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Remembering Ted Sizer


Dear Diane,

I have been feeling sad during the past month. First came awareness that the health of an old colleague of mine has moved into its final stages. When she joined us at CPE 32 years ago, she was the first person my age to be my colleague. It was nice not to be a mother or mentor to someone. I learned so much from her. It's like losing a part of my own history.

Then came word of Gerald Bracey's sudden death. I was startled because his sharp-witted, clever, and yet erudite contribution to our work has been a life-saver to me over the years. Bracey's annual reports and his Phi Delta Kappan columns made me both wince and rub my hands in delight.

Then came news of Ted Sizer's death last week. I was at an AFT/NEA meeting of TURN in Washington, D.C., listening to "Arne" Duncan. (Asking us to call him Arne doesn't ring true to me—why is that?) My cell phone rang—confusion, embarrassment. Then came George Wood's words—"Ted died last night."

A week later, and it's still not believable. Can it be that he is not "there" for us, for his family, and for America's schools? But maybe that's the wrong way of thinking about it. Maybe he is still "there," but in a different way.

Ted was, first of all, a close friend—he and Nancy have been at my side on many a nerve-wracking occasion, and their home has always been open to me, as have their ideas. We met in Paris and introduced our granddaughters to each other at a lovely Paris restaurant. Mine still remembers the occasion. Was Ted a mentor? I think so, in the sense of that word that I like best. Not from the perspective of a "follower," but an aspiring colleague. His words and his actions represented the highest standard for what it was we should aspire.

That's what I mean by having standards. That is not lost.

He also met a high standard for friendship—both of a personal and collegial kind. He regularly showed up when any of us needed him—to speak to yet another chancellor or to another "ornery" school board member. He "used" his status in the most tactful way and that made all of us gain stature from him.

His patience-toleration level was much higher than mine; he would sit at meetings in which I poured forth my passionate opinions and not say a word. His face did not betray (as mine so often does) his opinion. At most, a benign and slightly amused look would on occasion pass over his features. Then, he would enter the conversation for a few minutes of laid-back words that changed the course of the discourse. I will "imagine" him at the next heated gathering I attend—and the words he might have uttered.

Whether it was at meetings or during school visits—he was a learner every second. His ears and eyes were taking in what I too often missed, or rushed by. His equanimity in the face of what would seem to be crisis situations buoyed me up. It did not appear to be the response born of naiveté or foolish optimism. We need to learn to pass this on to our colleagues in the field.

I met Ted 27 years ago. His background made me suspicious—Harvard, Andover, New England WASPS (white Anglo Saxon Protestantism). He was indeed all of these. But he took from each institution and culture what even I had to admire about them—and left the rest behind.

Ted, we shall overcome in time the obstacles facing us, and we will use the wisdom of your character and your ideas to do so. These ideas, propositions, and principles may not flourish tomorrow or even in my lifetime, as they didn't in your lifetime. But you made a huge difference in the lives of hundreds and thousands and more of us—those you taught formally and informally about how schools could be. The impact you have had can never be taken away from us. It has already changed the shape of so many schools and school people (including parents and kids). What lies at the heart of your mind and heart will persist, and persist, and never die.


P.S.: It's interesting how different Ted Sizer and Gerald Bracey were. The gentle giant and the sharp-minded grouch. It would be a poorer world if we didn't have some of both!

P.S. 2: To add to Diane's Tuesday blog re. what the rich want for their children:
Michael Bloomberg: Spence (average class size: 16-18);
Joel Klein: Miss Porter's (average class size: 11);
Photo Anagnostopoulos (COO of NYC Education Department): Dalton (average class size: 15)
President Obama: Sidwell Friends (average class size: 15).


Deb, So sorry for your loss. I have nothing else to offer, having not read nor heard Dr. Sizer, save that you are indeed fortunate to have such great friends. Short though the time given us for such friendships may be.

I like the picture in the LA Times: Apparently in front of a school, a gentle professional laugh just as you describe. I would have liked him. A lot. More, his major contribution, the Coalition, is exactly the way to go about improving schools.

Regardless of how one might feel about the details of CES' programs, the essential element is key: it is based on principles freely accepted and networks optional and painstakingly built.

Would that many more follow his lead, and that they are given room to so do.

It's too bad they these days are so skimpy with sainthoods and the like. Although the Intel commercial might be a start: Our Rock Stars aren't like your rock stars.

God Bless.

Ted was indeed a giant in the field, and while I never had the pleasure of knowing him well enough to call him a friend, he was always a generous, gracious, and deeply provocative colleague. One who never attacked, but always questioned, and called out assumptions, and pushed for more and more thinking about what really matters and what's really at stake in educational research and reform. Who exhibited, and encouraged, a tone of respect in academic argument. So I, too, feel the loss. . but hope that we will not lose sight of what he pushed toward in his absence.

Wow, thank you, Deb for this powerful and moving tribute!!

So true...he will be so badly missed. Thanks to Ted (and to you!), the Coalition of Essential Schools promises to be an important and lasting "gift" and legacy of Ted's enormous insight and commitment to real educational change.

If only "Arne" Duncan and Obama would take heed!

Hi All....

Deb, soory for your personal loss. I did not know Ted or Gerald... yet their idea's certainly live on...ideas are very powerful things! Both have influenced my own thinking as well as your own writings.

As i reflect on this and the last post... what i think about is the power of a "unifying theme or vision" that is at the heart of all great schools!

I, for one...am not of the opinion that this needs to be a standardized theme or vision.

Sizer's Principles:
The Common Principles (abbrev.)
1. Learning to use one's mind well
2. Less is More, depth over coverage
3. Goals apply to all students
4. Personalization
5. Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach
6. Demonstration of mastery
7. A tone of decency and trust
8. Commitment to the entire school
9. Resources dedicated to teaching and learning
10. Democracy and equity

From Sidewell Friends:

School Philosophy- Educating the whole child, head,heart and hand.

Sidwell Friends School is an educational community inspired by the values of the Religious Society of Friends and guided by the Quaker belief in "That of God" in each person. We seek academically talented students of diverse cultural, racial, religious and economic backgrounds.

We offer these students a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual achievement and independent thinking in a world increasingly without borders.

We encourage these students to test themselves in athletic competition and to give expression to their artistic abilities.

We draw strength from silence—and from the power of individual and collective reflection.

We cultivate in all members of our community high personal expectations and integrity, respect for consensus, and an understanding of how diversity enriches us, why stewardship of the natural world matters and why service to others enhances life.

Above all, we seek to be a school that nurtures a genuine love of learning and teaches students "to let their lives speak."

Good schools are guided by deeply held beliefs... they are not just written they are lived....

The questions that have driven my own learning for years.... what are mine...what are those core beliefs... this question has taken me to many places.... including your work Deb.

So thank you and all the others....

For everyone else.... can you articulate your core beliefs about education and schooling?

be well.... mike

Only once was I in a crowded room of graduate students and practitioners fortunate enough to be with Ted Sizer to hear him speak and to feel his presence; and that was decades ago. I talked to him very briefly. I have never forgotten that evening. He lived his ten principles, treated everyone with respect and cared deeply and passionately. We have all lost.

Only once was I in a crowded room of graduate students and practitioners fortunate enough to be with Ted Sizer to hear him speak and to feel his presence; and that was decades ago. I talked to him very briefly. I have never forgotten that evening. He lived his ten principles, treated everyone with respect and cared deeply and passionately. We have all lost.

I loved Ted. We could agree and disagree with the same sense of let's do better, not worse. He was ever willing to look at outcomes, not just spout good theories. He was ever willing to listen to "other" suggestions, not just rebut them. We both knew how to teach, and more than all else we wanted only those who knew how to teach!

Thanks one and all. One thought with regard to Miko--Mike's e-mail. On Sidwell. The only phrase that offends me in Sidwell's statement of it vision (as it was in the independent school in NYC I attended) is this one: "we seek academically talented students". Why not all children? There is nothing in their vision which shouldn't apply to "all" children. Aren't some worthy Quakers less academically talented? I keep asking my favorite private schools this question, and the answers seem evasive.

Yes, Cynthia==that's the part of the "waspy" tradition" Id like to emulate--nt rushing to the rebuttal!



What's wrong with academically talented students?

Thank you for this post. I, too, take comfort in the number of classrooms -- both in and outside of schools -- that I know are informed by what Ted did and said and wrote. I met him my first year in college and it changed my ways of thinking and what I chose to study. I particularly appreciate your description of his patience and his ability to listen and notice so many things. He once told me that his father taught him to only look at one piece when he went into a museum. To really sit with it and let it in and then leave before your brain could get muddled with other ideas. That one piece of art was enough to consider if you really wanted to look carefully. So true in so many contexts.

He helped me see that my strength was as a connector of things -- people and ideas -- and I've built a career around that notion. I didn't see him so frequently, but when I did he would start by asking "What trouble are you starting now?" Maybe that's my personal essential question? I try to live up to it each day. Thanks much for your writing here and elsewhere. It matters.

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

Agree Deb.... only academic talented kids need to apply... to Sidwell Friends... public school much different in that manner...we take who comes!

What i think stands out in any successful school is a "unifying theme" that runs thru the school communtiy.

Other teachers out there... does your school have a "unifying theme"?

Deb... how critical is this in your opinion?

be well... mike


Sizer's princiles - student=worker , teacher coach - school is not work and kids are not workers , they are learners

Sidwell - Athletic competition like academic competition that exists in schools is not a unifying factor. What about enjoying sport for its own sake. ?

When learning is within the context of a learning community ,interdependent and supportive we have a environment that leads to prosocial behavior


Hi allan....hope this finds you well and exactly the issue i am playing with as we talk school transformation!

These examples are simply that...possibilities of "how this place" needs to be. They are not meant to be a model of how "your" place needs to be!

What it leads me toward is.... the critical question.....WHAT IS MY UNIFYING THEME... in my classroom or my school?

What might yours be?

be well... mike

I rarely post anywhere ... but your rememberances of Ted Sizer have prompted me to post a rememberance of my own. I met Ted at the wedding of one his pupils seven years ago. He was so genuinely interested in me and my husband -- what we did, what we thought, where we came from -- while at the same time enriching all of that with his own thoughts. I have never met a person of accomplishment who has been able to give and receive so openly and gracefully.

Arne Duncan, University of Chicago Laboratory School (average class size 19)

Frank, this is in response to your message on the previous thread. If state mandated standardized tests have had undesired effects, it would be good to look at the reasons for this rather than outright dismiss them.

There is a very nice powerpoint on the web explaining that school tests are in principle of two kinds: 'interim' assessments and 'formative' assessments. You'll see that Obama's Race to the Top initiative makes the same distinction (although it could make it clearer).

The interim assessments have benchmarking as primary goal, providing a general idea to policy makers, parents, and schools where the students are with respect to where they should be. Interim assessments are norm referenced over multiple years and allow you to plot nicely things like the achievement gap.

The poster child of interim assessments is the NAEP - the 'Nation Report Card'. This test tells us, for example, that despite many reforms since the 1970s not much has changed in the level of math and English language - for all students, and also between the various ethnic groups. The NAEP uses statistical sampling to select the schools and the students tested. There are no direct consequences attached to schools, teachers, students if they fail on the NAEP. There is no incentive for teachers to 'teach to the NAEP test'.

Formative assessments, on the other hand, are designed to have an educational value in themselves for the student. They tend to exclude multiple choice questions, and to include open ended items, prodding students to express themselves. They are graded within a couple of days. They provide feedback for teachers on how to adjust teaching on an ongoing basis.

Term exams in college, for example, are formative assessments. And 'teaching to the formative test' is a good thing.

Formative exams can be used well to gauge the relative level of the students taking that one exam on that one day. They are too customized to be norm-referenced across multiple years, to plot a trend. Grading formative assessments cannot be automated, and requires vastly more effort than grading interim assessments.

In effect, there is a dichotomy between interim and formative assessments. There is a Heisenberg principle at work here - the more interim, the less formative the test is.

The tragedy with our statewide standardized tests is that they are too much interim, and too nonformative.

On the dissection of frogs, it is a good thing to have as long as it is used to illustrate the subject matter content that is studied.

On anti-intellectualism in our society, it pains me to observe that it's a double whammy - it comes both from the left an from the right.

The Bush education agenda was not driven by right wingers, but was a compromise driven by centrist democrats. This is documented among other places in No Child Left Behind?, Chap. 2 from the Brookings Institute. Sen. Kennedy sponsored the NCLB, and education was a lifelong preoccupation of his.

Yes it is a scandal that Evolution is pushed in places out of the curriculum. I would not let that deter us from observing that Science in general is in a miserable state in schools.

On the subject of Soviet style centralized education, I enjoyed Admiral Hyman G. Rickover's Education and Freedom. The Soviets had plenty of good content in math, physics, chemistry school classes. Their social sciences and history, however, were politicized along the party line. Exact sciences were also politicized to some extent. In biology, you could get fired as a teacher in the 1950's if you talked about Genetics and DNA, since that contradicted some other darling theory of the time.

Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is correct, but should not be used to conclude that all forms of intelligence have the same value. If students who take physics forget what they've learned shortly thereafter, that is an argument to teach physics better - not to remove it alltogether.

I had the good fortune to live in Ted and Nancy Sizer's house, which was also a dorm for 4 students, for a year when I went to Andover in the late 1970s. He was exactly as you describe Diane--a patient listener and a charismatic leader with a deep and abiding respect for others. Above everything, it was this genuine respect that shone through everything he did.

The last very vivid memory I have of Ted Sizer is from my 20th reunion from Andover--he spoke passionately about the damage standardized testing was doing to education. Thank you for your memories of someone who will always be a true hero to me--and so many others.

A Unifying theme would be seeing the school and classroom as a community supporting the autonomy and interdependence of each student -so there will be lots of cooperative , also between various age groups , mentoring , joint welfare projects , joint learning where the whole school participates etc


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