Sunday, October 20, 2013


25 years ago, I was at MKA and the headmaster had this vision to make the school fit into the philosophy of the Coalition of Essential Schools, following the philosophy of Ted Sizer, with one of its main tenets being "less is more", with students studying less content with more depth.  MKA was going to be the first school of high achieving students to join this group.  But it failed, because the aims were incompatible with some other high goals, including high AP participation and performance, which was highly content driven.  When Mel Katz came to MHS, he told me he wrote his PhD thesis on "Principals as Agents of Change" and he would be the first principal to bring a middle school model, where teams of counselors and administrators would work with only one grade at a time and follow them each year.  It did not succeed, because the needs of sophomores was so different than those of seniors.  It was another model which was incompatible with reality.  There is a reason that these two plans did not work is that they were inherently in conflict with reality. 

Now we have another attempt at an administrator wanting to be the first to use a model designed for use in failing schools being used for the first time at a school which, for the most part, that it highly successful in carrying out its mission of educating its students.  Don't get me wrong.  There are schools that might benefit from the top-to-bottom restructuring envisioned by the "reform" movement.  

There is a false dichotomy here that is being ignored. It is possible to get higher test scores in an atmosphere of trust and respect. We do not have to sacrifice morale, or a sense of shared purpose or a community where the students, faculty and administration work together and willingly on shared goals. Will the present plan result in higher test scores? I would think so, for they are being placed as a priority above all else, and in my opinion, at the expense of all else. Is there improved management and control at the high school? Definitely. But this has come at a great cost. We can and should have schools where there is both order and respect, improved test scores and improved morale.

The model being instituted at the Montclair Public Schools is a dangerous one and, if allowed to spread, will result in schools where there are factories of teachers and students churning out higher test scores.   Like the MKA experiment and Mel Katz's experiment, this model has not been successful in other school systems similar to Montclair for it is incompatible with the community desire for genuine and authentic learning and teaching, a desire to not give up those things that are great and special about Montclair in order to bring up test scores.  

1 comment:

Tom Hoffman said...

I would think each of these waves of reform have failed in their own way.

What you say is essentially that the CES model was not focused on the kinds of data (AP scores) that the community already valued, which is different than saying that it is "incompatible with the community desire for genuine and authentic learning and teaching."

The looping model was probably a much more complex *change* than it was worth. It might have worked if you'd been starting a school from scratch, but switching mid-stream just was not worth it.