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....


Dear Diane, Agreed. Most people's ideas—good and bad—are adapted by others in ways that would surprise the original author. Sometimes the "followers" have improved on the original, but it hurts when they have massacred it. Which is another way of agreeing with you that Dewey's ideas have not always led where he hoped they would. Ditto for Jean Piaget, from whom American educators borrowed the idea of cognitive "stages" and tried to figure out how to rush children onto the "next stage" faster. Sometimes the original idea is partially to blame—clearly containing the seeds of its own distortion....


Dear Deb, It is valuable to reconsider the history of progressive education not just as an arcane matter, but to see how good ideas go astray. You identify with the Deweyan tradition, but it is informative to see how much trouble Dewey had trying to keep his followers from distorting his ideas. One of the things that we learn from history is how easily the best of ideas gets distorted, hijacked, misinterpreted. This is one reason that my favorite book of Dewey's is "Experience and Education," where he tries to correct the misunderstandings of his writings, especially among his disciples. ...


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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