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Schools Need Accountability Consistent with Democracy


Dear Diane,

It was wonderful to see you and listen to you last week at the lovely tribute in honor of some special people—including you. Class Size Matters and Leonie Haimson have done an amazing job and their Web site is must reading.

And while I’d like to pursue my last week’s letter—and get your responses—I have to say a few words about your Tuesday blog first.

Geoffrey Canada’s point in developing his Harlem Zone is, in fact, the Broader, Bolder point. He isn’t focused only on schools, but on the health and welfare of a community. Good for him. He fell for the “only tests count” strategy, as I read it, in part out of his own ignorance and in part because his wealthy board insisted on it. It’s the road to fame these days; nothing else will substitute. But, like you, I’ll settle for all schools having the resources and attention that Canada “lavishes” on his kids.

Where you and I are in serious disagreement is on the notion that good manners distinguish the poor from the middle-class or rich! If so—it’s in reverse order to what is too often suggested. The poor kids I encountered in kindergarten were accustomed to more formal and more consistent good manners—whether it was in how to address their elders or how to dress properly. They were less whiney and more obedient. It carried over to the doctor’s office—where middle-class kids acted like healthy brats while children of the poor sat with silent decorum. It breaks down much later.

Children of the poor get tougher and more unmannerly slowly. In time, they lose respect for authority. Perhaps because adults are rarely able (or willing) to protect them. Maybe because many public authorities quite openly treat them and their families disrespectfully. Over time, they come to depend on “the streets” and their “peer culture” for safety, and they imitate the public swagger offered on “middle-class” media of wealthy athletes, talk show hosts, et al.

You and I, Diane, want an intellectually feisty citizenry, and that’s what we don’t offer the poor. I discovered they enjoy it as much, if not more, than their richer peers.

Now, back to accountability.

Current forms surely fit well our age of distrust. Imagine pretending that the entire state of New York has earned unheard-of score increases over one year? Only someone ignorant about testing—or scornful of their audience—would dare release such absurd data. Any respectable scientist with equally startling results would avoid public announcement until engaging in an investigation—like doing a study using a different instrument on a sample of the population. We only need alternatives that do better.

We need to hold schools “accountable” in ways consistent with democracy. My default position (See Nov. 21, 2007, blog!) is “leave it to those closest to the action.” Every time we move a notch further away we need to beware. We lose something each step, so we better be sure what we gain is worth the loss.

Our schools should be exemplars, illustrative of what public scrutiny is all about. They should mirror the kind of thoughtfulness we hope goes on in our classrooms. I’d say schools are ahead of their reformers—politicians and business leaders—in this regard.

Last week, I suggested a more thoughtfully and deepened NAEP in literacy—starting no earlier than 4th grade. With math—which is both a routine skill and an academic subject, it’s more difficult. Maybe a math test at 8th grade that only covered “arithmetic” and some basics of mathematical reasoning, statistics, and odds could be arrived at? But I’m already exposing my prejudice. I’m more worried about the number of adults who can’t tell millions from billions from trillions easily (like me), who don’t know how to examine statistical claims, who are confused by “the odds,” etc. versus those ignorant of algebra and calculus. That’s why I like sampling—because it doesn’t pretend to be holding anyone accountable, but only hopes to be informative. Data can inform, it cannot drive! But, of course, the public is suspicious of sampling because we’ve never used schools to uncover their mystery even though we use the technique ad nauseam in both public life and business. Choices must be made—but none is perfect, and we have to make trade-offs all the time in life. But for the sake of our national health we shouldn’t all be required to make the same trade-offs—except for (I’d hope) demonstrating the connection between our mission and the mission of democracy.

In future weeks, I’d like to explore why we can’t ALL be doing something like “exhibitions” when it comes to “accounting” for individual learning (and external visitations re. individual schools). This month the Coalition of Essential Schools is highlighting a few schools' final exhibitions nationwide. That’s where the work really pays off—in helping teachers, students, and families be less dependent on test scores and more capable of knowing themselves well.

Such approaches allow us to measure the so-called effective skills and habits in the process of measuring the “hard” stuff. It’s a form of assessment that mirrors the values of a democratic society: the exercise of informed judgment and responsiveness to public critique.



Instead of 'reducing class size", we need to find a better name for the goal we want. "Increased individual attention" is a starter, you may have a more poetic moniker.

There are both macro and micro reasons for this, both political and professional. 'Tis not like the President renaming 'unlawful enemy combatants' to whatever they're now called, with the same effect.

Focusing on increased individual attention would open an array of solutions, not just a single solution which puts more certified, unionized teachers on the 7-3 payroll.

For example, we might decide that teacher aides should be more plentiful, more educated, and better compensated.

Or, we might find that we need to specifically allow for the lower parent-to-child ratio found in urban families, and compensate for that in the way we structure the school day.

We might find that middle schoolers benefit from regular individual discussions with an adult about good books and podcasts, edu-games and film.

Individual attention might come via the net.

It might come from volunteers like my mother, who reads with a couple children weekly helping make sure they're staying with the class.

Is a school grade with 4 classrooms with 4 solid teachers better than a school grade with 5 classrooms, 4 solid teachers and a middling no-experience teacher? Or is there a better way to use these 5 people?

Tis true enough, the UFT negotiated maximum class sizes are fairly absurd if used regularly. Its also fair to ask why the union accepted these large limits. Perhaps in exchange for up-front pay increases? Were they then arguing in the kids' interests?

A side note on overly adversarial relationships in the workplace: I'm looking at the Class Size Matters page entitled, "40 reasons why NY state should reject the city’s Contract for Excellence proposal".

Imagine if all work was conducted with memos titled "40 reasons why X should reject Y"

Ah, math. Now you're on to something I know a little about.

I assume that in your suggestions for NAEP testing in math you are seeking an analogy between general literacy (reading and writing) and a comparable concept with regard to math, and that's why you suggested those topics for an 8th grade test? Let me offer the following.

Most people still think of math primarily as a set of procedures. "Basic skills" in math refers to having facility with computation procedures for whole numbers, fractions, and decimals. And the average person probably has something like that in mind for what would constitute "math literacy" analogous to reading/writing literacy. You have added some important topics to the list, but (making the analogy to a plant) the root is missing. The skills are the leaves branches, perhaps even the stem. But without adequate roots, the plant of mathematics will not develop properly. And the root develops long before the 8th grade.

The conceptual development that occurs in the early grades (or doesn't) is absolutely critical to students' continuing development in math. And for most people, a focus on procedures and procedural fluency does not help them develop the necessary concepts. Many districts are experiencing the phenomenon of test scores for 4th graders rising, but scores 4 years later when the kids hit the 8th grade have stalled or even fallen. Even more common is the massive fall-off in mastery between whole numbers and fractions. These are symptoms, or indicators, of those missing root concepts.

I emphatically do not want to promote the false dichotomy of procedures vs. concepts. It's both/and, not either/or. It takes flour AND water to make bread; it takes concepts AND procedural skill to progress in math. The stem and leaves require adequate roots, the roots are fed by the stem and leaves. Nor whan I say "concepts" am I talking about reasoning skills (though those matter, too.) I am talking about quite specific concepts such as "one ten is the same as ten ones" which young children must come to understand to "get" what is going on in math, and which receive way too little attention (or sometimes the wrong kind of attention) for many students to learn/construct/figure out.

Developing each of these fundamental concepts is a matter of weeks, months, and often years, so if students enter 7th or 8th grade without them, it's a bit late for the system to be noticing that fact. I see many middle and even high school students who need to go all the way back to concepts from 4th, or even 3rd or 2nd, grade in order to clear up their stuggles with their current curriculum. Only now the time they have left to figure them out is much more restricted, so that even if they are given the opportunity, the progress they can realistically make in the time remaining before graduation (or their exit exam) creates, shall we say, serious dilemmas for their teachers.

So, to cycle back to your thoughts about math, we would definitely want to assess ourselves with regard to math earlier than 8th grade. And 4th grade would be a logical assessment point, because so many of the most fundamental concepts (and skills) are (should be) developed K-4. But the nature of the test needs to be radically different from what is curently typical, and teachers need to understand math and the learning and therefore teaching of math differently from how most of them currently understand it and teach it. And teachers would need support from curriculum materials (most of which currently have a very heavy imbalance towards purely procedural instruction), which means textbook publishers need to understand this stuff too. And all that change would require support within districts for teachers to learn and develop, which means principals and superintendents need to understand too. So I get to make my point once again that it's about the whole system, not just one aspect of it :-)

Making generalizations about "the poor" and the academic consequences of poverty is hazardous. ECLS data--both K and B databases indicate far less difference in home practices, attitudes and such than the stereotypes would have it. And many of these are unrelated to test performance. Yes, if there is a choice between rich and poor, always choose rich. But there is wide variability and overlap in kids both within and between the top and the bottom of income brackets.

What is impoverished are the feedback mechanisms for Instructional Intelligence. Grade 4 is way toe late. The die has largely been cast by that time. The way things currently stand, again using ECLS data, 5th grade reading and math performance are highly predictable on the basis of end of K test scores, and end of K test scores are a function of K teachers' instructional decisions. This isn't the place to go into those decisions, but they did not derive from anything other than top-of-the-head, or seat-of-the-pants (or both). The same holds for every subsequent grade. Terming it the "Matthew Effect" hardly does the "effect" justice.

El hi provides a natural "laboratory" for all sorts of "natural experiments" that can be conducts with minimal intrusion on what teachers and kids and without artificial measures.

The sampling that Deb advocates can be put to powerful use. What we should be seeking, as in any scientific/technical initiative is "if-then" statements and the accompanying wherewithal to reliably realize the consequences of concern.

What we now have are rhetorical wishes termed "standards" and artificial contrivances termed "standardized achievement tests" that do not illuminate any courses of instructional action at any administrative level.

Or, Ed, maybe the UFT agreed to a contract that capped their classes at 34 in the high schools in regular classes - and 50 in PE and music - because they are the ones who are much more interested in providing a positive learning environment for the students. (And so what if that means it's better for the teachers too. Or am I going to get another lecture on my naivete?) I'm sure the UFT would have loved to go to even lower class sizes like the suburbs do but they have to combat an uncaring district that certainly would be content with a much higher number.

Always looking at these issues through rose-colored glasses, aren't we, Ed. Point repeatedly noted.

Jason, you missed my point. Why would the UFT 1) put an issue like classroom size in the contract and 2) then make the limits so high?

The larger point, though was about adversarial relationships between knowledge workers and employers. No other profession would would in such an environment where each aspect of the work is laid out in a 250 page, multi-year contract. They just won't.

Why? Because most realize that the intricacies of a successful, collaborative, workplace cannot be settled into a 250 page document of any kind. Instead, progress comes through a constant, daily, give and take.

Remember, our goal here is better education, and we almost all agree that many of these kids need more individual attention.

So lets look at all the ways small here and small there which will together add up to more individual attention. (Or 'personalization' as Deb has called it). Lets break out of the old fights and do things the way they should be done, incrementally adding capacity wherever we can.

Speaking of attention, does anyone have any updates on the Thernstrom's info on family structure?

A mere 37% of black children live with two parents by their data; in contrast with 77% of whites, 65% of Hispanics, and 81% of Asian Americans.

This, combined with the larger average family size for blacks, means less attention for each child. In fact, close to 3 children per parent vs. one child per parent!

If that's not bad enough,Mom is more than twice as likely to be under 18 - over a third of black mothers are.

Clearly, if we're to reduce the cycle, the community needs to intervene. How?


Well--I've always thought that those who have a concern could consider starting up high quality and affordable dating services for those of us raising children without a mate.

But--seriously, I think we need to be a bit more qualitative in our family assessments. I think it was Bronfenbrenner who did some of the early work looking at children of divorce. The ongoing relationship of the separated parents--and particularly the support of an absent father for the role of the mother--was very significant in the ability of kids to overcome the trauma. There is also the entanglement of income into the single parent picture--alleviated in some countries by social support systems of varying kinds--early childhood education, income support, health care.

In evaluating the child-rearing of various cultures/subcultures, etc, I think it is important to look beyond parents. Who are the other adults who have a significant role in a child's life. My experience with suburban life is very different from many kids I have known in the city growing up within walking distance of grandmother and in close proximity to older aunt/uncles/cousins--many of whom take on significant child rearing functions in terms of teaching respect, providing exposure to culture or life-experiences, as well as ongoing socialization and supervision.

Margo, LOL! Well, if I find a well-incomed investor/sponsor, I'll see if they have any single friends. :-)

Seriously, I think you know I'm not bringing up these stats to lets schools and the SEA's off the hook for various bad practices and principles. What I am saying is, let's be sure we are focusing on the big items, not the wee ones.

If for example, we are going to cite lead exposure as a reason kids aren't learning, lets put it in perspective. Most people my age and above lived with lead as kids; most were not born to a single teen herself born to a mother of similar circumstance.

In theory, Broader, Bolder might address this in a circuitous way. Yet I don't see in their principles the kind of frank, open, demand we need.

Approximately half of mothers receiving Temporary assistance to Needy Families (TANF) were less than 17years old when they had their first child. Not under 21; under 17!

Deb says, "Children of the poor get tougher and more unmannerly slowly. ...Perhaps because adults are rarely able (or willing) to protect them. Maybe because many public authorities quite openly treat them and their families disrespectfully. Over time, they come to ... imitate the public swagger offered on “middle-class” media of wealthy athletes, talk show hosts, et al.

OK, fine, I buy that. Yet... Who is empowering and guiding the "middle-class" media? Who gives these bigmouths with microphones the intellectual backing they need to keep going? The intellectual backing to not speak responsible things, but to instead toss the problems off to some magic that is supposed to be performed in Congress?

To put it really bluntly: Which intellectual elite tosses off the notion of a President sexually harassing a 19 year old intern, receiving the physical benefits in the Oval office (of all sacred places), lying about it under oath to a Federal Judge, then lying about it straight in the camera to every single American? And then further excuses the 100% of Senators from his party who refused to even walk into the evidence room to examine the case put forth by the House?

What message does that send 17 year old urban youth? Or 30 year old music moguls?

Hi All... hope this finds everyone well.

Wondering why we don't explore this more!

The Next Kind of Integration

Some highlights:

Researchers have been demonstrating this result since 1966, when Congress asked James S. Coleman, a Johns Hopkins sociologist, to deliver a report on why the achievement of black students lagged far behind that of white ones.

How much less was later quantified. The Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks reanalyzed Coleman’s data in the 1970s and concluded that poor black sixth-graders in majority middle-class schools were 20 months ahead of poor black sixth-graders in majority low-income schools. The statistics for poor white students were similar. In the last 40 years, Coleman’s findings, known informally as the Coleman Report, have been confirmed again and again. Most recently, in a 2006 study, Douglas Harris, an economist at the University of Wisconsin, found that when more than half the students were low-income, only 1.1 percent of schools consistently performed at a “high” level (defined as two years of scores in the top third of the U.S. Department of Education’s national achievement database in two grades and in two subjects: English and math). By contrast, 24.2 percent of schools that are majority middle-class met Harris’s standard.

There are, of course, determined urban educators who have proved that select schools filled with poor and minority students can thrive — in the right circumstances, with the right teachers and programs. But consistently good education at schools with such student bodies remains the rare exception. The powerful effect of the socioeconomic makeup of a student body on academic achievement has become “one of the most consistent findings in research on education,” Gary Orfield, a U.C.L.A. education professor, and Susan Eaton, a research director at Harvard Law, wrote in their 1996 book, “Dismantling Desegregation.”

Wake County adopted class-based integration with the hard-nosed goal of raising test scores. The strategy was simple: no poor schools, no bad schools. And indeed, the district has posted striking improvements in the test scores of black and low-income students: in 1995, only 40 percent of the black students in Wake County in the third through eighth grades scored at grade level in state reading tests; by last year, the rate had almost doubled, to 82.5 percent. Statewide scores for black students also got better over the same time period, but not by as much. Wake County’s numbers improve as students get older: 92 percent of all eighth graders read at or above grade level, including about 85 percent of black students and about 80 percent of low-income students. (Math scores are lower, following a statewide trend that reflects a change in the grading scale.) The district has achieved these results even as the share of low-income students over all has increased from about 30 percent a decade ago to about 40 percent today.

I certainly think this is worth the time and effort to look into....
after all.... school district boundaries are man made....

What do others think?


Or a president and his administration that sanctioned, lied about and covered up breaking into his rivals headquarters in order to win an election ... and to this day has minions that gloss over the list of crimes involved in an attempt to rewrite one of the most notorious periods in American history.

Or a a president and his administration that stated as fact things they already knew were wrong in order to lead us into a war they felt they would quickly win and thus sway public opinion and cement their parties hold on power while the media became a willing cheerleader for their agenda and failed to do their job and question and uncover the truth.

Another poor message we are sending our youth.

Stop trying to politicize this like its all one party's fault or Clinton's fault. It's all our fault ... there's plenty of blame to go around ... should I mention the list of conservative anti-gay senators and reps that turned out to be gay themselves and were caught in damning sexual situations with under-age victims? What message is that sending??? Because they weren't even 19!

Let's work this out with all the labeling and blaming. That's a lot of why we are in this mess!

Sorry, the last part of my comment above should read:

Let's work this out WITHOUT all the labeling and blaming. That's a lot of why we are in this mess!

The older I get (and Ed--you better tell your single investor friends, I am getting older), the mellower I get on certain issues. While I wouldn't wish it on anyone, kids do reach child-bearing age far earlier than they reach the age of majority and some of them do have kids. It's not something that I see any magic answers to. The great fear of sacricing all future possibilities works pretty well with some kids--but it means that they have to see those future possibilities as possible. Comes a time I think we have to do all that we can to support the kids who are here. As with anything else that is undesireable, I have seen many do an OK job of it. I have seen that some colleges have started single parent dorms. I think its a wonderful idea (remembering that "married housing" was not something present at colleges until the post WWII demographic shift). A mom and a kid in a room in a secure building with a cafeteria or shared kitchen. All kinds of good possibilities.

But--I have to come back to what Deb said about the things that low-income kids learn, and then unlearn. This certainly fits with my experience. My kids didn't learn to say "yes, ma'am" from me (my mother would have considered it "smart alecky"). They learned it because I raised them in the 'hood and around people who have that as a part of their culture. I note that Robert Pondisco has excerpted Deb's passage and put it up over at Core Knowledge under the heading "Barbaric Yawp" (along with a selection of other totally unrelated things that apparently he disagrees with).

But, when I reflect, not only on what Deb has said, and my experience, but also on Erikson and Bronfenbrenner and their work on development, I think that we have a yawning chasm between the culture of many schools and the culture of their surrounding neighborhoods. Parents are treated with disrespect. Not that they are spit on by teachers, or called ugly names, or any of the things that we might consider to be hallmarks of disrespect. But, I can remember many a parent night at school in which the parents who came were commended for "showing up," as distinguished from those others who didn't care enough to do so.

Erikson talks about the need for adolescents to find congruence between their families/heritage and the larger world into which they venture. Bronfenbrenner talks about the developmental weakness of an environment in which the primary connection to the child's home is child him/herself.

As adults we have an obligation to form communities inclusive of both teachers and parents. We have to get close enough to one another to overcome the mythologies about what goes on "out there" and "in here." The fact that the parent is only 15 years older than the child does not change that need or obligation. Nor does the amount of education that the parent has, their family structure, their language or the color of their hair.

In the age of cell phones, face book, twitter, blogs and Starbucks, we have adults sitting in a building from 4 to 6 (or 6 to 9) on one night twice a year and waiting for other adults to walk in and meet with them. As a parent, I can have extended conversation with Deb Meiers and Diane Ravitch--nationally recognized educators--but I cannot get 10 minutes substantive conversation with my child's teacher unless I show up, on their terms, on their turf, in their building. This is disrespect of the highest order.

There comes a time when children begin to realize that the reason that they don't run into their teachers at the grocery, or the library or the hairdresser's or church, is that they live in a different world. Their teachers may be afraid to walk the streets in the world that those children traverse every day. They may scorn for their own children the very education that they are dispensing to children in their school. Is it any wonder that some of these children adopt, in adolescence an uncaring swagger? There is a power in the realization that when standing on the street with friends adults respond with fear.

This is what we do to our kids.

Sweet redireect, Nev, but...

We're talking about the "Broader, Bolder" Approach. Yeah, we all know the problem is broader. But lets get a little sophisticated about it shan't we?
Lets talk not just about more funding, but about changing the prevailing meme's which guide our behavior.

A true Broader, Bolder approach to pushing back the gap, the cycle, would include recognizing that 1960 divides poor and black people from all those who went before. (Read McWhorter, among others, if you don't get this). The normal memes changed; too often to bad effect.

One step in fixing it was "ending welfare reform as we know it."

A second was the anti-crime initiatives which cut violent crime in cities by half.

A third is the increasing cumulative number of minorities who have been able to take advantage of educational opportunities.

A fourth was the reform of certain laws and procedures vis delivery of city services and rehabilitation of urban areas.

But some big problems remain.

Today the CDC announced that births to unmarried women has reached about 40%. Four of ten children in 2007 were born to an unmarried woman; forget about what divorce brings later.

As Margo would point out, it makes a difference who and where you are. Being poor without Dad around daily will be much harder perhaps than if you make $70K.

My message to teachers is, if you don't like what Mom and hopefully Dad bring to the party, work to change it for this generation and the next.

Drive into their heads better values. Encourage them to join a church of their choice and stick with it. Give them stories of great people who endured. Tell them the role models may not be good for them.

Tell them stories over and over and over about what a great place we have here, and about the amazing people who built it. Get them to think hard-hard- about what it was like at Valley Forge. If you teach about slavery, teach about the heroic Moms who every day did whatever they could for their kids. About how amazingly hard it is to have a baby pretty much without taking a break from working in the field. Tell them about how the rural people of France feel to this day about the American soldier who liberated them. Tell them over and over about scientists who labor endlessly to solve problems and cure disease.

Find stories of people to get inside their heads and stay there as motivation and incentive and discipline and restraint and hope.

Margo's point about the "culture of teachers" is one that rings true to me when I email the teachers and schools and get no answer. What kind of organization ignores its constituents? Then it rings doubly true when we look for them at public events.

Nev, it wouldn't be a political thing at all if teachers were bipartisan; if the didn't vote 85-90% for one political party; if they didn't reliably show up at the DNC quadrennially.

All of these things are intertwined.

Again, for those readers who missed it before; I'm all for bringing more resources to teachers, schools, urban areas, the poor. What we have is a disagreement on how to best do that.

If the resource they need is individual attention (and I believe it is) can we open ourselves to all the ways that might be accomplished?

Ed Jones - that 85 - 90% teachers being Democrats is another one of those incorrect meme s your talking about. If teacher unions had a tenth of the say and sway they are purported to have NCLB would have been stopped dead half way through year 1, and schools would be swimming in money. By the way I live in what until recently was a "red" state that does not allow teacher unions by constitution, we can't strike and we are always at the bottom of the funding barrel.

Your tone and assumptions about what teachers do about changing the culture of their students shows a disconnect on your part. I don't know a teacher that doesn't harp on that constantly. We even have former students come and talk to our students about passing high school and moving on to college.

Change does need to happen ... so allow teachers to do their jobs. Currently many teachers can't be held accountable easily for what they do because they have to do the "Program'. "The" Reading program and "The" math program and "The" language program. Teachers are learning to embrace programs in fact, which is scary because new teachers are never getting to build their own teaching skills, because if I follow this mandated "research-based" program and was constantly observed following the program correctly, then it's the program's fault if the students aren't learning or raising their test scores. I have cover from the program. So the program I used to hate is now my cover.

You can claim I re-directed but you were the one that brought out the old saw of it's all Clintons fault not me ... like I said there is plenty of blame to go around. When our students come to school ready to learn because they are fed and can see and feel safe and are offered a wide ranging rich curriculum in a clean environment we'll see the improvements we all want. You are right in one area though we need to make these changes for a generation. But get the political garbage out of your meme, it is taints the rest of your message.

Ed - FYI - Political leanings of teachers:
A plurality are Democrats. Among teachers, 45 percent classify
themselves as Democrats, 28 percent say they are
Republicans, and 27 percent profess no party affiliation. NEA's own political surveys, taken after each election cycle, show similar results. But when asked about political philosophy, 56 percent of teachers described themselves as conservative or "tend to be conservative" while only 44 percent said they were liberal or "tend to be liberal."


Not quite the 85 - 95% Democratic you stated.

Ed - Sorry, my error you said 85 - 90%.

It is the "representative assembly" (the internal decision/policy makers) of the NEA that is the problem not its membership per say. Why the culture of that lot cannot morph itself into a more contemporary and pragmatic leaning arm of this potential advocacy organization remains a mystery. Their tenacious adherence to the party line (political clout at every turn) has doomed their reputation for all to see. Perhaps it's megalomania on a grand scale. I tend to believe the individuals elected to this body allow themselves to be brainwashed by the now out-of-touch, anachronistic mindset from the 70's. Those battles are finished. It's time to move forward already. You know, start putting children first instead of the political agenda of a myopic few.

Hi All...

Paul..." putting children first"

Seems to me... seperate and unequal will not lead toward a system of positve outcomes for all. To continue the segragation of our schools by SES, race and housing is a moral outrage!

To continue the enormous challenges that exist with out recognizing or our discounting the defacto-segragation of our schools seems like we are missing the elephant in the room.

Why do we assume this is untouchable?


Hi All....

Wondering about the current school reform movement and the concept of democracy in our poor communities?

Would this type of reform work in upper class america???

Cross post from Perimeter Primate:

Charles Payne, a University of Chicago professor and author of “So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools"

“Payne said in schools with low academic achievement, building high levels of trust makes academic improvement three times as likely than in schools with low levels of trust among educators and students. He cited a ten percent improvement in graduation rate in schools where students say they know and trust their teachers.”

“The way schools are being closed in Chicago has eroded an enormous amount of social capital by not including parents in the process. These parents care about their kids and schools, and have been marginalized by people doing things for their children, without including them in the process.”

In a chapter of his book, Payne wisely observes:

… So we continue forcing underdeveloped reforms on already over-burdened teachers and then blaming those teachers when reforms fail to produce the promised miracles. Just as teachers are too quick to conclude that nothing’s going to work with these children, reformers come to think that the reforms they advocate are right, they will work, just not here, not in this school, not with this particular group of hard-headed teachers and untalented administrators. Just as teachers are always saying they could teach if someone gave them better students, reformers are always thinking they could implement their programs if someone would just give them better people to work with. The reform community, partly because of its sheer arrogance, its ideological rigidity, its inability to enter into genuine partnerships with school people has squandered much of the moral capital, much of the strategic positioning, that it held at the beginning of the 1990s.

be well... mike


What Payne has to say about trust is not unique. Hoy and Tschannen-Moran are two names to google for further research. Trust can in fact be built over time, although the move to initiate trust-building can be elusive, particularly in collections of people who have experienced trust-busting (for lack of a better term) over time.

Sadly, one of my favorite overlooked parts of NCLB is the "sanction" that applies to improvement planning. While there is a lot of outcry about the "stakes" attached to testing and the supposition that teachers could lose jobs if there is not sufficient improvement of scores (and the impossibility of ever reaching the improvement goals), there is a built in gap of 5-7 years (or more) before such "sanctions" are ever reached. During that time, an improvement planning process is called for, and the process is intended to be very transparent and include parents, teachers and others. From my "'n' of one" in multiple schools in a large urban district, this is not happening. Oh, there is sufficient documentation. There are improvement "goals" based on the minimum requirement in the law, and "strategies" pulled from a drop-down list, and stated so broadly ("teachers will receive professional development") that practically anything that is done will suffice. Some parent's name is supplied has having "participated" in the "development" of the plan. Every school has one in a drawer.

Planning, implementation and evaluation are processes that build trust. Following through on a commitment to do something--and presenting the results of the trial to determine if the intended effect was achieved--builds trust. Merely going through the motions either destroys trust (assuming that any existed to begin with), or continues the no-trust condition.

I don't know why this happens. Some days I blame ignorance. Teachers and administrators who either lack the skills to work with parents and communities, or have never experienced true community building have not reason to understand the incredible power to be had in planning and working together. They foolishly squander their strongest potential alliances.

Other days I suspect hard-headed commitment to failure--born out of some need to prove all reformers wrong--and particularly those who have foisted tests upon them to measure the outcome of efforts. It seems there is always a segment who has learned to survive by outliving all possible change. I think of stubborn children who clap their hands over their ears and sing loudly to keep all challenging information at bay.

In the end, it is hard to look at such things as institutionalized racism and denial of opportunity to certain groups in an organized fashion. Those who are priviledged did not ask for their priviledge, and no amount of thrusting away their unfair share (even if attempted) will change the structures that support the uneven distribution to begin with. Those who get more, get more, receiving along with it an unwanted portion of guilt. Confronting injustice from the point of view of the priviledged is very difficult. Teachers and administrators may not rank alongside Donald Trump in the grand scheme, yet they have greater availability of opportunity than many disadvantaged students. It's easier to blame the students and their families (or their lack of health care or income) than to recognize that they are part of an unfair system.

I am not always impressed by the research and evaluation capabilities of my kids' schools and teachers. But, even an underdeveloped reform, appropriatedly implemented and evaluated at a local level can be further developed and improved upon. Further, it is hard to imagine any improvement (whether in planning, climate, school lunches, discipline, or actual curriculum and instruction) that would not bring about sufficient improvement (10% decrease in the percentage of students below proficient) to move a school out of school improvement if diligently implemented. Somehow it seems that in the course of 5-7 years, even blindly moving forward from trial and error, a group of adults could bring about that level of improvement. Doesn't it?

Margo-Mom... hope this finds you well.

Why not break it up?


The fight for education equality must be rooted in reality Errol Louis
Thursday, May 14th 2009, 2:08 PM

Fifty-five years after the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that struck down laws segregating public schools by race, there's intense pressure by local and federal authorities to close the persistent education gap between white students and their black and Latino counterparts.

The fight is about to shift into high gear, with the White House pledging $5 billion to turn around 5,000 failing schools and the Education Equality Project co-founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein holding a rally in Washington this weekend framing the struggle to fix schools as a continuation of the civil rights movement.

It's a commendable goal that, I fear, will not be reached as long as we continue to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the entrenched segregation in housing and employment that leads, as day follows night, to concentrated poverty and separate-but-unequal test scores and dropout rates.

So long as we accept segregated cities, suburbs and workplaces as the natural order of things, there isn't much point in being surprised that barely half of all black and Latino kids graduate high school (compared with 78% of their white counterparts).

All available evidence shows that leaving black and brown families in isolated, impoverished neighborhoods creates a dense thicket of social problems - including educational failure - that resist easy solutions. That is why the struggle for civil rights was always understood to be a sprawling, multifront attack on laws, commercial practices and cultural attitudes.

But the broad movement of the past has been replaced by a relatively narrow education discussion in which the price of admission for those who want to be taken seriously is to say as little as possible about race, injustice or discrimination.

"America's thinking about education has taken on a strangely pre-Brown quality," writes Richard Kahlenberg, a fellow at the Century Foundation. "There exists a solid consensus among researchers that school segregation perpetuates failure, and an equally durable consensus among politicians and policymakers that nothing much can be done about it."

I for one.... say it is time to re-think what our solutions may be.

be well... mike

Are you serious? Making appointments at reasonable professional hours to discuss your child's progress at the professional's place of business is disrespectful?
When was the last time your child's dentist answered your phone call or email on a Thursday night at 9pm?
I bet the local dry-cleaner will open for you on any Sunday morning if its not part of his regular business hours.
How many secretary-less attorneys do you know juggle 120 clients at a time AND hold conversations about their legal woes WITHOUT incorporating them into "billable hours"?

Here are just a couple reasons why teachers AVOID the communities they serve.....

Last year, prior to a graduation ceremony, a teacher had a glass of wine while out to dinner with a family friend who was celebrating her child's graduation. A parent in the community was at the same restaurant, saw the teacher drink from the wine glass, and filed a complaint. The teacher was fired and had to fight in court to get her job back.

We do not want to go to the neighborhood cine"plex" and watch as our students sneak each other in through the back door, and then walk down the hall to see the R-rated movie for which they are not of age.... all the while listening to "bootlegged" (stolen) tunes on their ipods which Dad allowed them to download on his home office computer.

It is likely that most teachers in the school coach or sponsor some extra actiivity which requires HOURS of direct time with the kids and even MORE hours of planning/preparation outside of school time for what amounts to a virtually no compensation (less than $10 per paycheck).

And for all that effort...there's nothing like being publicly chewed out by a parent who is just soooo inconvenienced when the bus driver gets you back to school 10 minutes late from the field trip.... Even though, on last week's field trip, you waited at the school until midnight because the parent "fell asleep" before coming to pick up her own child.

Every one of your child's teachers contributes as much to his/her own salary as you do.... and then... is taxed on that money, again.
Couple that with the fact that it is becoming an increasing reality that the teacher cannot afford to live in the community served... well... that's the best recipe for apathy I have heard.

The school is a reflection of the community's values, or lack thereof.... not the reverse. When we make that rare "mad dash" for the parking lot, it is because the communities we serve are leading truly "Jerry Springer" lives.. and sometimes it sickens us to have to face it any more than is absolutely necessary.

Maybe Margo there are just too many pressures to do too many "must do" things. Most teachers also have their own kids--so we ought to be able to get this right. It's a profession in which teachers or principals are not trusted with learning--that has an old history which we've never sloughed off--so time is at a premium. And parents and teachers have been pitted against each other in a culture in which schools also serve as "baby-sitters" or serve "keep them out of the labor market" functions. But the antidote to exhaustion and guilt becomes distancing onesself from the children and their families. It's hard to avoid. As one of my favorite and most dedicated teachers was "overheard" saying at the end of a long evening of family conferences: "the next time I take a job it's going to be at an orphanage." It rwflects just 10% of her true feelings, but it's there. For me too. Or as my daughter once said when she went from teaching half-time to full-time: "it's not a possible job to do."

Thanks for pushing this issue. Still Rory has a point to--although also exaggerated. The one "annoying" parent soon gets turned into "parents." We've allowed ourselves as teachers to distance ourselves from our strongest and most reliable allies. It's not, I discovered just the differences re race and class between teachers and parents which exists in so many urban schools; I have friends who tell me it's worse at upper-class private schools than inner-city public schools. I suspect Rory's school is suburban.

Ed--that list of rhetorical questions? Who are they directed to?

Thanks for suggested book, Mike, by Charles Payne. Great quotes.

More on segregation et al next week.




"It's a profession in which teachers and principals are not trusted with learning." Now there's a subject worthy of a BD column.


All I can say is that my earliest professional work--in a community center--required me to live in the neighborhood during the time that I was a part of the particular program that hired me. I chose to stay in the neighborhood for many years thereafter, and ultimately bought a house in a neighborhood not too far different and not too far away. It has not been my experience that kids in my neighborhood are more likely to sneak into the back of the cineplex (although--that requires a trip outside the 'hood) or watch R rated movies or to bootleg tunes. I spent a short time once working with kids in an upper middle class 'burb, and I can tell you that the things that those kids were likely to get away with were equally flagrant--sometimes more so.

I have put in time listening to upset parents and waiting for parents who forgot or who were late. But I have also visited parents in their homes, walked their streets and worked through conflicts with them (and I can guarantee you that a teacher's salary, ger as it is, far exceeds what I made). In the end, it is worth the "up front" time that it takes. Deb--I understand the press of things that need to be done. To be fair, I don't know that individual teachers making individual choices to be friendlier or more open can really achieve the critical difference that is possible when an organization decides to move in the direction of community.

I can tell you that my kids, in attending the municipal schools, have been affected by the supposition that they and their peers (and their parents) are of the ilk that you describe. Does my dry cleaner (if I had such a thing) open up at the drop of a hat for me? No, on the other hand, if they choose availability only during the hours that their customers are not available they will not remain in business long. This is why they work out things like drop-offs, drive-throughs, Saturday hours, and the like. I rarely set foot inside a bank--and yet I am able to conduct banking business--including services that hadn't been invented yet when the term "banker's hours" came into vogue--aat nearly any hour of the day or night.

Do I care what time of day or night a teacher chooses to respond to an email? Not really--that's the wonderful thing about email. My district does not yet require teachers to use email, or to share email addresses with parents. I have had teachers proudly proclaim to me that they "don't do" email. The process of communiction looks something like this. I call the school, at the one main number--during school hours only, nobody answers the phone past the final bell. I leave a message with whoever answers (sometimes a student) for the teacher to call me. The teacher may pick up the message at lunch, or at the end of the day, or the following morning. They will call back during a non-teaching time. I generally leave my work number, since that is where I usually am during school hours. If I am not at my desk when they call, they leave a message and the cycle repeats. If I am there and the conversation takes longer than a minute or two, I get a reminder of how many children they have or that they have a class waiting. If I ask for a more convenient time, they suggest that I come in during their planning time--in the middle of the day.

Once or twice a year a paper "newsletter" goes out--with an out of date calendar and a couple of pieces of "good news" of some kind and some reminders to be good parents.

I will grant you that most systems do not build in adequate time for teachers to spend much time with parents. And yet, I find a determined adherance to the one-night conference time (which is really not working well, for anyone), rather than exploring other options. There have, in fact, been some funding streams that support increased work with parents--but I have seen these put to use to hire others (parent liaisons) to make contact with parents.

I suppose I could relate some Jerry Springer moments from the teaching profession. But I don't think it serves any purpose. Certainly some people in schools do shocking and embarrassing things. It would be profoundly unfair to assume that teachers, therefore, are mostly predators, or addicts, or just lazy or stupid. I would say that the same holds true of my experience of parents who are young, or poor, or minority--or suburban, white and middle cclass. I just gotta reiterate--dumping ties with parents just cuts off some valuable resources that we all need.


Keep those comments coming. I've been swamped at the end of the year and I'll be contemplating a comment. Then I read your comments and they make my point but they do it better than I would.

Margo/mom, I live in the community and we should recruit more teachers who live in the communities that they serve. But you can't expect many teachers, or anyone else, who has a choice to send their kids to neighborhood schools if they have a choice. The debate should be over solutions, not the blame game.

Its hard to believe that society has rejected an obvious solution. Why is de-segregation so unthinkable?

I'm old enough now to be able to confront the gang-bangers and drug dealers on my street if I choose, but I'd have never been able to confront them at school when I was 16. I would have responded to the conditions in my school the way the majority of my students do. I would have dropped out.

Its our job as adults to create safe schools. If teachers get defensive over the nonstop criticism we receive over our impefect ways of dealing with urban pathologies (oops I shouldn't have used that term even though its accurate) then we should think how the kids feel. They have to live in this environment for their entire school career. School may be safer and less chaotic than the streets and many homes, but schools must be accountable for more than that. Schools must a force for democracy.

Ooops! With my fashionably short attention span, made worse by end of the year exhaustion, I forgot my intended point.

I'm glad Deb made the point about manners. This talk about teaching middle class values is much too broad. I hardly think of myself as a believer in middle class values. But I do believe in delayed gratifcation. I don't see how we can transform our schools unless we challenge certain anti-social and self-destructive, essentially narcissistic behaviors. I don't see how we can do that without honest conversations with kids. So again, conversations would be easier if we weren't being so completely self-segregated, as described so well in The Big Sort.

Dear Margo,
While its likely everyone has moved on to the latest postings, I wanted to at least try and get back to you on this one. I have not been able to get to this blog during the weekedays as the school year is nearing its end.

I apologize for my defensiveness. As I re-read my response... it was a bit aggressive and for that I am sorry.

However, in your response, you proved my point. The bankers and the dry cleaners have found an impersonal way to make our lives more convenient and thus, keep our business. We all know that is not a possibility for a school.

The bankers introduced a service (ATM) for free.. then... began charging a fee for the service once everyone was hooked on the convenience. Many banks now charge a fee for "customers" who visit in person. The dry cleaner charges you a fee before you get your clothes back and has a policy absolving himself of most responsibility when there is poor service.

Please do not equate being the customer of a bank with being a "customer" of your child's school. You're the OWNER of that school. If you are not pleased with its operation, please, you and your fellow community members... look at yourselves.... elect a new school board or CEO to operate it as you wish... However, do not complain about the price (taxes) of remaining competitive. If your tax-poor district wants to keep up with the competition.... FIND A WAY.

Maybe teachers should just start charging a fee for grades and evaluations, particularly if the work happens outside of contracted hours.

Also, public school emails are not private. Do you really want a frank discussion about your child's educational experiences to possibly be accessed by the media??

Here in Florida, the press are CONSTANTLY using the Freedom of Information Act to force the districts to allow access to ALL emails. So.... when I remind the parents of this... they immediately request a person-to-person conference to insure confidentiality.

I teach in a Magnet School (public) in an urban district. 35% of our students are African American, another 35% are Haitian, about 20% are Latino, and roughly 10% are White of European heritage. We are a Title I school because of the # of kids whose parents apply (often fraudulently) for Free and Reduced Lunch.

Every teacher in my school is required (by our own vote) to send home a collegiate-style syllabus at the beginning of the school year. It includes all contact information. I can count on one hand the number of parents who remember they even were provided with it when a conference does occur and questions about the course rigor/content arise. We also send home an IFC (Instructional Focus Calendar) every 2 weeks - it includes abridged lesson plans. Additionally, we send home an academic and behavioral progress report every two weeks. I require my kids to have their parents sign it and return it. Most sign it without having read it.

I attend our PTA meetings. In a school of 2000 students, we average 6 parents. I tried including food and sending home an automated voice message about upcoming events... to try and have more parens involved... it lasted for a month or two.... then fizzled out.

The last thing schools are intended to be is but a mere convenience for the parents. Parents are expected to be involved, often at troublesome hours.

Parents chose to raise children. Teachers do not choose who walks into their classrooms. The bank and the dry-cleaner can deny service to anyone they choose.

Every time that School Board you elected tries to negotiate DOWN our fee for service requests (salaries) and our cost of living needs...... well.... you don't get what you don't pay for. A partnership means sometimes one side, or the other, will carry the weight.... but it cannot be a one-sided commitment even 60% of time.

One outrageous parent can ruin a whole day, or more, when its our hearts that are involved. Until parents place as much value on the teachers' needs (in and outside the school) as they expect us to place on their childrens' success, the expectation for anything more in return is not reasonable.

Funny.... my mother had time to maintain a household for my brothers and me, along with her career in public television, and she helped (as my whole family did) run our dairy farm.... AND she volunteered to read with kids at the school who were struggling one afternoon a week, plus she worked at the concession stand Friday evenings during football season... and did so for 20 more years after I graduated.

Parents who say their time is limited are making excuses... not giving valid reasons.

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