Re: How the Mayor Should Fix the Schools

See the Education Page of Bas Braams - Links, Articles, Essays, and Opinions on K-12 Education - for related matter.


Re: How the Mayor Should Fix the Schools, by Anthony P. Coles (2002).

Some useful critical comments on this article were posted to the Kto15 list.

David Klein wrote, in part:

Interesting article with some good points, but also naive in some respects. For example [quoting Coles]:

"But expect a rush to the barricades if Mayor Bloomberg so much as hints at reassessing the curriculum. Various influential advocacy groups view schools as incubators of political ideology rather than of actual skills--as witness their opposition in 2001 to the Board of Ed's inept, and failed, effort to contract with the Edison Schools, a for-profit education company with a strict back-to-basics approach, to turn around five chronically failing schools."

This is an example of what I was talking about in some previous posts: the mindless adulation of corporations, even when they are blatantly off track. This is an example of abandonment of critical thinking: if it's corporate, it must be good. Edison, Inc. uses Everday Math and whole language, with predictable results.

Elizabeth Carson comments on the following paragraph of Coles:
In addition, the teachers' union holds firm to the dogma that what happens in the classroom is nobody's business but the certified professional's in front of the blackboard. The current teachers' contract even prohibits principals - those on the line for a school's performance - from reviewing their teachers' lesson plans. But just as war is too important to be left to the generals, curriculum is too important to leave to the teachers.
She writes
In District 2 I have not heard that teachers expect to have any such power or autonomy, and they certainly have not in the past. Primary decisions about instruction have been and are made for them by district administrators, and those decision makers' curricular and instructional mandates are then dutifully enforced by principals. Teachers who do not approve of the districts' love affair with constructivist math and Whole Language (called balanced literacy now) are encouraged to convert to their way of thinking or find employment elsewhere ---or else!

[...] He [Coles] appears to be unaware of, or perhaps just unwilling to acknowledge, the degree of oppression classroom teachers regularly endure, and their utter exclusion from curricular decisions that are instead made and enforced by lesser colleagues who've climbed into administrative positions at the district and central levels.

I was happy he touched on parent concerns with fuzzy math in the context of his call for a return to systemwide curricula. But he missed the opportunity to acknowledge and discuss the dangers of wrongheaded top down and doctrinaire educational reforms, such as the NYC fuzzy math initiatives that have been launched over the past several years in some leading NYC school districts, all fully supported by former and current central administrations (and all funded by our friends at the NSF, and carried out in collaboration with NYU and CUNY schools of education).

Administrative mandates, an obvious result of the seductive lure of NSF dollars and possibility for professional advancement, are the genesis of the programs' existence in our schools, rather than Coles' implication that the deficient programs just popped up in some schools and classrooms by zealous classroom teachers.

I agree with both comments. With regard to Edison: an important feature of the market is that corporations can go belly-up if they don't deliver. Edison has failed to deliver the kind of back-to-basics curriculum that is called for, and if it stays this course then it deserves to go belly-up.

Bas Braams
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Bastiaan J. Braams - braams@math.nyu.edu
Courant Institute, New York University
251 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10012-1185