Dear Deborah, I always find myself in agreement with your judgments about teaching, which are invariably wise. Yet I am often, as in this instance, unable to follow your logic when applied to district-wide, statewide, or national-wide policies. Like you, I think it is wonderful to teach argument, to encourage students to think about alternative interpretations, to realize that their textbooks are not necessarily authoritative, to prepare for democratic life by thinking independently. Still, it seems to me, unless I am misreading you, that you are opposed not only to tests, but to curriculum as well. Here and elsewhere, you ...

Dear Diane, I was speaking in North Carolina recently. In describing Central Park East's "Five Habits of Mind" I used, as an example of the "what if" habit: "Supposing we had lost the Civil War"—A lady in front of me laughed and said, "but we did". Thus proving the value of another "habit of mind"—being able to place one's self in another person's shoes. Even if, as it says in the Mission Hill mission statement, it's a viewpoint one despises. Do I imagine that all teachers, schools and districts, if left to their own devices, are likely to...

Dear Deb, As you know, Mark Twain (or Disraeli or someone) once wrote that there are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. Everyone in education, or so it seems, has learned how to present them in ways that bolsters whatever they want to do. Either, the sky is falling, or things have never been better. Let me suggest that the statistics you offer are open to different interpretations, to be generous. I don't really know how anyone can say how students in Singapore or Sweden would perform IF they took a NAEP test, which they did not ...

Dear Diane, I've also been pondering how we could resolve some of our disagreements about national testing—without necessarily resolving our differences on curriculum! Thanks for trying to word it succinctly (less than 500 words!). My response is twice as long, alas. But I wanted to approach it in a way that helped me think through why your solution (a national curriculum with a low-stakes test) doesn't work for me. We're both distressed—to put it mildly—about the misleading misinformation we're fed about one or another school system's successes and failures. The following data, which I ran across recently,...

Dear Deb, I think we just found a very important area of agreement! You said in your last post, “The fewer direct consequences there are—rewards or punishments—associated with such data collection, the greater the likelihood that it will be honest. We need less of the Texas ‘miracle’ and Enron-style data, and more of the ‘academic’ type.” So maybe you are willing to agree with my plan for the reauthorization of NCLB. Yes, we should have national standards and national tests, but there should be no federal role in punishing or rewarding schools based on the results of the tests....

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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