I probably should not both responding. Let me just say that this kind of mud-slinging impedes rational discussion and closes off debate. It really doesn't advance one's argument to smear the people with whom you disagree. We should try to avoid anything that ends the discussion, like name-calling and smear tactics.


Second, show me the parents that are demanding these measures [testing].

I am a parent who opts to send my child to a parochial school because (among other reasons) that school administers the ITBS, so one has an objective measure of progress against a large sample population.

Even the good public schools where I live (San Francisco) rail and whine about having to "teach to the test." I have no patience with this, as all their teaching throughout the school year should be aligned with the (fairly good and explicit) California state standards. To the extent they are not, they are wasting my tax dollars on their pet projects.


Not only did you you attack Obama (not just Duncan), here and in Politico, you did it in an unprincipled way. You know darn well that his education policies are not the same as Barack's. You obviously disagree with him about charter schools. That's your right. But listen to yourself on Duncan:
"Spellings in drag," "...without high heels." What's with all the chauvinistic sexual innuendo and personal assault? What ever happened to "bridging differences?"

To C. Bell, well, okay, I criticized Obama. He is President. In America, it is okay to criticize the President. Do you remember what Harry S Truman said about the kitchen? The purpose of this blog is to bridge differences with Deborah Meier, not to bridge differences with Arne Duncan and President Obama. If they want to explain their endorsement of more testing, more merit pay, more data systems to facilitate merit pay, and more charter schools, I offer them an open forum, so we too can bridge differences.

So who is civ ref, Ed or Paul?

"So who is civ ref, Ed or Paul?"

And here I had assumed that our libertarian friend had just assumed a new identity.

Hi All.... can America consider this?

Separate. Equal?

Nashville school re-segregation threatens a new generation
By Jeff Woods
Published on August 27, 2008

Neighborhood schools are great unless your neighborhood is the ghetto, in which case the sensible parent is putting her child on the first big yellow bus to the safer, happier place where white people live, where there's money and hope.

Forty years of studies, beginning with the famous Coleman Report in 1966, have shown that sending a lot of poor kids to school in the same place is a really bad idea.

It's a central issue in education—how to teach poor urban children—and in all the research there's no more consistent conclusion than this: In schools where poverty is concentrated, students learn less. All the problems these children face—poor health, hunger, drugs, gangs and violence, and a culture that scorns education—it's all just too overwhelming for schools.

For more than 1,300 poor children in Nashville, the school rezoning plan would close that door of opportunity, according to the city's black leaders.

Under the plan, beginning next school year (unless opponents succeed in stopping it), those students no longer will be bused 40 minutes to the upscale neighborhoods of Hillwood, but will go instead closer to home in the Pearl-Cohn cluster of schools in predominately black North Nashville.

The black enrollment at Hillwood High, located next to a country club and luxury dream homes, will drop immediately from roughly 50 percent to 25 percent.

Pearl-Cohn's eight schools, already heavily black and poor, will become that much more so. In all but two schools, more than 90 percent of the students will be African American.

Overall, nearly 90 percent will be poor enough to receive federally subsidized school lunches.

Already in Nashville, the black-white educational achievement gap is yawning, with more than double the percentage of elementary- and middle-school blacks failing to perform at their grade levels in math and reading, just to name two subjects. Black leaders are convinced the rezoning plan will exacerbate that.

Jerry Maynard—a Pentecostal preacher and, as an at-large Metro Council member, the city's highest-ranking African American elected official—has been the most outspoken.

The Nashville school system's white population, still at 48 percent in 2001, has now fallen to 36 percent.

Forty-seven percent of the district's 78,000 children are black. Alarmingly, the percentage of children poor enough to qualify for subsidized lunches has jumped from 47 percent seven years ago to 71 percent today.

What might re-districting look like in your community?

In some area's of America.... as States move to consolidate school districts.... why couldn't this become part of that discussion?


My post did not call you a Nazi or a Bolshevik. Either you read the post and decided to be dismissive with your false charges of 'name calling' etc, or you did not read the post for content and are, likewise, being dismissive.

You duck like a politician for sure.


Hope this entry finds you well also.

I'm all for eradicating Plessy but unfortunately that is what our schools have appeared to have morphed into today. I would echo your thoughts that America should be able to do better than this in the twenty-first century. In the same breath, I'm stumped. I have no recommended solutions.



While I'm certainly no (Jack Kennedy {ala Llyod Benson, 1988) Barack Obama or Arne Duncan, I'm for less testing but, "...merit pay, more data systems to facilitate merit pay, and more charter schools." I'd like to discuss these possibilities on this forum sometime in the near future.

Civilization's Referee (Reason, is that you?),

If you've followed this blog, as you seem to insist you have, you should know better than to label these two titans of our education (R&M) as anything but pillars of society and stalwarts for democracy.

Diane (& Deborah) -

I read this post yesterday and said to myself "gee, I hope Ravitch turns out to be wrong on this...."

Then I listened to President Obama's speech last night. He is so on-the-mark on so many things. I kept expecting a big segment on education, with a soaring array of enlightened and imaginative new approaches. Didn't get it.

So I came back to re-read your blog post, and now I'm even more worried.

It strikes me that, when it comes to policy thinking, even the best political figures tend to get trapped in a kind of marketing mind-set: policies must be capable of being summarized and bullet-pointed, using the broadest-possible and most-acceptable terms ("reform", "accountability", "success").

I think we need to break out of these molds and admit that there is no one "answer" when it comes to education. Instead, I would propose an approach based on creative ferment -- a whole array of different approaches: different kinds of "tests", no "tests", different kinds of schools and classrooms, multiple teachers, more student-driven choice, classes in the libraries, parents and others as classroom assistants... and so on.

I just posted a link to this blog on my twitter page. If you're on twitter my link will take you there. If you're not on twitter, maybe you should be. I have created a twitter hashtag #edprog to begin tagging progressive education news and issues.

Paul Hoss,

Even if it were true that R & M have been 'stalwarts for democracy' why should that be considered a good thing? Democracy has no protection against public tyranny. As soon as people acquire the ability to vote themselves the property of other people- that is exactly what they do. The result of democracy is mass theft and injustice. Proponents of democracy should be brought down.

The respondent who calls himself or herself "civilization's referee" says that I was wrong in saying that he/she said that Deborah and I are socialists or Nazis. I re-read the post and it does indeed say that we champion socialist schools, and it goes on to say that we are advocates of "National Socialism." Perhaps the writer does not realize that Hitler's party was the National Socialist Party.

Civilization's Referee,

Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried."

Then you state, "Proponents of democracy should be brought down."

No offense intended, but I prefer Churchill's beliefs.

What I can't figure out about people like yourself is; if this country and its democracy are so offensive to you, why do you remain here? Heck, I’m sure there are tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan that would welcome you with open arms.

hey diane,

Great thoughts, I couldn't agree more with the equating of obama and bush. I believe he is instituting a third bush term as far education standards go. Here is a wonderful resource I use myself


keep up the great work


A May 2007 census study showed that Utah had the lowest per pupil spending, but its high school graduation rate was ranked 10th from the top. We all know that a strong, family oriented religion dominates that state.

Despite being English learners, Asian students in Oakland (where I live) have academic achievement close to White students, but their medium household income is near the bottom (White $57,399, Latino $38,779, Asian $33,614, African American $31,184, 2000 census). Asian (specifically Chinese as well as other high Confucian value cultures) parents rarely divorce, extended family connections are strong, and serving one’s parents with academic achievement is part of their cultural norm.

Like all of you, I’m trying to figure out all of this, too. My current theory is that school achievement is connected to something which families might have a lot of, not much at all, or some amount in between. It seems to be some sort of the "right" kind ( = effective in the larger society) of "social capital," and this is how I think parenting styles connect.

My biggest concern is for African American families because of the extreme distress they have had to endure. Elijah Anderson has written extensively about certain aspects of this. And even though she's a little harsh & not quite on the mark, I do appreciate some points Kay Hymowitz makes, too.

It seems likely to me that academic and child well-being (physical and mental health) trends are correlated with the level of stability of a child's family life, no matter what income level. The effects on the family caused by generational unemployment in the African American community has been devastating to children and their family structures. Now incarceration is taking its terrible toll.

This is why I am fixated on teacher turnover, and schools being opened and closed, and opened and closed. Kids, especially disadvantaged urban kids, need stability and consistency in their lives. They need a caring teacher who they can go back to visit if they want to -- in a school that still exists. Duncan, and everyone else, don't seem to get this.

I moved six times when I was a kid and had a single, stressed-out working class mom for much of that time. I’ve had two stepfathers in my life and two stepmothers, too. I had a tiny extended family because both of my parents were only children. My mother didn't meet her father until she was 13. Her mother was institutionalized for mental illness when she was a kid. Of course it sounds like a sob story but I'm really trying to explain that I have a deep level of empathy with any kid who is experiencing a childhood that is anything similar.

And even though my family circumstances were unstable and not well supported, they don’t compare to what so many urban children are dealing with today.

I would like to see more education improvement discussions include an exploration of these concepts, and ideas for what can be done. Maybe it would help.

Dear Diane,

You are a wonderful person for dealing with these comments as calmly as you do.

The part of your post that resonates with me the most was this quote re: Obama's decision about his children...

"We truly need change and hope. I thought he understood. He chose to keep his own children far from NCLB. He decided to send them to a private school in Washington, D.C., that shuns the principles and practices of NCLB."

He does one thing for his children and offers another for everyone else's...that's problematic at best.

And I don't think, at the end of the day, that it is about money. All children could have a "Sidwell" education.


You are right. I should have written that you and Deborah are nationalists and socialists, not National Socialists. I apologize, sincerely. I want my irreverance to stem from truth. The rest of the post's admonishments stand.

Paul Hoss,

Why do I stay here if it is so bad? Because all is not lost. The ideological battle for freedom can still be waged and won. Look at the attention that Ron Paul has gotten recently. Thomas Woods book "Meltdown" has hit #1 too. The libertarians schooled in Austrian economics were the only ones to predict the current fiasco.

I have a belief that right will make might someday and justice is a fight that rewards regardless of result. I hold dear the motto of the great 20th century champion of classic liberalism and free markets (he was not an anarchist btw):

"Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito" (Latin: Do not give in to evil but proceed ever more boldly against it)

I've been reading this for over a year, but never commented. I haven't had time to read through all the comments yet, but I had one thought as I read your post, regarding charter schools. I'm not sure why lumping charter schools in with all that is wrong in education is the way to go. Frankly, I know of many good and effective charter schools that were started simply because traditional public schools weren't doing what they were supposed to do. I work at a charter school. My children attend this same school. It is innovative in ways that the traditional neighborhood public schools cannot be. We are a public school, receive public funds (though NONE for building), serve special needs populations, and do everything that public schools do. We take state mandated tests every year. The one thing we don't do is gear our whole year around these tests. We do not teach to the test. We respect children and their learning. Our administration supports its staff in everything it does. Our school is the sort of school Deborah would love. It's a charter school, simply because parents wanted an alternative. It's a great alternative, though, and I wouldn't have it any other way. If schools in our area weren't using canned curricula, constantly giving county assessments to kids to prepare for the state tests, expecting them to learn and think in only one way, then the need for an alternative wouldn't be there.




I did not suggest that charters are bad, only that they are a pretty pitiful way to describe a new national policy. What you do sounds wonderful, and I wish you well. But if the new national policy is to supply more and more charters, there will be more and more privatization, more entrepreneurs cashing in on public education, more failed charter schools. Deregulation produces winners and losers. There are some outstanding charter schools (hopefully yours is one of them) and there are some really awful ones that are worse than the worst regular public schools. To extrapolate from only the successful ones is a flawed idea.


I tried to post this, and the connection kept failing. Here is my original comment.

Critical thinking requires careful reading.

C. Bell, you misquoted and misread Diane's joke (which I enjoyed). It's Spellings in very high heels, not without high heels!

Civilization's Referee: I see no evidence of Obama worship here. (No evidence of unprincipled attacks, either, C. Bell.)

But on to Diane's column. What indeed is the problem with charters? Yes, we do need alternatives to "canned curricula," as Jen points out--but ironically the very people who promote charter schools as a solution also promote and mandate these canned curricula. Klein, for instance, has pushed Balanced Literacy and the Workshop Model indiscriminately on NYC schools. Who wouldn't desire an alternative under those circumstances?

While acknowledging the accomplishments of individual charter schools, I view the charter movement with much skepticism. We would end up right where we started, but worse: with more testing, pay-for-performance schemes, commercial curricula, aggressive marketing, etc. It is no wonder that Duncan is pushing these things as well as charters. They fit together.

And what of that strange statement about looking every second grader in the eye and telling the truth about that child's college prospects? We increase the child's prospects (for college or anything else) through strong curricula and compelling subject matter, not testing based on vague and bland standards.

Can you imagine how bland the standards would become under a charter system? They would be even less specific than they are now, so as not to "impose" anything on the individual enterprises. Testing would be the sole measure of a school's "success," and the testing would be equally bland.

Diana Senechal

Loren, My have I gone wrong if you would think that I would write the type of invective posted by the individual cowardly calling herself Civilization's Referee!

I'm sure I'll pay a price, but all I write is under my own name, with links to my websites and frequent references to the communities I'm a part of; the communities and people who frame my points of view.

Mike above has reminded us in detail of the horrid situation which still pervades our urban public schools. Some of that comes from the urban part, and some from the poverty part.

Much that stems from these issues will never go away.

Yet, in America, two more, addressable, issues affect these same kids. One is the African American culture, which still acts in response to Jim Crow laws. (It's also encouraged by the entitlement culture of the leftish political class).

The second is the schools' 1970 type thinking about how to organize a workforce.

The President, Arne Duncan, Reverand Sharpton, and a host of civil rights groups have finally come to realize that to repair the Black culture's views on education, one step must be to change the internal operation of urban schools.

The Education Equality Project formalizes this break with the Unions.

Bill Cosby's book Come On People: From Victors to Victims is part of the movement to change the Black culture.

Schools, and the teachers in them, must be part of that process.

We're in very subtle and nuanced territory here. We're talking about memes. In her way, Civ Referee is crudely talking about memes. I would hope I am succeeding at showing a wee bit more nuance than that.

A free audio of Come On People is available at BillCosby.com.

Part the path from victims to victors has to be strong, smart, strong teachers. Teachers who understand economics and business street smarts. Teachers who know the stories of Daniel Boone as well as Benjamin Banneker; of Genghis Khan, St. Patrick and David, as well as Oprah, Jackie Robinson, or LeBron James.

I'm sorry Ed, it was meant to be enough of an exaggeration to be humorous. But then again, no one has ever seen the two of you in public together. Or Paul either, for that matter.

On a similar note, if I understood economics and business street smarts, I'd be unable to come back to education. There is a 3-headed dog guarding the gateway.

Loren, Oops! :-) We oppressed neo-cons are a little touchy about our brand these days! ;-)

I love the 3-headed dog vision!

So much good conversation here. It's hard to move on to Deb's newer post.

Diane--I have no idea how to even characterize an Progressive, but I will absolutely support that you and Deb are no Nazis--most likely also not Socialists. But labelling is not particularly helpful, no more than the gotcha games of trying to put Obama, or Duncan, into a particular bag based on where Sasha and Malia go to school, or the mention of charter schools. As a middle class, white parent, I have chosen not to keep my children away from urban public education. I am an outlier. I would also suggest that ALL children living in the White House are also outliers.

But, from my outlier vantage point, I can share some things that may suggest different points of view. I am the white parent of non-white (or only partially white) children. I am middle class by birth, education, engrained culture, occupation--just about any definition you can come up with (possibly not politics--not so sure on that one). My household, my parenting, my income, level of education, all are pretty white and middle class. The shocker to me has been how little that has mattered in the education of my son. I recall a black behavior specialist (working for the school system) telling me that my son's problems in school were because I "raised him white" and his teachers didn't know what to do with him. He asked questions, he didn't blindly obey and say yes, ma'am. Her opinion was that his (white) teachers didn't know what to do with a black boy like that. I have seen the raised eyebrows that indicated to me a belief that I was the white liberal who had ruined the life of this young black child. At the same time, I was loaded with lots of assumptions about how I parented, based on his school performance (didn't help with homework, didn't care enough about education, etc), and the way in which the culture of the school had formed itself in order to explain the poor performance of most of their students.

Of the parents included in my own supportive network, I would say that there are at least as many caring and competent African-Americans as otherwise. At times I have been envious of extended families in the African-American community that not only don't function in my family of origin, but also don't appear to be typical of most white and middle class families that I know.

All of which is to say, I don't put much stock in the belief that schools are "fighting against" African-American culture. When I can drop anyone into a school blindfolded anywhere in this country and in five minutes they will know some key things about the socio-economic and ethnic status of most of the student body, there are way too many confounding variables to come to the conclusion that there is something in African American culture that runs counter to the goals of educational institutions (at least as they pertain to educational achievement).

In any case, I think that it is fair to say that when education does not result in learning, there is a mismatch between the education proferred and the needs of the student body. We give lip service to the different needs of different students--but the reality is, what we alter is the outcome expectations. I see very little evidence of accommodations or variance based on student need in schools either prior to or following standards based education and testing. The "special" education provided (at a higher expense) to students with "disabilities" (which I put into quotations of an acknowledgement of racial disparities regarding who is identified) is far too often a collection of the left-overs and left-outs, having less similar needs than the average "regular" classroom (based on varying disabilities, and generally different grade levels as well). Rather than differentiating instruction, we differentiate the curriculum. Those kids get less. The same is true of those schools teaching a concentration of kids from low-income and minority backgrounds. There is no attempt to alter the way in which we teach them--we don't offer them more hours, different methods (although they are less likely to have art, music and recess) better matched to who they are. We don't spend more time learning about who they are, or who their families are. In fact, we are likely to throw up greater barriers to families in those schools. What we do, in our kind and understanding way, is to decide that their challenges are too great. We assume that half the class is falling asleep because their parents are all crack dealers who party all night, rather than thinking about whether the lesson is connecting to them. Without walking in their neighborhood, we tell stories of their lives filled with bullets flying. And at the same time, we miss all of their sources of strength. We don't understand the aunt, pastor, cousin and older brother who care deeply about this child and regularly ask about school and grades. We don't know about community centers where other professionals (paid far less than teachers) are working to see that kids are safe after school hours, and able to hold their heads high in the face of five hours daily in a system that doesn't even know them--but believes that they are capable of less.

I understand the anti-charter sentiment. I have sung in that choir--with three part harmony. I understand the diversion of public funds into poorly regulated alternatives--and the potential for big business to come in and make a buck in any way possible. I could argue that the basis for charters (that public schools are over-regulated and lessening the requirements spurs creativity) are poorly founded (we could remove every public school requirement tomorrow and I have no reason to believe that the result would be creative action). I have seen some charters that were terrible mistakes founder on the shoals of their well-meaning but poorly prepared creators. But I have also seen a few successes--as I have seen a few successes within the public school system. At this point, I would say that the existence of charters may well be a red herring. At best they provide an escape to parents who cannot afford to pick up and move to the suburbs, or to a better urban school, when the public system does not serve their children in any meaningful way. As Deb has pointed out, there have not been droves of creative spirits opening charters. But there have been a few, and I would hate to see us lose the opportunity to learn from them. An additional few have managed to work with outlier populations from the public schools to provided a meaningful alternative (drop-out recovery and prevention, children on the autistic spectrum). We should be studying their work and trying to replicate it.

It galls me that it was Bush (or more likely one of his speech-writers) who came up with the phrase "soft-bigotry of low expectations," but it is such a powerfully descriptive one. Maybe for a time we could move off the conversation about how we measure and entertain a conversation of what we are measuring and how to ensure that each child, at the end of the day, receives a fair share.

Dear Margo/Mom,
Thanks for your candid comments. We seem to have developed a community of sorts here, with varying views but lots of passion about kids and learning. And you have been a faithful participant.
In the space of a comment, I can't respond adequately to all your observations, especially about your own child.
But I do believe that federal education policy matters in setting the national agenda. When the President and Secretary tell the nation that charters are an important part of their reform, that sends an important signal.
Don't get me wrong. I am not opposed to charters nor am I a detractor. I have seen some that do a great job, and others that are abysmal. I just don't happen to believe that the charter route (i.e deregulation) will answer the problems of American education. Turning public schools over to a mixed lot of private providers is in fact a risky strategy.
I am not a gambler, especially with children's lives. We have to improve our public education system, not dismantle it.


I just can't resist. Yes--I enjoy all this discordant voices, so thanks!

Sometimes it takes an outrageous headline to catch attention--but I agree that sometimes it's unwise! The "drag" metaphor has its risks as a useful too (Diane) and I'd have preferred her argument without it--but then, it got a lot of attention!

Glad to see Rothstein quoted in such lengths. One purpose of schooling is to distinguish data-informed from data-driven. The driver must remain the human mind--the driver must remain that. Us. So many of you have mentioned this--a balance of data, etc.

Yes, Margo drives me crazy one day and I cheer her , and learn from her the next. There IS a real parent/teacher problem--even for teachers like me who were simultaneously raising our kids in the same public schools!

And yes, segregation by class and race (et) hurts--and yes public policy has a lot to do with it--cities didn't get the way they are by choice - and not even by white-choice. From WWII on we've designed public housing, transportation etc policy in way that very much helped such a divide.

And I wish it were true that charter were more innovative. I had that hope originally. But I see too many that are simply versions of what is--and just as bureaucratic. Even the boot camp-like schools are simply versions I what I've seen in all-minority schools for as long as I've been teaching.

And finally: whoever reminded us of Churchill's famous statement--that's my response, Paul, to why I'm happy to be labeled a democracy champion.

Keep it up, readers.


Much discussion on charters. My two cents worth: they're a great idea, had much promise, but to date have been (for me, anyway) an enormous disappointment.

When Shanker first proposed them they were intended to be laboratory schools for developing promising methods/practices which the regular public schools could then duplicate. Sadly, there hasn't been much to copy to this point in time.

The prevailing strength I see in charters; they offer poor/minority families a choice, previously afforded only to students of wealth.

I can't speak to charter schools in other places, especially NYC (from where I moved away when I was 5!). My knowledge of them pretty much comes from reading this blog. I can speak of charter schools in NC, where I live, though.

In NC, by state law, there cannot be more than 100 charter schools at any given time. Charters are granted only by the state, not by districts or counties. One of the stated missions of charter schools in NC is to basically be innovative and try things that the more traditional public schools could maybe use, too. I believe that some ideas have been picked up, too, though possibly more in the language of the idea than the actual spirit of it!

I know there are horrible charter schools in NC (and all over). I don't care for the boot camp style ones, and realize they are for a population that I really don't know (as a suburban middle class white person). I also know there are many really good ones in NC (and other places), several in my area, with differing philosophies, some that I may not necessarily believe in (as someone who believes in progressive education), but know they do well for the families who choose them. Our school is very successful, by whatever measure you use. Most of our kids do well on tests, very low staff turnover, but a more important measure, I think, is the number of people who so desperately want their children in our school (our admission lottery, held this week, had around 1300 names in it, a very sad day at our school, really, knowing that all these people aren't as fortunate to have the same option that we had).

All that said, I couldn't agree with you more that the comment about being able to tell just by looking at a 2nd grader whether they will be college material is abhorrent and I really hope he didn't mean it the way it came out!

Margo and all, I wanted to clarify just a bit...I was dancing on the edge to cite African American culture as some monolithic thing. What I wanted to cite was that strange combination of urban life and too much fatherlessness and a built up language of victimization and just plain a lot of bad habits--as Dr. Cosby relates in Come On People.

You can find plenty of that in any group, but as Sen. Moynihan predicted long ago, this lethal mix has treated Black Americans particularly badly.

My worry is that not enough teachers speak the language of self-sufficiency,
- or rugged individualism if you will, nor do so with the intensity needed to reach these distracted young men.

On charters: I would commend you all to look up the Entrepreneurs in Education conferences held at AEI, and look at how the states tie the hands of charters to keep them from being efficient, and thus innovative.

Jen, in the Juvenile Court this week I crossed paths with a military recruiter; he brought the papers which would keep a kid out of jail.

I hope the kid does well with his military career; and he may be lucky that the army took him. Yet the armed forces are much more picky than they were 50 years ago. Few screw-ups get the second chance. I like the idea of a boot camp schools as a third alternative.

It is curious how time glosses over facts. Ted Kennedy provided the flesh for NCLB. Even in Cullowhee and Columbia, SC, people remember that. The testing gives us ideas about what is happening in the classroom. Our problem in South Carolina is the collection of standards is set higher than our nasal passages.

It is hard to believe anyone will want to enter the teaching profession in the future. If you enjoy being abused, it might be the job for you.

interesting discussion.

i have a few questions:

how will teacher performance be assessed?

(i worry that if teacher's are assessed based on student performance, lower performing students and students with disabilities may be looked on as an imposition because they might bring down the score.)

if the proposed educational model continues to use high stakes tests to evaluate schools and teachers, it seems like we will not be able to avoid the practice of "teaching to the test". has there been any discussion about this problem within the new administration? do they see this as a problem? is there a way to avoid this while still using testing?

diane--thank you for your article.

Are terms like "standardized testing" and "accountability" used with the same dismissive tone in parts of the world with the highest economic growth rates and, not coincidentally, the highest representation at top levels of the best universities in this country?

Rather than MORE testing - which, in any case, should form only part of any full, fair evaluation of teachers, schools and district (along with observations objectively done, plus professional judgment by competent evaluators/supervisors/principals) - I would urge that SUBTRACTION be used to track PROGRESSS (a/k/a GROWTH) based on testing (and observations) already occurring. That is, what have students learned that they did not know at the beginning of the year?

Then, over the long term, I would welcome recognizing those teachers (schools and districts) that consistently show, year-over-year and year-after-year, the highest amount of PROGRESS by their students, especially after taking into account, if appropriate, any conditions or circumstances known to be relevant factors, based on the body of data (i.e., observations, scores, etc.) accumulated over time.

This, then, can be applied to schools of all types, including classes for special needs children and those in the most affluent communities just the same as those serving the most disadvantaged neighborhoods and towns. In short, observations and longitudinal tracking with the focus on amount of PROGRESS.

Your posture saddens me, Diane. No, NCLB is not the be all and end all. Especially given each state modified it such that there is no real national standard and most of the teeth have been taken out.

The bottom line is this:
• our students are failing at an alarming rate
• our country continues to go down in international rankings on quality of education
• the NEA has a stranglehold on reform -- if the system is great, it should withstand any competition
• of late, I've met more teachers going into the profession for the summer break, and the pension and benefits that don't exist in most other private sector jobs any longer -- one woman asked a soon-to-be teacher friend of ours how on earth she could stand to babysit and deal with 'kids'
• our recently retired Chicago area K-8 Super earned $360,000/year in a world of 'underfunded' education
• administration costs are out of whack and funding is not going to those excellent ones in the classroom
• DC teachers won't give up tenure for large merit raises (what does that say?)
• parents also need to be held accountable for student progress

I hope Duncan succeeds in one thing -- holding current educators, local governments, and unions accountable, and bringing in much needed reform.

NCLB is only one tool. Not perfect, but better than anything else I've seen brought to bear on this current, failing system.

It's never a question of money. It's a question of excellence and energy. Deliver that, and the money will follow.

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