September 2007 Archives

Dear Diane, I don't want to spend too much time on testing. But a few words! One: I'm arguing that tests are a poor way to assess schooling. I'm not arguing, as Paul Hoss suggested in a recent response, that given other concerns we can't focus as much on cognitive aims with poor kids. But I do agree with him that we need to provide a lot of support to poor families above and beyond schools so that we are not "distracted" by other issues. Diane, I don't view the word "politically" negatively. I like and believe in politics. And ...


Dear Deb, You make some good points about the distinction between norm-referenced tests and criterion-referenced tests, but I disagree with your characterization of the latter. The problem with norm-referenced tests, I think, is that you really never show much progress. If it is a test of fourth grade, half the children will be above the norm, and half are supposed to be below. It may be useful to know what the norm is, but it is misleading. I recall that for many years, the New York City Board of Education reported norm-referenced scores, and the newspaper headlines would scream that ...


Dear Diane, You suggest I needn't worry about annoying those "with more power". But I felt badly recently when (as I mentioned) somebody took after Mission Hill school as a way to attack me on another issue altogether. So they can "touch me"—but not stop me! Alas, my travels remind me that others have less wiggle room—even for saying what's on their minds. You are right, our disagreements seem to lie in at least two places: (1) the role of standardized tests, and (2) national curriculum vs. local ones. Even in these two areas our views overlap ...


Dear Deb, I don’t think you should worry at all about annoying those “with more power” than you. You no longer work inside a school; you no longer have to worry about what “they” can do to you because “they” can’t do anything to you. As a writer, you have a public voice and have more power than “they” have. “They” can’t shut you up, can’t touch you, and can’t stop you. It is sometimes hard to see the line that divides where we agree and disagree. I agree with you—passionately—about the importance...


Dear Diane, There are two possibilities (at least) re our agreeing too much! We can dig deeper into the areas about which we agree, or we can take on what, in other times, might appear to be important disagreements. There are times to unite before a common threat; but it's also useful to keep the disagreements stirring. When I was inside a school I had to take care about how much I annoyed those with more power than me. I still should. Some guy in Massachusetts with the Pioneer Institute took umbrage at my "accusing" them of having controlled the ...


Dear Deb, I hope we are not disappointing our readers by agreeing more than we disagree. I think I am letting down my part of the bargain by agreeing with you so often, but our areas of convergence became clear from the first time that we sat together almost a year ago to talk about our views about No Child Left Behind. The fact is that you are writing and saying the same things you have believed for a long time, and I am in the process of reconsidering and revising my views on many counts. I have been doing ...


Dear Diane, I enjoyed (and agreed with) practically every word in your last letter. And I identified with your grief over Molly, too. I sometimes think I'm exaggerating the dangers facing us—and then I read the Daily News about math scores and think I'm maybe not worrying enough! More on this below. We may have some sharp disagreements, which we ought to pursue carefully this coming year, but at stake, at the moment, are two greater concerns. One, the continued existence of a public school system. Two, turning the public one that's left into a super-centralized enterprise run by a...


Dear Deb, Yup, back-to-school time. I too get that funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, especially when I find myself wandering the aisles of a stationery store, looking at spiral notebooks, pens, and the other accoutrements of starting school and hearing the voice in my head saying that it is time to get ready. This was not a great summer. I spent most of it trying to get a diagnosis and appropriate care for my beloved 10-year-old dog Molly, who became sick in early July. One vet said she has congestive heart failure and has six months to ...


Editor's note: After a month-long break, Bridging Differences returns today with this entry by Deborah Meier. Dear Diane, Summer's over. For 70 years I've approached this time of year with school in mind. With unrealistically high expectations and joy. And a knot in the pit of my stomach. I wish I could at least be grateful that I'm not dealing with the difficult decisions that so many of my colleagues face in the current climate of so-called "reform." But it turns out to be more discomforting to live it vicariously. In the excitement of seeing old friends and new each ...


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