that I encountered because Diane Ravitch wrote about it. Jere Hochman is the Superintendent of Schools for the Bedford Central School District in Westchester County, just north of New York City. He has recent piece on his personal blog, Thinking About Schools, titled 10 Executive Actions "To our posterity" that is in the form of a letter to President Obama about things he can do to make a difference, a real difference, in the lives of our young people.
Hochman's post very much caught my attention, so I asked him for permission to cross-posted it here an perhaps add some commentary of my own. In giving me permission, he told me he often reads my posts here or sees them on Twitter, where he writes as @jhstl - and I would suggest that if you, like me, care about good thinking on public education, you might want to follow him, as I now do.
I suggest you continue below the cheese-doodle to see what he posted, which by itself is worth your time. I will offer a few thoughts of my own as well.
10 Executive Actions "To our posterity"I had reactions to everyone of these points.
Dear Mr. President:
re: Education, please...
1. Remind Americans that the Constitution and Declaration of Independence do not include the word “education;" whereas words like life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, created equal, unalienable rights, general welfare, blessings of liberty, justice, and domestic tranquility appear often. Those words pretty well cover education (so you can skip right to #4)
2. Headline Supreme Court decisions and legislative action of Brown v. Board of Education, PL 94-142 (IDEA), Title IX, Plyler vs. Doe, and the core values of your Inaugural speech that (finally) launched the 21st century "to our posterity"
3. Make a statement revising every-year testing to testing only English and mathematics in grades 3, 6, 8, and 11 (transition years as benchmarks of school and district progress), dismantle remnants of NCLB, eliminate RTTT; and then…
4. Shut down the Department of Education and resuscitate the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW)
5. Maintain departments that monitor and protect Civil Rights, IDEA, and the Supreme Court rulings and legislation noted above and collaborate with content professional organizations (NCTE, NCTM, and others) to lead educational development
6. Focus HEW on health and welfare (root factors in student achievement), research, convening and educating state leaders, and using its bully pulpit to advocate for Parents As Teachers and other birth to five readiness programs, addressing poverty, knocking down real impediments of every student achieving.
7. Confront every corporate CEO with their academically demeaning and counter-productive tactics which make money off the backs of kids
8. Leave teaching to career professionals (not teach for awhilers) and collaborate with every union to formulate professional 21st century contracts
9. Call out every self-proclaimed quick fix reformer and politician to let them know the '50s called and wants their factory model of education back; to encourage them to spend days (not a photo op) in rural, urban, and suburban kindergarten classrooms and maybe give them 125 junior English essays to grade in one weekend.
10. Re-establish the WPA (Federal Works Project Administration) that built our parents, grandparents and some of our schools, provided opportunities in the arts, built highways and bridges, and created jobs.
Take #7 for example - it is infuriating to see public tax dollars being directed less to things that make a difference in the lives and learning of young people and more to the financial benefit of foreign-owned corporations (Pearson) and ideologically driven media moguls (Rupert Murdoch).
Taking 4 & 6 together - people tend to forget that Education (which is still the smallest cabinet department in size of staff) has been a separate department only since Jimmy Carter, and that Ronald Reagan originally intended to shut it down. Nowadays someone like Geoffrey Canada gets praise for his Harlem Children's Village because of the wrap-around services it provides. Folding education back with HHS to recreate HEW would very much recognize that education does not occur in isolation from other important things, including health care. I do note that do accomplish #4 would require Congressional action - the creation of new cabinet departments or the folding of multiple departments together (as was done by merging Navy and War and creating Defense) requires Congress to agree and act.
#3 would be a big improvement over what we do now, where we test every grade 3-10, where we are seeing efforts to move testing even lower. I note that the floor of 3r grade for testing was because below that too few students are developmentally mature enough to get reliable results.
I LOVE #9!!! One thing most people do not realize is that just about every "reform" proposed in education has been tried before - and found wanting. My friend Diane Ravitch is perhaps this generation's most important historian of education and regularly takes apart the push towards mayoral control of schools, such as we have seen in Chicago, NY and DC, to cite just 3 big city examples. Where the approach was tried in the past, it was found wanting. When one compares the performance of big cities today, those under mayoral control consistently perform lower than cities with school systems independent of mayoral control. And yes, we seem increasingly moving in the direction of a factory model - and that seems an inevitable outcome of the national tests that will flow behind the Common Core Standards. We move ever further away from seeing each student as an individual whose needs and interests need to be respected. And after all, this directly connects with #7, because it is through such standardization that corporations can more easily enter the picture and make their profits. We have seen this with corporate management of chains of charters, and even before that with Educational Management Organizations like Chris Whittle's Edison Schools (which fortunately got run out of most the cities where it was operating).
#10 speaks to a critical issue - our school infrastructure is in many cases old and/or decaying. I have written about this many times before, most notably in this piece in December 2006, at which time I wrote
Students are often far more perceptive than adults realize. They see the conditions in which they attend school and quickly draw the conclusion that their learning is really not important, otherwise they would not be subjected to such indignities. As adults we would be quite upset to be confined by force of law to such an environment and then be expected to perform to a set of standards that were already in many cases unreasonable. Were we describing such conditions in a manufacturing environment we might rightly attached the pejorative label of sweatshop, and we would expect that the authorities would intervene on the grounds of public health and safety. And yet for far too long we have tolerated such conditions in our public schools.We know all of our public infrastructure needs attention - bridges, dams, viaducts, aquaducts, sewer lines . . . it is especially critical for safe and healthy learning environments for our young people. If we really care about their learning, we will be certain to provide safe, healthy, and up to date facilities in which they can learn.
If we are truly going to insist on educational equity, as is the underlying principle of NCLB, then such equity must include the conditions under which we attempt to have our children learn. Some in Congress recognize the importance of this. As the report notes, Reps. George Miller, Lynn Woolsey and Ben Chandler have introduced the 21st Century High-Performing School Facilities Act of 2006, which would authorize grants and loans to school districts for modernization and construction, with priority given to those district more heavily impacted by low-income children. This is a start, but absent massive increases in the funds available for such programs, it is unlikely that they can address the serious issue of our school infrastructure.
You may not agree with everything Dr. Hochman offers.
You may have things you would like to see added to such a list.
What you have is someone who has dedicated his adult life to the education of children speaking out.
Many are speaking out.
We have teachers in Seattle.
We have principals in New York State.
We have school boards in Texas.
We have increasing groups of students and parents across the country.
In Indiana, the voters spoke, rejected the reelection of the state superintendent who was very much of a "reformer" to replace him with a career teacher who got more votes than did the new Governor. Unfortunately the legislature did not get the message, went ahead with the "reforms" previously proposed and is moving to gut the powers of the office to which she was just elected.
When we have a clear voice like that of Jere Hochman, we should not only listen to it, we should where we can amplify it by making his words available to more people.
That is why I wrote this post.
I hope you will value what he wrote as I much as I did, and make his words available to others by whatever means you deem appropriate.