Monthly Archives: January 2012

Require kids to stay in school? Not so fast…

Anytime you hear government officials mandating new behaviors to a broad swath of the population, that mandate is likely to run afoul of the First Amendment. And so it is with President Obama’s announcement last night that all states must “require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

Although Mr. Obama made other pronouncements about education — see Dana Goldstein’s good summary analysis in The Nation — the stay-in-school mandate was the one that caught my ear, since enforcing it would run afoul of both the United States Supreme Court and our historic commitment to religious liberty.

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Categories: Democracy, Equity, First Amendment

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Other People’s Children

Last week, CNN reported on recent events in Garfield Heights, Ohio, where austerity measures have led local school officials to shorten the schoolday to five hours, get rid of subjects like art, music, and PE — and send kids home before lunch. What didn’t come out during the piece was that these drastic decisions were fueled in part by the community’s refusal, over a 20 year period, to pass a levy that would help support the schools. Like many places across the country, Garfield Heights’ residents were getting older, its younger people were moving away, and those that remained didn’t see sufficient value in a measure that would be used to support the education of other people’s children.

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Categories: Democracy, Learning

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Should Schools be More or Less Democratic?

Like most parents of a young child, I’m trying to decide which environment will be the best for my son when he enters a public school for the first time next fall. At nearly every open house my wife and I attend, cheerful administrators and educators tout the advantage of being a “participatory” school, and of “giving children the opportunity to learn and work in groups.” Send your child here, they tell us, and he’ll acquire a core set of democratic skills – from working collaboratively to acting empathetically – that will help him successfully negotiate our increasingly interconnected global community.

Sounds great, I say – until I open my Sunday New York Times and read a cover story warning against the rise of a new type of groupthink. “Most of us now work in teams,” writes author Susan Cain, “in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”

Whom should we trust? Have we overvalued democratic skills like collaboration and shared decision-making to our own detriment? And, in the end, should our schools be more or less democratic?

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Categories: Democracy, Learning

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To praise or not to praise

What’s the best way to support the overall learning and growth of children — via a healthy doze of generalized praise, or with a strict diet of precise, targeted feedback that helps children see their own work more objectively? That’s the question posed in a recent article in the Washington Post, and based on the […]

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Categories: Assessment, Learning, Organizational Change, Teacher Quality

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Here, in Léogâne, halfway between Port-au-Prince and the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake that unleashed Haiti’s latest round of devastation, death and hardship, Doug Taylor is building houses.

An Indiana native in his 25th year of working for Habitat for Humanity, Taylor is tanned, serious and unshaven, with sandy straight hair that hangs down as though it has been weighted with stones. On a sunny day in December 2011, Taylor greets a visitor before 155 brand-new homes, all arranged in orderly rows, all built to a uniform size and shape, and all painted bright colors of pink, blue or green – a Haitian Levittown.

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Categories: Democracy, Learning, Organizational Change

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