March 2009 Archives

Dear Deborah, I want to go back and discuss President Obama’s big speech on education. At the time I heard it, I was surprised by some of his statistics about how terrible things are, but I didn’t have time (or inclination) to do the fact-checking on my own. I was too busy working on my book, trying to finish a chapter on a different topic. Just the other day, a friend sent me an item that was posted on FactCheck.org, which is published by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. A group of diligent ...


Dear Diane, My own evolution, politically, has always been influenced by the realization that I might be in a minority! In fact, maybe some of us are born with that realization (even if shielded from it by a family surrounding in which we have a hard time imagining another reasonable viewpoint). But democracy appeals to me in part because there’s always another chance—maybe next year. It‘s also an incentive for trying to learn a little more and thus being more persuasive. My exaggerated belief in the power of education rests perhaps on the hope that reason can ...


Dear Deborah, My guess is that we will have a long time, not months, but years, to discuss national standards and a national curriculum. The question won’t go away. It is one of the items on Secretary Duncan’s “to-do” list. In 1995, I wrote a book on the subject and predicted that we would inevitably move in this direction, as it made no sense to have 50 different ways of measuring how we are doing in math and science. I believe that NCLB has sharpened the contradictions and laid bare the confusion of so many different “standards,” as ...


Dear Diane, But let’s not postpone our discussion about national standards for too long. It mostly boils down to my fear about official ideologies and centralized power over ideas. Plus, our old disagreement about intellectual “neutrality” and objectivity. I found your analysis of Obama’s education policy intriguing: pro-spending, but largely along lines Chicago, NYC, et al have pioneered. My disagreements are deep-seated. I want a public system of schooling that has local bases and biases—where we don’t all have to agree on what “social justice” teaching means. It’s a risk—but democracy rests on that ...


Dear Deborah, I will get back to you on another day about the strengths and dangers of a national curriculum. Today I want to initiate a conversation with you about President Obama’s education program. We previously discussed Secretary Arne Duncan's policy views, which frankly sounded identical to those of President Bush's secretary of education, Margaret Spellings. Now President Obama, in a speech on March 10 to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has repeated the same views. The president said that his administration would support whatever works, without regard to whether the ideas are liberal or conservative. He then laid ...


Dear Diane, So we’re back at the thorniest issue—a national curriculum. The kind of “set” curriculum I like is one proposed and supported by the constituents of a particular school—like ours at Mission Hill or CPE/CPESS. Although, even ours was probably not sufficiently detailed for you. I’ve embraced a few other people’s favorites; I could live with some others; but, many I couldn’t. (My peculiarly inept rote memory may be a factor in some of my biases.) There are at least five assumptions that I suspect come into play for me. 1. Goals....


Dear Deborah, Last week, I attended three different conferences in Washington, D.C. Not something I like to do, as I really do hope to finish my book in a few months. One was the “21st-Century skills” panel at Common Core, which we discussed. Then there was a panel discussion of accountability, in connection with the release of a report called “The Accountability Illusion” by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. And, most recently, I participated in a day-long celebration of the 20th anniversary of the National Assessment Governing Board. (Podcasts of this last event should be available at the NAGB ...


Dear Diane, Sometime I imagine “them” (the think-tankers) sitting up late at night inventing new titles for “reform” packages just to annoy people like you and me. There’s more interest of late in the name for the new NCLB than the contents of the bill! Ditto what passes for 21st Century skills. I can’t figure out who is on whose side, but they all seem quite happy to cheer each other on. What they—Ed Trust, Ed Sector, Heritage, Fordham, Klein, et al—seem to agree on is that everyone should follow the same path, that it should...


Dear Deborah, Since you brought up the subject of “21st Century skills,” it seemed like an opportune time to talk a bit about this subject. A week ago, I participated in a panel discussion on this topic, sponsored by an organization called Common Core in Washington, D.C.. Common Core was created to advocate for the liberal arts and sciences, particularly because of the pressure to spend more and more time emphasizing only reading and mathematics. After all, they are the only subjects that “count” for purposes of NCLB accountability, so supervisors and principals are demanding that teachers produce higher ...


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