May 2007 Archives

Editor's note: While Deborah Meier travels in China, Diane Ravitch shares some quick thoughts and recommendations from her summer reading list. The Bridging Differences dialogue will return soon. With Deborah safely in China, I can now turn to my summer reading. I am trying to start a new book, so I am reading quite a lot of books about the business model in education and also books about American business. The classic in this genre is Raymond Callahan's "Education and the Cult of Efficiency," which I will re-read. I am currently reading Larry Cuban's "The Blackboard and the Bottom Line: ...


Editor's note: Deborah Meier is currently traveling in China. While she is away, the Bridging Differences blog will go on a brief hiatus. The blog will return on June 11. The following is Diane Ravitch's final new entry before the break begins. Dear Deb, No, we are not going to agree. We just can't bridge our differences when it comes to curriculum. I hate to write this while you are in China, but I guess it will still be here when you get back. As far as I can tell, in your view, curriculum is whatever the teacher decides to ...


Editor's note: Deborah Meier is in China for three weeks where she has been invited to give a keynote address in Shanghai at the World Conference on Transformation of Classroom Teaching. She also plans to speak to students at the Institute of Curriculum and Instruction at East China Normal University. She will return to the blog in June. Dear Diane, When you read this I’ll be in China. But I did take a peek at your response before I left, Diane. The trouble is that my definition (there can be two or more) of being well-educated is closer to ...


Deb, You will not be surprised to learn that I agree with you about the value of a road test for licensing future drivers. If you can't actually operate a car with safety and confidence, then you should not be licensed to drive, no matter how well you score on the written exam. As it happens, many of the studies that are taught in school are not comparable to driving a car. Many of them involve not only "habits of mind" but the acquisition of skills and knowledge that cannot be evaluated in any way that is akin to a ...


Dear Diane, Here's my bottom line re testing: Wherever possible, we should be relying on direct evidence of the domain we're investigating. And the final judges should be close to the action being judged. If they need or value information from standardized tests, they should be free to do so. (Otherwise large-scale standardized testing should be sample-based for the purpose of gaining information on trends, regions, subjects, etc—not on individual students or schools) We're always in the end resting our case on fallible judgment. Until and unless we turn ourselves into robots. The further my evidence is from the ...


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....


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....


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