Sunday, August 29, 2010

New from Barton and Coley

The Black-White Achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped

And as with recent revelations by Diane Ravitch and the Fordham Foundation, George Will is acknowledging what many of us have been arguing for years. . .

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

EdWeek blog from Walt Gardner

Role of Research in School Reform

Walt Gardner addresses how we approach school reform and cites one of my pieces on the Harlem Children's Zone.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

21 August 2010 Op-Ed The Greenville News

Change the real "status quo" hurting education

The National Opportunity to Learn (OTL) Campaign, by a coalition of organizations committed to civil rights, represents a growing voice of criticism leveled at the Obama administration's education policy headed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The OTL released a framework for educational reform as a challenge to Obama/Duncan's Race to the Top, NCLB reauthorization, and other policies and agendas. The framework

"offer[s] critiques of federal efforts that would: distribute resources by competition in the midst of a severe recession; advance experimental proposals dwarfed by the scope of the challenges in low-income communities; and promote ineffective approaches for turning around low-performing schools and education systems."

To those critics, Obama sent this message on 29 July 2010: "... But I know there's also been some controversy about the initiative [Race to the Top]. Part of it, I believe, reflects a general resistance to change; a comfort with the status quo. But there have also been criticisms, including from some folks in the civil rights community, about particular elements of Race to the Top."

Just two days before, Secretary Duncan offered a similar refrain: "We have to challenge the status quo—because the status quo in public education is not nearly good enough—not with a quarter of all students and, almost half, 50% of African-American and Latino young men and women dropping out of high school."

The rising and new tension between a Democratic administration and liberal organizations provides an ideal opportunity to step back from the educational debate and reassess what we are arguing, what the evidence shows, and how we can move forward. Since the two sides above are disagreeing within the same ideology, we can conclude that this is not simple partisan bickering.

A key element of the debate involves the use of the term "status quo." The Obama/Duncan charge that people disagreeing with the administration are somehow for the status quo of schools and society is condescending and misleading. But it does expose the clear ideological foundation from which Obama/Duncan are working.

In their blueprint for educational reform, the Obama administration makes an erroneous claim: "Of all the work that occurs at every level of our education system, the interaction between teacher and student is the primary determinant of student success." This is a compelling and idealistic assertion, but untrue. While teacher and school quality matter, the conditions of students' lives outside of school account for about 67% to 86% of student achievement.

While the OTL is justified in criticizing the Obama administration for focusing on schools without acknowledging the context within which schools function, the misguided work of Obama and Duncan do not absolve us of the need to reform schools.

Education must be reformed. But we must seek reform within the context of addressing the causes of high drop-out rates and low student achievement.

And we do need to change the status quo. Ironically, however, the Obama/Duncan plan maintains the status quo instead of challenging it.

For example, William Mathis has released a look at the potential for National Standards, supported by Obama/Duncan, to help address the failures of schools, and he concludes: "Without addressing both the in-school and out-of-school influences on test scores, common core standards are not likely to improve the quality and equity of America's public schools."

We have been lamenting drop-out rates and our schools' inability to serve well marginalized children (children living in poverty, children of color, children speaking home languages other than English) for over a century, and each time we do, we call the conditions crises and offer the same solution of raising standards and increasing accountability.

And it never works. And it never will.

Like the OTL, I am in fact against the status quo—the status quo of childhood poverty exceeding 1 in 5 children; the status quo of children most in need being assigned to the least experienced and un-/under-qualified teachers; the status quo of spending millions of dollars on standards, tests, and accountability; the status quo of blaming teachers and schools for conditions beyond their control; the status quo of using our schools as political footballs.

We need political leadership brave enough to acknowledge and confront the whole picture of failures that exist in our society and then are reflected in social structures, such as our schools.

In a post on an EdWeek blog, Stephen Krashen expresses well what that leadership could be: "Improving education is not the path to eliminating poverty. Eliminating poverty is the path to better school achievement. All the money going to new standards, new tests, and of course new textbooks, should be spent on protecting children from the effects of poverty: Proper nutrition (no child left unfed), health care, and access to books."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

17 August 2010 Op-Ed at OEN

Reconsider Education "Miracles"


[1] Brooks, D, (2009, May 7). The Harlem miracle. The New York Times, A31.

[2] Dobbie, W., & Fryer, R. G., Jr. (2009), Are high-quality schools enough to close the achievement gap? Evidence from a bold social experiment in Harlem. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Retrieved June 5, 2009, from

[3] Shulman, R. (2009, August 2). Harlem program singled out as model. The Washington Post.

[4] Molnar, A. (2001, April 11). The media and educational research: What we know vs. what the public hears. Milwaukee, WI: Center for Education Research, Analysis, and Innovation. Retrieved 18 July 2009 from

[5] Yettick, H. (2009). The research that reaches the public: Who produces the educational research mentioned in the news media? Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Retrieved 5 August 2009 from

[6] Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Trans. P. Clarke. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., p.110.

[7] Pallas, A. (2009). Just how gullible is David Brooks? New York: Gotham Schools. Retrieved May 8, 2009, from

[8] See

[9] Whitman, D. (2008, Fall). An appeal to authority. Education Next, 8(4). Retrieved 29 June 2009 from ; Landsberg, M. (2009, May 31). Spitting in the eye of mainstream education. Los Angeles Times online. Retrieved 29 June 2009 from,0,6482403.story

[10] Ravitch, D. (2009, May 12). What the “Harlem Miracle” really teaches. Bridging Differences blog. Education Week. Retrieved 27 December 2009 from

[11] Dobbie & Fryer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

11 August 2010 Op-Ed at EdWeek

Why common standards won't work

In 2010, with the blessing and encouragement of the nation’s president and secretary of education, we are establishing “common-core standards” to address the historical claim that our public schools are failures. In the 1890s, a similar lament was voiced by the group known as the Committee of Ten:

“When college professors endeavor to teach chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, meteorology, or geology to persons of 18 or 20 years of age, they discover that in most instances new habits of observing, reflecting, and recording have to be painfully acquired by the students—habits which they should have acquired in early childhood.”

Their solution? Almost exactly what the current common-standards pursuit offers us. In fact, the bureaucratic approach to schools—establish content, prescribe content, and measure student acquisition of that content—has been visited and revisited decade after decade for more than a century now. It has always failed, and always will.

This time around, we must use the creation of and debate about national standards to reject a failed solution for the ignored problems facing our schools—and our society.

Today’s attempt at national standards, the recently released work of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in English language arts and mathematics that is being adopted separately by states, fails first because the standards are based on two flawed assumptions: that we somehow, in 2010, don’t already know what to teach (we do and have for decades); and that somehow a standard body of learning matches what humans need and what a democracy that values human freedom wants (it doesn’t match either).

Next, the standards further deprofessionalize teaching at the K-12 level. Chemistry professors in college do not need a set of standards to teach chemistry; part of the appropriate expectations for their job is to be scholars of their field and adept at teaching that body of knowledge. (In fact, a central problem we could address is that, at the K-12 level, we trivialize the need for teachers to be knowledgeable, and at the college level, we trivialize a professor’s need to be skilled at teaching. Educators need both.)

To standardize and prescribe expectations is, in fact, to lower them.
Common standards also devolve into asking less, not more, of students, since they are invariably tied to the narrowest possible types of assessment. Some clichés have become clichés because they are true. The truism “Give a man a fish and he eats for the day; teach a man to fish and he eats forever” captures perfectly the flaw with a standards approach to education: Prescribed standards of learning are giving children fish, not teaching them to fish.

Standards-driven education removes decisions from teachers and students and renders classrooms lifeless and functional, devoid of the pleasure and personal value of learning, discovering, and coming to be.

Common standards also begin by assuming that the content is all that matters in learning. To create a standard body of knowledge is to codify that the students themselves do not matter—at least in any humane way. The standards movement envisions children as empty vessels to be filled by the prescribed knowledge chosen for them—certainly a counterproductive view of humans in a free society.

A call for “higher standards” speaks to our human quest for improvement, but that call conflates “standard” with “expectation,” and the two terms are not synonymous in the way we need for improving education. Yes, we should have high expectations for teachers and students, but those expectations can never be and will never be any more “standard” than one human to the next. To standardize and prescribe expectations is, in fact, to lower them.

Offering some type of national standards as a solution for the failure of public education implies that a lack of standards exists, and that the supposed lack is somehow the cause of our educational problems.
And that central flaw is at the heart of what is most wrong about the new common-core standards, because the creation of those standards is drawing our attention away from the actual causes of educational problems.

A call for national standards ensures that we continue doing what is most wrong with our bureaucratic schools (establish-prescribe-measure) and that we persist in looking away from the largest cause of low student achievement: childhood poverty.

A call for national standards is a political veneer, a tragic waste of time and energy that would be better spent addressing real needs in the lives of children—safe homes, adequate and plentiful food, essential health care, and neighborhood schools that are not reflections of the neighborhoods where children live through no choice of their own.

Education is in no way short of a knowledge base. And even if it were, tinkering (yet again) at a standard core of knowledge while ignoring the dehumanizing practices in our schools, and the oppressive impact of poverty on the lives of children, is simply more fiddling while the futures of our children smolder over our shoulders and we look the other way.

Vol. 29, Issue 37, Pages 33-34

Friday, August 6, 2010

Our message on poverty and education. . .

Krashen again makes a hard but accurate point that is worth repeating. . .here and often by all of us who are concerned about poverty and education:

"Improving education is not the path to eliminating poverty. Eliminating poverty is the path to better school achievement. All the money going to new standards, new tests, and of course new textbooks, should be spent on protecting children from the effects of poverty: Proper nutrition (no child left unfed), health care, and access to books."

See his full comments on an EdWeek blog.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New post from Krashen

We must be vigilant with the facts. . .and stand against the misrepresentations of school quality. . .and continue to clarify where the true problems lie. . .

Poverty in the lives of children. . .a social failure, not an educational failure. . .

See this POST from Krashen at Schools Matter. . .