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Education Reform That Works

17 Apr

The Teacher Powered Schools (TPS) movement has a history of success and is now in more than 100 schools. It won’t make anyone rich but it just might bring a new area of positive growth in the teaching and learning process.

It could be argued that TPS has been around since Socrates. More recently, Debra Meier’s efforts to democratize schools in New York and Boston along with her friend Ted Sizer’s thinking has set a foundation for today’s movement. The modern TPS movement stemming from the 1990’s accelerated in 2012 with the publication of Trusting Teachers with School Success by Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager with Amy Junge.

By 1997, Debra Meier could open one of the first TPS schools, Mission Hill k-8 in Boston. Her glowing reputation led school officials who would normally have been quite skeptical to embrace her concept. A case study describes the school’s governance:

“A governing board, consisting of a council that represents parents, faculty, students and other community members, oversees the school to ensure the teacher team continues to meet the needs of students effectively but delegates decision-making authority to the teacher team. The teachers and the principal they selected collaborate on all decisions, including curriculum, staffing, and the school’s schedule. They involve all local education stakeholders in decisions regarding principal selection, determining the school’s mission, and approving staff-developed budget and human resources plans.”

Following 20 years of experience, a local New England news outlet reports,

“According to the Boston Public School District, 32% of students in the district will attend one of four types of teacher-powered or autonomous schools, like Mission Hill next year.”

In 2014 the Teacher Powered Schools initiative was launched. Their reported vision is:

“While the initiative recognizes the many other important efforts focused on teacher leadership and professionalism—for example, offering pathways for advancement without leaving the classroom, amplifying teachers’ voices, and fostering PLCs—its explicit focus is on empowering teacher teams to secure collective autonomy to design and run schools.”

The TPS initiative also provides a list of TPS schools and the following map of school locations.

School Map

 Teacher Powered Schools Have Diverse Supporters

 In a recent article about school choice, the founder of the Center for Teacher Quality, Barnett Berry wrote,

“But let me say, as many other scholars have as well, that the research is clear: ‘There is very little evidence that charter and traditional public schools differ meaningfully in their average impact on students’ standardized test performance.’”

He then commented on TPS:

“Now these are schools worth choosing—and all students should have the choice to be a part of them. Parents and students have choice in the TPS environment, and so do their teachers. In choosing Teacher-Powered Schools, we as a society put the public good back in public education.”

My friend Larry Lawrence instigated me writing this article when he sent me a link reporting on the 2017 TPS conference that he attended in LA. I forwarded the link on to my boss, the Superintendent of the Sweetwater Union High School District, Karen Janney.  She responded:

“I support the premise that TPS is learning and expanding with their work. I especially liked this paragraph:

“Teacher-Powered Schools center on eight practices that include a common purpose and vision, collaboration for the good of the whole school, ongoing learning, individualized student learning, holistic approach to discipline, multiple measures for student performance, teacher evaluation and improvement, and budget trade-offs to serve students.

“In fact, as a district, we are working towards many of those practices.”

Many people have commented on the book credited with accelerating the TPS movement by, Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager with Amy Junge, Trusting Teachers with School Success. A few short snippet of these comments follow.

Linda Hammond-Darling, the famed Stanford researcher noted.

“While many school systems push authority upwards to administration and accountability for results downwards onto individual teachers, Trusting Teachers shows us what can happen when authority and accountability are brought together and teachers have a seat at every table.”

James A. Kelly, Founding President, National Board of Professional Teaching Standards observed,

“In this important book, the authors turn education reform upside-down. They propose that teachers be empowered to manage their own teaching and their student’s learning. Let’s put teachers in charge of teaching! The distinct contribution of this book is that it takes the reader into many highly successful schools in which “trusted” teachers already have professional responsibility for teaching and learning.

Michael Petrilli, Executive Vice President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute stated,

“We need ways to press the case for reform without alienating our great teachers, without turning them into the enemy, the problem, and the object of our disdain. This book describes one way to celebrate, engage and empower them.”

Adam Urbanski, President of the Rochester (NY) Teachers Association, Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers, and Founding Director of the Teacher Union Reform Network wrote:

“Unleashing the collective wisdom of teachers is the best hope for improving our public schools. This provocative, sensible and practical book offers concrete evidence that it can be done and, in fact, is being done. And now that we have already tried virtually everything else, let’s do the right thing and turn teacher-run schools from the exception into the norm.”

Education Publications are Noticing

A 2015 article in NEA Today by Mary Ellen Flannery describes the transition to a TPS structure by the teachers of the Reiche Community School in Portland, Maine. Flannery wrote,

“More than five years ago, when a well-liked principal moved along to another assignment, Reiche teachers and their union, the Portland Education Association, worked with district officials to put in place an alternative governance model.”

“Simply put, the teachers took over.”

Flannery declared,

“Although the governance structure may vary among the nation’s teacher-led schools, they all have teachers with a renewed sense of purpose and professional autonomy. ‘Every teacher has a voice here,’ says kindergarten teacher, Kevin Brewster, one of the original teacher-leaders at Reiche.”

Carrie Bakken is a program coordinator and teacher at the Avalon School in St. Paul, Minn., which she has worked at since it opened in 2001. Bakken published an article in edweek about the successes at her charter school opened with a TPS governance model. She asserts:

“With this kind of autonomy for teachers, Avalon School easily retains 95-100 percent of its teachers annually. This high rate of retention allows us to build ongoing relationships with one another, our students, and their families. It allows us to implement a strategic plan and continuously improve our learning program because we know the staff will be there to do the work.

“Best of all, this framework for governance seems to benefit students. Avalon has a higher percentage of students who are proficient on math and reading state tests than the average for St. Paul Public Schools, and each year 75-80 percent of our students go on to attend a post-secondary institution. Some other teacher-led schools around the country have experienced similar success.”

In a US News & World Report article, “A School Without Principals Yes Really,” Allie Bidwell also discusses the view of school principals. He conveys:

“Both Farrace and Gail Connelly, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, say that while they’re supportive of collaboration between principals and teachers, it’s too soon to tell whether teacher-led schools will be successful on a large scale. Effective principals, they say, know how to harness the talents of teachers within the school and provide more leadership opportunities for them – but it doesn’t happen in nearly enough schools.

“’From our perspective, it’s not a matter of either/or. It’s principals and teachers working in collaboration and leading today’s complex learning environment,’ Connelly says. ‘It takes both to really create the optimum learning environment that can help each and every child succeed.’”

“In Cincinnati, the Hughes STEM High School operates with a principal. But because the purpose of teacher-led schools is to promote teacher autonomy, all decisions are made by teachers in collaboration with the principal, who cannot veto what the teachers decide. The school has a district-approved principal as part of a collective bargaining agreement between the local school board and teachers’ union to ensure collective leadership.”

I did find a very strange article about how wonderful TPS is by Tom Van Der Arc. He praises the concept but nit-pics the term autonomous. Then for no apparent reason other than his need to sell privatizing schools and technology he writes:

”One of the exciting things about the shift to personal digital learning is the explosion of career options for learning professionals — more school models, more learning services, and more ways to contribute. In every other profession, there is a choice of working for a government services, a large private practice, a professional partnership, or as a sole practitioner. Teachers should have the same options.”

Why Isn’t TPS More Widely Embraced?

Perhaps a research paper out of the United Kingdom by Daniel Muijsa and Alma Harris points to the issue. They note that the UK is behind both the US and Australia when it comes to teacher leadership but see similar positive results emerging in the UK. The research found that high levels of engagement and involvement of staff in the developmental work of the school promoted high levels of self-esteem and a willingness among teachers to engage with new ideas. However, they reported some barriers to teacher leadership:

“The study found a wide variety of barriers to the development of teacher leadership. Three main categories emerged from the data. The first of these is the external educational context.”

“The proliferation of top-down initiatives emanating from central government was similarly viewed as stifling teacher initiative and leadership capabilities.”

“The lack of time for teachers to engage in activities outside of classroom teaching and administration appears to be a key inhibitor to teacher leadership, as it is to other educational initiatives.”

“Finally, the role of senior managers in some cases can be seen as a barrier particularly where not all senior managers are willing to relinquish control, where leadership from the head is seen as weak, or where senior managers are poor communicators.”

In February, I wrote “Education Reform Musing” in which I called for democratizing school governance. The TPS movement seems to accord exactly with my idea. And the charter schools that are embracing this philosophy appear to be making a positive contribution to public education in a way congruent with Albert Shanker’s vision.

The Education Method and Organization

24 Feb

It was wonderful that day I met Larry Lawrence at a Chicago Hotel frequented by Al Capone (The Drake Hotel). We were in Chicago for the National Public Education conference. I soon discovered two things: Larry only lives thirty miles up the beach from me in San Diego, County and he knows a lot about education. Larry participated in some of the key developments in the history of education methodology. Saturday, we met for lunch and I am still over-stimulated.

This is the third time we have met at the Ki Restaurant in Cardiff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All three times, Larry has come prepared with notes including an informal agenda. This time, I was pleased that he wanted to begin by talking about a proposed fundamental reorganization of school which decentralizes power and democratizes operations. I had made such a proposal in my latest article which Larry had read. This fit well with his thinking that was influenced among other things by his time at UCLA’s lab school working with John Goodlad and Madelyn Hunter.

The Math Wars

Dr. Lawrence’s professional experience began with “new math.” 1956 was Larry’s third year at Occidental. He had finished the advance Calculus course and decided to register for a class called “Modern Algebra.” After his first day in class, he started studying the class materials and came across a concept he had never seen before, “one to one correspondence”. That concept is now considered an essential understanding for preschool aged children but in 1956 he searched fruitlessly throughout his dorm for anyone who knew what it meant.

Larry spoke about the experience,

“This illustrates the absolute mechanical nature of my math education to that point. This is something I have carried with me throughout my teaching career. How even the concepts that we might consider simple, may have no meaning for our students when they have no context for understanding.”

In 1958, Larry moved on to Teacher College, Columbia University to study math education under the tutelage of Professor Howard Fehr. An obituary in the New York Times said of Professor Fehr:

“Dr. Howard F. Fehr, professor emeritus of mathematics education at Columbia University Teachers College and a founder of new math in the 1960’s, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan after a long illness. He was 80 years old.

“Dr. Fehr, who retired from teaching in 1967 but continued in educational work, was a prolific author and an internationally known educator whose textbooks were used around the world. As the principal author in 1961 of a 246-page report titled ‘New Thinking in School Mathematics,’ Dr. Fehr helped introduce into American classrooms a concept of study and teaching that departed radically from traditional methods.”

Larry recalls Dr. Fehr’s class, “His ‘basic’ course laid out the fundamentals of the ‘new math’ – number systems, characteristics of a field, relations, functions, etc.”

After Teachers College (1959), Larry returned to his old high school, Morningside High in Inglewood, where he created one of the first high school calculus courses in California. In the summers of 1962 and 63, he attended a six weeks training course at the University of Illinois which was a program on how to use the math materials developed by Max Beberman and Herbert Vaugh.

Ralph A. Raimi states that “Max Beberman is generally regarded as the father of the New Math, his teaching and his curriculum project having achieved nationwide fame long before the 1957 Sputnik raised mathematics education to the level of a national priority.” Raimi also reports, “His thesis director at Columbia was Howard Fehr, famous then and later as an authority on the teaching of school mathematics, and a man who directed the PhD theses of many future professors of mathematics education.”

One of the problems for “new math” was it was often rushed into schools before materials were properly vetted or teachers were properly trained. The Stanford Mathematical Study Group (SMSG) under the direction of Edward G. Begle started producing curricular materials in 1958. Unfortunately this SMSG material became derided as “some math some garbage.”

“New math” also gets conflated with the progressive pedagogy. According to E. D. Hirsch, William Heard Kilpatrick was “the most influential introducer of progressive ideas into American schools of education.” (The Schools We Need: Why We Don’t Have Them, Double Day, 1996)

David R. Klein wrote A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century for Math Cognition. In it he wrote of Kilpatrick’s contribution to the math wars,

“Reflecting mainstream views of progressive education, Kilpatrick rejected the notion that the study of mathematics contributed to mental discipline. His view was that subjects should be taught to students based on their direct practical value, or if students independently wanted to learn those subjects. This point of view toward education comported well with the pedagogical methods endorsed by progressive education. Limiting education primarily to utilitarian skills sharply limited academic content, and this helped to justify the slow pace of student centered, discovery learning; the centerpiece of progressivism. Kilpatrick proposed that the study of algebra and geometry in high school be discontinued ‘except as an intellectual luxury.’”

Klein added,

“Meanwhile in 1920, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) was founded, largely at the instigation of the MAA [Math Association of America]. The first NCTM president, C. M. Austin, made it clear that the organization would “keep the values and interests of mathematics before the educational world” and he urged that ‘curriculum studies and reforms and adjustments come from the teachers of mathematics rather than from the educational reformers.’”

The math wars were thus engaged in the early twentieth century. By the dawn of the 21st century it appeared that the NCTM ideology had won the battle. Teaching math became based on teaching a set of discrete skills. However, today, much of the Common Core math teaching philosophy appears aligned with the progressive ideas of Dewey and Kilpatrick. Common Core also embraces the principles espoused by the proponents of “new math.” The “new math” was not really aligned with either side in the math wars but was more about teaching a cognitive understanding or foundation for learning mathematics and developing teaching methods.

Concerning the “new math,” Larry notes, “While it was a struggle for most teachers in the early years, the concepts have become part of the math curriculum of today.”

The influences on Professor Lawrence (Goodlad, Hunter, Fehr, Beberman, etc.) were experienced classroom teachers, developers of pedagogy and leaders in university teachers’ education departments. They were all exactly the kind of people that founders of the no-excuses charter school chains like John King, Doug Lemov, Mike Feinberg, Dave Levin and others disregarded. Instead, they turned to the economist Erik Hanushek for their guidance on good pedagogy.

Organizing Schools

In my article “Education Reform Musing” I proposed a democratized approach to school organization. Instead of a centralizing power in a principle, I advocated elevating the position of department head to lead circular development and establishing committees comprised of administrators, teachers, parents and students to set policies and resolve disputes. Larry was intrigued by this idea and wanted to discuss how it might fit into the structure that John Goodlad had introduced.

In 1959, the year before he became director of the lab school at UCLA, Goodlad wrote The Non-graded Elementary School. Amy Diniz of the University of Toronto comments:

“In the Non Graded Elementary School, Goodlad argued that the rigid graded education system is not designed to accommodate the realities of child development, including children’s abilities to develop skills at different rates to different levels. (Goodlad, 1963) Goodlad suggests that one limiting assumption embedded in the graded school structure is that children’s achievement patterns in different areas of study are going to be the same. However, in reality, most children progress quickly in certain subject areas while struggling in others. As Goodlad’s research demonstrates, it is very common to have a child in grade two have literacy skills of a grade three but math skills of a grade two. With a graded structure that assumes that a child will progress through each area of study at the same pace, a child is given no freedom to develop at the pace that is optimal for his/her needs.

“A second assumption in a graded system is that all students will learn the necessary skills within a year and then be ready to progress to the next predetermined level. In graded systems, students are all placed on an identical learning cycle with no room for diversity of learning patterns. (Kidd, 1973) Goodlad recognizes that under the graded system, the only options teachers have to adjust for students’ different learning capacities and rates are to either promote or hold back a student. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that both early promotion and non-promotion of a student are not strategies conducive for learning and development (Goodlad, 1963).”

I have taught remedial algebra at the high school level and have personally observed students learning math skills and concepts. Unfortunately, they were not learning fast enough to meet the state imposed standards, so, I was forced to give them failing grades. Worse than the graded system is the standardized system. Instead of meeting students where they are, we harm them because the standards do not match their cognitive development. School in America has long been a sorting system that separates the winners from the losers based on a meritocracy with elements of classism and racism coloring the decisions. Even if it were not flawed, the false perception that students achieve the same mental development at the same age convinces many students that they are not as valuable as others.

At lunch Professor Lawrence sketched out a possible alternative. Instead of age 5 kindergarten, age 6 first grade, age 7 second grade and so on, he postulated the possibility of leaning cohorts.

Cohort 1 for ages 5 to 8

Cohort 2 for ages 7 to 10

Cohort 3 for ages 9 to 12

Cohort 4 for ages 11 to 14

Cohort 5 for ages 13 to 16

Cohort 6 for ages 15 to 18

The overlapping age grouping is on purpose to allow teachers flexibility in moving students to new cohorts. The Diniz article describes Goodlad’s vision for this new structure:

“Two elements of Goodlad’s non-graded system include a longitudinal concept of curriculum and planned flexibility in grouping. Firstly, curriculum is centered on continual and sequential learning, with behavior and content running vertically through the curriculum (Goodlad, 1963). Longitudinal learning emphasizes that all skills learned are in fact base components of more complex skills to be learned in the future (Goodlad, 1963). Secondly, grouping is organized around achievement groups, interest groups, work-study groups or a combination of the three with some groupings being heterogeneous in skills (social sciences) and other groups being homogeneous in skill levels (reading).”

Developing a practical method for implementing Goodlab’s ideas was professor Lawrence’s job when in 1966 he joined the UCLA lab school which came under the purview of the UCLA Graduate School of Education. Lawrence says, “My task was to work within my team of teachers to develop a math program that would address the needs of our multiage, team-teaching organization. For the next few years, I explored a wide variety of programs that included SMSG materials and several others that began to be published in the late 60’s and early 70’s.”

John Goodlab was at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1960-1983, where he served as director of the Laboratory School and as dean of the Graduate School of Education (ranked first in America the last seven years of his tenure).

It is unfortunate that education reform became the domain of unqualified billionaires with no pedagogical understanding. It is time to take back our public school system. It is time to reengage with professionals. Privatizing public education is related to greed and foolishness. No excuse charters are related to abuse, segregation and arrogance. People who reject professionals for their own uninformed views are a menace to society. Let us build on the work of professionals like John Goodlab, Madilyn Hunter, Howard Fehr, Max Beberman and Larry Lawrence.

Rizga’s Mission High Informs

26 Jan

What is authentic quality education? Reading books by teachers like John Thompson and Ciedie Aechs provides significant insight as they take us inside their schools. Kristina Rizga, a journalist who was imbedded within San Francisco’s Mission High, makes another wonderful contribution to this understanding. For four years, she sat in classes, interviewed students, teachers and administrators. At the same time she studied the pedagogical process with the guidance of friends like Larry Cuban. Her book, Mission High, significantly contributes to the comprehension of sound education.

Solutions for Fixing Schools Are Wrong

In the book’s preface, she declares, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.” For multiple decades, classroom teachers have been awakening to that same realization. This time it was an outsider who spent enough time to see how misguided test and punish education policies are; to see how misguided standardized approaches to education are.

Echoing Rizga’s point, The National Education Policy Center recently published a tome entitled, Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms. This following statement is in the introduction.

“Despite this legislative commitment to public schools, our lawmakers have largely eroded ESEA’s [Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965] original intent. Moving from assistance to ever increasing regulation, states gravitated toward test-based reforms in the minimum basic skills movement in the 1970s. A watershed event occurred in 1983 with the report, A Nation at Risk, which was predicated on international economic competitiveness and rankings on test scores. The report was succeeded by Goals 2000, the first federal Act to require states to develop standards-based test goals and measure progress toward them. The stringent and reductionist No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 then followed on its heels. At each step, our educational policies became more test-based, top-down, prescriptive, narrow and punitive, and federal support to build the most struggling schools’ capacity for improvement faded.”

In the author’s notes, Kristina reveals what being imbedded meant, how she worked and the kind of relationships she developed.

“In 2010 I started sitting in on the classrooms of Robert Roth, the first teacher I picked, observing him and his interactions with students. I spent about two years coming regularly to Roth’s classes, sometimes going to every class for weeks. Then I spent one year, on and off, in Hsu’s class and about six months, on and off, in McKamey’s and Anders’s classes. The classes were so intellectually engaging – more than most of the courses I took as an undergrad at UC Berkeley – that I often had to remind myself that I’m not a student. I also spent a great deal of time in at least thirty other classrooms at Mission and other schools, observing various teachers and different pedagogical approaches.”

Conquest by “Administrative Progressives”

Rizga’s book tells the story of four students, three teachers and the principal, Eric Guthertz. Interspersed within these individual stories are pedagogical analysis, observed outcomes and research citations.

Alfie Kohn quoted the education historian, Ellen Lagemann, in his book The Schools Our Children Deserve, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes the Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”

Rizga makes a similar point. She defines two groups of progressive reformers,

“Most historians identify two major strands in the Progressive education movement: ‘Administrative Progressives,’ who focused on the top-down organizational reforms to create ‘efficient’ schools to produce productive workers, and ‘Child-centered Progressives,’ who prioritized transforming learning and teaching at the classroom level to make schools more intellectually and emotionally engaging for students.”

In 1904, the famous “Child-centered Progressive,” John Dewey, left the Chicago Laboratory School. He was replaced by “Administrative Progressive,” Charles Judd. It was symbolic; Dewey was out and “Administrative Progressives” were in.

Today, we might say that educators are out and the Democrats for Education Reform are in. Billionaires’ opinions about how to do school swamp professional research. Community schools are no longer the purview of elected school board. Today’s school boards are being reduced to nothing more than vessels required to carry out federal and state mandates.

Misguided and Racist Reform

Rizga posits that in order to “scientifically” sort students into tracked systems, a reform that is still with us today, was instituted: IQ testing and standardized achievement tests. She shares the dark history of their inception:

“As author Anya Kamenetz eloquently documents, some of the creators of these early tests were racists, driven by ideology about the roots of inequality more than science, and were using these tests as ‘scientific’ tools to argue that intelligence and merit were fixed, genetically inherited qualities. One of the creators of the IQ tests, Lewis Terman, the chair of psychology at Stanford University, argued that the low test scores of ‘negroes,’ ‘Spanish-Indians,’ and Mexicans were racial characteristics, and he was a proponent of forced sterilization.”

Rizga cites the work of, Yong Zhao, now at the University of Kansas and an expert in education of testing, “He observes that despite America’s mediocre performance on international tests since the 1960’s, it still files more patents and wins more Nobel Prizes than any other country in the world.” “Zhao who went to school in China and worked there as a teacher, notes that the problem of ‘high test scores but low ability’ (gaofen dineng) is a widely recognized issue in Chinese society, …” A study, Zhao cites, discovered that the highest scoring students in their province on China’s National Higher Education Entrance Examination do not appear on any other lists of distinction such as prominent scientists, entrepreneurs, scholars, or engineers.

Through her account of students, teachers and administer, Rizga shows the debilitating effect of the top-down approach to education reform based on standardized testing. She describes how teachers and administrators struggled valiantly to mitigate the negative effects of modern “test and punish” school reform and its negative impact on students already burdened by poverty, language issues and other detriments.

Mission High Exists in Every Community

Mission High like all schools is unique. For various reasons many Mission students arrive at the school behind most students at their grade level. Mission has been threatened with closure, but the administration and teachers refuse to narrow the pedagogy. They continue to expose students to rigorous intellectually challenging material. Their students thrive. In fact, Mission teachers will tell you that the rigor and challenge is why students are engaged and growing. Rizga concurs, “Many schools respond by pushing low-income students into remedial classes and away from the intellectually challenging ones that most students I interviewed told me motivate them to come to school more than any other variable.”

While reading Mission High, I couldn’t help but reflect on the Mission Highs in which I have worked. Rizga’s description of Mission paints a picture of talented dedicated educators successfully slaying dragons for the sake of the children they have come to love.

I have worked in two high schools (Mar Vista High School and Southwest High School) that remind me of Mission High. And just like Mission both of these schools have immensely talented people dedicated to education who continue to walk into their buildings and fight every day to be able to give the students they have come to love great education.

Both Mar Vista and Southwest were forced to send letters home informing parents that the federal government had determined that these schools were “failing schools.” Parents were given the option to send their children to a not failing school in a better zip code. Very few parents transferred their children, because they saw what was happening in their community schools and knew these were good schools. However, many parents who had never had an experience with the schools did bus their children to that “good school” in a “good” zip code.

I have also worked in two middle schools in poorer neighborhoods and experienced the same mix of talent and dedication. One of those schools (Mar Vista Middle School) actually had half of the staff fired and the school reconstituted as Mar Vista Academy. A disruption that brought no positive change, but harmed both teachers and students. Disruption as an education policy is an “Alice through the looking glass” reform. It is crazy.

America has never had such a highly trained and effective teaching staff as today. If the “Administrative Progressives” would get out of the rode and the billionaire reformers would give educators the respect they deserve, schools in America would flourish as never before and once again be the bedrocks of American democracy.

Rizga’s Description of the Teachers

In the Epilogue, Rizga describes what she observed about the teachers, a description that completely accords with my own experience and observation of teaching.

“Mission High teachers never complained to me about being overworked, but that toll is obvious to any visitor who spends significant time with them in and out of school. Every teacher I met frequently worked more hours than anyone I have met in the white-collar world – journalism, tech, law, corporate, and nonprofit. For more than a decade, McKamey woke up at 5:00 a.m., got to school by 6:30 a.m., left school at 4:30 p.m. for a dance class, then worked almost every evening and every Sunday. Every teacher I knew often met with his or her colleagues to plan lessons on Saturdays or Sundays, unpaid, because they didn’t always have enough time to do it during the workweek, when they teach five classes, need to read and grade hundreds of assignments each week, and must plan the next lesson. Many teachers met with students after school and on the weekends, unpaid. The most effective educators, like Roth and McKamey, had twenty-five years of teaching under their belts, but how can we expect a new generation of teachers to work such hours and stay in the profession for decades? No wonder close to half of teachers leave the profession before they acquire five years of experience.”

Kristina Rizga’s Mission High makes a positive contribution to understanding what good teaching is and why top-down standardized management is a fatal error.

Soka Education and Reform

4 Jul

Soka Education is an education reform movement advanced by the Buddhist lay organization, Soka Gakkai or “Value Creation Society.” For more than a century, reform education advocates such as John Dewey have proposed a humanistic approach to education. Although they have shown considerable success in demonstration classrooms, there has been little general implementation of their ideas.

The Swiss psychologists, Jean Piaget called Dewey’s discovery-based approach to education “constructivism.” Piaget believed that “children play an active role in making sense of things, `constructing’ reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.”1 The philosophy of constructivism” is a move away from the educational philosophies of behaviorism and social conservatism advocated by men like B. F. Skinner and Edward K. Thorndike.

Ellen Lagemann, an education historian, writes, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes the Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”2 The same general situation in education appears to exist throughout the world. Behaviorist authoritarian models of education dominate.

It could be that the Soka Education movement is the first large scale, long term and determined effort to utilize reform or humanistic student-centered education in the world.

At the Dawn of the 20th century, the father of Soka Education, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, an elementary school teacher and principal in Tokyo, developed a theory of education that he called “Value Creating Pedagogy.” He also gained a reputation for causing trouble of some sort wherever assigned. Mr. Makiguchi’s problems were rooted in the prevailing educational theories of his day.

The closing decades of the 19th century witnessed Japan going through huge social change. It changed from nearly seven hundred years of military rule by the samurai classes back to Imperial rule and embarked on a mad dash toward industrialization. It changed from four hundred years of self-imposed isolation to a path of international engagement.

Education policy became a debate between the forces that felt the purpose of education was to build citizens who were self-assured and of independent minds and those that advocated the development of obedient and loyal subjects for the Meiji government. Historian Dayle M. Bethel tells us that “the latter group won the debate.”3 Bethel says, “Makiguchi’s entire educational career was a protest against the production of subjects.”4

In 1928, Makiguchi converted to Nichiren Buddhism and was soon convinced that Nichiren Buddhism and his philosophy of “Value Creating Pedagogy” were synergistic. In 1930, he started an organization for educational reform called Soka Kyoiku Gakkai or “Value Creating Educators Society” based not only on his theories of education but also on Nichiren Buddhism. This organization became more and more about religion than educational reform as militarism and state sponsored Shinto enveloped Japan.

Japanese society was completely devastated during World War II. Makiguchi and all of the leaders of the “Value Creating Educators Society” were imprisoned as thought criminals in 1943. Makiguchi died in prison in 1944. After being released from prison in 1945, Makiguchi’s disciple, Josei Toda, rebuilt the organization as a Buddhist laymen’s society and renamed it Soka Gakkai or “Value Creation Society.”

Today, Soka Gakkai is the world’s largest Buddhist sect and the largest religious movement in Japan. In the 1960’s, the Soka Gakkai returned to its roots as an educator’s society and began constructing an education system based on Makiguchi’s “Value Creating Pedagogy.”

Dayle M. Bethel wrote of Makiguchi: “Out of his battles with Japanese educational structures of his time and his association with a few like-minded colleagues there emerged pedagogical views and ideas that are worthy of study by English-speaking scholars, worthy in their own right and also because these views and ideas seem likely to have significant impact on Japanese society during the years ahead.”5

Today, the leader of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and Soka Education is Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. In a 1996 speech at Teachers College, Columbia University, he said, “Greatly influenced by the views of Dewey, Makiguchi asserted that the purpose of education must be the lifelong happiness of learners. He further believed that true happiness is to be found in a life of value creation.”6

Bethel writes, “With reference to Western scholars there is scarcely a single major figure in the fields of education and social science, from the time of Plato to the early decades of the twentieth century, to whose work he did not make some reference.”7 Makiguchi was very aware of and appreciated Western ideas about education, but he did not just accept these ideas. Makiguchi believed in the acid test of experience. Those ideas that proved of merit in actual practice were to be accepted and those that did not were to be discarded.

Although an admirer of Dewey’s ideas on education, Makiguchi perceived a flaw in the formulation of Pragmatism and offered his own refinement based on a corrected philosophy of value.

Makiguchi specified the central importance of value in pedagogy: “The object of ‘The System of Value-creating Pedagogy’ lies in searching for the law of cause and effect in guiding the life of the students. Needless to say, the object of life lies in the pursuit of value.”8

The components of value that Makiguchi postulated were good, gain and beauty as opposed to those of good, beauty and truth postulated by the neo-Kantian Pragmatists of his era. Makiguchi’s formulation replaced the Kant school’s value triad component – truth – with gain. Makiguchi asserted, “Truth is that which is expressed exactly as an object is, through observing it objectively and determining its invariable elements as its intrinsic nature. On the other hand, value is that which is produced by the relationship between object and subject, and if either of the two should change, the value will vary accordingly.”9 He stated that truth was not evaluative in nature because it was either truth or not truth.

From this, he made the point that truth was a cognitive outcome or objective and value was an emotional outcome or subjective. Therefore, a great error in understanding occurs when people mistake cognition for evaluation. Makiguchi declared, “Considering the aspect of the present world, I believe nothing is as evil as the confusion of cognition and evaluation, since the mixing of the two makes it hard for a person to understand and causes him to assume an uncertain attitude toward his choice and decision.”10

Based on his own philosophical view, Makiguchi used his experience as a classroom teacher and elementary school principal to create practical guidance for educators to use in implementing his system of “Value Creating Pedagogy.” He proposed ideas that were congruent with many of Dewey’s:

 “In-school education should be closely connected in practice with actual social life so that it can transform unconscious living into fully conscious participation in the life of society. Education integrated into the life of society will yield benefits of well-planned living, without the undesirable effect of mechanical uniformity an inherent danger in standardized education.”11

 Makiguchi opposed the type of education that emphasized cramming knowledge into the student. He advocated an experiential based learning process. He opposed high stakes testing. He said that students and teachers should be cooperative partners in a community of learners.

Looking at the development of education in the United States through the lens of Makiguchi’s “Value Creating Pedagogy” gives a fresh view of American education.

As an aside, the word soka is a neologism created by Makaguchi’s disciple, Josei Toda. It is a combination of the Japanese words sozo (creation) and kachi (value).12

The most influential figure in the early development of education in the United States was Thomas Jefferson. He viewed education as necessary for personal happiness and the wise selection of governmental leaders in a democracy.

He believed that people in general had the innate wisdom required for a representative democracy to succeed and that education was the means by which to tap that ability. He reasoned that the creator must have endowed us with a “moral sense of conscience” which “is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. In a greater or less degree it may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body.”13

Jefferson believed education was the mechanism by which moral virtue could be made manifest. With his Aristotelian view that happiness was attainable only if the rational part of one’s nature governed the appetites,14 he, like Makiguchi, saw the purpose of education as seeking value.

About the French Revolution, Jefferson wrote, “it has failed in its first effort, because the mobs of the cities, the instrument used for its accomplishment, debased by ignorance, poverty and vice, could not be restrained to rational action.”15

Jefferson saw education as the cause for developing from common farmers the enlightened citizenry that would take the rational action a successful republican democracy requires. Jefferson averred, “The qualifications for self government are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.”16

In Jefferson’s era, the United States was an agrarian society with large estates in the south employing slave labor and small self-sufficient family farms in the north. Farming accounted for 90% of American economic activity.17

Into this environment, Jefferson proposed a four-tiered model of universal public education. Tier one was to be a state supported three-year elementary school for “all free children male and female.” Tier two was to be a grammar school for boys selected by merit from elementary school and kept in boarding school at state expense. These boys were to be the future leaders of society. Jefferson saw them as the “natural aristocracy” based on “virtue and talent.” Tier three was to be the university, which was to focus on liberal arts and develop cognitive skills as opposed to vocational skills. Tier four called for life-long self-education for which Jefferson proposed public libraries.18

If we examine Jefferson’s proposals from the viewpoint of Soka Pedagogy, we find general agreement. For example, Dr. Ikeda recently stated, “I believe that a liberal arts education should be the core element of the first half of every university degree course, as it provides a general understanding of humanity.”19

Certainly Makiguchi would have agreed enthusiastically with universal education. Speaking of his students who were not from upper-class families, Makiguchi protested, “Even though they may be covered with dust or dirt, the brilliant light of life shines from their soiled clothes. Why does no one try to see this?”20

Makiguchi parts ways with the proposal to use school as a sorting device for picking a “natural aristocracy.” Makiguchi was completely egalitarian and he opposed “cutthroat competition” and “examination hell.”21 Today, Makiguchi’s heirs are actively promoting education as a valuable lifelong pursuit.

Jefferson considered his successful campaign against the union of church and state as one of his major victories for intellectual freedom. Ironically, he believed in a very authoritarian form of pedagogy and he left no record of objection to the religious content and authoritarian nature of the instruction practiced in the colonial schools.

Jefferson’s view of pedagogy would later to be known as faculty psychology. It contended that the mind had distinct “faculties” that must be strengthened through exercise. Researchers tell us, “… he conceived the mind as an empty vessel to be ‘filled’ with useful facts.”22 Children of that era were required to memorize religious pieces like the Lord’s Prayer and recite them. They were encouraged to learn numbers because it would help them reference material in the Bible. The messages of their learning materials were both moral and Protestant.23 These views of education are antithetical to Soka Pedagogy.

During Jefferson’s lifetime, few of his proposals for education were actually adopted, but his ideals of universal education, intellectual freedom and the benefit of an enlightened citizenry reverberate into today’s discussions of education. Following in Jefferson’s footsteps, the next great development in American education was the common school movement championed most notably by Horace Mann.

Concurrent with the beginning of the 19th century, four shifts in social structure started to dominate in American society. People began to move from farms to urban centers. Many new immigrants began to arrive from Europe and they were not just coming from England. They were from Ireland, Italy and other places. Many of them were Catholic and many did not speak English. Slaves from the south began to migrate to the northeast.

There was also a general population migration from the Northeast to the Midwest. Most political leaders viewed all these social forces with foreboding. Social reformers advanced the common school as the solution to these strains and claimed that the need for common schools was no less than the very survival of the nation.24

With the challenges of industrialization, immigration and urbanization, public schools became the fabric of social integration. Horace Mann became the spokes-person for schools being the instrument of social integration.25

It was Mann’s point of view that children in the common school were to receive a common moral education based on the general principles of the Bible and on common virtues. The moral values to be taught in public school were Protestant values and the political values were those of republican democracy.

Joel Spring observes, “The combination of moral and political instruction meant that the student leaving the common school would share with fellow students a set of moral and political beliefs; the result would be the creation of a society with a consensus of political and moral values.”26

Common schools were to be supported by state taxes and to be free to all. Rich and poor children would learn to live together. They would learn to see wealth as an outward sign of inner salvation and the rich would learn the value of charity.27

It is this use of education for other purposes than intellectual development that Makiguchi and the heirs to his legacy would object. In an essay Dr. Ikeda wrote:

 “Learning is the very purpose of human life, the primary factor in the development of personality, that which makes human beings truly human. Nevertheless, development of personality has consistently been reduced to a subordinate position and viewed as a means to other ends. This view has prevailed worldwide throughout modern history, particularly in the twentieth century.

The educational system has therefore been reduced to a mere mechanism that serves national objectives, be they political, military, economic or ideological. A certain type of personality, not the full development of personality, has been sought, as if casting individuals from a uniform mold. Treating education as a means rather that an end reinforces a utilitarian view of human life itself.”28

 The most famous text of the common school system was the McGuffey Reader. The goals of the stories in this text were to teach reading and to impart moral lessons. One interesting moral lesson explicitly taught in the McGuffey Readers of 1843 is the spirit of charity. Five of the 29 stories dealing with boys’ character had a theme of charity.29

A researcher, Richard Mosier, summarized the dominant attitude of the McGuffey Readers: “It was argued that the poor would always be with us, that the best for them was charity and benevolence, but that no one need be poor. There are, argued the apostles of acquisition, numerous avenues to success that stand open for the sober, and frugal, the thrifty, and the energetic.”30

Americans heard echoes of those moral messages in President George W. Bush’s call for faith based and private charitable organizations to take a more active role in solving America’s social problems.

As Joel Spring noted, “Catholics objected to the use in school of the King James Version of the Bible and of textbooks that contained anti-Catholic statements.”31 Former slaves were not welcome in most common schools.

In addition, stratified cognitive theory supported stratified schooling. For example, Native Americans were sent to separate boarding schools.32 Ironically, the common school itself became a force for segregation. Social conditions and events undermined the common school principal of a single unifying common education.

Political ideology also had an effect on the common school. Democrats viewed centralized control of the schools as an attempt to promote and protect special privileges for the upper class. They preferred local control of schools to centralized state bureaucracies that characterized common schools.

The McGuffey Readers reflected the political view of the common school proponents who were politically aligned with the Whigs. Whigs believed in government intervention in public affairs and in central control. Spring observes, “To a certain extent, the struggle between Whigs and Democrats was a struggle between incipient bureaucracy and democratic localism.”33 Workingmen’s groups wanted the schools to teach how to exercise political power not just basic principles of government and a common republican creed.34

This type of partisan political struggle over education is strongly opposed by the Soka movement. Dr. Ikeda calls for a paradigm shift in our view of education to rid it of the deleterious effects of political interference.

He quotes Professor Robert Thurman of Columbia University’s answer to the question: How do you view the role of education in society? Professor Thurman replied, “I think the question should rather be: What is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life.”35

In the 1920’s and 30’s, Makiguchi and his successor Toda both campaigned at the risk of their lives against the nationalistic education that was pushing Japan toward war. Today, Ikeda calls for giving “education a status and independence equal to that accorded the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.”36

At the end of the nineteenth century, America experienced an era of dynamic change. David Tyack reports, “In 1860, the United States lagged behind England, France, and Germany in its industrial output: by 1894 it led the world and produced almost as much in value as those three nations combined.

Schools also expanded in size and complexity in those years to a point where America also surpassed other nations in its educational output.”37 Schools took on a new technical role. They began preparing the new work force and sorting them by ability for the positions in the factories of this new industrial age.

William T. Harris was an intellectual leader in the development of American Education philosophy during the late nineteenth century. He served as the U.S. Commissioner of Education and was for several years the superintendent of schools in Saint Louis. He declared, “The first requisite of the school is Order: each pupil must be taught first and foremost to conform his behavior to a general standard.”

He pointed out that a modern industrial society requires, “conformity to the time of the train, to the starting of work in the manufactory.”38 Researcher David Tyack says, “In the view of most urban school-men of the late nineteenth century, schools should inculcate obedience to bureaucratic norms overtly and with zest.”39

The schools became a “rational sorting device.”40 The rational used for sorting students into positions in the new industrial society was the merit displayed by the student. In the late nineteenth century in Chicago, newspapers referred to the annual examinations to get into high school as the “Olympic Games” and education administrators boasted about how the examinations fostered useful competition.41

From the days of the McGuffey Reader, Americans have been convinced that the way one gets ahead is by applying the good-old Protestant ethic of hard work. Success is seen as being completely up to the individual and it is individual accomplishment that is lionized. This is the “achievement ideology” in America and it is pervasive.42

Princeton Sociologists, Davis and Moore, observed that, “Social inequality is … an unconsciously evolved device by which societies insure that the most important positions are conscientiously filled by the most qualified persons.”43 School has become the implement by which America stratifies itself.

Ralph Turner has defined the system of stratification in America as “contest mobility.” He defines “contest mobility” as “a system in which elite status is the prize in an open contest and is taken by the aspirants’ own efforts.”44

The objective of this system is to give elite status to those who earn it rather than by ascription for some innate trait. This method accords nicely with the American “achievement ideology.” It logically follows that if one failed to reach a desired position, one would blame themselves. Moreover, one would recognize that the position went to the person who earned it.

“Achievement ideology” and “contest mobility” are organizing folk norms in America. Turner explains, “organizing folk norms are reflected in specific value judgements…irrespective of the logic expressed.”45 He also says, “Under contest mobility in the United States, education is valued as a means of getting ahead, but the contents of education are not highly valued in their own right.”46 One reason for textbooks being the central source of information in American Schools is that the system wide exams focus on that material in them.47 This implies that the contest is more important than the content.

Many researchers think the “achievement ideology” in America has undermined intellectual curiosity. For example, Alfie Kohn the noted education authority from Harvard University said, “Surprising as it may seem, the evidence suggests that our long-term goals for children and schools are less likely to be realized when teachers, parents, and the students themselves become preoccupied with standards and achievement.”48

He says a student “may persevere at a task when they’ve been told they have to do well. But a genuine interest in the task – or excitement about the whole idea of learning – often begins to evaporate as soon as achievement becomes the main point.”49 In 1959, Talcott Parsons, one of Kohn’s predecessors at Harvard, made a similar observation: “I think that an important part of the anti-intellectualism in American youth culture stems for the importance of the selective process through the educational system…”50

Makiguchi was very critical of the use of examinations to sort children. Bethel says, “The cramming of useless, soon-to-be-forgotten information in order to pass tests was to him the height of folly and represented in acute form the deeper sickness of the whole educational system.”51

In the foreword to The System of Value-Creating Pedagogy Makiguchi wrote: “I am driven by the intense desire to prevent the present deplorable situation – ten million of our children and students forced to endure the agonies of cutthroat competition, the difficulty of getting into good schools, the examination hell and the struggle for jobs after graduation – from afflicting the next generation.”52

At approximately the same time that Makiguchi was working to reform education in Japan, his contemporary, John Dewey, was fighting a similar battle in the United States. Discovery learning and child-centered learning are themes associated with Dewey’s methods of education. Although Makiguchi found fault with Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy, the two were in deep agreement about the need for humanistic and student-centered education to inform the industrial era.

Unfortunately, neither of these educators’ views prevailed and today we see the same sort of authoritarian factory-modeled education that they were trying to reform in practice virtually everywhere in the world.

In 1982, Kathleen Wilcox did a comparative ethnographic study of a classroom in a lower-middle-class neighborhood and an upper-middle-class neighborhood classroom. The classrooms studied were less than fifteen miles apart, were first-grade level and were in a major metropolitan area in California.

An ethnographic study looks closely at the culture of the subjects being observed on an intimate level. In this case, the expectations and responses of teachers and students in the two different environments were compared in detail. One of Wilcox’s conclusions was: “A vast array of cultural clues cue the teacher as to the child’s likely future position in the work hierarchy, and the teacher in turn behaves in such a way as to socialize the child for and encourage the child toward this position.”53 This view of education is called reproduction theory.

If this is indeed the reality, possibly the root of the problem is that the goal of education is wrong or has been obscured. Makiguchi wrote, “What is the purpose of national education? Rather than devise complex theoretical interpretations, it is better to start by looking to the lovely child who sits on your knee and ask yourself: What can I do to assure that this child will be able to lead the happiest life possible?”54

In the late 1950s, Erich Fromm wrote, “Few parents have the courage and independence to care more for their children’s happiness than for their ‘success.’”55 In the 1990’s, education researcher David Labaree claimed that financial success has become the driving force of American education above happiness, humanistic goals or public rationales.56

In 1983, the Reagan administration sponsored the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which produced a document entitled “A Nation at Risk.” Interestingly, there were few professional educators involved in the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

The opening paragraph of this non-peer reviewed article said in part: “We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”57

This document had a huge political impact and has led to many attempts at education reform throughout America. The main thrust of this document was a call for better teachers and an increased emphasis on the basics. The document called on the students to be given more homework and longer instructional time. Dr. Kohn would characterize this call for education reform as saying, “what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.”58

From the viewpoint of Makiguchi or Dewey or Kohn or Fromm or Ikeda or Socrates or Thurman or the great preponderance of education thinkers, the fundamental purpose of education presented by this reform proposal is wrong. The National Commission on Excellence in Education states in “A Nation at Risk:”

 “If only to keep and improve on the slim competitive edge we still retain in world markets, we must dedicate ourselves to the reform of our educational system for the benefit of all – old and young alike, affluent and poor, majority and minority. Learning is the indispensable investment required for success in the “information age” we are entering.”59

 In other words, according to The National Commission on Excellence in Education, education is foremost about economics and economic development – education is foremost about the needs of the nation. This is antithetical to the thinking of the world’s great educators.

Teaching processes are cultural products. Stiegler and Hiebert did video studies of classrooms in Germany, the United States and Japan and noticed education practices that were unique to each culture, but did not cross cultures. They wrote, “Teaching, like other cultural activities, is learned through informal participation over long periods of time. It is something one learns to do more by growing up in a culture that by studying it formally.”60

Although, most education philosophers would have significant problems with some of the conclusions of “A Nation at Risk,” they would all agree that teachers are a vital key to accomplishing positive education reform. Improving teaching means changing not only the culture of education but also changing the culture of the society at large.

In 1960, Daisaku Ikeda, was inaugurated as president of Soka Gakkai and under his leadership the organization started expanding its orientation beyond religious propagation to include peace work, cultural advancement and education reform. The organization continued its tremendous growth in Japan and started growing internationally.

On the anniversary of his inauguration, May 3, 1961, Ikeda announced the creation of a new Cultural Bureau with departments of Economics, Politics, Education and Speech. Later an Arts Department was added to the Cultural Bureau. This purposeful entry into secular life sets the Soka Gakkai apart from the other new religious movements that appeared in Japan following World War II. Dr. Bethel speculates:

  “It is my conclusion that much of the philosophical rationale for this secular emphasis, as well as the pedagogical means for implementing it, has grown out of Ikeda’s study of Makiguchi’s work. Study and analysis of Makiguchi’s and Ikeda’s writings reveal in both a central concern for the welfare of the individual in a mass society. Out of this concern for the individual there emerges in both Makiguchi and Ikeda a common model for social reform that sees education as the key factor in the reform process.”61

 In 1968, the Soka Gakkai began the Soka School System by opening a boys’ junior and senior high school in Tokyo. Bethel believes that Makiguchi’s education “proposals are not greatly different than those of Dewey or from a number of today’s educators who are making similar proposals. Makiguchi’s primary claim to uniqueness lies in the fact that Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai are now attempting to implement his proposals, as Murata puts it, ‘on a grand scale.’”62

The table below lists some of the landmark events since the development of the Soka School System started.

Table 1: Soka System Development Dates
1968 Soka Junior/ Senior High Schools open as boys’ school (Tokyo).


Soka University opens.


Kansai Soka Junior and Senior High Schools open as girls’ school.


Sapporo Soka Kindergarten opens.


Tokyo Soka Elementary School opens.


Soka High Schools in Kansai and Tokyo become coeducational.


Kansai Soka Elementary School opens.


Soka Women’s College is established.


Soka University of America – Los Angeles. (Graduate School)


The Study Centers of Wild Birds are established


Hong Kong Soka Kindergarten opens.


Singapore Soka Kindergarten opens.


Malaysia Soka Kindergarten opens.


The Institute of Soka Education opened.


Soka University of America’s (SUA) Aliso Viejo campus opens.


Brazil Soka Kindergarten opens Sao Paulo, Brazil.


Brazil Soka Elementary School opens Sao Paulo Brazil


SUA accredited by Western Association of Schools and Colleges


Graduate school transferred to SUA campus


Soka Happiness Kindergarten Seoul, Korea


Soka Performing Art Center Opened at SUA


SUA-Education Leadership and Societal Change Masters Program

As Table 1 shows, the Soka School System is continuing to expand. Now, there is a yearly graduation of thousands of students from Soka School facilities. Since opening in 1971, the Kansai Soka High School has graduated more than 20,000 students and now continuously graduates a class of about 500 students. Tokyo Soka High School graduates about 400 students per year.

Soka University Japan has a total enrollment of about 9000 students. The Soka University of America graduate school in Los Angeles, which opened in 1987, offers a Masters of Arts in English as a Second Language Education and has an average graduating class of about thirty students a year. It was moved to the Soka University of America campus in 2007.

The Soka University of America, which opened in 2001, in Orange County California offers a liberal arts undergraduate curriculum. The schools web site reports:


“Soka University (SUA), a private, four-year liberal arts college and graduate school located in Aliso Viejo, CA, has been consistently appearing in the top national rankings for Best Value Colleges and Most Diverse Colleges. US News & World Report’s “Best Colleges 2016” ranked SUA in the Top Five in both Best Value and Ethnic Diversity among National Liberal Arts Colleges and #1 in Foreign Student Factor (highest percentage of International Students.)

“Soka offers an 8:1 student/faculty ratio and study abroad for every undergraduate student.  About 60% of Soka University’s students come from the US and 40% have come from more than 40 other countries.  Admitted students whose annual family income is $60,000 or less may be eligible for Soka Opportunity Scholarships which cover full tuition.  Additional scholarship opportunities are available for higher income levels.”63


In addition to these institutions there are approximately 1000 elementary and eight hundred junior high students going to Soka schools in Tokyo and Osaka.64 There are also a number of children attending a Soka Elementary school in Brazil and Soka Kindergarten schools in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Brazil.

Interviews with teachers and students who are veterans of the Soka system helped bring the actual functioning of the schools into focus. The big difference that the eight teachers and students interviewed all commented on about the experience in Soka Schools compared with other schools was the family feeling generated. Students see their teachers as friends and the teachers are involved with the lives of each student.

One student told of going from elementary school through Soka Women’s College before coming to the United States to continue her education. She attended Glendale Community College in the Los Angeles area and then completed her degree in microbiology at University of California San Diego. The biggest difference in school for her in the United States was not feeling protected. Unlike at the Soka Schools, in America, she felt completely on her own.

There is a spirit of egalitarianism at the Soka Schools. At the Soka High School in Tokyo, the teachers meet for fifteen minutes every morning to make final communications before the teaching day starts. They meet in the large one room office that all of the teachers and administrators share. The students have free access to the office and to any teacher or administrator in the office.

Soka High Schools employ a version of tracking in which all of the students are put into one of eight academic tracks. The tracks are generally assigned according to the students’ interest, however, tracks 7 and 8 are advanced science and math tracks in which students that want to go to one of the prestigious public universities are groomed. These students get a different type of academic preparation and normally take courses in “cram school” as well.

From elementary school through high school, most classes have about forty students in them. This would conform to the class size of other schools in Japan. Stigler and Hiebert reported that the average eighth grade classroom size was “thirty-seven in Japan.”65

John Koepke, who attended Soka University in Tokyo and then taught for four years at Soka High School believes that Soka High School’s size is being held to 1200 students to ensure good communication between faculty and students. He said the school was smaller than similar schools in the neighborhood.

Alfie Kohn’s writes, “Interestingly, some prominent educators, including Deborah Meier, Thomas Sergiovanni, and the late John Holt have argued that the size of each class is less important that the size of the school.”66 Of course, this was Bill Gates first big reform idea. However, the structure of the classrooms in the Japanese Soka Schools may have more to do with the dictates of the Ministry of Education than it does with reform education.

It is easy for students going through that Soka School system to get into the next level of school. The only requirement is passing the previous grade and going to an interview at the next level of school with their parents. Students from Soka High School are almost automatically accepted at Soka University, but students from outside of the Soka System go through a rigorous exam process to get into the Soka System.

In addition, the incoming student’s grades from high school are heavily factored into the acceptance formulas at Soka University and Soka Women’s College. Therefore, at Soka High School only the track 7 and 8 students who want to go to one of the famous public universities take cram school to prepare for the national exams.

During interviews, the Soka educators pointed out that in Japan the Ministry of Education controls all aspects of education including textbooks. If a school is going to be accredited, it can only use the textbooks that are prescribed. It is a difficult and time consuming process to get a change approved. If a College wants to offer a new field of study, it must get approval from the Ministry of Education.

In the years leading to the opening of Soka University of America (SUA), Dr. Ikeda put special emphasis on the importance of the creation of this institution. As an example he said, “As its founder, I am committed to bold experimentation and full implementation of the ideals of value-creating education.”67 This comment seems to indicate that Dr. Ikeda expects value-creating pedagogy to be advanced to new levels at SUA.

Dr. Alfred Balitzer, the first Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Political Science at SUA, suggested in an interview that there is enhanced political freedom for schools to experiment with education in the United States, but he felt that Dr. Ikeda has more reasons than that for his expectations of SUA. He said that Dr. Ikeda wants an International student body and that the United States is the best location for that purpose. One of the stated purposes of SUA is the development of global citizens.68 He also mentioned that Dr. Ikeda feels in the United States that all issues can be discussed with a kind of openness that does not exist in Japan.

SUA students are required to participate in a study or intern program outside of the United States before they graduate. The SUA classes are small seminar style classes with the teachers taking the role of mentor. Students and teachers are encouraged to develop close relationships in which the students feel free to ask questions.

The leaders of Soka Education are implementing humanistic student-centered education on an unprecedented scale. Alfie Kohn says, “It would seem that traditional education sometimes provides students with basic skills but rarely with a penetrating understanding of what lies behind those skills, how they’re connected, or how they can be thoughtfully applied.”69 Makiguchi and his successor Daisaku Ikeda would agree. Dr. Ikeda defines what it means to be well educated:


“Those who may be considered truly well-educated people possess their own clear system of values, their own clear beliefs and opinions, not borrowed from someone else. They base their lives on their own firm convictions, and they do not simply follow convention. They refuse to be led astray by others, and they are armed with broad knowledge and a sharp intelligence with which to penetrate the essence of life and society. These are the qualities of a well-educated person.”70

Soka Education is striving to show a way to create this kind of well-educated person and reform-minded educators should observe this experiment with hope.



1) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 5.

2) Ibid., Page 7 (Langemann quote in Kohn).

3) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 29.

4) Ibid.

5) Ibid., Page 18.

6) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Education Toward Global Civilization.” speech at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. June 13, 1996 in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 100.

7) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 43.

8) Makiguchi, Tsunesaburo. Philosophy of Value. Trans. Soka Gakkai Overseas Bureau. Tokyo: Seikyo Press. 1964. Page ix. (Originally published in Japanese in 1930).

9) Ibid., Page 24.

10) Ibid., Page 15.

11) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 18.

12) Ibid.

13) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. Page 29.

14) Ibid.

15) Ibid., Page 30

16) Ibid., Page 30

17) Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

18) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

19) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 90.

20) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 11.

21) Ibid. Page 7.

22) Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995. Page 36.

23) Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

24) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

25) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

26) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 87.

27) Ibid.

28) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 70.

29) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 142.

30) Mossier, Richard. Quoted in Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 144.

31) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 102.

32) Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

33) Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986. Page 100.

34) Ibid.

35) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 70.

36) Ibid., Page 78

37) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 29.

38) Haris, William T. quoted in Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 43.

39) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974. Page 40.

40) Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

41) Ibid., Page 57.

42) Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 16 April 2002.

43) Davis, Kingsley and Wilbert E. Moore. “Some Principals of Stratification.” American Sociological Review Volume 10, number 2. 1945. Page 243.

44) Turner, Ralph. “Sponsored and Contest Mobility and the School System.” American Sociological Review. 1959. Page 856.

45) Ibid., Page 857.

46) Ibid., Page 863.

47) Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974.

48) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 27.

49) Ibid., Page 28.

50) Parsons, Talcott. “The School Class as a Social System: Some of Its Functions in American Society.” Harvard Education Review – Volume 29 – Number 4. Fall 1959. Page 312.

51) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 75.

52) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 9.

53) Wilcox, Kathleen “Differential Socialization in the Classroom: Implications for Equal Opportunity.” from Spindler, George (ed.). Doing the Ethnography of Schooling: Educational Anthropology in Action. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982. Page 304.

54) Ikeda, Daisaku. “John Dewey and Tsunesaburo Makiguchi: Confluences of Thought and Action.” June 2001 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 10.

55) Fromm, Erich. Foreword to Summerhill by A.S. Neill. New York: Hart. 1960.

56) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 119.

57) National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983. Page 595.

58) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools Our Children Deserve. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 16.

59) National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983. Page 596.

60) Stigler, James W. and James Hiebert. The Teaching Gap. New York: The Free Press. 1999. Page 86.

61) Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994. Page 98.

62) Ibid., Page 149.

63) Soka University of America., accessed July, 2016.

64) Soka Gakkuen. “History of Soka Schools.” 2002.

65) Stigler, James W. and James Hiebert. The Teaching Gap. New York: The Free Press. 1999. Page 28.

66) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 156.

67) Ikeda, Daisaku. “Serving the Essential Needs of Education.” September 29, 2000 essay in Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 89.

68) Ibid.

69) Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999. Page 233.

70) Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001. Page 187.


List of Works Cited:

Bethel, Dayle M. Makiguchi The Value Creator. New York – Tokyo: Weatherhill Inc. First edition 1973, First paperback edition 1994.

Davis, Kingsley and Wilbert E. Moore. “Some Principals of Stratification.” American Sociological Review Volume 10, number 2. 1945.

Ikeda, Daisaku. Soka Education. Santa Monica, California: Middleway Press. 2001.

Kohn, Alfie. The Schools our Children Deserve. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1999.

Makiguchi, Tsunesaburo. Philosophy of Value. Trans. Soka Gakkai Overseas Bureau. Tokyo: Seikyo Press. 1964.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Democratic Conception of Education.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 4 April, 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 9 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “Education for Democracy in the Common School Era – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education – Part 1.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 11 April 2002.

Mehan, Hugh. “The Technical Conception of Education – Part 2.” TEP126 Class Lecture. University of California, San Diego. 16 April 2002.

National Commission on Excellence in Education. “A Nation at Risk.” Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office. 1983.

Neil A.S. Summerhill. New York: Hart. 1960.

Soka Gakkuen. “History of Soka Schools.” 2002.

Spring, Joel. The American School, 1642-1985. New York: Congman, 1986.

Tozer et al. School and Society. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Turner, Ralph. “Sponsored and Contest Mobility and the School System.” American Sociological Review. 1959.

Tyack, David. The one Best System: A History of American Urban Education. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1974.

Wilcox, Kathleen “Differential Socialization in the Classroom: Implications for Equal Opportunity.” from Spindler, George (ed.). Doing the Ethnography of Schooling: Educational Anthropology in Action. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982.

A Recommendation for Beyond Measure

1 May

Vicki Abeles, the director of the documentary film “Race to Nowhere”, writes about the damage modern education reform is doing to our children and our culture. Her book, Beyond Measure, subtitled “Rescuing an Overscheduled, Over Tested, Underestimated Generation” jumps into the readers face starting with the amazing poem in the forward and continues gaining powerful momentum through chapter five. Abeles is trained in law and not education and that fact leads to my one criticism; her suggested solution, starting in chapter six, reflects the tendency of those without deep educational experience to discover silver bullets that will fix everything.

Abeles writes, “Without even realizing it, our driving goal has become all about preparing for the college application, not preparing for the college experience or life beyond. Performing, not learning. Amassing credentials, not growing. Not even really living.” (page 7)

She writes of observing her own daughters’ growing stress and of her staying up until midnight or later to do homework. But the event that got her attention was the suicide of 13-year-old Devon Marvin. Devon was viewed as one of the success stories in the community. When her mother Jane investigated Devon’s emails and text messages, the only cause for the suicide appeared to be a math test. “’She was torn up about this math.’ Jane told me. ‘Here’s a child who had always been so successful on so many fronts – and a stupid math grade.’” (page 9)

Abeles explains how eighteen-year-old Emily recounted slipping into deep depression her junior year and contemplating suicide. Here is Emily’s powerful quote that Abeles shares:

 “Junior year is supposedly the most important in high school and my effort just wasn’t going to cut it, not if I wanted to go to a decent college, and without a degree from a top university I was not going to be successful…. I had failed. All those years of late nights studying for AP classes followed by 5 AM water polo or swim practices, what would they come to? Nothing, just like me. In a world where we must excel in not one but many areas, I had not done so in any. I would rather be dead than face the years to come, sure to be filled with constant reminders of my failure. In my mind, there was only one way out.” (page 10)

 After sharing powerful anecdotal evidence, Adele opens chapter one, “Sicker, Not Smarter”, with a quote from Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician Stuart Slavin:

 “My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. This is particularly disturbing given the fact that having mental health problems in the teen years predisposes to mental health problems in adulthood. It is even more profoundly disturbing when one considers that there is absolutely no evidence that this educational approach actually leads to better educational outcomes.” (page 15)

 Abeles developed personal contact with multiple mental health and brain development experts in the writing of this book. She writes:

 “We think of the years from zero to three as the critical period for brain development, but Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg underscores that adolescence is another one. ‘[T]he brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity – and great risk,’ writes Steinberg. ‘If we expose our young people to positive, supportive environments, they flourish. But if the environments are toxic, they will suffer in powerful and enduring ways.’” (page 31)

 The book takes on many of the bad ideas in education “reform”. She spends chapter three debunking the idea that rigorous daily homework assignments and longer hours are desirable. Among the many pieces of evidence she cites that homework is out of control, harming family life and not valuable is the comparison with Finland. “One of the consistent superstars on this test [PISA], Finland, logs the least homework time – an average of less than 3-hours per week for 15-year-olds (and Finish students spend fewer days and hours each day in school than their American counterparts).” (page 76)

Chapter four is titled “Testing: Learning Beyond the Bubble.” Abeles writes: “The outcome is not, as the tests intended, a good education for all. In fact, it is nearly the opposite. Standardized tests have driven American education into a vise grip of regimentation.” (page 99)

And she makes the cogent point:

 “Policy makers made matters even worse when they attached powerful consequences to standardized test scores – teachers’ job evaluations, schools’ funding, and students’ high school diplomas and college admissions – thereby plunging the entire American education system into a stultifying culture of fear.” (page 100)

 Abeles not only debunks the value of standardized testing but provides evidence of the mental health harm high stakes testing is engendering. She cites the work of Brent Fulton, Richard Scheffler, and Stephen Hinshaw at UC Berkeley who looked into 2015 ADHD rates. They found evidence that rates shot up dramatically with the introduction of high stakes testing. (page 106)

Abeles turned to solutions in chapter 6 and here I have a small criticism. In her research for this book and other projects she became enamored with High Tech High in San Diego. The High Tech High (HTH) program and curriculum evolved from the work of Larry Rosenstock and colleagues in the New Urban High School Project, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

Gary Irwin son of Qualcomm founder Jacob Irwin and Bill Gates were the main financiers of the startup of HTH. Gary Irwin is still involved with HTH as the Chair of its board of directors.

HTH uses a constructivist approach to education called problem based learning. At HTH students work with teaching teams that guide 50 students. My friend, Professor Larry Lawrence, toured HTH this March and related observing some of the same attributes Abeles notes. Students were relaxed, happy and seemingly engaged in their projects. However, Professor Lawrence soon noted that the high school only had one math class for all students. This concerned him. A student guide confessed that she did not feel challenged in her math class.

Also, public schools do not have the financial wherewithal to have only 50 students assigned to a team of teachers. This is California where we equitably provide financing for students to attend schools that have teachers serving 180 students each day in classes often exceeding 40 students.

In 2001, I was enrolled in a master’s of education program at UCSD. At the time, I was enamored with Dewey’s constructivist ideas and the problem based approach to teaching. Unfortunately, California state standards and NCLB rules made it impossible for public schools to implement or continue with these ideas.

Today, as I study problem based learning, I perceive that it is not a magic elixir for improving education. It is simply a promising idea that can be implemented along with other teaching strategies.

Not everyone is happy with the preparation of students from HTH because of their somewhat narrow approach to learning. I do not want to denigrate HTH, but some educators have complained that students from HTH are not well prepared for the college classroom. Whatever the reality is, the HTH approach is not the sole “silver bullet.”

The bottom line is that Vicki Abeles’ book is an important work that brings to light many aspects of the terrible damage being done by the test, punish and privatize era of education reform.

Breakfast with Professor Lawrence

25 Mar

Tuesday was another spectacular day in southern California and I was cruising up old Highway 101 to meet Larry Lawrence for a late breakfast. We met at the Ki café just south of Swami’s and the Kook. Swami’s is a famous surfing spot in Encinitas, California and the Kook is an often redecorated statue near the San Elijo State Beach. The Ki specializes in smoothies, juices and healthy meals prepared from organic products including the coffee I had with breakfast. Larry is a regular there. He directed me to a seat at his favorite table with an awe inspiring view of the Pacific Ocean. A scintillating three hour conversation about saving public schools ensued.

Professor Lawrence has reservations about standardized education. He illustrated them with a personal experience.

In 1962, he attended a class during the summer put on by the University of Illinois Committee on the School of Mathematics. In December 1951, the Colleges of Education, Engineering and Liberal Arts and Sciences established the University of Illinois Committee on School Mathematics (UICSM) to investigate a new pedagogy for high school mathematics. When he returned to Morningside High School in Inglewood, California, Larry convinced a colleague from the middle school to go take the course with him the following summer.

Two years later, Larry was teaching geometry and one of his classes was composed of the students out of his middle school friend’s honors algebra class. Larry soon discovered that this teacher had gotten so bogged down with teaching new ideas like set theory and algebra properties that he had not completed most of the fundamentals of algebra. His students were lost. Therefore, Larry changed the class he was teaching from geometry and made it algebra I. The administration supported his decision with almost no reservations. In today’s standardized environment, Larry is quite certain no professional educator would be allowed to make that kind of call.

The weekend of February 28th Professor Lawrence was at the United Opt Out conference in Philadelphia. He sees opt out as one of the most effective means of fighting today’s mean spirited greed driven education reform. He says the destruction to Philadelphia’s public school system by test driven reform and privatization is pervasive and profound. He called it truly sad.

On March 3, he was in Los Angeles at a meeting of TEAch (Transparency, Equity and Accountability in CHarter schools). He estimates an attendance of 80 people including Joan Kramer (retired teacher, activist, author of the Turtle Learning blog), Jackie Goldberg (former California State Assemblywoman, founding member of the progressive caucus and former student of Professor Lawrence at Morningside High), Steve Zimmer (President of the Los Angeles Unified School District), Scott Schmerelson (LAUSD board member) and the Red Queen of LA (The well known blogger). The moderator was Susan Phillips. These activists gathered to form strategies for saving public schools from the destruction caused by the billionaire financed charter school movement.

On March 8th, Larry was in Anaheim where Superintendent of Schools, Michael Matsuda was hosting a viewing of “Killing Ed.” He says, “This is an excellent documentary about the Gulen Charter Empire that needs to be shown to everyone.” On this occasion he also got to speak with Tina Andres (Southern California BAT leader).

On March 9th, he represented the Occidental Alumni in Education and toured the original High Tech High in San Diego.   After a brief meeting with the schools CEO and philosophical guide, Larry G. Rosenstock, Larry and one other Occidental alumnus were lead through the High Tech schools by two student “ambassadors” for almost two and a half hours.

High Tech schools were started with the support of Qualcomm founder, Irwin Jacobs and Bill Gates in 2000. Larry saw a very casual environment with small classes. Curriculum at High Tech is all presented using problem based learning, also known as the constructivist approach which derives from the thinking of John Dewey. High Tech has a robust professional development program for teachers which supports the constructivist ideal. It also confers a  masters in education, through the profession development program.

During the tour, Larry noticed that everyone was taking the same math class. When he asked the “ambassadors” about it, one of them said “yeah, that’s frustrating. I am good at math and I am not being challenged.” Overall, he rated the school as first rate but did see a few warts.

I have had a few students come into my classes from High Tech High who really hated it and a teacher friend of mine at Southwestern Community College says the students from High Tech struggle with a non-problem based learning environment.

Professor Lawrence shared some personal experience and knowledge that leads him to believe that High Tech system will eventually fail because it has no robust structure in place like public schools.

UCLA started a lab school in 1882. In 1925, Corinne A. Seeds was hired to lead the school. She like Larry Rosenstock was a Dewian and was a dynamic forceful personality. Seeds became a key figure in developing and promoting progressive education during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. When Seeds was in charge, the school flourished. Seeds retired in 1957 and for three years the school floundered.

Then fortune shined on the school again with the arrival of another dynamic personality in 1960, John Goodlad. In his New York Times obituary it said, “Professor Goodlad proposed a radically new model of schools, in which elementary school students would not be divided into specific grades and their work would not be graded.” Larry worked with Goodlad at what was then called the Seeds school and he still promotes this idea. I see a lot of merit in it as well.

In 1987, Goodlad left UCLA and the Seeds school. After that the school, suffered tremendous financial duress without its charismatic leader. In the 1990’s, Seeds tried to solve its problems by becoming a charter school and today it is a private school that calls itself a lab school.

Professor Lawrence thinks that when the charismatic founding leader of High Tech is gone it will face a bleak future as well. Not being part of the democratically supported and supervised system will eventually catch up with High Tech and undermine the good work being done there.

On March 19th, Larry got an email from Karen Wolfe (education activist and parent) inviting him to Sunday morning breakfast in LA with Diane Ravitch. At 6 AM Sunday morning he was headed north on Highway 5 for breakfast with Karen, Diane, Tina Andres, Ellen Lubic and Josh Leibner. His commitment to public education and energy to fight for it has inspired me.

We left lunch challenging each other to think of some way to bring together the disparate activists in San Diego who support public education. We are hoping that we might be able to join with other southern California activist at the National Public Education conference this April in Raleigh, North Carolina and advance our struggle for the salvation of public education in our part of the country.

Lunch with Larry

6 Sep

I recently wrote an open message to my congressman, Scott Peters, urging him to reject the proposed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In it I said, “When fads like “new math”, “phonics only” or “whole word” came along, they infected many jurisdictions but not a majority of the country. As their weaknesses manifested, these fads were abandoned before serious damage occurred.” Federally centered power would end that protection from bad policy. After reading this post, Professor Larry Lawrence invited me to lunch to discuss “new math.”

I met Larry briefly in Chicago at the April NPE conference. I knew he lived in Carlsbad, California less than 30 miles north of my San Diego home. I was intrigued by his proposal to get together and discuss the “Zen of teaching math.” So I agreed to meet him at a spot between our homes.

Larry has been called a “consummate teacher of math” and has a significant pedigree. After graduating from Morningside High School in Inglewood, California, Larry did his undergraduate work at Occidental College where he was a classmate of star quarterback, Jack Kemp. Barack Obama also attended Occidental. When finished there, Larry went on to Columbia University’s Teacher’s College pursuing a Masters degree.

It was at Columbia that Larry was introduced to a more profound grasp of the principles of mathematics and how students can successfully develop mathematical thinking. In 1958, almost 30 years before California’s 1985 adoption of “teaching for understanding” also referred to as “new math”, Larry was learning from the movement’s fathers. (1)

Referring to the 1985 adoption of “teaching for understanding” Elizabeth Green tells us in her book Building A+ Better Teacher, “… the California teachers were struggling to understand students’ ideas, figure out what the students needed to know, and then use that information to respond.” (2) Larry and I agreed that this was the essential weakness with “teaching for understand” – the elementary school teachers did not have the training to do it.

On day one of his first math class at Columbia (Advance Algebra), the teacher gave an instruction for an assignment that stumped Larry. He went throughout the dorm asking everyone he could find to explain to him what “one to one correspondence” meant. No one knew! In 1958, few people apprehended the fundamental principles of mathematics.

Larry also brought along a prompt from his professor. I have shared the setup here:

Arithmetic by mail: Stan Brown had a pen pal, Al Moore, who lived in Alaska. Stan and Al corresponded quite frequently. Stan liked to receive letters from Al because he wrote about interesting things like hunting and fishing and prospecting for gold. Al enjoyed hearing about the things Stan did, especially about school, for Al had had very little opportunity to attend school. One day, Al wrote to ask if Stan would mind teaching him some arithmetic. Stan agreed but decided he needed to know how much Al already knew. So, in his next letter to Al he included a simple test, and asked Al to write in the answers and to return the test to him. Al sent the test back immediately; he said it was very easy and asked Stan to send some harder questions next time.

Take 2 away from 21.                                                  1

What is half of 3?                                                        ͻ

Add 5 to 7.                                                                  57

Does 2 x 4 ½ equal 9?                                                No

Which is larger, .000065 or .25?                                .000065

How many times does 3 go into 8?                             Twice

How many times does 9 go into 99?                           Twice

Which is larger, 3 or 23?                                              23

What is a number smaller than 4?                               4 (written smaller)

What is a number larger than 4?                                 4 (written larger)

Some of Al’s reasoning follows.

Anyone can see that 3 goes into 8 twice, and pretty neatly too, without any 2 left over. You put 3 into 8 the regular way and then you turn another 3 around and put it in on the other side of the 8.

In question 4, you don’t even need a ruler to tell that 2 x 4 ½ is different from 9.

In question 8, 23 is larger than 3 because 23 already has a 3 in it and a 2 added on in front.

Larry was an early adopter of “new math” when in 1959 he returned to Morningside High School to teach mathematics. Since taking that decision, he has dedicated his life to improving education in California. In the early 1960’s, Larry may have been the first California teacher to teach calculus in high school.

His career includes a stint at UCLA working in the lab school then known as Seeds. In 1975, he received his doctorate from UCLA and went on to work as director of curriculum for the Turlock School District. He also served as the principal of an elementary school in Upland California. In 1982, he returned to UCLA to again work in the lab school training elementary school teachers how to teach mathematics.

Larry’s story is also the story of education reform gone wrong. There are many Larry Lawrence’s out there who have dedicated their lives to understanding teaching and learning. They are a treasure. They have both theoretical knowledge and practical experience, but as Elizabeth Green reports (and then praises) people like Doug Lemov and Stacy Boyd purposefully shunned people like Larry when they formulated their “no excuses” charter school movement and embraced pedagogy spiced with “disruption.”

Larry told me that in 1993 he got involved with developing a charter school. The lab school at UCLA was having a difficult time surviving and they decided to become a charter. In retrospect, Larry says that was a mistake because on the whole, charters are damaging the public education system. Whether they are good or bad, “charters harm public education.”

It was a wonderful lunch at a second floor corner table overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The drive from La Jolla along old highway 101 to the Ki restaurant in Cardiff by the Sea is among the most breathtakingly beautiful drives in America. The restaurant Larry chose had a wide variety of; wraps, smoothies, tofu dishes and teas. The staff knew Larry by name. I had the cheeseburger.

  1. Green, Elizabeth. Building A+ Better Teacher, W.W. Norton & Company New York and London, ©2014 by Elizabeth Green – page 102
  2. Ibid. page 105