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Civil Rights and Democracy are Inseparable


Dear Diane,

I got a few blasts for the comments you liked on Klein/Sharpton/Gingrich’s (EEP) civil rights efforts. It hit a nerve. Our obsession with schools is both a healthy and an unhealthy aspect of the American psyche. This is, at least, the second time we’ve placed schools at the center of the civil rights movement. Dr. King moved on to other issues—above all to poverty—before he died. But poverty was less appealing to the conscience of the country, and he isn’t remembered for that work. We have a very strong heritage of seeing poverty as a personal failure. Maybe more than in Europe and many other places in the world. We still see our grand old country as open to any striving person who wants to get ahead. The losers need only work harder, do their homework, follow the rules, etc., and they, too, will…..

The school integration drive of the '50s and '60s failed. Except for the legal victory, which was very critical. It left a heroic legacy of stories and heroes. NYC schools were barely touched by it. Chicago and Philadelphia—each of which I taught in—were very slightly affected. And for a fairly short time. Boston was mightily affected—except that in the end, segregation remains in place. This is not simply due to racism as it affected schools—but also to hostility toward mixed residential communities in which not only black and white live side by side, but rich, poor, and middle-class do. More another time.

Can schools play a part? Yes, yes. Creating diverse school demographics is useful, if we also decide to organize the school so that kids are not then separated by tracking. It’s also more powerful when we put kids together in small peer groups (under 20 for sure) for several years so that they can build a strong inclusive community. We found multi-age grouping a useful way to do this—with half the class moving on and a new half joining each year. “Looping” is another approach used in some schools—where the teacher moves up with his/her class. In such a setting it’s also critical for teachers to see the full range of skills and talents of her students and for kids to feel that their past experience and family history will be assets to the community. Kids who are urged to leave their intelligence at the doorstep of the school and just try to “be good” are in for trouble. I know it is hard to explain, but I never ever (as a kindergarten and preK teacher) noticed that the low-SES kids in my classes were “without language,” “without concepts,” or without wonderful stories and talents. And I was virtually always able to build close relationships with their families. From Day One, parents were invited in, and because I taught only half-day, I did lots of visiting, taking small group trips, and in other ways bridging the class divide the other half-day. Even in Head Start, where there were only poor children, I was lucky to have only 12 kids and a great para (in Philadelphia the very first year of Head Start). With the help of the children’s families we uncovered hidden treasures in Germantown where we were located. (In a local church.)

There are wondrous other ways to create communities that bridge the gaps in our society without focusing on the stereotypes that too many middle-class people hold about “the poor,” the “underclass,” etc., bad ideas promoted by well-intentioned Ruby Paynes. If our ancestors were poor, they were the worthy poor—not like “them.” Or we have mythical memories of the olden days when even the poor were heroic.

But poverty does hurt. If it didn’t, we’d all happily be poor. And the root of poverty is the absence of income. Money. And all that money can buy. Good health, nice homes, leisure to pursue hobbies, and security are great things to have. And respect. A civil rights movement that ignores our growing income gap—that tolerates the fact that what some people make in a day others make in a year—just doesn’t deserve that name.

Civil rights and democracy are, for you and me, Diane, inseparable. There cannot be democracy when there is gross and permanent inequality between people occupying the same space and the same nation.

Oddly enough, the last few presidents represent the mixed-up nature of where we’re at re. winners, losers, rich, and poor. The last Bush managed to be both the heir of a long line of wealthy New England elites and the personification of the low-brow, middle-American male. President Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, represents the social mobility of America as we like to imagine it. From the log cabin to the White House. Exemplars of what education, high IQs, and charisma can do—our wide open land of opportunity. Obama manages to hit a homer, adding race and basketball to his image (despite poor bowling skill!).

Sometimes we can use these exceptions skillfully to create a climate of openness; sometimes, alas, we use it only to heap more scorn on the losers. See? HE did it!

Jay Mathews has asked a good question in a recent blog piece. If NCLB—test-driven and sanction-driven—reform hasn’t changed the odds for the losers, what else might? The alternative is not going back to where we were. He and I—and you, Diane—agree. Naturally, I’m hoping we pick up the conversation where we left off in the early '90s. More on that next week.

This week, I’m off to D.C.—again. This time to defend childhood! I’m going to argue at an event today against the earlier and earlier intrusion of phony “academics,” standardized testing, and drill-and-sit-still in the lives of very young children. Sponsored by The Forum for Education and Democracy and the Alliance for Childhood, we will present data about what’s happened to kindergartens. Based on a study of LA and NYC—5-year-olds, if they’re lucky, have 30 minutes a day of self-initiated activity, something faintly resembling play. Some have it just once a week. The poorer the children, the less self-initiated activity allowed—after all, “they have to catch up.” The metaphors we use tell us a lot—including the unfortunate latest out of Washington: The Race to the Top. Ugh.


P.S. Speaking of using racing as a metaphor for schooling: If everyone becomes proficient, we’ll invent a new set of indicators to separate the very proficient, moderately proficient, etc. The new rank order will look a lot like the old ones—guess who’ll be on top and on bottom? On and on and on.


How can a democracy function without an educated populace? That's why ed reform has to be within public education. Unfortunately the star reformers are trying to produce parity in numbers rather than equality in experience. They want to isolate the core of "learning," and as a result have reduced the nourishment of education to saltines and water.

I recommend reading a 2004 book review by former NYT education columnist Samuel Freedman, which begins, "SEVERAL weeks after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. announced his departure from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., epicenter of the bus boycott that had lifted him and the civil rights crusade to international attention, two of his congregants paid a farewell visit. Both John Feagin Sr. and his wife Lurlene had taught in Montgomery's all-black Carver High School, and so the conversation that day late in 1959 turned naturally enough to the subject of desegregating schools. King's words, as recounted later by Feagin in a book about the church, surely would have shocked many of the minister's supporters.

''I favor integration on buses and in all areas of public accommodation and travel,'' King said. ''I am for equality. However, I think integration in our public schools is different. In that setting, you are dealing with one of the most important assets of an individual -- the mind. White people view black people as inferior. A large percentage of them have a very low opinion of our race. People with such a low view of the black race cannot be given free rein and put in charge of the intellectual care and development of our boys and girls.''

In his apostasy from civil rights doctrine, King was expressing misgivings similar to those of forebears like W. E. B. Du Bois. Writing in The Journal of Negro Education in 1935, Du Bois maintained ''the Negro needs neither segregated schools nor mixed schools. What he needs is Education.'' He had put it even more bluntly in an editorial a year earlier in the magazine The Crisis: ''Thinking colored people of the United States must stop being stampeded by the word segregation. . . . It is the race-conscious black man cooperating together with his own institutions and movements who will eventually emancipate the colored race.''

---Still Separate, Still Unequal
By Samuel G. Freedman
Published: Sunday, May 16, 2004

On the topic of reform from within, yesterday was a full day of hearing from researchers and associates of the Microsoft/School District of Philadelphia School of the Future: Educational Innovation and Philadelphia's SOF.

Critically, SOF is fully a District school. Its also a R&D site of sorts; toward that Microsoft has invested some expertise and showcase equipment. But it's quickly clear that support is not much, and no more than many other schools have benefited from.** SOF also got to do some selective hiring, though within the bounds of the Union contract. They had a unique first Chief Learner.

What appears to make SOF unique is an intense use of project-based learning. Teachers had a huge amount of latitude here. The original planning concept and the agreement with the District allowed SOF teachers to fully design and implement their own curriculum. The students were not initially subjected to the normal testing and of course no one was dependent upon the district for curricular materials.

I measure urban schools with two sticks. One, do the kids stay in school? Decent jobs are hard to get without a diploma. By this measure, SOF seemed to perform amazingly well. Not one kid dropped out the first year. Three years in, they all still protect and cherish their school.

Observers report the communication abilities of the students are very good. This is no small accomplishment, and certainly represents a big step forward.

What is less clear is how many, if any, students are ready for a rigorous college education. This is the second critical measure. We can’t bridge the gap until Black/Urban Americans are moving into medical/technical/professional jobs at a rate equal or exceeding their representation.

And here is where the day's research fails us all. Not only were their no academic results to observe; the researcher/panelists failed to describe the inputs.

We got no insight at all as to what these students and teachers were doing each day, save that it was 'online' and 'project-based'.

What is clear is that successive District leaders were not as open as Paul Vallas was when he set up the school. This may or may not have been justifiable; we got no information to help judge.

The kids are in school; you've all heard me say often enough the importance of this. Was that enough for Vallas in his initial vision? Should the 3rd superintendent have honored that? Did SOF's initial run deserve more time? Where was the community and area businesses/organizations?

Students themselves are among the critics. Those who really want to go to college and succeed are as in the dark about where they stand as the rest of us. One imagines they can write, perhaps better than many. Are they getting the math, the science, the history? Will Purdue accept their trig credentials, will Penn school of nursing accept their biology?

Three years in, it looks like the school of the future is becoming another district school. They're expected to make some standards. Not unexpectedly.

Will the District also become like the school of the future? Should it?

Send more info.

*(Courtesy of a customer unexpectedly paying, if you heard me whine Tues.)

**For example, the District provides (or didn't provide) the networking support; the Wifi failed often; the District techs showed up and performed sporadically. Its a problem in a school with no books. And what will happen as the equipment ages?

New Gingrich's attack on Obama's Supreme Court pick (calling her a "racist") gives someindication of what he and his bedfellows at EEP have in mind when they talk the "civil rights" talk.

Hi All... hope this finds you well.

Peter... interesting references to Dr. King and W. E. B. Du Bois.

From a report by
Martha Minow
Harvard Law School

Our nation has retreated far from the process of racially
desegregating schools that officials segregated; it has bowed out of the
work of organizing and sustaining racially mixed schools. School
enrollments are, in fact, more segregated in 2000 than they were in

The racial gap in school achievement mirrors the gap in home
ownership, occupation, education, and wealth differentiating whites from
both African-Americans and Latinos.10

Before the disillusionment accompanying
the apparent failure of judicially-mandated school integration, integration
was inseparable from access to opportunity as a goal of civil rights reformers from the nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth.

W.E.B. DuBois and Martin Luther King, Jr. separately emphasized that racially
separate instruction by teachers who believe in their students’ capacities
would be better than racially-mixed instruction by teachers who disparaged
African-American children—but integration would be still better.

He ( DR. King) offered the most stirring and ambitious vision of
integration for this nation, beyond anything that the nation achieved
even at the height of judicially-monitored school desegregation.

Dr. King called not only for desegregation, but for integration. He summoned the vision of a “beloved community”: a completely integrated society, a community of love, justice, and brotherhood.4

Dr. King emphasized that
desegregation—eliminating racial discrimination—would only produce
“a society where men are physically desegregated and spiritually
segregated, where elbows are together and hearts apart. It gives us social
togetherness and spiritual apartness. It leaves us with a stagnant equality
of sameness rather than a constructive equality of oneness.”5

He held out a standard higher than one ever embraced by the Supreme Court—and
now the Court has turned away from its own lower desegregation

As you look at your states list of schools in need of improvement... which schools are on the lists?

If you took the staff at your schools that are not in need of improvement and were able to magically switch them with the staffs from the schools that are... would those schools results dramatically change?

be well... mike

Hi All....

FYI from Chicago.....

What testing can become on the ground..from http://bubbleover.net/

Flunk, retain, drop out
Written by Wade( Teacher in Chicago) on May 27th, 2009

Soon scores from a small portion of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) will come back.

The booklet sent out with ISAT says “No person or organization shall make a decision about a student or educator on the basis of a single test.” (1)

Despite this, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) trusts this test to override our own teachers in deciding the future of our children.

For third, sixth and eighth graders, our promotion policy automatically flunks at least one in four children based on a thirty or forty question test. (2)

At the end of summer school, CPS is five times more likely to retain a child for the next year if they are African-American than if they are white. (3)

By retaining a student, CPS increases that child’s chance of dropping out by 29%. (4)

Chicago Public Schools spends $100 million dollars every year on this policy. (5)

Extensive research shows that it DOES NOT WORK. Repeating a grade does not help children succeed. (4)

Why do we continue to threaten eight-year-olds and tell third-graders they are failures?

Why do we make students cry, throw-up, and finally quit?

Chicago Public Schools should use the $100 million it spends every year on holding back kids to instead provide what students really need: caring professionals with the time and resources to find out what works for each of them.

Our children need advocates, not inflexible policies spit out of a machine.

CPS should stop using standardized test scores to override all other considerations in making student grade promotion decisions.

Deb mentioned going to Washington to protect kids in kindergarten....

Seems many children need some form of protection from what is supposed to be good for them....

be well... mike

This is in response to a comment by Kathteach to an earlier Letter! She wrote about Chicago's public housing projects as a response to the war on poverty. Your mother and I were on the same side. As a member at the time of the NAACP, and of their Housing Committee, we--along with other sensible civil rights advocates, opposed Daley on the implementation of public housing. We wanted low-density, and distributed public housing, mixed with middle class housing. We noted that all the research--and there was plenty of dzat even then--demonstrated how destructive it was to creative this massive high-rises.

So, what happened? Racism and realtors won the battle to convince the politicans--in D.C. and Chicago. Low-density distributed housing would produce fights in many places, but tearing down a few already poor neighborhoods and housing all "those" people in one place was an easier solution. And cost less-per-unit. The cost overtime was tremendous.

This same story took place all over the country. A combination of race-sensitive GI housing policies and massive public housing between 1950-1970 changed urban centers. Gentrification has created new oases for the middle and upper class, and in some cases those massive public housing buildings have been razed (in less than 40 years. It wasn't that we didn't know better, but it was a question of who had power. And still does. As with integrated schools, policy sabotaged intent. NCLB is doing the same for schooling. Slogans don't replace wise action by those who truly confront the realities, trade-offs, etc. It's a battle that gets rerun over and over--but trying to solve poverty and k-12 education on the cheap, without attending to trade-offs needs to be challenged again, and again. We will lose a lot of battles, but we'll never win if we don't at least challenge them.


This debate is fascinating, regarding education as a civil right and schools as democratic organizations.

Are schools more democratic if the curriculum choice stays under local school district control? Yes, but this has led to a fragmentation of curricula. States set standards, but don't help by reviewing or recommending curricula. Curricula are not aligned to the state tests. There are not enough specialists in the tens of thousands of school districts to make a good curriculum choice.

Dear Ms. Meier,

Based on what you have written here, I would like to know your thoughts on the "Small Learning Communities" idea. I see how it could reap benefits, but so far I feel my school is twisting it into..... well..... YIKES !!

We separate the less mature from the more mature and there is no true opportunity for socialization and acclamation.

Chicago is nearly the largest school district in the country - based on number of students. (Is it 3rd largest?).

I want to make sure I am understanding your data correctly. Because I am ALL FOR less testing and more nurturing. However, as a high school teacher... its really frustrating to have 9th grade students who pass our state's 8th grade standardized test with flying colors, but cannot write a simple sentence, let alone sequence together a complex set of thoughts.

Are you saying that BECAUSE a student is African American he/she is more likely to be held back.... or..... are African Americans more likely to be held back for not meeting the summer school requirements?

I was trying to compute a little "rough math"..... and so.... if this is completely wrong... you will understand why I teach Civics and Human Geography (he he)
If an avg. teacher's salary is about $50K, the district could use that $100 million to hire roughly 2,000 teachers to put toward your goal of providing advocates. We'd have a "more than difficult" time FINDING that many qualified/able teachers who would be up to the task. How many students would that serve?

For arguments sake, lets say that each teacher could capably advocate for 30 students. (I am not sure upon what I am basing that number, other than it sounds to be an average sized class). Are 6,000 students much of a "dent" in that lowest performing quartile? That would equate to about 8% of our district's lowest performers (we're the 6th largest district).

How many Chicago students DO move on to the next grade after that test and/or summer school?

Hi All.... hope this finds you well.

Rory...the reason i like to keep an eye on Chicago is that is were Arne Duncan was.

Some info:

Below... a look at Chicago...but pick a major city anywhere in America and you will find a similar picture.

Chicago Segregated African American Elementary Schools 2008-2009 school year ( this is not all of them...these schools faced restructiong)

1. Bass (1140 W. 66th St. 60621); 508 total students; 99.8 percent African American students.
2. Bethune (3030 W. Arthington 60612); 353 total students; 99.4 percent African American.
3. Bontemps (1241 W. 58th St. 60636); 393 total students; 98.7 percent African-American.
4. Bradwell (7736 S. Burnham 60649); 770 students; 99.9 percent African American.
5. Brunson (932 N. Central Ave. 60651); 806 students; 96.4 percent African American.
6. Copernicus (6010 S. Throop 60636); 346 students; 99.4 percent African American
7. Curtis (32 E. 115th St. 60628); 470 students; 97.7 percent African American
8. Doolittle (535 E. 35th St. 60616); 431 students; 99.1 percent African American.
9. Dulles (6311 S. Calumet 60637); 429 students; 99.8 percent African American.
10. Dumas (6650 S. Ellis 60637); 382 students; 99 percent African American.
11. Earle (6121 S. Hermitage 60636); 394 students; 100 percent African American.
12. Fermi (1415 E. 70th St. 60637); 239 students; 98.7 percent African American
13. Fuller (4214 S. St. Lawrence 60653); 283 students; 99.6 percent African American
14. Fulton (5300 S. Hermitage 60609); 654 students; 82.3 percent African American; 17.5 percent Hispanic American.
15. Harvard (7252 S. Harvard 60620); 519 students; 98.7 percent African American
16. Henderson (5650 S. Wolcott 60636); 461 students; 98.7 percent African American.
17. Hinton 644 W. 71st St. 60621 421 99 percent African-American.
18. Holmes (955 W. Garfield Blvd. 60621); 462 students; 99.6 99 percent African-American.
19. Howe (720 N. Lorel 60644); 540 students; 99.4 99 percent African-American.
20. Johnson (1420 S. Albany 60623) 281 students; 99.3 99 percent African-American.
21. Kershaw (6450 S. Lowe 60621); 273 students; 98.9 99 percent African-American.
22. Key (517 N. Parkside 60644); 389 students; 98.5 99 percent African-American.
23. Lathrop (1440 S. Christiana 60623); 322 99.1 99 percent African-American.
24. Lavizzo (138 W. 109th St. 60628); 506 students; 98.6 99 percent African-American.
25. Lewis (1431 N. Leamington 60651); 813 students; 86.1 99 percent African-American; 13.5 percent Latino (110 students who are minorities but are not black).
26. Libby (5300 S. Loomis 60609); 569 students; 92.8 99 percent African-American; 7.2 percent students who are Latino (41 students who are minorities but not black).
27. May (512 S. Lavergne 60644); 588 students; 98.8 99 percent African-American.
28. McKay (6901 S. Fairfield 60629); 1,052 students; 89 99 percent African-American; 11.1 percent Latino (116 students who are minorities but not black).
29. Medill (1301 W. 14th St. 60608); 147 students; 100 99 percent African-American.
30. Morton (431 N. Troy 60612); 284 students; 94.7 99 percent African-American.
31. Nash (4837 W. Erie 60644); 584 students; 99.1 99 percent African-American.
32. O'Keefe (6940 S. Merrill 60649); 675 students; 100 99 percent African-American.
33. Park Manor (7037 S. Rhodes 60637); 378 students; 99.7 99 percent African-American.
34. Parkman (245 W. 51st St. 60609); 156 students; 87.8 99 percent African-American; 11.5 percent other minorities (18 students this school year).
35. Reed (6350 S. Stewart 60621); 297 students; 100 99 percent African-American.
36. Ross (6059 S. Wabash 60637); 411 students; 100 99 percent African-American.
37. Schiller (640 W. Scott 60610); 190 students; 99.5 99 percent African-American.
38. Sherman (1000 W. 52nd St. 60609); 584 students; 99.1 99 percent African-American.
39. Smyth (1059 W. 13th St, 60608); 592 students; 98 99 percent African-American.
40. Wentworth (6950 S. Sangamon 60621); 427 students; 98.6 99 percent African-American.
41. West Pullman (11941 S. Parnell 60628); 424 99.5 99 percent African-American.
42. Yale (7025 S. Princeton 60621); 294 students; 99.7 99 percent African-American.

Total 19,097 students in the 42 schools that could have faced 'turnaround'

97.7 percent African American

This list consists of Chicago public elementary schools (42) that could have been subjected to 'turnaround' at the end of the 2008-2009 school year because of 'academic failure.'

Add in that these are also high poverty schools....

Throw in the current retention policy in the district....

Look at research on RETENTION...from fairtest.

A long history of research on retention has shown:

Retention does not help students to catch up; student's who are retained do no better or even worse on standardized tests and other measures.

Students who are retained drop out more often than other students. Students that have been retained once have a 40% higher chance of dropping out and a 60% higher chance if retained twice.

This happens largely because being overage in-grade damages students' self confidence and leads them to disengage from school.

Retention rates are higher for African Americans, Latinos and children from low-income families. These students are also the most likely to have the least qualified teachers and other resources to help them succeed. Males are also retained more often than females.

Despite what the large body of research says, supporters of retention continue to argue that just the threat of retention will motivate students to work harder and learn more, while those that are retained will learn more after a second repetition.

Again, research shows it doesn't work this way. Repeating the same material twice does not result in sustained achievement from retained students, and in the long run, threats prove to be a very weak motivator.

So... we have segragated public schools.... high rates of poverty... many ELL.... and we are using standardized tests and retention as policy???

Does not add up!

Deb Meier is in Washington trying to bring some sanity toward early childhood education...we have many states with forced retention policies based off of single test scores.....

Wondering... why we need to treat our children like this?

be well... mike

Ahhh.... so my math would indicate that $100 million dollars COULD be wisely spent on "teacher-advocates" for the kids. The possibility of a 30% success rate is not too shabby in this day and age. And, if it worked, maybe more funds would be made available.

Heck, Arne Duncan might just visit the school for a photo-op (chuckle).

I like that mentoring idea. I am hoping to get that ball rolling in my high school. Teacher moral is soooo down, though. Our district is laying off 900 teachers next Friday and that is WITH all the extra funds we'll be receiving from Stimulus AND because we're going to declare almost every school as "Title I" UGH!!

A friend of mine teaches in Kentucky. In her district, the elementaries did away with calling each class "grades" (1st grade, 2nd grade, etc.). They are now called "Achievement Banks" (it is amazing the effect that play on words has with kids). The doorways to the classrooms are all decked out with pillars, portico, etc. Makes the entrance to the room look VERY IMPORTANT (very "ancient Greece/Rome")

There are no SET times when a student transfers from one "former" grade level to the next. Once a student has mastered all the skills (on a pretty extensive checklist), he can "BANK" his knowledge/skills and move on to the next, more challenging "BANK". So far, student motivation (at the very least) has improved.

ALL of those schools are segregated ???
Definition: forced social separation.

I am curious.... when, would you think, is the stop-gap time when the "training wheels must be removed - no matter what" ?


The Kentucky strategy sounds interesting. Do all students "progress" at their own rate so they can then move to the next bank when they have mastered everything from the previous one? Have teachers been trained to address students at different levels? I can understand how this would motivate students to learn. It would give them good reason to do so.

What a unique paradigm. Wonder if it could work on a large scale?


You write: "Kids who are urged to leave their intelligence at the doorstep of the school and just try to 'be good' are in for trouble. I know it is hard to explain, but I never ever (as a kindergarten and preK teacher) noticed that the low-SES kids in my classes were 'without language,' 'without concepts,' or without wonderful stories and talents."

Yes. But here's the paradox as I see it. For children to make the most of their language, concepts, stories, and talents, they have to "be good." They have to learn to listen, concentrate, overcome distractions. They have to let the teacher and others challenge them.

I have seen children on both ends--those who try to "be good" without thinking for themselves, and those who think for themselves but can't shape the thoughts or complete a project. So they must learn to control themselves so that they can do something with their talents.

When scoring ELA tests this spring, I saw many examples of students dutifully following the rubric and saying close to nothing--and a few who tried to say something substantial and broke from the rubric in doing so. Those few had something to say but didn't know how to say it; the struggle was evident in their writing.

We can teach children to express their ideas clearly, but only if they are able to sustain their concentration. Thus, to be independent thinkers, they must in a sense "be good."

Diana Senechal

Rory, the School of the Future is experimenting with no grade levels as well. The paper describing this is not yet up at the site, however I've posted it temporarily here for this discussion.

Please note the paper is draft.

"We started to differentiate instruction, we started to put into place a model for advancement,” said one teacher. Specifically, the curriculum writers developed project levels—100, 200, 300, and 400, much like how courses in college are ranked for difficulty. The unifying question of inquiry was “who am I,” around issues of borders and identity. An outside consultant was brought in by Microsoft to help the teachers scaffold” the projects—how to take students from step one to step two to step three, how to align the skills in the projects with the state standards.

Students were individually evaluated to see what level of project they could handle, and were scheduled into projects based on how much they had achieved, not how long they had been
in the school. Some second and third-year learners who were way behind wound up in level one projects, while level four were for advanced students.

“The project model which we created, which is basically an accelerated model, learners advance at their own pace,” explained one teacher instrumental in its creation. “They can graduate early, stay later. There’s no social promotion. And it’s based off of the skills they learn, not the content that they have to take. And those skills are the competencies…And they had to achieve proficiency in those competencies before moving up to the next level."

The challenge, of course, is that we're preparing these students for real life, and real life includes colleges and employers who want transcripts, citizens who want to know if learning is happening, and for many students, transfer to other schools.

See p. 24 for the discussion, comparison with Larry Rosenstock's High Tech High, and for district mandated modifications.

Ed. I wish we could all visit schools together. The school you describe is, I believe, a part of the Coalition and inspired in part by the work at schools like mine, and on the writings of Ted Sizer--in the tradition of contemporary progressive education. Larry Rosenstock is an educator and ally of mine from "way back".
Rory. Yes, small learning communities can be quite the opposite if they don't take advantage of their smallness to create an intellectually serious, thoughtful community of experts and novices. That's the point.
Diane. This is part of an on-going discourse about what "poor kids" need. I'm not even sure if it's on the website! But concept that poor kids, and especially black kids need more "boot camp" pedagogies is, I believe, deadwrong, but self-fulfilling. That's why I'm particularly interested in understanding their very first entry into schooling and how we "socialize" them into the meaning of schooling.
Thanks, Diane. Some offhand thoughts.

I think we "teach them" distraction and then call them immature. The media, and much of schooling, is designed to "teach" distraction--the expectation of continual change, every 5-10 seconds, every 1-15 minutes, and at best the next object is "entertaining", "novel"--but does not expect our engagement. In fact if we got engaged, truly, it would create disappointment, resistance, etc. If you are teaching only poor kids, you might be surprised to know that this happens to rich ones too.

More another time about music. CPE had an extraordinary music program that I'd love to talk about.
Diane--are you the music teacher?



Thank you for your comments. They are very timely since Boston is currently considering a proposal to rezone their public schools in a way that unfairly impacts students in the neediest neighborhoods of Boston. The proposal focuses only on geographical boundaries and cost-saving measures to minimize bussing, without regard for the great disparities that it would exacerbate. The plan itself can be found here: http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/zones

An article describing opposition to the plan appeared in the Boston Globe a few weeks ago: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/05/12/coalition_opposes_rezoning_of_schools/

Interesting to compare this to what happened in Boston in the '70s.

Hi All....

hope all is well.

Here is the NJ Department of Education's take: i have underlined what i consider the key words!!!

New Jersey Joins 49 States and Territories in Common Core State Standards Initiative

Governor Jon S. Corzine and Education Commissioner Lucille E. Davy today joined the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led process to develop common English-language arts and mathematics standards. The Common Core State Standards Initiative will be jointly led by the National Governors Assoc. Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

In addition to New Jersey, the following states and territories have also signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA): Alabama; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; District of Columbia; Florida; Georgia; Hawaii; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Puerto Rico; Rhode Island; South Dakota; Tennessee; Utah; Vermont; Virgin Islands; Virginia; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin; and Wyoming.

In the 26 years since the release of A Nation at Risk, states have made great strides in increasing the academic rigor of education standards. Yet, America’s children still remain behind other nations in terms of academic achievement and preparedness to succeed.

By signing the MOA, Governor Corzine and Commissioner Davy join their colleagues across the country in committing to joining a state-led process to develop a common core of state standards in English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. These standards will be research- and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations, and include rigorous content and skills.

“As Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said, ‘We have to educate our way to a better economy,’” said Governor Corzine. “Common standards will give us the opportunity to focus our efforts on ensuring that our students are learning the skills that will be required for success as 21st century global citizens and workers.”

The Common Core State Standards Initiative will build directly on recent efforts of leading organizations and states( see Achieve Inc.) that have focused on developing college- and career-ready standards and will ensure that these standards can be internationally benchmarked to top-performing countries around the world.
The goal is to have a common core of state standards that states can adopt voluntarily. States can choose to include additional standards beyond the common core as long as the common core represents at least 85 percent of the state’s standards in English language arts and mathematics. The second phase of this initiative is to ultimately develop common assessments aligned to the core standards developed through the process.

“New Jersey’s graduates no longer are competing for jobs against students from neighboring states; the global economy requires that they be prepared to meet the international standards to which students around the world are being taught,” said Commissioner Davy. “Our participation in the common core standards initiative will help us achieve our goal of preparing all children for college and the workforce.”

The NGA Center and CCSSO will coordinate the process to develop the standards and will create an expert validation committee to provide an independent review of the common core state standards, as well as grade-by-grade standards. This committee will be composed of nationally and internationally recognized and trusted education experts who are neutral to – and independent of – the process. The college- and career-ready standards are expected to be completed in July 2009. The grade-by-grade standards work is expected to be completed in December 2009. States also will have the opportunity to review the standards throughout the development process.




be well.... mike


No, I am not the music teacher, though music is a lot of what I teach. I teach "literature through theater" and ESL, and I direct the big school plays. I help out with various other things at the school as well.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that we teach the children distraction. There is great emphasis on keeping things moving and lively all the time. That gets in the way of a more lasting liveliness.

The question is how to bring focus. Do we do this through boot camps? Some have, but there are other ways. I believe we can do a lot by turning our attention toward the subject matter. It is not a simple matter, of course, but we can do away with the needless complexities. Teachers should be able to arrange their rooms, adorn their walls, and structure their lesson in the way that best suits the topic. Also, simple arrangements can have a calming effect. There is no need to dazzle, divert, or entertain, beyond what is genuine.

I would love to hear about the music program at CPE.

Diana Senechal

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