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A Time for Taking Stock in the Blogosphere

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I'm just past three months into my stint as a blogger here, and it seems like a good time to take stock of how it has gone.

I entered the lists with vague hopes of engaging in something of a dialogue with the public sector, a dialogue that hasn't yet come together. I am not deterred from voicing my frustration and dismay at the course that politicians and others are setting for public education: the absurd over-use of testing; under-resourcing; over-crowding; the threat of privatization; virtualization, vouchers, and chartering as excuses to avoid improving schools; specious methods of evaluating teachers. As an educator, taxpayer, voter, and citizen, I'll continue share that perspective, even if my independent school background reduces my street cred. I wish there were more that my voice could do to fix the situation, but mostly I can just nod vigorously (usually, at least) as I read Diane Ravitch and the NEA daily e-blast.

What I think I have discerned from both reader responses and the flow of tweets about each post is that many readers here are in fact from the independent school side of the fence. Some of you may have followed me here from Not Your Father's School, and others may have come upon this blog on your own. I am guessing that I am helping drive a bit of independent school traffic toward Education Week, which I think it's safe to call the publication of record for K-12 education, and so the editors' faith in me has been at least a little rewarded.

Partly because three serious posts a week is a heavy load and partly because the conversations I have with people in schools these days tend to gravitate toward a few issues, I have found myself here wanting to focus on things that seem urgent and important.

One is the so-called public purpose of independent schools. As a sector we give quite a bit of lip service to this concept, and lots of schools are doing a great deal more than that. But I remain convinced that there is a larger role for us, dimly imaginable as being something like a national laboratory program for educational experimentation and innovation, that we haven't yet fully articulated among ourselves as a body. I think that outgoing National Association of Independent Schools president Pat Bassett has done an amazing job of awakening our schools to many new ideas and new ways of conceiving our role, including this one. It remains to be seen whether the new president, John Chubb, with his record of affection for charter schools and for-profits, will help the independent school sector become even more of an engaged social asset or merely exacerbate an unfortunate historical tendency to consider ourselves a special case, at one cool remove (as the song says) from the realities of American life.

(Of course there has also been some discussion among readers here and elsewhere of the notion that independent schools should simply self-destruct and proceed to fertilize the public educational landscape with our re-distributed assets. Part of the basis for this, the argument that Finland has no independent schools and Finland has achieved educational excellence with relative socioeconomic parity, is to me unpersuasive as logic; the argument may go the other way, or it may be about something else altogether. I will address the Finland question next week.)

A second topic that I feel stuck with or energized by, depending on the day, is technology. This is the gorilla in the living room of schools, only by now no one is pretending that it isn't there. It's big, hairy, and audacious, but in the minds of many, apparently, it's unpredictable. It's true that it may be hard to predict the precise form the Next Big Thing in educational technology is likely to take, but there's no mistaking that it requires thoughtful and thorough attention, now. Get with it, folks. Do something, because it's here. Even a thoughtful, principled rejection would be something--but not avoidance, for either schools or teachers.

A third thing I've tried to accomplish is to offer readers an occasional window into the world of independent schools. Mottos, teacher preparation, some interesting schools, what tuition buys, and worthy bloggers are pieces of the independent school world that outsiders (and many insiders) may not know much about, so maybe I can set a few things straight, or at least put them on the table. Some of these, too, are intended as gentle prodding to independent school readers to up our game: live up to your aspirations, teach your teachers (not just your children) well. Think out loud about what you do.

I haven't spent as much time on curricular matters as I would like to, and perhaps as the summer warms up I will get to this. I'm clearly a fan of experiential learning and assessments that are embedded in the authentic work of the world, whether they are projects, simulations, debates, presentations to panels of experts, or simply the "work" of a student in a Montessori classroom. More to come on this.

So, Gentle Reader, this is where I am at the moment, trying to offer at least my own independent perspective, even if I may not quite always hit a common one. I thank you for your continued readership, your support, and even your thoughtful push-back.


Engage with Peter on Twitter: @pgow

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