Archives for category: Real Education

This is a 10-minute TED talk by Dr. Yuli Tamir, academic and former minister of education in Israel.

She explains in a direct and lively manner how the PISA standardized testing regime was foisted on the world, destroying children’s imagination, curiosity, and joy of learning.

The fundamental hoax of PISA is the claim that higher test scores will inexorably produce higher economic growth. As she demonstrates, this assertion is false.

If we want children to benefit more from their schooling, we should bend our efforts to reducing poverty. This would seem to be obvious, but it hasn’t slowed the slavish devotion of governments to raising PISA scores.

This is a brilliant presentation. I urge you to watch it.

Virginia’s new education leader avoids the press and the public, but she is accessible to rightwing think tanks. She recently spoke at the American Engerprise Institute, where she outlined her goal for the state’s students: job readiness. Aimee Guidera comes from the Gates-funded Data Quality Campaign. She did not speak about preparing students for citizenship in a democracy. She did not speak about imbuing students with a love of learning. She focused only on meeting the needs of employers.

Virginia NPR reported on her appearance:

Virginia’s top education official says the state is “resting on our laurels” when it comes to educating public school students.

In a forum hosted by a conservative think tank last month, Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera said her top goal is preparing students for the job market.

“We are reorienting everything to how is education geared towards preparing people for the jobs of today and of tomorrow,” she said.

Guidera has kept a low profile since Gov. Glenn Youngkin named her to be Virginia’s education secretary in December. But in a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, Guidera laid out her plans in more detail.

The former CEO of the Data Quality Campaign, an education reform group, pushed back on claims the administration was attempting to censor history. She said her team would push past “culture wars,” which Youngkin’s critics say were fermented by the governor.

Instead, she said she plans on focusing on meeting three “benchmarks”: creating students that are ready for “family-supporting jobs” and who are civically engaged, recruiting and retaining employers attracted by the commonwealth’s talent pool and growing the state economy.

Recently the daughter of one of our regular readers (Roy Turrentine) posted a comment.

She wrote in response to the reports of politician

Bob Shepherd was delighted by her writing, and he offered her a reading list of some of his favorites (unlikely that these are on the Common Core reading list, since CCSS privileges “informational text” over fiction).

Bob wrote:

Have you read Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse, yet? I fell head over heels in love with that book when I was your age. And take a crack at 1984, by Orwell, which may be the most important book to be read at this time in history. And here, a few suggestions for short fiction:

MY CANDIDATES FOR THE BEST SHORT STORIES EVER WRITTEN

Asimov, Isaac. “The Last Question”
Atwood, Margaret. “Bread”
Benet, Stephen Vincent. “By the Waters of Babylon”
Bierce, Ambrose. “Chickamauga”
Bierce, Ambrose. “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
Borges, Jorge Luis, “The Library of Babel”
Bostrom, Nick. “The Dragon Tyrant”
Bradbury Ray. “The Veldt”
Bradbury, Ray. “The End of the World”
Bradbury,. Ray. “There Will Come Soft Rains”
Chiang, Ted. “Stories of Our Lives”
Chopin, Kate. “Story of an Hour”
Crane, Stephen. “A Mystery of Heroism”
Du Maurier, Daphne. “The Birds”
Faulkner, William. “The Bear”
Gallico, Paul. “The Snowgoose”
Goldstein, Rebecca. “The Legacy of Raizel Kaidish”
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Rappaccini’s Daughter”
Hathorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown”
Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants”
Hemingway, Ernest. “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”
Hemingway, Ernest. “The Long Wait”
Liu, Ken. “An Advanced Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition”
Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery”
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”
O’Conner, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
Roth, Phillip. “The Conversion of the Jews”
Thurber, James. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
Tolstoy, Leo. “The Life and Death of Ivan Illych”
Updike, John. “A & P”
Updike, John. “The Music School”
Vonnegut, Kurt. “Who Am I This Time?”
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use”

Mother’s first class, around 1950, at Skabersjöskolan, where I myself also went to school.

A friend in Sweden sent this article via Twitter. It was written by Jenny Maria Nilsson. I went to Google and asked for a translation from Swedish to English. Sweden is even farther down the road to privatization than we are. A conservative government in the early 1990s opened the way to public funding of independent schools, many of which operate for profit.

She writes:

The goal for primary school is not millions of different things but first and foremost education. If that goal is achieved, it certainly also provides other things: life opportunities, education and freedom, social interaction, a place for children to be and so on, but the school’s goal is teaching a basic curriculum.

In the book about the digitalisation of the Swedish school, which I have contributed to, I write: “What is the school’s task? To be a marketplace for all kinds of commerce, an arena for the edtech industry, a pseudo-market for welfare entrepreneurs and consultants, an advertising opportunity for municipalities, schools and individual teachers, a leisure center where children can thrive while parents are at work, an institution that organizes social support, a place where educators are responsible for identifying and developing great talent, an organization that will kick-start your child’s career, rank your child and let it make contacts with others in its social group, a place for admiration and curling of young people or vice versa a place where you put children in place and so on. ”

Tax-financed primary school is none of this but a “room” organized by us where previous generations through teachers and other school staff strive to convey the basic practical and theoretical knowledge that has been accumulated in various fields. The goal often seems to me to be distorted, the school system has increasingly been characterized by what I call the era of panic, where more people are looking for things that have nothing to do at school. The school has become a means for various special interests rather than a goal in itself.

To leave the era of panic, we need to navigate an era where school and school institutions and administration can maintain integrity. An era where the school is a cohesive unit that honors its knowledge and education mission – what I call the era of the monolith.

Dennis Shirley is the Duganne faculty fellow and professor at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development. His new book with Andy Hargreaves is entitled Five Paths of Student Engagement: Blazing the Trail to Learning and Success.

Shirley contends in this article in Commonwealth Magazine that standardized testing no longer fits the needs of students, if it ever did.

He writes:


AS WE EMERGED
from the pandemic’s constraints, we finally had the freedom to book dinner reservations and plan a summer vacation, but in the midst of that liberation, our students were obligated to the policy of standardized academic testing.

Despite opposition by every Massachusetts professional educational association, the political appointees in the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the commissioner and secretary of education responded to COVID-19 by administering the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) to third to eighth grade students to conclude the school year, even though Superintendent Jeff Riley previously said, “We’ve spent a lot of time on systems and structures, on accountability and test scores. We need to get back to instruction, and deep teaching and learning.”

What’s going on? For years, standardized testing advocates have been on the defensive because the tests failed to improve student achievement as promised by reformers. Second, the rise of the testing industry was correlated with growing rates of anxiety and depression among young people. Third, tests aggravated rather than ameliorated differences in achievement among racial and ethnic groups, and between social classes.

Enter climate change strikes that peaked in 2019, the pandemic, and the surge of racial struggles during the past year. The triple whammy of environmental, health, and societal challenges was surprising and emboldened critics who want a different kind of education that speaks to their concerns and aspirations rather than the clamoring for accountability of distant government bureaucrats.nullThe critics are no fringe group. For years, public opinion surveys have revealed that a majority of Americans agreed that there was too much testing in schools. Defenders fought back by arguing that the tests are objective, that they inflict little or no damage on students, and that they emphasize that what is taught in schools must be taken seriously. If there are problems with testing, they say, the tests can be revised–but not suspended.

Is there an escape from the impasse?

Shirley believes there is.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get our schools focused on teaching and learning rather than testing and accountability. We must not squander it. It’s going to be arduous, but the trendlines are clear: COVID-19 is winding down in the US, so let’s make dinner reservations and summer vacation plans, and when it comes to schools, let’s make sure our students are free to learn—and that our teachers are free to teach, too.

Pay attention to whatever Yong Zhao writes. He is among the very top tier of educational thinkers in the world. I always learn when I read his work.

This post warns parents, teachers, and policy makers to beware the “learning loss” rhetoric. It is a trap, he says.

He writes:


A dangerous trap exists for educators and education policy makers: the learning loss. This trap comes with a large amount of data and with sophisticated projection methods. It presents a stunningly grim picture for education and it invites educators and policy makers to make wrong decisions and invest in wrong things. The article identifies a number of undesirable outcomes that their concerns could lead to. It also suggests several productive actions when the pandemic is controlled and schools reopen.

The trap is the so-called learning losses during the Covid-19 pandemic. A number of organizations and individuals have put out various estimates about what students have lost due to school closures and remote learning during the pandemic. For example, the global consulting firm McKinsey produced two reports about these learning losses. As late as December 8, 2020, McKinsey said, “Students, on average, started school about three months behind where we would expect them to be in mathematics” and “Students of color were about three to five months behind in learning; white students were about one to three months behind” (Dorn et al. 2020). The Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO 2020) at Stanford University issued a press release stating that “the average estimates of how much students lost in the Spring of 2020 ranged from 57 to 183 days of learning in Reading and from 136 to 232 days of learning in Math” (para. 2). Other organizations, such as the assessment company NWEA (Kuhfeld and Tarasawa 2020) and the Annenberg Institute at Brown University (Santibanez and Guarino 2020), have also published reports about learning losses. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a projection for the economic losses due to learning losses as $14 trillion over the next 80 years (Hanushek and Woessmann 2020).

These estimates have caught the attention of policy makers and educators. Governments, school leaders, and teachers are all concerned about the learning loss students may experience due to the Covid-19 pandemic. After all, schools have been seriously disrupted, as have students and their families. The pandemic has, in more ways than one, significantly affected learning and school operations. It seems only natural to want to know the extent of the learning loss students have experienced and then take actions to hopefully make up for the losses.

Possible mistakes

This is wherein the trap lies. There is nothing wrong with making estimates about learning losses, but the possible actions these projections can induce are worrisome because they can, at best, waste resources and, at worst, lead post-pandemic education in the wrong direction. The concerns of educators and policy makers are to be expected, but these policy makers could end up investing in unproductive educational efforts. Below are a number of undesirable outcomes that their concerns could lead to.

Governments may decide to launch standardized assessments to track students’ learning losses. It is possible that educational policy makers may be so interested in learning the extent of loss experienced by students that they will use standardized testing to assess all students. The desire to know the overall extent of loss and what achievement gaps may exist between different groups of students is completely understandable, but standardized testing can be the worst way to collect such data for two major reasons.

First, any standardized testing given to all students will have a typically limited scope, with a focus on math and reading. In other words, what will be measured is not the entirety of students’ learning but a small piece of their overall education. Even assuming that the assessments are highly accurate (which they are not), they would miss other equally and perhaps more important aspects of learning, such as confidence, self-determination, creativity, entrepreneurial thinking, and other subjects.

Education has many desirable outcomes (Zhao 20172018b). These outcomes can be short term or long term, cognitive and non-cognitive, and instructional and educational. Short-term, cognitive, and instructional outcomes do not necessarily translate directly into long-term, non-cognitive, and educational outcomes. For example, test scores have often been found to have a negative correlation with students’ confidence and well-being (Loveless 2006; OECD 2019; Zhao 2018b). Test scores have also been found to have a negative correlation with economic development and entrepreneurial confidence and activities across (Baker 2007; Tienken 2008; Zhao 2012). Test scores do not predict the future of an individual’s success very well, and non-cognitive skills may play a bigger role than cognitive skills play (Brunello and Schlotter 2010; Levin 2012). Some assessments show successes that are only productive in the short term, while failures may actually be more productive in the long term (Dean and Kuhn 2007; Kapur 20142016).

That’s the beginning. Read it all.


The nation’s two teachers’ unions joined together to issue an unusual joint statement that advises federal, state, and local leaders what must be done not only to revive education after the pandemic but to restart it with a fresh vision that focuses on the needs of children, not assumptions about their “learning loss” or “COVID slide.”

They introduce the document and its visionary proposals with these words:

Nation’s educators release shared agenda to ensure all students succeed Organizations offer proven ways to help students overcome Covid-19 opportunity gaps and meet students’ academic, social, and emotional needs
 WASHINGTON, DC – Today the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the nation’s two largest educators’ unions, released a bold, shared agenda to ensure that all students receive the supports and resources they need to thrive now and in the future.  

Over the course of the last month, AFT and NEA have come together to define the essential elements needed to effectively understand and address the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted students’ academic, social, and developmental experiences. “We have an unprecedented opportunity to create the public schools all our students deserve,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “It is our mission to demand stronger public schools and more opportunities for all students- Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike. And we must support the whole learner through social, emotional and academic development. The ideas presented in this roadmap will lay the groundwork to build a better future for all of our students.” 

“COVID-19 has laid bare this country’s deep fissures and inequities and our children, our educators and our communities have endured an unprecedented year of frustration, pain and loss,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “As vaccine access and effectiveness suggest the end is in sight, it is incumbent on us to not only plan our recovery, but to reimagine public schooling so our children, families and educators can thrive.  

“The crises gripping our country are weighing heavily on young people, who are the future of our communities. That’s why our schools must, at a minimum, be supported and well-resourced to address our students their trauma, social-emotional, developmental and academic needs. This framework is an invaluable tool to help us get there,” Weingarten added. 

Shared with Sec. of Education Cardona last week, Learning Beyond Covid-19, A Vision for Thriving in Public Education offers the organizations’ ideas on ways our education systems can meet students where they are academically, socially, and emotionally.  The framework outlines five priorities that can serve as a guide for nurturing students’ learning now and beyond COVID-19 including learning, enrichment and reconnection for this summer and beyond; diagnosing student well-being and academic success; meeting the needs of our most underserved students; professional excellence for learning and growth; and an education system that centers equity and excellence. 

The full document can be found here

Valerie Strauss posted this article that I wrote on her Washington Post site “The Answer Sheet.” The tests now required by federal law are worthless. The results are reported too late to matter. The reports to teachers do not tell them what students do or do not know. The tests tell students whether they did well or poorly on a test they took six months ago. They do not measure “learning loss.”

Diane Ravitch is a former assistant secretary of education and historian. For more than a decade, she has been a leading advocate for America’s public education system and a critic of the modern “accountability” movement that has based school improvement measures in large part on high-stakes standardized tests.


In her influential 2010 book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” Ravitch explained why she dropped her support for No Child Left Behind, the chief education initiative of President George W. Bush, and for standardized test-based school “reform.”


Ravitch worked from 1991 to 1993 as assistant secretary in charge of research and improvement in the Education Department of President George H.W. Bush, and she served as counselor to then-Education Secretary Lamar Alexander, who had just left the Senate where he had served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. She was at the White House as part of a select group when George W. Bush first outlined No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a moment that at the time she said made her “excited and optimistic” about the future of public education.


But her opinion changed as NCLB was implemented and she researched its effects on teaching and learning. She found that the NCLB mandate for schools to give high-stakes annual standardized tests in math and English language arts led to reduced time — or outright elimination — of classes in science, social studies, the arts and other subjects.


She was a critic of President Barack Obama’s policies and his chief education initiative, Race to the Top, a multibillion-dollar competition in which states (and later districts) could win federal funds by promising to adopt controversial overhauls, including the Common Core State Standards, charter schools and accountability that evaluated teachers by student test scores.


In 2013, she co-founded an advocacy group called the Network for Public Education, a coalition of organizations that oppose privatizing public education and high-stakes standardized testing. She has since then written several other best-selling books and a popular blog focused primarily on education.


She was also appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress, and served for seven years.

In the following post, she provides a historical overview of standardized testing — and takes issue with supporters who say that these exams provide data that helps teachers and students. Instead, she says, they are have no value in the classroom.


The subject has resonance at the moment because the Biden administration must decide soon whether to give states a waiver from the federal annual testing mandate. The Trump administration did so last year after schools abruptly closed when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, but said it wouldn’t do it again if President Donald Trump won reelection. Trump lost, and now Biden’s Education Department is under increasing pressure to give states permission not to administer the 2021 tests.

By Diane Ravitch


I have been writing about standardized tests for more than 20 years. My 2000 book, “Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform,” included a history of I.Q. testing, which evolved into the standardized tests used in schools and into the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known now simply as the SAT. The psychologists who designed these tests in the early 20th century believed, incorrectly, that you inherited “intelligence” from your family and nothing you might do would change it. The chief virtue of these tests was that they were “standardized,” meaning that everyone took the same ones. The I.Q. test was applied to the screening of recruits for World War I, used to separate the men of high intellect — officer material — and from those of low intellect, who were sent to the front lines.
When the psychologists reviewed the test results, they concluded that white males of northern European origin had the highest I.Q., while non-English-speaking people and Black people had the lowest I.Q. They neglected the fact that northern Black people had higher I.Q. scores than Appalachian White people on the Army’s mental tests. Based on these tests, the psychologists believed, incorrectly, that race and I.Q. were bound together.


One of the psychologists who helped create the wartime I.Q. tests was Carl C. Brigham of Princeton University. He wrote an influential book, called “A Study of American Intelligence,” in 1923, which proclaimed that the “Nordic” race had the highest intelligence and that the increasing numbers of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were causing a decline in American intelligence.


His findings encouraged Congress to set quotas to limit the immigration of so-called “inferior” national groups from places like Russia, Poland and Italy. Brigham, a faculty member at Princeton, used his knowledge of I.Q. testing to develop the Scholastic Aptitude Test in 1926. Because they could be easily and cheaply scored by machine, the SAT tests eventually replaced the well-known “College Boards,” which were written examinations prepared and graded by teams of high school teachers and college professors.


Standardized testing occasionally made an appearance in American schools in the second half of the 20th century, but the tests were selected and used at the will of state and local school boards. The Scholastic Aptitude Test was important for college admission, especially for the relatively small number of elite colleges. Nonetheless, it was possible to attend an American public school from kindergarten through 12th grade without ever taking a standardized test of academic or mental ability.


This state of affairs began to change after the release of the Reagan administration’s “Nation at Risk” report in 1983. That report claimed that the nation’s public schools were mired in “a rising tide of mediocrity” because they were too easy. Politicians and education leaders became convinced that American education needed higher standards and needed tests to measure the performance of students on higher standards.


President George H.W. Bush convened a national summit of governors in 1989, which proclaimed six national goals for the year 2000 in education, including:


• By the year 2000, United States students will be first in the world in math and science.

• By the year 2000, all students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competence over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history and geography.


Such goals implied measurement. They implied the introduction of widespread standardized testing.


In 1994, President Bill Clinton introduced his Goals 2000 program, which gave grants to every state to choose their own standards and tests.


In 2001, President George W. Bush put forward his No Child Left Behind legislation, which required every student in grades 3 to 8 to take a standardized test in reading and mathematics every year, as well as one test in high school. Test scores would be used to judge schools and eventually to punish those that failed to make progress toward having every student achieve competency on those tests. The NCLB law proclaimed that by 2014, virtually every student would achieve competency in reading and mathematics. The authors of NCLB knew the goal was impossible to achieve.


When Barack Obama became president, he selected Arne Duncan as secretary of education. The Obama administration embraced the NCLB regime. Its own program — Race to the Top — stiffened the sanctions of NCLB.


Not only would schools that did not get high enough test scores be punished, possibly closed or privatized for failing to meet utopian goals, but teachers would be individually singled out if the students in their classes did not get higher scores every year.
The Bush-Obama approach was recognized as the “bipartisan consensus” in education, built around annual testing, accountability for students, teachers, principals and schools, and competition among schools. Race to the Top encouraged states to authorize charter school legislation and to increase the number of privately managed charters, and to pass legislation that tied teachers’ evaluations to the test scores of their students.


Duncan also promoted the Common Core State Standards, which were underwritten by philanthropist Bill Gates; the U.S. Department of Education could not mandate the Common Core, but it required states to adopt “common national standards” if they wanted to be eligible to compete for a share of the $4.35 billion in federal funding that the department controlled as part of the recovery funds after the Great Recession of 2008-09.


The department was able to subsidize the development of two new national tests aligned to the Common Core, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). At the outset — in 2010 — almost every state signed up for one of the two testing consortia. PARCC had 24 state members; it is now down to two and the District of Columbia. SBAC started with 30 state members; it is down to 17.


Politicians and the general public assume that tests are good because they provide valuable information. They think that the tests are necessary for equity among racial and ethnic groups.


This is wrong.


The tests are a measure, not a remedy.


The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong.


Thus, the teachers do not learn where the students need extra help or which lessons need to be reviewed.


All they receive is a score, so they learn where students ranked compared to one another and compared to students across the state and the nation.


This is of little value to teachers.


This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.


The tests are a boon for the testing corporation. For teachers and students, they are worthless.


Standardized test scores are highly correlated with family income and education. The students from affluent families get the highest scores. Those from poor families get the lowest scores. This is the case on every standardized test, whether it is state, national, international, SAT, or ACT. Sometimes poor kids get high scores, and sometimes kids from wealthy families get low scores, but they are outliers. The standardized tests confer privilege on the already advantaged and stigmatize those who have the least. They are not and will never be, by their very nature, a means to advance equity.


In addition, standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. There will always be a bottom half and a top half. Achievement gaps will never close, because bell curves never close. That is their design. By contrast, anyone of legal age may get a driver’s license if they pass the required tests. Access to driver’s licenses are not based on a bell curve. If they were, about 35 to 40 percent of adults would never get a license to drive.


If you are a parent, you will learn nothing from your child’s test score. You don’t really care how he or she ranks compared to others of her age in the state or in another state. You want to know whether she is keeping up with her assignments, whether she participates in class, whether she understands the work, whether she is enthusiastic about school, how she gets along with her peers. The standardized tests won’t answer any of these questions.


So how can a parent find out what he or she wants to know? Ask your child’s teacher.


Who should write the tests? Teachers should write the tests, based on what they taught in class. They can get instant answers and know precisely what their students understood and what they did not understand. They can hold a conference with Johnny or Maria to go over what they missed in class and help them learn what they need to know.


But how will we know how we are doing as a city or a state or a nation? How will we know about achievement gaps and whether they are getting bigger or smaller?


All of that information is already available in the reports of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), plus much more. Scores are disaggregated by state, gender, race, disability status, poverty status, English-language proficiency, and much more. About 20 cities have volunteered to be assessed, and they get the same information.


As we approach the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act — the successor law to No Child Left Behind — it is important to know this history and this context. No high-performing nation in the world tests every students in grades 3 to 8 every year.


We can say with certainty that the No Child Left Behind program failed to meet its purpose of leaving no child behind.


We can say with certainty that the Race to the Top program did not succeed at raising the nation’s test scores “to the top.”


We can say with certainty that the Every Student Succeeds Act did not achieve its purpose of assuring that every student would succeed.


For the past 10 years, despite (or perhaps because of) this deluge of intrusive federal programs, scores on the NAEP have been flat. The federal laws and programs have come and gone and have had no impact on test scores, which was their purpose.


It is time to think differently. It is time to relax the heavy hand of federal regulation and to recall the original purposes of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act: to distribute funding to the neediest students and schools; to support the professional training of teachers; and to assure the civil rights of students.


The federal government should not mandate testing or tell schools how to “reform” themselves, because the federal government lacks the knowledge or know-how or experience to reform schools.


At this critical time, as we look beyond the terrible consequences of the pandemic, American schools face a severe teacher shortage. The federal government can help states raise funding to pay professional salaries to professional teachers. It can help pay for high-quality prekindergarten programs. It can underwrite the cost of meals for students and help pay for nurses in every school.


American education will improve when the federal government does what it does best and allows highly qualified teachers and well-resourced schools to do what they do best.


Andrea Gabor has written recently about the importance of civics education. She has reminded us that the obsession with standardized testing has robbed students of the joy of learning and consumed time that could be better spent in other ways.

The 22-year-old Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who spoke so beautifully at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, reminded her that we have lost the study of poetry in our mad Race to Leave No Child Behind and to force testing on every student and teacher.

I heartily agree with Gabor. I have always loved poetry. I edited two collections that included many iconic poems: The American Reader and The English Reader (with my son Michael). During a time when I was grieving the loss of a child, I read poetry and found solace in a poem by Ben Jonson. When my children were young, we read poetry together, and they learned the fun of wordplay.

Gabor writes in her article about the need to allot more time to reading and writing poetry.

For too long, poetry has been treated as impractical, and even frivolous, with just 12% of the U.S. adults reporting, in 2018, that they had read a poem during the previous year. Perversely, that sad metric represented a major improvement over the previous decade, when annual poetry reading fell to below 7%. With schools encouraged to focus on practical subjects such as math, science and engineering, and a growing emphasis on nonfiction in the Common Core standards used to help states and school systems decide what to teach, poetry has become an afterthought.

It shouldn’t be. Poetry can be inspirational and teach important lessons about communication (thanks again, Amanda Gorman). It can even be practical, as poetry-loving business executives have long asserted. Elevating the role of poetry also could serve as a low-cost way to bolster student creativity and engagement.

For children, poetry serves as a key to literacy with the rhythm and cadence of books like Dr. Seuss’s “Cat in the Hat” helping even the youngest decode words and meaning, while its absurd rhymes make reading fun. Think of Thing One and Thing Two and the havoc they’ll do.

As children get older, the metaphors and ambiguity of more complex poems serve as an intellectual puzzle, helping youngsters analyze, make connections between words and concepts, and foster critical thinking. Poetry teaches grammar in bite-sized stanzas. Great poems embed unforgettable images and teach the power that a few spare words by Carl Sandburg can convey:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Gorman herself described the research skills that her inaugural poem employed, including examining the work of earlier poet laureates, as well as the oratory of Fredrick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. She drew on the musical “Hamilton,” which pays homage to hip hop and rap, the street poetry that rose out of economic devastation in the 1970s. And she examined tweets following the Capitol riot, which inspired the line, “We’ve seen a force that would shatter this nation rather than share it.”

For Gorman and Biden, who both wrestled with speech impediments, reciting poetry paved the way to eloquence. Gorman has trouble pronouncing Rs, so she practiced the rap lyrics of “Aaron Burr, Sir” from “Hamilton.” To help him overcome a stutter, Biden recited the poems of William Butler Yeats.

For poor children, from New York City to New Delhi, poetry serves as an especially important outlet for self-expression and even for promoting mental health. In Allison Baxter’s class of English-language learners at West Chicago high school, teaching Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem” is a key to understanding Lorraine Hansberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun.” The poem begins:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?

The sophistication of the language and grammar in both the poem and the play provide a welcome challenge for students who relish reciting excerpts from both works, Baxter says. They also offer a window on the Chicago of Hansberry’s youth and an opportunity to help introduce students to their adopted city. 

Poetry has its real-world uses, too. Sidney Harman, the founder of the audio-technology company Harman Kardon, once famously said: “Get me poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers.” (Harman endowed a writer-in-residence program at Baruch College; I’m on the program’s selection committee.)

Consider the frustration of Wes Chapman, a health-care technology entrepreneur, who once rejected dozens of applicants for a marketing job at his Hanover, New Hampshire-based startup M2S — English majors from Dartmouth College, his alma mater — because none of them could identify a favorite poem or poet. “Marketing is a job that requires command of language and understanding how words and images influence people,” says Chapman, who notes that the scientists he worked with, at the time, recited poetry. Although Chapman favors 19th-century verse, he eventually hired a young woman who was able to recite a poem by Maya Angelou.

Poetry is an important part of the liberal arts tradition, which is again being seen as a key to business success.

School principals should encourage teachers to make time for verse. And states and districts should help fund the kinds of organizations — including libraries and student clubs — that offer resources and outlets for student poets. And with states advocating for the federal government to suspend standardized testing this year, in recognition of the difficulties posed by the pandemic, schools could be encouraged to produce year-end projects instead, including those focused on poetry.

Inspiration, creativity, joy, critical thinking about language and its nuances: these are the lessons of poetry, and they matter more than bubbling in the right answer. That is, if you care about real education.

Ann P. Cronin is a former Connecticut Distinguished English Teacher of the Year, a school district administrator, and creator of award-winning programs for the teaching of English in middle schools and high schools. At her blog, she asks about Miguel Cardona’s vision for the future.

She writes:

When I ask Connecticut teachers about Miguel Cardona, those who know him or have worked with him say that he is really nice guy who knows what the challenges in our classrooms are, knows how to help teachers to improve their teaching, and respects public schools. All good.

The majority of Connecticut teachers who don’t know him personally say that he has been largely quiet as Commissioner and are critical that he seems more interested in keeping schools open than in caring about public health, including the welfare of teachers, students and students’ families during the pandemic. 

But what is his vision for teaching and learning that he will bring to the U.S. Department of Education? When appointed Commissioner of Education in Connecticut 19 months ago, he stated that his goals would be to:

  1. Make a positive impact on graduation rates.
  2. Close the achievement gap.
  3. Ensure that all students have increased access to opportunities and advantages that they need to succeed in life.

It is reasonable to assume that the goals he had for Connecticut 19 months ago will be goals that he will now bring to the country. Those goals, however, are “old hat” and don’t have a record of being successfully accomplished.

The goals themselves are worthy ones, but they need a new interpretation which would give rise to a dramatically new vision and radical new actions. The questions are: What would that new vision and new actions look like? And is Dr. Cardona open to that vision and those actions?

Cronin points out that it easy to “raise the graduation rate,” as many districts now do, by offering “credit retrieval” or “credit recovery” courses, a quick computer course that involves minimal learning but provides credits. The goal ought to be, she says, not raising the graduation rate but something like the graduating of well-educated high school students. Currently, graduation rates make good headlines but can mean very little in terms of student learning.

Charter schools have mastered the trick of raising graduation rates by pushing out students who are unlikely to graduate on time.

She asks for something more: a genuine vision that involves improving the quality of education, not improving the data.

How refreshing!