Theodore Sizer good or bad?
From: DNS BNA
Date sent: Thu, 26 Mar 1998 09:44:04 EST
Subject: Re: Fwd. ECC: Public Engagement
You may have noticed that my original post was taken from the Coalition of
Essential Schools listserv. How much of Sizer have you read? I've read
_Horace's Compromise_, _Horace's School_, and _Horace's Hope_.
My son spent two years in the middle school of a new magnet school here in
Nashville that is promoted as moving toward an Essential Schools approach.
Among other things that happened there, we (PTSO, of which I was president,
and teachers) put on a school-wide science symposium, where groups (oh,
horrors!) of students worked together on their projects, then came in on a
Saturday morning to present (whoops, that's a form of "authentic assessment")
them to panels of community members including engineers, university
professors, etc. From a student's standpoint, I'm sure my son learned more
from that project than he did from his "all-by-himself" science fair project
he did this year at one of Nashville's Academic Magnets Schools. Several
teacher's told me how threatening they found this project. Having very
intelligent, educated community members in the school, judging presentations
from students and drawing conclusions about the school's quality based on
those presentations put a huge amount of pressure on those teachers. The fact
that we had all students present, not just the select few that could have put
the best face on our efforts, heightened that pressure.
Right now, I'm reading Deborah Meier's _The Power of Their Ideas_. She's the
founder of Central Park East Elementary and Central Park East Secondary
School. CPESS follows an Essential Schools format. They've been very
successful, and their district, East Harlem, has just been the subject of a
study finding that parental choice between multiple small schools. She
believes teachers and adults have things to "teach" kids. (Instructivism)
She also believes that creating a community of involvement and trust with
parents and teachers and students is important. And she supports the use of
portfolio's and presentations in the 11th & 12th grades. Yet she's getting
kids into colleges (including Ivy League), and has an extremely high retention
rate (97% as I recall). Even before CPESS started, the kids going through her
elementary school went on to do better in middle and high school than would
have been predicted based on their socio-economic status, etc.
Your attack on Sizer is as unfounded and inaccurate as the charges of elitism
and racism launched at E.D. Hirsch. Read Sizer. He proposes early college in
11th and 12th grade for those academically capable students who've mastered
what high school can offer by 10th grade. He's concerned about schools,
inner-city and suburban, allowing students to slide by in what he calls the
conspiracy of mediocrity. He describes the "deal" between students and
teachers in these schools as being that the students don't create waves and do
basically what they are asked, and the teachers don't ask very much. Is this
right on, or what? Don't you wish every high school in your district had
someone who saw schools that way and found it intolerable for principal?
Is public engagement solving all the problems? Of course not. If, as the
article suggests, it is a growing phenomenon, then great. I've yet to see
real data that backs such a hypothesis. However, I submit that a meaningful
question is what steps we can take (as citizens, voters, parents, school
boards, etc.) to reshape the information flows and incentives to encourage
more schools to allow and even solicit such public engagement.
In a message dated 98-03-26 06:11:00 EST, you write:
Gee, that "public engagement" stuff (whatever that might mean and/or
whatever that might actually be) sure does sound wonderful....
However, speaking as Joan does of "connecting the dots," what sort of a
picture forms when you realize -- AND WHY DIDN'T ANYBODY SAY THIS? -- what
forms when you realize that Brown University, where this is all happening, is
the old stamping grounds of Theodore Sizer. That's right. Ted Sizer, the
Chairman of the Department of Education at Brown Univ., who startled the
educational world in 1975 when he came out in favor of "Mastery" of certain
Sad to say, Sizer must have realized almost immediately which side
his bread was buttered on, because within less than 6 weeks, he was talking
out of the other side of his mouth. His "quest for Mastery" morphed into a
"quest for How to Demonstrate Mastery." That's right. He decided
immediately that the sort of "mastery" where students demonstrated that they
had learned mathematics by passing tests was not REALLY "Mastery."
Sizer started the "Portfolio" movement as a way to crush mastery, and
things have gone downhill from there. Out of the cain of "Essential Schools"
that Sizer started, perhaps one (1) has amounted to more than the average
Calling it "engagement" might confuse things for a moment. However
much its owner tells you it is an alligator, if it walks like a duck, if it
quacks like a duck, if it looks like a duck, and it smells like a duck, it is
probably not an alligator...
EDUCATION CONSUMERS CLEARINGHOUSE