Why all the ranking?

Have you noticed how the media insists on ranking everything?  Are they responding to a public interes or to their own?  Or some combination.
Must we rank colleges, for example? There is a difference between transparency, and even “comparing” versus ranking and the difference is fundamental.  The vey idea of “the best” involves risks, above all in a democracy where we are trying to honor, not rank, differences.
Ever since my daughter chided me on warm summer day for leaping into my pond and shouting out, “This is the best pond in the world,” I have been getting more cautious.  I now shout it only when I’m alone.

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

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.)