February 2010 Archives

Dear Diane, How did we let "them" pit so many good people against each other? Maybe it's just New York City? Parents, teachers, and kids are fighting each other over who is invading whose turf, who belongs, who is an insider vs. an outsider. A busload of mothers goes to Albany on behalf of charters and another on behalf of the "regular" public schools their children attend. Young teachers with fire in their bellies go into charter schools; others dream of starting one, while senior teachers see their futures imperiled. None of them are bad folks. Meanwhile, what you call ...


Dear Deborah, Last week, I warned that the explosive growth of charter schools would lead to financial and political scandals, as greedy entrepreneurs and unprincipled speculators discover the riches ripe for the picking. A reader challenged me, and I offer as the latest (but not the only) evidence a story that appeared in The New York Times on Feb. 15 ("At Bronx Vocational School, Concern Over Plan for Charter"). The New York City Department of Education intends to close a construction trade program at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School and replace it with a charter called ...


Dear Diane, Will this period mostly be known for the extraordinarily high levels of everyday corruption and the buying and selling of democracy? We're growing accustomed to it. We jail folks for smoking pot, while corporations (full-scale citizens, according to the Supreme Court) can't be jailed for real crimes against others. Principals and teachers meanwhile are castigated for "cheating" children in ways that seem entirely in keeping with marketplace ideals. For example, teaching to the tests, not teaching what won't be tested, and providing succor in ways that the rules prohibit (pausing to pat a child on the back, handing ...


Dear Deborah, It is not surprising that the Race to the Top has generated enormous buzz among educators since it dangles $4.3 billion to states that do what the U.S. Department of Education wants them to do. Now President Obama has announced that he is so pleased with the response to the Race that he intends to add another $1.3 billion in prize money to the competition. Since this is an administration that claims to be about results, it is surprising, is it not, that they are increasing the prize money in the absence of any evidence ...


Dear Diane, Leisure is an essential ingredient for a successful working democracy. We need time to think and unbundle some of the contradictions by which we live. If "elitism" is wrong for charters, why is it okay for public schools? Why do we presume that poor kids need a more rigid and authoritarian school climate than "ordinary" kids? How can I both believe in the importance of local decision-making where possible, and also support choice in schooling? My list is long. But my time for discussing such issues isn't enough. Then add to it the climate of false crisis that ...


Dear Deborah, As I watch events across the nation, I have concluded that district leadership today falls into one of two varieties. On one hand is the traditional superintendent, who believes that he is responsible for the schools and students in his care. He visits the schools often and consults frequently with mid-level superintendents to make sure that the schools get the resources they need. When a school is in trouble, he sends in a team of experienced educators to assess its needs and devise a plan to help the staff. If the school continues to struggle, he works harder ...


Dear Diane, Funny you should ask, Diane. Yes, I am still a sort-of supporter of small schools—within the right context. I came across a big, heavy award from 2004 called The Small Schools Award: "In honor of your support, in a bold way and over the long haul of small schools that educate one student at a time." I'm frequently introduced as "the mother/grandmother of small schools." So, why aren't I feeling smug and successful? There are more urban small schools than ever before—even though small often now means 600, not 300. Nearly 20 years ago a group...


Dear Deborah, Last week, the New York City Department of Education pushed through a decision to close 19 high schools. With the encouragement of the "Race to the Top," we will surely see similar closings across the nation, hundreds or perhaps thousands of them. Entrepreneurs cheer when public schools close, as new space opens up for their ventures in philanthropy and profits. It is odd that school leaders feel triumphant when they close schools, as though they were not responsible for them. They enjoy the role of executioner, shirking any responsibility for the schools in their care. Every time a ...


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