New York Schools Wonder: How White Is Too White?


Brooklyn Arts and Science Elementary School is one of seven New York City public schools taking part in an Education Department initiative aimed at maintaining a racial and socio-economic balance at schools in fast-gentrifying neighborhoods. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

How white is too white? At the Academy of Arts and Letters, a small K-8 school in Brooklyn founded in 2006 to educate a community of “diverse individuals,” that question is being put to the test.

The school — along with six others in New York City — is part of a new Education Department initiative aimed at maintaining a racial and socioeconomic balance at schools in fast-gentrifying neighborhoods. For the first time the department is allowing a group of principals to set aside a percentage of seats for low-income families, English-language learners or students engaged with the child welfare system as a means of creating greater diversity within their schools.

The continuing segregation of American schools — and the accompanying achievement gap between white, middle-class students and poorer minority children — has become an urgent matter of debate among educators and at all levels of government. Last week, President Obama lent his weight to the issue when he included in his budget a $120 million grant program for school integration aimed at de-concentrating poverty.

Sandra Soto, the principal of Brooklyn Arts and Science, is allowed to set aside 20 percent of her seats for English-language learners and children in the child welfare system. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Carmen Fariña, the schools chancellor, have disappointed school diversity advocates by failing to make integration a priority. The set-asides plan, approved by Ms. Fariña in November, was the first attempt at addressing the issue across multiple schools.

All of the schools involved enroll children by lottery, rather than having a school zone.

In its early years, Arts and Letters was more than 90 percent black and Hispanic, reflecting the Brooklyn neighborhoods around it, including Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill and Fort Greene. More than 80 percent of its students qualified for free or reduced lunch.


But the school gained a reputation for its humanities curriculum, its science lab and its focus on the arts. And newcomers changed the demographic mix of its surrounding blocks. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, the white population rose 120 percent from 2000 to 2010 and the black population fell by 30 percent, according to the Center for Urban Research at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Now, Arts and Letters has become one of Brooklyn’s hottest schools. Half of the school’s kindergartners are white; a mere 12 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch. That has its principal, John O’Reilly, worried.

“I love the fact that so many white affluent families would want to send their children to my school,” he said recently, before rushing off to give another tour. “But I know the impact it has on the diversity of my school.”

Mr. O’Reilly is one of a group of principals — including Julie Zuckerman at the four-year-old Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, where 21 percent of the students are white, and Arthur Mattia, who recently retired from the Children’s School in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn, where the student population is now 59 percent white — who said they had hoped to create schools where no one race or socioeconomic group was dominant.

Instead, their schools are becoming magnets for middle-class families moving into gentrifying neighborhoods who prefer them to their local zoned schools. The principals are concerned that their schools will “tip” over into majority white, middle-class schools.

They hope the new program will help them maintain more balanced populations.

Ms. Soto, second from right, at a conference with parents. Ms. Soto says the level of integration at Brooklyn Arts and Science so far is encouraging, giving all her students a broader understanding of the world around them. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

“This is a very important step,” said David Tipson, the executive director of New York Appleseed, which works to create more integration in city schools. “This is the first time that this D.O.E. — under de Blasio — has begun truly addressing the effect gentrification has on our schools.”

In 2014, the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles released a study showing that New York City has one of the most segregated school systems in the nation. That and discomfort among educators and activists about the high number of racially and economically isolated schools in the city has generated intense discussions about integration.


But educators in New York and across the country are not in agreement about what integration should look like. In 2007, a United States Supreme Court ruling declared school sorting by race unconstitutional in two school districts, Seattle and Louisville, Ky.

Around that time, under Mr. de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael R. Bloomberg, the department discontinued a “controlled choice” plan in District 1, in Lower Manhattan, designed to create diversity in schools. Racial set-asides were done away with at the Brooklyn New School in the 1990s, when race-based admissions were coming under fire nationally.

In 2013, the city approved a plan that allowed Public School 133 in fast-gentrifying Gowanus to set aside seats for English-language learners and students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Those criteria are generally used as proxies for race in trying to achieve integration. Many advocates believed this would lead to more set-aside plans.

That did not happen.

A strong body of research, beginning in the 1960s with the now-famous Coleman Report, suggests that low-income students do better academically when exposed to middle-class ones. Numerous other studies suggest that middle-class students do not see a decrease in achievement when they go to school with poorer students, and may in fact benefit in nonacademic ways.

But how best to integrate remains up for debate.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, a noted voice in the school-integration movement and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, posits that low-income students do best when they are in schools that are majority middle class.

Julie Zuckerman, the principal of the Castle Bridge School in Washington Heights, challenges the notion that her school needs a large percentage of middle-class families to turn it into a successful place of learning. Credit Bryan R. Smith for The New York Times

Mr. O’Reilly, the Arts and Letters principal, has accepted that as a benchmark. He will give priority to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch for 40 percent of his seats.

But Ms. Zuckerman, the Castle Bridge School principal, challenges the notion that her school needs a large percentage of middle-class families to be a successful place of learning. “I’m good with 20 to 25 percent,” she said.

At Castle Bridge, students from households in which a family member is incarcerated get priority for 10 percent of the seats, and low-income students get priority for 60 percent.

The principals say the set-asides are needed, because once a school is viewed as desirable by middle-class families, their networking capabilities and social capital are far more powerful than any outreach the schools can do to attract lower-income families. All it takes, they say, is a few posts on Facebook, some word of mouth at cocktail parties, preschool fund-raisers and neighborhood playgrounds for a school to be inundated with applications from high-earning families. Those can far outnumber the ones coming from lower-income minority families, so even though seats are given out by lottery, the population can quickly shift.

“There is a number of families,” said Sandra Soto, the principal of Brooklyn Arts and Science Elementary School, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “I don’t know what that number is exactly. It doesn’t have to be a lot. But then you become the next place.” In 2012, Ms. Soto took over a failing school that had been more than 95 percent black and Latino, renamed it and overhauled the curriculum.

This school year, around 15 percent of the population is white and more than 5 percent is Asian. Last year, it had a Parent Teacher Association president who was white.

Principals at these schools say they know that middle-class families often bring with them higher test scores, making the schools look better on paper. But several added that chasing test scores was not what had drawn them into education.

Sean F. Reardon, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education who specializes in poverty and inequality, said it was a mistake to blame middle-class white parents for wanting the best schools for their children, even if the cumulative effect tipped the racial balance. The answer, he said, needs to be systemic, with the city’s creating scores of schools designed to be diverse in much the same way the Bloomberg administration developed small schools.

“We know it can be done,” Mr. Reardon said.

Administrators at the seven pilot schools say they are all motivated by their belief that classrooms that are racially and economically diverse are good for students, according to recent research, maybe even making them brighter.

Takiesha Robinson, the mother of a third grader and a pre-kindergartner at Ms. Soto’s school, said she appreciated the access her third grader had gotten to white and Asian families since the school reopened. Ms. Robinson, who is black, says her daughter now knows about Hanukkah, understands what a menorah is and knows the difference between being Pakistani and Chinese.

“I can really, really see the difference,” she said.

Still, Ms. Robinson and other parents said they did not want to see the school “turn all white.”


For some white parents at the school, that is understandable.

Emily Cowan, a freelance artist and social worker, said she was willing to even sacrifice her own kindergartner’s slot next year to “preserve that diversity,” though it would mean sending her son to a different school next year.

For others, it is a bitter pill.

The idea of keeping the school diverse “totally jibes with my politics,” said Mark Schwartz, the owner of a liquor store in Prospect-Lefferts Garden, Brooklyn, who also has a kindergartner at the school. “But what if it means we lose out on this opportunity?”

Correction: February 19, 2016

An article on Wednesday about an initiative by New York City’s Education Department aimed at maintaining a racial and socioeconomic balance at schools in fast-gentrifying areas included outdated information about Arthur Mattia’s connection to the Children’s School in Brooklyn, one of the seven schools taking part. Mr. Mattia is a former principal, not the current one. (He retired in January.)

Acting Ed. Secretary John B. King Jr.’s Confirmation: Four Things to Watch For

Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., should start researching the lunch options in House and Senate cafeterias—he’s going to be on Capitol Hill quite a bit this week. He’ll kick things off with a House education committee hearing on the budget Wednesday, plus another on the president’s latest budget request for fiscal year 2017 on Thursday morning.

But the highlight may come Thursday afternoon, with his confirmation hearing. King’s predecessor, Arne Duncan, sailed through his confirmation hearing in early 2009, with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., now the committee chairman, calling him Obama’s best cabinet pick.

Alexander promised President Barack Obama that if he nominated King, the former New York state schools chief would get a fair hearing. But that doesn’t mean his confirmation hearing will be quite the love feast that Duncan’s was, in part because relations between Capitol Hill Republicans (and some Democrats) and the Education Department have become strained over the past seven years.

King, who arrived at the department early last year, wasn’t around to help make many of the decisions that GOP lawmakers have criticized as federal overreach (like pushing teacher evaluation through test scores, and Common Core State Standards adoption through waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act).  But he could still take questions on those issues Thursday.

Here are four things that will almost surely come up in the confirmation hearing and, possibly, King’s other appearances this week:

Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act: Alexander has said it’s particularly important to have an honest-to-goodness, confirmed secretary since the next person to head up the Education Department will get the ball rolling on implementation of ESSA, the latest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Alexander (and many other Republicans) thought Duncan overstepped his bounds in offering states waivers from the NCLB law. So there are huge sections of ESSA seeking to rein in federal power when it comes to testing, standards, teacher evaluations, and more. King, who has made it clear in recent speeches that he sees the law as including a clear role for the federal government in ensuring equity for all students, will almost certainly be asked about how he sees those prohibitions playing out.

King’s personal and professional background: King, who is African-American and Puerto Rican, has used his personal story—growing up in New York City as the orphaned son of educators—to prod states to keep the needs of disadvantaged front and center in policymaking. King may also play up his background as a teacher and principal. If confirmed, he’d be the first former principal to serve in the job, and only the third former K-12 teacher. (Secretaries Rod Paige and Terrel Bell were classroom teachers. So was another acting secretary, Ted Sanders.) What’s more, King is a former state chief—so he can talk about the federal-state relationship from both perspectives.

Common Core: The standards are highly likely to come up at some point in the hearing. As New York state chief, King was a common core fan, but for the most part, he won’t be able to use his power as secretary to bolster common core—thanks to ESSA, he can’t tie adoption of the standards to flexibility or new money. (He can use the bully pulpit to tout the benefits of the standards, though.) But congressional Republicans aren’t happy with the Education Department’s recent messaging on ESSA standards. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., head of the House education committee, said at a recent hearing that the department has been making it sound like the new law continues to embrace common core. (In fact, ESSA calls for states to set standards that will prepare students to take credit-bearing coursework in college, but prohibits the department—or the post-secondary schools—from directing states to set specific standards. The department has said the law calls for “college- and career-ready” standards.)

Teacher’s Take: During his tenure as New York state chief, teachers’ unions and other advocates criticized King for, in their view, pushing too far, too fast on tying evaluations to new tests aligned to the common core. (More here.) And when King was selected to replace Duncan, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, expressed serious concerns about the choice. (She feels a lot better about King now that she’s seen him in action. More here). But not everyone is going to be assuaged—the Badass Teachers’ Association has been circulating a petition calling on lawmakers not to confirm King.

BONUS: King could be asked about Danny Harris, the department’s chief information officer, whose had some tax and conflict-of-interest issues detailed in a report by the department’s Inspector General—but that seems less likely now that Harris has announced his retirement.

Earlier this month, King testified when the House Government Reform and Oversight committee held a hearing on how the department has dealt with Harris’ behavior. King explained that—back in 2013—the Justice Department and the Inspector General concluded Harris didn’t violate law or policy. Plus, King, who has only been acting secretary for a couple months, counseled Harris about his behavior. But Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, still expressed concerns about King’s management, saying the new secretary was “failing.” Harris collapsed at the hearing and had to be taken to the hospital.

Last week, though, Harris announced his retirement, effective Feb. 29. (Hat tip: Politico). Harris, who has been a career employee at the department for more than 30 years, could have retired already, but decided to stick around to help the department improve cybersecurity, said Dorie Nolt, an education department spokeswoman in a statement. It’s unclear if Senate Republicans shared their House colleagues’ concerns about Harris—but his actions may not matter as much now that he’s on his way out the door.

Accountability Grabs the Spotlight at Senate ESSA Oversight Hearing

But there was less agreement about the extent to which that new latitude could be challenging for schools—or even detrimental to students, particularly historically disadvantaged ones.

Senators quizzed those testifying about how they were rethinking school accountability under ESSA, whether they felt like they will have enough time to create and finalize their plans in order to receive federal funds, and whether the U.S. Department of Education should use a light touch or be aggressive when regulating under the new law.

And it’s a safe bet that many of these same questions will come up in the Senate education committee on Thursday, when its members hold a confirmation hearing for acting Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate education committee, said in his opening remarks that ESSA represents a major and appropriate shift in control over education policy to the states, and an example of Washington actually working well. But those two things alone, he stressed, won’t necessarily mean the law would be carried out as he and other champions of ESSA intend: “A law that is not properly implemented is not worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking Democrat, stressed that ESSA contains important “guardrails” that are important for the Education Department to keep in mind as it develops regulations for the law. She also said civil rights groups and other like-minded stakeholders should be included in discussions and considerations about the law’s impact.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the current version of which is ESSA—”is at its heart a civil rights law,” Murray noted in her opening statement.

Two weeks ago, the House subcommittee on K-12 held its own oversight hearing on ESSA. On Thursday, the full House Education and the Workforce Committee will hold another oversight hearing on the new law.

Readiness of States and Schools

In prepared testimony, Wisconsin Superintendent Tony Evers (who might have received the most attention and questions from lawmakers) stressed the importance for balance under ESSA. He said that while he did not want “top-down mandates” and over-regulation from Washington, guidance provided by the Education Department on key issues has proven helpful to his state.

“In states like Wisconsin, we welcome oversight of the progress we are making, but it is important that states and local districts have the flexibility to identify how we achieve the goals we have set for students, the measures we include in our accountability system, the weight we give these measures, and how we design interventions that reflect the realities facing unique student populations across the state,” said Evers, who is also the president of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

And Gov. Gary Herbert, R-Utah, chairman of the National Governors Association (which heartily endorsed ESSA before it was signed), made a similar point, saying that “state solutions” would work best in order to leverage education as a tool for lifting children out of poverty. “Governors see ESSA as an opportunity to set high, but realistic, expectations for schools,” he said.

(Remember, under ESSA, the old adequate yearly progress requirement is out, and states have more leeway to set academic goals for students, even though the former No Child Left Behind Act’s annual testing mandates for grades 3-8 and high school remain.)

Those remarks probably were music to Alexander’s ears. Just last weekend, in fact, Alexander made a pitch to the nation’s governors at an NGA meeting to use their extensive power under ESSA to reconsider or remake education policy as they see fit, and to build in state coalitions to help implement the law.

Teachers’ union leaders also praised new breathing room under ESSA, but put a different spin on it.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, for example, made a pitch to lawmakers to give teachers, in particular, and other school leaders time and latitude to help redesign accountability systems that measure what students need to know and what supports and resources teachers would need to help students realize those learning objectives. To help that process, Weingarten told lawmakers, there should be a pause on high-stakes accountability pegged to testing.

“We have gone through many, many reforms, where there is a rush to publish and a rush to create, and no attention paid to the implementation,” she said.

On teacher evaluations in particular, it’s an open question to what extent states will alter or toss out their current systems, since ESSA now gives the federal government no say over those evaluations. That’s a big change from the Race to the Top competitive-grant program and NCLB waivers, which included specific requirements regarding evaluations and their use of student performance.

However, to dismiss the important role the Education Department has under ESSA, and to minimize the progress minority students have made during the last 15 years under the NCLB law, would be a major mistake, Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust, told senators. Haycock stated that the track record of states and districts in protecting vulnerable students was “not a good one.”

“Recognizing the need for state and local decisionmaking does not mean, as some have suggested, that the only real role for the department of education is to cut checks,” Haycock said.

How Much Time is Enough Time?

Alexander asked Evers to what extent he thought states should be realistically expected to complete new plans to comply with ESSA by the summer of 2017 and put them into effect for the 2017-18 school year. Evers said he thought that deadline, roughly 18 months away, was a fair one. Evers said he planned to convene groups of stakeholders to discuss ESSA starting in the spring, for example. (Click here for more about the timeline for ESSA, including the development of regulations.)

And Haycock said that states’ initial approaches to accountability ESSA could evolve based on evidence. “As people learn more about what indicators are helpful in working on improvement, those can be added later on,” she told lawmakers.

Weingarten and National Education Association Vice President Becky Pringle, however, expressed concerns that without enough time, states wouldn’t take full advantage of the flexibility and options presented by ESSA to consider non-academic indicators and other factors in accountability. New and helpful indicators of students’ social-emotional status, which could have a significant impact on accountability under ESSA, could be productively examined, Weingarten noted.

By contrast, if states feel rushed, Pringle argued, “They will tinker around the edges” of accountability systems, losing the opportunity they have under ESSA, and failing students.

Alexander also asked Pringle and Weingarten the right way to approach teacher evaluations in states, given the newfound stability in federal policy and flexibility for states. Pringle responded that instead of evaluations that,  in the past, used a “test and punish” approach, new evaluations might consider new factors like teacher contributions outside the classrooms and in broader communities.

“We’ve got to root it in the idea that the evaluation is about improving professional practice, so that all students can learn. That’s a very different paradigm,” Pringle told Alexander.

In a similar vein, responding to a question from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., about the place of testing under ESSA, Evers said that a lot of the overtesting was largely at the local level and not related to the volume of state exams: “The issue is more likely how the test results are used, rather than the amount of testing.”

Data and Services

Both Evers and David R. Schuler, president of AASA, the School Superintendents Association, stressed the value of good data, which was the subject of questioning by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who said that data is critical to ensuring that federal money is being spent appropriately. (Warren also made a pitch for federal officials “to strengthen accountability regulations, not weaken them.”)

And Schuler said the ability of states under ESSA to use college admissions tests instead of traditional state exams would help students, in particular.

However, Schuler also said that the Education Department, as part of what should be its not-overly-aggressive approach to ESSA regulation, should not place too much of a burden on districts, especially rural ones, when it comes to compliance with regulations and data-reporting. Federal officials, he said, should first see whether states have a lot of the data the Education Department might already be seeking as it provides guidance and regulations concerning ESSA, for example.

“Please do not duplicate your efforts,” Schuler said.

Pringle and Weingarten also discussed resource equity with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. Weingarten made a pitch for connecting how more-equitable resources for schools, like additional incentives for teachers, could improve school turnaround efforts.

L.A. Schools Promote Free Tutoring for Some Students

Los Angeles school officials on Monday urged parents whose children attend chronically underperforming schools to apply for free tutoring in math and English, which begins in November.
The Los Angeles Unified School District mailed applications earlier this month to 186,000 students, from 104 schools, who are eligible for the extra assistance.

The federal No Child Left Behind education law requires school districts to pay for supplemental tutoring for low-income students whose schools repeatedly fail to meet testing improvement targets. To qualify, students must attend one of the targeted campuses and receive free or reduced-priced lunches because of low family income. Applications must be postmarked by Friday, Sept. 26.

“We want youngsters who participate in this program to get something that will improve their reading, math or language test scores,” said John Liechty, associate superintendent in charge of extended-day programs for the school district.

L.A. Unified parents can choose from 26 public and private providers of tutoring services, including Sylvan Education Solutions, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Huntington Learning Centers. The school district also is providing free tutoring, on Saturdays, through its Beyond the Bell Learning Centers.

Students can get as much as 100 hours of free tutoring through next August, depending on the provider, officials said.

The school district has budgeted $47 million of federal Title I money for the initiative, enough to pay for about 47,000 students, at roughly $1,000 apiece, administrators said.

Last year, the first time the free service was offered, just 10,000 of 164,000 eligible students took advantage of it.

Families who miss Friday’s deadline can apply again. Applications for a second round of tutoring are due by Dec. 5. Students in that stage will get free tutoring from February through next August.

For more information, parents should call their child’s school or visit the district’s Web site at

The secrets to why students need recess

Posted by Jeff Hersh

Think back to your school days as a child. What part of your day gave you the most joy? Long division? World History Pre-1800?

Just Kidding.

There are plenty of math lovers out there, who most certainly did look forward to arithmetic and plenty of history buffs who got a twinkle in their eye just before entering the time-traveler’s classroom.

WITS Coach Rob Sanders leading students in a fun and interactive game on the recess yard

U.S. Department of Agriculture. CC Attribution 2.0. Some rights reserved.

Maybe it’s hard to remember, because in adult life and the working world we typically don’t have a set time to play.


Even just the word should create an electricity within, as you remember the glorious freedom that was given to you as a student. Recess is an essential part of a student’s school experience, even today.


Here are the 5 reasons students need recess.

1 – Socialization

While students interact with each other in the classroom, recess allows them to  discuss more than just the assignments and work at hand. This is an opportunity for children to create friendships and learn how to interact with others. Some shyer students may keep to themselves, but at least the opportunity is there for them.


2 – Explore Interests

This is a time in the school day where students have something they aren’t usually given:  autonomy. Maybe it’s controlled by teachers and assistant aides, but it’s still autonomy. It’s important for children to explore their personal interests. Recess gives students the time to make choices about how they want to use their free time. Whether it’s sports, reading, computers, or chatting with friends, the power to choose is a huge confidence builder and helps students begin to understand themselves better.


3 – Exercise

While Physical Education teaches students how to how to live healthy and stay active, recess is a chance to get some much needed exercise during the day. Chances are, students spend most of the day at their desk, so even a little bit of time to engage in sports or run around will do wonders for that pent up energy. This will also teach them lifelong habits to always find time be active in their day.


4 – Recharge

Children, like adults, need breaks. Expecting them to achieve in the classroom takes a lot of mental energy, and a break in the day will help them recharge.  It kind of makes you want to suggest adding a recess time for teachers too, right? Everyone needs a short break to rest and recharge to be able to focus sharply again.


5 – Makes School Fun

Finally, recess is fun. While other parts of the day may contain a fun component, recess is theepitome of fun. This is a time to play; to not be cooped up at one’s desk; to not feel the pressures of achievement. Children of all ages are looking for some joy, and recesscan feel like a reward for a hard day’s work, or just a personal gift of some free time. This is something even teachers and administrators could use in their day.


Kickball anyone?    🙂

It’s Time For Personalized Learning In Education

by Michael Horn, Executive Director of Education at Innosight Institute and co-author of Disrupting ClassIn March, Tom Loveless, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, took an outdated swipe at the logic behind moving toward a student-centered learning system. He in essence suggested that because the curriculum wars have been decided more or less empirically, that people bent on disrupting the classroom and the factory-model education system were doing so under faulty assumptions about how students learn.

In his piece, he attacked the logic of teaching around multiple intelligences and pointed to some of the research that shows that tailoring learning opportunities to common assumptions around visual, auditory, and other such supposed learning styles are not good ways of teaching different students.

A problem with Loveless’s argument is that many of my fellow “disruptors” and I who think that it is important to disrupt the education system think this way not under the mindset that it will—or should—help with multiple intelligences or learning styles, but instead because of a simpler and more rigorously tested notion that is far less ideological than Loveless assumes.

Today’s factory-model education system, which was built to standardize the way we teach, falls short in educating successfully each child for the simple reason that just because two children are the same age, it does not mean they learn at the same pace or should follow the same pathway. Each child has different learning needs at different times.

Although academics, including cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, and education researchers, have waged fierce debates about what these different needs are—some talk about multiple intelligences and learning styles whereas others point to research that undermines these notions—what no one disputes is that each student learns at a different pace. Some students learn quickly. Others learn more slowly. And each student’s pace tends to vary based on the subject or even concept one is learning. The reason for these differences, in short, is twofold.

First, everyone has a different aptitude—or what cognitive scientists refer to as “working memory” capacity, meaning the ability to absorb and work actively with a given amount of information from a variety of sources, including visual and auditory. Second, everyone has different levels of background knowledge—or what cognitive scientists refer to as “long-term memory.” What this means is that people bring different experiences or prior knowledge into any learning experience, which impacts how they will learn a concept. If a teacher assumes that everyone in a class is familiar with an example from history that is only ancillary to the point of a particular lesson, for example, but uses that example to illustrate a particular point, then the students who are unfamiliar with the example or who have misconceptions about that example, may just miss the point of the lesson or develop misconceptions about the point of the lesson itself. This isn’t under dispute.

There is also widespread agreement that, as a result, targeting learning just above a student’s level such that it is not too easy or hard is critical to helping students be successful (Daniel Willingham, who Loveless cites in his discussion debunking the learning-style theory, writes extensively about this in his book Why Don’t Students Like School—in the first chapter). If Loveless had kept up with our writing (not that I blame him for not) or read Disrupting Class with a bit more of a nuanced eye, he would have seen that we didn’t pin our argument on multiple intelligences or learning styles per se—we were quite up front that we are not experts in the learning sciences by any means. Instead, we asserted broadly that students had varying learning needs and used learning styles as a device to illustrate the point. Mea culpa on using that example, as I’ve written more extensively here, but at the same time, it doesn’t refute the fundamental point of our argument that customization—or personalization—is needed if we are to help every child reach his or her fullest potential.

Understanding this helps us understand the logic of personalizing learning and moving away from the current system that mandates the amount of time students spend in class, but does not expect each child to master learning. Because our education system is built to standardize, not personalize, transforming it through disruptive innovation is critical.

This seems to play into one of Loveless’s core worries though, as he seems to have a love for some of the assumptions embedded in the factory model of education. As he wrote, “Moreover, individualized instructional programs, whether delivered exclusively online or through ‘blended’ regimes, are antithetical to the goal that all students learn a common body of knowledge and skills at approximately the same time.” The challenge, of course, with his argument is that today students do not in fact learn or master a common body of knowledge and skills at approximately the same time; they are merely taught them—which is far different from truly learning them.

Why is Loveless concerned about students learning the same thing at the same time? First, because learning some things in common, he says, are important. I agree. Learning some things in common—of course not all things, but a strong foundation—is important. Again, although I am no expert, the research suggests that a strong foundation of knowledge is critical for future learning and meaningful participation in and contribution to society (but it’s also not sufficient, which is why developing deeper skills and dispositions are so important—a false either-or from which we need to move away). This isn’t antithetical to blended or student-centered learning; if Loveless thinks it is, I recommend he visit one of the KIPP LA elementary schools. What he sees might surprise.

Second, Loveless assumes that because students may learn these things at different times in a blended-learning world, that it will exacerbate the achievement gap—a legitimate worry. We need more research here, but the evidence seems to suggest that the achievement gap is exacerbated in the factory-model system when a student does not master a concept, develops holes in her learning, and the teacher just moves on to the next concept the next day. Instead, what we’ve seen in Chugach, Alaska and elsewhere, is that when we move to a competency-based learning system concerned with rigor—in which students move on to new concepts only upon mastery (and there exists the notion of a minimum pace so students who are falling behind get more attention and gaps don’t grow too big)—that students who would typically be left behind and see their gaps grow bigger and bigger, instead experience a sea change when misconceptions are corrected, they master foundational knowledge and skills, and they can then accelerate much faster than anyone would have expected.

Different students also struggle at different points. Who struggles and where is often unpredictable ahead of time—in other words, “the smart kids” group and “the slow kids” group aren’t fixed. Will competency-based learning exacerbate some gaps? Certainly. The most talented students—who we under-serve and hold back today—will be able to accelerate even faster. The hope though is that these gaps will have less to do with race and wealth than they do today, but we don’t know for sure. We do know though that the status quo factory-model system—in my mind the opposite of a student-centered one—is failing along this dimension.

I’ve also heard Loveless attack personalized learning, one of the two components of what I think of as making up a student-centered education system (the other being competency-based education). Loveless looked up studies that purported to be implementing “personalized” learning and found that the approaches weren’t necessarily effective.

The challenge though is in assuming once again that everyone means the same thing by the term or did the same sorts of interventions; simply looking up personalized learning in the peer-reviewed research is too simplistic.

There are lots of notions and differing definitions of what personalized learning is, but when I, and many other disruptors use the phrase, we mean learning that is tailored to an individual student’s particular needs—in other words, it is customized or individualized to help each individual succeed. The power of personalized learning, understood in this way, is intuitive. When students receive one-on-one help from a tutor instead of mass-group instruction, the results are generally far superior. This makes sense, given that tutors can do everything from adjusting if they are going too fast or too slow to rephrasing something a different way or providing a different example or approach to make a topic come to life for a student.

But you don’t have to take our word for it. Studies show the power of this kind of personalized learning for maximizing student success. Benjamin Bloom’s classic “2 Sigma Problem” study, published in 1984, measured the effects of students learning with a tutor to deliver personal, just-in-time, customized help. The striking finding was that by the end of three weeks, the average student under tutoring was about two standard deviations above the average of the control class. That means that the average tutored student scored higher than 98 percent of the students in the control class.

Furthermore, 90 percent of the tutored students attained the level of summative achievement reached by only the highest 20 percent of the students under conventional instructional conditions. A more recent meta-analysis by Kurt VanLehn that revisits Bloom’s conclusion suggests that the effect size of human tutoring seems to be more around 0.79 standard deviations than the widely publicized 2 standard deviation figure. But even with this revision, the impact is hugely significant. The problem is that having a human tutor for each student is prohibitively expensive; so to educate large numbers of students in the early 1900s, we adopted the factory model of education we have today. The logic behind blended learning is that we can gain the benefits of mass customization—many of the effects of a personal tutor in other words—without the costs.

Now, of course, as we implement blended learning, we may learn new things about how learning works. The opportunity to collect empirical data in near real time will be far greater, so we can test out different approaches for different students and see what works, for whom, and under what circumstances. And as we do so, perhaps we’ll learn that learning styles—not the simplistic notion we have today, but, as Jose Ferreira, CEO of Knewton wrote, “that different ways of learning certain concepts are more or less productive for certain students”—do indeed exist.

But we don’t have to believe that will happen for us to believe in personalized, competency-based, blended, or student-centered learning. Of course, perhaps we do need a better vocabulary to express what we mean.

Michael Horn is Executive Director of Education at The Clayton Christensen Institute, the co-author of “Disrupting Class.” He’s a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School. This post first appeared on and Wired AcademicImage attribution flickr user flickeringbrad

Disabled children ‘shut out of playgrounds’

Disabled boy
Image copyrightThinkstock
Image captionChildren with disabilities are often excluded from playgrounds

Disabled children are prevented from making friends and enjoying playtime because playgrounds and playgroups are not accessible, a charity report warns.

The Sense report says most parents of disabled children also find negative attitudes from other parents a key barrier to accessing mainstream play.

Disabled children and their parents end up being excluded from communities in England and Wales as a result, it adds.

The government says disabled children must not be discriminated against.

‘Vitally important’

The three-month Case for Play inquiry into the issue, chaired by former Education Secretary Lord Blunkett, found disabled children were missing out on play opportunities vital to their emotional, social and physical development.

It says insufficient funding at a local level, and negative attitudes to disabled children and their families are significant barriers.

Lord Blunkett said: “We know that play is vitally important for children with multiple needs and their families, bringing a wide range of developmental and emotional benefits.

“However, our inquiry found that all too often the parents of children with multiple needs point to barriers they face in accessing and enjoying play.

“It means that disabled children don’t have the same chance to form friendships, and parents are prevented from taking a break from caring.

“Both disabled children and their parents are excluded from their own communities.”

‘Turned away’

The inquiry heard from the families of 175 disabled children, with multiple needs, and received a further 175 pieces of evidence.

A snapshot survey of the families revealed nine out of 10 felt their child did not have the same chances to play as other children.

Two-thirds said they did not have enough information on accessible play opportunities in their area, while just over half had been turned away from play settings that had failed to meet their duties under the Equality Act.

The report also highlighted a lack of a strategic approach to funding play for children with multiple needs at a local or a national level across England.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring disabled children can access early years education and that play opportunities are accessible to disabled children.

“We don’t want to see any children discriminated against and to help this we have introduced the biggest reforms to the Special Educational Needs and Disability system in a generation, focusing support on individual needs and aspirations.”

6 Emerging Technologies in Education


December 29, 2014 Educational technology is a dynamic field of research and study. This dynamism stems mainly from the constant flow of new educational web technologies and the emergence of novel Ed Tech concepts that provide theoretical underpinnings for these technologies. The challenge for teachers is not only in keeping up with this fast moving trend but also with understanding the basic foundational…



Our 100 Most Popular Student Questions for Debate and Persuasive Writing

In anticipation of our third annual Student Editorial Contest (to be announced on Feb. 25), we’ve done the math, and below you’ll find the 100 most-commented-upon questions we’ve ever asked that call for persuasive writing.

Many of them are, of course, on topics teenagers care about — technology, video games, sports and gender issues. Others are classic debate issues like government regulation and gun violence.

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the broad topic that seems to engage students the most? School — from questions about homework to cheating, bad report cards, bullying and gym class.

So skim the list and pick issues that interest you. Each question is linked to a related Times article, which you can access free, and includes additional subquestions to help you flesh out your ideas.

Our 100 Most Popular Student Questions for Debate and Argumentative Writing

“I Forgot My Phone” | Does technology make us more alone?
Are the Web Filters at Your School Too Restrictive?
Does Technology Make Us More Alone?
How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card?
Should Middle School Students Be Drug Tested?
Is Cheating Getting Worse?
Do Violent Video Games Make People More Violent in Real Life?
Do We Give Children Too Many Trophies?
Should Students Be Able to Grade Their Teachers?
Should Schools Put Tracking Devices in Students’ ID Cards?
If Football Is So Dangerous to Players, Should We Be Watching It?
Should Video Games Be Considered a Sport?
Do Teachers Assign Too Much Homework?
Does Technology Get in the Way of Learning?
What Is More Important: Our Privacy or National Security?
Should Stores Sell Violent Video Games to Minors?
Is a Healthier School Lunch Program a Lost Cause?
How Young Is Too Young for an iPhone?
Is Cheerleading a Sport?
Should the School Day Start Later?
Should Racial Epithets Be Removed From ‘Huck Finn’?
Should Schools Offer Cash Bonuses for Good Test Scores?
Can Money Buy You Happiness?
Should Women Be Allowed to Fight on the Front Lines Alongside Men? And, Should They Be Required to Register for the Draft?
Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies?
Should the Private Lives of Famous People Be Off Limits?
Is School Teaching You the Skills You’ll Need to Succeed in Life?
What Current Musicians Will Stand the Test of Time?
What Words or Phrases Are Overused and Should Go Away?
Can Cellphones Be Educational Tools?
Is School Designed More for Girls Than Boys?
Do Kids Need Recess?
What Time Should Black Friday Sales Start?
Do Photoshopped Images Promote Unrealistic Expectations of Beauty and Body Image?
What Should Be Done to Stop Cyberbullying?
When Should You Feel Guilty for Killing Zombies?
How Should We Prevent Future Mass Shootings?
Is It Unethical for Zoos to Kill Healthy Animals Under Their Care?
Is a Longer School Calendar a Good Idea?
Which Is More Important: Talent or Hard Work?
Should Couples Live Together Before Marriage?
Is Home-Schooling Better Than a Traditional Education?
Is Prom Worth It?
Do Students Learn Best When They Direct Their Own Education?
Should Reading and Math Be Taught in Gym Class Too?
Should Schools Be Allowed to Use Corporal Punishment?
How Young Is Too Young to Date? (Or, Is Dating a Thing of the Past?)
Do You Trust Your Government?
Are Children of Illegal Immigrants Entitled to a Public Education?
Should the Government Limit the Size of Sugary Drinks?
Has Facebook Lost Its Edge?
Should Tablet Computers Become the Primary Way Students Learn in Class?
How Necessary Is a College Education?
How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities?
Are Some Youth Sports Too Intense?
Should Texting While Driving Be Illegal in Every State?
Can Graffiti Ever Be Considered Art?
Whose Fault Is It if a Child Is Failing in School?
Should the Dropout Age Be Raised?
Should a College Education Be Free?
Should People Be Allowed to Obscure Their Identities Online?
Does Class Size Matter?
Should Marijuana Be Legal?
Should You Feel Guilty About Killing Spiders, Ants or Other Bugs?
Does Classroom Technology Enhance What and How Students Learn? Or, Does It Get in the Way of Learning?
Should Parents Let Their Children Play Football?
When Is the Use of Military Force Justified?
Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters?
Do Leaders Have Moral Obligations?
Should All Police Officers Wear Body Cameras?
Does Separating Boys and Girls Help Students Perform Better in School?
Is It Ethical to Eat Meat?
Is Smoking Still a Problem Among Teenagers?
Do Laws That Ban Offensive Words Make the World a Better Place?
Is TV Too White? And, What About Movies?
Is It O.K. to Refuse to Serve Same-Sex Couples Based on Religious Beliefs?
Should Parents Limit How Much Time Children Spend on Tech Devices?
Would You Feel Safer With Armed Guards Patrolling Your School?
Should You Go to Jail for Kicking a Cat?
Should Home-Schoolers Be Allowed to Play Public School Sports?
Is It Offensive for Sports Teams to Use Native American Names and Mascots?
Should Students Be Barred From Taking Cellphones to School?
How Important Is Arts Education?
Should the United States Stop Using the Death Penalty?
Is It O.K. for Men and Boys to Comment on Women and Girls on the Street?
Should Students Be Allowed to Skip Senior Year of High School?
Would You Trade Your Paper Books for Digital Versions?
Have Curse Words Become So Common They Have Lost Their Shock Value?
Should College Football Players Get Paid?
Are High School Students Being Worked Too Hard?
When Do You Become an Adult?
Does Reality TV Promote Dangerous Stereotypes? Or, Does It Ever Actually Do Some Good?
Should Colleges Find a Better Way to Admit Students?
How Should Parents Address Internet Pornography?
Can You Be Good Without God?
Do Our Neighborhoods Define Who We Are?
Does Life Exist — or Has It Ever Existed — Somewhere Besides Earth?
Should Computer Games Be Used for Classroom Instruction?
Should Companies Collect Information About Us?
Should You Care About the Health and Safety of Those Making Your Clothing?
Should We Rethink How Long Students Spend in High School?

Who Are You Teaching, And Why?

One thing leads to another.

A love for words (and the funny sounds they made) led me to write. A love for the craft of writing led me to write even when I wasn’t told to or didn’t have an assignment due, which (somehow) led me to think teaching writing might be a good idea, which led me to having a look-see for myself at the classroom from the other side of the desk, which led me to TeachThought.And by some impossibly chaotic by still entirely functional collection of digital possibility, you’ve turned on something electronic and ended up here, reading this. Things connect.

Teaching English

And so it was for me as a teacher. Being an English teacher—that is, a teacher of literature, the writing process, grammar, critical thinking, close reading, decoding, digital media, speaking and listening, and well you get the idea—was a very plaid experience—all divergent and striped and blocked and geometric but still somehow stitched together.

Oddly, elegantly unified.

As curriculum and content, “English” is really a matter of understanding communication—who said what, how did they say it, and how can you use similar patterns to say things yourself? Diction, tone, grammar, theme, thesis statements, mood, structure, idea organization, supporting details, main idea, literary devices, and dozens of other things are all pieces in service of communication—both sending and receiving.

For some reason, once you get to college, communication is chunked into a matter of public speaking, but that’s like teaching “shapes” independent of geometry. Speaking is first a matter of knowing.

So traditionally in English you take a close look at dead people that said noteworthy things, literature being “news that stays news.” You take apart what they said, try to understand why they said it, and write a paper or take a test on it. Franz Kafka, Robert Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Emily Dickinson, and countless other people that have lived but not anymore at one point were moved to say something, wrote it down, and here we are centuries later bubbling in scantrons about it all. It’s a bit weird.

But studying their poetry and speeches and novels and other recorded and highly formatted musings led me to see it all as a matter of purpose and audience. Every time we study a piece of literature, or the concept of writing, it was the same pattern.

What was said, and to whom?

The Order Of Thinking

This came in handy when I started taking a look at digital media and other technology in service of the study of English-Language Arts curriculum. A YouTube video, like a poem, has the same fundamental characteristics, just different modalities–word choice, structure, idea organization, tone, and the other bits that connote academic study. But each also has an audience and a purpose—and without understanding the audience and purpose, none of the other stuff makes sense.

You can’t evaluate the word choice of a poem until you have some kind of idea why it was written—and who it was written for (if anyone). The context. You can speculate all day long about what he or she said and how he or she said it, but you’re only speculating. You weren’t there.

You can analyze the meter or count the lines, but the poem itself is a conjuring born of audience and purpose—which makes it a nearly human thing itself. Something was said to someone for some reason, and everything works backwards from there.

Audience and purpose are primal. They have to come first or none of it makes any sense. And so it goes with pedagogy. Who are you teaching, and why? Who exactly, and why exactly?

When students start on projects for project-based learning, have them start with audience and purpose. What are you doing and why are you doing it? And for whom?

The same with ed reform. How can we revise a school or iterate education until we know what a school is supposed to do or what an “education” is? That’s purpose.

And most critically, who we’re doing this all for. Who is the “audience” of education? We don’t do this for curriculum or standards or test makers or corporations or universities or even ourselves. We can say it’s the students—so then let’s check that. Let’s look at all of our systems and parts and practices and see if they point to the audience. Or we can start with our audience and work backwards from there.

Understanding audience and purpose is critical for reading and writing. And project-based learning. And digital media. And ed reform. And pretty much everything else. The sequence of education itself begins with audience and purpose. So let’s start there, too.

Who are you teaching, and why?

This article was written by Terry Heick for edutopia, and updated for TeachThought; Audience And Purpose: Who Are You Teaching, And Why? image attribution flickr user tulanepublicrelations