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Challenging the Newspeak of School Quality Measurement

As an impressionable teenager, I read George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 with a sense of fascination and fear. In particular, I was captivated by the idea that the relative diversity of our language both enabled and constrained our ability to express complex ideas. To take one example: if there was not a word for revolution, the people could not revolt. Whoever controlled the language controlled the people.

The novel is experiencing a resurgence of popularity in these...

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Schools Open, Schools Close: Charter Schools and the Ties That Bind

Ask someone in education about charter schools – even casually – and you are liable to be overwhelmed by a torrent of either enthusiasm or disdain. In an election year rife with proclamations about how divided we are as a nation, debates about charter schools prove that the landscape of educational policy is no exception.

Amid all of the shouting in Massachusetts’ current charter school debate – the one about...

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Professional Development (and Teacher Agency) As We Know It

Professional development (PD) in education has an image problem. Ballyhooed and derided in seemingly equal measures, it is celebrated for its potential to improve teaching and learning even as it is dismissed as a waste of time or money or both. The vociferousness and durability of these seemingly opposing sentiments give PD an air of incoherence and the impression that its boosters and detractors must not be talking about the same thing. What is the PD people love? And what is the PD people love to hate? And does it matter?

These questions, among others, were at the heart of a...

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False Perceptions and the Future of Teachers Unions

My defense of teachers unions comes after a long period of ambivalence and maybe too late.

Two decades ago, teachers unions – or more precisely my misapprehensions about them – were the reason why I did not become a teacher. I took on an education double major in college for selfishly practical reasons. As an English major, I had a hard time picturing a career, and I liked school well enough as a student that I thought I could probably teach. But even as I took courses in education and did my pre-practicum and became increasingly immersed and interested in education issues and ideas...

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The Real Mirage of Teacher Development

Something curious happened in “The Mirage,” the recent TNTP report on teacher development:  the authors appeared to ignore one of their most compelling findings.  It’s too bad, as it was a finding that seemed to corroborate what I have been hearing in my own research.  

I am currently working on my dissertation, an interview-based study of teachers describing their most powerful professional learning experiences, and in considering the full complement of stories I have been...

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Our Collective Responsibility for School Integration

In his historical portrait of federal, state, and local efforts to integrate schools, James Ryan, former law professor at the University of Virginia and current dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), boiled down the essential message of the courts on desegregation to one of stubborn individualism and privilege:  “Save the cities, but spare the suburbs.” After finally listening to the recent...

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The Responsibility to Listen First

I have come to believe that we are not listening to the right people when it comes to improving educational opportunity and equity. 

In saying this, I should confess that I am part of the problem.  I am a white, native English-speaking, heterosexual man working in education who has opinions about what should be done (and not done) to improve educational opportunity and increase equity and who has a platform (albeit a modest one) for making those opinions known.  In general, I think that there are too many people like me in conversations about education policy and...

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Choosing A Battle in the Fight for Educational Justice

Once again, I have been thinking about the false binary that is the education reform vs. anti-reform narrative. Allegedly, there are two sides and only two sides. On one, there are corporate-style dark-money-funded enemies of public education. On the other, there are virtuous, pristine defenders of public education. Ironically but maybe not surprisingly, both sides see themselves as champions of equality and justice for all. But because there are only two sides, there can only be one winner, and so in order for one side to win, the other must lose.

The problem is that injustice...

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In Transforming Teaching, Can Context Survive Scale?

At a recent Harvard Graduate School of Education forum on the future of the teaching profession, an audience member asked the panelists a question that got right to the heart of many contemporary debates about education policy:  if we say that context is so important, then how do we also justify policies at scale?  Can we have scale and still be mindful of context?

This is a question that has been much on my mind.  Specifically, I have been wondering whether our openness or resistance to scaling “best practices...

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We Are Atlanta

Recently and rather unexpectedly, a radio producer in Georgia asked me to record my thoughts on the Atlanta cheating scandal and what, if anything, we could learn from it.  I was humbled to be asked, and as a result of editing the commentary and the conversations I have had since it was ...

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