March 2007 Archives

Dear Deborah, I think we are in a very strange and disquieting time for public education. "Reforms" are being implemented that will have unforeseen consequences. I was one of the early supporters of charter schools, as a means of establishing more choice within the public system, but as they proliferate I wonder what the end game is, where are we heading? I have not had any beef with those who said that private managers could step in and do a better job with the lowest-performing schools—after all, when schools are not managing to educate the kids, why not try ...


Dear Diane, There are trade-offs. I'm more worried about privatization than I am about bad science teaching—although, and perhaps because, I care a lot about science. So we agree on the ends, if not the means. The reason I care so much about science education is that science is not only a tool for improving our technological capacities, but it's a way of thinking that is essential for all modern day citizens of the world. It's not dogma, even good dogma, although as too often taught today it is hard to distinguish it from dogma or a magic show....


Deb, Where we agree, where we disagree. I think that public choice is a good idea. I have even explored ideas to help Catholic schools survive, perhaps by giving some sort of scholarship for needy kids that may be used at any nonpublic school. I am no constitutional lawyer, but that seems to me not very different from Pell grants. But I do worry about the risk of Balkanization. We used to use that phrase and no one knew what it referred to. The ethnic rivalries and tensions in the Balkans seemed to be ancient history. For decades, the Balkans ...


Dear Diane, "We have no final answers. We keep negotiating." I may put it on my bumper-sticker. RDT expressed a similar concern to yours on our Blog: the risk of Balkanization that comes with choice. But that's where we are now. Schools are more than ever segregated by race and class, and even religiosity and ethnicity. Largely by geography plus private and selective school choice. Even when parents send their kids to diverse schools, there is segregation within the schools. Kids today are largely educated only in the company of others like themselves. Do I like this? No. I think ...


Dear Deborah, I love democracy too. Can’t imagine any other system under which I would want to live. I too grew up in the era when Communism and fascism were horrible realities, not theories. Even in a democracy, there are mandates that we must all accept. When you write “mandates,” I think “laws.” The laws are passed by democratically elected bodies, and like them or not, we live with them. Thinking about the power of self-governance and schools leads me to think about some situations where I am glad that there are democratic checks and balances on local preferences. ...


Dear Diane, Ah, mandates. My flirtation with libertarianism is deep-seated and may be related to having grown up at a time when two absolutes—fascism and communism—were at their heights. Both dismissed the sloppy bourgeois democracies with their tepid ideals. I knew the Left-side of this better than the Fascist one, and found myself on occasion uneasy about claims that one had to sacrifice democracy for higher ends—albeit temporarily. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. The masses have been brain-washed and until we can clear their heads of foolishness "we" must rule in their place....


Dear Deborah, One of the great things about this ongoing conversation called blogging is that you never cease to surprise me. I told our blogmaster Mary-Ellen Deily at Education Week that the blog should be retitled "Never the Last Word." It is that love of intellectual mano-a-mano that keeps us energized. I hope we never lose it. In your last post, you restate your objection to mandates, then shift into a defense of teachers' unions. I expect that the anti-union people will jump all over the opening that you created for them to rant against mandatory dues payments by teachers ...


Dear Diane, Perhaps it's time to change the subject. Moving on does not mean we both won't have another "last word" to get in on Reading First and literacy. (It's hard for me to resist just one or two more rejoinders.) Also the disagreement re what international tests do and don't tell us—as well as testing itself—we can pass over for the moment, but must get back to. But your comments about "mandates" suggest a place to take off in another direction, even before we get to the "Tough Choices, Tough Times" report as you suggest in your ...


Dear Deborah, I am glad to see that our discussion of Reading First is getting a lot of reaction, and quite a number of interesting and well-informed responses. I don't like mandates any more than you do, but I also think it is important to learn from experience and even, when it is cumulative, to learn from research. I think it would be irresponsible, perhaps anti-intellectual, to wave away the very extensive research that has been conducted over many years about reading. The research in "Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children," for example, should not be lightly dismissed. Surely there ...


Dear Diane, You're right, Reading First is not mandatory. I just visited a school in Oakland that turned down being part of a Reading First initiative because they thought it wrong-headed. I wish others were as professionally responsible. But the published correspondence between the leaders of Reading First demonstrates with what glee and persistence they went about the task of twisting arms—especially in Districts with needy kids under threat of NCLB sanctions. Diane, if the next administration chose to use the same pressure on behalf of Balanced Literacy (as California once did re whole-language—to my dismay at the time),...


Dear Deb, I don’t think you understand how the Reading First program works. No state or district is compelled by federal mandates to use the reading methods specified by the Reading First program. No state is required to apply for RF funding. No district is required to accept RF funding. The Reading First dollars are available only to states and districts that apply for them. Reading First is a competitive grant program. For example, in New York State, the RF money went only to districts that sought the money and then only for a limited number of schools that ...


Dear Diane, We were both irritated by Chancellor Klein's effort to mandate that all teachers in NYC use the Lucy Calkins Writing Workshop Method. So it surprised me that you were sympathetic to the Federal government for doing the same re Reading First. I sometimes think it may stem from where we see ourselves in the pecking order of power—with me always imagining myself in the position of the receiver not deliverer of orders. But the many unexpected ways intelligent people—including 5 year olds—make sense of the same world is why I love being a teacher! So...


Dear Deborah, So much is happening and I am afraid that I jumped ahead and wrote a blog entry on the upheavals in NYC before I saw your post about teaching reading. Here is the bottom line on the federal Reading First program. No one in the federal government, not the Department of Education, not the Congress, tells teachers how to teach reading. Any teacher can use any program or method they prefer without federal dictates or interference. Nothing in the law says otherwise. The Reading First program is a part of No Child Left Behind that got bipartisan support. ...


Dear Diane, Glad to hear you are of two minds about this “scientifically-proven” stuff that the Bush administration is so fond of touting when it comes to K-12 schooling. To pursue the point a bit. Why do I think the Bush Administration claim to stand for science when it comes to teaching reading to be nonsense? Since being well educated rests, I’d argue, on respect for credible evidence and learning from the past it would seem I’d count Bush as an ally. (I would perhaps chuckle at the irony that the Bushites require obedience to "scientific evidence" when ...


Dear Deborah, You suggest at the end of your Feb. 28 entry that there may be no such thing as "scientifically-based" reading methods. I am of two minds about this. I would like to think that education research has value; that if a large number of studies consistently validate that one approach gets better results than another, then this is a finding that has some utility to others. That's the way research works in other fields, so why not education? So is education research capable of reaching "scientific" conclusions or not? The case of education may be special, in that ...


Dear Diane, I wish I had been there at the rally for Public Education. But I did hear on my way to Boston, that Klein/Bloomberg had appointed a Parent Engagement person as a response. They miss the point. This isn’t a PR problem. And, as you aptly note, hiring the opposition doesn’t always work to one’s advantage. I’ve got my fingers crossed. We’re inclined to forget that democracy was invented as a response to the demand for accountability. For, of and by “the people” is a statement about accountability. It’s a radical idea—that...


Deb, I must add an important footnote about my last blog (The Power Struggle in New York City). I mentioned how hard it is to find achievement data on the New York State Education Department website. I must explain how I found the data and give credit where it is due. I spent hours—literally hours—going to every part of the website associated with assessments and accountability, with English language arts and mathematics, with K-12 education, and I could not find the achievement data. In my utter frustration, I began emailing people that I thought should know. No one could...


Deborah, In your introduction, you referred to your history of engagement in political action. Unlike you, I have not been involved in political organizing or protest movements. I do what I can with my pen but generally stay arms-length from political action. So it was a departure for me when I attended a protest rally on February 28 in New York City, called "Put the Public Back into Public Education." This was an extraordinary microcosm of the groups that are outraged by the takeover of public education in the city by the mayor, lawyers, and business groups. It was the ...


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