The Annenberg Grant: A Lost Opportunity

 

I just recently reread The New York Network for School Renewal: A Proposal to the Annenberg Foundation. This was the early 1990s. It was quite amazing. It was approved not only by the Annenbergs, but by the then Chancellor, Mayor, State Commissioner, Board Chairman, President of the UFT, and three partner school-based organizations with rather varied political and educational agendas. We were ready to launch an experimental district of 50,000 students at its maximum and 150 or so schools with fiscal support for five years (nearly 100 schools were already launched). We had agreed upon freedom from all but a few Board, City, State and Union rules, a plan for documentation by both NYU and Teacher College, both ethnographic and statistical. We committed ourselves to serving a population demographically comparable to the city as a whole.

But it never got off the ground because a new Chancellor vetoed it. We got the money—50 million over 5 years—but not the agreed upon autonomies to learn what we needed to learn.

It was a lost opportunity, but it sent me on my way to Boston to join a much smaller and more modest plan developed by the Boston Teachers Union and the Boston Public Schools called the Pilot Project. The Pilot Project was fun, modestly successful, and far less well funded. While it has grown it has lost a lot of its promise as attention shifted to a combination of centralized planning, privatization and anti-union media. I had fun starting a Pilot K-8, Mission Hill, school that is still going strong. No regrets about that. You can see Good Morning Mission Hill on my website and on YouTube for some happy moments.

But we lost the moment to make the case for true accontablity—changes that might change everything that needed changing.

 

 

 

 

Personalization

My latest gripe. How the word “personal” has shifted its meaning so that machines are now programmed to pretend to be people in personal contact with children.

Is there any word or phrase left to us to describe authentic human relationships? And how might we define it so that we can differentiate the one from the other? Meanwhile, BEWARE any conferences, speeches or programs that claim to be promoting “personalized learning.”

Ron Wolk, the original publisher of Ed Week, has a good piece on this in the January 6th issue of his old paper (link).  He describes what we all used to think the phrase “personalized learning” meant and how it was, and in some places is still, practiced. He ends with a warning: “The reason nothing important changes in education is because if one significant change is made, everything would have to change.” That is why Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools laid out ten principles that went together for real change to occur. Many signed on, few got very far, and some of those who went the furthest were murdered along the way. But we need to revisit the ones that have survived and the ones that have started lately. We need a way to keep these principles, and the schools that represent them even incompletely, alive—in one way or another. They won’t all look alike and to live in today’s world they have each made some compromises. But even in a perfect world there would be trade-offs.  That is the ornery and also wonderful nature of institutions designed by the people who will live in them.

 

Small Self-Governing Schools of Choice Revisited

Dear friends,

I spent three days last month in Texas with the North Dakota Study Group (NDSG) in its new form—much younger (maybe a dozen “oldsters” of whom I think I was the oldest), probably half or more people of color (more Hispanic than Africa-American this time).   While we were kept too busy to reflect together on our experiences than I would have liked, the conversations we did have were both reassuring and insightful. I came away bursting with questions to explore. And with new colleagues and friends.

One thing I was thinking about was how my views about “small, self-governing schools of choice” has held up since the early 1970s when the NDSG was formed.  I think I would exclude the last—choice. It is not that I am now opposed to choice, but I see that my position is really “it depends.” “It depends” is my latest position on many things. But small and self-governing remain—although self-governing has gotten more complicated.  Who are the constituents of that “self”? I have discovered a new word—subsidiarity—that Catholic friends introduced me to. It means that decisions should be made by those most affected by them!

My central purpose through it all has been figuring out what best supports democracy versus what makes it easier to undermine it—while simultaneously educating each other. Inequality of power is our greatest enemy.

It is on the firm ground of communal responsibility, in which all have had equal voice—that democracy rests. When community members know each other and share some critical common spaces—like schools, post offices, libraries, etc.—and some critical common interests—such as what happens to your kids happens to mine—that democracy has a fighting chance. Without such mutuality democracy can simply become a fight over who can win an advantage without regard for the losers.

Is this too idealistic?  Maybe, maybe not. We have to recapture, I believe, the spirit of democracy writ small until we can truly start re-installing it writ large. That is why I have always supported small schools. Small schools make easer that face-to-face communal spirit and realistic communal responsibility for those besides oneself (and those most closely connected). It does not magically cure selfishness and greed, but it gives generosity and trust a chance to take root.

Those “communities” ideally should cross typical racial and class boundaries; but equally important, they need roots that outlast this or that single cause. In today’s world “communities” are too often built on a single interest, be it recreational, occupational or political. But those communities hold together only as long as that single interest holds. ”Home turf” can be a stronger shared turf—which neighborhood institutions (libraries, schools, playgrounds, et al) reinforce. Whether schools should be integrated at the expense of neighborhoods is a complex issue and I am leaning the other way of late. In a largely society, spreading kids—especially Black and Latino kids—around in other neighborhood seems disruptive of democracy and spreading middle class white kids around largely Black and Latino schools seems hopeless.

I am hoping we can do some thinking aloud about this dilemma. In the meantime “choice” has taken on a largely market-place meaning which inevitably increased class and race isolation. Is there a third alternative—since choice has so many obvious attractions?

Deb

 

 

The Time Has Come…

The Time Has Come…

…to get back to writing about what’s happening. I am preparing for my granddaughter’s wedding a week from Sunday (at my place in Hillsdale). I am working on a project (book) with Emily Gasoi that hopefully takes a useful look at the past half-century of school “reform” as it relates to democracy. And just got a copy of a book edited by Matthew Knoester, Kathy Clunis D’Andrea and myself called Teaching in Themes, An Approach to Schoolwide Learning, Creating Community and Differentiating Instruction. TC Press, just arriving in the store(s).

Then yesterday an old friend dropped by—Fred Bay—and obsessed with me about the state of the planet Earth. He is right—it is not an issue that can wait until we better educate another generation. It is this generation of adults or else.

So why am I ignoring it? It doesn’t even matter what/who “caused it.” The only thing that matters is who is going to turn it around if not us. Why do I avoid it?

Because I find it much more comforting to stick with what I know best, and which seems do-able: creating schools that might protect the future of the democratic idea.

But if there’s no future…..?

So I have five immediate projects: (1) enjoy my granddaughter’s wedding, 2) work on the book Emily and I are writing, 3) figure out how we can better define what a public education is and how we can defend it—and maybe how that can fit into our thinking about the future of the Coalition of Essential Schools, 4) think about my health—as well as being sure to swim every morning, and now…FIVE

Putting some part of my energy and mind to saving the planet for humans and other living things.

Suggestions welcome.

Deborah

June 4th: THE DEBORAH W. MEIER HEROES IN EDUCATION AWARD

Lewis-Botstein invite

For more information and to order your tickets, please go to

http://www.fairtest.org/fairtest-to-honor-karen-lewis-and-leon-botstein

Laura H. Chapman: Drowning in Standards

Passing this on!

Diane Ravitch's blog

Laura H. Chapman, a retired teacher and curriculum advisor in the arts, posted this comment:

People who work in the “orphaned subjects” have a long history of playing tag-a-long to subjects deemed to be “core.” There is a persistent hope that writing standards in great detail will some how get you a bit more curriculum time.
Just published standards in Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Art, and Media Studies (new discipline) seem to have been written in the wild hope that all of the standards will be tested with “authentic” assessments.

These standards are grade-specific, starting in Pre-K. The standards come to a screeching halt in high school, with three levels defining studies: Proficient, Accomplished, and Advanced. The writers of the standards wanted a parallel structure for each art form.

I have seen the standards for the visual arts and media arts, Each of these art forms has acquired 234 standards…

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Learning Modalities

My son NIck’s Latest blog

Nicholas Meier

There is a common belief in education that knowing one’s, or one’s students’, preferred learning modality is important or at least helpful in designing learning strategies for ourselves or them. When I do a search of learning modalities I find dozens of articles in educational journals about how to use this information and why it is important. The interesting thing is that the empirical evidence does not support the claim, despite its popularity. And this lack of support is not for lack of investigation.

modalities

First I want to be clear on what learning modalities are and are not. They are basically the receptive modes of taking in the world, of learning—most commonly aural (hearing,), visual (seeing), and kinesthetic (feeling, touching). These are not to be confused with learning styles (of which there are many versions) such as field dependent or independent, liking to work alone or with others, risk-avoidant or…

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