Friday, November 30, 2007

National Coalition Against Censorship

An organization that all members of the Dewey Society should know about is the National Coalition Against Censorship. Founded in 1974, NCAC is an alliance of 50 national non-profit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups. United by a conviction that freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression must be defended, we work to educate our own members and the public at large about the dangers of censorship and how to oppose them.

NCAC's Purpose

• To promote and defend First Amendment values of freedom of thought, inquiry and expression.
• To oppose restraints on open communication and to support access to information.
• To encourage, support and coordinate activities of national organizations in opposition to censorship.
• To encourage understanding that restrictions on the free interchange of ideas threaten religious, moral, political, artistic and intellectual freedom.

NCAC has been active in the struggle for first amendment rights of teachers and students as well as artists, writers, scientists and political activists.

Of great interest and value to educators is the NCAC toolkit on censorship in schools, providing step by step responses including boilerplate letters to administrators, and other valuable tools.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Report Cards or Lab Schools?

The New York Times today features James Liebman, the architect of the New York City Schools Report Card.

“We’re not measuring kids, we’re measuring schools. This isn’t about a child’s bad day, this is about a school’s bad year,” he said, sitting in a sub-ground-level conference room at the Tweed Courthouse.

He said he devised “from scratch” the system that yielded the citywide school report cards: the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System is based not only on test results, but also on surveys of 600,000 students, teachers and parents.

He insists no school is being asked to produce results its peers have not already achieved, and he doesn’t rule out that the reports may eventually represent a death sentence for some of the 50 schools stigmatized by a grade of F. Ninety-nine floundering schools received D’s. Around 60 percent rated A’s or B’s

He says he isn’t innovating anything John Dewey didn’t figure out in the 1890s.

“The purpose of grading these schools and making those grades public is not because we want to give them a whack on the knuckles, it’s to generate pressure to get them moving forward, to improve,” he said. “We’re looking for innovators and problem-solvers among our educators, but there has to be accountability.”

It may be useful for Mr. Liebman to consider that John Dewey argued, in The Ethics, The Public and its Problems, and elsewhere that public institutions could not reform themselves, and that innovators would have to do their pioneering work beyond it. Public schools, he felt, would eventually adjust to new societal requirements by emulating and adapting that work. Significantly, he did not develop any report cards for the public schools of his day; he developed a model alternative outside the system.

(Note: The Lab School of the University of Chicago is pictured above.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mind the Gap (s)

Philip Kovacs at the Educational Policy Blog has this important post which all readers of Social Issues could keep in mind. Philip has added links to data sources for each of the gaps on the original post.

Reducing the “achievement gap” to what goes on inside of schools has proven to be an effective way for policy makers to ignore all of the other “gaps” outside of America’s classrooms.

While researcher after researcher has shown that outside influences contribute to student performance and achievement, proponents of high-stakes, standardized reforms continue to press for more “rigor,” as if harder work alone will mitigate every outside factor influencing children’s lives.

Rather than focusing exclusively on the “achievement gap,” policy makers and educational reformers might consider policies that help reduce other “gaps” that exist within our country. Gaps that could be narrowed in order to improve the lives and schooling of all students include but are not limited to:

The incarceration gap, where six times as many African Americans are behind bars compared to their white counterparts;

The homeowner gap, where 72.7% of white Americans own their homes compared to 48.2% of African Americans;

The healthcare gap, where 71.4% of white Americans are insured compared to 53.9% of African Americans;

The earnings gap, where white Americans average over $20,000 more a year than African Americans;

The poverty rate gap, where 8.7% of white Americans live at or below the poverty line while 24.7% of African Americans do so;

The unemployment gap, where 5.7% of white Americans are unemployed while 13.2% of African Americans are without work;

The happiness gap, where 72% of white youths say they are happy with life in general compared to 56% of their African American counterparts;

The murder gap, where 49% of murder victims in the United States are African Americans, who make up 13% of the population.

Close one of these and I warrant the "achievement gap" shrinks.

Monday, November 12, 2007

NCLB Leading to Rising Applications at Alternative Schools

According to the New York Times, Alternative schools such as the Village School in Great Neck New York, are experiencing a rapid rise in applications as parents and students seek to escape from the madness of high stake test preap regimes.

The Village School accepts a maximum of 50 students, about one half in need of special education services, but is getting three times the number of inquiries it received just a few years ago.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sample Letters on Report Cards for Schools

From time to time Social Issues will select passages from letters that can be used as models in writing to editors

Sample Letters to the Editor in the New York Times on Report Cards for Schools

November 10, 2007
A School Is More Than an A, B or C

1. To the Editor:

Re “50 City Schools Get Failing Grade in a New System” (front page, Nov. 6):

Grading schools is as absurd as grading students. The criteria for both are equally detrimental to achieving the goals of a truly useful education: self-awareness, an engaged citizenry and the skills necessary to generate meaningful, dignified work.

Until we address the core societal conditions that now make such goals unattainable for the vast majority, there is little hope that obfuscating parlor tricks like high-stakes testing, free cellphones for every child and schoolwide report cards will serve as successful incentives.

Roland Legiardi-Laura
New York, Nov. 6, 2007


2. To the Editor:

Why use an A-to-F format to grade an entire school, when educators are moving away from that kind of a report card for our children because it is insufficient? Why use more high-pressure tests that don’t really gauge the students’ ability or the quality of the school?

Our public schools are full of highly motivated, creative teachers. They are often beaten down by large class sizes, lack of support, and more and more testing.

I urge all parents to ignore these report cards.

Ray Franks
New York, Nov. 6, 2007

3. To the Editor:

Report card grades are based mainly on test scores. This means progress is measured by a single score on a single test on a single day.

Parents want more. We want to know if our children are reading more books; if their understanding is deeper; if they ask intelligent questions; if they are curious and creative; and if they can work cooperatively. No test score will give us this information. Learning is complex, and assessments should be, too.

Jane Hirschmann
New York, Nov. 5, 2007

Friday, November 9, 2007

Libertas: An On-line Outlet for Public and Policy Commentary

Professor Liam Kennedy, Clinton Institute for American Studies, University College Dublin, sends this along:

Dear colleagues

I would like to draw your attention to Libertas (, a website linking scholars, the media, and the general public in engagement with and interrogation of US foreign policy past, present, and future. We seek not only to study US policymaking but to explore its roots within the American culture from which it emanates.

Libertas will feature timely commentary with daily podcasts and briefings, weekly analysis, and a discussion board. This will be supported by associates in the United Kingdom, Dublin, New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Bologna, Beirut and Tehran and more links will be made in the near future. We welcome contributions from all in the media and in the academic community to ensure the liveliest and most productive exchanges.

For more information, contact Bevan Sewell at, or Scott Lucas at or
Catherine Carey at


Liam Kennedy

Professor Liam Kennedy
Clinton Institute for American Studies
University College Dublin
Dublin 4
tel 00353 1 716 1561

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Draconian Measures Against Student Anti-War Protesters

Walter Feinberg Sends along the following:

High school is a fertile recruiting ground for the military, yet high schools often neglect to engage students in serious discussions of pacificism, the principles of just warfare or acceptable and unacceptable behavior of soldiers in time of war. While many districts have little difficulty with military recruiters on campus many are reluctant to allow peace activist to provide a counter message.

In one school, Morton West High School in Berwyn, IL (a suburb of Chicago)over 37 school students face either expulsion or suspension over an Antiwar Sit in on November 1, 2007.

The Superintendent has refused to back down as of this writing. Hence instead of teaching students about their right as citizens to protest, the school has decided to take the most Draconian measures available against a group of peacefully protesting students.

The failure to teach students about their basis responsibilities in times of war is a professional failing on the part of teachers and administrators. Soldiers and civilians in Iraq have paid a high price for this neglect. There is a need for professional and educational bodies to establish clear standards that can protect students' basic rights. There is also a need for those students who are inclined to enlist in the military to understand what international standards of behavior will and will not permit.

Those interested in the Morton West High School case can call or write.

Dr. Ben Nowakowski, Superintendent
District 201
2423 South Austin, Cicero, IL 60804
(708) 222-5702

Mr. Lucas, Principal
Morton West High School
2400 S. Home Ave.
Berwyn, IL 60402

The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thought Since September 11

Here's a provocative and thoughtful review from Powell's Review a Day of John Brenkman's book, The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thought Since September 11.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Hello from Democracy

Just to follow up on Leonard's post, we are very happy to be in touch with the Dewey Society and its members. Democracy was founded in part to provide a connection among progressives in the academic, journalistic, political, and think-tank worlds, as well as the broader reading public. Our belief is that while conservatives have built a strong system of interdisciplinary bridges - the Public Interest, Commentary, the American Enterprise Institute - progressives have not kept up. Our hope is that we can interest some of you to write essays and book reviews for us in the future, and in doing so help bring ideas and perspectives brewing in the halls of academe to a broader audience. Please feel free to email article proposals - optimally a one- or two-paragraph precis - to me directly at

Columns and Blog Posts

One aim of Social Issues is to help readers express themselves in public and policy-oriented forums.

Dewey Society members are mostly teachers or professors. They can all write coherent sentences. Their school or college newsletters and newspapers are looking for fresh voices. Same for the newspapers in their towns. Same for Blogs like Social Issues, and many other vehicles aimed at public or policy communities.

From time to time Social Issues will recycle good 'how to' advice about writing for non-academic audiences.

In this entry the controversial BBC and Observer columnist Andrew Marr (pictured above), winner of Columnist of the Year in the British Press Awards, offers some useful advice on writing columns.

A good column and a good blog post share many virtues.

Marr says:

A column is not just an opinion – it has elements of reporting. Unlike news, columns can contain context, analysis, metaphor, historical analogy and humour, but consider telling the reader something new they may not have read. Look at the facts again to bring a fresh angle to a story. It’s the ‘actually’ bit that makes a good column sing.

Like any argument, a good column is something that can be expressed in one sentence. If you can’t, then it’s likely to be dull. If you have problems with this, use a colleague to sound it off against.

Tackle something different. A feminist will provide an interesting take on hooligan boys.

Invitation from Democracy Journal

Clay Risen writes:
Dear Leonard:

I am the managing editor ( We are a quarterly progressive journal with an interest in both foreign and domestic policy, and our contributors hail from academia, journalism, think tanks,and the non-profit world.

In the same way that your group (The Commission on Social Issues of the John Dewey Society) is committed to getting academics into the public and policy spheres, we believe there are many people who would like to make that crossover but are at a loss for outlets.

We hope to provide precisely that opportunity.

Please consider this email an open invitation to you and your colleagues to send ideas for essays and book reviews to me.

I will drop a copy of our latest issue in the mail to you so you can get a feel for the sort of thing we're looking for.

And be sure to check out our upcoming issue, due out in December, which has a decidedly historical bent: an essay on the WWII-era Office of Civil Defense, a piece on the lessons of Vietnam for the Iraq debate, and book reviews on Albert Shanker, the 1972 McGovern campaign, and the history of black power.