About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


Google Groups
Email Me Blog Updates
Visit this group

Monday, January 31, 2011

One Teacher’s Efficacy

I’m sure that many socially minded people interested in education have a hard time understanding why some of us are so concerned about the direction of current school reform. I mean, we can all agree that way too many children – primarily poor children – are not being well served by our schools. We would all agree, as well, that, as in any profession, there are some teachers who shouldn’t be teaching – and some districts that are administratively and politically dysfunctional. It is the reformers’ remedies to these problems that spark concern, their technocratic, market-oriented, test-driven solutions that distort what education ought to be.

I keep in touch with a lot of the teachers I profiled in my book Possible Lives, an account of a journey across America documenting good teaching. When I visited her in Tupelo, Mississippi, Sharon Davis was teaching chemistry and physics at the local high school. She was remarkable, a masterful presenter who set up all sorts of experiments that her students did in the lab, in the hallway, out on the lawn – the intelligence of these young people buzzing through the activities.

I got a New Year’s card from Sharon in which she asked about me, told me about her son (who I met while in Tupelo), and offered this disquieting observation about school reform in Mississippi: “Good teachers, some even great teachers, are leaving the profession because state and districts are basing teacher efficacy off one test score. I moved from high school to 7th grade to teach a class that is not state tested so that I could still teach…”

Bless those lucky 7th graders, but I can’t help but think about the loss to another generation of Mississippi juniors and seniors – especially the girls – who will miss out on this wonderful science teacher.

I’ve heard similar stories from the other teachers with whom I’ve stayed in contact. For a reform to take hold and be effective, it has to build on what already works as well as chart a course for improvement. But a reform that promises a solution while undercutting current excellence is, at the least, counterproductive. Something is wrong when an attempt to measure teacher efficacy drives some of our most efficacious teachers out of the classroom.


  1. Dr. Rose, it was exactly this situation, the pressure of a state assessment and the directions our district went to answer such pressure, that drove me from my eighth grade ELA classroom. It is difficult for me, now, to face my small class of pre-service teachers at a nearby college and think of their enthusiasm being squelched when they have their own classrooms. It is even harder to witness my own son's swift decision to leave a Brooklyn school where he was teaching, where he faced even more strictures than I did. He is a natural teacher, but wants none of it now.
    Carol Mikoda

  2. Dr. Rose,

    Respectfully I must comment that the name of the town in Mississippi is spelled wrong. It should be Tupelo.

    a Mississippian living in Georgia,
    Rachel Watkins
    Assistant Editor

  3. It's like watching the collapse of a great mountainside to see so many of the best teachers leave the classroom because of the chilling effect of state systems attempting to hold them "accountable" broadside. What a contradiction to the rhetoric of high quality teachers in every classroom! I am wondering whether the science teacher you describe moved to her new post because of something that happened (like a low test score) in her high school classes, or simply to avert the trend that she saw coming. At least she is still teaching, but it is a crying shame nonetheless.

  4. I feel that it was very unfortunate that you had to leave from teaching high school students to teaching 7th grade students,but at the same time I also feel that in the process you were able to help another generation of students

  5. Dr. Rose, I recently had the pleasure of reading your book "why school?". Ideas presented through out your book and this blog post expose me to the problems with broad standardization in our school system. As I am currently enrolled in a teacher education program I'm trying to make sense of the current enviroment I will soon be teaching in. Your insight is proving to be helpful. I look forward to being apart of the next generation of young teachers who can hopefully push "reformers" to understand the true complication of measuring student achievment through a broad testing system that prohibits teachers from taking the necessary steps to truly educate young people.

    (note: not all information has been located relative to some publications)

    Bloom, Allan. (1987). The Closing of The American Mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Bracey, G. W. (1998). Educational research and educational practice: ne’er the twain shall meet? The Educational Forum, Vol. 62, Winter, 140 – 145.

    Brodie, Richard. (1996). Virus of The Mind. Seattle, WA: Integral Press.

    Coles, Robert. (1987). Erik Erikson: The Growth of His Work. New York, NY: Da Capo Press.
    Deacon E.L. & Vasey M.W. (1997). An Information-processing Perspective on Childhood Anxiety. Clinical Psychology Review, 17:407-428.

    Dennison, George. (1969). The Lives of Children: the stories of the First Street School. New York, NY, Random House.

    Dewey, John, (1938). Experience and Education. New York, NY: Touchstone.

    Dreikurs, R., & Soltz. V. (1987). Children: the challenge. New York, NY: Penguin Books USA Inc.

    Eisenberg, L, (1995), The Social Construction of the Human Brain; American Journal of Psychiatry, 152: 1563 - 1572.

    Friedenberg, Edgar Z., (1975). The Disposal of Liberty and Other Industrial wastes. Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, NJ.

    Garner R. (1998). Choosing to Learn or Not-Learn in School. Educational Psychology Review, 10: 227-237.

    Gotto, John T. (1992). Dumbing Us Down: the hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling.

    Goodman, Paul. (1964). Compulsory Mis Education and The Community of Scholars.
    New York, NY, Random House

    Goodman, Paul. (1960). Growing Up Absurd: problems of youth in the organized system. New York, NY, Random House

    Greer, Colin. (1972). The Great School Legend: a revisionist interpretation of American public education. New York, NY, Basic Books

    Gruen, Arno. (1992). The Insanity of Normality. New York, NY: Grove Weidenfeld.

    Gruen, Arno. (1987). The Betrayal of The Self. New York: Grove Press.

    Gubmert E.B. (1982). Alchemy and Exorcism in American Educational Thought. The Educational Forum, XLVI: 181-189.

    Holt, John. (1967). How Children Learn.

    Holt, John. (1964). How Children Fail.

    Illich, Ivan. (1971). De-Schooling Society. Harper and Row.

    Jacob S.H. (1982). Piaget and Education: aspects of a theory. The Educational Forum, XLVI: 221-237.

    Kozol, Jonothan. (1972). Free Schools. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

    Kozol, Jonothan. (1967). Death at an Early Age: the destruction of the hearts and minds of Negro children in the Boston public schools. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

    Laing,R.D. (1971). The Politics of Experience. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

    Lakoff & Johnson, (1999), Philosophy in the Flesh. Basic Books, NY, NY. ******

    Leonard, George B. (1968). Education and Ecstasy. New York, NY, Delacorte Press.

    Matthews, J. (1998), Somatic Knowing and Education; The Educational Forum, 62:

    Neill, A.S. (1960). Summerhill: a radical approach to child rearing.

    Nichols J.D., & Utesch W.E. (1998). Preschool Behavior and First-Grade School Achievement: the mediation role of cognitive self-control. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90-111-121.

    Perelman, Lewis J. (1992). School’s Out. New York, NY: William Morrow & Co.

    Postman, N. & Weingartner. C. (1969). Teaching as a Subversive Activity. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.

    Rogers, R. (1967). Coming Into Existence: the struggle to become an individual. Cleveland, OH: The World Publishing Co.

    Scott, Alwyn, (1995) Stairway to the Mind; Copernicus/ Springer-Verlag, N.Y., N.Y.

    Tolstoy, Leo, (1967) Tolstoy on Education (Edited by Wiener). Chicago, IL., University of Chicago Press **************

    From Robert B. Elliott, now Barry1000 - creator3@cox.net 702-716-0472

  7. 1. To function adequately as responsible and mature adult citizens in a free democratic system, people must necessarily first experience real personal choices, real freedom and liberty in their purest form, and extensive real opportunities to practice and experiment with their own decision-making skills and discretionary abilities throughout their childhood. Having freedom for the first time at graduation is like being given a 747 to fly, without ever having been near one.
    2. Schooling that is forced upon students cannot possibly be seen by them as a privilege and an honor, nor can it ever result in authentic education. A privilege by any sane or logical definition involves initiative, free will, self-determination, personal goals and objectives, and independence from mass conformity and manipulation. The same is true in spades for an “education”. No credible definition of education includes subjugation, dependence, confinement, the memorization of trite and trivial factual material (for the sole purpose of passing tests), massive standardization, bureaucratic gridlock, and the endless confusion of behavioral demands and discipline with academic discipline and excellence.
    3. Values, morals, principles and ethics cannot ever be integrated in whole or in part into an official institutional curriculum or transmitted from a public school teacher to a diverse and variegated group of children, without stepping into the territory forbidden by the church-state separation requirement of the US Constitution. To try to create a middle ground or a watered down version of values and morals satisfactory for mass consumption is to render them meaningless and impotent. A choice has to be made between education and indoctrination. It is impossible to contribute significantly to positive character formation, without super-imposing essentially philosophical or religious viewpoints or without purposefully exercising undue bias in social or political influence. An institution of this nature must be totally free of any state or other external domination or control of any kind.
    4. The popular and controlling conception of knowledge as information, data or subject matter, that can exist in some tangible form external to a human being, and that can be somehow transplanted, transferred or injected into a student’s brain or mind through an “educational” process is in direct contradiction to any credible contemporary psychological theory. This view of knowledge and learning is anachronistic and misanthropic in the extreme. Knowledge (knowing) can only exist when it is part of an integrated whole within a living person’s brain and nervous system. Knowledge must be methodically and voluntarily extracted and extrapolated from accessible sources by a living, breathing, and fully engaged student. This misguided mass and indiscriminate immersion in and exposure to information, presented arbitrarily and in uniformity is by definition something other than education. Education originates with the intrinsic desire of the individual to expand upon and incorporate what only that individual can perceive and recognize (re-cognize) in her or his personal phenomenological field. This is not Pollyanna theory. It is demonstrable fact.

  8. 5. A state government invariably wields overwhelming power with respect to private individuals. When school authorities usurp the responsibility of parents to educate their children, those authorities are automatically obliged to define both legally and practically the parameters of education in the process as an agent of government. They also automatically establish a need at all levels to assure compliance, loyalty, tacit acceptance, legitimacy, surrender and servility on the part of children and parents. They must sell what they offer and it must continually justify their use of power and its ineffectiveness. This effort then necessarily becomes nothing more than naked propaganda, pandering, mind-control, rationalization, PR, indoctrination, subtle and not-so-subtle persuasion, intimidation of parent and child, Blaming The Victim, nostalgia baiting, outright lying and everything else, but education.
    6. The belief that it is possible to pre-ordain a set curriculum that applies uniformly to large numbers of succeeding classes of students is absolute folly. Curriculum is the list of wonderful and specific intentions, emanating from pretentious or presumptuous scholars, with which the road to hell is paved. A curriculum sets in concrete things that are never, ever the same for two students or teachers; things that are fluid and changing by definition, and things that are always contingent on exponentially varying experience and perception. Curriculum, beyond the level of a single teacher on a single day, is a stone that weighs around the necks of teachers and students alike, sinking all of them into a non-navigable sea of slime.
    7. When we try to do the impossible and especially the impossible on a grand state or national scale, we cannot help but misallocate resources, misdirect our time and energies, and make major mistakes in policy and practice. This is nowhere more evident than in the profound neglect in schools of the verified needs of students for constant physical movement and exercise; for occasional peaceful tranquility; for diversion, variety and stimulation; for artistic experience and exposure; for quiet solitude and contemplation; for vigorous social interaction and identity formation, and for the manipulation and exploration of objects and ideas involving unlimited spatial and mental configurations. Schools must concentrate on “academics” at the expense of everything else and at the expense of the child’s welfare, since academics are their alleged over-arching purpose. Unfortunately, however, even academics are doomed to failure under the conditions of coercion and exploitation in these highly contrived, confusing and sterile environments.
    8. The relationship of children to their parents and guardians is as close to a sacred trust as anything gets in the estimation of most American citizens. But the quickest way to undermine and compromise that precious relationship is to arbitrarily make parents into tough truant officers for the state or for one of its bureaucratic agencies. The same thing can be said about making teachers the enforcers of anonymous authority, which in this scheme of things is unavoidable. A child might well voluntarily attend a school where the parent is intimately involved; where his or her perceptions, experiences and feelings are taken into serious consideration by the staff, and where the parent is able to articulate a sincere and convincing rationale that corresponds to the actual events and potential benefits that can be seen daily by the child. Given these state laws and the total disconnect they create however; parents are thereby pitted against their own children and alienated from them and their peers, often irreparably.
    Robert B. Elliott creator3@cox.net

  9. Sharon's story is yet another indicator of the move to institutionalize disrespect for teachers.
    Speaking of disrespect, I would like to suggest to Barry1000 that he comment on your post (extensively if he wishes) and then give us a link to his polemic. It is disrespectful to hijack another's blog.

  10. Dr. Rose,

    We were extremely enlightened after reading your book, Why School? However, one question...why is the book so small? If it wasn’t your decision to make, did you have a reaction to it?? We think your book is full of invigorating ideas, most specifically the ideas about reforming education. With so much influential and important material in the chapters, would you consider making the physical aspect of the book larger and more encompassing?
    The chapter, “Remediating at the University,” was compelling. It opened our eyes to this shocking reality. We cannot believe that some faculty at UCLA wanted to completely get rid of the freshman level. While we understand many people feel this year of college is spent doing the remedial work, this work is, nonetheless, necessary to education. From our experiences in various high schools, it seems these students, especially seniors, are extremely unprepared for college. However, we cannot put the blame on their previous schooling and merely dismiss furthering their education in these areas. Educators must realize that we educate for the good of our society. Regardless of the students’ abilities or the college faculty’s wish to ignore their responsibilities, we, as a society, must step up and focus on the generations that are our future. Though this work seems “remedial,” it is 100% beneficial to any education.
    We thoroughly appreciated engaging in the issues and ideas you addressed in this book. As future educators, we still are concerned with finding a balance between making student needs a top priority, while still meeting the state-required benchmarks that determine whether or not we keep our job. Any suggestions for us as we struggle with this issue??

    Thank you for taking the time to consider our responses and questions. We appreciate your time and look forward to reading more of your work.


    Alyce, Allyson, Amanda, Jessica, Kate, Marc, and Monique
    (English Secondary Education Seniors at Michigan State University)