“How All Our Schools Should Be”

by Robert Pondiscio
February 11th, 2009

Ed reformers and charter school advocates were doing handsprings last week when President Obama visited Washington’s Capital City Public Charter School and praised “this kind of innovative school” as “an example of how all our schools should be.”

Does that mean that all schools should have “project-based learning,” “mathematics instruction based on problem-solving,” “science instruction that is hands-on and inquiry-based,” and “authentic assessment based on multiple measures, including student portfolios” just like Capital City does?

Fordham’s clever “Reform-o-meter” moved to red hot with the Obama visit, signaling the visit was a big win for ed reformers, but progressive ed blogger Tom Hoffman of Tuttle SVC saw things quite differently.

Obama didn’t go to a KIPP school, he didn’t go to one of Michelle Rhee’s schools, he didn’t go to TJ; he and his wife and his Secretary of Education went to a small, progressive, community-governed urban public school, exactly the kind of school I love and advocate for; he planted his feet and said ‘This kind of innovative school…is an example of how all our schools should be.’ I couldn’t ask for a more clear statement.

“Could we make a little hay over this please?” Hoffman wrote, calling out progressive ed bloggers. ”Cause you know if he went to a KIPP school first we’d never hear the end of it.”

Man’s got a point.


  1. Obama would actually be very wise to do an event at TJ to advance other parts of his domestic agenda.

    Comment by Ms. Miller — February 11, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

  2. I’d also like to note the irony that President Obama read to the kids in the progressive charter school that he visited. In contrast, back on 9/11 when President Bush famously visted a (non-progressive) school early in his administration, the kids were able to read to him. There is at least a symbolic difference.

    Also, there is no data out of this schol as of yet to recommend this school as a school to emulate. Tom’s fondnes is purely ideological — something that remains one of the biggest problems in education.

    Comment by KDeRosa — February 11, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

  3. I personally don’t believe that there’s one single educational approach that all schools in this country ought to follow. Parents should be free to choose whatever approach they believe would best meet their child’s needs. For one family that might be a KIPP-style school, while another family might prefer a progressive school like Capital City. The variety of different approaches offered is one of the best features of the charter model.

    Comment by Crimson Wife — February 11, 2009 @ 10:57 pm

  4. That’s an interesting argument, Crimson Wife.

    So you don’t think we should have a regulatory agency, like the FDA or ADA, that sets minimum standards for quality for education like we have in almost every other area? Why is education different? Are you a hard-core libertarian?

    Comment by KDeRosa — February 12, 2009 @ 9:05 am

  5. I agree with the idea that the same kind of school works for all kids. I have lived in a metropolitan area with public school choice and many private schools and have known a number of families whose children attended different schools. Common reasons for this were: size of school (some public HS had 4000 kids), level of structure/flexibility and schedule/curriculum/course offerings, plus simple geography. Not all children are the same, even within the same family and the one-size-fits-all approach is a poor fit for many.

    I feel very strongly that all HS graduates should meet real curriculum standards in English (that means being able to read and write correct English), math, science and history/geography/civics (as opposed to the usual wishy-washy “social studies”), but there should be many ways to do this.

    I am in favor of a strong college-prep option, but I am also in favor of a strong vocational option. I know of a school from which students graduated fully ready to work in tool-and-die making, auto mechanics, sheet-metal workers, cosmetologists, the secretarial/office options and Licensed Practical Nurses (ready to sit for the LPN exam), among others. That was in the 1950s and 60s! As long as it is the student/family choice, I am in favor of offering those options and I have talked to many people who would have liked to have them. Those jobs and many others won’t be outsourced and they provide much better employment options than a watered-down version of college prep.

    Comment by momof4 — February 12, 2009 @ 11:25 am

  6. Correction- I agree with the idea that the same school DOESN’T work for all kids.

    Comment by momof4 — February 12, 2009 @ 11:27 am

  7. btw, I don’t have a beef with TJ — Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology — it is just the first exemplary suburban DC area high school that came to mind. In fact, I collaborate with some amazing students from that school.

    Comment by Tom Hoffman — February 12, 2009 @ 11:29 am

  8. I believe that students should be expected to demonstrate mastery of a certain skill set and knowledge base, but that schools ought to have flexibility in achieving that goal. I’d like to see the state-mandated grade-by-grade standards and the requirement for annual testing replaced by rigorous exit exams in 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 12th grades. Schools should be free to teach whatever and however they like so long as their students pass their exams.

    As a taxpayer, I care that students have the skills needed to be economically productive as adults. As a citizen of a republic, I care that they have the knowledge necessary to be informed voters. As a human, I’d also like to see them be able to participate in what Mortimer J. Adler calls “the Great Conversation”.

    But I don’t want some committee of bureaucrats in the state capitol or D.C. micromanaging school’s curriculum and instruction methods.

    Comment by Crimson Wife — February 12, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

  9. I totally agree with Crimson Wife that students should be required to demonstrate mastery of certain skills and have a basic knowledge base, but that schools should have flexibility on how those goals will be achieved. In addition, the TEACHERS need flexibility on how to teach these skills. I am a Middle School remedial math teacher, trying to figure out why I am required to teach my kids in the same way that has already failed them. Because of the “problem solving mindset”, there are many, many students who do not master the foundations of more complex math. If a student has gaps in learning, yet goes on to a more complex area of math, (i.e. problem solving) at some point, the gap will catch up with him, and he will fail. Math is cumulative. If you don’t understand integers in 6th grade, you will not be successful with slope in 8th, and in my state, chances are that you will not pass the high stakes test required to graduate. Even worse, without that foundation, you will not have a chance to truly understand, and possibly enjoy, math.
    I am a teacher; please, let me teach!

    Comment by Middle School Teacher — February 13, 2009 @ 10:15 am

  10. Here’s what I think, if it all matters, when something works, and works well – and some “method” wants to challenge that “old” one, then, they must at least get it exactly the same as the working program – pilot it in ONE class, if it’s better or at least as good then you can choose – What I can’t stand is this ridiculous – “fashion business” attitude to teaching – We change methods like women shed styles – simply because we like things that look new and fancy. We should have a MUCH more scientific approach to teaching rather then a feel-good, looks-good attitude.
    Example, here in NYC they got rid of chalkboards for the lower grade and made the teachers write on wipe boards. The kids often struggle because they are not facing the front and can barely see the writing! It certainly looks nice, but doesn’t work! (Like Teacher’s College!)
    Make it a great day!

    Comment by Chrissy D'Amico — February 13, 2009 @ 5:54 pm

  11. I think it is great to have so many people care about how and what we teach and learn. As an educator, I hope that we can learn ourselve by experiencing in reality what our youth are howing us they are learning. For too many, absolutely something different than what we have believed was important. Many of them do not read any books! They are on computers and many aren’t aware they could read books on the computer or at least they don’t care! Is this the few and not so much the students our president and first lady visited? Should we concentrate money and efforts on creating a “few good students” and chalk the others p to “wasted matter?” Too many schools are just baby sitting detention centers paid for by government funding. Sad to say/write.

    Comment by Emily Spencer — February 14, 2009 @ 2:49 am

  12. I agree with Chrissy! I worked for a school that accepted children who did not learn to read or write with the “TC” method. I would ask them what their reading program looked like in an interview and they would tell me that they self selected books and read silently. I would inquire what they did since they couldn’t read? They responded with every answer from look at the pictures to cry. Forget about any real direct instruction in writing. Lots of “creative” assignments but no instruction. sad…

    Comment by Anna — February 14, 2009 @ 4:41 am

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