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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"

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.

I had reactions to everyone of these points.
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.

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.

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.

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.


Originally posted to teacherken on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 04:54 AM PST.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (28+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 04:54:15 AM PST

  •  Right on teacherken. (12+ / 0-)

    Thanks for keeping up the battle for sanity and education when you have battles of your own. Much respect my brother. More power to you.

    Education is perhaps the most worthy battle of all. Even the climate problem is first a matter of education. If we all knew more, understood more, there would be fewer problems and more solutions. So carry on teacherken.

  •  What are your thoughts on Number 8? (5+ / 0-)

    At the elementary level, certainly teaching needs to be left to professionals with education degrees who know what they're doing.

    I read to my son since he was a day old, but I'm under no self-delusion that I "taught" him how to read. No, I have no idea how to teach someone to read. A teacher did that for him.

    But what about at the high school level? Could, say, a retired chemist with a desire to teach not do a pretty awesome job in a science class, maybe even better, say, than a teacher reading from a book with no real-world science experience? Or a retired legislator teaching a government course?

    My degree is in journalism. The best course I had within my major was taught by a practicing journalist. The man had never taught before, but what he lacked in classroom experience he more than made up for with real-world insight and knowledge.

    As I said, my background is not in education, so I'm open to the  notion that I'm 100% wrong here.

    How about I believe in the unlucky ones?

    by BenderRodriguez on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 05:28:03 AM PST

    •  there are good reasons for training (10+ / 0-)

      I have had some formal training in reading education because one year I was responsible not only for social studies but also for language arts and reading for a group o 60 kids in two sections, each of which I saw twice a day.

      there are developmental issues to be considered especially with younger children

      the problem at the high school level is the assumption that just because someone knows a topic thoroughly that s/he can successfully impart that knowledge to a groups of adolescents.  Heck, one problem at the post-secondary level is the number of professors who are great researchers but cannot teach their way out of a paper bag.

      On paper the most brilliant of my 5 student teachers was a 4.0 junior phi beta kappan who absolutely loved history and who gave up running track his senior year to student teach.   When he did his first couple of sample lessons (I tried to ease them into the responsibility of teaching) he was getting very frustrated because the students didn't have the same level of passion as he did about some things.  But then he was thinking as a committed 21 year old, not as a 9th grader.  When it came time for him to take over the class, he panicked and backed out, having failed at something for the first time in his life.

      What too many people do not properly understand is that teaching is far more than subject area knowledge, that you do not just peel back skulls and pour in the knowledge.   teaching is about finding ways to get the students connected to what it is you think they need to learn.  Just because you think it is important does not by itself connect with them.

      That is one reason that even when test scores go up learning and skills do not.

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 05:59:24 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Teachers must know subject matter content... (7+ / 0-)

      ...pedagogy and be able to apply learning theory into practice.

      Assuming a heterogeneous class of dynamic learners are all interested and motivated to participate in didactic approaches to learning is naive. This is what the corporate education reform forces are banking on and this is why education reform is failing miserably.

      I hope that the President will listen to the words of expert educators like Ken and Supt. Hochman because what has happened is the Obama Administration has ignored the voices and cries of educators in favor of high powered Wall Street edushysters.

      Educational experience based on non-consensual behaviorism is authoritarian mind control.

      by semioticjim on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 06:34:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Teach-for-awhilers (8+ / 0-)

      are all young kids fresh from a four year baccalaureate degree.  They are not retired experts with a ton of experience.

      I am not against them.  Most are the cream of the crop.  They bring fresh ideas and idealism into the school.  I think having no one in the school with more than one year experience, however, would be a disaster.

      I worked on writing the chemistry curriculum with a TFA (a pre-med student waiting to get into med school).  We couldn't have gotten it done without her. She had a deeper content knowledge than any of the rest of us and she also saw the big picture.

      Writing curriculum, though, is different from teaching general chemistry to students with no science knowledge base (thanks to NCLB and RTTT).

      Your hypothetical retired chemist, for instance, might have all the knowledge and enthusiasm in the world, but without experience in teaching and some study of learning theory, would not know what to do when students fail to "get it", which they do at every step along the way.

      Right now I am teaching my chem I students to write formulas for binary ionic compounds.  I use multiple methods to teach this skill.  They work with manipulatives, fitting a block with two V cuts(to represent an ion with an oxidation state of +2) with two one-toothed blocks (representing -1 anions).  They balance charges algebraically.  They criss cross.

      Some of them still don't get it.  It took me years to realize that the problem with those who don't learn is not that they can't do the simple algebra involved or that they can't distinguish between the concepts of number and charge, but rather that they can't look at a series of symbols and numbers and make any sense out of them.  

      They can't distinguish between a coefficient and a superscript indicating charge.  So this year I am starting out with the task of looking at simple chemical expressions and analyzing what they mean. Example: 4Ca2+  How many ions are there?  What is the charge on each one?  We'll see if that helps.

      This is why experience matters.  Your retired chemist might have an instinct for where the learning blockages are.  On the other hand, s/he might have learned these elementary skills so easily as to have been unaware of the learning process and take it for granted that their students will pick it up as easily as they did.

      Light is seen through a small hole.

      by houyhnhnm on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 08:48:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'd like to hear more on this one. (0+ / 0-)
    8.      Leave teaching to career professionals (not teach for awhilers) and collaborate with every union to formulate professional 21st century contracts
    What does the euphemism "professional 21st century contract" mean, apart from a contract prohibiting the use of Teach for America?

    Many hands make light work, but light hearts make heavy work the lightest of all.

    by SpamNunn on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 05:31:57 AM PST

    •  I have given you his twitter handle (4+ / 0-)

      I have also sent him the link to this diary so perhaps he will answer your question to me via email.

      But I suggest if you are really concern, go to his blog and post your question there.  That way I guarantee he will see it.

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 06:00:37 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  a bit of an apology (6+ / 0-)

    but I will not be monitoring this for the next few hours.  Have to leave for Quaker Meeting for Worship, which is going to be followed by a "Second Hour" in which our Ministry & Worship Committee, of which I am a member, will lead the congregation in an exploration of the spiritual state of the Meeting.  I will not get back to check on this until sometime after Noon.

    Thanks in advance for reading, and for anything else you might do with this.


    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sun Feb 17, 2013 at 06:25:30 AM PST

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