After the Education Wars: Book Review

After the Education Wars:
How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform
By Andrea Gabor
The New PressGabor

I have been intending to restart my blog for the past year. Laziness and health issues keep me postponing and postponing. But I got something in the mail, from The New Press, that was irresistible, Andre Gabor has written a wonderfully interesting book that includes a lot about our work in New York City—and got me reliving those 20 years. There are some minor inaccuracies that some NYC teachers, and other insiders will catch, but none are important or change the story significantly. But her story helped refresh my memory; and her analysis is spot on. She “gets it.” There’s a good deal about Ann Cook’s (who founded Urban Academy in the Julia Richmond Complex) work with the Consortium. There is also a section on work in the surrounding Massachusetts area, and on other fascinating projects in other locales about which I knew nothing. I wish I had.

I learned a lot of important things in the chapter on Massachusetts, although she did not cover the work that Tom Payzant (Boston’s superintendent while I was there) as the founder of the Pilot Schools in Boston aside from a few bare mentions.

Her book also coves a fascinating story from Leander, Texas and the charter take-over in New Orleans. I was surprised. It was not just that it is fun to read about oneself—she made it fun and instructive to read about other people’s work too.

The subtitle of the book is: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform. Nice. And she reminds me that even I was once an enthusiastic fan of a famous business guru, Edward Deming. I even briefly thought that we might be in one of those periods where parts of the business world would split over to our side and thus we would be a formidable school reform movement. Not because one of us was being misled. We were entering a new period of history which made both the factory model of business and of school obsolete. I don’t regret my naivete—it was fun and we did good work, as graduates of our many schools remind me.

Alas, the democratic impulses behind Deming’s work and ours was the first to be abandoned in favor of a vision of the future in which centralized decision making would become even more dominant. Sometimes this new deform used the same language of empowerment and critical thinking while actually espousing the opposite with technology supporting standardization rather than “standards.” Real standards, of the type espoused by Ted Sizer, John Goodlad, Vito Perrone, Linda Darling-Hammond an Lillian Weber and many other early school reformers was an entirely different animal. It grew out of a deep investment in looking deeply into the quality of the work—with a special transparent connection between practice and purpose.

Democracy, even the limited kind we are accustomed to in the USA, is imperiled today everywhere. While we may always have been an oligarchy with democratic features, those features were very important and laid the basis for a future in which the balance of power between the citizenry and the oligarchy was tilted in favor of democracy. It looks bleaker these days (partly because one of the few powerful alternate centers of power is missing: the labor movement, but that I another, if not unrelated topic).

It was obvious to many of us that spending those critical 12 years in schools which were models of top down decision-making, above all in schools intended for the majority of citizens, was not likely to develop democratic habits. Young people spend years and yeas watching adults who had only surreptitious power over their own working lives, and where not following the rules is as dangerous for the adults as it is for the kids. Maye more so.

What I noticed first and foremost when I started subbing in Chicago public schools was the prevalence of fear –as though a riot might at any moment break out. As young people were spending many more years in school rather than the work place was, as I soon realized, not as beneficial for ordinary working-class kids as it was intended to be. Going to work was, for most, liberating compared to the tedium of the 9-3 school day, times 180!

Could it be otherwise? Private schools, and some suburban schools intended for ruling class children had quite a different climate—more akin to the relationships amongst adults that we expect in a democratic society. Just making our other schools more like the Daltons and Fieldstons for the rich would be a huge step forward—although it rests in part upon spending more money per child. In short: I, and other like-minded folk, did not have to invent what an education would look like if everyone was expected to join the ruling class. Such an educational model already existed and had been used successfully for many decades.

Maybe Gabor “gets it” because she sends her own children to such liberating—intellectually and socially—schools. In fact, the very same one I went to. She went in a different direction career wise than I did—but lo and behold we come up with many of the same conclusions and solutions. Meanwhile we both are probably hoping that we can retain those precious democratic “features” long enough to see a resurgence of a school reform movement aimed at increasing the odds in favor of a democratic society.

Gabor is, by the way, a business writer, currently the Bloomberg Chair of Business Journalism at Baruch College, and formerly an editor at U.S. News and World Report, Business Weekand more. Her background may account for those interesting disagreements we have, as well as differences in interpreting this or that event. Or it might even sometimes be because she is right and I am wrong.

My latest books

MEIER_GASOI_TheseSchools_FINALEmily Gasoi and I published last fall These Schools Belong to You and Me: Beacon Press, and so we have been busy promoting it around the country.

 

 

 


 

beyond_testing-332pxI will mention again that Matthew Knoester and I had a book published by TC Press last summer:  Beyond Testing: 7 Assessments of Students and Schools More Effective Than Standardized Tests.  And, by the way, more compatible with the purposes of schools.

 

 

Fall Reading Part II

Her are some more excellent books about issues in current education that I want to recommend:

RobinsoonCreative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. By Ken Robinson.
The second part of the title puzzles me, as I do not see education currently being transformed this way (I wish!). But the book itself is a wise one, and his work on schools is very popular. When such sensible good ideas are popularized I am particularly pleased. His TED talk on imagination and education is the most viewed TED talk of all time. See it as well.


Goyal

Schools on Trial.  How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice. By Nikhil Goyal. 
Goyal is on the Fairtest board where I have gotten to know and respect his ideas and work. I have just begun reading it, and so far I would highly recommend it.


rooks_bookCutting School: Privatization. Segregation, and the End of Public Education.  By Nowile Roots.
I am halfway through and I have turned down dozens of pages to remember to reread.

 


ReadinessRethinking Readiness: Deeper Learning for College, Work and Life. Edited by Rafael Heller, Rebecca Wolfe and Adria Steinberg.
A collection of essays that help tie together “vocational” education and citizenship in an interesting way.

 


MIntzSchool’s Over: How to Have Freedom and Democracy in Education. By Jerry Mintz
As the leader of the Free School movement’s AERO, Jerry and I have argued for years about the role of children in governance. But we have also agreed about much else. This book explores democracy and education in another of context—each of which are tackled as they help us explore the meaning of democracy.


KoretzThe Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. By Daniel Koretz
Koretz is a well-known testing expert from Harvard and he thoroughly demolishes the pretenses of high stakes standardized testing. Read this then Beyond Testing (that I wrote with Matt Knoester). Oddly, to me, Koretz remains a supporter of standardized testing but argues we need better ones.


 

I’ll stop here – more later.  I would love it if anyone has something to say about any of the above that might interest other readers.

And remember my two new books: These Schools Belong to You and Me with Emily Gasoi,  and Beyond Testing with Matt Knoester!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Fall Reading on Education

MEIER_GASOI_TheseSchools_FINALEmily Gasoi and I have just published These Schools Belong to You and Me: Beacon Press, and so we have been busy promoting it on the east coast.  This reminds me how much writers are anxious, not just for monetary reasons, to have readers, reactions, feedback, reviews, even denunciations. So it is time to do the same for the books some of my colleagues have written lately.

 


beyond_testing-332pxI will mention again that Matthew Knoester and I had a book published by TC Press over the summer:  Beyond Testing: 7 Assessments of Students and Schools More Effective Than Standardized Tests.  And, by the way, more compatible with the purposes of schools.

 

 


gritWhen Grit Isn’t Enough: Beacon Press. Linda Nathan was the founder and director of The Boston Art Academy, a wonderful innovative Boston high school. She has written an amazing book which, at its heart, tells the stories of young people and how schools mattered to them. She explores, through these stories, the dangerous benign sounding myths that underline the current deform movement.  READ

 


MerrowAddicted to Reform. A 12-Step Program to Rescue Pubic Education. The New Press. John Merrow of PBS’s The Merrow Report has been a steadfast media ally of most everything I care about. He has written a book with some important “don’ts” and some powerful “dos”.

 


Nieto_Brooklyn_Dreams_webBrooklyn Dreams: My Life in Public Education. Harvard Education Press. Sonia Nieto is a hero of mine and so this book of memoirs has made for a very good read.  If you do or do not know her work I think this is an important read.

 

 


In my next blog I have several other new and great books to tell you about!

My newest books and other news

Dear friends and colleagues,

Catching up on two months since I last wrote!

My book with Emily Gasoi, These Schools Belong To You and Me, from Beacon Press, is shortly going to appear in your local bookstore or however you buy books! Maybe libraries soon. And at some point in audible form.

The book traces, in alternating chapters, our experiences in public schools and the challenge it poses for educating a democracy. As we confront a massively well-funded campaign to privatize our nation’s schools, using the monies now directed at public schools, we hope the book will provide useful stories and arguments for public education. It rests on an account of work we have both done.

Read it, talk about it–make it controversial by even disagreeing with us– and review it, use it in a course you’re teaching!

I will be doing some talks here and there during the coming months. Check my site for dates and places.  If you have ideas, email me.

ALSO

In June Teachers College Press published Beyond Testing which was written by Matthew Knoester and me. Matthew did most of the work; thanks Matt. We were colleagues at Mission Hill. Matthew is now a professor at Ripon College. The book describes seven better ways to assess students and schools.

Other news: My grandson Ezra got married. It was a great wedding!

I had a stent put into an artery and I got Lyme disease–leaving my co-authors high and dry once again.

The Democratic Socialists of America, which was started in my living room ages ago–more than quadrupled or more in size.  Thanks Bernie.

Rediscovered the use of laughter when your enemies give you a chance. But I am also scared about what the years ahead will bring–including possibly ending public education. Like democracy. We have not so gradually made leaps away from our already flawed democracy but we’re probably best described as an oligarchy with democratic features.

But…we are resisting, rethinking and I hope we will see tangible results in fall 2018

Deb

P.S. I’ll append comments about other people’s book that I like in a week or so.

Beyond Testing

Dear Friends and Family,

I want to let you know that my new book, Beyond Testing: Seven Assessments of Students and Schools More Effective Than Standardized Tests is out and is currently being offered at a discount by TC Press!

beyond_testing-332px

Below is a description of the book :

Beyond Testing describes seven forms of assessment that are more effective than standardized test results: (1) student self-assessments, (2) direct teacher observations of students and their work, (3) descriptive reviews of the child, (4) reading and math interviews with children, (5) portfolios and public defense of student work, (6) school reviews and observations by outside professionals, and (7) school boards and town meetings. These assessments are more honest about what we can and cannot know about children’s knowledge, skills, and dispositions, and are more adaptable to varying educational missions. Readers can compare and contrast each approach and make informed decisions about what is most appropriate for their school.

Click here to visit the online book page. Please note that there is a 20% discount when using the code “TCP2017.” Exam copies for text adoption are available by clicking here.

My Upcoming Books

Dear friends,

I have not written since December 2016. On this page I mean. Actually I have been writing a lot on demand so this frivolous web page (or whatever it is called) has been ignored.

I am faithfully writing a weekly Bridging Differences exchange with Harry Boyte on our EdWeek blog, while involved in various degrees on three books that I claim to be co-authoring. One, the work primarily of a former Mission Hill colleague Matthew Knoester, is now pretty much finished and Teachers College Press will be printing it soonish. It is on alternative forms of assessment to standardized testing that are more accurate, more useful and in keeping with the democratic spirit and intent of schooling. No number can sum us up, and the presumption of experts in data ad technology to think that is possible has an old and dishonorable history.

The second book is the product of examining my own work which led to a collaboratively reframed idea with another Mission Hill colleague, Emily Gasoi. It will (we hope) appear next fall under the title This School Belongs to You and Me. Publisher, Beacon Press. We are both worn out and excited about it. It is a dialogue about the issues that have bedeviled me for fifty or more years. We explore together how schools can be a force for nourishing democracy or for squelching it. If it is not visible in our schools, where else can the young see it played ?

The third is still in the formative stage. Two colleagues (Shane Safir and Matt Alexander, the founders of June Jordan high school in San Francisco) are putting together the stories and thoughts of colleagues who have intentionally tried to create democratically governed schools—stories with sometimes not so happy endings. We hope to figure out, as we read them, what wisdom they may offer us as we, each in our own domain, carry on the fight to build a more perfect democracy. ASCD is interested and we have collective some great stores and are still playing around with how to present them and others we hope will contribute. (While also being as active as we can in the critical fight to prevent what we have from disappearing altogether under Trump.)

More on that activism in my next blog. In the meantime, be on the lookout for my aforementioned upcoming books!