Wednesday, December 10, 2008

FINAL EXAM Tuesday, December 16, 8:30-11 am

Submit ALL work on your portfolio/final grade sheet.

Due by 11 am Tuesday, December 16.

Email with questions, etc.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

Trouble doing your essays?

Maybe this can explain some of the angst experienced with essay assignments:

The Term Paper Artist

Friday, November 28, 2008

On the Radio

I believe I will be a guest on Speaking of Schools this Monday, December 1.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Charter schools failing in Minnesota

A new report shows a serious failure by charter schools in Minnesota, home of the longest running experiment with charter schools.

See this news piece.

See the report here as a PDF.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

One more schedule reminder—some small changes

M 11/24: Workshop with Peer Group; SUBMIT ESSAY BEFORE HOLIDAY BREAK

W 11/26: Thanksgiving Holiday

F 11/28: Thanksgiving Holiday

M 12/1: Essay discussion (have your essay available in class, laptop or hardcopy)

W 12/3: Essay discussion (have your essay available in class, laptop or hardcopy)

F 12/5: Virtual School Visits Report

M 12/8: "Choices for Children," Alfie Kohn

T 12/16: 8:30, Final Portfolio/ Exam

High-poverty students with low-knowledge teachers

The Education Trust has yet another study showing that teacher quality is lower for our students in poverty than for our more affluent students. See the full report in PDF version in a link on the right of the press release.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How useful are school report cards?

School report cards, not all they may seem to be. See this article in the NYT.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

All the Presdient's Children. . .

What do we see in this Op-Ed concerning DC schools and a new President choosing school for his children?

DC Schools Just Not Good Enough, Leonard Pitts Jr.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Flock of Dodos discussion support

Thomas Jefferson claimed: "The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees, in every object, only the traits which favor that theory."



Discovery Institute

Can you define?:




The Scientific Method



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Academic and Intellectual Freedom in the Classroom

How the survey played out:

1) I remain quiet in class discussions because I am concerned that my ideas and beliefs may be different than those of my teacher/professor and that such a difference will negatively impact my grade.

Never (8) Rarely (21) Occasionally (20) Often (7) Always

2) When I talk in class discussions, I express ideas and beliefs that are similar to the teacher/professor’s even though the ideas and beliefs are not necessarily my ideas and beliefs because I am concerned that my ideas and beliefs may be different than those of my teacher/professor and that such a difference will negatively impact my grade.

Never (14) Rarely (25) Occasionally (13) Often (4) Always

3) On written test/exams, I express ideas and beliefs that are similar to the teacher/professor’s even though the ideas and beliefs are not necessarily my ideas and beliefs because I am concerned that my ideas and beliefs may be different than those of my teacher/professor and that such a difference will negatively impact my grade.

Never (8) Rarely (14) Occasionally (18) Often (11) Always (5)

4) My teachers/professors are aware of their own assumptions and biases, and they make serious efforts not to allow their ideas and beliefs to impact negatively how they grade their students.

Never Rarely (7) Occasionally (19) Often (25) Always (4)

5) Most students express (orally and in writing) primarily what they believe teachers/professors want to hear/read instead of saying or writing ideas and comments that may contradict the teacher/professor because students fear differences of opinion negatively impact students’ grades.

Never Rarely (2) Occasionally (18) Often (34) Always (2)

6) I am more likely to change my views by what my peers believe or say than what my teachers/professors believe or say.

Never (4) Rarely (17) Occasionally (17) Often (16) Always (2)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Reminders and FINAL Schedule

F 11/7: Class discussion, text readings

M 11/10: Flock of Dodos DVD; see link

W 11/12: Flock of Dodos cont.; discussion

F 11/14: Hersch, Tribe DUE; discussion

Questions for Hersch:
a) What were some of the reasons Hersch wrote this book? In other words, what kinds of questions about adolescents did she want to answer?
b) Choose one of the adolescents that Hersch focuses on. Describe them and their hopes, fears, and problems.
c) What conclusions does Hersch draw about adolescents in general?
d) What does this book tell us about either how our educational system works or how it should work?

M 11/17: Hersch, Tribe discussion

W 11/19: Virtual School, submit school choices; discuss assignment in class:

Virtual School Observations (12 hrs.):
Choose one school EACH from schools in Greenville County consisting of the following categories: elementary, middle, high, and other (career centers, child development centers, Governor’s school).

Do a virtual visit of each school that must include at least the following:

• Exploration of the most recent three consecutive years of that schools state report card.
• Analysis of the school’s web page. (See “Webculture” guidelines and read “School culture on the Internet” by Daniel Doerger, both provided on the course CD.)

Prepare a one-page handout on each school and make a brief presentation on what you learned (presentations due December 3 and 5).

F 11/21: Workshop with Peer Group; Share your essay with each member of your peer group; also submit your essay to your Peer Expert by the following guidelines:

Peer Experts:

Group 1: Jeff Heinzl
Group 2: Laura-Ann Jacobs
Group 3: Amanda Pepper
Group 4: Laura Johnson931
Group 5: Alison Flowers

M 11/24: Workshop with Peer Group; SUBMIT ESSAY BEFORE HOLIDAY BREAK

W 11/26: Thanksgiving Holiday

F 11/28: Thanksgiving Holiday

M 12/1: Essay discussion

W 12/3: Virtual School Visits Report

F 12/5: Virtual School Visits Report

M 12/8: "Choices for Children," Alfie Kohn

T 12/16: 8:30, Final Portfolio/ Exam

Next Education Secretary under Obama

Read this.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Do we remain biased in America?

Interesting Op-Ed in The State; note the two tests you can take on-line to identify your biases:

What? Me biased?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rethinking the Course at Midterm

Thank you all for your feedback about the course at the halfway mark. Here are some thoughts in response and some ideas for how we should proceed (mixed in are some observations gleened from your midterm exams as well):

• We should look at how states are comparable (or not) based on standards and testing; this ties in with NCLB and other issue we have addressed. See this link from the Fordham Institute.

• What are at-risk students? And what should we do about them?

• Teaching as a career—pros, cons, and such.

• Types of schools: public, private, charter, magnet. . .

• More focus on the text—What is important?

• More on certification, alternative certification, and other avenues to teaching. Look at the Furman Education Department web page, the NCATE web site, and the SC Department of Education.

• More on the theories and practices (pedagogy) in teaching.

• More on poverty, and addressing it in schools.

• How to manage the real-world (that is traditional) if you are a nontraditional teacher?

• Teacher evaluation and retention.

• More on educational thinkers (like Freire and Kozol), except including the more traditional thinkers. See the link to Meirer and Ravitch for more on this. Some conservative/traditional educational thinkers to explore: Diane Ravitch, E. D. Hirsch, B. F. Skinner, Chester Finn.

• School choice, vouchers, etc. See this link to NCSPE for research on these topics.

Now, some responses. . .:

• I recognize that our textbook has a huge amount of information. I do not ascribe to the belief that there is a fixed amount of knowledge you must "learn"; therefore, I do not worry about "covering the right things" (those ideas are supported by Hirsch noted above). So I am not trying to identify for you the "right" material. Be patient. I believe you are learning a great deal of important things, but we will never learn everything. . .

• I will help with guidelines foe "graded" work, but please ask. If you do not ask, I am comfortable with you experimenting.

• Your writing needs to be MORE SPECIFIC. Your beginnings are vague and lifeless—push yourself to be specific and interesting from the first words. We'll work on this.

• I also recognize that I do not impose as much structure as you want (or feel you want). That is intentional. That is my educational philosophy so I try to practice what I preach. I believe you should create and follow the structure you want and need. But I certainly am available for input to help you make those decisions.

School Vouchers and Religious Freedom

Education professor Scott Henderson has an excellent Op-Ed in The Greenville News today:

School vouchers endanger religious freedom

Friday, October 17, 2008

REMINDER at Midterm!


Reading assignments (e-journals):

You should have major text reading completed BEFORE the week of the assignment, and you should submit a written e-journal (by email) as a response to that reading due BEFORE Wednesday @ 10:30 AM. Put the text reading in your SUBJECT line (ex. Chapter 1, Webb) and submit your response in the BODY of the email; DO NOT SEND AS AN ATTACHMENT. Many prefer to do text responses in Word; then copy and paste into email body.
[ ] Pt. 1—The Teaching Profession (Webb, 1-2)
[ ] Pt. 2—Philosophy and Its Impact on the Schools (Webb, 3-4)
[ ] Pt. 3—Historical Foundations of Education (Webb, 5-7)
[ ] Pt. 4—Schooling in a Diverse and Multicultural Society (Webb, 8-10)
[ ] Pt. 5—Legal and Political Control and Financial Support (Webb, 11-13)
[ ] Pt. 6—Curriculum and Instruction (Webb, 14-15)
[ ] Pt. 7—Projections for the Future (Webb, 16)

Supplemental Texts:

[ ] Kozol, J. (2008). Letters to a young teacher. TBD.

[ ] Hersch, P. (1999). A Tribe apart: A journey into the heart of American adolescence. New York: Ballentine Books.

Field Component:

[ ] Virtual School Observations (12 hrs.)
[ ] School Board Observation (2 hrs.)
[ ] Tutoring/ Reflection (12 hrs.)

Class-based Assessments:

[ ] Mid-term self-evaluation/course evaluation

Group Presentation:

Students in arranged groups will present to the class an educational issue or topic. These presentations should last between 16-20 minutes, and will be graded on concision, thoroughness, and clarity. Topics must be approved by the professor one week before presentation dates.

Essay on Education:

Prepare a scholarly, documented essay on the topic you chose for your group presentation. This should be documented in appropriate APA format (See Conventional Language web link on the course blog). You should consult your professor during the drafting of this essay; an initial draft of the final essay must be submitted at least two weeks before the final due date. Essay is due by the end of the course (exam date).

Final Portfolio

Submit all work in a final portfolio on the final exam date, December 16, 2008 (final portfolio is your final exam). Use this grade sheet to submit work; be sure to organize and include all work designated on this sheet.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Diversity and Tolerance in Schools?

Consider this study on harassment.

Who is to blame. . .?

Consider the influence of wealth/poverty when we consider health:

Family Income Impacts Children's Health

Child-health report shows wide gaps according to wealth, education

Note the study itself:

America's Health Starts With Healthy Children

A snapshot of each state is also available if you scroll down on the link above.

Midterm and course evaluation

Please complete the course evaluation and turn that in ASAP.

Midterm (DUE Monday, October 20, 2008):

• Email as an attachment; name file "yourlastname.EDU111midterm.doc"

• Exam prompt:

Discuss in three or so pages how EDU 111 has impacted so far your assumptions brought to this course related to teaching, learning, and schools.

Please be specific about the assumptions you brought into the course and how the course has led you to ask questions or change your views.

Be sure to include discussions and references to your text readings, Kozol’s book, class discussions, supplemental readings provided on your course web page, tutoring, and group presentations.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Supplemental Book Assignments—A Reminder

Kozol is now DUE Wed 10/15/08; the assignment per your syllabus:

Book Questions:
You will need to answer the following study questions for the supplemental books (Kozol and Hersch). Your answers should be typed, if possible. They are due on the dates we are scheduled to discuss the books in class:

Questions for Kozol:
a) What are some key suggestions made by Kozol for young teachers?
b) What philosophical and ideological commitments drive Kozol’s discussion?
c) Does this book tell us anything about how our educational system works? If so, what?
d) If you had to give the book a different title, what would it be? Why?


What is failure?

Great Op-Ed in The State.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To consider. . .

Paulo Freire (1998), Pedagogy of Freedom

“If I consider myself superior to what is different, no matter what it is, I am refusing to listen. The different becomes not an ‘other’ worthy of any respect, but a ‘this’ or ‘that’ to be despised and detested. This is oppression” (p. 108)

“It is this: If education cannot do everything, there is something fundamental that it can do. In other words, if education is not the key to social transformation, neither is it simply meant to reproduce the dominant ideology” (p. 110)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Schedule Adjustments: October 6-October 17

M, Oct 6: Group work IN-CLASS to prepare for presenting

W, Oct 8: Group presentations (volunteers, then lottery)

F, Oct 10: Group presentations (volunteers, then lottery)

M, Oct 13: Group presentations [IF needed]; Kozol, Letters discussion in-class; Kozol proof DUE

W, Oct 15: Kozol, Letters discussion in-class

F, Oct 17: Mid-term (guidelines will be provided)

Monday, September 29, 2008

SAT. . .and schools behind bars

Flawed Assumptions Undergird SAT

Best schools behind bars? (Thanks to Rick for alerting me to this. Consider this in light of the "new" paternalism.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Schedule change F, M, W (9/26, 9/29, 10/1)


F (9/26): NO CLASS; Read for next week: (1) “What These Children Are Like,” Ralph Ellison; and (2) "An Appeal to Authority"; MEET WITH YOUR GROUP

M (9/29): Continue discussion of poverty and education, including discussion of readings from 9/26

W (10/1): Continue discussion of poverty and education, including discussion of readings from 9/26; APA documentation

Monday, September 22, 2008

Corridor of Shame—to consider

Look at the report cards here and here.

And the Poverty Index in SC schools.

Keep in mind Kozol's question about the purpose of public education as well.

What is "social justice"?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Consider this Op-Ed as we discuss poverty and education in the coming weeks.

Some sources for considering poverty:

Institute for Research on Poverty

SC Legal Justice Center

Poverty in America (Penn State)

US Census Bureau (2007 data)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

What can we see in this discussion of assessment?

All educators have philosophical and theoretical lenses through which they teach and learn. What philosophical and theoretical assumptions are embedded in this discussion of assessment:

Self-Assessment: Students "Know" Better

Now compare the above with this Op-Ed from a member of the State Board of Education in SC:

PACT replacement could be better

And, FYI, an interesting change of viewpoints from a politician, this Op-Ed in The State.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

McCain and Education

Read an article here.

Obama and Education

Obama details education improvement plan
Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama outlined his plan for education, including doubling funding for charter schools as well as supporting merit pay and increased accountability for teachers. "If we're going to make a real and lasting difference for our future, we have to be willing to move beyond the old arguments of left and right and take meaningful, practical steps to build an education system worthy of our children and our future," Obama said. USA TODAY/Associated Press (9/9) , Google/Associated Press (9/9) , Chicago Sun-Times (9/9)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Poverty and School Reform (NYT article)

The New York Times, September 7, 2008 (Sunday Magazine)

24/7 School Reform

In an election season when Democrats find themselves unusually unified on everything from tax policy to foreign affairs, one issue still divides them: education. It is a surprising fault line, perhaps, given the party’s long dominance on the issue. Voters consistently say they trust the Democrats over the Republicans on education, by a wide margin. But the split in the party is real, deep and intense, and it shows no signs of healing any time soon.

On one side are the members of the two huge teachers’ unions and the many parents who support them. To them, the big problem in public education is No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law. Teachers have many complaints about the law: it encourages “teaching to the test” at the expense of art, music and other electives, they say; it blames teachers, especially those in inner-city schools, for the poor performance of disadvantaged children; and it demands better results without providing educators with the resources they need.

On the other side are the party’s self-defined “education reformers.” Members of this group — a loose coalition of mayors and superintendents, charter-school proponents and civil rights advocates — actually admire the accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind, although they often criticize the law’s implementation. They point instead to a bigger, more systemic crisis. These reformers describe the underperformance of the country’s schoolchildren, and especially of poor minorities, as a national crisis that demands a drastic overhaul of the way schools are run. In order to get better teachers into failing classrooms, they support performance bonuses, less protection for low-performing teachers, alternative certification programs to attract young, ambitious teachers and flexible contracts that could allow for longer school days and an extended school year. The unions see these proposals as attacks on their members’ job security — which, in many ways, they are.

As the fall campaign and a new school year begin, both the unionists and the reformers find themselves distracted by the same question: Which side is Barack Obama on? Each camp has tried to claim him as its own — and Obama, for his part, has done his best to make it easy for them. He reassures the unions by saying he will reform No Child Left Behind so teachers will no longer “be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests,” and he placates reformers by calling himself a “strong champion of charter schools.” The reformers point to his speech in July to the National Education Association, during which he was booed, briefly, for endorsing changes to teachers’ compensation structure. The unionists, in turn, emphasize his speech a week later to the American Federation of Teachers, during which he said, “I am tired of hearing you, the teachers who work so hard, blamed for our problems.” On blogs and at conferences, the two sides have continued to snipe at each other, all the while parsing Obama’s speeches and policy pronouncements, looking for new clues to his true positions.

It’s possible, though, that both camps are looking in the wrong place for answers. What is most interesting and novel about Obama’s education plans is how much they involve institutions other than schools.

The American social contract has always identified public schools as the one place where the state can and should play a role in the process of child-rearing. Outside the school’s walls (except in cases of serious abuse or neglect), society is seen to have neither a right nor a responsibility to intervene. But a new and growing movement of researchers and advocates has begun to argue that the longstanding and sharp conceptual divide between school and not-school is out of date. It ignores, they say, overwhelming evidence of the impact of family and community environments on children’s achievement. At the most basic level, it ignores the fact that poor children, on average, arrive in kindergarten far behind their middle-class peers. There is evidence that schools can do a lot to erase that divide, but the reality is that most schools do not. If we truly want to counter the effects of poverty on the achievement of children, these advocates argue, we need to start a whole lot earlier and do a whole lot more.

The three people who have done the most to propel this nascent movement are James J. Heckman, Susan B. Neuman and Geoffrey Canada — though each of them comes at the problem from a different angle, and none of them would necessarily cite the other two as close allies. Heckman, an occasional informal Obama adviser, is an economist at the University of Chicago, and in a series of recent papers and books he has developed something of a unified theory of American poverty. More than ever before, Heckman argues, the problem of persistent poverty is at its root a problem of skills — what economists often call human capital. Poor children grow into poor adults because they are never able, either at home or at school, to acquire the abilities and resources they need to compete in a high-tech service-driven economy — and Heckman emphasizes that those necessary skills are both cognitive (the ability to read and compute) and noncognitive (the ability to stick to a schedule, to delay gratification and to shake off disappointments). The good news, Heckman says, is that specific interventions in the lives of poor children can diminish that skill gap — as long as those interventions begin early (ideally in infancy) and continue throughout childhood.

What kind of interventions? Well, that’s where the work of Susan Neuman becomes relevant. In 2001, Neuman, an education scholar at the University of Michigan, was recruited to a senior position in George W. Bush’s Department of Education, helping to oversee the development and then the implementation of No Child Left Behind. She quit in 2003, disillusioned with the law, and became convinced that its central goal — to raise disadvantaged children to a high level of achievement through schools alone — was simply impossible. Her work since then can be seen as something of a vast mea culpa for her time in Washington. After leaving government, Neuman spent several years crisscrossing the nation, examining and analyzing programs intended to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. Her search has culminated in a book, “Changing the Odds for Children at Risk,” to be published in November, in which she describes nine nonschool interventions. She includes the Nurse-Family Partnership, which sends trained nurses to visit and counsel poor mothers during and after their pregnancies; Early Head Start, a federal program, considerably more ambitious than Head Start itself, that offers low-income families parental support, medical care and day-care centers during the first three years of the lives of their children; Avance, a nine-month language-enrichment program for Spanish-speaking parents, mostly immigrants from Mexico, that operates in Texas and Los Angeles; and Bright Beginnings, a pre-K program in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina that enrolls 4-year-olds who score the lowest on a screening test of cognitive ability and manages to bring most of them up to grade level by the first day of kindergarten.

Neuman’s favorite programs share certain characteristics — they start early, focus on the families that need them the most and provide intensive support. Many of the interventions work with parents to make home environments more stimulating; others work directly with children to improve their language development (a critical factor in later school success). All of them, Neuman says, demonstrate impressive results. The problem right now is that the programs are isolated and scattered across the country, and they are usually directed at only a few years of a child’s life, which means that their positive effects tend to fade once the intervention ends.

This is where Geoffrey Canada comes in. He runs the first and so far the only organization in the country that pulls together under a single umbrella integrated social and educational services for thousands of children at once. Canada’s agency, the Harlem Children’s Zone, has a $58 million budget this year, drawn mostly from private donors; it currently serves 8,000 kids in a 97-block neighborhood of Harlem. (I’ve spent the last five years reporting on his organization’s work and its implications for the country.) Canada shares many of the views of the education reformers — he runs two intensive K-12 charter schools with extended hours and no union contract — but at the same time he offers what he calls a “conveyor belt” of social programs, beginning with Baby College, a nine-week parenting program that encourages parents to choose alternatives to corporal punishment and to read and talk more with their children. As students progress through an all-day prekindergarten and then through a charter school, they have continuous access to community supports like family counseling, after-school tutoring and a health clinic, all designed to mimic the often-invisible cocoon of support and nurturance that follows middle-class and upper-middle-class kids through their childhoods. The goal, in the end, is to produce children with the abilities and the character to survive adolescence in a high-poverty neighborhood, to make it to college and to graduate.

Though the conveyor belt is still being constructed in Harlem, early results are positive. Last year, the charter schools’ inaugural kindergarten class reached third grade and took their first New York state achievement tests: 68 percent of the students passed the reading test, which beat the New York City average and came within two percentage points of the state average, and 97 percent of them passed the math test, well above both the city and state average.

Obama has embraced, directly or indirectly, all three of these new thinkers. His campaign invited Heckman to critique its education policy, and Obama has proposed large-scale expansions of two of Neuman’s chosen interventions, the Nurse-Family Partnership and Early Head Start. Most ambitiously, Obama has pledged to replicate the Harlem Children’s Zone in 20 cities across the country. “The philosophy behind the project is simple,” Obama said in a speech last year announcing his plan. “If poverty is a disease that infects an entire community in the form of unemployment and violence, failing schools and broken homes, then we can’t just treat those symptoms in isolation. We have to heal that entire community. And we have to focus on what actually works.”

Obama has proposed that these replication projects, which he has labeled Promise Neighborhoods, be run as private/public partnerships, with the federal government providing half the funds and the rest being raised by local governments and private philanthropies and businesses. It would cost the federal government “a few billion dollars a year,” he acknowledged in his speech. “But we will find the money to do this, because we can’t afford not to.”

It remains to be seen, of course, whether Obama will convince voters with this position, and whether, if elected, he will do the heavy lifting required to put such an ambitious national program in place. There are many potential obstacles. A lot of conservatives would oppose a new multibillion-dollar federal program as a Great Society-style giveaway to the poor. And many liberals are wary of any program that tries to change the behavior of inner-city parents; to them, teaching poor parents to behave more like middle-class parents can feel paternalistic. Union leaders will find it hard to support an effort that has nonunion charter schools at its heart. Education reformers often support Canada’s work, but his premise — that schools alone are not enough to make a difference in poor children’s lives — makes many of them anxious. And in contrast to the camps arrayed on either side of the school-reform debate, there is no natural constituency for the initiative: no union or interest group that stands to land new jobs or new contracts, no deep-pocketed philanthropy devoted to spreading the message.

The real challenge Obama faces is to convince voters that the underperformance of poor children is truly a national issue — that it should matter to anyone who isn’t poor. Heckman, especially, argues that we should address the problem not out of any mushy sense of moral obligation, but for hardheaded reasons of global competitiveness. At a moment when nations compete mostly through the skill level of their work force, he argues, we cannot afford to let that level decline.

Obama’s contention is that the traditional Democratic solution — more money for public schools — is no longer enough. In February, in an interview with the editorial board of The Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee, he called for “a cultural change in education in inner-city communities and low-income communities across the country — not just inner-city, but also rural.” In many low-income communities, Obama said, “there’s this sense that education is somehow a passive activity, and you tip your head over and pour education in somebody’s ear. And that’s not how it works. So we’re going to have to work with parents.”

In the end, the kind of policies that Obama is proposing will require an even broader cultural change — not just in the way poor Americans think about education but also in the way middle-class Americans think about poverty. And that won’t be easy. No matter how persuasive the statistics Heckman is able to muster or how impressive the results that Canada is able to achieve, many Americans will continue to simply blame parents or teachers for the underperformance of poor kids. Obama’s challenge — if he decides to take it on — will be to convince voters that society as a whole has a crucial role to play in the lives of disadvantaged children, not just in the classroom but outside schools as well.

Paul Tough is an editor at the magazine. His book, “Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America,” will be published next week.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Food for thought while reading Kozol

When you read Kozol's Ch. 8, "Beware the Jargon Factory," you will find the following interesting as well:

Read this excellent Op-Ed in The State from Leonard Pitts:

"Hypocrisy" as art in Romney-speak

This piece echoes a long-standing argument made by George Orwell about the abuse of language:

Politics and the English Language

And here are some videos of Kozol, FYI:

Kozol also undertook a hunger-strike recently; read his explanation here.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why do we still track children in our schools?

This book from ASCD has some free chapters on-line to consider tracking in our schools.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Then, what is education? "[A] personal commodity"? Or "a universal good"?

Jonathan Kozol, in his Letters to a Young Teacher, makes this comment in his discussion of vouchers:

"If education is perceived not as a universal good but as a personal commodity, and nothing more, to be consumed for personal advantage only—if this is all it is—then it's very hard to argue with a parent who sincerely thinks she's being double-billed" (p. 145, pb edition).

Then, what is education? "[A] personal commodity"? Or "a universal good"?

Op-Eds in The State

The SAT and private schools

Trashing schools for political gain

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Ella, Rong Lei, Anne, Kiera: School size

Devon, Lexi, Elizabeth: SAT

Marilyn, Tiffany, Brittany, Blair: Magnet Schools

Jordan, Alex, Rick: Alternative certification

Danielle, Breanna, Blake: Private v. Public

Darcy, Kirby-Annah, Rachael: NCLB

National Board Certification?


June 30, 2008

Board certification's worth still uncertain

Teaching credential hasn't been shown to be cost-effective education investment

By Paul Thomas

Headlines and lead paragraphs heralding a new study on the effectiveness of National Board-certified teachers appear to vindicate South Carolina's financial and pedagogical commitment to the process.

The headline "National Board teachers found to be effective" draws the readers of Education Week to this: "Teachers who earn advanced certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are more effective than teachers without that credential, but there's little evidence to show the program has transformed the field in the broader ways its founders envisioned, a long-awaited report released today by a national scientific panel finds."

Welcomed news for South Carolina, where we have committed large yearly stipends and resources to support teachers applying to the board certification process, right?

Not quite. The first problem related to this study is the careless reporting of the conclusions. Education Week discredits its own claims in the third paragraph: "In the new report, however, a 17-member panel of the National Research Council says it's still unclear whether the process itself leads to better-quality teaching, because too few studies have examined that issue."

In South Carolina, we must look carefully at the report because we committed to board certification without any evidence that the investment actually addresses educational needs in the state.

The National Research Council report offers these tentative implications:

• While the report claims higher standardized test scores for students taught by board-certified teachers, when compared to non-board-certified, it also admits that this study in no way can be viewed as generalizable since the data come from only two states and one city, and draw on just reading and math scores for third- and fifth-graders.

• Most important is this key statement from the report itself: "There are no studies that collected baseline data about teachers before going through the process, making it impossible to attribute any findings to the process itself." This study suggests some very narrow correlations about board certification and test scores, but it does not show that board certification causes anything—at all. It is possible that students would have scored higher in the board-certified teachers' classrooms before those teachers became board-certified—or for a number of other reasons the study never addresses.

• Also key for us in South Carolina is that the report reveals absolutely no conclusions about the cost-effectiveness of board certification. This report does not clarify if the money invested in board certification produces student achievement equal to or greater than the money spent. Now, we are left wondering if the significant financial cost to South Carolina is producing what we need.

• Board-certified teachers are more likely to change schools or positions than non-board certified teachers, and those moves tend to be to schools that already include higher student achievement and lower poverty. Board certification contributes to teacher flight from the schools that need high-quality teachers and to schools that are already successful and include students experiencing fewer life challenges.

• Teachers from affluent schools tend to apply for board certification at higher rates than teachers from high-poverty schools.

• While African-American teachers apply at the same rates as whites, African-American teachers are underrepresented in those who complete certification.

With our commitment to board certification, South Carolina made a leap of faith when we should have been making evidence-based decisions.

Let's not make a mistake again by jumping to distorted conclusions, as the media appear to be doing, about this single study from the National Research Council.

Issues of poverty, equity and funding are plaguing our teaching work force and our schools. This report does not show board certification as an appropriate solution to those problems. In fact, the report suggests that board certification could be working against our overcoming these difficult obstacles.

Do teachers in South Carolina who pursue professional growth deserve our support? Of course.

The key question we must ask: Is board certification the appropriate mechanism for better compensating teachers and raising student achievement? The answer appears to be we have no clear evidence to say yes, but now have some signs that the answer may be no.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

AP and Liberal Arts education?

Published Online: August 29, 2008
Published in Print: September 3, 2008


Are Advanced Placement Courses Diminishing Liberal Arts Education?

At this time of year, thousands of academically accomplished students enter selective higher education institutions like mine, beginning their arduous journey toward bachelor’s degrees and beyond. They have stellar grade point averages, high SAT scores, and impressive records of community service. The vast majority also have completed Advanced Placement courses in high school, providing them with college credit and ostensibly preparing them for the rigorous academic work they will face as undergraduates.

Yet, my 40 years of undergraduate teaching in the humanities and social sciences, currently at the University of California, Los Angeles, persuade me that Advanced Placement preparation is overrated and may, ironically, diminish rather than advance the deeper objectives of a liberal arts education.

This may be a minority, even heretical, view among my faculty colleagues. Most assume that students’ AP experiences provide a modest advantage in their courses, through superior subject-matter knowledge and higher personal motivation. My experiences contradict these assumptions, however.

"AP participation, for many, is primarily an exercise in memorization and exam passing — the antithesis of genuine liberal learning."

Most of my UCLA courses make use of art, film, literature, and other forms of cultural expression and explore their linkages to major features of history, politics, and society. They cover content that high school students presumably would encounter in such AP courses as art history, U.S. government and politics, English literature, European history, world history, U.S. history, and others. Over the years, though, I have found a disconcerting lack of historical knowledge among my undergraduate students, an observation I hear regularly in conversations with colleagues.

Routinely, I pause in my classes when I discern that a majority of students have never heard of the major historical events, movements, or persons I offer for analysis. Then I must quickly supply them with the relevant information, so that we can move on to deeper educational objectives. This is not especially troubling; my job as a teacher is to provide basic material, including the facts I think my students should already know. But recently during these classroom exchanges, I have started asking how many of the students took AP courses and examinations in high school. Their numbers are staggering.

In conversations with students, moreover, I have found that most approached their AP courses as merely another tedious hurdle to be overcome in gaining admission to selective colleges and universities. Students’ candid remarks over many years have only reinforced my conclusion that AP participation, for many, is primarily an exercise in memorization and exam passing—the antithesis of genuine liberal learning.

Many students sheepishly admit that they forgot the AP material soon after the exam, a process they often repeat as undergraduates. Such comments suggest that their AP efforts were a response primarily to pressure from parents, peers, and institutions seeking high college-admission statistics.

The ironic result is to reduce or even eliminate the quest for authentic learning. By focusing almost exclusively on test-taking skills and examination results, too many students lose sight of what they are supposed to be doing in the first place. A subtle and insidious mind-set develops in which “results” trump the actual educational process. Such a perspective can, of course, lead to major, though limited, postsecondary “success.” But while students graduate with high honors, they come away with little feel for authentic learning and few critical-thinking skills. Résumé padding substitutes for durable knowledge and lifelong intellectual curiosity.Intrigued by this phenomenon, I have sought further discussions with UCLA students who had substantial AP experience in high school. What I’ve found has amplified my misgivings. At least in the humanities and social sciences, students report that their AP work consisted primarily of factual information. Often neglected were the subtleties and ambiguities of historical and artistic inquiry.

Yet there are more serious historical and cultural deficiencies among my students with extensive AP credit. For example, in my courses examining historical events from the perspective of people who challenge the existing social order, I see particular evidence of a vast lack of knowledge about the events and people associated with labor, civil rights, feminist, anti-war, gay and lesbian, environmental, and other resistance movements. Similarly, in art-related courses in which I highlight work by members of marginalized communities such as African-Americans, Latinos, women, and others, there is also little evidence of background knowledge.

In short, almost every person or movement I present seems to be entirely new to my students, a large percentage of whom have had substantial AP coursework in the humanities and social studies. I can only conclude that, like most high school courses in history, art, and social studies, AP efforts reflect a conventional bias that neglects large populations and discourages more-comprehensive treatment of dissenting political and cultural forces.

And then there is the matter of swapping high school credits for college experiences. Those who have substantial unit credit from Advanced Placement courses and examinations also run the risk of shortchanging themselves in opportunities for liberal education at the postsecondary level. Typically, undergraduates need approximately 120 semester units, or 180 quarter units, for graduation. If they begin college with 25 or 30 units gained through AP coursework, they reduce their opportunities for wider intellectual exploration. The effect is to substitute high school classes for college-level classes, even though the latter often provide greater intellectual breadth and depth.

With less time on college campuses, fewer students will select courses on global warming, African-American art, women’s literature, biomedical ethics, and hundreds of other subjects that might encourage them to explore new knowledge in intellectually exciting directions.

Perhaps the most provocative argument against AP courses, though, is that, with rare exceptions, the teachers teaching them are not qualified or knowledgeable enough to offer college-level instruction. The inescapable reality is that high school teachers are not at the forefront of research and intellectual discovery. Indeed, their very workloads often preclude them from even keeping up with major developments in most academic fields. The best among them do perform exceptional work in transmitting knowledge, however. Improvement at that level should therefore be the primary high school objective, rather than entering domains beyond the genuine competence of existing teaching personnel.

Finally, critics of Advanced Placement have observed that affluent school districts hold major advantages in offering such opportunities. This is a compelling view. Schools in lower-income communities, especially those with substantial ethnic- and racial-minority populations, clearly deserve higher funding and superior opportunities for their students. But simply adding more AP courses to their curricula scarcely addresses the structural inequalities and injustices. Replicating a dubious system of AP credit arrangements fundamentally misses the point.

It is unrealistic to advocate the abolition of Advanced Placement courses in high schools. AP opportunities will flourish as long as powerful institutional forces combine with the increasingly frantic efforts of privileged parents to secure high-status college and university slots for their children. Students themselves, caught up in the admissions frenzy, also demand mechanisms to set themselves apart from their peers. Accordingly, college and university admissions officials should exert more critical leadership, perhaps even declining to grant college credit or even preferential treatment to applicants with AP courses on their high school transcripts.

Above all, college and university faculty members concerned with serious liberal learning should reassert their authority as educators. They should avoid complicity in institutional schemes that process undergraduates as rapidly as possible, neglecting the basic principles of active and sustained higher education.

The challenges of the 21st century demand an educated populace with intellectual breadth and depth and the ability for critical thought and active public citizenship. Transitory mastery of Advanced Placement examinations falls tragically short of these compelling public needs.

Vol. 28, Issue 02, Pages 26-27

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Friday August 29

• Virtual school visit assignment

• Groups/scholarly essay (form groups, select topics)

• Course rationale

• My Op-Ed in The State:

• Will merit pay reform education positively?

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Martha Nussbaum's Women and Human Development

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Progressive Education: Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find, By Alfie Kohn


Spring 2008

Progressive Education:

Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find

By Alfie Kohn

If progressive education doesn’t lend itself to a single fixed definition, that seems fitting in light of its reputation for resisting conformity and standardization. Any two educators who describe themselves as sympathetic to this tradition may well see it differently, or at least disagree about which features are the most important.

Talk to enough progressive educators, in fact, and you’ll begin to notice certain paradoxes: Some people focus on the unique needs of individual students, while others invoke the importance of a community of learners; some describe learning as a process, more journey than destination, while others believe that tasks should result in authentic products that can be shared.[1]

What It Is

Despite such variations, there are enough elements on which most of us can agree so that a common core of progressive education emerges, however hazily. And it really does make sense to call it a tradition, as I did a moment ago. Ironically, what we usually call “traditional” education, in contrast to the progressive approach, has less claim to that adjective — because of how, and how recently, it has developed. As Jim Nehring at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell observed, “Progressive schools are the legacy of a long and proud tradition of thoughtful school practice stretching back for centuries” — including hands-on learning, multiage classrooms, and mentor-apprentice relationships — while what we generally refer to as traditional schooling “is largely the result of outdated policy changes that have calcified into conventions.”[2] (Nevertheless, I’ll use the conventional nomenclature in this article to avoid confusion.)

It’s not all or nothing, to be sure. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a school — even one with scripted instruction, uniforms, and rows of desks bolted to the floor — that has completely escaped the influence of progressive ideas. Nor have I seen a school that’s progressive in every detail. Still, schools still can be characterized according to how closely they reflect a commitment to values such as these:

· Attending to the whole child: Progressive educators are concerned with helping children become not only good learners but also good people. Schooling isn’t seen as being about just academics, nor is intellectual growth limited to verbal and mathematical proficiencies.

· Community: Learning isn’t something that happens to individual children — separate selves at separate desks. Children learn with and from one another in a caring community, and that’s true of moral as well as academic learning. Interdependence counts at least as much as independence, so it follows that practices that pit students against one another in some kind of competition, thereby undermining a feeling of community, are deliberately avoided.

· Collaboration: Progressive schools are characterized by what I like to call a “working with” rather than a “doing to” model. In place of rewards for complying with the adults’ expectations, or punitive consequences for failing to do so, there’s more of an emphasis on collaborative problem-solving — and, for that matter, less focus on behaviors than on underlying motives, values, and reasons.

· Social justice: A sense of community and responsibility for others isn’t confined to the classroom; indeed, students are helped to locate themselves in widening circles of care that extend beyond self, beyond friends, beyond their own ethnic group, and beyond their own country. Opportunities are offered not only to learn about, but also to put into action, a commitment to diversity and to improving the lives of others.

· Intrinsic motivation: When considering (or reconsidering) educational policies and practices, the first question that progressive educators are likely to ask is, “What’s the effect on students’ interest in learning, their desire to continue reading, thinking, and questioning?” This deceptively simple test helps to determine what students will and won’t be asked to do. Thus, conventional practices, including homework, grades, and tests, prove difficult to justify for anyone who is serious about promoting long-term dispositions rather than just improving short-term skills.

· Deep understanding: As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead declared long ago, “A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth.” Facts and skills do matter, but only in a context and for a purpose. That’s why progressive education tends to be organized around problems, projects, and questions — rather than around lists of facts, skills, and separate disciplines. The teaching is typically interdisciplinary, the assessment rarely focuses on rote memorization, and excellence isn’t confused with “rigor.” The point is not merely to challenge students — after all, harder is not necessarily better — but to invite them to think deeply about issues that matter and help them understand ideas from the inside out.

· Active learning: In progressive schools, students play a vital role in helping to design the curriculum, formulate the questions, seek out (and create) answers, think through possibilities, and evaluate how successful they — and their teachers — have been. Their active participation in every stage of the process is consistent with the overwhelming consensus of experts that learning is a matter of constructing ideas rather than passively absorbing information or practicing skills.

· Taking kids seriously: In traditional schooling, as John Dewey once remarked, “the center of gravity is outside the child”: he or she is expected to adjust to the school’s rules and curriculum. Progressive educators take their cue from the children — and are particularly attentive to differences among them. (Each student is unique, so a single set of policies, expectations, or assignments would be as counterproductive as it was disrespectful.) The curriculum isn’t just based on interest, but on these children’s interests. Naturally, teachers will have broadly conceived themes and objectives in mind, but they don’t just design a course of study for their students; they design it with them, and they welcome unexpected detours. One fourth-grade teacher’s curriculum, therefore, won’t be the same as that of the teacher next door, nor will her curriculum be the same this year as it was for the children she taught last year. It’s not enough to offer elaborate thematic units prefabricated by the adults. And progressive educators realize that the students must help to formulate not only the course of study but also the outcomes or standards that inform those lessons.

Some of the features that I’ve listed here will seem objectionable, or at least unsettling, to educators at more traditional schools, while others will be surprisingly familiar and may even echo sentiments that they, themselves, have expressed. But progressive educators don’t merely say they endorse ideas like “love of learning” or “a sense of community.” They’re willing to put these values into practice even if doing so requires them to up-end traditions. They may eliminate homework altogether if it’s clear that students view after-school assignments as something to be gotten over with as soon as possible. They will question things like honors classes and awards assemblies that clearly undermine a sense of community. Progressive schools, in short, follow their core values — bolstered by research and experience — wherever they lead.

What It Isn’t

Misconceptions about progressive education generally take two forms. Either it is defined too narrowly so that the significance of the change it represents is understated, or else an exaggerated, caricatured version is presented in order to justify dismissing the whole approach. Let’s take each of these in turn.

Individualized attention from caring, respectful teachers is terribly important. But it does not a progressive school make. To assume otherwise not only dilutes progressivism; it’s unfair to traditional educators, most of whom are not callous Gradgrinds or ruler-wielding nuns. In fact, it’s perfectly consistent to view education as the process of filling children up with bits of knowledge — and to use worksheets, lectures, quizzes, homework, grades, and other such methods in pursuit of that goal — while being genuinely concerned about each child’s progress. Schools with warm, responsive teachers who know each student personally can take pride in that fact, but they shouldn’t claim on that basis to be progressive.

Moreover, traditional schools aren’t always about memorizing dates and definitions; sometimes they’re also committed to helping students understand ideas. As one science teacher pointed out, “For thoughtful traditionalists, thinking is couched in terms of comprehending, integrating, and applying knowledge.” However, the student’s task in such classrooms is “comprehending how the teacher has integrated or applied the ideas… and [then] reconstruct[ing] the teacher’s thinking.”[3] There are interesting concepts being discussed in some traditional classrooms, in other words, but what distinguishes progressive education is that students must construct their own understanding of ideas.

There’s another mistake based on too narrow a definition, which took me a while to catch on to: A school that is culturally progressive is not necessarily educationally progressive. An institution can be steeped in lefty politics and multi-grain values; it can be committed to diversity, peace, and saving the planet — but remain strikingly traditional in its pedagogy. In fact, one can imagine an old-fashioned pour-in-the-facts approach being used to teach lessons in tolerance or even radical politics.[4]

Less innocuous, or accidental, is the tendency to paint progressive education as a touchy-feely, loosey-goosey, fluffy, fuzzy, undemanding exercise in leftover hippie idealism — or Rousseauvian Romanticism. In this cartoon version of the tradition, kids are free to do anything they please, the curriculum can consist of whatever is fun (and nothing that isn’t fun). Learning is thought to happen automatically while the teachers just stand by, observing and beaming. I lack the space here to offer examples of this sort of misrepresentation — or a full account of why it’s so profoundly wrong — but trust me: People really do sneer at the idea of progressive education based on an image that has little to do with progressive education.

Why It Makes Sense

For most people, the fundamental reason to choose, or offer, a progressive education is a function of their basic values: “a rock-bottom commitment to democracy,” as Joseph Featherstone put it; a belief that meeting children’s needs should take precedence over preparing future employees; and a desire to nourish curiosity, creativity, compassion, skepticism, and other virtues.

Fortunately, what may have begun with values (for any of us as individuals, and also for education itself, historically speaking) has turned out to be supported by solid data. A truly impressive collection of research has demonstrated that when students are able to spend more time thinking about ideas than memorizing facts and practicing skills — and when they are invited to help direct their own learning — they are not only more likely to enjoy what they’re doing but to do it better. Progressive education isn’t just more appealing; it’s also more productive.

I reviewed decades’ worth of research in the late 1990s: studies of preschools and high schools; studies of instruction in reading, writing, math, and science; broad studies of “open classrooms,” “student-centered” education, and teaching consistent with constructivist accounts of learning, but also investigations of specific innovations like democratic classrooms, multiage instruction, looping, cooperative learning, and authentic assessment (including the abolition of grades). Across domains, the results overwhelmingly favor progressive education. Regardless of one’s values, in other words, this approach can be recommended purely on the basis of its effectiveness. And if your criteria are more ambitious — long-term retention of what’s been taught, the capacity to understand ideas and apply them to new kinds of problems, a desire to continue learning — the relative benefits of progressive education are even greater.[5] This conclusion is only strengthened by the lack of data to support the value of standardized tests, homework, conventional discipline (based on rewards or consequences), competition, and other traditional practices.[6]

Since I published that research review, similar findings have continued to accumulate. Several newer studies confirm that traditional academic instruction for very young children is counterproductive.[7] Students in elementary and middle school did better in science when their teaching was “centered on projects in which they took a high degree of initiative. Traditional activities, such as completing worksheets and reading primarily from textbooks, seemed to have no positive effect.”[8] Another recent study found that an “inquiry-based” approach to learning is more beneficial than conventional methods for low-income and minority students.[9] The results go on and on. In fact, I occasionally stumble upon older research that I’d missed earlier — including a classic five-year investigation of almost 11,000 children between the ages of eight and sixteen, which found that students who attended progressive schools were less likely to cheat than those who attended conventional schools — a result that persisted even after the researchers controlled for age, IQ, and family background.[10]

Why It’s Rare

Despite the fact that all schools can be located on a continuum stretching between the poles of totally progressive and totally traditional — or, actually, on a series of continuums reflecting the various components of those models — it’s usually possible to visit a school and come away with a pretty clear sense of whether it can be classified as predominantly progressive. It’s also possible to reach a conclusion about how many schools — or even individual classrooms — in America merit that label: damned few. The higher the grade level, the rarer such teaching tends to be, and it’s not even all that prevalent at the lower grades.[11] (Also, while it’s probably true that most progressive schools are independent, most independent schools are not progressive.)

The rarity of this approach, while discouraging to some of us, is also rather significant with respect to the larger debate about education. If progressive schooling is actually quite uncommon, then it’s hard to blame our problems (real or alleged) on this model. Indeed, the facts have the effect of turning the argument on its head: If students aren’t learning effectively, it may be because of the persistence of traditional beliefs and practices in our nation’s schools.

But we’re also left with a question: If progressive education is so terrific, why is it still the exception rather than the rule? I often ask the people who attend my lectures to reflect on this, and the answers that come back are varied and provocative. For starters, they tell me, progressive education is not only less familiar but also much harder to do, and especially to do well. It asks a lot more of the students and at first can seem a burden to those who have figured out how to play the game in traditional classrooms — often succeeding by conventional standards without doing much real thinking. It’s also much more demanding of teachers, who have to know their subject matter inside and out if they want their students to “make sense of biology or literature” as opposed to “simply memoriz[ing] the frog’s anatomy or the sentence’s structure.”[12] But progressive teachers also have to know a lot about pedagogy because no amount of content knowledge (say, expertise in science or English) can tell you how to facilitate learning. The belief that anyone who knows enough math can teach it is a corollary of the belief that learning is a process of passive absorption —a view that cognitive science has decisively debunked.

Progressive teachers also have to be comfortable with uncertainty, not only to abandon a predictable march toward the “right answer” but to let students play an active role in the quest for meaning that replaces it. That means a willingness to give up some control and let students take some ownership, which requires guts as well as talent. These characteristics appear not to be as common as we might like to think. Almost a decade ago, in an interview for this magazine, I recalled my own experience in high school classrooms with some chagrin: “I prided myself on being an entertaining lecturer, very knowledgeable, funny, charismatic, and so on. It took me years to realize [that my] classroom was all about me, not about the kids. It was about teaching, not about learning.”[13] The more we’re influenced by the insights of progressive education, the more we’re forced to rethink what it means to be a good teacher. That process will unavoidably ruffle some feathers, including our own.

And speaking of feather-ruffling, I’m frequently reminded that progressive education has an uphill journey because of the larger culture we live in. It’s an approach that is in some respects inherently subversive, and people in power do not always enjoy being subverted. As Vito Perrone has written, “The values of progressivism — including skepticism, questioning, challenging, openness, and seeking alternate possibilities — have long struggled for acceptance in American society. That they did not come to dominate the schools is not surprising.”[14]

There is pressure to raise standardized test scores, something that progressive education manages to do only sometimes and by accident — not only because that isn’t its purpose but also because such tests measure what matters least. (The recognition of that fact explains why progressive schools would never dream of using standardized tests as part of their admissions process.) More insidiously, though, we face pressure to standardize our practices in general. Thinking is messy, and deep thinking is really messy. This reality coexists uneasily with demands for order — in schools where the curriculum is supposed to be carefully coordinated across grade levels and planned well ahead of time, or in society at large.

And then (as my audiences invariably point out) there are parents who have never been invited to reconsider their assumptions about education. As a result, they may be impressed by the wrong things, reassured by signs of traditionalism — letter grades, spelling quizzes, heavy textbooks, a teacher in firm control of the classroom — and unnerved by their absence. Even if their children are obviously unhappy, parents may accept that as a fact of life. Instead of wanting the next generation to get better than we got, it’s as though their position was: “Listen, if it was bad enough for me, it’s bad enough for my kids.” Perhaps they subscribe to what might be called the Listerine theory of education, based on a famous ad campaign that sought to sell this particular brand of mouthwash on the theory that if it tasted vile, it obviously worked well. The converse proposition, of course, is that anything appealing is likely to be ineffective. If a child is lucky enough to be in a classroom featuring, say, student-designed project-based investigations, the parent may wonder, “But is she really learning anything? Where are the worksheets?” And so the teachers feel pressure to make the instruction worse.

All progressive schools experience a constant undertow, perhaps a request to reintroduce grades of some kind, to give special enrichments to the children of the “gifted” parents, to start up a competitive sports program (because American children evidently don’t get enough of winning and losing outside of school), to punish the kid who did that bad thing to my kid, to administer a standardized test or two (“just so we can see how they’re doing”), and, above all, to get the kids ready for what comes next — even if this amounts to teaching them badly so they’ll be prepared for the bad teaching to which they’ll be subjected later.[15]

This list doesn’t exhaust the reasons that progressive education is uncommon. However, the discussion that preceded it, of progressive education’s advantages, was also incomplete, which suggests that working to make it a little more common is a worthy pursuit. We may not be able to transform a whole school, or even a classroom, along all of these dimensions, at least not by the end of this year. But whatever progress we can make is likely to benefit our students. And doing what’s best for them is the reason all of us got into this line of work in the first place.


A Dozen Questions for Progressive Schools

Because of what I’ve described as the undertow that progressive educators inevitably experience, it’s possible for them to wake up one morning with the unsettling realization that their school has succumbed to a creeping traditionalism and drifted from the vision of its founders. Here are some pointed questions to spur collective reflection and, perhaps, corrective action.

1. Is our school committed to being educationally progressive, or is it content with an atmosphere that’s progressive only in the political or cultural sense of the word?

2. Is a progressive vision being pursued unapologetically, or does a fear of alienating potential applicants lead to compromising that mission and trying to be all things to all people? (“We offer a nurturing environment . . . of rigorous college preparation.”)

3. Is the education that the oldest students receive just as progressive as that offered to the youngest, or would a visitor conclude that those in the upper grades seem to attend a different school altogether?

4. Is the teaching organized around problems, projects, and questions? Is most of the instruction truly interdisciplinary, or is literature routinely separated from social studies – or even from spelling? Has acquiring skills (e.g., arithmetic, vocabulary) come to be over-emphasized rather than seen as a means to the end of understanding and communicating ideas?

5. To what extent are students involved in designing the curriculum? Is it a learner-centered environment, or are lessons presented to the children as faits accomplis? How much are students involved in other decisions, such as room decoration, classroom management, assessment, and so on? Are teachers maintaining control over children, even in subtle ways, so that the classrooms are less democratic than they could be?

6. Is assessment consistent with a progressive vision, or are students evaluated and rated with elaborate rubrics[16] and grade-substitutes? Do students end up, as in many traditional schools, spending so much time thinking about how well they’re doing that they’re no longer as engaged with what they’re doing?

7. Do administrators respect teachers’ professionalism and need for autonomy – or is there a style of top-down control that’s inconsistent with how teachers are urged to treat students? Conversely, is it possible that teachers’ insistence on being left alone has permitted them to drift from genuinely progressive practice in some areas?

8. Are educators acting like lifelong learners, always willing to question familiar ways – or do they sometimes fall back on tradition and justify practices on the grounds that something is just “the [name of school] way”? Are teachers encouraged to visit one another’s classrooms and offered opportunities to talk about pedagogy on a regular basis?

9. Is cooperation emphasized throughout the school – or are there remnants of an adversarial approach? Do students typically make decisions by trying to reach consensus or do they simply vote? Do competitive games still dominate physical education and even show up in classrooms? Do most learning experiences take place in pairs and small groups, or does the default arrangement consist of having students do things on their own?

10. Is homework assigned only when it’s absolutely necessary to extend and enrich a lesson, or is it assigned on a regular basis (as in a traditional school)? If homework is given, are the assignments predicated on – and justified by -- a behaviorist model of “reinforcing” what they were taught – or do they truly deepen students’ understanding of, and engagement with, ideas? How much of a role do the students play in making decisions about homework?

11. Does the question “How will this affect children’s interest in learning (and in the topic at hand)?” inform all choices about curriculum, instruction, and scheduling – or has a focus on right answers and “rigor” led some students to become less curious about, and excited by, what they’re doing?

12. Is the school as progressive and collaborative in nonacademic (social, behavioral) matters as it is in the academic realm, or are there remnants of “consequence”-based control such that the focus is sometimes more on order and compliance than on fostering moral reasoning, social skills, and democratic dispositions?


1. The latter view is represented in both the Reggio Emilia approach to early-childhood education and the Foxfire tradition.

2. James H. Nehring, “Progressive vs. Traditional: Reframing an Old Debate,” Education Week, February 1, 2006, p. 32.

3. Mark Windschitl, “Why We Can’t Talk to One Another About Science Education Reform,” Phi Delta Kappan, January 2006, p. 352.

4. As I was preparing this article, a middle-school student of my acquaintance happened to tell me about a class she was taking that featured a scathing indictment of American imperialism – as well as fact-based quizzes and report cards that praised students for being “well behaved” and “on-task.”

5. See Alfie Kohn, The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999), esp. Appendix A.

6. I’ve tackled each of these issues in separate books. See the sources cited in, respectively, The Case Against Standardized Testing (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2000), The Homework Myth (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2006), Beyond Discipline, rev. ed. (Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2006), and No Contest: The Case Against Competition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986/1992). Still other research exists to challenge assumptions about the benefits of specific practices ranging from school uniforms to explicit instruction in grammar.

7. Citations furnished upon request.

8. Harold Wenglinsky, “Facts or Critical Thinking Skills?”, Educational Leadership, September 2004, p. 33.

9. Michael Klentschy, Leslie Garrison, and Olga Ameral’s four-year review of student achievement data is summarized in Olaf Jorgenson and Rick Vanosdall, “The Death of Science?” Phi Delta Kappan, April 2002, p. 604.

10. Character Education Inquiry, Studies in the Nature of Character. Volume 1: Studies in Deceit (New York: Macmillan, 1928), Book 2, p. 184.

11. Educational historian Larry Cuban’s review of “almost 7,000 different classroom accounts and results from studies in numerous settings revealed the persistent occurrence of teacher-centered practices since the turn of the century” (How Teachers Taught: Constancy and Change in American Classrooms, 1890-1980 [New York: Longman, 1984]). John Goodlad, author of the classic study A Place Called School, revisited the subject in 1999 and concluded that “although progressive views have enjoyed sufficient visibility to bring down on them and their adherents barrages of negative rhetoric, they have managed to create only isolated islands of practice…. Most teachers adhere closely to a view of school as they experienced it as students and so perpetuate the traditional” (“Flow, Eros, and Ethos in Educational Renewal,” Phi Delta Kappan, April 1999, p. 573). His assessment was corroborated as recently as last year by a national study of first, third, and fifth grade classrooms in more than 1,000 schools: “Children spent most of their time (91.2%) working in whole-group or individual-seatwork settings” and “the average fifth grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem solving or reasoning; this ratio was 10:1 in first and third grades” (Robert C. Pianta et al., “Opportunities to Learn in America’s Elementary Classrooms,” Science, vol. 315, March 30, 2007, p. 1795). A study of 669 classrooms in Washington state, meanwhile, found that “strong constructivist teaching was observable in about 17% of the classroom lessons” (Martin L. Abbott and Jeffrey T. Fouts, “Constructivist Teaching and Student Achievement,” Washington School Research Center, Technical Report #5, February 2003, p. 1). For still more evidence, see Kohn, Schools, pp. 5-9.

12. David K. Cohen and Carol A. Barnes, “Conclusion: A New Pedagogy for Policy?” in Teaching for Understanding, ed. by David K. Cohen et al. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993), p. 245. The relevance of this point for the largely unsuccessful efforts of progressive education to establish itself over time has been noted by many thinkers, including John Dewey, Lawrence Cremin, and Linda Darling-Hammond.

13. Kitty Thuermer, “In Defense of the Progressive School: An Interview with Alfie Kohn,” Independent School, Fall 1999, p. 96. In their book Methods That Matter (York, ME: Stenhouse, 1998), Harvey Daniels and Marilyn Bizar drove the point home: “Teachers probably wouldn’t have originally chosen their vocation if they didn’t crave the spotlight on some deep psychological level. The hunger to ‘really teach something’ has probably derailed more student-centered innovations than administrative cowardice and textbook company co-option combined” (p. 12).

14. Vito Perrone, “Why Do We Need a Pedagogy of Understanding?” in Teaching for Understanding, ed. by Martha Stone Wiske (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998), p. 23.

15. For more on this phenomenon, see my essay “Getting-Hit-on-the-Head Lessons,” Education Week, September 7, 2005, pp. 52, 46-47.

16. See Maja Wilson, Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2006); or my article “The Trouble with Rubrics,” English Journal, March 2006, pp. 12-15.

Copyright © 2008 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact Us page. -- © Alfie Kohn

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Test-prep. . .a bad idea. . .

Great new study out of Chicago concerning test-prep for the ACT.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Nation at Risk?

My recent Op-Ed in The State.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New SC legislation attacking our schools

Pay attention to this bill.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Recommended reading. . .

I have mentioned these and wanted to be sure you had access to the suggestions. If you ever read any of these and want to talk, I would be more than happy to chat. . .

I Don't Believe in Atheists, Chris Hedges

American Fascists, Chris Hedges

Meeting Jesus again for the First Time, Marcus Borg

The God We Never Knew
, Marcus Borg

Thursday, May 8, 2008

CLP opportunities

One section of the CLP on May 15 addressing the Bush Administration and Education will explore these issues.

And my portion will be with this in mind from former U. S. President Theodore Roosevelt:

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else."

"Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star", 149

May 7, 1918

Monday, May 5, 2008

What students read?

Consider this study, claiming to identify what students read by grade.

Cinco de Mayo

Know your Cinco de Mayo history!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

NCLB, Reading First—Continued Failures

"Students enrolled in a $6 billion federal reading program that is at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law are not reading any better than those who don't participate, according to a U.S. government report."

Read the article here.

And more here.

The report:

Reading First Impact Study: Interim Report

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Twenty-five Years after A Nation at Risk

Is Democracy at Risk?

This report evaluates the quality of schools today, placing that evaluation in the context of the past twenty-five years of reform launched by the report in 1983, A Nation at Risk.

How should we respond to this?

Friday, April 25, 2008

What ethics and actions must we teach in a democracy?

As we approach the end of ED 11 this spring of 2008, let's consider the broad responsibilities any and all teachers have for students in a democratic society.

What ethics and actions must we teach in a democracy?

Consider Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, own parameters for civil disobedience during the Civil Rights movement: Letter.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Education in the News

Poverty's impact on brain development

NCLB Changes. . .Helpful or Hurtful?

Some music

The Nation, "Fake Empire" (video)

If you like that, watch/listen: The National's "Apartment Story"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

US Education Ranks Poorly. . .Again!

Target: Education

Whale Aptitude

An Alternative Commencement Address: Vonnegut, 1981

Kurt Vonnegut: Southampton College, 1981

Politics and Education: From Reagan/Bush to George W. Bush

[Excerpt from book currently in-press; chapter by P. L. Thomas]

In Reagan’s White House, the National Commission on Excellence in Education was formed in 1981 with the assumption that the public school system in the U. S. was failing—and had been in decline for decades. This perception of constant decline, this mischaracterization of the past as golden is a common flaw in popular thought; at any moment we seem to idealize the past. Nostalgia is a dangerous and inaccurate thing. For education, however, the assumption that education was failing proved to be catastrophic since the report this commission was charged to make was politically poisoned from the outset. Gerald Holton (2003) was a member of that commission and revealed some twenty years later that the much publicized A Nation at Risk, the damning report eventually generated from the commission’s work, was merely a political ploy driven by Reagan’s blunt claims for his agenda:

"We met with President Reagan at the White House, who at first was jovial, charming, and full of funny stories, but then turned serious when he gave us our marching orders. He told us that our report should focus on five fundamental points that would bring excellence to education: Bring God back into the classroom. Encourage tuition tax credits for families using private schools. Support vouchers. Leave the primary responsibility for education to parents. And please abolish that abomination, the Department of Education. Or, at least, don't ask to waste more federal money on education—'we have put in more only to wind up with less.'" (Holton, 2003)

Possibly more disturbing than Holton’s own insider’s view of the corruption of A Nation at Risk by political ideology is Gerald Bracey’s analysis of the research and conclusions drawn by A Nation at Risk, a report that was widely available in the popular press and a report that is the primary motivation for the powerful accountability movement occurring over the past twenty years and culminating in the historically unprecedented No Child Left Behind legislation. Bracey (2003) has revealed that although A Nation at Risk touted itself as a report driven by research, the data are simply not there to support the claims. Broadly, Bracey reveals that the commission looked at “nine trendlines. . ., only one of which could be used to support crisis rhetoric” (p. 620). Essentially, we must realize that the accountability movement that was spurred by A Nation at Risk was born out of ideological rhetoric—not scientific evidence.

Ansary (2007) recognizes the misleading and continuing impact A Nation at Risk has on education today:

"Standing for reform apparently means supporting rigorous testing, a back-to-basics curriculum, higher standards, more homework, more science and math, more phonics, something called accountability, and a host of other often daunting initiatives. Some educators worry about the fallout from these measures, such as the proliferating plague of standardized testing, but don’t know how to oppose them without casting themselves as obstructionists clinging to a failed status quo." (p. 50)

And this current predicament can be traced back to the crisis rhetoric in A Nation at Risk, rhetoric that again is not supported by the data. Ansary notes the disjuncture between the data proclaimed by the Reagan-appointed study and the more nuanced analysis of the data that shows, for example, that SAT scores remained constant or improved within subgroups while the overall SAT average dropped between 1970 and 1990; this statistical phenomenon is called Simpson’s paradox, Ansary explains, but such sophisticated analyses are rarely offered in the political debate and results that are contrary to ideological aims (such as this data resulting from the Sandia report from the Secretary of Energy in 1990) are never revealed.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s both federal and state leaders beat the drum concerning our failing schools and the need for more accountability. Many states implemented high-stakes testing systems tied to graduation; then in 2001, George W. Bush brought his Texas Miracle to the White House and produced No Child Left Behind (See also Camilli). With No Child Left Behind, literacy was specifically targeted and seriously corrupted. First, as No Child Left Behind gained momentum, the Bush White House, fronted by Rod Paige as Secretary of Education, practiced the same pattern as the Reagan White House—portray ideology as research. Two well-documented situations connected to literacy reveal this pattern.

Similar to the Nation Commission on Excellence in Education, the National Reading Panel was formed by the Bush White House; the public charge was to gather the existing research on reading instruction in order to provide NCLB with scientific clout to improve reading among students. Yet, Joanne Yatvin (2002, 2003), an insider just as Holton was for A Nation at Risk, revealed that the panel was instructed and manipulated to create a statement on reading that fulfilled political and financial goals that contradicted what was best for reading instruction. As we have seen, political corruption of a commission is nothing new, but a more recent finding by the U. S. Department of Education does suggest the corruption has spread far beyond political rhetoric.

A central component of NCLB is the Reading First Initiative, which is grounded in the distorted work of the National Reading Panel. The Final Inspection Report (U. S. Department of Education, 2006) has uncovered corruption by those implementing Reading First, political ideologies being promoted through federal funding and textbook companies creating their own markets through that same federal funding. And we should not be surprised since there has been growing evidence over the past decade that the Texas Miracle proclaimed by George W. Bush and Rod Paige during their tenures in Texas actually was a political misrepresentation of data, not a miracle of school reform at all (Thomas, 2004).

Since NCLB has been a cornerstone of the Bush administration and since NCLB was modeled on education reform in Texas under Bush as governor and Rod Paige, who led education in Texas before becoming Bush’s Secretary of Education, the U.S Department of Education has a great deal invested in both accountability standards and their success. The NCLB web page and comments by then-Secretary Paige and current Secretary Spelling are primarily positive interpretations of both raising standards and increasing testing. While assessments of state standards such as those by the Fordham Foundation offer a resounding endorsement of continuing accountability standards and high-stakes testing, these reports should be credited for also acknowledging their own versions of relative success by the process; both the Hoover and Fordham reports present a wide range of “success.” The information coming from the Secretary of Education, however, does not deserve the same praise. . . .

In 2006, the U. S. Department of Education (2006, September) uncovered serious corruption in the Reading First Program spawned by NCLB and the Reading Panel. While this disturbing report was primarily ignored by the press and the average citizen, often we read in that same press comments by Secretary Spelling and even hear addresses by President Bush touting the success of NCLB as measured by NAEP scores. However, both Gerald Bracey and Stephen Krashen (2006) have revealed that the claims by the Bush White House about NCLB positively impacting student achievement is false. Spelling and Bush refer to a five-year trend for increased reading scores of fourth graders in NAEP. Yet, the increase from 212 in 1999 to 219 in 2005 primarily occurs only from 1999 (212) until 2002 (219). In 2002 (219), 2003 (218), and 2004 (219), the scores remain flat.

Why is this important? The entire increase claimed by Spelling to be the result of NCLB occurred before the implementation of the legislation. While the administration has also referred to other studies supporting their claims of success by NCLB (one from Michigan and one from Washington), Krashen (2006) and Bracey have shown positive conclusions from those studies to be terribly misleading. Many of the messages offered by politicians when addressing education and particularly the accountability movement trigger assumptions that most people have about teaching, learning, and academic rigor. The ability of both the Secretary of Education and the President to express provably inaccurate information without negative consequence is a testament to the difficult task that lies ahead for literacy educators.

Ansary (2007) offered a comment above that suggests Krashen and Bracey along with those of us in the classrooms are destined to be rejected if we question the claims of organizations or elected officials who support accountability standards and high-stakes testing. As Ansary stated, when we reject the calls for higher standards we often appear to be endorsing the status quo, which has been clearly established in the average person’s mind as a failure. Yet, we should begin to acknowledge the growing body of research that does show accountability standards to be ineffective at both raising academic rigor and creating educational reform.


Ansary, T. (2007, March). Education at risk. Edutopia, 48-53.

Bracey, G. W. (2003). April foolishness: The 20th anniversary of A Nation at Risk. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(8), 616-621.

Holton, G. (2003, April 25). An insider’s view of “A Nation at Risk” and why it still matters. The Chronicle Review, 49(33), B13.

Krashen, S. (2006, October 2). Did Reading First work? The Pulse. Available on-line:

Thomas, P. L. (2004). Numbers games: Measuring and mandating American education. New York: Peter Lang.

U. S. Department of Education. (2006, September). The Reading First Program’s grant application process: Final inspection report. Office of Inspector General. Washington, D. C. Available here:
  • The Reading First Program's Grant Application Process. ACN: I13F0017. Date Issued: 9/22/2006 download files PDF (2.9M) MS Word (8M)
Yatvin, J. (2003, April 30). I told you so!: The misinterpretation and misuse of the National Reading Panel Report. Education Week, 22(33), 56, 44, 45.

Yatvin, J. (2002, January). Babes in the woods: The wanderings of the National Reading Panel. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(5), 364-369.