Archives for category: Literacy

Politicians in New York City and New York State eagerly seek the endorsement of the ultra-orthodox Hasidic community because it tends to vote as a bloc, favoring whoever supports their interests. One of their highest goals is to make sure that their religious schools are free of any state mandates. Andrew Yang has emerged as the leading defender of the yeshivas and their “right” not to provide a secular education.

An investigation of yeshivas by New York City officials that started in 2015 wasn’t completed until 2019. The investigation was prompted as a result of complaints by a group of yeshiva graduates called YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education), led by Naftuli Moser. YAFFED said that some yeshivas failed to teach basic secular subjects such as English, science, and mathematics, leaving their students unprepared to enter secular society. YAFFED accused Mayor de Blasio of slowing down the investigation to placate his allies in the politically powerful Orthodox Jewish community.

In 2018, the New York Times ran an opinion piece by a graduate of a yeshiva complaining that all of his schooling had been taught in Yiddish or Hebrew, leaving him with no skills for the modern economy.

I was raised in New York’s Hasidic community and educated in its schools. At my yeshiva elementary school, I received robust instruction in Talmudic discourse and Jewish religious law, but not a word about history, geography, science, literature, art or most other subjects required by New York State law. I received rudimentary instruction in English and arithmetic — an afterthought after a long day of religious studies — but by high school, secular studies were dispensed with altogether.

The language of instruction was, for the most part, Yiddish. English, our teachers would remind us, was profane.

During my senior year of high school, a common sight in our study hall was of students learning to sign their names in English, practicing for their marriage license. For many, it was the first time writing their names in anything but Yiddish or Hebrew.

When I was in my 20s, already a father of three, I had no marketable skills, despite 18 years of schooling. I could rely only on an ill-paid position as a teacher of religious studies at the local boys’ yeshiva, which required no special training or certification. As our family grew steadily — birth control, or even basic sexual education, wasn’t part of the curriculum — my then-wife and I struggled, even with food stamps, Medicaid and Section 8 housing vouchers, which are officially factored into the budgets of many of New York’s Hasidic families.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, reported that the yeshivas “receive hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding, through federal programs like Title I and Head Start and state programs like Academic Intervention Services and universal pre-K. For New York City’s yeshivas, $120 million comes from the state-funded, city-run Child Care and Development Block Grant subsidy program: nearly a quarter of the allocation to the entire city.”

When the state or city says that the yeshivas should provide an education for their students that is “substantially equivalent” to secular education, their leaders cry “separation of church and state!” But, inconsistently, their representatives in the legislature actively lobby for tuition tax credits and vouchers. They want the state’s money but not its oversight of the education they provide.

Politico reported in 2019:

Only two out of 28 yeshivas investigated by the city’s Department of Education were deemed to be providing an education “substantially equivalent“ to that given at secular public schools, with another nine on their way to providing it, according to the city’s report on the long-delayed investigation into failing yeshivas.

The group Young Advocates for Fair Education, or YAFFED, lodged complaints against 39 yeshivas it deemed failing in 2015, which is when the city ostensibly began its investigation. After years of delay, the city narrowed its scope to only 28 of the schools. The DOE finished its visits to those schools this year, according to a letter schools Chancellor Richard Carranza sent to Shannon Tahoe, the interim state education commissioner, on

Out of those 28 schools, the DOE said only two were found to be substantially equivalent to legally mandated secular education standards; nine schools were found to be moving toward substantial equivalency; 12 were cited as “developing in their provision of substantially equivalent instruction,” and another five were deemed “underdeveloped in demonstrating or providing evidence of substantially equivalent instruction.

Some yeshivas refused to allow the investigators to enter.

Now comes an election for Mayor in 2021, and Andrew Yang is a prominent candidate.

Yang has made a point of siding with the Orthodox community and defending their “right” to ignore state curriculum standards (e.g., teaching secular subjects like mathematics and science in English, not Hebrew or yiddish). Consequently, he has become a favorite among the leaders of the Ultra-Orthodox community. Yang has made a point of his support for parent’s freedom to choose any kind of education they want.

As other candidates danced around the subject, Yang offered a blunt defense of the embattled Jewish private schools. “I do not think we should be prescribing a curriculum unless that curriculum can be demonstrated to have improved impact on people’s career trajectories and prospects,” Yang said.

He added, pointing to his own month-long Bible course at a Westchester prep school: “I do not see why we somehow are prioritizing secular over faith-based learning.”

The stance rankled some education advocates, who pointed to a 2019 report that found just a fraction of yeshivas were providing students with adequate secular instruction. Other observers described the comments, which echoed a similar answer recently given to The Forward by Yang, as a transparent attempt to curry favor with the Hasidic voting bloc.

This is a transparently disingenuous response, since studying the Bible as literature for a month is very different from religious indoctrination and studying almost all subjects in Hebrew or Yiddish. Certainly this does not prepare young people to enter the modern economy with the skills they need. (Apparently, Yang attended public high school in Somers, New York, in Westchester County, then the private Phillips Exeter in Massachusetts.)

“It’s like a horse race where one horse comes from last to near the top,” one leader in the Orthodox community, who asked for anonymity in order to speak candidly, told Gothamist. While Eric Adams and Scott Stringer were previously seen as the front-runner candidates, “nobody expected we’d even look at this guy,” the source added of Yang. “All of a sudden it’s ‘Whew!’ He’s certainly in that first tier pool of candidates.”

On Twitter, both the Satmar and Bobov, two of Brooklyn’s most influential Hasidic dynasties, have referred to Yang’s comments as “refreshing.” The head of New York government relations for Agudath Israel, an umbrella organization for Haredi Orthodox synagogues, also commended the candidate on Thursday.

The recent comments mark a shift from an answer Yang gave to Politico last month, in which he suggested that schools not meeting baseline standards should be investigated. In the time since, the outlet noted, the campaign has hired the Borough Park District Leader David Schwartz as director of Jewish Community Outreach.

“The things he’s saying echo with great precision what the pro-yeshiva groups are saying,” another source in the Orthodox community told Gothamist. “He’s very carefully putting these talking points out there.”

Yang defended his stance at a forum moderated by Randi Weingarten:

Gracie Mansion hopeful Andrew Yang on Thursday mounted an extraordinary defense of the Big Apple’s embattled yeshiva schools, telling a Jewish mayoral forum that the city has little business “prescribing” secular curriculum to the religious institutions.

Yang made the comments during a virtual New York City mayoral forum hosted by the New York Jewish Agenda after moderator Randi Weingarten asked him: “As mayor, how would you ensure that every child receives what the New York state Constitution calls a sound basic education on secular topics, including not just the public schools, but including the yeshivas and other religious schools.”

“When I looked at the yeshiva question, Randi, the first thing I wanted to see were — what were the outcomes, what is the data,” Yang responded.

The tech entrepreneur and a leading Democratic front-runner in the mayoral race, continued, “I do not think we should be prescribing a curriculum unless that curriculum can be demonstrated to have improved impact on people’s career trajectories and prospects afterwards.”

Yang’s remarks fly in the face of a damning 2019 report by the Department of Educationon yeshiva schools in the city that found that just two of 28 provided adequate secular education to their students.

“If a school is delivering the same outcomes, like, I do not think we should be prescribing rigid curricula,” said Yang who then spoke of his experience in high school.

“I will also say that when I was in public school we studied the Bible for a month. Bible as literature,” he said. “If it was good enough for my public school, I do not see why we somehow are prioritizing secular over faith-based learning.”

Andrew Yang is a cynical opportunist.

Bob Shepherd recognizes that Trump has left behind many memories, many additions to our dictionary, many new linguistic expressions.

In this post, he remembers what Trump has added to our common vocabulary.

Starting with covfefe.

Paul Thomas, an experienced high school teacher who became an experienced college professor at Furman University in South Carolina, writes here about the ongoing controversy surrounding claims for “the science of reading.” As he notes (and as I wrote about in my book Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform), the “crisis” in reading instruction and literacy has recurred with stunning frequency over the course of the past century, plus.

Debates about how to teach reading can be traced back to the early 19th century, when Horace Mann derided the teaching of the alphabet and advocated learning whole words. Warring camps argued over the best way to teach reading. In 1955, Rudolf Flesch published Why Johnny Can’t Read, denouncing whole-word instruction and insisting on a revival of phonics. In 1967, literacy expert Jeanne Chall published what was supposed to be the definitive work on the teaching of reading, called Learning to Read: The Great Debate; she recommended phonics in the early grades and a rapid transition to worthy children’s literature. In the 1980s, the whole-language movement swept through the reading field, deriding phonics as Mann had. In the 1990s, the National Reading Panel emphasized the importance of phonics. No Child Left Behind absorbed the conclusions of the National Reading Panel Report and included a large grant program called Reading First, requiring that schools use “scientific methods” of teaching reading. The program, however, was marred by scandals and self-dealing. Some consultants hired by the U.S. Department of Education recommended programs in which they were coauthors and stood to profit.

Thomas writes:

The SoR [Science of Reading] movement is a bandwagon with its wheels mired in the same muddled arguments that have never been true and silver-bullet solutions that have never worked.

My conclusion: There is no one best way to teach reading. Experienced teachers have a toolkit of methods, and they use whatever method works best for their students. All reading teachers should know how to teach phonics, and all reading teachers should understand when it is appropriate to teach phonics. All reading teachers should prioritize the joy of reading and the love of literature.

In time, almost everyone learns to read, regardless of method. John Dewey, it should be noted, recommended that children begin reading instruction at the age of 8. Currently, many states punish students who have not learned to read fluently by the age of 8.

Louisiana has been firmly in the grip of “reformers” (i.e., believers in privatization, Teach for America, and high-stakes testing) for many years. The “reformers'” biggest coup was the complete demolition of public schools in New Orleans, in the years following the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Buoyed by funding from out-of-state billionaires, the proponents of disruption took control of the state board of education (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education). Apologists for privatization still point to New Orleans as their proof point of success, but the state has recently assigned grades of D or F to about half of its schools.

In January 2012, John White, one of the stars of the privatization industry, was selected by the state board as superintendent of the state. He served for eight years. During that time, Louisiana dropped to near the bottom of the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

After White resigned, the state board chose Cade Brumley, an experienced Louisiana educator who had held district superintendencies in the state

After reformers hyped the “success” of reform in the state for 15 years, Brumley recently revealed that reading scores had declined in the early grades.

A new report shows reading scores for Louisiana’s youngest students have plunged for three consecutive years, raising red flags over arguably the state’s top challenge for improving achievement in the classroom.

The issue is getting new attention after state leaders learned last week that reading levels for students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades have all steadily dropped.

More than half of students in all four grades are performing below grade level, a potential harbinger of major learning problems.

“Clearly what we are doing is not getting the results that our kids deserve,” state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley told the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Former state board member Leslie Jacobs, who was one of the most outspoken cheerleaders for the demolition of public schools in New Orleans, said that Louisiana needed to follow the Florida model. Florida gets high fourth-grade reading scores by gaming the system; it holds back third-graders who are not up to grade level. This artificially inflates the state’s scores on fourth-grade NAEP. By eighth grade, however, the Florida readings scores are mediocre; you can’t hold back the low-scoring readers forever.

As anyone who read my book Left Back (2000) knows, I have long been persuaded of the value of phonetic instruction for early readers. I was a friend of the late Jeanne Chall, who began her career as a kindergarten teacher and eventually became a Harvard professor and the nation’s most eminent reading researcher. Her 1967 book, Learning to Read: The Great Debate, should have ended the reading wars, but they continued for the next half century. She understood that both sides were right, and that teachers should have a tool-kit of strategies, including phonetic instruction, that they could deploy when appropriate.

In recent years, proponents of phonics have termed themselves champions of “the science of reading.” Even though I support phonics instruction, I find it misleading to use this term. Learning to read is one of the most important experiences that children have in their lifetimes. Of course, teachers should know how to teach students how to decode words. Of course, teachers should use reading and writing instruction together. Of course, teachers should introduce children to wonderful literature. Of course, of course, of course.

But teaching reading is not science. Good reading teachers use their knowledge, judgment, skill, and experience. They are not scientists. They are reading teachers.

The “science of reading” sounds to me like “the science of play,” “the science of cooking,” “the science of pedagogy,” “the science of love,” “the science of finding the right mate,” “the science of tennis.” You can take it from there.

Reading is not chemistry, biology, physics, or mathematics. Some children will learn to read before they ever start school, because they sat on the lap of a parent who read the same books over and over, with love, delight, and enthusiasm. Many children do need systematic decoding instruction and phonemic awareness. Reading teachers know which children need which approach.

Just as there is no “science of history,” “science of literature,” or “science of government,” there is no “science of reading.” I would go farther and ay there is no “science of teaching science.” Science is based on hypothesis and evidence, but teachers will find a variety of ways to teach science. Good teachers, whatever their field, rely on the knowledge and judgment gleaned from practice, study, and experience. With time and good teachers, all children will learn to read.

Lucy Calkins is one of the most influential reading researchers In the nation. She created the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, whose teaching materials have been widely adopted and is a proponent of “balanced literacy.” BL prominently opposed the “phonics first” approach.

In my book Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform,” I described in detail the long-standing debates about teaching reading, which dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. The phonetic approach was the conventional method until the advent of the very popular “Dick and Jane” reading books in the late 1920s. Those readers relied on the “whole word” method, in which children learned to recognize short words (“Run, Dick, run.” “See Sally run.”) and to use them in context rather than sound them out phonetically. In the 1950s, the debate came to a raging boil after publication of Rudolf Flesch’s “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” which attacked the whole word method. Many more twists and turns in the story, which should have been settled by Jeanne Chall’s comprehensive book, Learning to Read: The Great Debate (1967). Chall supported beginning with phonics, then transitioning to children’s books as soon as children understood phonetic principles. Nonetheless, the 1980s experienced the rise and widespread adoption of the “whole language” approach, which disdained phonics. Then came Calkins and “balanced literacy,” claiming to combine diverse methods. Critics said that BL was whole language redux.

According to this post by Sarah Schwartz in Education Week, Professor Calkins has called for a rebalancing of balanced literacy to incorporate more early phonics. I continue to object to the use of the phrase”the science of reading,” which I consider to be an inappropriate use of the word “science.” Reading teachers should have a repertoire of strategies, including phonics and phonemic awareness.

Early reading teachers and researchers are reacting with surprise, frustration, and optimism after the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, the organization that designs one of the most popular reading programs in the country, outlined a new approach to teaching children how to read. 

A document circulated at the group’s professional development events, first reported on by APM Reportson Friday, calls for increased focus on ensuring children can recognize the sounds in spoken words and link those sounds to written letters—the foundational skills of reading. And it emphasizes that sounding out words is the best strategy for kids to use to figure out what those words say. 

“[P]oring over the work of contemporary reading researchers has led us to believe that aspects of balanced literacy need some ‘rebalancing,'” the document reads.

While the document suggests that these ideas about how to teach reading are new and the product of recent studies, they’re in fact part of a long-established body of settled science . Decades of cognitive science research has shown that providing children with explicit instruction in speech sounds and their correspondence to written letters is the most effective way to make sure they learn how to read words. 

But it’s significant to see these ideas coming from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. The program, founded by Lucy Calkins and housed at Columbia University, has long downplayed the importance of these foundational skills in early reading instruction, and has pushed other, disproven strategies for identifying words. 

In a statement to Education Week, Calkins said that the document reflects work they have done with researchers at the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit that supports children with mental health and learning disorders. 

“Those who know us well, know that we are a university-based learning community, and that the knowledge we offer is constantly evolving and expanding. The document reflects my strong belief that children will benefit when people with diverse perspectives and backgrounds sit at the same table and listen carefully to each other,” Calkins wrote. 

Calkins also noted that the document has been shared at dozens of TCRWP events, including a virtual reunion for teachers this past weekend. 

Mixed Signals on Cueing

The Units of Study for Teaching Reading, the TCRWP curriculum for reading instruction in grades K-5, is one of the biggest players in the early reading market. A 2019 Education Week Research Center survey found that 16 percent of K-2 and special education teachers use the Units of Study to teach reading. 

But as APM Reports noted, the curriculum has faced increased scrutiny, including from reading researchers. Some states and districts have reconsidered its use. 

The curriculum doesn’t include systematic, explicit teaching in phonemic awareness or phonics in the early grades, as Education Week has reported. The company started publishing a supplemental phonics program in 2018, but marketing materials for the new units imply that phonics shouldn’t play a central role in the early years classroom. “Phonics instruction needs to be lean and efficient,” the materials read . “Every minute you spend teaching phonics (or preparing phonics materials to use in your lessons) is less time spent teaching other things.”

But it’s not only that the materials sideline phonemic awareness and phonics—they also teach reading strategies that can make it harder for students to learn these skills. 

Calkins’ materials promote a strategy called “three-cueing,” which suggests that students can decipher what words say by relying on three different sources of information, or cues. They can look at the letters, using a “visual” cue. But they can also rely on the context or syntax of a sentence to predict which word would fit, the theory goes. Reading researchers and educators say that this can lead to students guessing: making up words based on pictures, or what’s happening in the story, rather than reading the words by attending to the letters.

This new document seems to signal a major change in instructional theory from the organization. 

It emphasizes the importance of foundational skills, recommending that students in kindergarten and the fall of 1st grade receive daily instruction in phonemic awareness, and saying that all early readers could benefit from frequent phonics practice. It recommends decodable books—those with a high proportion of letter-sound correspondences that students have already learned—be a part of young children’s “reading diets.” And it suggests regular assessments of phonemic awareness, as problems in that area can indicate reading difficulties. 

Especially notable, the document seems to do an about-face on cueing. Students should not be “speculating what the word might say based on the picture,” the document reads. Instead, teachers should tell children to “respond to tricky words by first reading through the word, sound-by-sound, (or part by part) and only then , after producing a possible pronunciation, check that what she’s produced makes sense given the context,” it reads.

The statement on cueing contradicts advice Calkins was giving less than a year ago. In November 2019, Calkins released a statement pushing back on those whom she called , “the phonics-centric people who are calling themselves ‘the science of reading.'”

In that statement last year, Calkins said teachers shouldn’t encourage students to guess at words. But she did say that students could create a hypothesis based on the context of the sentence. 

In a response to Calkins’ statement, reading researcher Mark Seidenberg wrote at the time, “Dr. Calkins says she disdains 3-cueing, but the method is right there in her document.” 

Teachers Need ‘Fine-Grained Guidance’

The past couple of years have marked an evolution of publishers’ and reading organizations’ public positions on reading science and how it should guide instruction, spurred in large part by media coverage of best practice from Emily Hanford of APM Reports, and other outlets, including Education Week

In July of last year, for example, the International Literacy Association published a brief emphasizing the importance of systematic, explicit phonics instruction, a clear distinction of stance from an organization that has long included members on opposing sides of the “reading wars.” 

But it’s not a given that any of Calkins’ or TCRWP’s statements will change classroom practice, said Julia Kaufman, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, who studies how school systems can support high-quality instruction. Past research from RAND has also found that Calkins’ materials are widely used in U.S. schools

“I don’t think there’s any way that we can expect a shift in [TCRWP’s] philosophy and ideas to change anything unless it’s documented and really clear to teachers where they need to change,” she said. 

Curriculum and implementation is complex, Kaufman added: “Teachers need specific and detailed and fine-grained guidance in order to know what they need to do in the classroom.”

In their reporting on this recent document, APM Reports noted that educators at a recent TCRWP training received supplemental curriculum materials that encouraged decoding. 

The core curriculum, though, still promotes cueing. For example, a strategies chart from a sample 1st grade lesson tells students to “Think about what’s happening,” “Check the picture,” and “Think about what kind of word would fit,” as ways to solve hard words. 

Unless and until TCRWP puts out a new edition of the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, with detailed teacher guidance that reflects these philosophical shifts, Kaufman said she wouldn’t expect to see much change in elementary classrooms. 

Some educators were optimistic that TCRWP’s new position could lead to more widespread adoption of evidence-based instruction and higher reading achievement. “Lots of changes still to make but this is encouraging!” wrote Erin Beard, a literacy coach, on Twitter.

Others expressed frustration over a move they saw as too little, too late. 

“Is she handing out refunds for all the intervention needed for the missed learning opportunity?” LaTonya M. Goffney, the superintendent of Aldine Independent School District, wrote on Twitter . “Our most vulnerable students – black, brown, poor, ELL, & special education students paid the ultimate cost!”

Sharon Contreras, the superintendent of Guilford County schools, noted that any changes would likely come at a cost for districts using Calkins’ materials. 

“Millions of dollars wasted. Thousands of students cannot read proficiently. Districts spending a small fortune on new curriculum & to retrain teachers. All totally avoidable,” she wrote, on Twitter .

Veteran teacher Stephanie Fuhr writes as a guest blogger for Nancy Bailey, explaining why laws that hold back third graders if they don’t pass the state reading test are wrong and should be abolished. She includes a sample letter that you can send to your state legislator.

This punitive idea is part of the so-called “Florida model,” a creation of Jeb Bush and his advisors. It is bad for children but it gives a temporary boost to fourth grade reading scores. The Florida model is a collection of practices that are not grounded in research or practice, but in the belief that punishment is the beat motivator.

A federal appeals court overturned a landmark ruling that affirmed the right to an education. Education is necessary for full citizenship, so voters can be fully informed. However the appeals court did not agree.

In April, a 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a landmark decision in the Detroit literacy case, Gary B. v. Whitmer, holding that there is a “fundamental right to a basic minimum education” under the U.S. Constitution. The two-to-one decision of the three-judge panel defined the right in terms of “access to literacy.”

However, in May, the full complement of 6th Circuit judges moved to review the case “en banc”, and eradicated the decision of the three judge panel. In the meantime, the Plaintiffs had settled the case with Governor Whitmer, the main defendant. Accordingly, they informed the Court of the settlement and said that the case was now moot and should be dismissed. Certain other defendants and the legislative leaders sought to continue the case, but earlier this week, the Sixth Circuit issued a ruling that accepted the plaintiffs’ position and dismissed the case. The net effect of the complicated history of the Gary B appeal is that although two U.S. Court of Appeals judges issued a landmark ruling holding for the first time that there is a limited right to education under the U.S. Constitution, that decision is now a legal nullity. However, as Mark Rosenbaum, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, put it, “The decision was vacated but the words will never disappear.”

Peter Greene recognizes one of the great education heroes of our age, Dr. Lester Perelman, who retired a few years ago from MIT, where he taught writing. Les Perelman carefully and thoroughly debunked “robograding” of student essays. ETS had a robograder that allegedly graded thousands of essays in a minute or less.

Perelman showed that students could write nonsensical paragraphs containing blatant inaccuracies yet get a high score from the robograder.

Greene points out that Perelman singlehandedly shot down Australia’s plan to adopt robograding for student essays.

Perelman reviewed the Australian writing assessment and summarized how to get a high test score:

Learn a bunch of big spelling words, and throw them in. Don’t worry about meaning, but do worry about spelling them correctly. Repeat the ideas in the prompt often.

Five paragraph essay all the way. Every paragraph should be four sentences; don’t worry about repeating yourself to get there. Start the last paragraph with “In conclusion,” then repeat your thesis from graph #1. Somewhere work in a sentence with the structure “Although x (sentence), y (sentence). (Perelman’s example– Although these instructions are stupid, they will produce a high mark on the NAPLAN essay.)

Use “you” and ask questions. Use connectors like “moreover” or “however.” Start sentences with “In my opinion” or “I believe that” (not for the first or last time, Strunk and White are spinning in their graves). Repeat words and phrases often, and throw in passive voice (whirrrrr). Throw in one or two adjectives next to nouns.

For narrative essays, just steal a story from a movie or tv show– markers are explicitly instructed to ignore that they recognize a story.

And the final and most important rule– never write like this except for essay tests like the NAPLAN.

For his role in junking the Australian fascinating with robograding and helping to undermine its obsession with national testing, Perelman was honored by the New South Wales Teachers Federation as a “Champion of Public Education.”

In his acceptance speech, Perelman said:

Free public education is the cornerstone of a stable democratic and free society.

The main problem with edu-business [for profit entities in education] is that the most important products of education, such as critical thinking and analysis, are both the least tangible and the least profitable. They are expensive both in staffing and in assessment. Edu-business wants to MacDonald-ize education, make it cheap to produce and distribute, highly profitable and with little nutritive value. It wants, like Dickens’ Gradgrind, to focus on relatively unimportant facts and rules that can literally be mechanically taught and mechanically counted. Edu-business values psychometricians over practitioners, testers over teachers, reliability over validity.

Peter Greene observed:

It’s a little long for a t-shirt, but it might be worth the effort.

From Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac”:

It was on this day in 1828 that Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language was published (books by this author). Webster put together the dictionary because he wanted Americans to have a national identity that wasn’t based on the language and ideas of England. And the problem wasn’t just that Americans were looking to England for their language; it was that they could barely communicate with each other because regional dialects differed so drastically.

Noah Webster was schoolteacher in Connecticut. He was dismayed at the state of education in the years just after the Revolution. There wasn’t much money for supplies, and students were crowded into small one-room schoolhouses using textbooks from England that talked about the great King George. His students’ spelling was atrocious, as was that of the general public; it was assumed that there were several spellings for any word.

So in 1783, he published the first part of his three-part A Grammatical Institute, of the English Language; the first section was eventually retitled The American Spelling Book, but usually called by the nickname “Blue-Backed Speller.” The Blue-Backed Speller taught American children the rules of spelling, and it simplified words — it was Webster who took the letter “u” out of English words like colour and honour; he took a “g” out of waggon, a “k” off the end of musick, and switched the order of the “r” and “e” in theatre and centre.

In 1801, he started compiling his dictionary. Part of what he accomplished, much like his textbook, was standardizing spelling. He introduced American words, some of them derived from Native American languages: skunk, squash, wigwam, hickory, opossum, lengthy, and presidential, Congress, and caucus, which were not relevant in England’s monarchy.

Webster spent almost 30 years on his project, and finally, on this day in 1828, it was published. But unfortunately, it cost 15 or 20 dollars, which was a huge amount in 1828, and Webster died in 1843 without having sold many copies. The book did help launch Webster as a writer and a proponent of an American national identity. Webster had a canny knack for marketing, traveling around to meet with new publishers and booksellers, publishing ads in the local newspapers for his book wherever he went. He also lobbied for copyright law and served for a time as an adviser to George Washington, and wrote his own edition of the Bible. And his tallies of houses in all major cities led to the first American census.

In his book The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture Joshua Kendall argued that Noah Webster would today be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive