October 2009 Archives

Dear Diane, I have been feeling sad during the past month. First came awareness that the health of an old colleague of mine has moved into its final stages. When she joined us at CPE 32 years ago, she was the first person my age to be my colleague. It was nice not to be a mother or mentor to someone. I learned so much from her. It's like losing a part of my own history. Then came word of Gerald Bracey's sudden death. I was startled because his sharp-witted, clever, and yet erudite contribution to our work has been ...


Dear Deborah, Well, I certainly agree with you that all kids should have the quality of education now available only for students in the best schools. Given how much our nation spends on education, this should not be a pipe dream, but we know that it is not happening and has not happened in the past. We both recall that John Dewey wrote that what the best and wisest parent wants for his own child is what the community should want for all its children. That's a good starting point. What does the best and wisest parent want for his ...


Dear Diane, We've got to stop agreeing so much! I can't wait to read your new book so I can go into "attack mode" again. I always wonder, however, whether our disagreements are "fundamental" or based on our very different entries into the world of schooling. I think it's a bit of both. Your view that progressive education ideas became dominant at any time defied what I witnessed in schools I subbed in, sent my kids to, etc. (Even as it may well have swept the elite schools of education.) Your belief that there can be a curriculum that all ...


Dear Deborah, It is a good idea to explore the separate elements of the federal education agenda, one by one. Merit pay, the first issue you raise, now stands high among the priorities of the Obama administration as it did for the Bush administration and as it has for the Republican Party and business leaders for many years. The idea that teachers should be evaluated in large part by the test scores of their students has achieved a remarkable currency in the past year, because President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan have championed it. You worry that merit pay might ...


Dear Diane, Let's explore, one by one, the separate elements of the federal education agenda, Diane. Are they based on reason and evidence or ignorance and irrationality? (I could have asked myself the same thing about our differences regarding the trade-offs and risks involved in a national curriculum.) Merit pay is high on the list of the new business-oriented reformers and naturally difficult for unions to swallow. For unions, the big issues are above all aimed at providing employees with a fair system that won't place them at the mercy of their bosses when it comes to the basics of ...


Dear Deborah, The elephant in the room is No Child Left Behind. This, as you know, is the latest manifestation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was passed specifically to help educate disadvantaged children. NCLB was passed by Congress in the fall of 2001 and signed into law in January 2002. At the time, it had the overwhelming support of both parties. Since the law was implemented, beginning (I would assume) in the fall of 2002 or the fall of 2003, it has been the subject of much debate. President George W. Bush claimed it as ...


Dear Diane, On standardized standards: I'm a fan of disagreements and messiness—and maybe that's beyond the call of Reason. But here's a try. If we all agreed on everything, or even came close, democracy would be an inefficient and cumbersome business and a luxury we could ill afford in tough times. Yet getting agreement is no easy matter. Democracy was "invented" to do that—when needed. My default position: leave it to those most affected to settle it. Of course, that doesn't work a lot of times. Sometimes what one individual or group wants requires collaboration, or interferes...


Dear Deborah, I am somewhat crazed and stressed-out today because my book is due to the publisher, with no more edits allowed. So, needless to say, I am focused on meeting that deadline. But since the book deals with the same issues that we discuss every week, it is not as if I have to turn my attention to a totally different subject. Readers of this blog know that I have often tried out ideas here and benefited by hearing their reactions. One issue that we have discussed and should discuss more is the regulations embedded in the Race to ...


Dear Diane, "To the extent that we can teach students to seek evidence and rational explanations, we will reduce magical thinking and encourage the application of reason and intelligence." —Diane Ravitch, Bridging Differences, Sept. 29 We agree! That's my "core." We also agree that Arne Duncan's agenda lacks evidence or rational explanations. Why? Partially because he ignores his own privileged schooling as irrelevant for all of those millions of "others." He's creating a system, a big business. He forgets that business data doesn't always speak for itself. Witness our current crisis. Well-educated or not, all of us fall back on "common...


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