Lisa Moellman

^ Guest Contributor Lisa Moellman

Editor’s note :

We received this via inbox at our personal facebook page. It was sent, said Ms. Moellman, in response to an article that appeared in Sunday’s Boston Globe, by Christopher and Sarah Lubenski, to the effect that by some measures Public Schools perform better than private ones. As her response addressed the article in question most persuasively and, as well, highlighted a major urban public school set-up as rebuttal, we have decided to publish it as a guest contribution, after which we have posted an essay of our own.

This is Lisa Moellman’s letter :

“I sent an email to Prof. Lubenski sharing my response to the Globe piece highlighting his and his wife’s conclusions about why they found public schools outperforming private ones on a math measure nationally. Here it is:

“I just read the key conclusions of your study highlighted in the Boston Globe piece today (site based autonomy and school competition bode poorly for math achievement).

“I taught in one of the best PUBLIC school districts in North America (approx. 100,000 students)–Edmonton Public Schools–which in fact maintains a portfolio of schools in which EVERY school has site based autonomies, student weighted funding and the ENTIRE district is an open district of choice for families. It is a public district of autonomy and competition–extremely high performing. This flies in the face of your rationale about auntonomies and competition at the core of the differences you found between public and private…take a look at this summary about Edmonton Pubic and take a deeper dive into understanding the developmental histroy of this district–it’s a beacon for districts across Canada and the U.S., as well as some in the EU.

“Further, a 2010 McKinsey report notes that public districts moving from poor to good need to centralize professional development, curricula, etc. but that once districts are at a good level, if they want to become great districts, they must decentralize and provide leadership and teachers with site based autonomies.

“In my experience and reading, your conclusions are not justified by your research findings. It’s troubling because this article was just tweeted by a key advisor to Mayor Elect Walsh in Boston on #Bosmayor. Scaling back our movement toward pilot and in district charter autonomies as Boston Public Schools attempts to move from ‘good to GREAT’ would be a misstep and deeply troubling as we strive to close the Achievement Gap.”

—- Lisa Moellman / Guest Contributor

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Editor’s Note : first, the Lubenskis’ article talks of private schools in general. No distinction or classification is made. This stacks the deck. Because private schools operate almost entirely in competition with one another, the fact of competition becomes the standard, for many such schools, rather than the rigor of the curriculum.  It is unfair to pit ALL private schools, of whatever sort and however set up, against public schools, which must adhere to a common, legislative standard. The argument is not whether public schools do better than ALL private schools but whether they do better than the schools most parents would be comparing to public schools. Most parents would not pay money to send their kids to a poorly performing private school.

Second, by choosing mathematics, the Lubenskis have already made a structural choice as well as a curriculum decision. They do not seem to realize that we school our children to two very distinct obligations : citizenship and the workplace. Mathematics do not get taught at home as often as reading, history, and civics because these are citizenship disciplines, while mathematics is almost entirely a workplace knowledge, at least in our society (to the Greeks, mathematics was as idea-based as te other liberal arts and formed the basis of much of their awareness of the real world).

Much of the otiose discussion going on these days about education arises from the failure to distinguish the prerequisites of citizenship and workplace. For citizenship, we teach reading, writing, argument, the arts, and music; and ethical, societal, moral, and legal knowledege (including history) that does not change — or, at best, slowly evolves — because human nature does not change; whereas for the workplace, everything changes constantly. This has implications for formal education that almost no one talks about. One is that teachers of citizenship knowledge should have long experience of the world — tribal societies used councils of elders to instill such knowledge in their young and to test their mastery of it. Whereas, with workplace knowledge, long experience often impedes instruction. In our rapidly innovating world, the best teacher of workplace knowledge is, likely as not,  to be very young — the younger the better. A career in workplace teaching contradicts the experience of the innovation economy, in which collaborative competition renders career knowledge relentlessly obsolete.

When thinking workplace knowledge, we must never forget that we are educating children for tomorrow. Not for today, not for yesterday.

Much workplace knowledge is most effectively imparted on the job, by apprenticeship. This is what our society used to do, but because apprenticeship was often a form of child labor and indentured servitude, it was given up as immoral or illegal. today it should be brought back, in a new form, as internships.

Unfortunately the huge institutional power of academe has all but monopolized our society’s teaching functions, so that subjects that should be learned by doing (as John Dewey knew 110 years ago), in apprenticeships or internships, are now “taught” in  formal schools by “teachers.” Why should future lawyers go to a law school ? The law, for example, is quintessentially a practiced art. It is best learned by “reading law’ or “clerking’ for a lawyer.

We also ask our schools — public especially — to do too much that isn’t education at all. Teachers are not set up to be day care providers, baby sitters, psychologists, nursers. Parents can NOT simply dump their children at the school door and say, “here, take them, I need a day of quiet.” As long as we allow our schools to be thus imposed upon, schools will be hard pressed to do what schools do. the only way that this “here, take my kids, I need quiet’ system works is with boarding schools. (It’s not such a radical idea. Our first Massachusetts antecedents, back in the 1600s,  often sent their kids at age 12 away to live with a family not their own. It was thought — correctly — that the child would be less likely to fight discipline at someone else’s house than in his or her own. Having been sent to boarding school myself, at age 13, I can attest the truth of this custom.)

At the primary, middle, and high school levels, however, it is fair to ascribe almost all citizenship and work skills education to formal schooling. This we do. But just because we do this, we cannot lose sight of the gulf that separates the two curriculum paths. Citizenship requires learning of one kind, the workplace of a completely different kind.

Of course we could always decide to teach mathematics as a conceptual art, as did the Greeks. The relationship between number and computation as concept, and number and computation in empirical experience, was the first pathway by which Greek civilization developed its sense of what is as opposed to things imagined merely. And it is from Greek speculative research that our civilization’s axioms have developed.

But that is a discussion for another day.

For now, suffice me to assert this education proposition : 1. first is the child — all children, at first.. 2. second is the curriculum : what we agree to teach him or her. 3. third is a teacher we hire to teach it to him or her. 4. fourth is the evaluation of how well the instruction is being done, both by teacher and student. 5. fifth is the site ; where will we teach the student ? (In Athens it was the Lyceum, a building and grounds set aside for that purpose.)

These are important. Everything else in the education discussion is gossip, self-seeking, or house cleaning.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere