The Rich Get Richer

Over the last two decades the bottom 90 percent of the economy has lost ground while the richest 1 percent captured 70 percent of the income growth. Yes, 70 percent. To achieve this, every major policy – taxes, investment, monetary, trade, finance, regulation – had to be fixed to favor the few.

Even educational policies.

This fable tells the story:

A group of pioneering Americans wanted a way they could, through children, identify their parents SES (social-economic status). Absurd, yes?  But several enterprising companies decided to try to do it. Like ETS, MacMillan, McGraw-Hill etc. At first they called them IQ tests, and then over time they renamed them achievement tests.

And lo and behold they found that they could develop test items that precisely differentiated children by their families net worth.  And they could do this while simultaneously providing test items and alternative answers that were more or less within the domain being tested.  There would be some measurement error, of course.  But probably considerably less than if they sent home a form asking parents to provide this information.

Yes, that is what we have.  It is an amazing feat.

And in yearly pre-tests they make sure that the items continue to fall in the same pre-determined way, providing the same information about SES (and thus sorting the children as early as 4 and 5 years old, into their proper slots).

Good Morning Mission Hill encore showing in Boston

The two screenings in Boston of Good Morning Mission Hill last week were well attended and very satisfying.  One more in the Boston area is coming up, so if you know anyone who might want to see it, the Cambridge Citizens for Public Schools (a local chapter of Citizens for Public Schools) is showing it Wednesday, January 21st at 6pm at the main branch of the Cambridge Public Library.

How? (Guest Blog)

-This guest blog by MIssion Hill teacher Jenerra Williams originally appeared on her Face Book page.



How do I write report cards, when I should be writing a new manifest destiny for our country?


How can I talk about literacy progress and math understandings, when I myself don’t understand the injustice being done and excused?


How can I write about science experiments and history lessons when I feel like people who look like me are involved in an unethical experiment being conducted by the police and our government and we as a country have not learned our own lessons from history?


How can I give grades to students for their behavior when our behavior as a society – as a human race – fails to meet the mark over and over again?


How can I talk about what each student contributes to our community, when our communities aren’t safe and the contributions of the communities they come from are not appreciated, undervalued and ignored?


How do I report on the academic progress of my students, when I feel so deeply that progress is not being made in the just and fair treatment of their fathers, brothers, uncles, and cousins.


How can I write report cards…when there is so much pain written on my heart?

Jenerra Williams

Emotional Intelligence

Originally posted on Nicholas Meier:

I am writing this from the Fall Forum of the Coalition for Essential Schools. I just attended a workshop by Kathleen Cushman on “Learning by Heart: The Power of Social Emotional Learning.”

She stated in one of the bullet points of her slides of how building social emotional learning supports academic learning. I think there are very few people who would disagree with this, though it is true that many teachers feel unequipped for, resentful toward, or object to being expected to deal with this aspect of teaching. However, what I notice here, is that often as educators we feel the need to defend anything we do in schools not as valuable for itself, but for how it will help raise test scores, or at least help academically. I have seen this in defense of the arts, in defense of physical education, in defense of good nutrition, etc.

dumb question


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The Progressive Populist

just received a publication in the mail that I’ve never seen before, although it claims to be Vol. 20, No. 22.  It is called The Progressive Populist.  It includes shortish columns from everyone I like, plus a few new voices.  It’s put together by a family–named Cullen–from Texas and Iowa.  So it comes by its sub-heading A Journal From America’s Heartland honestly.  $18 for half a year (11 issues).  Call 1-800-732-4992.

I’m signing up.

The Public Purpose of Education and Schooling

Dear readers,

I just finished a book published in 1997 edited by John Goodlad and Timothy McMannon. I could quote every page. But… Read it! Title: The Public Purpose of Education and Schooling, Jossey Bass Publishers. Especially Parts Two and Three which are a dialogue between some wonderful and thoughtful participants. (Part I consists of six essays by some of the distinguished crew.) Who? Benjamin Barber, Theodore Sizer, Linda Darling-Hammond, Gary Fenstermacher, Dona Kerr and Roger Soder. The second conversation included as well Don Ernst, Mary Ellen Finch, Susan Ropert and Mark OShea


These conversations came right at that height of the onslaught of the “new reformers” which wiped out so much of the work described here by Goodlad and Sizer’s —NNER and CES. Their optimism about the work they were doing was hard for me to read—knowing as I did the future. Sobering. But my “half-full” brother’s advice reminds me that the NYC Consortium, for example, that is still growing has made Sizer’s work on graduation by exhibition, and the portfolio et al. respectable despite what has happened sicne. And the strength of the growing opposition to tests, the Common Core and maybe privatization as well, is something both men can take some credit for too. It is not always uphill, but the rate of change for the worse can be slowed and the onset of the next wave of reform—ours—can be encouraged.

One theme that comes up often in the conversations among the participants is: in what areas of life we are prepared to “waste” money and on which do we become rather puritanical. Some rich friends tell me that indeed they appreciate their ability to have the best of everything—including the arts and physical education—but that still these aren’t “essential” and require reducing in difficult fiscal times. “There’s just not enough money” for everything (except when we go to war, add money to the Pentagon’s budget above and beyond what they request, look for more adventures into the heavens above, et al.)

Donna Kerr’s suggestion of what might be the central question, “How is it we want ourselves to stand in relationship to one another,” struck home.

Linda Darling-Hammond states the tough truth: “Within the democratic society, schools may conduct themselves as the least democratic institutions… predominantly authoritarian institutions.” The question to ask is not, she says, so much building education “for democracy but schooling as democracy.”

Benjamin Barber reminds us of necessary differences between “family” discourse and public discourse, and the role of schools in keeping this distinction alive. He pushes hard and provokes some of the strongest parts of the discourse.

It has been almost 20 years since these discussions took place, but it is now on my must read list. Maybe it can be read aloud like a play in schools or public events!!! (Note though that—I think—all the participants except Linda Darling-Hammond are White.)


Dear readers,

Change of subject (I’ll be back to teacher-written books ). There are a few interesting things that I have come across and want to comment on.

For example, I re-read two of Seymour Sarason’s books—The Predictable Failure 0f Educational Reform (published in 1990!), and How Schools Might Be Governed and Why (1997). It was rather depressing to do so since in the past 20-25 years we have fallen into every predicted abuse of reform that he feared. It is definitely time to reread him. It is all about who has the power, he reminds us. The power has shifted sharply even further away from those involved in the daily life of public education, a phenomenon that Sarason saw then as the critical root cause of our failure. (Not to mention that charters are even more segregated than the already too segregated public system’s schools.) Pages 34 and 35 lay out his five assumptions about governance—which I will keep a secret for a few weeks so that some may go out read it for yourselves.

I also read a book by Jason Riley accusing liberals of making it harder for Blacks to succeed. The hypocrisy of this neo-con argument has always intrigued me. I quote Riley, affirmative action “comes with a stigma and reinforces ugly stereotypes of black inferiority.” Yes, indeed, there is some truth to it—largely because folks on the Right have made this argument so often and stoked the fear that success for people of color comes at a cost to white people! How come they aren’t equally concerned about the “special” treatment of alumnae children or students of wealthy and influential potential givers? Whose spots do they take? Do they therefore suffer from this “stigma” too? Hardly. And how often does that fear stop any of us from using our influence on behalf of our children and grandchildren? Did the “stigma” get its negative currency from all those years in which we selectively refused to accept students of color, regardless of their academic success—and the repeated claims by powerful people that, alas, Black people have low innate intelligence (See “The Bell Curve” and others). And why have we used a particular instrument (SATs), known to be better at predicting one’s family income than it predicts academic success.

Reading “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty,” by Jed Rakoff in The New York Review of Books, (November 20, 2014), made me think about how poorly civics is taught to the young. How many are told that the 6th Amendment of our Constitution is a mirage, bearing no resemblance to the ordinary course of our system of justice. Less than 3% of Federal criminal cases are now heard by a jury and judge. Meanwhile no more 5% of State and local felony cases are resolved by courts of law. (This shift provides prosecutors with enormous power, above all for those who can’t afford lawyers.) I have been so enamored by the assumptions underlying the idea of trial by one’s peers that I missed contemporary reality! We still have mock trials in our schools. Maybe it is time for mock plea-bargains.

And finally, I was entranced by an essay in Schools: Studies in Education, A Journal for Inquiry (the magazine I touted last week). “Finding the Cracks” by Shanti Elliott, Joan Bradbury and Joy Gardner describes the responses from 200 Chicago area educators to the film “Good Morning Mission Hill” Wow. Their discussion was aided by the presence of Mission Hill staff—principal Ayla Gavins and math teacher Ann Ruggiero. The film includes one minute of me, on good judgment as a critical aim of education. That fits well with my previous comments about our lost jury system—since I usually rest my case on that esteemed institution where matters of life and death rest on ordinary human judgment.

Just stuff to mull over.