The Smartest Kids

Thanks Alfie for responding in the Huffington Post with the same startled reaction I had at the front page review in last Sunday’s NY Times book review Likely to Succeed, written by Annie Murphy Boyd about a book entitled The Smartest Kids in the Wold and How they Got That Way, by Amanda Ripley . The book is is rife with assumptions that run counter to fact and which ignores even cursory attention to the differences in the populations involved in our various “international” comparisons.

What an odd choice for that prestigious front cover,  and what better example of what I had noted some weeks ago on this blog about “common sense.”  No copy-editor asks for corroboration of the claims when they go along with the current belief system, of course. Part of the power is subliminal—we just take it in without noticing and it reinforces itself.  We all do it.

An example, from my morning’s quick scan of my emails.


I read it as “school desserts”–and since it struck me as exactly fitting into the current set of “reform” ideas I just sighed and moved to the next e-mail.


Bridging the Higher Education Divide

“In our nation’s struggle to promote social mobility ….education has always been a key driver,” notes the Century Foundation’s president in the foreword to Bridging the Higher Education Divide.  (Can be downloaded free.) Like so many of their reports, the book is useful call for some rethinking about the underfunding of community colleges as well as their impact on racial and class segregation.

Alas, it also rests on a common myth that distorts our understanding of our history.  Colin Greer’s study The Great School Legend (Basic Books, 1972) is old, but not outdated.  Educational mobility largely followed after economic mobility, not before, and blossomed for many American immigrant populations only after the working class became America’s middle class.

Unfortunately soon after Colin’s book appeared the American economy began to reverse itself and the new middle class moved backwards.  And, alas, people of color were just entering the middle class as this new trend picked up speed. The 2008 financial debacle has above all injured the African American and Latino middle class.

Myths are powerful.  They can mislead, and this one has done us much damage.

p.s.  Read this new Century Foundation Report alongside rereading Richard Rothstein’s The Way We Were, also a Century Foundation report from 1998, as well as Colin Greer.

Lillian Weber

Dear readers,

Thanks to Julie Diamond (who, she reminded me, was my grandson’s kindergarten teacher), I have a copy again of The English Infant School and Informal Eduction by Lillian Weber, published 42 years ago!  Teachers and parents of young children should figure out how to get hold of it and pour over its pages. I like the phrase “informal,” which we’ve dropped even in progressive circles.  It fits so well with Lillian’s drive for continuity between home and school communities rather than the relentless current drive to put a wall between the school and the child’s own roots and loved ones. But the latter is not new, and it was what Lillian Weber was fighting against in the 1960s and 70s. It’s the key dilemma we’ve never focused on for long enough, the  ways available that simultaneously strengthen schools AND their families, communities and children. Rather than seeing families as the “cause” of school failure, how might we join with them to celebrate the intellectual and social strengths and affections that children bring with them to school. Thanks, Lillian—as in all her sparse writing, I hear her insistent, no-nonsense voice which carried with it a very different meaning for “no excuses.”   It’s time for rereadng her work and revisiting the practices she encouraged us to seek out—the cracks in the system where we could plant new seeds.

A good place to start is Looking Back and Thinking Forward, edited by Beth Alberty (TC Press).

The Undermining of Democracy

Nicholas Meier

I just got one of those “Surveys” from the Democratic National Party, asking my opinion about the Republican Party and Obama’s record. It also asked me to prioritize my top issues. The issue it did not include is the undermining of and attack on democracy itself in our country.

These attacks come in many forms. While the Republican party and corporate America has led these attacks, the Democrats and Obama have been complicit in most of them as well.

The influence of money on elections and the ludicrous protection of Corporations as “people” are a couple of the most blatant. The attack on public institutions in general is another.


There are the attacks on the public aspects of public schooling—topics I have written much about— such as NCLB and Common Core undermining the democratic running of our schools. The charter school movement (charter schools select their own boards of governance)…

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Rigor Made Easy

“Eye On Education” is offering to sell us the answer to our dreams in a series of 4 new books entitled: “Literacy, Rigor and the Common Core State Standards.” It’s got all the latest buzz words into one short unsurpassable sentence. The one of the four I like best is entitled “Rigor Made Easy”. The inventor of that title deserves a bonus.

Where is Rahm Taking the Schools?

This is an article by my dear friend Don Rose, reprinted from the Chicago Daily Observer, Austust 20, 2013

No One Wants to Go to Charter Schools Anymore, Charter Schools are Too Crowded

by Don Rose

There are so many twists and turns in Rahm Emanuel’s school plans it’s hard to figure out exactly what he has in mind—apart from wrecking the Chicago Teachers Union.  He sure doesn’t seem to be helping the kids, which should be his first order of business.
    As noted in previous tirades, he’s closing about 50 schools and keeps coming up with different reasons why. Economics was the first line until some knowledgeable folk pointed out there would not be that much saving. He also posited that all the kids from closed schools would be going to better performing schools, which turned out to be another fiction. Add the fact that many classroom sizes will swell well beyond anyone’s idea of optimal for learning.
    Earlier he mandated a longer school day so the kids’ basic courses could be enriched with arts and culture. Then came a series of budget cuts that resulted in the firing of more than 3200 teachers and support personnel, causing beleaguered principals to cut staff—paradoxically in the arts and other enrichment areas.
     Thus far he’s turned a deaf ear to parents urging him to use money from his Tax Increment Financing slush fund for schools.  Saving it for developer/donors?
    Ah, but even though he is cutting budget and personnel for regular public schools he magically came up with enough money to open a batch of new charter schools—some of them in areas where he closed down regular public schools.
    Surely by now he must be aware that, on the whole, charters perform no better than traditional public schools—and if we are to look at a dramatic new report from New York, they may even be doing worse.
    New York has been ahead of Chicago in introducing the “Common Core” curriculum—the latest experiment in development of national standards (read “tests”) that are theoretically the embodiment of what every student should know, grade by grade. It is supposed to be an improvement on traditional standardized reading and math tests by trying to teach and measure critical thinking. Not a bad goal in itself, to be sure, but the whole thing is completely unproven and in the eyes of many may be setting impossible goals.
    In any case, New York tested its students on the Common Core curriculum and less than a third of all kids passed in Mayor Bloomberg’s self-proclaimed miracle system. Worse yet, a couple of the largest charter groups, including the highly touted KIPP schools, underperformed the regular public schools at many grade levels. In one KIPP charter only 11percent of 5th graders passed the math test and 16 percent the reading test. Another group of charters passed with flying colors, but even those were outshone by the top public schools.
     So why, with an impoverished school system, is Emanuel picking kids’ pockets to gamble on more charters?
     The only serious rationale for charters is to create successful models that can be proliferated in the public system. Ain’t happening.
     Beyond that it’s either union busting or a step toward privatizing public education.

Success means many things

Dear readers,

Do you regularly read Larry Cuban’s School Reform and Classroom Practice blogs?  It’s worth reading for both topics–policy and practice.  But this week’s,  provocatively titled “Why Common Core Standards Will Succeed” is great!    Be sure to read it from start to finish.

p.s.  I’m also clearing out clothes I don’t wear.  I feel so virtuous.