Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Throwing BB’s at EEPs – With a Dollop of Common Sense

The following column will appear in The Wave on Sept. 19, a reworking of some of the material on this blog.

Note: Thanks to Tom Hoffman's comment for the heads up on misplacing the word "bigger" for "broader." An added redundant adjective ended up replacing the intended word. A good lesson for using spell/grammer check without proof reading. Can I get away with blaming a rushed deadline?

What lies between the Joel Klein/Al Sharpton Education Equality Project vision of education reform and the Broader, Bolder approach signed onto by many other education reform advocates?

EEP believes the solution to the buzz word of the century – read in a loud stentorian voice - THE DREADED ACHIEVEMENT GAP - is in a competitive, market based, narrow outcome oriented based on standardized tests system that punishes schools, teachers and kids or rewards them with incentives like merit pay. Create competition by turning whole chunks of school systems over to charter schools run by semi-public and private operations supported by money from outside the school system. EEP says bringing up other factors like class size, home life, behavior, and socio-economic status are just excuses and calls for a “no excuses” approach to education reform.

This is the reform model that is sweeping the urban landscape, in most cases led by a mayor who has been given dictatorial control over the school system. Klein and Sharpton led their troops to the Democratic and Republican conventions to attempt to influence both parties. John McCain signed up immediately.

This summer a counter group called the Broader, Bolder approach to ed reform counters with the idea that schools can't do it alone without significant investment in support services.

Broader, Bolder does not claim schools cannot be improved at all and also seems to sign on to some of the accountability themes of EEP, while calling for an expansion beyond narrow test scores of how schools are held accountable. Broader, Bolder's main themes are:

* Continue to pursue school improvement efforts (with a big component being reducing class size.)
* Increase investment in developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, pre-school, and kindergarten education.

Common Sense, Rational Education Reform

This week, a 3rd group organized by two parent activists, has come on the scene. Calling itself "Common Sense Educational Reforms," it is led by New York based Leonie Haimson of “Class Size Matters” and Julie Woestehoff of the Chicago-based "Parents United for Responsible Education" (PURE). They wrote a letter to both presidential candidates outlining their vision for what could be called a rational approach to Ed reform based on common sense instead of ideological prescriptions upon which both EEP and BB seem to operate. Like, how much research is necessary to prove that lower class sizes, enjoyed by the wealthy, would have a positive impact on children, while also improving teacher quality?

The EEPs constantly downplay class size, arguing that there are not enough quality teachers to make a difference. CSER argues that teacher quality deteriorates in large classes no matter what the level of the teacher and lower class sizes would also serve to dam the attrition rate of teachers who often run off to the better working conditions of suburban schools.

CSER certainly comes down closer to the BB’s, calling for:
–Safe and uncrowded schools with more counselors.
–Smaller classes.
–Adequate resources and teacher support to assure that all students receive a rich, well-rounded curriculum including the arts, physical education and project-based learning in a curriculum connected to their own lives and culture, with progress evaluated by high-quality, appropriate assessment tools that are primarily classroom-based.
–More parental involvement. A high level of involved parents at the school level leads to better outcomes for students.

They enter the fray as major critics of the Klein/Sharpton EEP approach, claiming “the top- down, corporate approach to school governance currently used in cities throughout the country such as Chicago and New York has consistently and systematically worked to eliminate the ability of parents to have a real voice in decision-making and thus to be true partners at the school and district level.” I find it interesting that poorer urban parents are being denied the right to elect school boards and control school funding, a right enjoyed by the overwhelming majority of parents in this nation.

The NY Sun’s Elizabeth Green wrote about CSER this week:

They dismiss Mr. Klein's as offering only a beefed-up version of President Bush's unpopular No Child Left Behind law. Mr. Klein's prescriptions are "NCLB on steroids." They also reject charter schools, which are embraced by Mr. Klein and his supporters as a means of giving opportunities to poor children. The Common Sense group says charter schools actually further exacerbate income disparities by admitting only children who can do well at their schools and leaving the rest to flounder. Admission at charter schools is regulated by strict lotteries in New York, but the parents argue that only the savvy students apply to them, and they say that the schools encourage more troubled students to leave.

CSER has a new blog at:

Separate and Unequal: When Parents Hire the Teachers

When I taught in Williamsburg, the PTA raised money, mostly through candy sales. They used the money to buy books for the library and reading programs. But the idea of buying extra teacher services? Why that would take a hell of a lot of money. This week, we read about the enormous amounts of money PTA’s in wealthy areas raise to buy all kinds of services that are beyond the realm of schools in poor areas. Major differences in spending per pupil in charter vs. public schools have also emerged, allowing charters to offer lower class sizes and other services.
What all this means is perpetuating a system of "separate and unequal” for the kids most in need.


  1. You know, this might come across as more authoritative if you got the name of the Broader, Bolder Approach right.

  2. Thanks Tom for the heads up. A lesson for using spell/grammer check without proof reading. Can I get away with blaming a rushed deadline?


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