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Is School Choice the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time?

| 40 Comments

Dear Deborah,

You say that schools are now, for “the second time…at the center of the civil rights movement.” The schools in the 1950s were certainly at the center of the legal battle for civil rights, to be sure, and the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954 was the key decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that paved the way for court rulings and legislative actions on many other fronts.

But the civil rights movement of the 1950s had much larger goals than school desegregation. To have won the Brown decision without also moving on many other fronts would have been a hollow victory indeed. Let us not forget the freedom riders who put their lives at risk to call attention to segregated bus lines across the South, or the civil rights workers who were murdered while registering black voters (a black mayor was elected last week in Philadelphia, Miss., a town near the spot where three civil rights activists were murdered in 1964). From this movement grew the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal anti-poverty program, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

So, yes, schools were at the center of the legal battle in the 1950s, but the goals of the movement went far beyond schooling.

In my previous blog, I said that education is not the civil rights issue of our time. Let me clarify. I believe in education as passionately as anyone on this planet. Every society should have great schools and great teachers. I believe that education is the greatest asset that any individual can have.

But I also believe that the most important challenge to our society today is poverty. So long as large segments of our society live in desperate poverty, their children enter school far behind. Education surely plays a role in ameliorating poverty, but schools alone are not the most effective anti-poverty program. If we want to reduce or eliminate poverty now rather than 20 years from now, then we must take action to help people find employment, to create jobs, to bolster adult literacy and adult education, and to provide access to health care to those who cannot afford it.

The schools today are not at the center of a new civil rights movement. Usually a movement is composed of the powerless bringing their grievances to the powerful. This contemporary “movement” (if it is one) is led by people who are themselves in the seats of power. Who are they confronting? Themselves? Their common grievance is the existence of an achievement gap among students of different racial groups, which all of us deplore. Is anyone defending or condoning the achievement gap? Do schools cause it? What do they propose to do to close it? Who is stopping them?

Here is one definition of the new civil rights movement. A few days ago, Brendan Miniter of the Wall Street Journal wrote that “School Choice is the New Civil Rights Struggle.” Miniter says that the new civil rights movement is a combination of black Democrats and political conservatives; their goal is school choice, that is, charter schools, tax credits, and vouchers, anything that will help poor and minority students escape from regular public schools.

It is interesting that this strong push for school choice arrives well after the precipitous decline of Catholic schools. There has been a vigorous debate in Congress about whether to preserve the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives vouchers to some 1,700 students. A recent evaluation of the program’s third year showed that students in the program made significant gains in reading, but not in mathematics (apparently the gains were limited only to girls, not boys, so if we follow the logic, only girls should get vouchers in the future). Initially, the Obama administration intended to close down the program, but its supporters reacted with outrage, and now the administration apparently plans to “grandfather” in the students already enrolled without adding new ones.

Father Andrew Greeley, the Catholic priest who is both a brilliant sociologist and a best-selling novelist, once told me that the first voucher would arrive on the day that the last Catholic school closed. He was not quite right, since the D.C. program, the Milwaukee program, and another one in Cleveland arrived before the last Catholic school closed. But the reality is that vouchers are almost a dead issue because so many Catholic schools have closed that there are not enough seats to solve the problems of any large city.

So the civil rights struggle of our time, it seems, comes down mainly to charter schools. If the states remove their caps, as President Obama wants them to do, and if the public money is there, we can anticipate that the charter sector will expand dramatically to meet the demand for escape from the regular public schools. The Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and other major private foundations are putting many millions into the growth of charter schools in urban districts.

What do you think, Debbie, is this good for kids? Good for society? What do you think about the multiplication of privately managed schools?

Diane

40 Comments

I fear that "the multiplication of privately managed schools" is the downfall of schools being the last societal bastion of democracy. A simplistic concern is that if communities are not reflected in the school population, the community will further divide and segregate further. Without understating the importance, this is bad.

I watched charters kill community schools in Flagstaff, AZ where a particular charter school was literally on the right side of the tracks. The school offered no free transportation to school and no free and reduced lunch program (no lunch program at all). Acceptance was on a lottery basis, but few low SES families had the resources to provide all transportation and lunches. The result was an incredibly white, affluent population, in a town that skews neither white or affluent on the whole. This was state sanctioned "public school". Sigh.

Is this good for a community? I say no. I say that artificially pulling kids into pockets of homogeneity is dangerous. That was my firm belief when I worked within that community. However, I sit perplexed now as I work within the Philadelphia School District... what is to be done with the large, urban comprehensive high schools that are unpalatable educational ventures? Small schools/options can come from the district and charters do not hold the only solutions for addressing the problems of school choice. The issue remains though... in the midst of all the school choice and options... what becomes of the school as a place of democratic principles? Of experiencing a variety of cultures/perspectives circulating in the greater community? When we lose that what else will wither?

These are not small issues you two grapple with and I thoroughly enjoy reading and thinking and reading more... the answers are not easy.

Excellent points Diane, but one-sided. There is a movement to transform public education and it is part and parcel of the Civil Rights struggle, if not THE civil rights. It's not made up of those in "the seats of power". It played a big role in electing Barack Obama (we should keep reminding hm of that). Reminiscent of the '60s, teachers in L.A. have gone to jail and are in the 7th day of a hunger strike fighting to save schools and teacher jobs in resource-starved communities. Here in Chicago, the movement has challenged school closings and the unbridled growth of privately-managed charters. How about charter school teachers fighting for collective-bargaining rights. It's true, we are on the strategic defensive right now but it's still contested territory. Let's not be so quick to hand it all over to the bad guys.

Diane, So many good thoughts and challenges!! Where to start?!

Perhaps with a conversation on the exit elevator Thursday, with a state ed leader who'd previous served in Philadelphia SD.

"Should the School District of Philadelphia exist?" asked I. "Yes." says he firmly. "Really?"

"Wait. No there should be five districts. ... No. No less than 12." So says a state official who would have to deal with the extra districts.

Why should any district be in charge of 185,000 students? Let alone the 1.1 million of NYC?! What good can come of this? In what world does this make the slightest bit of sense here in 2009?

Reducing the sheer behemoth size of the districts is one reason to embrace charters, though smaller independent districts might also do this.

The experiences of Philadelphia's School of the Future are another. Here was a public, district school (I wrote this Friday with Deb) which was promised radical freedom with curriculum--no books, a laptop per child, and a teacher generated project based curriculum. Now, I was skeptical from the beginning of just the theory of innovation there, and I'm skeptical now of the value of an all project-based curriculum.

Yet the clamp down on the innovation at SOF did not come from parents marching in there because the students weren't getting the education they needed. SOF's innovation was pulled back by a new set of bureaucrats in the district, afraid for their jobs and their statistical reviews and funding streams.

In itself that clampdown might now be such a bad thing, if the students weren't learning the basics. Yet the basics for these students seemed so much more basic than perhaps here in rural Ohio, that it seems the origial freedom should have been given a longer run than just 18 months.

So parental input and freedom to innovate are two more reasons for freeing schools of the Giant Central Office.

The fourth reason, I'd say, is freedom of association. Deb's Coalition of Essential Schools is one worthy model of association of schools. Yet there can be other models which might serve some children in some schools better. You know some of those current models; we cant' know if more such models exist if we cut back on charters across the nation.

Schools, BTW, have more to do with eliminating the causes of poverty than you give credit. We have too many voters who have lost a fundamental understanding of economics--the fundamental understanding the Founders shared because most were craftsman and sole proprietors who dealt with all phases of the income creation model.

A fifth reason then for charters is that they may return to familiarizing students with real economics. The kind the insurance agency and small frit manfacturer and collectibles shops and the soon-to-open coffee shop down the street all face. The students find that relevant.

Bottom line, though, is that the parents find them useful. You say that "a movement is composed of the powerless bringing their grievances to the powerful." Charters have always been about parents demanding more than these giant powerful districts could offer.

The sixth reason is teachers. Charters are more likely to accommodate teachers who come in at age 35 or older, having experience in the real world, yet having needs different from the traditional university-to-grave teacher.

Such would-be educators are accustomed to the freedoms and benefits of normal employment.

I could not agree more with Diana Laufenberg. I do not see how charter schools serve the purpose of equitable public schooling in a democratic society. If we are really committed to a PUBLIC education, then all communities must have high quality, neighborhood schools, where a child can walk in and receive an excellent education, regardless of disability, gender, SES, race/ethnicity and so forth. A child's education must not be left up to lottery systems and admissions policies. I do not believe that charter schools are a solution to a public system of education.

Also, I know that in some ways it is a chicken and the egg issue at this point, but I hate the way conversations about racism in this county always get waylaid by the poverty question. Don't get me wrong, we need to address poverty, but we cannot talk about poverty without also looking at other ways people are traditionally marginalized in our society, particularly based on race/ethnicity, but also by disability, home language, family structure, etc.

I am looking forward to reading Deb's response and more readers' responses on this thread . . .

My fear about charter schools is what happens to the students with parents who don't have the time or the energy or possibly the interest to pursue admittance into those schools. If we truly believe that every child deserves a quality education, then we have to fix the public schools we have, not just keep siphoning off the engaged students and committed teachers. Charter schools can do some really cool things, absolutely, but they can't serve every kid, particularly because of the application process.

One of the things I most appreciated about Paul Tough's Whatever It Takes was that Geoffrey Canada recruited intensely so that the makeup of his school was more balanced than that makeup of the standard charter school. Same thing with Green Dot and Locke High School - taking all the kids in the neighborhood rather than just those with an advocate.

I just look at my students and I can point out the ones whose parents would never pursue a charter school, and I can't believe that anyone could advocate giving up on them, which is what will happen (in my opinion) if all we as a society do is promote new charters rather than trying to reform a broken system. And it makes me sad.

I am still wrapping my head around what I really believe about charter schools. Part of me feels so many of my former students would have benefited from the structure and "family" aspect of the high performing charter schools I have visited. I also know many teachers who happily teach at charter schools and feel supported. But our system will never be all charter. And, while I am conflicted, I think this is a good thing.

Also, as has been mentioned before charter schools tend to be more segregated. It does seem (as the recent article by James Forman Jr. mentioned by Deb a while ago highlighted ) that integration has been removed from discussion. Increasing charters will lead to further segregation with different groups of students being taught separately.

Beyond that, it is obvious that school choice will never be a solution without equal access to information.

As a side note: Diane, I just read your thoughts on NCLB reauthorization on Ed. Next. It was almost humorous to see your thoughts presented before Chubb's - without any dialogue. It was as if you were discussing a different law entirely. For those interested, follow this link:http://www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/The_Future_of_No_Child_Left_Behind.html

If we're going to wait to eliminate poverty before we can "fix" schools, we'll be waiting until humanity ceases to exist. There has been poverty since the moment man understood the concept of value. Are we really willing to wait that long before we decide on a meaningful fix for education? Or that school choice is a viable way to actualize that goal?

It's a misnomer to say school choice is the civil rights struggle of this century...but the core intent of that statement is clear and valid. Equal Educational Opportunity is that struggle. Right now, across this country, there are schools in neighborhoods filled with black and brown faces that are failing the children currently in them, and that likely failed the parents of those children a generation before. In many places, there are better schools, public, private, or otherwise, literally right around the corner or across the street. Should we continue to maintain the ossified view that your zip code "entitles" you to public school when, in these places, it really entitles you to a life of illiteracy and marginal political participation? A life where, even if there were myriad jobs available, the fact that you cannot read your diploma, or don't have one, excludes you from any meaningful employment?

Elites have this perpetual conversation about the nature of public education. The ideal, out in the light and the sun, when the reality in many of our cities is more like the dystopian shadow down in the cave on the wall. If we're going to make any real progress, we have to be honest about what's happening, and who it's happening to. And we have to stop pretending that public education in America--the grand sacred cow--is what we want it to be (a system presenting equal opportunity) when nothing could be further from the truth.

Newark spends almost $21,000 per student. The superintendent makes $300,000 a year for barely 40,000 children in a district losing them rapidly, and where 40% of seniors fail the exit exam despite three chances to take it. These children will never take their true places at the tables of democracy and freedom. They will never be equal. It's not about them or their families. And it's not about money. It's about America having a totally different standard by which we judge a school filled with minority kids than a school filled with white or Asian ones. It's separate and unequal all over again. And, sadly, the very same people who fought against this system 50 years ago are now selling it to students and families as the only answer. Am I the only one who hears the dissonance here?

No child should have to go to a school that chronically fails, especially when, with a high degree of precision, we know where the ones that succeed are. We should not have to wait for poverty to end before we fix schools, because we control the schools. And, if we're serious about a new era in this country, we should be giving every poor minority child in our urban centers the same opportunity our President had...an opportunity to attend a school that works, today, instead of telling them to wait for a reform that may never come.

My view of the forthcoming short history of the emerging charter school system (circa the year 2100):

2025: Charter schools outnumber public schools in the U.S.

2035: Charter Schools become an analog of the Hierarchical Academy System of the nineteenth century. They foster a non-democratic culture. Complaints grow about class problems in American education.

2040-50: Increasing agitation for a more equitable common public school system.

2060: New public schools begin to appear---hopefully much reformed from the 1990-2010 period. Finally a federalized funding system comes about.

2070: Charter schools lose 20 percent of their enrollment

2080: Public school enrollment exceeds charter schools.

2090: Charter schools reduced to 15 percent of U.S. primary and secondary schools.

- Tim

Charter schools were originally intended to be laboratory schools where innovations could be developed and, if successful, passed on so all public schools could benefit from them. To date, there have been no new mousetraps that have emanated from charters.

Charter schools have turned out to be schools where poor and minority parents have opted to send their children because they: (1) were fed up with the bureaucracy of regular public schools (exacerbated by teacher union collective bargaining agreements); (2) wanted to get get them into a safer environment where they actually had an opportunity to learn; or (3) got them away from the criminal element in their neighborhood. All of these seem to be legitimate rationales for parents to opt out of their local public schools.

Charters have offered poor/minority families a choice as to where to send their children to school, a choice previously afforded only to families of wealth. If for no other reason, charters have been successful in my mind.

Diana Thanks for the comment I agree wholeheartedly.

As to schools being the civil rights issue of the day. That could be construed, as most people seem to be doing, as a fight for civil rights, or it can be thought of as a fight as big as the fight for civil rights is (was).

It might be both or it might be neither. With quality education our society learns more about what our rights are and how to fight for and protect said rights. In that sense it is THE new civil rights issue of our time.

On the other hand education could be more than just civil rights (not smaller). I believe an education gives us more than just the ability to fight for inalienable rights, it also gives us the ability to participate in the definition of those same rights.

As a sensible commentator once wrote:

Joseph Viteritti has shown how the voucher issue evolved from its libertarian roots into a strategy whose main beneficiaries are disadvantaged inner-city children. Viteritti contends—I think rightly—that vouchers have now become a civil rights issue for a new generation of African American activists. . . . Yes, we should reduce class size; yes, we should increase teachers' salaries; yes, we should break up the large factory-style schools in which kids get lost. But surely the emergency requires more. We must do whatever we can to end the awful cycle of wasted lives—which includes giving vouchers a chance, and thereby giving poor kids a chance to escape the schools that are cruelly not educating them.

http://www.brookings.edu/articles/2001/1008politics_ravitch.aspx?rssid=ravitchd

I too am queasy about the rise of charters. So what can we do to make the regular public schools more palatable? I vote for legislation that would empower teachers and administrators to exclude students who chronically disrupt class.

On the civil rights theme: in The Knowledge Deficit, E.D. Hirsch suggests that French schools, with their more rigorous national curriculum, manage to shrink the achievement gap between poor immigrant students and wealthier white ones. If true, this would seem to bolster the claim that the right kind of schools can overcome some of the effects of poverty (although I imagine that the social safety net in France is much more robust than it is here --perhaps this is a factor).

What's going on with public education right now may not be the civil rights issue of our time, but neither is it limited to charter schools. Parents, students, and teachers are trying all kinds of options to try to find a way to get an education, to learn.

Here on the East Coast, for example, I was less aware of home-schooling as a factor, but going out west for "How Lincoln Learned to Read," I ran into a much stronger movement that direction. I blogged a little about it: https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/blog

I'm struck by how people are willing to try almost anything to get their kids out of a system which too often demoralizes and "dumbs" them.

It may be the powerful who are establishing charter schools (and dismantling traditional public ones), but it seems to me those changes are striking a nerve with the powerless -- or, at least with parents and kids who feel like they don't have any real say in how "regular" schools are run.

When one of America's public service delivery systems -- our nation's public schools -- continually discriminates against African American and Latino students, this is the civil rights issue of our time. This discrimination is quiet racism.

By continually throwing our hands in the air and saying "First, what are we going to do about poverty?" we are strengthening the systemic discrimination in public education that is silently destroying the lives of our African American and Latino children by offering them low-performing teachers and no solutions to failing schools.

Our nation has experienced unprecedented economic growth since Brown v. Board of Education, which has provided economic opportunity and reduced poverty in many areas. Why are the persistent chasms of urban poverty that remain and grow so often accompanied by some of the nation's worst schools?

Diane, can you be part of the solution? Nixon went to China. Reagan met Gorbachev. America elected Obama. You are a pre-eminent education leader in our country; we need you.

We need every single one of us to loudly and strongly reject the status quo in US public education that has failed too many of our students for too long. We need to work creatively and collectively to close the achievement gap.

Ellen Winn
Director, Education Equality Project
www.edequality.org

Ellen,
If you read my blog again, you will see that I did not say that we should "throw our hands up in the air" and say that we can't fix schools until we fix poverty. I think we should do both.
Do you think we can fix our schools by testing more? by punishing teachers when test scores don't go up?
If the biggest problem in the U.S. education system is that the public schools discriminate against African-American and Hispanic children, as you say, then you have the solution right in front of you. Right on your board sit the leaders of the nation's biggest public school systems. Tell them to end institutional racism in their schools at once! They are in charge, and they should be held accountable. If the guys in charge don't want to be held accountable, then what?
If the public sector is not working well, do you think it will get better if the best kids and families are siphoned off by privately managed schools? Don't you think that the public schools, where the overwhelming majority of minority children will continue to be enrolled, will be even worse off once you have drained away the most motivated families?
Diane

Ellen:

I agree that improving public education is one of the unmet civil rights challenges of our time. This is why as a nation and as a city, we are morally obligated to to provide equitable learning conditions to all our children.

Poor and minority students have much larger class sizes than middle class students in the rest of the nation. One of the few education reforms that research has shown works to substantially narrow the achievement gap is class size reduction.

Yet the Bloomberg/Klein administration has done everything it can -- including flouting state law -- to avoid reducing class size in NYC schools, so our students continue to suffer from the highest class sizes in the state by far. In fact, this year, class sizes jumped by the largest amount in ten years.

Joel Klein should be ashamed of himself in his insistence on denying the same smaller classes to NYC children that students in the rest of NY state already receive -- and that the state's highest court said would be necessary for them to receive their constitutional right to an sound basic education.

Wow, Diane. We ALL have to confront the the institutionalized and enduring discrimination in our school system. You seem to have difficulty doing just that. And you attack those who do. What gives?

Hi All... will add this to the mix.

New Jersey Joins 49 States and Territories in Common Core State Standards Initiative

Governor Jon S. Corzine and Education Commissioner Lucille E. Davy today joined the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led process to develop common English-language arts and mathematics standards. The Common Core State Standards Initiative will be jointly led by the National Governors Assoc. Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

In addition to New Jersey, the following states and territories have also signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA): Alabama; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; District of Columbia; Florida; Georgia; Hawaii; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Puerto Rico; Rhode Island; South Dakota; Tennessee; Utah; Vermont; Virgin Islands; Virginia; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin; and Wyoming.

In the 26 years since the release of A Nation at Risk, states have made great strides in increasing the academic rigor of education standards. Yet, America’s children still remain behind other nations in terms of academic achievement and preparedness to succeed.

By signing the MOA, Governor Corzine and Commissioner Davy join their colleagues across the country in committing to joining a state-led process to develop a common core of state standards in English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be research- and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations, and include rigorous content and skills.

“As Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said, ‘We have to educate our way to a better economy,’” said Governor Corzine. “Common standards will give us the opportunity to focus our efforts on ensuring that our students are learning the skills that will be required for success as 21st century global citizens and workers.”

Wondering... is there a way to balance our public schools demographics and Socio-ecoonomics differently?

Currently the way we have arranged our public school districts do not take these factors into account nor do charters.

Is this idea worth pursuing?

What do you think of the initiative above?

be well..mike

I am baffled by the comment by the person who signs his or her email "civil rights activist." When the chancellor of the NYC public schools--who also leads the Education Equality Project-- mounts a national campaign to end racial discrimination, aren't you puzzled about why he isn't ending it in his own school system? Did you know that the proportion of black and Hispanic teachers has dropped to its lowest point in many years during his tenure as chancellor? Is that what you refer to when you speak of "institutionalized racism"? Aren't you troubled that the leader of the Education Equality Project requires students to take an intelligence test and to score at the 90th percentile to get into a gifted and talented program in the New York City public schools? Are you surprised that this requirement has caused a sharp decline in the number and proportion of black and Hispanic children in the gifted programs? That is institutional racism, and the Education Equality Project should do something about it.
Diane Ravitch

Children need teachers who know, love, and actually teach their subject. That is what the public schools (and, I imagine, many charter schools) lack. New teachers find out very quickly that the subject matter is low on the priority list. Teachers are supposed to put their energies into collecting data, grouping and regrouping the students, conducting test prep, circulating and miniconferencing, maintaining the room according to specifications, with all the right things on the wall, establishing learning goals for every student in every subject, meeting fuzzy state standards, handling disruptions from inside the class and outside... the list goes on.

Many novice teachers quit because this isn't what they thought teaching would be. Teaching has become a social, clerical, and managerial job. The children suffer for this. They don't get to lose themselves in a poem or mathematical proof. They don't get to perfect their grammar and their understanding of the logic of syntax. They don't get to study history in detail and depth.

This is where poor and minority children suffer. The richer schools don't have to follow all this nonsense. They are not subject to the same mandates. They attract teachers who want to teach the subject. The schools that get bogged down by all this are the ones that serve the poorer students, the ones that do not have the highest test scores.

So if we really want to make the schools more just, we should emphasize subject matter more (and some of the other stuff less). Then the poorer schools would attract more teachers who loved their subject and knew how to teach it in an inspiring and challenging way. Then there would be more students who strove to learn.

This is not a pie-in-the-sky ideal. I have seen over and over that children respond to challenging, rich material. They do not get this in programs that overwhelmingly emphasize skills and strategies. They do not get this from being in groups all day. They get this from a great curriculum and teachers eager to teach it.

Instead of breaking up the public schools, let's do the obvious: teach the children something substantial for a change.

Diana Senechal

I cannot believe that in the XXIst century students are required to take an intelligence test to enter a gifted program! That in itself epitomizes what is wrong with the school system today.

Intelligence is not innate - it is a result of a child's family environment, and of school education. Was it Ben Franklin that used to say that talent is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration?

First of all, why would the gifted school programs not be open to all who want to attend? It's certainly not a cost issue - a 'regular' program would cost just as much.

And second, if you were to have an admission test, why not make it a subject matter test? That would at least encourage students to learn in preparation for the 'gifted' program.

And coming to the name of the program - for 'gifted' students. Gifted with what?! In reality, the gift is just the good education received.

Think of a kid who fails the 'IQ admission test'. Think how damaging that is: we're not saying the kid didn't learn. We're just saying the kid is not smart enough.

And THAT is dumb.

Mike,

Your rhetorical question, "Wondering... is there a way to balance our public schools demographics and socio-economics differently?" was tried in Boston in the 1970's. Federal Judge Arthur Garrity ordered city-wide school integration and it turned out to be a disaster. He ecouldn't even get support from the Boston School Committee. Racists Louis Day Hicks and Pixie Palladino really distinguished themselves as the Archie Bunkers of the great liberal state of Massachussetts.

White families fled the city in droves, never to return. It has left the city with an 88% Black/Hispanic student enrollment which has continually befuddled school officials in their efforts to "balance" school assignments.

At the time, I applauded Garrity's efforts but soon realized it was not going to work. What seemed like an obvious solution turned out to be an indelible stain on a once great city.

Correction: It was a school desegregation order not integration.

Ms. Winn,

When you speak of the achievement gap as the result of "systematic discrimination" and "quiet racism," I understand completely. I don't know exactly how "quiet racism" differs from "soft biogtry," but I know what you mean. Everyone who reads this blog shares your passion for social justice.

For many of us, our views of the problem and our ideas about the solutions continue to be shaped by our own personal experiences, beginning long ago when we ourselves were in school. When you look at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor and you see white students consistently meeting Michigan's state standards and African-American students failing to do so, would you say that the achievement gap is because of "low-performing teachers" at your alma mater? You and the Education Equity Project put a great deal of emphasis on the problem of "low-performing teachers." Do you think that is the problem there?

Does Pioneer High School suffer from the "quiet racism" you describe? Ann Arbor has always seemed to be a very progressive, well-educated community. But perhaps even well-educated progressives can harbor an unconscious racism. Are the people at Pioneer High School racists?

Or, is it more likely that, even in Ann Arbor, "systematic discrimination" affects every aspect of the lives of many students. Even within the walls of a safe school run by caring adults with high academic expectations for every student, the effects of this "systematic discrimination" cannot be eliminated. You can pretend it isn't there by controlling for it statistically, like in many value added models, but that is not the same as erasing its effects from children's lives. That could explain a difference in test scores even among students at a great school.

Then again, if overcoming "systematic discrimination" is just a matter of the adults finally deciding to do what is best for the children, why don't the adults at your alma mater just do that?

Looking at the big picture from your personal perspective, with Michigan suffering from a massive economic collapse, would you say that lifting the charter school cap is the most important step we can take right now to help Michigan? Is school choice the number one civil rights issue for the people of Ann Arbor? What about Lansing? Detroit?

Would Detroit have benefitted from mayoral control under Kwame Kilpatrick?

Ms. Winn, We all share your passion for social justice. Many readers here appreciate the fact that the Education Equity Project is taking a hard line in demanding real change. And we appreciate that the project is taking a stand in saying that what is good for one school is good for all schools everywhere.

Pioneer High School is a classic example of a seemingly successful high school still failing its African-American students. It is the reason NCLB was invented -- to bring the truth to light. Knowing your passion and commitment, I am happy to join you in your struggle, but I have to ask: Before we try to take on New York City, what are we going to do about Pioneer High?

Gee--I feel as though I should come up with a new nom de plume to enter the conversation on race, discrimination, segregation and gaps.

I think that it is true that our schools are structured in compliance with systemic racism. This is quite difference from the personal expression of racial feelings by people like Louise Day Hicks. Our school systems/system are/is constructed to perform a sorting function, based on such factors as parental income (generally expressed through the ability to purchase a house in an exclusive area, or to buy a private education with other similarly situated families), IQ, measures of early achievement (or not), family activism, etc. Having is rewarded by getting.

This is a difficult reality to accept--particularly by those who have gotten. We don't see ourselves as being shaped by systems, but as individual actors acting on moral choices. But a child growing up in a plantation household might befriend and earnestly love and care for a slave child. This would not alter their relative status--something that neither has chosen. Even as an adult, there would be limits to the impact of any individual choices made by that same child. S/he might choose to turn their back on the plantation, to forgo the ownership of slaves--even grant freedom to all those formerly "owned" by the plantation. This could not alter the existence of the institution and the profound influence it had on the lives of both white and black people in the United States. This does not lesson the responsibility of individuals to act in accordance with their consciences--it only clarifies what the work of change must be aimed at.

Do the teachers in Ann Arbor have a change role to play? Assuredly. Individual work might include ongoing awareness of differing expectations for white vs black students. We have long accepted as axiomatic that a school with a high proportion of minority students is challenged and less likely to do well. We write this into need statements for funding, we accept it as predictive. This matters.

Certainly our efforts at "race-mixing" through court ordered desegregation has offered up limited results. In fact, the long-term effect measured in simple terms of stable and racially mixed populations is disappointing. I don't know what answers at this point might look like--only what the sad effects are. I have long thought that one missing element of most desegregation efforts was any thought given to highlighting any benefits of diversity. Certainly the experience of my local district was very clear on following the law--nothing more. Wrong redressed. Case closed. A benefit granted to the oppressed at the expense of the non-oppressed. This does not build community, merely mixes bodies. Bringing an end to systemic discrimination requires more--an examination of both the individual and the systemic roles of decision-making that created segregation, as well as the overall benefits of combatting it. It matters profoundly who each of us is, including our heritage of blackness, or whiteness or poverty or wealth or immigrant status. We have to arrive at a comfort level of discussing our differences, with one another. We have to stop holding the parents of minority or poor children at arm's length or regarding them as defective children whose children's lives were ruined at birth.

We cannot end segregation without something to take its place. A true acceptance of diversity would be a wonderful groundwork. A few picked up this banner, many chided. Now "diversity" has become one of the excuses that we offer for our poor comparison to other countries (our eyes unable to discriminate the high levels of diversity in Hong Kong, New Zealand or Australia, for instance). Lobbying for the "rights" of the "gifted" to be segregated from the regulars makes sense to many who cannot see the "gifts" that other children have to offer to theirs.

Perhaps we should begin by seeking out those few who experienced desegregation as students in the early days. I suspect that they have a unique point of view with regard to issues of race and achievement, as well as change in schools.

Margo, some really beautiful writing here.

Voice of the Hand, et al.:

Thank you for your thoughtful comments and serious Google sleuthing in digging up my alma mater.

As for Pioneer High, it is part of the nation's system of education that fails all students when it fails on the local level to close the achievement gap. I am not an apologist for any school that does that -- and that's why I work hard every day for EEP because we are committed to systemic change. When the day comes when we can say that every single child in America has the opportunity to go to a high-quality public school then we will be successful. Until then, there is a great deal of work ahead.

I do not doubt that the authors and readers of this blog care about closing the achievement gap. I know that to be the case. Where we diverge is the means to get there and the urgency with which we move. EEP is about creating a movement for change, holding no things sacred, and bringing a single-minded focus to every decision we make: what will best serve our students.

The best explanation of EEP, our mission and our goals is stated clearly on our website: http://www.edequality.org/what_we_stand_for/our_mission.

Mission Statement: The Education Equality Project is leading a civil rights movement to eliminate the racial and ethnic achievement gap in public education by working to create an effective school for every child.

Why did we start EEP?
By any measure, our public education system is in a state of crisis. It is time for us all to confront the reality that this challenge cannot be met by continuing to rely on solutions that have not worked in the past, or by implementing incremental changes and hoping for dramatic results.

What is our mission?
The Education Equality Project is leading a civil rights movement to eliminate the racial and ethnic achievement gap in public education by working to create an effective school for every child.

What are our goals?
•Ensure an effective teacher in every classroom, and an effective principal in every school, by paying educators as the professionals they are, by giving them the tools and training they need to succeed, and by making tough decisions about those who do not;
•Empower parents by giving them a meaningful voice in where their children are educated including public charter schools;
•Create accountability for educational success at every level—at the system and school level, for teachers and principals, and for central office administrators;
•Commit to making every decision about whom we employ, how money is spent, and where resources are deployed with a single-minded focus: what will best serve our students, regardless of how it affects other interests;
•Call on parents and students to demand more from their schools, but also to demand more from themselves;
•Have the strength in our convictions to stand up to those political forces and interests who seek to preserve a failed system.

It is dangerous to "hold no things sacred" as the EEP proposes. It has been the error of many a revolution; it has cost lives and cultures. I am concerned that the current "revolution" in education may be "revolutionary" precisely in the sense of holding nothing sacred, of being willing to destroy for the sake of an unknown future.

When we address problems we need a combination of irreverence and reverence; enough irreverence that we can face the problems without encumbrance; enough reverence that we do not break down good things in the process. Edmund Burke wrote, "A disposition to preserve, and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman."

Finding the right combination of preservation and improvement is difficult, maybe impossible, but it is worth striving for. Schools are indeed sacred places--not in the sense that they belong to any religious faith, but in the sense that they hold lives, ideas, wisdom, community, and many other things that lift our lives. And there is even something sacred about the problems.

Diana Senechal

Ms. Winn,

Considering the goals you outlined, I find it interesting that they fail to outline who gets to make the decisions and in whose interests those decisions serve.

I would argue that many of the Chancellors/Superintendents associated with your organization are not educators themselves, do not surround themselves with educators to advise them, and take no account of the opinions of the teacher-workers on any of the reforms.

Instead we have a top-down "revolution" of the wealthy few. We have billionaire mayors and banker-chancellors, together with their Daddy Warbucks philanthropists and academe apologists who know better than the rest of us what is good for us and our children/students. (Surely they don't send THEIR children to the average urban public school.)

These are the people who hold us teacher-paeans "accountable" by threatening our bread-and-butter if we don't do as they say, however educationally inappropriate, which is quite often. But they themselves are accountable to no one. They do as they please and then have the audacity to dismiss us as defenders of the status quo. That is a gross misrepresentation of reality. An election every four years? Please. As if education was the only issue in political campaigns. Or even AN issue in most.

I might also remind you that parents are in an uproar in NYC due to the EEP chancellor's and mayor's lack of respect for their opinions, contrary to one of the EEP's stated goals. Parents apparently should be seen (for ceremonial positions and photo-ops) but not heard.

So of course they want mayoral control. Because their buiness-minded policies don't have the political support from parents or teachers to build a consensus around their educational policies. And that is why the system is worse than ever, if you can imagine that. Their phony statistics belie the truth on the ground, and those of us who haven't yet submitted know it.

I will take to heart your goal though of standing up for my convictions by objecting to YOUR organization's political force and interest in destabilizing public education by creating a school system for haves and have-nots, notwithstanding your rhetoric about creating an effective school for every child. That is my definition of a failing system.

I mean, I wonder why mayors and chancellors who claim to be performing educational miracles while ultimately de-meaning public school students and educators constantly use the excuse that the poor state of public schools obviates the need for more charter "choices." Why exactly do we need those choices if the job they were doing was as wonderful as they say it is? As I think about it, the lack of quality public schools actually limits the choices of parents to mostly... charters, doesn't it? Hmmm. Smells like a ruse to me.

So I guess I'm just questioning whose interests charters and the decision-makers really serve. Because what I see is a subversive top-down imposition of a slow creep to privatization that nobody is really asking for at the bottom rungs. To the extent that there is any demand at the community level for charters is due to the public "choice" being further destroyed by a charter system that leaves its "rejects" for the public schools to educate and a none-too-subtle demoralization and deprofessionalization of teachers.

The sad part is that those at the top who have a self-interest in maintaining a status quo of extreme inequity have preyed on the fact that the urban public schools have been struggling for many years, and by co-opting the language of equity, they pursue reforms that paradoxically, only serve a select few as they exacerbate the situation.

Ms. Winn,

I don't really understand how a public high school you say is part of a "failed system" could have helped to produce the leader of the Education Equity Project. If Ellen Winn is what happens when a school fails, what would you have become if they had succeeded?

That is my concern with the EEP. Too many people at the EEP speak in generalities, reeling off empty phrases like "failed system." That makes me nervous about supporting you. About 8 years ago, Americans nodded in agreement as George Bush, Rod Paige, and Margaret Spellings spoke about "the soft bigotry of low expectations." But by the time they put their words into action, all we had was lowered academic standards for all children, the loss of meaningful class time redirected to endless test-prep for multiple-choice tests, and little progress if any in reducing the achievement gap for any students anywhere.

So, you can probably understand why most people are somewhat leery when you make long lists of vague goals that don't seem to have any specific policy implementation. I read your post and know your website well, but I still can't tell what people are signing up for when they sign up with you. As I imagine English teachers at Pioneer High still tell students, a good persuasive essay requires many supporting details. All I see from the EEP are Roman numerals and capital letters. Where are the 1's and a)'s and 1)'s and more?

Let's forget Pioneer High and consider another example, one far removed from New York or Michigan. You say that the Education Equity Project is in favor of parental choice and charter schools. What happens when you have to support one over the other?

In 2001, Los Angeles needed a new large high school for a growing urban neighborhood. Somehow, through the assistance of Eli Broad, Los Angeles ended up 8 years later with a $232 million charter school. Instead of serving students in real need, the city has a charter school its supports want to save for those select students deemed to be artistically gifted. This obscenely glorious building is so elegant that it received an architectural review in the LA Times (beautiful pictures and back story linked here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/05/how-to-design-a-lightning-rod.html ). The problem is that if its so-called supporters get their way, the students who actually need a school won't have one.

Where does the EEP stand on this? With Eli Broad who wants an elite charter school or the parents in the neighborhood who want to be able to choose a good school for their children? The superintendent is pushing to enroll the students who need the school. He could use your support.

This is not an abstract discussion about equality or educational policy. This is a question of whether the students who need a school will get a school.

When it comes to the fate of Central Los Angeles Area High School #9, where does the EEP stand?

Jason Norman,

You go, guy! What a great statement. Too bad you couldn't get Miss Randi and the UFT on your side. I sometimes think they're on the Bloomberg/Kline team.

That being said, you have to realize why professional educators have not been invited into the dialog. They were the ones in charge of our schools prior to education reform. They enabled all the social promotions, meaningless high school diplomas, and worthless teacher evaluations. They had NO plan anywhere as to what their minions were to do in the classroom. Every elementary school teacher, every November, teaching their generic unit on the first Thanksgiving? Come on! How about the Civil Rights movement of the 60's? Manifest Destiny? The Federalists Ppers? The Civil War? Slavery? The Panama Canal? Communism? Dred Scot? Plessy? Etc, etc, etc, etc?

All these outliers sticking their noses into our profession didn't just happen for no reason. Our public schools were a joke, an embarrassment. State legislators and the business community aren't doing much better but it might be awhile before you see the educational establishment getting asked what they think.

A "civil right" implies having an "equal opportunity" to such a right.

The problem in applying this language to education is that there is still a wide difference of opinion about what makes an education, good or bad.

Such differences of opinion about the core principles are what have given rise to the "choice" or charter movement; i.e. if the Grand Poobahs of monopoly education policy don't know what a "good education" is, let us parents decide.

Yes, we all want the opportunity to sit anywhere on the bus. But we also want the opportunity to get on the bus bound for Nirvana instead of the one headed to Hades.

--pm

Maria Montessori wrote, almost a century ago, that three- and four-year-old preschoolers will learn to read spontaneously if they get "sufficient" practice forming alphabet letters. Although boldly claimed in her "The Montessori Method" this possibility has strangely never before been subjected to a scientific test.

In 2002-2004 I found five kindergarten teachers on the Internet who provided experimental data on 106 experimental kindergarten students as they practiced printing fluency and we monitored their reading ability (and also five other first-grade teachers who did NOT make the effort of inducing printing practice, but who only measured how much of the serial alphabet students could print in a timed, twenty-second period of time, and the correlation with reading skill. These 94 students formed a control group).

The correlation was very obvious in all ten classrooms. We found that all but a very small percentage of students read well, and with good comprehension, shortly after the point in time when they were able to print at least the first thirteen letters within 20 seconds. Multiplied by three, this equates with a fluency rate of 39 letters per minute.

The children enjoyed the practice sessions, and observing their gradual increase in fluency as the weeks passed. No apparent stress was noted, and it was found that the median kindergartner, after spending five minutes daily of each school day practice printing, was "printing fluent" after a mere three months. But printing fluency didn't correlate with reading skill among older students, according to our results with a group of fifty fourth-graders.

The kindergartners wrote and read with about the same skill as the first graders at the end of the winter of school. The fact that kindergartners were reading and writing at a level of children a full grade ahead shows that the early acquisition of literacy in the kindergarten (experimental) group was caused by the dedicated attempt to induce practiced fluency in printing, and not just a coincidental marker of some third, and unknown, causative factor.

At the present time (May, 2008) I have collected another group of kindergarten and first-grade teachers on the Internet. Fourteen K-1 teachers have already submitted correlations of the printing fluency and reading skills of their pupils. In each case the correlation has been obvious and strong. Anyone wishing to join and monitor (or participate on) this free list need only send any email to [email protected] Returning the automated "confirmation message" to the computer will result in automatic list membership.

Printing practice and fluency training in the early grades has completely gone out of style during the twentieth century, though it is still practiced (though not specifically tested) in India and China. This rediscovery of this important principle offers an inexpensive and effective means toward ensuring reading and academic success from the earliest grades for children of all races and ethnic backgrounds.

It has also been found that second-graders able to give correct answers to simple addition facts more fluently than 40 answers per minute rarely have problems with math or science thereafter.


Bob Rose, MD (retired), [email protected]
Jasper, Georgia

Miss Winn,

Please tell me, just for clarity's sake, where Newt Gingrich fits into the "Civil Rights Movement" EEP is leading? I'd be most interested to hear.

Diana Senechal, I share your alarm at the "hold nothing sacred" rhetoric. As you point out, it does echo scary-zealous revolutionary movements in our history. Our superintendent, a petty Klein, is foisting radical changes on our small California district without deigning to first carefully examine what's actually happening in our classrooms. Of course there is room for improvement, but surely there is good stuff going on that deserves to be preserved. How dare he raze the status quo so blithely! Our standardized test scores have dipped; that justifies everything and anything he does. I've worked hard over five years to build a medieval history course that takes disconnected units and weaves them into a coherent story about humanity. Now he is threatening to make all humanities teachers in the district reconfigure their courses to revolve around abstractions like "religion"; no more chronological narrative. He speaks with intensity and urgency about making changes, and responds with barely disguised contempt to anyone who would seem to defend any aspect of the status quo. The status quo has the stench of failure attached to it; these people want to be winners. Anything even remotely associated with failure must be exterminated. The whole thing must be trashed.

Ben F, your phrase, " . . . . without deigning to first carefully examine what's actually happening in our classrooms", struck a chord with me. I would argue that in education we do not have a culture, or tradition, or mindset, of looking at and analyzing what actually is. In fact we have more of an opposite tradition. We have a long tradition of proclaiming, without a shred of evidence or explanation, that until the present enlightenment of (insert some educational fad here), teachers taught by "rote memorization". And, unfortunately, in the last decade we seem to have developed quite a tradition and mindset of "accountability", but in a very narrow way, which may or may not be a net gain.

This relates to something I have argued here, that simple description is woefully lacking in the study of education.

This also relates to an issue I have been thinking about recently. Where should we look for educational improvement? How would we recognize educational improvement if it were staring us in the face? Should we expect that educational improvement will come from government? National standards? A new and improved NCLB?

You say, "I've worked hard over five years to build a medieval history course that takes disconnected units and weaves them into a coherent story about humanity." I expect you are making educational improvements. I say that because I am attempting to do the same thing in my field, math. I have just completed two years in my present job, at a small community college. Each semester, in my humble opinion, I do my job better. I spend a lot of time analyzing why my students have trouble learning and how I can make their learning better and easier. Yet an uncritical observer would simply say I lecture. That's old fashioned. That's traditional. That's teaching by rote memorization. End of story.

I say I think you are making educational improvement. But how will we know? What I'm getting at is that you should write about it. (Perhaps you have.) Include a lot of simple in-depth description, and your interpretation and analysis of what you describe. Other teachers, I would think, have a lot to gain from your experiences.

I wish I could tell you how to deal with a dysfunctional administration, but I haven't the faintest idea. Good luck.

Brian,

Where should we look for educational improvement? How about pedagogy? Lecturing one lesson to the whole class? That's old fashioned. It's traditional but not a good tradition.

All students PreK-16 are different. They all show up at different levels and they all progress at different rates (stop me if you've heard this before). Why, oh why, do teachers continue to treat their students as if they were a single homogeneous entity and teach them all the same lesson?

If you are, "...spending a lot of time analyzing why your students are having trouble learning and how you can make their learning better and easier," this thought should perhaps have crossed your mind.

If you start them all at point "x" and allow each one to progress at their own rate as they demonstrate mastery they will all be at an instructional level (as opposed to independent or frustration levels) all the time. This is a student-centered classroom.

It requires you having the lessons and assignments all laid out beforehand but you probably have that already in place anyway. It's not as complicated or cumbersome as it may sound. It works and your students will love it.

Paul, on your central point that we should expect educational improvement from pedagogy, I agree 100%. Of course we must know what we mean by pedagogy. My idea of pedagogy means analyzing actual classroom practice. That is exactly what I have tried to do for many years, even going to the trouble to write rather extensively on what I observe and analyze. It's all on my website, brianrude.com. I can imagine that other's idea of what we might mean by "pedagogy" might be quite different than mine. I would be very interested in knowing what considerations Ben F. is concerned with when he talks about developing his medieval history course. I think that would be pedagogy that I am interested in.

Indeed it has always mystified me that so many people look for educational improvement on the school level, as opposed to the teacher level, or even more fancifully, at a governmental level. All a school can do is bring teachers and students together, under some rules of organization and expectation. Teaching, good or bad, is what an individual teacher does. Good teachers and bad, and many in between, coexist together in any school. The school itself does best, in my humble opinion, to stay out of the way of the actual teaching.

Of course the school is responsible for providing the physical setting, the buildings, the books, the payroll, and the very important task of setting up rules and expectations so that no one interferes with the learning of any other. A school is responsible for having an effective system of discipline that the teachers can make use of. But within those general guidelines, good or bad teaching is up to the individual teachers.

I have given some thought to tradition. There are various ways to look at tradition. If you say that many people blindly follow tradition, even bad tradition, because they are too mindless to do otherwise, I'm afraid I'll have to agree with you, again 100%. But that is not all there is to it.

I first began to think about blindly following tradition many years ago when my wife and I were buying our first house. I wanted to understand what's going on, but observed that most people don't. When the realtor says sign here, you sign here. That's all many people know about buying a house. That's all they figure they need to know, and it works just fine many times for many people.

It seems to be built into our species to “follow the crowd”. That’s not very enlightened. Educated people should do better, and indeed we try, sort of. But there is another side to tradition worth considering. It often works. We may not understand why it works, and it may not work optimally, but it may be preferable to many alternatives that work even worse. Admittedly the crowd by be rushing to a cliff like lemmings, but more commonly the crowd is simply doing what has worked in the past.

The term “traditional” is often used as a bludgeon, assuming that if something seems traditional in some sense, then the motivation is blind adherence to tradition. Often that is not the case. Motivations are always complex. In so much of life we are groping our way through as best we can. We don’t have any surefire methods for anything, least of all for something like teaching. So we use our common sense, our intuition, practical considerations of our circumstances at the moment, the advice of others, and conventional wisdom.

What should we follow - bad advice from teacher’s college? In recent years I given some thought to this. I conclude that most teachers do not understand their craft in an analytical way. They do the best they can using their common sense, intuition, practical considerations of our circumstances at the moment, the advice of others, and conventional wisdom. They also use their knowledge of cultural values and customs, their intelligence, and social skill. Teacher’s college doesn’t seem to add much to this mix. (I realize that I should not assume that you, Paul, are any great fan of teacher’s colleges.)

I am a believer in individualized instruction, sort of. But, again, there are problems. In 1970-72 I taught math in a prison school. By necessity I used individualized instruction. Every week I'd get a few new students, and every week a few students would leave, so class instruction was hardly an option. Each student would work his way through the assignments and tests that I had laid out. That was a learning experience for me, in a good sense. The situation allowed me to see things about teaching and learning that one cannot see in a normal classroom setting. Several years later, again back in the classroom, I tried to apply what I had learned about individualized instruction in a regular public school setting. That was also a learning experience for me, but not in such a good way this time. In some ways I met with considerable success. But as the year progressed it became painfully obvious that I had stuck my neck out rather far. I learned that everyone has expectations. If you fail to meet those expectations you pay a price. Those expectations were not well though out. They were mostly a matter of following common sense, intuition, conventional wisdom, the whim of the crowd. The administration has expectations, parents have expectations, and kids have expectations. The young at times may take pride in being wide open to anything new, but they are not. If you don't meet their expectations you quickly discover that the young are the most hide bound of hide bound traditionalists. They know how things should be, and that's what they expect.

Think outside the box? Sure. I'm all for it. But keep in mind that if you think outside the box you have to be twice as good to get half as far. Adhere to people’s expectations and you’re considered a success until proven a failure. Be an eccentric and it’s a little different.

Individual instruction on the college level? On the beginning college level? It can happen. I have read of some successful practices. But there are disadvantages also. There is much to be said about lecture. And I intend to say it, when I have time. But I make no apologies about lecture being the backbone of my teaching. It provides a framework to my courses, a framework that many students need. There is much more along that line that needs to be analyzed. So I’m not sure that individualized instruction is necessarily the highest goal.

However what it comes down to in my case, it seems to me, is that to break tradition you are sticking your neck out. Academia is very hierarchical. If you're of high rank you can do anything you want. But if you're of low rank (and I'm on bottom I might add) you potentially pay a price.

At least that’s the way it looks to me.

Brian,

Some very interesting observations and experiences.

I too was merely a teacher with only an absence of tenure on my list of accomplishments when I started. I was fortunate I was able to convince those around me that what I was attempting to do had merit.

The reason I chose to try individualized instruction emanated from my experience(s) as a student. I remembered what most of school was like for me - waiting for the rest of the class to get it. I also empathized with a number of classmates who had trouble in certain subjects. The teacher was always going too fast for them.

My thinking; if this was going to be my profession I wanted to do what was right for my students. I wanted to develop a system that would be appropriate for them regardless of the effort required of me.

Two thirds of the way through my first year I thought everything was essentially in place. I simply had to alter the way I delivered the lessons. It came down to ad hoc skill groups. I started everyone at the same place in each subject at the beginning of the year and allowed them to progress at their own pace if they were able to demonstrate mastery. Sequencing lessons in math, history and English/language arts essentially took care of itself. In the other subjects sequencing was not an issue.

This empowered kids. They soon realized their progress was dependent almost solely on their effort and their ability to remain focused.

Like any system it had its wrinkles. It was not without problems. However, the glaring advantage; it was pragmatic. It made sense to everyone involved especially the primary stakeholders - the kids. This is where I am. To get to the next level I need to learn/master the following. They had to wait for no one and they didn't have to try to keep up with anyone either. Everything was at their pace. As I’ve said in the past; no one was bored and no one was overwhelmed.

Is individualized instruction thinking outside the box OR simply an untried, challenging approach? The answer depends on the teacher. I believe anyone who sets their mind to it could do it.

Yes, the lecture is a solid backbone for many and should not be ignored as a traditional approach. It clearly provides a framework needed by many students and no one should feel they need to apologize for employing this method, It too works and works well for many.

Comments are now closed for this post.

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

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