Equity & Diversity Opinion

‘Fact-lets’ of Education

By Deborah Meier — May 05, 2011 4 min read
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Dear Diane,

The alternative to getting mad for me is getting sad. The latter immobilizes me, but the former gives me the energy to keep finding it sufficiently interesting to keep at it. (I do occasionally get bored with it all and think about thinking about something entirely different.)

It was wonderful seeing and speaking with you twice in one week; especially at the University of Indiana where we stayed at the same old-fashioned inn and had a chance for informal chatting.

My grandson’s graduation was an eye-opener, too, but I try hard not to mix business with pleasure. So the focus was on the latter, and it was a great deal of fun. Imagine 10,000 students graduating in that amazing football stadium.

So many amazing “fact-lets” that need exploring. Examples:

  • According to New York state and New York City official data, the United Federation of Teachers’ 2010 report “Separate and Unequal” validates my theory that charters attract the “reduced-" vs. the “free-" lunch crowd. (Ditto data on special education and English-language learners).

    When I taught at P.S. 144 in Central Harlem, I noticed that two Harlem schools just a few blocks away—both serving largely poor, black students—served students whose families were often quite different. “Poor” covers a lot of territory. In Bloomington, Ind., and Ann Arbor, Mich., of course, it includes children of college students! The temporarily poor. Given this, charters should be doing much better on test scores.

    Years ago, someone did a study that demonstrated that if one kept income, gender, and race constant kids did every bit as well at the worst of high schools as they did at the best of them. It was reassuring. But, of course, I forget the source. But I realized we were only talking test scores! I’m not at all sure that private school students didn’t write better, engage in deeper discussions, etc., even if they didn’t have higher SAT scores.

  • It’s amazing to realize that even I did not know that tenure goes back so very far. But thanks for bringing me the data, Diane. You noted that it was instituted more than 100 years ago to avoid nepotism and corruption. Isn’t it wonderful that we’ve eliminated such concerns and can now safely get rid of it? (Sarcasm.) Of course, in fact the issue is due-process—and, in fact, it applies to colleges, too, but the general power of the faculty in colleges is probably more to be honored than in K-12. I know quite a few people who’ve been fired with tenure in K-12, although technically they may have resigned.
  • That Finland has consciously engaged in systematic reform now for less than 10 years, with amazing results. That suggests you can make rapid “revolutionary” change given ... what? A smaller geographic and more homogeneous population? For another—as you noted the other day—if a nation has a 2 percent child-poverty rate compared with the more than 20 percent we face. And I think that latter figure, Diane, is low.
  • The changes the Finns made, however, are exactly the opposite as those we are engaged in. Bizarrely so. Still I doubt if the presentation by Pasi Sahlberg of Finland’s Ministry of Education at the Education Week conference this week converted many of the audience. Why not? What do you think?

    The Finns start formal schooling later (at age 7) while we keep starting younger. They have no standardized tests; we keep adding more. They rely on teachers and local schools to design curriculum and assessment. They depend on getting teachers out of education schools and manage to recruit highly qualified teachers that way. They are 100 percent unionized. They have both a shorter instructional day and fewer school days a year. For students, that is. Teachers have lots of time, therefore, when they are “at work” for planning learning, preparing, reviewing, and meeting together and with families. Interesting point: so do doctors and lawyers. They charge per hour, based on assumptions about how many hours go into contact with patients or clients.

  • Another interesting fact I learned recently: that teaching is one of the few professions that does not certify its own. I’m not sure of the source of this, but I’ll supply it sometime.
  • Even after the last few weeks of travel and speaking, I’m still amazed at how rarely anyone really wants to discuss the purpose of this all—other than “employment.” Even though there is data showing that college is not a cure-all for unemployment, or underemployment. (Wages are probably higher, although many between 22-25 are working for free!)

Will we have to become a low-wage economy with powerless organized workers before we seriously reduce our unemployment rate? Is that the trade-off: more years of schooling for fewer and fewer financial returns?

The power of democracy—and its benefits—may require a new consciousness, one that our schools have not helped us encourage, before a pro-democracy movement powerful enough to turn the tide comes into being.

I’m worried because democracy is one of those subjects that produce ho-hums; we may be willing to die to support it overseas, but what about at home? It lies behind my distrust of “common core standards,” too, Diane, regardless of whether it goes hand in hand with high-stakes testing.


The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.