Archives for category: Education Reform

Five years ago, Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran announced his plan to “save” the state’s lowest performing schools. He called it “Schools of Hope.” The idea behind the plan was to turn public schools over to charter operators.

Corcoran believes in choice. He despises public schools. He wants to replace public schools with vouchers and charters. His wife ran a charter school, and he was Speaker of the House of Representatives before Governor DeSantis put him in charge of education. Corcoran, needless to say, is not an educator.

Billy Townsend tells the sad ending to Corcoran’s bold (but old) idea: Florida’s first charter “School of Hope” is, utterly predictably, abandoning all “hope” in Jefferson after just 5 years.

The failure of a plan to turn low-reforming schools to charter operators should not be a surprise. It has been tried and failed elsewhere: the Achievement School District in Tennessee absorbed $100 million of Race to the Top money without meeting its goals; the Education Achievement Authority in Detroit was an expensive fiasco. Despite the failures of these “models,” other states created their own charter districts, with the same results.

Townsend describes Florida’s own fiasco:

Jefferson County’s public school system is tiny — about 800 kids. Its test scores are historically the lowest of Florida counties. This made it a showcase for Richard Corcoran’s “Schools of Hope” charter law, which was designed to convert zoned public schools with low test scores into unzoned charter schools. The Jefferson experiment predates the “Schools of Hope” law. But when the state seized Jefferson’s three-in-one school campus and converted it into a charter school run by the Somerset company, it was touted as the first “School of Hope.”

Here’s how NPR reporter Jessica Bakeman put it in 2019:

Two years into Jefferson County’s transformation, the still-unproven charter-district “experiment” is being used to justify a potentially massive expansion of charter schools in the state’s poorest communities. A state law dubbed “schools of hope,” first passed in 2017 and broadened this year, offers millions of dollars to charter schools that open near traditional public schools that have struggled for years. Jefferson County is home to the first charter “schools of hope.” Neighborhoods in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville are next.

Five years later, Somerset is straight-up abandoning the kids and community of Jefferson County without explanation. They’re abandoning the “schools of hope” project.

And no other charter “schools of hope” seem willing to tackle the Jefferson challenge. They apparently see no “hope,” as an industry.

So Richard Corcoran’s DoE is admitting abject failure and converting the Jefferson School back to nominal district control — under the direction of what’s called an “external operator.” In some cases, Richard Corcoran’s DoE and Board of Education also saw personal opportunity to make a buck in that transition away from Schools of Hope.

Bidding for that “external operator” role — for the transition and presumably beyond — is what led to the scandal that saw DoE Vice Chancellor Melissa Ramsey and state Board of Education Member Andy Tuck resign in grifty disgrace. You can read my deep dives on the scandal in parts 1 and 1.5., linked above.

Yes, that’s all pretty gross.

Townsend explained the difference between charter schools and “external operators.”

Charter companies and external operators do not always grift; but when they do, which is often, they do so in different ways.

Charter schools, as shown yet again in Jefferson, pick and curate the kids they want to serve. They don’t do ESE, generally, unless it’s a special ESE charter. Charters routinely cut-and-run from any child who does not easily throw off an acceptable contribution to a charters’ aggregate test scores. In Somerset’s case, it’s cutting-and-running from an entire community, which it swaggered into boasting about “hope.” This was entirely predictable. I predicted it; basically everyone who pays any real attention predicted it. I generally referred to “schools of hope” as “schools of fraud” back in 2017. I was right.

External operators, if they’re sorry or lazy, just skim public money off the top of a school to add nothing but boring professional development power points and “critical observations” and “data analysis.” In Polk, under the orders of legislators like Kelli Stargel and Colleen Burton, the taxpayers have fed these people millions of dollars of your money. The external operator grift is just attaching yourself to a giant flow of free money and tick-sucking it. External operators do no operating. They bring no scale because they have none.

Introduced with great fanfare five years ago, “schools of hope” is yet another fraud on the children, their community, and taxpayers. But especially the children.

Townsend wasn’t the only one to connect the dots and spot grift. The Tampa Bay Times did as well.

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Education Department is under fire for trying to steer a multimillion-dollar contract to a company whose CEO has ties to the state’s education commissioner.

Records and interviews show that, before the Florida Department of Education asked for bids, it was already in advanced talks with the company to do the work, subverting a process designed to eliminate favoritism.

The company is MGT Consulting, led by former Republican lawmaker Trey Traviesa of Tampa, a longtime colleague of the state’s education commissioner, Richard Corcoran.

During a bidding process that was open for one week, MGT was the only pre-approved vendor to submit a proposal — pitched at nearly $2.5 million a year to help the struggling Jefferson County School District with its academic and financial needs.

It has become traditional at the end of the year to pay tribute to those who died during the year. Usually, they are famous or celebrities or both.

In this post, John Merrow pays tribute to educators (or people important in the field) who died in 2021.

He begins by paying tribute to the more than 1,000 educators who lost their lives to COVID.

He singles out nine people, “all of whom cared deeply about America’s youth and public education.”

Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, former president of Brown University, and former president of the New York Public Library. I endorse John’s admiration for Vartan. I was on the board of the NYPL when he was selected, and he did indeed save a great public institution from bankruptcy, in large part by wooing great socialites, like Mrs. Vincent Astor, to give generously.

He paid tribute also to bell hooks, James Loewen (author of Lies My Teacher Told Me), Shirley McBay, Robert Moses, Richard Robinson, Eli Broad, Denis Doyle, and George M. Strickler Jr.

As you (and John) might anticipate, I take issue with his characterization of Eli Broad as someone who “cared deeply about America’s youth and public education.” I am sorry that Eli died, and I express my sympathy to his wife and family, but I disagreed that he “cared deeply about America’s youth and public education.” He invested many millions in “training” urban superintendents to share his philosophy of top-down management and his belief that schools with low test scores should be closed, no matter how much parents, students, and staff protested. Many of the “Broadies,” as they were known, were complete failures. He devoted many millions to privatization of public schools, in Los Angeles and in cities across the nation. He selected an incompetent Broadie to run the bankrupt Detroit public schools, who increased the district’s deficit. He poured millions into Teach for America, to send inexperienced, ill-prepared teachers into the nation’s neediest classrooms.

John says he was critical of Eli’s passion for charter schools, and it was not surprising that Eli ignored his criticism. Eli was arrogant and believed that he was always right. I can’t find any evidence that he “cared deeply about America’s children” and for some reason, although both he and his wife were graduates of the public schools of Detroit, he was utterly contemptuous of public schools. He did not “care deeply” about public education. He cared deeply about turning public dollars over to private management.

So, thank you to John Merrow, for honoring the educators and advocates who died in 2021. He needed a different category for Eli Broad. Now, what would that be? Billionaires who thought they knew how to redesign American education to make it more like the corporate sector?

Marty Levine used to write regularly for the Nonprofit Quarterly, and he seemed to be the only person writing about philanthropy who understood the danger of the billionaire foundations’ disparagement of public schools and their love of privatization. Now he hashisown blog called Change Counts, which is consistently interesting. In this post, he examines the emotions that drive today’s angry protestors, who disrupt school board meetings and other public gatherings

He begins:

A few months ago, Rachel Pisani explained to Fox News what she was protesting at a recent Loudon County, Maryland school board meeting to Fox News. . “The goal was really parents being able to speak and express their concern about CRT (Critical Race Theory) and the fact that our school board wants to indoctrinate our children. We do not want to co-parent with our government. We want to be able to instill beliefs and instill our faith in our children without hesitation…we are an army of moms and parents that will not stop until we’re heard. So, they can mute our mics, they can arrest us, they can kick us off of public property. We’re not going to stop…This is insanity in America. This isn’t freedom of speech. It’s not freedom of religion. It’s racism and it’s cloaked in socialism.”

I have spent more hours than I care to count watching videos of public meetings where folks like Ms. Pisani are fired up to fight against CRT, or COIVID-19 policies, or library books, or gender-neutral policies. The subjects vary but the protests all seem to converge around a battle to protect the individual’s freedom. Speaker after speaker step forward and crowds shout to angrily decry the harm that is being done to them, their children, their community, and their nation by the elite, liberals, socialists, and communists. The voices are disrespectful, angry, often threatening

The frustration, the sense of being wronged, of being ignored, of being dismissed and devalued resonates with me. But these protestors are different. They are not the marginalized. They are not battling to change corrupt systems or right past wrongs. They are fighting to prevent change, to keep the status quo. They speak of harms and threats I cannot see and do not feel. They see themselves as the marginalized and the oppressed; I see them as powerful, fighting to retain their position of privilege and control.

Unlike racism or poverty, they are battling manufactured problems.

The issues on their signs serve as smokescreens from the real motivation of these protestors. These are people who are motivated by their fear of loss not by a desire to make their community better for all. They fear that they will not get some benefit because it will go to some “other” who is not as deserving as they are. They fear that they will be replaced by others who have not paid their dues and waited for their turn

To mask the game, the victimizers cast themselves and those that they are enlisting in their struggle as the victims. The Heritage Foundation has a “model bill”, one that it wishes Republican state legislators will enact, that speaks to this manufactured threat. The bill which holds back progress is couched in the very issues it opposes. When passed, it ensures “that administrators, faculty, and other employees of public elementary and secondary education institutions maintain policies in accordance with Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” 

The sheer audacity of this rationale for new legislation is breathtaking. The 1964 law was needed to give the Federal Government the power to desegregate the nation’s educational system over the objections of those still fighting to keep black Americans in the back of the bus. Title IV gave the Attorney General to intervene to end desegregation based on race, color, religion, or national origin; Title VI made the funding of all Federal programs conditional on ensuring that there was no discrimination.  For the forces behind the protesters, this is the wizard’s curtain above all curtains.

This inoculation of righteousness is designed to mask the fear or replacement they believe will motivate protestors and voters to hold their line. It is designed to feed the fear of a changing country, of an uncertain time. It builds a fantasy that things were never really bad, that there are no real problems needing to address, that there is no challenging work that we all must do together. It clouds a reality that some have benefited from the pain and suffering of others and that repair of past harms is needed

The orchestration of this “grassroots” uprising of outrage are those who have the most to gain from keeping us, as a nation frozen, in the past. They are those who fear their wealth and power is at risk if America addresses its wounds and lives its vision.

Standing behind these efforts are a group of ultra-wealthy men and women fighting to maintain their wealth and privilege at a time when it is clear how much richer the rich have become while everyone else falls further behind.Politicians can be purchased with campaign support; social movements are fueled by funds using the benefits of our nation’s charity rules which allow the wealthy to not only spend heavily but gain the benefits of a tax savings to boot!

A recent conference organized by ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) to bring legislators and advocates together to build support for the manufactured outrage over CRT was paid for, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, by “ the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a $934.4 million foundation funding right-wing campaigns to influence lawmakers in statehouses across the country.” And several other nonprofit organizations, also supported by Bradley, provided their expertise to fuel the fire. Included were “Garrett Ballengee, senior policy and research analyst at the Cardinal Institute; Jonathan Butcher, education fellow at The Heritage Foundation; Lance Izumi, senior director for education at the Pacific Research Institute; Libby Sobic, director of education policy at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL); and Jim Copland, director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute.”

As Levine notes, the angry protestors are manipulated by the very rich and powerful. They are foot-soldiers in a well-funded effort to preserve the status quo. The ultra-rich play to their fear of being “replaced” by the others, whom they believe are undeserving. That they borrow the language of the civil rights movement to attack efforts to reduce racism is outrageous. But we have seen this movie before, when Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, President Obama, Michael Bloomberg, and then Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos told us that ”school choice was the civil rights issue of our time.”

Leonie Haimson assesses Bill de Blasio’s record on education after eight years as Maor of New York City. He succeeded Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who served for 12 years and completely upended the schools, first, by getting the state legislature to give the mayor total control of the city’s public schools, then by closing scores of schools and replacing them with hundreds of small schools and charter schools. De Blasio had served on a local school board and offered the hope of restoring stability and ending Bloomberg’s era of constant disruption. (New York City has a two-term limit for its mayor but Bloomberg persuaded the City Council to make an exception for him and themselves).

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, reviews de Blasio’s record here.

She begins:

When he first ran for Mayor, Bill de Blasio portrayed himself as a leader who would make a host of progressive changes in our schools. He promised to be a far different leader than Michael Bloomberg, who had expanded high-stakes testing, proceeded to grade teachers and schools primarily via test scores, closed dozens of public schools displacing thousands of students, and helped charter schools expand in their place.

Bloomberg and his schools chancellors had done all this by ignoring community opposition, and despite any tangible evidence that this was the right way to improve education, particularly for disadvantaged students. Though Bloomberg had promised during his campaign to lower New York City schools’ excessive class sizes, they increased sharply during his administration, and by the time he left office he said he would “double the class size” if he could, and that would be “a good deal for the students.”

De Blasio said he would do things differently: to listen to and be responsive to parent and community concerns, de-emphasize test scores, and focus on improving public schools rather than providing space and funding to help charter schools expand. Instead of closing schools, he pledged to increase equity and strengthen learning conditions, including by lowering class sizes.

And yet his record on each of these issues was decidedly mixed. He did attain his primary goal in education – to provide universal, publicly-funded pre-kindergarten to every four-year-old, but in a manner that could have been better achieved, as will be discussed later.

There were some bright spots in the de Blasio record, including the Community Schools initiative, begun in the fall of 2014, in which schools partnered with community-based organizations to provide after-school programs, mental health supports, and other resources. By 2018, more than 200 community schools had been established. An independent study found that in these schools, there were lower rates of chronic absenteeism, more students graduating on time, and in elementary and middle schools, higher math scores and fewer disciplinary referrals.

Open the link to read the rest of this important article.

The Network for Public Education will host its annual conference in Philadelphia on March 19-20. The conference has been repeatedly delayed by COVID. We now feel confident that we can meet safely in person. Please join us!

Carol Burris writes:

We have reopened registration for our conference to be held in Philadelphia on March 19 and 20. We believe that when the current Omicron surge subsides, we will enjoy a safe and healthy conference. We appreciate that so many of you have remained registered these past two years.

If you previously registered for the conference, and never asked for a refund, there is no need to register again.

However, you must register for your hotel room. You can do that here. These are discounted rooms and they will go quickly.

If you have not registered, or, canceled your registration, you can register here.

Because we need to preorder food, which is a large part of the registration cost, no refunds will be issued after February 21.

In order to attend, you must be fully vaccinated. That is a requirement of both the hotel and the Network for Public Education. At this point, there is also a mask mandate in place (surgical or KN95 please).

It has been a difficult and long haul for all of us. Hopefully, we are nearing the pandemic’s end. We can’t wait to see you again! Let’s draw strength from each other this March.

New Board Members Welcomed by NPE and NPE Action

President Diane Ravitch is happy to announce that Cassandra Ulbrich and Keith Benson have joined the Network for Public Education Board while Gloria Evans Nolan joined the NPE Action Board.

You can read about these three accomplished public education advocates below. Last month we announced the addition of Georgina Cecilia Pérezto the NPE Board. We thank retiring Board members Denisha Jones, Susan Ochshorn, and Roxanazww as Marachi for their service.

Casandra E. Ulbrich, Ph.D.was elected to the Michigan State Board of Education in 2006 and re-elected in 2014 to serve a second eight-year term expiring January 1, 2023. She serves as the President of the Board.

Casandra has spent the majority of her career in higher education administration, currently serving as the Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Advancement at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Prior to joining UM-Dearborn, Casandra was the Vice President for College Advancement and Community Relations at Macomb Community College for eight years, where she oversaw the college’s marketing and communications, public relations, cultural affairs, and foundation, as well as serving as the College’s Title IX Coordinator. Casandra began her career as a Press Secretary to the former U.S. House Democratic Whip David Bonior, acting as the official spokesperson for the Congressman.

Dr. Keith E. Benson is the author of Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising: Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ (2019) and is currently the President of the Camden Education Association. A dedicated community and public education advocate, Keith taught in Camden City public schools for fourteen years prior to being elected to the Association’s presidency. Keith is also an adjunct professor at Rutgers University-Camden.

Gloria Evans Nolan has joined the NPE Action Board.

Grounded in her experience as a St. Louis Public School graduate and parent, Gloria is now serving as Interim Parent Liaison in the St. Louis Public School district. She has over 17 years of experience working in non-profits and fostering excellence in the lives of young people through her work supporting mentoring teams, managing school partnerships, and developing volunteers and caregivers.

Nolan holds a Masters’s Degree in college student personnel administration and a Bachelor of Science in therapeutic recreation. Gloria is a fierce advocate, championing equity and transformational policy change in true public education. Gloria draws her inspiration from being a devoted wife of Kevin Nolan (also known as Cocoa Santa) and the mother of Dylan & Evan.

There is no doubt that the privatizers will continue their fight to destroy public education in 2022. We already see voucher bills introduced and we are watching for charter expansion legislation as well. You can be assured that we will keep on fighting for our democratically governed public schools, the pillar of our democracy. Happy New Year and we hope to see you in March!!

Thanks for all you do,

Executive Director

The Network for Public Education is a 501 (c)(3) organization. You can make a tax deductible donation here.

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CNN published an excellent story about whites who grew up surrounded by racism, but turned against racism as adults.

You may recall the story of Matt Hawn, the high school teacher in Tennessee who was fired for teaching his students about racism and white privilege. He was a tenured teacher for 16 years. He never received anything less than a satisfactory rating. He was also a coach. He has appealed his termination.

Hawn became one of the most prominent casualties in an ongoing debate over how racism and history should be taught to students in the US. His plight has divided people in his conservative, heavily White city near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

But Hawn’s improbable personal journey is as dramatic as the headlines he’s provoked.

There is nothing in his background that suggests that he’d take such a public stand against racism. Hawn grew up in a White community and says he didn’t have a single nonwhite classmate from kindergarten through high school. He says he was surrounded by people who used the N-word, flew Confederate flags and wore T-shirts declaring “The South Will Rise Again.”

So why did he turn out differently?

The rest of the story probes that question by asking others who turned out like Hawn.

Hawn says he misses teaching and has financial worries now. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help him.

“What am I going to do for health insurance?” he says. “I’m a Type 1 diabetic.”

Matt needs our help while his appeal is pending. I gave $100 to his GoFundMe page. If you are so moved, I hope you will give whatever you can.

The Washington Post provides here a summary of COVID tests, along with online links where you can buy at-home tests. (The at-home tests are expensive.) The story apparently is not behind a paywall.

Marion Brady is an educator who has argued for many years that subject-matter based curriculum is wrong. He thinks we need to change our ingrained ways of thinking. He asks for your advice:

Brady writes:

In 1966, the Phi Delta Kappan published an article of mine criticizing the traditional “core” curriculum adopted in 1893 that organizes most of the middle school and high school day. I suggested an alternative organizer. 

In many more journal articles, in books published by respected presses, in chapters in others’ books, in nationally distributed op-eds and newspaper columns and in countless internet blogs, I’ve continued to argue that the core curriculum is the major academic reason for generation after generation of basically flat academic performance, and that a simple, cost-free “fix” for the problem has revolutionary potential.

Pushing back on my contention—at least for the last 25 or 30 years—is a corporately engineered campaign to privatize public schooling without triggering the public debate such a radical change in the bedrock of democracydeserves. That campaign’s wrong assumptions—that the core curriculum provides a “well-rounded” education, that competition is the main motivator of performance, that standardized tests measure what’s important, that rigor must replace “low expectations,” and teachers are the key to improving the institution—lock even more rigidly in place a 19th Century curriculum.

What’s wrong with the core?

There are eighteen items on my list of problems with the core and the way it’s usually taught. For brevity’s sake I’ll address only one of them—the one noted by dozens of well-known and respected thinkers and studies conducted by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Association of American Colleges.

That #1 problem: The world the core curriculum is supposed to explain is systemically integrated. The core curriculum is not.

In his 1916 Presidential Address to the MathematicalAssociation of England, philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead put it in simpler words. He said the curriculum’s “disconnection of subjects” was “fatal.”

He was right. Wikipedia explains the failure to react appropriately to that information:

The boiling frog is an apologue describing a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.

To see examples of how that works out in human affairs, follow any randomly chosen day’s news.

An alternative

Given institutional inertia, educating’s inherent complexity, machine-scored standardized testing, multi-layered education bureaucracies and education policy made by non-educators in Congress and state legislatures, the core curriculum can’t be dislodged. It can, however, be used in non-traditional ways that circumvent the core’s most serious problems.

The core organizes the study of a mix of math, science, language arts and social studies subjects. What learners need that the core doesn’t provide is an “organizer of organizers” that shows not just how all school subjects but all fields of knowledge fit together and interact to create a whole much greater than the sum of parts. Lacking that master organizer, a few schools use interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary studies and project learning, but those can’t be standardized to create the “subjects” that education bureaucracies require.

An organizer of organizers

Fortunately, an organizer of organizers doesn’t have to be invented or developed. All normal humans are born with brains that do that in the manner of the group or society within which individuals have been socialized. To solve most of the core’s problems, that master organizer just needs to be lifted into consciousness and put to useful work, something all adolescents are able to do.

Our organizer of organizers is easily understood. When attention is fixed on a matter of interest, five kinds of information integrate systemically to create sense—the same five kinds of information that structure languages, stories, drama, reports, textbooks, school subjects,conversation and so on: Time. Place. Actors. Action. Cause.

Instructional activities that allow learners to discover for themselves the knowledge-creating process and put it to work, move them to levels of academic performance far beyond the evaluating capabilities of standardized tests, and do so with an efficiency that allows the legitimate aims of a general education to be met in a fraction of the time spent on “covering the content” of the core curriculum.

The most legitimate aim of education is saving humankind. Reality is dynamic. Inexorable environmental, demographic, technological and social change create ever-more complex problems requiring new knowledge. New knowledge is created by the discovery of relationships between and among things not previously thought to relate—a newborn’s fussing and the appearance of a nipple; cigarettes and cancer; moon and tides; justice and societal stability; time and space.

New knowledge is essential, but even more crucial is an increase in depth and breadth of understanding ofcomplex reality by the general public. This is the ultimategoal of what we’re doing.


About a year after publication of the 1966 Kappan article, James Guiher, Vice-President of Prentice-Hall’s Educational Books Division, called. Could he and P-H’s Head K-12 Editor, Mike McDanield, come to Florida to talk?

Long story, short: They came, starting a long-running conversation ending with a project to produce a middle school-level American history textbook and a world cultures textbook consistent with my thinking.

“Rich” concepts (e.g. cultural assumptions, value conflict, social control, polarization, cultural interaction, system change, and so on) organized several weeks of study for each concept. Prentice-Hall’s college-level history and anthropology authors provided unique and engaging primary data for the concepts, and my brother and I wrote instructional activities using their data.

Traditional schooling emphasizes and rewards passive learner recall of information. The P-H project’s primary sources required learners to hypothesize, infer, value, extrapolate, correlate, imagine, synthesize, predict, estimate, generalize, and so on—exercise the dozens of cognitive processes that make routine human functioning possible and enable civilized life.

Every unit culminated with activities requiring learners to apply the concept to contemporary matters.

P-H’s marketing department printed and distributed the activities to middle school teachers nationwide and invited them to write reports about how the activities worked (or didn’t) and send them to inhouse P-H editors.

At the end of each semester, eight teachers whose reports seemed most perceptive were identified, P-H paid for their substitutes for a week, and flew them and us to a resort somewhere to rework, refine, and replace activities.

Thirty-nine middle school teachers participated.

The books were ready for publication in 1976, but a back-to-basics reaction to what’s now called “constructivist learning” prompted P-H’s marketing department to shelve the project, then change its mind and do a small press run in 1977 with no advertising or follow-up promotion.

End of project.

I know of no other curriculum development project that matches in thoroughness our effort to combine what are generally considered “best practices:” (1) A focus on powerful concepts. (2) Deliberate use of learners’ already-known, simple, comprehensive, natural information organizers. (3) Active use of learner firsthand, immediate, real-world experience. (4) Small-group cooperative learning to minimize threat and encourage “thinking out loud.” (5) Intellectually challenging but interesting, unfamiliar primary sources. (6) Correct modeling of the holistic, systemically integrated nature of reality. (7) Extensive writing and illustrating requirements. (8) Traditional schooling’s emphasis on two thought processes—recalling and applying—replaced by work requiring learners to use a full range of thought processes.

Salvage operation

Watching the destructive chaos created by amateur education reformers, ideologues and privatizers, prompted us to ask P-H about copyrights for the instructional materials we’d created.

They gave them to us in May 1990. We updated and reformatted the lessons to adapt them to the internet, put them online, downloadable free of cost or other obligation, and invited users to suggest improvements.

We’ve added instructional materials for general systems theory, world history, civics and science. That’s at odds with our belief that the general knowledge component of the curriculum should be a single, comprehensive course of study systemically integrating all fields of knowledge, with specialized course offerings expanded and offered as electives. However, recognizing resistance to change and existing bureaucratic boundaries and expectations, we’ve used traditional subjects in non-traditional ways to encourage acceptance and use of systemic conceptions of reality.

Notwithstanding the fact that our instructional activities require thought processes too complex to be evaluated by standardized tests, files routinely download by the hundreds weekly without a dime spent on advertising. If officials would remove the artificial performance ceiling created by the limitations of standardized testing and accompany academic work with exercises to improve classroom culture, we believe the ability of the young to cope with the messes they’re inheriting will be maximized.

Request for Advice

I’ll be 95 years old in May. My brother, Howard, 86. We’d like to donate our work—free of cost or other obligation—to an institution, organization or other entity on condition they create a suitable website, keep the activities downloadable and free for teachers to use with their own students, and encourage their continuous improvement, including across cultural boundaries.

If you a have suggestions for contacts who might be willing to talk about accepting what we’re offering, we’d really appreciate hearing from you.




My SUNY Press book, What’s Worth Teaching? Selecting, Organizing, and Integrating Knowledge, was published in 1989 and co-published by Books for Educators. The link below is to a pre-publication review by Philip L. Smith, Editor of the SUNY Press series of books Philosophy of Education. Smith is now Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University.

A revised version titled What’s Worth Learning? published by Information Age Publishing, is now free for downloading:

Links to illustrative instructional activities:

Rob Levine, charter skeptic, photographer, and charter critic, recently discovered that the Hmong College Prep Academy had hired one of its loudest critics.

He writes:

BY NOW MOST people who follow education in Minnesota are aware of the Hmong College Prep Academy’s illegal $5 million investment in a hedge fund that ended up losing $4.3 million, costing the power couple who run the segregated St. Paul-based charter school their jobs and casting doubt on the long term viability of the institution.

As the messy saga unfolded, an opaque school finance and consulting outfit called The Anton Group weighed in on the scandal with two blog posts, the first in June of 2021, and the second in late September. In a nutshell, Anton’s assessment was: This is fraud! The following month, something weird happened: Despite Anton’s very public criticisms of HCPA, the company landed a $100k contract to clean up the mess. A month after that, Anton’s Finance Officer became the Chief Financial Officer of the school itself. And sometime between that second blog post in September and the hiring of Anton in October those two blog posts were deleted.

As Levine puts it, “Charter school decided to feed the hand that bit it.”

Please note that Rob Levine asked me to correct the way I wrote the last line.

Adam Laats is a historian of education at the State University of New York in Binghamton. He recently wrote a hopeful article in The Atlantic about the future, which I posted here, while disagreeing with his optimism. As the Supreme Court seems poised to tear down the wall of separaration, as the charter industry grows despite its multiple failures, as Republicans embrace privatization of schools, I’m not able to share his optimism. I hope he is right, and I am wrong.

He writes:

Things in the world of public education are grim. Texas politicians are banning books. GOP leaders continue their attacks on teachers and curriculum. And teachers are left, in one case at least, literally scrambling for dollars to fund their classroom essentials. 

And for those who know the history, none of this is new. As I argued in my book The Other School Reformers(Harvard University Press, 2015), for a hundred years, politicians and activists have attacked public schools, humiliated teachers, and frightened administrators into purging good science, history, and literature from their classrooms.

In this environment, it might seem ridiculous to suggest that public schools are winning, in the long term. Yet that’s what I argued recently in the pages of The Atlantic. Yes, conservatives seem to be mounting a vigorous assault on public education, a series of mini-January 6ths at school board meetings. In the end, though, those assaults only amount to what I’ve called a “politics of petulance,” more about political theater than actual ed policy. In the end, I think, the widespread demand for public education will outweigh any short-sighted partisan rancor. As I wrote,

Politicians willing to stand in the schoolhouse door to keep out troubling ideas will not be willing to stand there forever. Sooner or later, the cameras will leave, and parents will demand that schools give their children the best available education.

On this blog, Diane asked fair questions about my optimism. As Diane put it,

If parents really cared about high-quality education, wouldn’t they demand higher teacher salaries, reduced class sizes, and better physical care of schools?

I appreciate the opportunity to respond. In my current book, I’m exploring the earliest history of public schools in American cities, a topic Diane knows very well from her research into the history of New York’s schools. That history shows exactly those trends Diane mentioned, leading to the birth of urban public education. Parents DID demand higher teacher salaries, reduced class sizes, and better school facilities.