Help Build a Bridge for Essential Schools

Every day seems to bring more interesting news in the world of public education: a new alliance of school districts and charters schools, scores on PISA, a waiver from the state department of education to allow Cathy Black to succeed Joel Klein in New York City, a front page  story in the New York Times about Bill Gates’ support for videotaping teachers and Michelle Rhee’s launch of Students First.

Perhaps all of these developments deserve our attention, even though none can claim impact—they’re all works in progress, even the semi-good news about small increases by US students on the international PISA results.  I expect to be blogging about them down the road.

If you are looking for positive impact on the lives and learning of children, I suggest the Coalition of Essential Schools, that wonderfully loose organization created in 1984 by the late Ted Sizer, a true giant in education.


Whether it’s the network of like-minded teachers who have been supporting each other for years and years, sharing ideas, techniques, successes and failures, or wildly successful schools like High Tech High and the Met schools, it’s clear that CES has had a positive impact on our schools.  The CES common principles are  found in most of the good work that is going on for kids today in schools all around the nation.

CES knows that no two schools are or should be alike, and, as its current leader George Wood put it, “CES never ‘branded’ itself or tried to control the ideas, and it never became a charter network or professional development shop or something like that.” Instead, CES remained true to Ted Sizer’s ideal, a ‘big tent’ of schools and educators determined to do the right thing(s) for students. But right now CES faces a serious challenge.

Many of the foundations that have supported CES over the years have moved on, which is their perfect right, of course.  But it leaves CES in a financial bind.  It’s reinventing itself, but that’s been a constant activity from day one.  Naturally the Fall Forum and the newsletter will continue, but George reports that CES is rethinking how it can best play a part in the upcoming debates/discussions over the future of our public schools.  He wrote, “I believe we can create a self-sustaining organization, but to get there we need ‘bridge’ funding, some money in the bank to support basic operating costs.”

It’s incredibly easy to donate, and I urge you to do so now. I just clicked the link, filled in a bit of information, and hit send. Bingo, I feel the spirit of the holiday season. I made my gift in honor of Ted, because his legacy matters more today than ever.

Donate online here or send a check: CES, c/o Great Schools Partnership, Attn. Darlene Hart, 482 Congress Street, Suite 500, Portland, ME 04101.

Please be a bridge-builder. Thank you.


Back in 2000, I visited Ted and asked him to talk about his vision for creating excellent schools. Listen to the interview online >>>

7 thoughts on “Help Build a Bridge for Essential Schools

  1. I personally liked Ted Sizer and he showed enormous courage in bringing me to Harvard in 1968 with a high school diploma. I received a doctorate 4 years later but he refused to support my interest in pursuing a change in public school policy from a system that ignored how to learn in favor of the what to learn. He was committed to maintain the traditional public schools albeit better public high schools. In 1970, cognitive development was too “blue sky”. The public schools need to promote the inherent human capacity to learn (not an acquired skill set) not simply improved information gathering skills. The essential schools for all their value has become a vocational system measured by employment not an investment in human development. No talk of independent thought or those values that might undo racism; isolation, intellectual advocacy rather than inquiry and the falsely constructed grading system. We just don’t have the heart or critical vision to look at the contribution that schools make to the achievement gap.


    • Rogier, the 10th principal of CES reads, “The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.” The organization was (and is) digging hard into the achievement gap and the ways that we undervalue under served populations of kids- and their families. I’m not sure where you got your information about what essential schools are- and there’s no single school that represents all of them- but I think you’ve got bad information.


  2. I miss Ted everday. Mostly because he reminded all of us of the “silences” in our “conversation” about thoughtful education for our children. John, I could not agree more that Ted’s “blameless” critique and his hopeful imagination are more relevant than ever before. Those of us who have work the vineyards of school renewal have a responsibility to invoke Ted’s important research, inquiry, ideas, and the importatnce of understanding history. His nine/ten common principles touch on all of the common places of schooling–especially getting right, what John Goodlad describes as “the conditions and circumstances” of teaching and learning. Ted gave no comfort to trivial learning exemplified by our cultural and political obsession with testing and the resulting pedagogies of separation, denial, and boredom. He wanted young people to deeply engage in important questions that crossed curricular boundaries. He advocated for “those closest to the kids” to lead and command teaching and learning. He understood clearly that one can not teach a child one does not know well—this is the heart of Ted’s legacy—deep and engaging personalization of the learning experience for every child and young person.

    My compliments to you John Merrow for reminding us that Ted’s work must live on through each of us who knew and loved him.

    Don Ernst, Coordinator
    Children and Youth Initiative
    Central Arkansas Library System

    Senior Advisor and Permanent Adjunct Education Professor
    Clinton School of Public Service


  3. As a student in a traditional high school back in the 80’s, I’m not quite sure how I ended up with a copy of Horace’s Compromise. Now, however, I can see the giant impact of that single event- it’s changed the way I view my role as teacher and teacher- educator. In this era of Test is Best, I can’t imagine a world without CES in it. CES represents the last national voice for the progressive educator. I donated and I hope my colleagues and friends will do so as well.


  4. John — thanks for reminding people about Ted and the work of the CES.

    The previous commentator is poorly informed about both Ted’s work and the nature of the CES. Ted was most strongly committed to developing “habits of the mind” and not the stuff that the commenter is comlaining about. He would be astounded by the criticism.


  5. Despite Rogier’s critique (and I have great respect for Rogier!) I appreciate this post. What is unfortunate is how far the dominant discourse in reform is from the model Ted created. I wish Gates, Rhee, and Duncan would spend two weeks working with the members of the coalition…maybe real change, not the skill, drill, and kill being promoted by these three, would come to our schools and communities…I am happy to make a small donation.



    • Dijana казва:zdravstias sam od makevodonija i iskam da mi kaztee kade v Blagoevgrad moga da namerja va6ite proizvodi i dali imate matraci so dimenzija 188 160 ili nesto priblizno so tove razmerizvinjavajte za moe ezik ako ne e dobarmersipi6ete mi na mail


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