Dear Deborah, In the past, say, a century or so ago, school reformers used "democracy" as the magic word. Whatever they were doing, whether it was imposing vocational tracking in the new junior high schools or using IQ tests to sort students for their future occupations, the reformers said that it was all to promote "democracy." Each child would learn where he or she fit best into the social order and could then make their appropriate contribution, whether as professionals (the tiny few) or housewives or clerical workers or manual workers, and so on. Now, as you point out, the ...


Dear Diane, You’ve quoted the part we most agree about from your book "Left Back." It’s amazing how much flows from that agreement. I suspect it’s this core that immunizes us against the "reign of (soft) terror" that we’re witnessing in the most innovative school districts, such as NYC. In the 1980s many of us celebrated what we thought was the final victory—at last—of Dewey over Thorndike. Alas, we were dead wrong. It was a momentary blip. But, Diane, you were also right that progressivism came in many guises, including forms of Thorndyke’ism,...


Dear Deb, You and I disagree on some very basic issues involving curriculum and testing, but we are in agreement on some other very basic issues, such as the public nature of public education and the stupidity of replacing instruction with a testing regime. What you describe is the mindset of the business/lawyer types who run school districts and who assume that testing will provide the incentive and the fear to produce higher test scores. When we speak of education, they think only of higher test scores, as if that will prove their success. It may take some more ...


Dear Diane, Like the distinguished panel of assessment experts whom Commissioner Mills called in to examine it wrote—the old CPESS model was a promising beginning. We had much work to be done if others were to follow suit. Instead others were discouraged and finally prohibited from doing so. If we had a commitment toward such approaches, we’d solve its kinks. Then instead of being a rare, fragile flower it could have been transplanted widely. What’s amazing is that within half a dozen years more than 40 schools, just in NY State, jumped on board without any support...


Dear Deb, Your description of CPESS and other Coalition schools sounds like a memory from a distant past. Education is now in the grips of a very different mindset, one that seeks to turn schools into businesses or to use business as a model for success in education. Test scores have become the coin of the realm, simply because they provide an objective measurement. The problem is not testing kids, but using the scores to make judgments about students, teachers, principals, and schools. I have never been opposed to testing, but I think it is bizarre to assume—as most...


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