Arne Duncan’s “How Schools Work”

Moderates and liberals concerned about public schools will enjoy “How Schools Work,” the new book by former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  Conservatives and Second Amendment acolytes will not be happy because Duncan cares deeply about our national failure to restrict access to guns.  However, those who care about accuracy and full disclosure will be deeply disturbed by the omissions and distortions that run through the book.  Luckily for Duncan, this last group is probably not large enough to slow down his publicity machine.

Education runs on lies.” As attention-getting opening sentences go, this one from Arne Duncan has to rank near the top. And toward the end of the book, he writes, “The truth is that we not only don’t value our teachers. We don’t value our kids.”   Strong stuff. However, except for passionate, angry, and deeply moving chapters about gun violence, “How Schools Work” is not the ‘inside account’ Duncan promises; instead, it’s notable for what he glosses over or omits entirely. Duncan was by far the most powerful and consequential United States Secretary of Education in the Department’s 42-year history. In 2009, the year he arrived in Washington, Congress gave him $4.35 billion to spend as he saw fit, far more discretionary money than the other 10 Secretaries combined.  How he spent that money changed public education and upended the federal-state relationship.

Duncan is an admirable and likable person. Many children growing up with supportive parents, a private school education, and basketball skills that opened doors to the Ivy League might emerge feeling entitled, but that did not happen in Duncan’s case. He acknowledges that basketball got him into Harvard, and he seized the opportunity. He graduated magna cum laude (sociology) and co-captained the varsity basketball team. When he did not make the NBA, he played professionally in Australia for several years before returning to Chicago to work with underprivileged youth, which he and his sister had done regularly in their mother’s early childhood center in inner city Chicago.

Though education has been Duncan’s career, guns and gun violence are central to understanding the man. Children at his Mom’s center lost family members to gun violence, and as CEO of Chicago’s schools he went to a student’s funeral every two or three weeks for seven years. Early in his career, the National Rifle Association singled him out for disapprobation, a badge he continues to wear with honor. In fact, the most eloquent and moving chapters of “How Schools Work” are those about gun violence, the seemingly intractable problem that the passionately optimistic Duncan is now tackling back in Chicago.

“How Schools Work” includes many engaging stories. One concerns a Chicago rising senior, Calvin Williams, an African American who was ‘twice the player I was.’  As Calvin’s tutor, Duncan asked him to take a language arts test, to establish the skills he needed to work on.  Looking over Calvin’s shoulder, “I plainly saw that Calvin struggled to read and could barely form a proper sentence. His letters were fine but his spelling was dismal. His ability to craft a cohesive thought using written language was nonexistent. I wasn’t an expert, but if I had to guess, Calvin Williams, a rising high school senior on the B honor roll, could read and write at a second- or third-grade level.”

His conclusion: Chicago schools had systematically lied to Calvin and his parents about his progress.  How many more Calvins were there, and what could he do about it?  He would get his chance in 2001 when Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed him CEO of the public schools. He closed many schools and opened charter schools, and, although test scores and graduation rates improved, many other cities made greater gains. He served until 2009, when another Chicagoan, Barack Obama, asked him to come to Washington.

Throughout this century, two school reform strategies have competed for domination. The top down ‘Better people’ approach identifies and rewards ‘good’ teachers and drives out ‘bad’ ones, with good and bad determined largely by students’ standardized test scores. By contrast, the ‘better job’ approach gives teachers more responsibility for what is taught and how success is measured.  In Chicago Duncan kept one foot in each camp; in Washington, however, he embraced the ‘better people’ approach.

In Chicago Duncan chafed under No Child Left Behind, the 2001 federal law that required that all students achieve proficiency by 2008; he writes about traveling to Washington to beg Secretary Margaret Spellings for a waiver from a federal ruling telling him who he could hire for his summer school program (She eventually granted the waiver). Although Congress hated NCLB, it couldn’t agree on a revision when it expired in 2008, and so the law, which Duncan called “fundamentally broken and obsolete,” remained in force.

When he became Secretary, every state needed a waiver to avoid being in violation. Given his strong feelings about NCLB and federal overreach, Duncan could have said, “Of course. Now let’s work together to improve schools.” He did not do that. Instead, he granted conditional waiversWhen I interviewed him for the PBS NewsHour, I posed this question: “So, states will get more money if they do this thing that Mr. Duncan wants?” His response: “If you play by these rules, absolutely right.”

In other words, although Duncan had railed against federal “micromanagement,” he embraced the opportunity. Readers looking for some acknowledgment of the irony will be disappointed.

Then Duncan announced his plan for allocating the discretionary money. A former professional basketball player, the new secretary decided to make states compete for the money.  Independent reviewers would judge states according to their commitment to 1) improving their data collection, 2) raising their academic standards; 3) ‘turning around’ high schools with high dropout rates and poor academic scores; and 4) overhauling teacher evaluation.

(A quick aside: When Duncan announced ‘Race to the Top,’ we saw a great opportunity for a compelling NewsHour series. I called Peter Cunningham, Duncan’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, to propose we be given access to the application process, the judging, and everything else behind the scenes. Peter invited me to pitch the idea to Duncan, which I did. Declaring that openness was essential to show the public that the process was not ‘political,’ Duncan agreed. We were thrilled at the prospect of a gripping ‘serial’ that would run for several months, but at the eleventh hour the Department’s General Counsel nixed the idea, on the grounds that setting that precedent would make it difficult to turn down other journalists who wanted to report on the department’s inner workings. However, Duncan did have the process recorded, and the judging’s integrity was not questioned.)

Two of Duncan’s targets, teacher evaluation and higher academic standards, were genuinely controversial.  Most states set their own academic standards, but, as Duncan writes, “Wouldn’t it be nice if what a kid learned in El Paso was equivalent to what a kid learned in Nashville or Boston?”  An effort—led by the National Governors Association, not the federal government–to raise standards was well underway, but when Duncan’s Race to the Top required higher standards, accusations of ‘national curriculum’ and ‘federal takeover’ filled the airwaves, and before long Duncan was accused of acting like ‘the nation’s school superintendent.’  In the end, however, nearly every state adopted what the NGA called the Common Core. Although over time some states dropped the name for political reasons, nearly all have remained committed to the goal.  Chalk that up as a win for Duncan.

Although almost everyone in education acknowledges that teacher evaluation is embarrassingly inadequate, changing it proved to be problematic.  Generally, ratings were based on how well prepared teachers appeared to be, not on how their students performed; in some districts principals needed a teacher’s permission before they could sit in the back of the room to observe.  In hopes of rewarding the ‘best’ teachers with extra pay and identifying the ‘worst’ teachers, Duncan wanted them to be judged largely based on their students’ academic achievement, something that was prohibited by law in California, Wisconsin, and a few other states.  When Duncan announced that states with those laws could not enter the competition, legislatures were quick to get rid of the offending legislation.  Another win for Duncan.

However, using test scores as the primary measure of teacher effectiveness created serious problems. All teachers were to be evaluated by test scores, but students were tested only in math and English language arts. How should teachers of science, social studies, art, music, and physical education be judged? Because those tests did not exist, some of those teachers found themselves being judged based on the English and math scores of students who weren’t in their classes–and in some cases not even in their schools.

That test-centric policy has meant more tests, more test-prep, and, sadly, cheating by adults fearful of losing their jobs. Googling ‘cheating by teachers on their students’ standardized tests’ produces 2,400,000 hits with stories about Atlanta, Columbus Ohio, Austin, Texas, and Duncan’s favorite reform ‘success,’ Washington, DC. Even that approach’s strongest supporter, billionaire Bill Gates, has concluded that teaching is too complex to be measured so narrowly, but Duncan makes no reference to the controversies, except for what amounts to an aside: “(M)aybe we had screwed up on the amount of testing districts were subjecting their kids to, but not the importance of testing in general,” he writes.

Duncan’s other two ‘pillars’ were not controversial.  School district data systems were notoriously unreliable; some made their own rules for counting dropouts, for example, making district-to-district comparisons virtually impossible, and Race to the Top forced the states that entered the competition to improve their systems.  That’s a win for Duncan.

Duncan’s fourth ‘pillar,’ the effort to ‘turn around’ failing schools, was both reasonable and ambitious.  In 2009, about 12 percent of the nation’s 27,000 high schools were producing a disproportionate number of the nation’s dropouts—if those schools could be ‘turned around,’ the overall graduation rate would soar.  Calling this effort his ‘biggest bet,’ Duncan doubled down on ‘school improvement,’ using both Race to the Top money and additional billions from another program.

That failed spectacularly. As the Washington Post reported in January 2017, “One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis.”  Its failure is not mentioned in “How Schools Work.”

Although the 3-year Race to the Top competition produced only 19 winners, Duncan notes that the 46 states (plus DC) that applied changed their rules in order to be eligible.  While that’s a clear win for Duncan, the more important question has to do with educational outcomes.  At one point, Duncan writes, ”As I look back I wonder, Have we succeeded?”   And, while he asserts that we won’t know until today’s 4th and 5th graders are in college, the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress.(NAEP) results reveal that most scores have remained flat since 2007. In a particularly offensive attempt at deception, Duncan celebrates the increase in scores since 1971 but makes no reference to the ‘lost decade’ that occurred largely on his watch.

Duncan the author wants to have it both ways. For example, his closing chapter is about a school whose faculty and staff worked as one to support one troubled child; Duncan presents this as the ideal situation, but his own Race to the Top policies pitted teachers against each other (those test scores).  Is he unaware, hypocritical, or late to understand?

In the end, “How Schools Work” is mostly the memoir of a decent, unassuming, and genuinely nice man who insists that everyone “Call me Arne.” Duncan highlights what went well on his watch, ignores what didn’t, and uses old NAEP data to try to make it look as if his approach worked.   While he should be taken to task for this, he probably won’t be.

I hope I am not the first reviewer to suggest that his story (unintentionally) demonstrates that Washington cannot run public education, a lesson we ought to have learned from No Child Left Behind.

A final omission: Duncan never addresses the Congressional rebellion against federal domination of public education that he inadvertently brought about. When Congress enacted the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, it took pains to limit the power of future secretaries of education.  The current secretary, Betsy DeVos, has an estimated $10 million in discretionary money, not even one quarter of one percent of what Duncan had at his disposal. Moreover, one suspects it will be a cold day in hell before Congress gives future secretaries of education piles of money to spend however they choose.




8 Great Ideas (7 of Them Save Schools $$)

My friend Mike Petrilli, the tireless pusher of ‘school reform,’ has just published his recommendations for going forward, calling it ‘Where Education Reform Goes From Here.”  He acknowledges that things haven’t gone swimmingly for the past dozen or more years–a classic understatement if ever there was one–but then asks that we trust him and keep on doing what we’ve been doing: More charter schools, more choice, tougher tenure rules, and so on.

Ever the phrasemaker, Mike writes, “The question is not whether schools can do it all — but whether they are doing all they can.”  It’s actually a false choice designed to help us agree with his premise, that it’s time to double down on the ‘school reforms’ that he, Arne Duncan, the Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and others have been pushing.

This blog, unsupported by major foundations and others with vested interested in testing, charter schools, and other corporate reforms, will not reach a fraction of the readers who will see Mike’s piece. Rather than argue with Mike’s recipe, I would like to offer a different path, one that will, I believe, lead us away from the disaster of ‘school reform.’   Below are eight suggestions, only one of which will cost a school district money.  And the other seven will produce real savings—and make schools more interesting and productive places for children and adults.  Here goes:

  1. Pool all the district’s professional development dollars and cancel contracts and plans for spending that money.  Instead invite teachers and other educators to develop plans for their professional growth.  I will bet that your system will end up spending less on what will prove to be better PD, more effective because your teachers will own it.
  2. Declare a 3-year moratorium on all machine-scored bubble tests, during which time invite the entire community to debate what matters in schooling.  The goal is to ‘Measure What You Value,’ instead of continuing the foolishness of merely valuing what you measure.  I suggest one criterion when deciding which tests to keep: Keep only those tests whose results come back in time to be useful.  That will get rid of a lot of tests, the ones whose results come back in late August!  The goal ought to be ‘assess to improve,’ not ‘test to punish.’  You won’t be writing those big checks to the testing companies….
  3. Create as many ‘Early College’ opportunities as possible for your ambitious high school juniors and seniors (and perhaps even some sophomores).  Here’s a look at a successful program in Texas that we reported on for the PBS NewsHour.  This district actually lured high school dropouts back to school with the promise of a more engaging curriculum that included opportunities to take college courses. At the high school graduation we attended, most seniors also had college credits, and quite a few members of the class also received their 2-year college degrees with their diplomas!   Fewer high school dropouts, a clear and strong bridge to higher education, a better reputation, and cost savings…..what’s not to like?
  4. Do not buy ANY canned technology programs. None! Nada! Zippo!  Instead, identify the early adopters among your staff and figure out why the district wants technology in the first place.  Please read the chapter about technology in my book, “Addicted to Reform.”  This field is full of hucksters and aggressive salespeople, eager to take advantage of naive educators.  It’s mostly BS….but too many school districts have wasted millions and millions of dollars on crap.
  5. Create cross-age tutoring opportunities, enlisting older students to help struggling younger ones.  This actually benefits BOTH age groups, and it’s effective.  It teaches other lessons as well, including the importance of community and of sharing what you know with others.  It will keep some kids from being held back and others out of special education.  That’s better for them, and it saves your district money.
  6. Use technology to link with other schools on projects.  Just because kids have to come to a building, there’s no reason on God’s green earth for them not to be working with students around the state or nation (or globe).  Find interesting ways to connect with other schools: About 25 communities are linked by name to Christopher Columbus–what a great way to connect on a project. The dozen or so Brooklyns or the 15 or so towns connected to Lafayette–they could work together.  If you believe that students are the workers in a school, and knowledge is their product, then encourage your teachers to make those connections.  “Addicted to Reform” includes a bunch of projects that your teachers might find appealing.
  7. Trust teachers more than you do right now, because, like you, teachers are management. Remember, the kids are the workers, doing real work.  If you enable teachers to do what they signed up to do–which is help children grow toward their full potential– your best teachers will stay longer, your recruitment costs will go down, and your administrators will spend less time ‘breaking in’ the rookies every year.
  8. Expand early childhood programs!   It’s time to spend the money you’ve saved by following steps 1-7.  And, please, no testing of 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds. These programs should be enjoyable learning and play time.  Stress-free.  Staffed by professionals who enjoy the same status as your K-12 teachers.

Your improvements to this list are more than welcomed….

Learning from a Talented Grifter

Late one summer evening in 1988 or 1989 as I was leaving the New York office of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, someone called out to me, “John. Mr. Merrow.”  I turned to see a well-dressed young Black man coming toward me, hand outstretched.  He introduced himself with a first name I have forgotten and added, “I’m Kwame’s son. We met a while back in Washington.”   NewsHour watchers will remember Kwame Holman, our distinguished Capitol Hill correspondent.  Kwame and I had shared an office in Washington for about four years and had gotten to know and like each other.  My youngest, Kelsey, sometimes came to work with me, and Kwame, a gentle man with an easy laugh, was just super with her. We brought drawing paper and colored pencils, and one time she did a memorable sketch of Kwame’s ficus tree in our office that I still have somewhere.   We talked about our children, sharing pictures and stories, but when the young man greeted me, I couldn’t remember the number or genders of Kwame’s children.
But something was odd: Could Kwame have a son this old?  Then the young man went into a spiel about having run out of gas: his car was a few blocks away and could he borrow a few bucks to get some gas?  That set of an alarm bell, but I didn’t question him, which I am sure was partially race-related. As a white man, I just wouldn’t have been comfortable questioning him. What if he actually were Kwame’s son? How would I explain that, or live with that? Later I tried to figure out how I might have expressed my doubts, but to this day I haven’t figured it out.
I gave him $10 and the next morning I called Kwame.  He got a huge kick out of it, as well he should have. As I remember, he told me that his son was nowhere near that old.  We had a good laugh, even though I was embarrassed at my having been taken in.
Later, however, I had a very different reaction….I found myself admiring that young man.  Consider what he had done:  He had somehow learned who I was, perhaps by gaining access to the NewsHour lobby where all our photos were displayed.  He must have memorized all our names and faces, positioned himself to watch people leaving.  I happened to come out, and he acted.  That effort took ingenuity, determination, intelligence, and courage.  Skills and assets that our society could use, talents that could have propelled him to a successful life in mainstream America. But he he was, basically, a grifter, a con man, getting $10 for all that effort when he could have been, well, working for the NewsHour for starters.
In the late ’60’s I spent two years teaching English at night in a federal penitentiary in Virginia.  There I taught some of the brightest and most focused kids I ever encountered (and I also taught in a NY High school, at Virginia State College, and at Harvard).  I often lamented that those men had taken wrong turns and wondered how that happened, and why.
I had the same reaction to my encounter with Kwame’s ‘son.’  Such a waste…
Thomas Grey’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard includes the memorable lines, ‘Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, to waste its sweetness on the desert air,’ but, powerful as that image is, it misses a larger point.  In our society, ‘flowers’ don’t waste their sweetness on the desert air; instead their talents are too often misdirected into negative and anti-social channels.  A just society would be outraged by this waste of talent and would address the wide opportunity gaps that exist.  To his credit, President Clinton’s Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, tried and failed to persuade Congress to focus on ‘the opportunity gap,’ but everyone else was–and is–fixated on ‘the achievement gap.’)
Those two experiences, teaching in a penitentiary and being duped by Kwame’s ‘son,’ had a powerful effect on my own thinking and on my reporting for the NewsHour and my subsequent writing.  Our current public education system is a well-oiled ‘sorting machine’ that examines every child, seeking to know ‘How Smart Are You?’, using testing, income, parental education, race, and social class as measuring sticks.  All the ‘education reforms’ of the past 20 or so years have failed to address the nature of the system; instead reformers have tinkered at the margins.
It’s within our reach to create schools that ask a different question about each child, not ‘How Smart Are You?’ but “HOW ARE YOU SMART?”  That’s what most parents ask about their own children, and it’s also what the best private and public schools do.  I believe it’s within our reach to create schools that ask that question about most children and then act accordingly to allow kids to develop their talents, but only if we can develop the will to do so.  I think we owe it to Kwame’s ‘son’ and all the other talented young people in our society…and it’s also in our own best interests to do so.
What do you say?


Summer is upon us, which means an increase in street crime and ice cream consumption. However, neither one causes the other; they are both highly correlated with summer’s heat, which brings more people out of their homes and onto the streets, where some eat ice cream and some get mugged. Correlation is not causality.

Here are two more facts to ponder: American children take lots of standardized, machine-scored, multiple-choice tests, and they are getting fatter. Is this just another correlation, or could one be a cause of the other? Could excessive testing be at least partially responsible for the increase in child obesity?

What makes this issue complex are two other variables, an increase in poverty and the disappearance of school recess.  This sad and entirely avoidable situation also illustrates the unfortunate truth of the maxim, “What we don’t care enough to measure does not matter.”

No question that obesity is on the rise. An astonishing 18.5% of American youth ages 12-19 are obese, and 5.6% are severely obese. If we include children who are overweight but not necessarily obese, the situation becomes direr. “31% of children ages 10 to 17 were categorized as overweight or obese. This statistic varies slightly by gender, with boys more frequently affected than girls (33% of boys versus 29% of girls).” That study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranks states, ranging from Rhode Island’s 39% to Oregon’s 16%. One more number from that study: Nearly half (47%) of American children do not exercise regularly.

Seven out of 10 overweight adolescents grow up to be overweight or obese adults, and the consequences are grim: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, abnormal glucose tolerance, heart attacks, and diabetes. The latter often means other serious health issues like blindness and early death; diabetes and its complications kill about 200,000 Americans every year.

Poverty and obesity are positively correlated, unfortunately. The poorer a child is, the more likely he/she is to become obese. “For a long time researchers have tracked high rates of obesity among black and Hispanic kids, but a closer look at communities shows family income matters more than race in predicting which kids are overweight.” Based on data about 111,799 Massachusetts students in 68 school districts, a study by the University of Michigan Health System showed that as poverty rises, so does the rate of obesity among children.

Testing is also increasing, making American students the most tested in the world. As Harvard’s Dan Koretz, author of “The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better,” told me in an email, “Just the requirements in reading and math under the Every Student Succeeds Act mean being tested 14 times, and that’s the tip of the iceberg in many locations because of all of the interim and benchmark testing.” He added that countries with a reputation for being test-centric, such as Singapore, test students only two or three times during a student’s years in school.

Like obesity, testing correlates positively with poverty: the poorer a child, the more time he/she will spend being tested or practicing test-taking. According to a 2016 survey of teachers, Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices, 26 percent of teachers devote more than a month to test prep, and “A greater share of teachers in high- and medium-poverty schools reported spending more than a month on test-prep activities for district and state tests.” That’s at least one-eighth of the school year, and, since it all comes at once, it must seem like an eternity to those low income students and their teachers.

So, we have lots of overweight kids taking lots of standardized tests, but here’s where it gets interesting: Because the length of the school day is fixed, in order to increase testing and test-prep time, schools had to eliminate something. Sometimes the arts and science were slashed, but often the first to go was free play time, a.k.a. recess. The pressure to improve standardized test scores was particularly intense in low income communities, which fixated on ‘the achievement gap.’ Atlanta, for example, eliminated recess entirely. ”We are intent on improving academic performance,” Superintendent Benjamin O. Canada, told The New York Times in 1998. ”You don’t do that by having kids hanging on the monkey bars.”

(Incidentally, the no-recess policy was continued by Canada’s successor, Beverly Hall. During her tenure APS was engulfed in a massive cheating scandal. Here’s an irreverent question: Does lack of recess for children merely correlate positively with cheating by adults? Or is it a cause?)

The disappearance of recess is a plausible explanation for the epidemic of childhood obesity. Of course, there are other culprits, including too much screen time and fast and processed food, but lack of exercise–remember, 47% of children don’t get regular exercise–plays a huge part.

Unlike obesity and testing, recess time is negatively correlated with poverty. Simply put, richer children get more time on the playground. The poorer the children, the less time on the playground. And, sadly, cutting recess does double damage to many inner city kids, whose parents are loath to let their young children play outside after school because of dangers, real and perceived. So no play time at school may mean no daily exercise at all.

A chain of causality seems to be emerging: Excessive testing causes cuts in recess, which then contributes to widespread obesity, and poverty makes everything worse. That’s merely speculative, so let me suggest a fact-based alternative chain: Regular recess leads to better physical and mental health (i.e., no obesity and better academic performance).

And that’s not speculation, causing one to wonder about the mental acuity of educators who did away with recess. How could they not know that regular exercise pays dividends, that it reduces the risk of obesity, provides socializing opportunities, and promotes mental agility and improved academic performance? Don’t the recess-cutters understand that improved physical fitness is positively correlated with better performance on standardized tests and higher grades? As the experts put it, “Studies have found that lifestyle changes and small amounts of weight loss in the range of 5-10% can prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes among high-risk adults. Lifestyle interventions including diet and moderate to intense physical activity (such as walking for 150 minutes per week) were used in these studies to produce small amounts of weight loss. The development of diabetes was reduced by 40% to 60% during these studies, which lasted three to six years.”

Another intervention study found that providing overweight children with 40 minutes of physical activity increased cognitive scores. School-based physical activity can improve students’ attention, concentration, and ability to stay on task. And kids who get to run around and burn off energy behave better in class.

The World Health Organization says children need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, a goal that regular recess at school could help achieve. Unfortunately, most public schools do not provide recess. Only 11 states require either recess or “general and physical activity” during the school day. New York is not one of them, but the New York State Education Department does have a PE requirements of 120 minutes per week. Physical education must be taught by a certified teacher who provides instruction according to New York State PE standards, but, even if recess is provided, it doesn’t count toward that 120 minutes per week.  In the District of Columbia, the Central Office has a “Wellness Policy” calling for at least one 20-minute recess period per day for ‘child-initiated discretionary time,’ but it’s not clear whether schools actually adhere to this, or if there are consequences for not falling in line.  Students in Texas get on average only 20 minutes of recess per week, a decline of over an hour since 2001, which was the year the test-focused No Child Left Behind became federal law.

We’ve known about the importance of regular exercise for a long time. Presidents from Dwight Eisenhower on promoted physical fitness among young people. Ike established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. President John F. Kennedy famously took 50-mile hikes to promote exercise. Lyndon Johnson created a special award for 10-17-year olds, the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, and enlisted baseball superstar Stan Musial to attract attention to the cause. Under Ronald Reagan we got a postage stamp honoring physical fitness. And so on.

These campaigns about the value of exercise had no appreciable impact on schools, which generally don’t respond to exhortations, only to pressure. Our schools report only what we tell them to measure, and society’s consistent message has been: Tell us your test scores!   Those scores, generally speaking, are the only educational measurement with real consequences, and they are used to reward and punish educators, schools, and students.

Assuming that no one wants children to become obese or even overweight, schools must provide regular recess, but that won’t happen unless it’s mandated and measured. Instead of just providing test scores, schools must be required to report the answers to two more consequential questions: “How many hours of recess do students have each week, and in how many separate segments?” We should provide incentives (such as playground repairs where needed) and at the same time make it clear to principals that if they fail to provide recess, they will be penalized. Before long, more children will be out on the playground or in the gym, playing.

But this will not happen until recess is both mandated and measured.

While how much recess children should have, and how many times each day, are local decisions, educators might want to look to other countries for examples: As the USPlay Coalition explains, “Japanese children get 10-20 minute breaks between 45-minute lessons or five-minute breaks and a long lunch. Finnish and Turkish children have 15 minutes to play after each 45 minutes of work. Ugandan students have an eight-hour school day, but they have a half hour of play in the morning, one hour for lunch and play, and 1.5 hours of activity time (sports, music, art, free-choice playtime) in the afternoon.”

Establishing that recess matters–with incentives for success and consequences for not measuring up–sets an interesting precedent. Perhaps we should also ask ourselves what else besides academic performance and recess matters. If we decide that art, music, and drama are important, let’s insist that schools provide them and then take pains to measure the hours of opportunity students have to pursue them.

Measuring academic achievement is clearly important, but the academic health of a school can be determined by testing a well-drawn sample of students. We can test less and still know what we need to know. Not all students need to be tested every year, as long as teachers are deeply involved in assessing student progress. Instead of practicing test-taking and taking lots of standardized tests, students could be playing, reading, writing, doing original research, and working on projects.

Excessive testing doesn’t cause obesity directly, but it has led schools to reduce or eliminate recess, which has in turn contributed to the rise of weight problems. Unfortunately, poverty correlates with excessive testing, weight problems, and reduced recess, meaning that poor children once again draw the short straw.

If we hold schools accountable for both academic results and hours of free play, educators will be forced to cut back on testing and test-prep drilling. That simple change—call it “Measuring What Matters”–is a sensible education policy that should also produce measurable health benefits. And since kids who get to exercise regularly tend to do better academically, we should also see improvements there as well.

Bottom line: This is totally on us!  If we truly want healthier children, we have to cut back on testing and test-prep and bring back recess and free play.



Mission Accomplished:77+ miles=$85,000+

A picture is worth 1,000 words:


So, Mission accomplished.  But, wait, here’s one more photo I want you to see:

2018 (83)

I biked an extra six miles because I got carried away by the beautiful day and a very flat course with a tail wind.  My birthday is tomorrow, but I moved the ride up two days based on weather reports. I began at 7AM and had the old ‘rails to trails’ path pretty much to myself.  Meaning few other humans.  Lots of wildlife: I passed a mother goose and her eight or nine goslings; a yearling deer who stayed motionless on the bike path as I glided by, maybe 3 feet from it; a woodchuck; swans; innumerable chipmunks and rabbits; and this majestic egret.

Heron 2018

One swan is barely visible from this old railroad bridge

Swan 2018

Perhaps 6 miles of the entire 83 mile ride are NOT bucolic, wooded, and peaceful;  occasionally there’s evidence of the old railroad system.

rails2 2018

Here’s what really matters: Based on what folks have reported to me, readers have pledged or donated more than $85,000 to various organizations and political candidates.  Planned Parenthood seems to be a favorite, along with the Network for Public Education.  Joan and I donated to Planned Parenthood, NPE, and Jesse Colvin’s campaign for the Congressional seat in the First District of Maryland (take a look if you have time.)  Some of you reported giving to two or three organizations.  One large donation to Tougaloo College, an HBCU, skewed the results, and I am certain that the donor, a writer friend, would have made his gift anyway, but he said he was linking it to my bike ride and urged me to include it in the total, which I have done.

(I hope those of you who pledged $77 will now round up. May I suggest $100.)

Now, to get into the weeds about my ride: I averaged 12.7 miles per hour, a decent pace for someone about to enter his 78th year of life, I think.

AVG 2018

I started riding at 7AM and finished seven and a half hours later, but that included two snack breaks, lunch, and a trip to the bike store in Yorkville Heights to replace my sunglasses (which broke, the only negative).  My total biking time was 6 hours, 28 minutes, and 23 seconds, according to my odometer.

total time 2018

I barely made it to sunset before crashing; I slept from 9PM until 6:30 this morning.

Thanks for indulging me, for reading, and for donating to a worthy organization (or two or three).  I feel blessed for being alive and healthy, but now let’s back to the serious business of rescuing public education and our children from two distinctly different groups, Betsy DeVos and her supporters and the test-obsessed corporate reformers.





Are 77 Miles On a Bike Worth $77 To You?


On June 14th, my birthday, I will once again attempt to bike my age, and this time I have a question for you: Would my 77 mile ride, if I make it, be worth $77 to you?  If I do manage to make  it, will you make a charitable donation in that amount (or larger, if you prefer)?

This will be my 8th year in a row of attempting to bike my age, and the first seven have turned out well.  

Here’s the back story. I began doing this in 2011, the year I turned 70.  For reasons I cannot recall, I decided to bike a Century to celebrate the occasion. And I made it!


A Century every year?  That was a ridiculous goal, and so I decided on a different and hopefully more manageable goal: Every birthday I would bike my age. Which I did on June 14th, 2012.


The next year, Flag Day, 2013, I managed the required 72 miles…with a smile. (I have two road bikes, which is why you see two different odometers.)2012(72)DSC02826.JPG

The following June 14, I forgot to stop to take a picture at mile 73. I ended up biking an extra 1.66 miles (in the bank, credit for the inevitable tough year?).


On June 14, 2015, I once again forgot to take the photo at the proper mile mark (another 1.49 miles in the bank).  My good friend Mike Joseloff rode with me.


In 2016 Mike rode with me again, this time for 75 miles, and we remembered to take the photo at the right time!


Last June 14th my daughter Elise rode with me–and she did the entire 76 miles on a folding bike!

2017(76)w: Elise 2017

So here’s my question for you, as June 14th, 2018 approaches: will you make a tax-deductible donation to a worthy cause if I manage to bike 77 miles?  Where you donate is up to you, of course, but let me suggest three vitally important organizations, all of which could use your financial support:   Planned Parenthood; BATS, the Badass Teachers Association; and The Network for Public Education (NPE), an organization founded in 2013 by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody.   

Alternatively, you might consider making a contribution to a progressive running for office in the November election.

If you want progress reports, follow me on Twitter: @John_Merrow.  I promise to post the outcome, no matter what…..

Next year I may decide to follow the sensible advice a young nephew gave me: “Uncle John,” he said, “It might be time to switch to kilometers.”

To be honest, there are mornings when I feel like switching to yards!  But just yet, not in 2018 anyway.

Please wish me luck, and thanks for donating………


The Best of Days, The Worst of Days

June 6th, 1968, began as perhaps the best day of my life. The previous afternoon my wife and I had brought our first-born child home from the hospital, and we went to bed awe-struck by the miracle of a new life.  Both political junkies, we had also watched election returns on our small black-and-white TV before falling asleep well before midnight, long before any hard news from California.

We awoke with our son on June 6th, still overwhelmed with joy….until I turned on the television to find out that Robert Kennedy was dead. He had been murdered in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen, just after accepting the cheers of his supporters, just after winning the California Democratic primary, just after taking a giant step toward winning the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.

Two months earlier, another assassin had murdered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee.  That killing had prompted me and some friends to drive through the night from Bloomington, Indiana, to Memphis for the memorial march. The killing of RFK undid me, and many millions like me.

Those two murders poisoned our political process. They paved the way for violence at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, the election of Richard Nixon, his escalation and prolonging of a senseless war in Viet Nam, and government’s retreat from efforts to end segregation and racial discrimination.

Have we recovered?  The evidence suggests we have not: The hyper-rich .001%, phony patriotism from a self-focused President, a pliant Congress, a polarized nation, looming trade wars, and a rapidly warming planet.

Where are the voices calling to our better angels? I do not hear any of Trump’s opposition saying anything that even remotely resembles JFK’s, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

Instead, Trump’s opposition panders to voters with calls  for”Free College” and the like, as if anything in life were free. Bobby Kennedy reminded us that those born with advantages had an obligation to work to improve the lives of others. He made us believe that we could do better and be better, and, because of him, we did and we were.

Bobby Kennedy appealed to our better angels, and we miss him still.

Public Schools and Donald Trump

It’s an open secret that Donald Trump and his administration are not friends of public education.  His choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has scant understanding of, and even less appreciation for, the contributions that public schools, imperfect though they are, have made to our nation.

And while I hope you are registered to vote and are supporting progressive candidates who can take back our country, gaining control of both Houses of Congress won’t be enough to make America respected again.  We must make major changes in the basic structure of our public schools because schools are partially responsible for the fix we are in. Not the changes Secretary DeVos wants, but radical changes nonetheless.

Because, irony of ironies, it was public education’s deeply flawed “sorting” machine that helped Trump get elected.  Let’s start with who would have won the 2016 presidential election.   Approximately 130 million voters went to the polls in 2016. Clinton received 65,844,954 votes to Trump’s 62,979,8790, but more than 100,000,000 Americans of voting age did not cast ballots.  In fact, if “not voting” had been a choice, it would have won the popular vote in every presidential election since at least 1916.  While many thousands of adults have been disenfranchised by virtue of criminal records, Americans generally have a bad habit of not voting.  The turnout in what we like to believe is “the world’s greatest democracy” generally hovers around 53 to 54 percent. It has dipped below 50 percent three times since 1916, most recently in 1996, when only 49.1 percent of the voting age population bothered to vote.

Who are these non-voters? Rather than scorning them for their indifference, I have come to believe that most non-voters are behaving rationally.  Feeling that they have no stake in our government, they don’t vote. And why should they?  Schools taught them that they were insignificant, and so, as adults, they keep their heads down and stay uninvolved.

Yes, I am holding public schools at least partly responsible for low voter turnout, because public education, an efficient sorting machine, is undemocratic to its core. Schools sort young children in two basic groups: a minority of “winners” who are placed on a track leading them to elite colleges, prominence, and financial success–and everyone else. While the majority aren’t labeled “losers” per se, they are largely left to struggle on their own. That experience leaves many angry, frustrated, and resentful, not to mention largely unprepared for life in a complex, rapidly changing society. Why would they become active participants in the political process, an effort that is almost always led by the now grown-up “winners” from their school days?

Although formal tracking has fallen out of favor, schools have subtle ways of designating winners and losers, often based as much on parental education and income, race, and class as innate ability. By third or fourth grade most kids know, deep down, whether the system sees them as “winners” bound for college or “losers” headed somewhere else.

Ironically, A Nation at Risk, the 1983 report that warned of “a rising tide of mediocrity,” may have made matters worse. In response, America put its eggs in the basket of student achievement—as measured by student test scores. Believing we were raising academic standards by asking more of students, we were in fact narrowing our expectations. This practice went into high gear with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and continued throughout the Bush and Obama Administrations. What I call “regurgitation education” became the order of the day. This approach rewards parroting back answers, while devaluing intellectual curiosity, cooperative learning, projects, field trips, the arts, physical education, and citizenship.

This fundamentally anti-intellectual approach has failed to produce the results our nation claims to desire. Scores on our National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have largely remained flat and in some instances have gone down. What’s more, students aren’t even retaining what we are demanding they regurgitate. For example, a survey reveals that one-third of Americans cannot name any of the three branches of our government, and half do not know the number of U.S. senators.

Reducing kids to test scores has produced millions of high school graduates who did not  develop the habits of asking questions, digging deep, or discovering and following their passions. Largely because of how they were treated in school, many Americans have not grown into curious, socially conscious adults. This is not the fault of their teachers, because decisions about how schools operate are not made in classrooms. It was school boards, politicians, policy makers, and the general public that created schools that value obedience over just about everything else.

But the end result is millions of graduates who were rewarded with diplomas but have never participated in the give-and-take of ordinary citizenship—like voting.  During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump welcomed support from those he called “the poorly educated,” but that’s the incorrect term. These men and women are not “poorly educated,” “undereducated,” or “uneducated.” They have been miseducated, an important distinction. Schools have treated them as objects, as empty vessels to pour information into so facts and figures can be regurgitated back on tests.

The sorting process used in schools has another result: it produces elitists (in both political parties) who feel superior to the largely invisible “losers” from their school days. Arguably, those chickens came home to roost in the 2016 presidential election. Candidate Clinton’s calling Trump supporters “A bucket of deplorables” was a gaffe that probably cost her the election. However, in all likelihood she was speaking her personal truth, because, after all, her schools had identified her as a “winner,” one of the elite. It’s perfectly understandable that she would not identify with the people who had been energized by Donald Trump. Most pundits, reporters, pollsters, and politicians fell into the same trap.

Sorting is inevitable, because students try out for teams and plays, apply to colleges, and eventually seek employment, but we must learn to postpone sorting for as long as possible. A new approach to schooling must ask a different question about each young child. Let’s stop asking, “How intelligent are you?” Let’s ask instead, “How are you intelligent?” That may strike some as a steep hill to climb, but it’s essentially the question that caring parents, teachers, and other adults ask about individual children. They phrase it differently, asking, “What is Susan interested in?” “What gets George excited?” “What motivates Juan?” or “What does Sharese care about?” Every child has interests, and those can be tapped and nurtured in schools designed to provide opportunities for children to succeed as they pursue paths of their own choosing. Giving children agency over their education—with appropriate guidance and supervision—will produce graduates better equipped to cope with today’s changing world. And a larger supply of informed voters.

While the country can survive four—perhaps eight—years of Donald Trump, our democracy must have schools that respect and nurture our children. If we don’t change our schools, we will elect a succession of Donald Trumps, and that will be the end of the American experiment.

(I expand upon these themes at greater length in Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education.)



John Merrow’s Idea to Rid Schools of Standardized Tests is Compelling and Saves Millions of Dollars!

Network Schools - Wayne Gersen

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday that was click-bait. It was titled “If you could could make one change…“, the titled derived from a question John Merrow asked some dinner guests, which was this:

If YOU had the power to make ONE major change in American public education immediately, what would you choose to do?”

In Mr. Merrow’s post that posed this question his dinner guest gave responses like doubling spending on public schools, making spending more equitable, expanding early childhood programs, and a commitment to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And what was Mr. Merrow’s response?

At that point everyone turned to me, and, even though I am much more comfortable asking questions than answering them, I plunged ahead. “I would eliminate standardized testing.”

Everyone seemed shocked.  Including me.  Never before had I expressed that thought. To the contrary, like most critics of testing…

View original post 289 more words


There are four identifiable groups in the sphere of public education: 1) The “Devosians,” 2) the ‘School Reformers,’ 3) those who aren’t involved at all, and 4) the progressives.

1) In power now are ‘The DeVosians,” supporters of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her campaign to redefine ‘public education’  to include every type of school known to man–plus home schooling.  Her unstated but obvious goal is to undercut the institution of public education and the 100,000 schools that educate over 90% of our children.  The Secretary is in favor of vouchers and ‘choice,’ but, even though she has all sorts of power, the data consistently undercut her belief system. Unfortunately, facts don’t matter to true believers like Secretary DeVos.

2) The ‘School Reform’ crowd ruled the roost during both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama Administrations, and their legacy is nothing to be proud of: declining test scores, widespread rigging of both achievement and graduation data, an exodus of teachers from the field, and a dramatic reduction among young people in interest in becoming teachers.  Despite all this, the School Reform crowd continues to offer itself as the best alternative to Betsy DeVos.  These are the folks who have reduced our children to data points.  Keep that in mind when they ask for another opportunity!

Careful readers of my 2017 book, ‘Addicted to Reform,’ may recall footnote 26, which reads in part, “…even when the reform crowd acknowledges past missteps, it asks for just one more chance to get it right. For example, the American Enterprise Institute talks the talk but then proceeds to put forth the same old stuff: more choice, less regulation and so on.”)

3)  Those who are not focused on these struggles are easily the largest group of all. At most, only 25% of households have school-age children, and most of the 75% pay little attention to education issues.  They are the key to real change, in my opinion.

4) And finally, the progressives, a group I belong to.  Like Betsy DeVos, we want real change. Unlike the Secretary, however, we believe in public schools.

How about you?  Deep down, are you a progressive?  Ask yourself these simple questions.

1) Do you want your child or grandchild to be in schools where the adults look at each kid and wonder “How Smart Is This Child?”—and then sort them accordingly?

2) Or would you choose a school where the adults ask a different question, “How Is This Child Smart?”

3) Do you want your children or grandchildren to repeat what they have been told, or would you like them to discover things on their own, guided by the teacher?

If you opted for discovery over sorting, then you are an education progressive.  Welcome!  Now let’s get to work on creating a genuine paradigm shift. For that to occur, at least three things have to happen.  One, we need to reject the language of ‘school reformers’ in favor of a more precise vocabulary.  Two, we need to change the conversation from hackneyed terms like “learning for all” to more dynamic language like “discovery” or “knowledge production.” And, three, we must get outside our own echo chamber and engage with the 75% of the population that does not have a direct stake in schooling.

Right now, the group I and others refer to as “School Reformers” are controlling the dialogue, with most of the education press following along.  When they talk about ‘Closing the Achievement Gap,’ the value of ‘standardized tests,’ and the importance of a ‘rigorous curriculum,’ the misleading and dangerous assumptions behind their assertions are rarely scrutinized.

Time for scrutiny:  Let’s start with ‘rigorous’ and ‘rigor,’ favorite words used by ‘reformers’ and their ilk.  Progressives must never use those two words.  And I mean never!  Here’s a quick word association test.  Please complete this phrase: ‘Rigor…..’   The word you came up with was ‘mortis,’ right?

Rigorous means strictseveresternstringenttoughharshrigidrelentlessunsparing, inflexibledraconianintransigentuncompromisingexacting, and stiff.   Why would anyone who cares about children want that for them?   Progressives want a curriculum that is challenging, not ‘rigorous.’  End of story.

Now consider standardized tests, which ‘reformers’ insist are essential.  That term is shorthand for machine-scored, multiple-choice tests, the ones whose results arrive at schools in the summer, many months after the kids have taken them and far too late for teachers to be able to use the results to help their students.

These tests are fundamentally useless!  We want children to develop skills and abilities like speaking persuasively and working with others, and these cannot be measured by a multiple-choice test.  In most schools today, students spend lots of time on test prep–time they could spend working together, debating issues, researching and rewriting papers, et cetera.

Most teachers know how destructive these tests and all that surrounds them can be. Teachers across New York state are cited at length in a new report, The Tyranny of Testing.  Here’s what one elementary grade teacher wrote: “After working for a month with the students to practice test-taking skills, they had to put into action everything they have learned. Well, it was a flop. The passages were very difficult and the questions were difficult for many to understand. I had to dry tears, and honestly lie to them that everything would be ok. It wasn’t ok. They all worked from 9 am until 2:15. Some were not even done then. Talk about making a struggling reader feel worthless. Students were upset and angry — angry to think that they might get in trouble for not doing well. Day two was much too long at each grade level. My third graders who struggle typing just quit working.”

Note that she had spent one month–about 15% of the school year–practicing ‘test-taking skills,’ no doubt mandated by her system.

By the way, these machine-scored, multiple choice tests are actually NOT standardized, a term which means that all students take them under the same (I.E., standardized) conditions.  Children with special needs get extra time, as they should, but so do many thousands of other children because their parents have used their influence and money to buy extra time for their children.   All they need is a doctor’s written recommendation and, presto, an extra hour or two.

I say that we should support standardized tests only when all children take them under these two standardized conditions: with a full stomach and in a comfortable, well-lighted room.

As for machine-scored, multiple-choice tests, let’s support only those whose results are available within a week or two!  That would eliminate most of these tests–and save school districts millions of dollars.

Next, the Achievement Gap.  Those who are obsessed with ‘school reform’ go on and on about the “achievement gap” and are ignoring (perhaps deliberately) the real truth: Most schools have four education gaps: opportunity, expectations, leadership, and outcomes.

  1. Ours is a land of unequal educational opportunity. The opportunity gap in education is a sad fact.
  2. Too many adults have low expectations for some students, particularly students of color or those from low-income families.
  3. We also have a leadership gap, born of trivial quarrels among leaders who should be encouraging public dialogue about the purposes of schooling: what we want our children to be able to do, how they can learn those skills, and how those skills can be measured fairly and accurately.
  4. The widely publicized outcomes gap—that is, the notorious achievement gap—is the inevitable consequence of the first three gaps in opportunity, expectations, and leadership. Focusing almost exclusively on outcomes is counterproductive and is largely responsible for the intimidating task now before us.

Suppose we discussed the achievement gap this way: “In math, Asian Americans outperform whites by more than 15 points. We have to something about that to close the Asian-white achievement gap. So let’s eliminate recess, physical education, art, and music for middle- and upper-middle-class white kids and substitute drilling and more drilling until they catch up.”

Just imagine the reaction in suburban white America! But replacing recess with drill, eliminating “frills” such as the arts, and turning kindergarten into teaching and testing time is what ‘school reformers’ have been and are doing to poor kids.

There’s also an “affection gap,” which you can read about in “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education (The New Press, 2017.

Changing the language is the first step.  Next, we must adopt and project a dynamic vision of schooling.  The language of ‘school reform’ generally suggests that knowledge is poured into the heads of students by their teachers. That passive model simply does not describe the ways in which humans acquire knowledge.  Instead of talking about ‘a year of learning,’ let’s talk about “A Year of Producing Knowledge” or “A Year of Discovery.”  When the focus is on a child’s interests and abilities, the teacher is no longer the dispenser of knowledge and fount of wisdom but an enabler, a coach, and a guide.  Now the student becomes the worker, and the product is knowledge.  That overturns the current paradigm, in which teachers are the workers, and students their product.

And the all-important third step: The problem with the truism “It takes a village to raise a child” is that most villagers have no direct connection to children or to the schools they go to. However, these villagers–people in households without a strong connection to public education–hold the future of public schools in their hands. They vote on school budgets, and so their opinions of schools, teachers, and students matter. Not only do older folks vote in greater numbers than younger people, but the gap is increasing. According to the Census Bureau, “the turnout rate among 18- to 24-year olds fell to 41.2 percent in 2012 from 48.5 percent in 2008. The turnout rates of adults ages 65 and older rose—to 71.9 percent in 2012 from 70.3 percent in 2008.”

For these reasons, progressives must develop and adopt strategies to win the support of those without a direct connection to schools. It’s not enough for good things to be happening in schools; the “outsiders” need to be supportive. And the best way to make that happen is to get them involved.

It will be difficult for many educators to take this step because they have grown accustomed to a system that says, in effect, “Drop the children and the money at the schoolhouse door, and leave the rest to us.” That approach won’t work anymore, if it ever did.

(I’ll wager many readers can remember when a firefighter came to class and talked about the job, or maybe it was a police officer. In younger grades, teachers often ask parents to come and talk about their jobs. That’s a common way of “connecting with the community,” in edu-speak. In many school districts, businesses are invited to “adopt” a school and donate stuff they don’t need. My children’s elementary school had lots of pretty useless crap lying around, the largess of some neighborhood businesses. Do those strategies work? In a word, no!

The outside world, meaning ordinary taxpayers and the business community, may have grown comfortable with being kept at arm’s length.  But that’s what has to change . . . and determined educators can do this by meeting the outsiders where they are.  Here are a few ways:

** Students can create a photo gallery of local residents and then post portraits on the Web for all to see and talk about.

**Art students can sketch portraits of business storefronts, workers, and bosses, also to be posted on the Web.

**The school’s jazz quintet can perform at community centers and then post the video on the Web.

**A video team can interview adults in senior citizen centers and workplaces, focusing on common themes: First movie they remember seeing, best job, favorite foods, most memorable trip, et cetera). These can be edited into short videos and posted on the web.  Just one criterion for interviews: the subjects must not be connected to schools.

Producing these works will teach students all sorts of valuable skills, including clear writing, teamwork, and meeting deadlines.   For students, school will be more valuable and interesting, and their enthusiasm will rub off and carry over into other aspects of their school experience. They will be become better and more discerning consumers of education precisely because they are now producers.

The fun—and the rewards—begin when these productions are posted on the school’s YouTube channel (and perhaps broadcast on local news). That’s when all of these adults—chosen because they do not have kids in school—start talking about the film, sharing the link, and pulling out their smartphones and showing it to friends and customers. They’ll be saying, “Did you know what they’re doing in school these days? Sure makes me wish I could go to school all over again.”

That’s how to turn outsiders into eager insiders.

It’s a safe bet that neither ‘The DeVosians’ nor the ‘School Reformers’ are going to embrace what I am suggesting, but progressives should.