January 2008 Archives

Dear Diane, You are so right—both about language misuse and the idea that we need to pay teachers, parents and kids for test scores! We may disagree a bit on the vocational ed issue—more on that at a later time. I'm going to digress for a long moment (1,000 words) to respond to some of our readers' inquiries and arguments. Readers are urged to go to the comment section (see below) and read them yourselves, and then add your two cents—or more. Thought one. I asked Erin Johnson to give me countries (excluding city-states ...


Dear Deborah, In the past, say, a century or so ago, school reformers used "democracy" as the magic word. Whatever they were doing, whether it was imposing vocational tracking in the new junior high schools or using IQ tests to sort students for their future occupations, the reformers said that it was all to promote "democracy." Each child would learn where he or she fit best into the social order and could then make their appropriate contribution, whether as professionals (the tiny few) or housewives or clerical workers or manual workers, and so on. Now, as you point out, the ...


Dear Diane, You’ve quoted the part we most agree about from your book "Left Back." It’s amazing how much flows from that agreement. I suspect it’s this core that immunizes us against the "reign of (soft) terror" that we’re witnessing in the most innovative school districts, such as NYC. In the 1980s many of us celebrated what we thought was the final victory—at last—of Dewey over Thorndike. Alas, we were dead wrong. It was a momentary blip. But, Diane, you were also right that progressivism came in many guises, including forms of Thorndyke’ism,...


Dear Deb, You and I disagree on some very basic issues involving curriculum and testing, but we are in agreement on some other very basic issues, such as the public nature of public education and the stupidity of replacing instruction with a testing regime. What you describe is the mindset of the business/lawyer types who run school districts and who assume that testing will provide the incentive and the fear to produce higher test scores. When we speak of education, they think only of higher test scores, as if that will prove their success. It may take some more ...


Dear Diane, Like the distinguished panel of assessment experts whom Commissioner Mills called in to examine it wrote—the old CPESS model was a promising beginning. We had much work to be done if others were to follow suit. Instead others were discouraged and finally prohibited from doing so. If we had a commitment toward such approaches, we’d solve its kinks. Then instead of being a rare, fragile flower it could have been transplanted widely. What’s amazing is that within half a dozen years more than 40 schools, just in NY State, jumped on board without any support...


Dear Deb, Your description of CPESS and other Coalition schools sounds like a memory from a distant past. Education is now in the grips of a very different mindset, one that seeks to turn schools into businesses or to use business as a model for success in education. Test scores have become the coin of the realm, simply because they provide an objective measurement. The problem is not testing kids, but using the scores to make judgments about students, teachers, principals, and schools. I have never been opposed to testing, but I think it is bizarre to assume—as most...


Dear Diane, I’ve been pondering your letter. The grading system is so absurd as to be intriguing. How could it have happened? It suggests a disconnect between the people making decisions “downtown” and reality of humongous proportions. Its source though puzzles me—since these are not dumb men. How could they have been led so far astray? Ordinary common sense should have led Jim Liebman (the author of the NYC grading scheme) to have junked it before going public. For just the absurdities you pointed to. But ordinary common sense doesn’t work when you hire people to make...


Editor's note: Bridging Differences returns today from its holiday break with this entry from Diane Ravitch. Dear Deb, Let's talk about grading schools and about when it is appropriate to close schools. It seems that the accountability idea has become the overrriding passion in American education: Everyone must be held accountable, everyone must have their feet held to the fire on a regular basis, and every decision will be based on test scores. Students better raise their scores or they fail; teachers better raise their students' scores, or they will not get a bonus and might get some sort of ...


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