Dear Deborah, To answer your question, “How come, since there are more teachers than policymakers,” the policymakers get to run the show? Easy. Public education is controlled by laymen, not professionals. Decision-making power is placed by law in the hands of the local board of education, the state board of education, and the federal department of education. Lots of others influence policy, including teachers’ unions, business groups, and foundations. I find myself getting really annoyed when people rage against the teachers’ unions, because they are the organized voice of most of the people who work in schools. The same people ...

Dear Diane, You've put it neatly—whose expertise is running the show? Except for one flaw. How come, since there are more teachers than policymakers, we give up and not them? There are lots of reasons, of course, including the fact that teachers (and parents) tend not—as we noted once before—to "see like a State" (ala James Scott's wonderful book). Policymakers seem to do it naturally. But, of course, it's also because they represent people who are more powerful. And also people who, alas, take themselves more seriously. When I first got into being a kindergarten...

Dear Deborah, On Sunday morning, as I was pondering my reply to your last blog about “making sense of our differences,” I picked up The New York Times and read a shocking story. It seems that in Tanzania, albinos are being hunted down and killed by people who believe that their skin and body parts have magical powers. This story reminded me of how fortunate we are to live in a nation where we constantly struggle to teach acceptance, tolerance, and mutuality and to judge people as individuals, not by the color of their skin or their accent or their ...

Dear Diane, NYC’s decision—for budgetary reasons—to forego mandatory intelligence testing of 5-year-olds this fall is worth celebrating. But it’s a dangerous idea that will be back again. The earlier the testing culture starts, the more it erodes the resilience of all children, but above all those raised in a different culture and language than such tests rest their norms on. Some natives, hearing the accents or dialects of foreigners, treat them instinctively with disrespect. A good friend of mine, Florence Miller, had a talent for joining other cultures and languages. We traveled together to France, ...

Dear Deborah, Tests inevitably gauge a student’s fund of knowledge and experience, not just what was taught in school. If a student comes from a family where he or she hears a large vocabulary, where there are many books in the home, where reading and learning are valued, where there are excursions to the library or the museum, the tests will reflect that huge amount of social capital. Tests of math and science are more likely to reflect what was taught in school because most students learn those subjects almost entirely in school. The same is probably true, I ...

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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