- Series: New Democracy Forum
- Paperback: 106 pages
- Publisher: Beacon Press (April 24, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0807004413
- ISBN-13: 978-0807004418
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,313,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Will Standards Save Public Education
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"...Meier argues against centralized standards with a clarity and force, [setting] a high standard for the seven contributors to this volume." -- Boston Magazine
About the Author
Deborah Meier is the author of The Power of Their Ideas. She is principal of the Mission Hill School in Boston, Massachusetts.
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Top Customer Reviews
As nimbly as Meier criticizes the "academic," there remains to me great value in presenting children healthy doses of materials that intelligent, far-sighted adults have made the cornerstones of thinking, acting, and speaking that pervade the entire civilization. Kids may well like the warm fuzziness of a Debbie Meier school, but the kids at traditional schools will come out better educated: Whatever they want to study next and whatever work and whatever citizenship roles they wish to pursue, they will have the intellectual underpinning to be able to do that. Well, many will; the incompetent and uninterested will not, and here I part company with Meier: we simply cannot keep lowering and lowering expectations and bending over backward so that more kids stay in school and pass.
Part and parcel of her hostility to high standards, Meier way-overstates the virtues of localism. She's against privatization but for a radical localism that is still "public" education only in the sense that we all pay for the onsite administrators, teachers, and parents to design a school as they please.
Now, here's where I see provincialism in Meier: She's in New York and then Boston--how exactly will her plan play out in the parts of Kansas where the "locals" want evolution to be treated as heretical, the parts of East LA where the "locals" don't want English used, and the parts of Alabama where the "locals" want to refer to a great national hero as "Martin Luther Coon"? No, I like the supra-local; I like national standards. And besides, people move around these days, from Maine to San Diego: do we want their kids exposed to entirely different educational practices and materials each time?
So I found it super-interesting in this book that a key supporter of Meier's who wrote a (very good) confirmation of Meier's thinking was William Ayers, who became a key figure in the last Presidential election as one of the "radicals" that Obama was accused of "palling around with" (in Sarah Palin's memorable phrase). The connection for me is again at the level of provincialism. Billy Ayers was a Weatherman who fell in with Cinque and the Symbionese Liberation Army. They did some of the stupidest things ever in the name of "the people's revolutionary justice," always carrying themselves as if they had millions of followers. They lived in Berkeley, where in one particular three-block area it seemed that the whole world was going the SLA way. But at their highest membership the SLA actually numbered 19.
To me, that's Debbie Meier. A few schools in NYC and Boston work because she's there: a visionary, impassioned, totally committed, articulate and energizing. The schools on their own terms work: kids enjoy being there; they design and carry out "real" (as against "academic") projects; some of them go on to college and thrive. So Meier gets on the platform and suggests that all U.S. education be designed after these schools' image. We get away from standards imposed from above, from outside; we make it all up as we go along, making each little school unique, each school responsible only to its own constituents.
Good luck running the whole country's schools that way. What we got is hardly great; the Meier plan would make things exponentially worse. The essay here by Thernstrom suggests why. It's all worth reading and thinking about.
1. Provide a statewide minimum standard of academic achievement which means that those students who receive a Regents diploma have a more meaningful credential than a mere school diploma. Prospective employers know what a Regents diploma signifies, whereas they seldom know how much a school diploma means.
2. Protects students against that small minority of teachers who would fail students they don't like. Granted, good teachers far outnumber bad teachers, but this is small consolation to victims of bad teachers. I know whereof I speak. My eighth grade English teacher would have failed me, but for the Regents exam. State law said anyone who passed the Regents passed the course.
3. Alerts state authorities to schools in which students consistently exceed or fall short of the expected level of academic achievement. The high-performing schools can be studied so that other schools can benefit from their methods, and low-performing schools can be helped to improve.
It seems to be this third "benefit" which has Meier up in arms. If the state authorities use the tests as an excuse to punish schools and teachers for below-average performance instead of aiding them to improve, then they are misusing the information from the tests, and this, beyond question, is bad. And it is true that politicians often prefer to withhold state aid from underperforming schools rather than give them the extra help they need to improve. After all, it "saves the taxpayer money" to give the schools less instead of more. It may be great political grandstanding, and it may get votes from the selfish and foolish, but it is a betrayal of the children the state is supposed to be serving. Meier is quite rightly offended by this.
But Meier ignores the baby in her zeal to throw out the bath water. It is not the tests that are at fault, but the politicians that misinterpret and misuse them.
Meier's essay is followed by seven critiques by seven other authors, all of which, in one way or another, miss the point. They all would do well to read John Stanford's book Victory in Our Schools: We Can Give Our Children Excellent Public Education, which presents a program that, in addition to tests to evaluate student achievement and teacher performance, provides help to those teachers and students who are underperforming. Stanford correctly, I believe, assumes that nearly all teachers want to do right by their students, and he stood ready to provide those teachers with leadership, encouragement, and assistance in bettering their performance. Nearly all of them did!