This solves the problem

Thanks to Diane Ravitch for forwarding this important news to us:

“This month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators passed a law, intended to take effect by the next school year, setting a 2 percent limit on the amount of classroom time that could be spent on test preparation, or about three and a half days in a school year. Charter schools, some of which are known for an almost religious devotion to test preparation, are not obligated to comply, officials said.”

Corporate Pay and the Minimum Wage

An Astounding Factlet

The CEO of Oracle is paid $78 million dollars a year–mostly in no or low-tax earnings. That translates to $37,500.00/hr assuming he works 52 weeks a year and 40/hrs a week. More if he gets vacations. (Not to mention other assets that Mr. Ellison possesses, amounting to about $50 billion). To make matters more complicated we have gotten accustomed to ways of “measuring” the economy so that this counts as a positive.

There is NO WAY democracy can flourish when the top 100 or so CEOs are each richer than any of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, Chinese emperors, or Marie Antoinette and family. Especially with recent court ruling about spending on elections. But then, those past figures weren’t pretending to lead the forces of freedom and democracy.

$37,000 (plus) dollars an hour. It’s unimaginable. But we’re told that without such monies, Mr. Ellison wouldn’t be doing as well for his beloved Oracle. Of the top 100 CEOs, the average is a mere $13 million annually ($6,250.00/hr) –hardly worth mentioning. Of course, there’s no evidence that their lower rate of pay has cost their companies profits.

Yet, these same CEO’s lead the charge against raising the minimum wage–from $7.50 to $10 an hour (to almost what Mr. Ellison makes per second).  Somehow, by their logic, a handful of individuals controlling most of the wealth and resources of the country is not bad for the economy. But requiring them to pay the poorest of our workers enough to feed their families, much less buy the consumer goods required to keep an economy going will be bad for “the economy,” by their logic.

Books on Democracy and Education

Dear friends and readers,

I’m in the process of putting together a collection of my writings on democracy with my friend, editor and co-thinker, Andy Hrycyna. I’m also in the process of straightening up my house—e.g. getting rid of books I’ll never reread (or read), etc. In the process I’ve rediscovered so many books that are about the topic of democracy that I either never read when I got them or have forgotten. I started pulling them out and scanning them—in astonishment. They either said much of what I was trying to say or had ideas I had not yet even considered but that seemed very relevant.

In short, if we all stopped writing new books for about five years and devoted ourselves to doing the same—reading the books we already have—we’d be amazed at how many wonderful ideas are floating out there in the form of books that haven’t been sufficiently appreciated. (I note that when I’m deciding whether to read a book I eagerly look first to see whether my name appears, or a book I’ve written—then I look for Ted Sizer’s name, then Symour Sarason, Eleanor Duckworth, Maxine Green, Herb Kohl, John Holt, Jonathon Kozol, etc etc). But in fact…there are a whole cast of old “new” (or new old) characters I’m determined to add to my list.


For example. Just yesterday I pulled off my selves the following nine “new” books—all 20-49 years old. A generation ago. They are in no order—just the order of the pile next to my desk at the moment.

silbermanCrisis in the Classroom: The Remaking of American Education, by Charles Silberman. 1971. It was a ground breaker. My falling apart copy has notes and underlinings on every page. (It was published by Vintage and I have no idea if it’s still available—except in libraries.)

ParkerEducating the Democratic Mind, a collection edited by Walter C. Parker. (1996). The introduction itself tries to imagine what a society in which there was no effective “government”—that was based on the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family—what Edward Banfield (in 1958) called “a society of amoral familists.” It’s an interesting place to start. Each of the 18 essays would make good reading for today.

HillReinventing Public Education by Paul T. Hill. Aha, here’s a provocative precursor to what we now know as the Charter movement, proposed by an ally of democratic decision making. 1995. I think Hill’s ideas are thoughtful and resonate with my own, except… He seems obvious to the risks involved—where it might take us. Of course, that could be said for many of my own favorite ideas—like small self-governing schools of choice. However, alas, Hill seems completely blind to the real dangers that his proposals led to in the real world.  Maybe in a more equal society such a plan could be good for us all.  Alas, not in the one we now live in.

Education and Community, by Donald Oliver. 1976. His development of the complexity of the idea of “community” has stymied me at times. It’s not as simple as I pretend when I remind us the importance of community. Oliver examines it in the real world—studying seven different interesting examples.

Living Voices, Proceedings of Common Ground: A Conference on Progressive Education 1992. “A new wave of progressive education is now gathering momentum,” Carol Montag suggests in the Foreword to this collection of essays that were the focus on the Conference itself. I love that phrase, “A common ground.” I also loved its opening two “principles”: ”I’d like the uneasiness to exist; we should recognize it, not cover it up.” And “People who are not alike have the most to say to each other—we don’t want to go away thinking that we all agree.” That’s Maxine Greene who opened the conference and whose speech starts the book.

Open Education, A Sourcebook edited by Edward Nyquist and Gene Hawes. 1972 There’s not a single chapter that isn’t relevant to us today. In one book we can read Jean Piaget, John Dewey, Charles Silberman, Jay Featherstone, Lillian Weber Vito Perrone George Hein, Ann Bussis, Edward Chittenden, David Armington and on. A must re-read—42 year later. (Is it still accessible? Try.)

hawkinsThe Informed Vision, essays by David Hawkins. 1976 (reissued in 2002), Open it up anywhere and you won’t put it down. “I, Thou. And It” is a classic, and on and on. He offers a picture of what the STEM addicts have missed about the nature of science and mathematics and engineering!

lappeThe Quickening of America, by Frances Moore Lappe and Paul Martin DuBois. 1992. They start with a chapter on “The Myths That Limit Us,” move onto “America Coming Alive” (yes in 1992 they were as excited as I was by what was happening, and Part Three, “Living Democracy: The Practical Tools.” As important as it was 22 years ago—when progressive educators are “quickening” again—I hope.

Small Schools: The Numbers Tell a Story by Michael Klonsky. 1995. A short pamphlet summarizing the existing research and a great bibliography. Mike and I are still small school fans even as we also see how a good idea can become a tool for bad ends!

The Four Roles of Mathematics, A Liberal Arts Approach by George Henderson and Charles Johnson. 1972. This book, like those by David Hawkins, reawakened my fascination with mathematics—and also helped me understand my earlier aversion/ This is not a “how-to” book, but it provokes rethinking what mathematics actually is.

Of course, there are many other too often forgotten old greats—going back centuries–that I’m leaving out. The ones above seem to me just typical good books that we’ve probably mostly never read or forgotten. (The Power of Their Ideas was published, in fact, in 1995. And, if you haven’t read it, quick—buy or borrow it.) The “etc”s are just authors that I haven’t yet pulled off my shelves to reread! You’ll note that I’m taking it for granted that you still “remember” Sizer’s Horace’s Compromise, or John Holt’s How Children Fail, or Kohl’s 36 Children, Sylvia Aston-Warner’s The Teacher, Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary, Frank Smith’s Understanding Reading. I have to stop myself, I want so much to add, and add, and add—especially when I discover that most would-be teachers have never heard of John Holt or Sylvia Ashton-Warner, etc. But, the GOOD NEWS is the dozens of books coming off the press these days by teachers—more than I can celebrate or even keep up with. It must be a sign of something good. I’ll make a list of the most recent soon too.

Ah well. To all the writers whose work I’ve thrived on, whom I owe so much to, which includes many not noted above!!! Thanks.


Data sampling

Dear friends and readers,

Why is it that these experts on collecting data seem so ignorant about the science of data collection? If we want “objective” data then the cheapest and most honest results can be gathered by sampling the population rather than gathering data on everyone. Most data in this world has been collected in that way for a very long time. So I was delighted to read in the latest Ed Week (April 2, p 30) that James Pellegrino who is an advisor to the development of the new Smarter Balanced CCSS tests and a distinguished expert in the field had this to say: “If we want to monitor the system as a whole we could use more effective strategies, like student sampling and matrix sampling of task. There are ways to do it that are more efficient to answer the kinds of questions that we want to have answers to…without requiring every kid…”

Yes, so why does this simple truth still not been tried when it comes to large-scale student testing? There must be a reason. Obviously some test makers make money on this, as well as text publishers, coaches, advisors, etc. But, like the NY State agents, who go in classrooms to monitor teachers, the main purpose may be to control teaching and schooling. I was amazed to discover in the early 1980s when I was planning a new secondary school that the NY Regent exams had a mythic importance. No college cared or even asked students for their Regent scores. A few got scholarships for their high scores. But…even teachers at the elite Stuyvesant high school based their teaching on the test. One teacher, who taught earth science, told me that alas my son was not in his class last year when he taught a better course. I was completely dub-founded. Why not teach it this year, I asked? Because, he told me, the NY State Earth Science Regents test covers different material this year and students score best by focusing on different, in his view, less important things.

p.s. Of course, test companies use sampling in developing their tests, insuring that the selection of items will fall on a normal curve or rank order consistent with past tests and predictive of future tests—where the “measurement error” is small enough to be useful. (“Measurement error” defines those that appear to be random mistakes, that do not seriously modify the expected ranking of scores.)

All in the Family

Dear readers, friends, and all,

A story about “All In the Family” caught my eye. (New Yorker, The Great Divide, by Emily Nussbaum, April 7, 2014) It retells an anecdote that I’ve used many times, but somewhat differently. She recounts how this clever satire by liberal Norman Lear intended to defuse and ridicule racism may well have fueled it by reassuring many Americans that you could be a racist but also loveable—in fact more so than the righteous liberal son-in-law.

What she doesn’t mention—as one of its side-effects—how the students in our high school (or at least the Latino and Black students) were influenced by it. I was chiding them once—about 25 of them—on their perhaps over-reaction to sometimes subtle, nuanced or even misinterpreted racism. No one, I said (naively) would be baldly racist on prime time. That’s some sort of progress, I contended. Hands went shooting up. What????? The most popular prime time TV show is blatantly racist, one after another claimed. Again, I said indignantly, “name one!” With nary an exception they all pounced on “All in the Family” and Archie Bunker as obvious refutations. They were completely unwilling to even consider my claim that the producer, Lear, had meant it as an attack on racism. Could they all be wrong and just Lear and me right?

Thanks, Emily Nussbaum for reminding me that the world appears differently depending….. And if we care about racism we need to check it out with those most closely affected by racism. “I didn’t mean…” is not irrelevant, but it’s no where near as relevant as we in the majority tend, or perhaps just want to believe. (It still intrigues me that Lear didn’t check it out first on those he was intending to help!) These “misunderstandings” leave us—black and white—in different universes time after time. That is at least one reason why desegregating schools by race and social class would be good for us all. And also, occasionally more painful.

Some thoughts

Dear readers, friends and all,

Some days it feels as though there’s nothing left to say—it’s all been said so many times. Reading the NY Times Sunday Review (March 30) was a revelation. There’s a great piece by Bruce Ackerman on Dignity. An interesting and important insight in a piece by Timothy Egan “A Mudslide, Foretold” that suggests a dismal ending. And Deborah Hargreaves on “Can We Close the Pay Gap?” (She points to an example of a German board consisting of half employees and half shareholders who voted for a pay cut for its CEOs.) It ends on a more optimist note, but…. the very idea of workers having a say on company policy would be a huge (utopian?) leap forward in the USA—a touch of democracy we view as utterly beyond our imaginations.

But best of all was an essay by Lewis Dartnell entitled “Civilization’s Starter Kit.” It reminded me of a personal story from long-ago. It was the 1950s when we were all protecting ourselves from the possibility of a world-wide atomic disaster. I was driving on Chicago’s “outer drive” from my south side habitat to the north side, along Lake Michigan. I imagined that the whole world was—almost—wiped out. The only remaining adults were me and some “primitive” islanders (this part of the story I had a little trouble with). Somehow we connected and, lo and behold, I was their one hope of trying to reconstruct the modern world rather than go through it all over again. There couldn’t be a better-educated but more useless remnant of a lost world to have survived “to tell” the story. I could tell them great literary stories and discuss literary theory, contemporary politics, even ancient history but… I had no idea how to help them with what they wanted—to re-invent electricity, or automobiles, or the telegraph or telephone, much less e-mail. I couldn’t even start a fire, or suggest better agricultural tools or methods. And alas, few if any of the graduates of the schools I was later to “invent” would have done much better.

That’s what astrobiologist Lewis Darnell takes up.

“My father,” he writes “used joke that I had three degrees, but didn’t know anything about anything, whereas he graduated summa cum laude from the University of Life.” He imagines my scenario—if he were a member of a small society of survivors. His degrees fit him to do research into what factors planets need to support life. How to pass that on, he asks. His list includes reinventing germ theory, and all that follows (like washing ones hands, etc). Then comes stockpiling staples so that they can be used later. Then, of course, the millstone. Tuning clay into bricks and fire-proof pots. Not to mention the invention of iron and steel knives. Or there’s “plain old glass” or its close kin —soap. Just a few “ordinary” substances” brought together in a certain ratio, et al. and – we have glass! The author indulged himself—by learning how to make glass. “I may never have to practice the alchemy that transform sand, soda and quicklime into this miraculous transparent membrane, but the world feels closer and more in focus for the knowing.”

There’s an aim that lies totally outside of our educational ideas—although actually John Dewey’s Lab School over a century ago dabbled in this kind of reconstruction! But, today? Imagine proposing such a list of essential practical knowledge, plus experience, into the so-called Common Core.

Few Adults Crawl

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Sometimes I think maybe we shouldn’t publish anything new and read all the wonderful “old” stuff. Like Few Adults Crawl by Tony Kallet (who died much too young) of Mountain View Center in Colorado. It was published by the North Dakota Study Group in 1995 and is (I think) still available.

This is how it starts: “Should our children grow up to be audacious? Bold and daring, spirited, adventurous? To ask the question is to set the goal. How can we but say, yes, we do want to encourage audacious thinkers who will challenge and test and probe? And yet, I suggest that such of what we do in school hinders the attainment of the goal, blinders the growth of such thinkers.” (He reminds me of Alfie Kohn when he asks simple questions about the impact of lining up, raising one’s hand et al.) He asks over and over. “”What are the alternatives?”—the unthinkables we don’t think about. Every chapter is worth talking about.

Some of my favorites are “The One Sided Child” where he asks why we insist on “well-roundedness”? or “Notes on a Teacher’s Job” where he posits three fascinating tasks: preparing the environment, “binding time, space and ideas,” and “the cultivation of misperception.” It’s wonderful. And “Some Thoughts on Imitation and Other Matters” where he compares teaching instrumental music and learning to read—a topic of great interest to me since I was so poor at the former and good at the latter! And more and more. Write to the Center for Teaching and learning, University of North Dakota for your own copy. Or click here to download the pdf.