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9th September
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, September 9 , 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Before school begins, parents caution their children not to play with certain boys and girls who may exert a “bad influence” on them. But what of the teachers, principals, and superintendents? What troublemakers are they hanging out with? Here is a list of people about whom you should caution the educators you know and love:

Jonathan Kozol, the author who has made a career of blaming all of the problems of children on American society, insists we are shortchanging them and are responsible for their failure. But there is never any call for parents to take charge of their offspring. Mr. Kozol favors a more collective model, that of Castro’s Cuba. Mr. Kozol has become rich writing books that are listed as nonfiction but belong on the shelves where fantasies are sold.
Eli Broad is one of those fellows who thinks that because he knew how to get rich, he knows how to fix schools. He thinks that superintendents and principals needn’t be educators. His model is Alan Bersin, a former Democratic federal prosecutor who until recently was superintendent of schools in San Diego. After years of flat scores, deflated teacher morale, and soaring budgets, the school board kicked him out. Typically, Mr. Bersin has landed on his feet. Governor Schwarzenegger has recently named him California’s education commissioner.

The failed Bersin/San Diego model is what Mr. Broad proffered to New York by dangling a few bucks in front of our education officials. Our educrats were quick to grab the money, leveraging $15 billion in taxpayers’ investment in education for the $2.3 million grant. So pleased is Mr. Broad that he will soon give our school officials a “prize,” another half-million dollars. Beware of billionaires bearing gifts.

William Gates of the Microsoft Corporation ascribes the quality problems at our high schools to the large size of many schools,but the real reason is not size, but rather that children arrive at high schools unprepared. As a computer person, Mr. Gates has forgotten the first rule when handling data, “garbage in, garbage out.” Students aren’t garbage, but the quality of the learning they bring with them to high school increasingly has been.The way to fix the high schools isn’t to shrink them, as Mr.Gates advocates, but to make sure that students are prepared in grades K–8.

Robert Hughes is Mr. Gates’s agent here in New York. He runs a group called New Visions for Public Schools, a corrosive influence on education that has been the de facto “permanent government” of Gotham’s schools for the past 15 years. After the first disastrous years implementing Mr. Gates’s vision here, predating mayoral control, we should have declared a moratorium on the creation of small high schools and evaluated the ones we started. Instead, the educrats push blindly ahead under the spell of Mr. Gates’s wealth.

Arthur Levine is on my list. Ask him why students aren’t prepared for high school. He heads Columbia University Teachers College, the leading source of the “progressive” instructional ideology that has become pervasive in America’s classrooms. This ideology puts group learning above individual achievement, with disastrous results. Nations like America, Britain, and Australia, where these ideas now dominate, are rapidly losing ground to nations like India and Singapore that favor traditional instruction.

Lucy Calkins is another Teachers College person whose theories on the teaching of reading may well be the reason why “Johnny can’t read.” She is the leading proponent of “balanced literacy,” the deceptive name now given to the widely discredited “whole language” approach. The $1,200 of your money that Ms. Calkins charges to send one of her consultants into one school for a day is one reason why Mr. Levine has switched his focus to “fiscal equity,” so that schools will have plenty of cash for Ms.Calkins’s “professional development” services.

Uri Treisman, the fuzzy math guru, is also on my list. He seeks to make students “like” math by making it easier, even if it means American students won’t have the skills to become mathematicians, engineers, and scientists.

Joseph Renzulli has bent the definition of “gifted” to include, well, everybody. His ideas shortchange our best students by substituting “enrichment for all” for the special attention that academically advanced students demand.

Diane Snowball runs AUSSIE, a private company that has been paid tens of millions of taxpayers’ dollars by city schools to train teachers in techniques that have failed so miserably in her native Australia that a national commission has been appointed there to investigate.

Lauren Resnick of the University of Pittsburgh Learning Research and Development Center trademarks jargon such as “The Learning Walk” and “Accountable Talk.” She then charges thousands to train principals, pulled from their school buildings up to 10 days a year. One chancellor here, Harold Levy, saw through this and banished her, only to see the now-departed deputy Chancellor Diana Lam bring Ms. Resnick — and her hefty fees — back to New York.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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