Monday, February 23, 2015


Here's a bit of insight from Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton.  She suggested that for one to truly see and understand the perplexities of life in America one needs to ride a bus. Two recent Metro rides reinforced this wisdom for me. I'm left to ponder the two incidents below and feel they are important to share with others.

The woman with the baby:

I had seen her before at a Metro stop, her baby held tightly to her bosom and a coke bottle tucked in her back pocket. But this time she was walking the aisle on my car. There were but six or so  of us on the car including the rather strange looking person seated toward the front who in addition to giving strange verbal outbursts at had the "baggage" that often accompanies a homeless person.  As she came to me I gave my usual, "I'm sorry" and regretted that I had not recommended that she go to Miriam's Kitchen where (from my having volunteered there) I knew she could be assisted. Future prospects on our car were indeed dim as each of the one seated in front of me declined her entreaties. I surely anticipated that she would leave our car without any help only to be totally floored as the most unlikely person on our car - the apparent homeless person - reached out and gave her $5.00!

A walk to the Metro

One of the aspects of retirement that I truly enjoy is the ability to sleep late in the morning. Thus 6:15 AM was an early hour for me to walk to the Metro on my way to my physical therapists office.. The moment I left our house I saw two men talking Spanish as they walked up the Newark Street hill to work at a neighbor's house. There was no one on Connecticut Avenue except two joggers. Upon entering the Metro I was surprised by the large number of people on my car for such an early hour. In looking around I could observe that only a very small number of us had light complexion. All the others had the same skin color or darker than the workers going up Newark Street.  How strange - usually when I go to my medical appointment in Friendship Heights for a saner 10:00 AM  appointment - I see people whose skin is the same tone as mine while............ 

...........two hours later as I left my physical therapists Friendship Heights office and walked down Connecticut, the only people I saw had my same coloring. And almost every one of them was carrying Starbucks.
Indeed there are obvious lessons for our polarized society for one looking for them, And I hope you
will join me in adding two more "R'" to my "Rant and Rave" - Let's Ruminate and Reflect about them.

But one less obvious rant comes to mind and it does reflect a personal bias.  Perhaps it comes with my age, but I personally delight in both living in the present moment and place.  What a joy to observe life around me and not be transported on a hand held device to be with someone else - someplace else.  How often do we miss out on life's beauty by being somewhere else?  Must we succumb to each new gadget?

And yet in saying this, I know how much I have learned and profited by the facts and opinions of the Internet.  While I could not find Donna Shalala's quote how fascinating did I find her insights as I merely typed, "Bus quote of Donna Shalala!

That's it for a month as I travel to the Bahamas and Michigan.  When I return it will be with a new direction for this blog as I use the next 9 months to finalize my Rants et al before I turn 90 and terminate this blog.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Veteran Educator Reconsiders Opinion of Charter Schools

 As a life long educator committed to our public schools, I have continued to advocate certain practices and positions including my view of Charter Schools. This book and the talk by the author has caused a 180 degree turnaround in my beliefs. I hope you will read to the end including the personal coda at the end of this (too) lengthy document and join in the conversation regarding our public schools.

Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools
Author Joel Klein
Former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education

As a lifelong educator with deep-seated feelings about the role of public schools in our country, I was excited about the opportunity to hear the author discuss his book at the Aspen Institute. I was even primed with a question. How delighted I was to be the first to pose a question. My intended question:

You have hope, as a retired principal of an inner-city school, I have none! I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Americans are not interested in fixing the nation's schools, they just want an outstanding school for their child. Can you help me?

But I could no longer ask that question! Klein had given me an insight which had previously totally escaped me. I cannot even remember the question I finally asked or the response he gave because one of his insights totally changed my view of the potential of charter schools.

Charter schools provide poor people with a choice of schools!

What a horrible thought! One system for the rich and one for the poor? Yet how close is that to what we have? But it does characterizes the direction we are moving – private schools for the wealthy and..................

Please read on to see how my feelings are evolving.

Upon changing my residence from the Midwest to the East Coast, I had an opportunity to observe and volunteer in a broad spectrum of schools: public, charter and private in Washington, D. C. While I was impressed with the education I saw in charter schools, my public school bias gave me many questions about their effectiveness and limitations. But my experiences in private schools led me to a feeling that I had finally arrived at education's Valhalla.
How wonderful it would be if all Americans had a chance to attend a similar school which incorporated all of the positive hallmarks of education that I had studied and dreamed of for over 65 years. How judgmental I became as I realized that financially such a solution would be out of reach - that such opportunities were only present for the wealthy who only cared for their own child's education.
Thinking further I realized that my personal, middle-class background also provided me with a choice – I could choose outstanding schools for my children and grandchildren because I could choose to live in a school district that had good schools. AND contrary to most peoples thoughts, there are many outstanding PUBLIC schools in our country.

Schools of choice for the poor!
1.While this bombshell was intriguing, something about Klein's presentation still bothered me. As I thought further about this statement other problems and considerations came to mind. Schools for the poor would maintain a position I find intolerable in our democratic society. Quality charter schools should have appeal for all.

2.The effective charter schools I observed seemed to function outside the framework of both the teachers union contract and the purview of the local school board. Indeed from my 35 years of experience at all levels of education, I am aware of both the positive contribution of such a relationship as well as its limitation in the operation of the school. As a principal I both appreciated the contribution of “teachers unions” to raise the stature (and certainly salaries) of my staff, but the times I was kept from keeping the needs of students first were unfortunately legion.

3. Many school districts without using the word “charter” already have "charter like" schools that both give creative educational experiences to children, but also provide all their constituency a choice of school. These schools often go under the name of “Community High School” or “School Without Walls”.  If ways can be found for schools to operate as these do, then Charters should also be considered for control by the  citizenry under the local school board.

4. So where does that leave us? If a 89-year-older can so abruptly change a lifelong bias – even prejudice - we should as a nation have the ability to come together to change and create effective schools for all children!

And finally
Close to a century ago I recall conversing with graduate students from throughout the world and learned of their admiration for America. The two aspects of American life that they held up as being most outstanding were:
a. The opportunity of middle-class Americans to purchase a home, and
b. The American educational system.
While home ownership is a problem of recent years, the problems of American education have long simmered. It's time to stop worrying about semantics and the host of issues we have argued about in the past. Our public schools are too precious to lose and must be saved. Is there any other force or institution that can give us the unity needed so desperately in a divided country and world?

I have not read all of Klein's book, but I know there is much to ponder. Everyone interested in children would find much to consider. The postscript alone provides a challenge in only five pages with the final three lines, “..........we've long known. Too many of our schools are failing. We who can choose would never deem them acceptable for our own children. That should mean they are not acceptable for anyone's child.”
I hope you will be challenged to join in an internet dialogue about Klein's book.

A personal coda

My journey as a public school principal at all grade levels extended over a 36 year: from 1950 to 1986. It was interrupted when I was the Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. One of the most dramatic aspects of that tenure was the Hillsdale, Michigan, court case which established the fact that principals were to be considered as a part of management. Not only did this exclude them from the Michigan and national principals associations but it removed them from being considered a collegial member of the instructional staff. I believe that in the ensuing 40 years a part of the problem in education has been a result of the loss of this relationship between the principal and her/his staff. And from my (admittedly) limited acquaintance with Charter Schools, I believe that to be one of their strengths. Both Klein and Charter Schools recognize the important leadership role of the school principal.