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Summer Reading & Other Thoughts

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Editor's Note: After this week, Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch begin their annual summer break. Their blog will return in September.

Dear Diane,

I’m still amazed at how fast the new educational establishment plans to “revolutionize” our schools. I acknowledge that your support for national testing and curriculum is a bit out of line with the train that’s long since left the station, and I suspect you will end up as dismayed as I am. So, too, will many Americans who have not in any way been consulted by their governors or their president. One look at who’s in charge gives me the creeps—SAT and ACT. Unbelievable! Hardly.

I quote IBM’s Louis Gerstner in a conversation with John Bussey of The Wall Street Journal and Joel Klein : “What I’m going to suggest (to Obama) is that he convene the 50 governors and the first thing they do is abolish the 16,000 school districts we have in the United States." Why? Because “sixteen thousand school districts are what we’re trying to cram this reform through.” With only one—how much easier. (Note: When I was born, there were 200,000 school boards.)

Getting “around” the Constitution is hardly a new practice and, after all, I’ve supported it at times. But even in the case of gun control, I think I’m closer to the Founding Fathers' idea than the NRA is. And I’m glad we didn’t try to squeeze African-Americans et al into the Constitution by legalese. Instead, “we” wrote an amendment. On local control of schools, I’m certain I am on the side of the Constitution, and I think it’s more critical, not less, in today’s world and that no such amendment would survive the American people.

I’ve become more conservative: not in where I hope to go, but in the means for getting there. Rapid changes on a large scale are dangerous—and while sometimes necessary we need to be persuaded. That slows things down a bit I know. It’s one of democracy’s intentional “drawbacks.”

If we were capable of coming up with a list of just one book or idea in each of the disciplines for a “common core” I’d buy it. But that would be a utopian wish—and probably dangerous, too! Maybe I wouldn’t buy it.

The problem with the old “new math” of the '60s was not the mathematics, but the attempt to leap ahead without either persuading or educating those who we expected to carry it out (teachers) or support it (parents).

Possibly we will raise slightly the intellectual content of what kids are presented with a national curriculum. With certainty, we will lower the chances of having an inspiring year with an inspired teacher. It’s a trade-off that seems unnecessary if we took advantage of our schools as places for everyone to learn—for teachers, students, parents, and the community. If we started with where all of these parties “are” and encouraged them—with resources—to dig deeper and more richly, with greater attention to the love of learning, we could have both. In a generation of two.

I liked your list, Diane. I think we could connect each of our lists to the future health of democracy, and by extension not only to a stronger economy, but a real understanding of what an economy is. Schools and the economy have moved lock-step into shoddy conceptions of what a strong mind and economy can be measured by and then substituted the measure for the object itself.

Books to read. There are many good books on education to read. And yes, “Middlemarch” can even help us think about schooling! That’s what I discovered about education—everything feeds it.

For example, I recently read an odd book that tells the story of the author’s encounter with a shelter for adolescents in Russia. Written by journalist Bob Belenky, “Tales of Priut Almus” delighted me. Exactly why? I’m still trying to figure it out.

I’d still recommend James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State” for examining our current situation and Evans Clinchy’s “Reforming American Education: From the Bottom to the Top”—which has an introduction by me (“Supposing That..”) which I still agree with. I recommend my “In Schools We Trust” for a chapter on changing the odds, as an approach to school reform writ large—to those who keep carping that my ideas depend too much on exceptionalism.

Like your rediscovering “Middlemarch,” I rediscovered a collection of essays by physicist David Hawkins in a book entitled “The Informed Vision.” Ken Jones, formerly with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also edited a useful book, “Democratic School Accountability,” that is only three years old, but totally out of synch with the “latest” Gates Foundation wisdom. Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues Jacqueline Ancess and Beverly Falk’s “Authentic Assessment in Action” has a lot to show us, including a chapter on the old Central Park East Secondary School that I often refer to. Just this week, friends in NYC—including you, Diane—collaborated in producing a book called “NYC Schools Under Bloomberg and Klein: What Parents, Teachers, and Policymakers Need to Know.”

There are many more, depending on one’s taste. I particularly love accounts by teachers—like Julie Diamond’s “Welcome to the Aquarium.” I re-read Mike Rose’s “Lives on the Boundary” yearly. Ditto for oldies, like John Holt’s “How Children Fail.” Or anything by Frank Smith—including his most recent—“Unspeakable Acts, Unnatural Practices.” An oldie—“Horace’s Compromise” by Ted Sizer—should be read by policymakers every few years, alongside Richard Rothstein’s classic—“The Way We Were?”. Diane, there’s another history of education often forgotten even by the best historians and well-captured in “Roots of Open Education in America,” edited by Ruth Dropkin and Arthur Tobier—with a last chapter by my hero Vito Perrone.

(And as soon as I send this off, I’ll feel terrible about having left off mentioning x and y—like Seymour Sarason! Maxine Green!—and Linda Nathan’s not-yet-available book.)

Have a joyful summer—living the alternate life we didn’t live from September through June. Which is why I reject the idea of a longer school year. What kids need are fascinating alternate life experiences for two summer months. We owe them that, as we owe it to ourselves.

Deborah

24 Comments

Deb, LOL!
"I’ve become more conservative: not in where I hope to go, but in the means for getting there."
And that is the very definition of a good conservative! (Or, recently, a NeoCon, though we have taken some Kennedy-esqe approaches to foreign policy goals). Welcome! :-)

Speaking of Kennedy, we might do well to mention poor, tortured Mr. McNamara, who deserves at death a bit better than the current editorializing. He failed, and he failed with terrible consequences. Yet he was doing his best, toward the policies of his country; and it was his bosses who should have known he was not the right man for the job.

Unfortunately, Johnson, too, wanted to micromange...down to target lists...even as he diverted resources to a Great Social Change. But, we learned the error of that way. We learned, we adjusted, we were not permanently wedded to bad operational strategy, because of the ballot box and all its power.

So, I am not so pessimistic on education as you all; for America rebounds. Mayhaps Gerstner should commune with our Mike; I'll take school districts where its possible to know the superintendent. So will most of America.

We are in a great decentralizing era, and the current blips cannot change that much. Even our European friends are finally embracing less intrusive government. With Web 3.0 and mashups and ever new franchising methods and netbooks and 3-G, Meetup.com and Ning, the revival of the town square, and yes even Credit Default Swaps, we are steadily spreading power down and out to people and groups.

17 Czars cannot stop that tidal force. Not yet!

I feel optimistic. Maybe because we were talking deepwater fishing this morn. Maybe because we're throwing a community block party tomorrow night.

Good things can happen.

Ed,

Wish I could share your optimism. I'm particularly concerned about the economy and Obama. He hasn't looked good these past few weeks. It's been barely six months and he looks as though the job is really getting to him.

As for the economy, foreclosures and unemployment are still overwhelming and the one I've been particularly worried about, credit card debt, hasn't even registered on the Richter scale yet. There are too many people paying for necessities with their credit cards because they have to eat, pay for gas, pay their utility bills, etc. It's not good out there for a number of people.

And then there's summer, or the lack thereof here in the northeast. Heard the forecast this morning - rain - for the whole bloody summer!

Oh well, guess I'll crawl into hibernation for the next six to nine months, hope for the best, and when I wake up we'll be a lot better off than we appear to be now.

Things aren't as bad as I've painted here, just feels that way sometimes.

Deb,

Your Gerstner quote about replacing 16,000 school districts with one, reminded me of L.A. Supe Ray Contines' wish for a "benevolent dictator" to run the system, "for 3-5 few years."

Have a great summer.

Hi Deb and all...

hope this finds you well.

Thanks for the great list of reading sources....your list and Diane's is an excellent way to share our learning!

I would add these to some of our possible summer readings....

"I won't learn from you"..Herbert Kohl

No Disposable Kid..
Bendtro, Ness,Mitchell

The Power to Transform... Leadership That Brings Learning and Schooling to Life.... Stephanie Pace Marshall.

Also... it has been fun sharing ideas and references on this site. Those interested in Grants ideas concerning school transformation may want to check this article out.

ahttp://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/20/magazine/20integration-t.html?_r=2&sq=bazelon&st=cse&oref=slogin&scp=1&pagewanted=


Thanks again Deb and Diane and have a great summer.

be well...mike

Hi All... just a quick follow up to Ed and Mike K.

Taking a look at Raleigh and Wake County Schools... merger happened voluntarity...with out a court order.

As Grant notes: merger required political organization and approval of the school boards.

There is discussion currently in many states about consolidation, however, those discussions are limited to cost cutting consolidations like policing, purchasing, transportation, and other services.

There has yet to be any real political courage or leadership even speaking of the possibility of looking at balancing our segragated school systems that in many areas of our country are right next to each other.

In most of our urban areas an invisible wall between city and suburbs has created two seperate worlds... and seperate educational systems that are vastly unequal....one primarily for the poor and one for the middle class and upper class.

Is it not time to open the discussion?

be well...mike

Deborah,

I thought of you recently when I visited some friends who have a highly talkative five-year-old son. At point during the dinner conversation, I used the familiar expression, "If you ask a silly question, you get a silly answer."

The boy considered this for a moment, then said, "I know why you get a silly answer when you ask a silly question."

We asked, "Why?"

"Because the question is part of the answer."

As you have often pointed out, it is so important to listen to these ideas of young people. It is so important for young people to have a chance to converse with adults. In the regimented activities of the school, from test prep to "accountable talk," the conversation is missing.

But it seems also that such conversation depends on a degree of inner and outer quiet. For the boy to make that comment, he had to be listening closely. For interesting conversations to take place in the classroom, there has to be a culture of listening.

How would we find that? One big part of it is having something to think about. A great curriculum can fire up minds; challenging problems can keep students absorbed for long stretches, once they are used to working in that way. Also, as you have pointed out before, we need to get rid of the distractions and interruptions. Switching activities every 10-15 minutes may keep a class superficially "engaged," but it won't allow for real engagement.

I am ambivalent about religion; I am somewhat religious but do not practice in any official way. Still I keep thinking about how much children learned from going to church or synagogue. It is often boring for many; it is hard to sit still. But there is a sense of stillness, reverence, and focus. A blogger recently observed,

"A couple years ago when I became disenchanted with the form public education was taking under NCLB, I also realized the only real quiet (and even then it was not always the case) was during standardized test taking. Why was that time more sacred than any other test time? Why is it okay for students to sound like raging banshees in the hall, on the playground, coming in at the beginning of class and we consider it normal?"

It seems we need other sacred time--not just church, not just tests. By no means should children always be quiet and still. That isn't the point at all. There should be soul to what we do--the play and the work. That's what seems to be missing, or part of it.

Have a beautiful summer. I look forward to much reading, walking, writing, and thinking. And playing music, if I can bear with my own rustiness.

Diana Senechal

Brava Deborah!

Summer is a time of discovery and renewal. Looking at it as an extension of the school year is bound to fail. When I told my 7th grade daughter -- who gets straight A's, reads 300pages/wk and writes 50pages/wk -- that Sec. Duncan wanted a 12-month school year, she said "Dad, I thought President Obama had outlawed torture."

Please. Freedom is good.

Came across an interesting book in the last couple of days, The Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. My son read it and recommended it to me. He talks at length about the math success of Asian students and Kipp students in general. I highly recommend it to our BD readers.

Mike, STILL looking for specifics beyond the conversation.

Books I am reading. I am always reading different things but when I am finally I am on summer vacation and no longer have papers to grade I read more.

THE GREAT TRADITION by Richard Gamble is very very interesting and has essays on education which were unknown to me as well as some classics.

I am re-reading Vol III of Werner Jaeger’s PAIDEIA which is one of the greatest and most learned books of the 20th century. It is magnificently written (translation by the great Gilbert Highet) but is not easy reading because one must familiarize oneself with Greek educational and philosophical terms. It has to be one of the top 50 books on education, literature and culture ever written. Highet, recognized this and spent several years dedicated to translating it from the German while serving as a Colonel in British intelligence during WWII. The Werner Jaeger Gymasium is a famous landmark today in Germany.

In the summer I enjoy lighter fiction. I am reading WORLD WITHOUT END by Ken Follett (the sequel to Pillars of the Earth). Many of his books are potboilers (but very enjoyable) but this is Follett at his best. I rank WORLD WITHOUT END right up there with TALE OF TWO CITIES as a really splendid historical novel. He recreates the England of 1337 with great realism and utter believability in a far less romantic way than Walter Scott who obviously created the genre.

I just finished HOW ROME FELL by ADRIAN GOLDSWORTHY and the FEW by Alex Kershaw about the American Eagle Squadron during the Battle of Britain. Both are good reads.

I agree with Diane S. that we need to cultivate more quiet 'sacred time' . We try with SSR or DEAR (Sustained Silent Reading) but with only limited success. Students are quiet (for the most part) only when there are serious tests. That's why I always have a reading portion on every test! I think tests should be learning exercises as well as review exercises.

Mike,

Kahlenberg is very reputable and yes, I've seen that piece.

So how does this county get communities to buy into the idea? What will be the incentive/carrot for suburban districts to accept poor/minority students and what will be he incentive for those kids to go out into suburban schools? While anyone could argue these questions are rhetorical, the devil is in the detail, for both?

BTW, Cambridge Ringe and Latin High School spends an extraordinary amount per pupil (over $22K?) and their recent MCAS results in Math are mediocre and in English and Science mildly anemic.

Paul... hope this finds you well.

Playing with various ideas concerning how to begin to get people thinking a bit differently and there is certainly not a one size fits all answer to your question.

Here is an interesting link:
http://piton.org/content/Documents/term2.pdf

I am currently exploring the ways that it is being done right now in other area's of our country. Certainly not an easy sell.

be well..mike

What is happening over summer vacation?!

AMERICA IS QUICKLY MOVING IN THE DIRECTION OF NATIONAL STANDARDS AND TESTING!

ANYONE HEARING MUCH ABOUT IT......PROBABLY NOT.....

WONDERING..... THE QUESTION IN DEMOCRACY.... WHO GETS TO DECIDE........

WELL......EXPERTS OF COURSE!!!!

Expert Panels Named in Common-Standards Push
By Michele McNeil and Sean Cavanagh

The two national organizations coordinating a push for common academic standards today named the 29 people who are deciding what math and language arts skills students will need to know and when, along with the 35 people who will formally critique the group’s work.

The list of those who will write the standards is dominated by three organizations: the Washington-based Achieve Inc., which works on college- and career readiness; the New York City-based College Board, which administers the SAT; and ACT Inc., the Iowa City, Iowa-based organization that administers the college-entrance test of that name.


But the 29-member Standards Development Work Group also includes seven other representatives, including two college professors, a retired education consultant, and members from school improvement groups such as the Washington-based America’s Choice.

The CCSSO and NGA also today named 35 members of the feedback groups in math and language arts that will critique the standards work, including experts from the fields of math and language arts who have been critical of the process so far.

The feedback group, which will get its first crack at the standards when early drafts are unveiled this month, is a “Who’s Who” of people in their fields.

Among its members: Michigan State University education professor William H. Schmidt, an expert in international comparisons of education systems; Chester E. Finn Jr., the Thomas B. Fordham Institute president and a prolific education reform advocate; and Carol Jago, the president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English.

The states have an ambitious time frame, planning to release their first set of high school exit standards—what students should know to prepare them for college or work—for states to review this month. Grade-by-grade standards, which the organizers are also calling “learning progression standards,” are set to be done in December.

Bringing more urgency to the effort is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s commitment last month to set aside $350 million to help states develop common assessments as a result of the new common standards.

DEMOCRACY ...BY DESIGN.... IS SLOW.....

THIS IS MOVING REALLY FAST.........

AS WE PONDER EDUCATIONAL REFORM THIS IS BEING BUILT RIGHT NOW.....

ONCE BUILT....VERY HARD TO UN-DO........

HERE IS THE WEB SITE....AND THE LIST OF "EXPERTS"........
http://www.nga.org/portal/site/nga/menuitem.6c9a8a9ebc6ae07eee28aca...


We here may disagree on many issues...wonder if we can agree that this is a really bad idea?

be well... mike

Mike,

From an equity standpoint I'm in favor of national standards and something congruent to NAEP tests, only much less (testing).

I'd like to see kids all across America have access to the same rich body of knowledge kids here in Massachusetts have.

As we were wrapping up, several pieces appeared which touch on the topics above.

My favorite, from Andy Grove, looks at how sectors undergo radical change. He's talking here about computers and cars; the lessons apply just as well to education. What Detroit Can Learn From Silicon Valley--Vertically integrated production is a thing of the past.


Re religion and education, we'll soon have 6 Catholic, two Jewish, and but one Protestant Justices on the Supreme Court. About a quarter of Americans are Catholic (less at the age of justices), only 1 in 75 Jewish. Not coincidentally, Catholic schools are highly represented on the Court.

There's an article on culture and curriculum in Texas, and a battle to put in more evidence of our nation's Christian heritage: online.wsj.com/article/SB124753078523935615.html. Their arguments would be at odds with Catholic philosophy, I think.

Finally, the DC Council voted to support continuing Congress' voucher program: online.wsj.com/article/SB124743971109829635.html

I can't find what percent of the vouchers go to Catholic schools. What I did find is that, since the '90's, 1300 Catholic schools have closed, shorting 300,000 kids of the type of education enjoyed by Sotemayor, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas.

In regards to Paul...

"From an equity standpoint I'm in favor of national standards and something congruent to NAEP tests, only much less (testing)."

If you believe that the group of experts being convened to craft the national standards will result in much less testing, you must not have viewed who is on the drafting committee. Unless something has dramatically shifted in the larger educational/industrial complex, CollegeBoard and ACT will not be crafting a standards document and assessment that relies on much less testing.

Being for the idea of national standards is one thing, philosophically, fine (i don't agree, but i get the argument). Supporting what is happening with regard to the reality of the Standards Development Work Group is quite another. The current manifestation of the national standards push is troubling. Interjecting more market forces to the assessment and classification of schools will not lead to a more engaged, critically thinking society. Continuing down this path will never get 'us' where we want to go, unless the real goal is a less engaged and less analytical society.

We know better. Frustrating.

Hi All....

Paul i could not agree more with Diana when she says:

"Supporting what is happening with regard to the reality of the Standards Development Work Group is quite another. The current manifestation of the national standards push is troubling."

This thing has gotten very little coverage and is moving extremely quickly:

Expert Panels Named in Common-Standards Push
By Michele McNeil and Sean Cavanagh

The two national organizations coordinating a push for common academic standards today named the 29 people who are deciding what math and language arts skills students will need to know and when, along with the 35 people who will formally critique the group’s work.

The list of those who will write the standards is dominated by three organizations:
the Washington-based Achieve Inc., which works on college- and career readiness; the New York City-based College Board, which administers the SAT; and ACT Inc., the Iowa City, Iowa-based organization that administers the college-entrance test of that name.


But the 29-member Standards Development Work Group also includes seven other representatives, including two college professors, a retired education consultant, and members from school improvement groups such as the Washington-based America’s Choice.

The CCSSO and NGA also today named 35 members of the feedback groups in math and language arts that will critique the standards work, including experts from the fields of math and language arts who have been critical of the process so far.

The feedback group, which will get its first crack at the standards when early drafts are unveiled this month, is a “Who’s Who” of people in their fields.

Among its members: Michigan State University education professor William H. Schmidt, an expert in international comparisons of education systems; Chester E. Finn Jr., the Thomas B. Fordham Institute president and a prolific education reform advocate; and Carol Jago, the president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English.

The states have an ambitious time frame, planning to release their first set of high school exit standards—what students should know to prepare them for college or work—for states to review this month. Grade-by-grade standards, which the organizers are also calling “learning progression standards,” are set to be done in December.

Bringing more urgency to the effort is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s commitment last month to set aside $350 million to help states develop common assessments as a result of the new common standards.

DEMOCRACY ...BY DESIGN.... IS SLOW.....

THIS IS MOVING REALLY FAST.........

AS WE PONDER EDUCATIONAL REFORM THIS IS BEING BUILT RIGHT NOW.....


HERE IS THE WEB SITE....AND THE LIST OF "EXPERTS"........
http://www.nga.org/portal/site/nga/menuitem.6c9a8a9ebc6ae07eee28aca...

I find this beyond troubling......
be well...mike

Diana,

I'm aware of the composition of the group of 'experts.' I believe I know where they're headed but that does not mean I support them.

From an equity standpoint I'm in favor of national standards and something congruent to NAEP tests, only much less (testing). Much less testing is MY preference. We do not need to test every kid, every year in grades three through eight.

Will that continue to be the Obama/Duncan plan? Probably, but it's NOT what I support.

Mike,

I know you're out there. Come in Mike. Deb and Diane have taken the summer off but school should not be out for the rest of us. Margo, Diana, Mitchell, etc, should all have interesting issues to discuss in their absence. Anybody?

Hi Paul...hope all is well.

If you would like....come join the conversation over here.....

http://firesidelearning.ning.com/

any and all are welcome.

mike

Hi All... hope this finds you well.

If you want a to sign on to fireside go here:

http://firesidelearning.ning.com/

Once on the page...look at the top right hand side and you will see a
"sign up" link.

Click on sign up and your in.

mike

i guess I'll crawl into hibernation for the next six to nine months, hope for the best, and when I wake up we'll be a lot better off than we appear to be now. . bridging differnces always makes relation better


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