I was prepared for a rant against all things reform when I started reading the New York Times Q & A interview with Maria Velez-Clarke, the principal of the Children's Workshop School in Manhattan's East Village, about the school's C-grade from the City.? The school is ?one of several small schools,? said the Times intro, ?started in the 1990s by people who had worked at the widely praised Central Park East School.?
Central Park East?? The school started by Deborah Meier, current scourge of standardized tests, charters, accountability, and just about everything associated with Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein, who initiatiated the school report cards program? ?(See the Bridging Differences blog Meier shares with Diane Ravitch and this wonderful 1994 profile of Meier and her hugely successful Central Park East experiment written by veteran NYC educator Sy Fliegal.)? Children's Workshop offers ballet and yoga, for heaven's sake!
Instead of a progressive principal complaining about Gotham's new accountability system squishing her student's creative impulses, however, we hear an 18-year veteran school leader who was shocked by the C grade the school received in 2010 and determined to do something about it:
I shared it with absolutely no one because it was so devastating to me. I took it home. I sat with my husband and I said, ?My God, do you know what this is going to do to morale?? And he looked at me and he said, ?O.K., you have
As a journalist for the better part of 30 years (not counting the samizdat paper I wrote and published (on my dad's mimeograph machine) in my high school seminary), I worship our first amendment.? And as a student of the French Revolution and its pre-guillotine press, I'm also a big fan of Monsieur Voltaire and his famous utterance, to the effect, `I may disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right say it.'
Does this mean I believe in an unfettered web in our schools, the subject of an interesting report by Winnie Hu in today's New York Times?
Well, I think I would agree with William Fitzhugh, the respected editor of The Concord Review, who told Hu,? ?I think students should have unfettered access to the library."
In other words, we have a much huger problem than the kind of Internet censorship that Banned Websites Awareness Day seems to be worried about.? A glance at school curricula, summer reading lists, or what pass as textbooks these days, indicate that our educators are already doing a pretty good job of censorship, keeping children from THE BEST of what our civilization has produced over the last couple thousand years.? I often quote from Pat Conroy's My Losing Season, wherein an English teacher answered the budding writer's question about what he should read: ?The great books, Mr. Conroy, and nothing but the great books. There isn't time for anything
You can read Sam Wang and Sandra Aaamodt's ?Delay Kindergarten at Your Child's Peril? essay in today's New York Times for what the two neuroscientists have to say about the development of young brains ? ??Indeed, a 4-year-old's brain uses more energy than it ever will again? ? or you can use it as a cautionary tale about our dumbed down education system.
There is plenty of good science here about the question at hand, but I was especially struck by this line:
?children benefit from being close to the limits of their ability.
Aside from what it says about sending your kids to school too late or too early, the statement opens up a Pandora's box of issues for educators and education policymakers. At least, it should cause them to ask some pretty existential questions, especially whenever they hear phrases such as ??child-centered classrooms,? ?customized learning,? and ?individual education plans.?? Exactly who determines an individual child's ability, let alone what ?the limits? of that ability are? And does determining a child's ability in fact predetermine it?? The authors do not even touch the question of the standard by which we measure ability -- can we customize and standardize at the same time?? And, perhaps most importantly, what does it mean, as the authors say about the little ones, that ?school makes children smarter??? What!?? Don't Wan and Aamodt know that school is supposed to make kids ?life-long learners,? not smart? And
I gave up bashing teachers years ago, when I realized that, as with soldiers in the trenches, they had their hands full just staying alive. What I never understood, however, since this wasn't really a war, was why teachers seemed to hide behind their unions on so many school management questions, seemed to be as meek as mice on policy and pedagogy and curriculum issues, and were downright defensive about any criticism of them or their profession. And this was going to be my post, a few weeks ago, responding to Walt Gardner's letter to the editor in the New York Times, in which he opined that teachers ?deserve more than the unrelenting criticism they've endured since the accountability movement began.?
It's a worthy subject,? but I was turned from the ?unrelenting criticism? hokum by an email from New York City teacher Mark Anderson, with his announcement that ?A new school year begins! Here is the third post in my series on curriculum, in which I advocate for a unified core curriculum.?? His post is here and I read it with great joy, but I will get to that in a moment.
In times of great uncertainty for U.S. teachers, who speaks for them?
First, I must make mention of another welcome event; a trend, really, one reported on by Stephen Sawchuk in the current Education Week: ?New Groups Giving Teachers Alternative Voice.? Sawchuk leads with the obvious question,
- Stretching the School Dollar
- Common Core Watch
- Ohio Gadfly Daily
- Board's Eye View
- Choice Words
About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
Sign Up for updates from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute
- Daniel Willingham: Science and Education Blog
- National School Board Association’s School Board News Today
- National Governors Association Center for Best Practices
- Texas Association of School Boards
- New York State School Board Association
- Florida School Boards Association
- California School Boards Association
- Program on Education Policy and Governance
- The Center for Research on Education Outcomes