My apologies for the impasse in responding to comments. You left a number of thoughts about the NYC Department of Education’s attack on Diane Ravitch via Kathy Wylde – here’s the post that spurred them. Anonymous 1:55AM wrote:
You say the NYC administration isn't concerned with "figuring out what works for New York City kids." I'm assuming you just don't agree with their approach, because you can't seriously suggest there's a shortage of ideas being tried up there.It’s not that I unequivocally disagree with their approach, if by approach you mean ideas. If academics do nothing else well, we see the world in shades of grey. When many of their reforms were first presented – i.e. a standardized curriculum featuring the reading/writing workshop approach or supply-side reform via small schools – I was encouraged.
When I was confronted with classrooms full of high school kids who couldn’t read or write, I had turned to Lucy Calkins’ and Nancie Atwell's books. And I found this model to be successful in moving struggling readers and writers forward. But I also know that the implementation of this curriculum in NYC stressed compliance rather than instructional support and capacity building. At the end of the day, teachers haggled with supervisors measuring their rug size and the dimensions of their word walls. This certainly didn't support their professional growth as educators, and goes against the spirit of these approaches.
By the same token, as someone who began studying education policy during the Annenberg Challenge, I thought small schools had enormous potential. And hopefully they still do. But as many first wave small school movement participants have pointed out, the essential ethos of that movement – a focus on serving the most disadvantaged kids and seeing them as whole people, on nurturing teacher collaboration, and on building school communities – has given way to an obsession with producing good stats. So anonymous 1:55AM, many of these problems are not “idea problems” as much as they are "approach/implementation" problems.
But you’re correct that I disagree with NYC’s approach as exemplified by the Wylde affair last week - and it is this approach that precipitated the downfall of some good ideas. Figuring out what works requires a willingness to seriously evaluate NYC’s reforms, to acknowledge failures when they occur, and to change course accordingly. It would also require a willingness to listen and to engage critics. Instead, what we’ve seen are incredible displays of hubris and rhetoric that are reminiscent of the “coalition of the willing” charades that preceded the Iraq War. When faced with dissent or tepid results, this administration has fired its critics (see the Monday Night Massacre response to their social promotion plan), personally discredited them, or launched advertising campaigns (see the Evander Childs affair here).
Anonymous 1:55AM also critiqued the critics’ lack of an alternate reform vision. Norm Scott took this comment head on, responding that critics do have a reform vision that includes attention to the context of teaching (i.e. class size reduction), attention to the non-academic needs of kids, and a commitment to building collaborative school communities where teachers have a real say. Sol added to Norm’s post, writing that some of the best ideas come from the master teacher in the next room over, and effective reforms should leverage that expertise. I agree with Anonymous 1:55 AM’s sentiment that critics should offer alternatives, but I don’t see an absence of alternatives being offered by the NYC Department’s critics. Nonetheless, my one-woman “What Works Clearinghouse” will take Anonymous 1:55AM’s comments to heart in the coming weeks and offer some alternatives.
Robert Pondiscio provided sage advice about the need for reform movements to listen to critics, writing:
Have we come to the point in the education revolution when we will devour our own? Let’s hope not. The battle is nowhere near over. We need all the ideas and constructive criticism we can muster.Let’s hope that the folks in charge – from Bloomberg/Klein to Margaret Spellings – take that advice seriously.
Finally, Holden pointed out that in the vast sea of poor evaluations, the Policy Studies evaluation of NYC small schools may be among the best:
I've been looking for an NYC education charity that can compellingly demonstrate that it makes a difference. Aside from the Mathematica study of Teach for America and one randomized study by LEAP, I've seen nothing whose methodology tops this New Visions report (so, nothing better than a B-). For a complex issue like education, it's tough for me to have confidence in a charity under these circumstances. Can you point me to anything I'm missing?I'm having a hard time coming up with any. As long as foundations don't require (or fund) such evaluations, we're not going to see them. If someone can identify an educational organization in NYC that rigorously evaluates its work, please post it here.
Thanks for these comments, everyone. Keep them coming.