The Best and Wisest Parent

by Robert Pondiscio
October 27th, 2009

Invoking John Dewey’s maxim that a community should want for all children what the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, Diane Ravitch wants small classes and the presence of the arts in schools that are physically attractive and well-maintained.  At Bridging Differences, she notes none of these ideas are driving education policy at present.

The president’s Department of Education will dispense nearly $5 billion, not to reduce class sizes, not to expand access to the arts, and not to improve the beauty and functionality of our public schools, but to incentivize the workforce with merit pay; to increase the privatization of struggling schools; and to compel teachers to teach to admittedly poor tests by tying teacher pay to students’ test scores.

If we’re making lists, I want my child to attend a school that sees itself as a place of learning first and foremost, with a rich, well-rounded curriculum; a view of reading as a means to academic achievement rather than an end in itself; and teachers and administrators who are not afraid to be grownups.


  1. Class sizes are less of a priority for me than improving the quality of the teacher workforce. I’d much rather see 4 classes of 25 students each taught by 4 great teachers than 10 classes of 10 students each taught by 4 great and 6 mediocre teachers.

    Many of the best courses I took growing up were on the larger side while the absolute worst class I ever had only had 5 other students.

    On my wish list: grouping students by where they are in the curriculum rather than by chronological age; allowing part-time enrollment; a strict but fair disciplinary code; replacing annual standardized testing with exit exams in 3rd, 6th, 9th, & 12th grades; and true educational choice for *ALL* families, not just affluent ones.

    Comment by Crimson Wife — October 27, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

  2. Since there are never going to be enough “great teachers” , I’d like to see a strong, well-rounded curriculum in place, with serious attention paid to teaching even average teachers to teach it well. I am all for getting rid of poor teachers and for opening doors to content experts who do not come from ed schools. I am also strongly in favor of homogeneous grouping, which inherently tends to support larger class sizes and it SHOULD not be necessary to discuss the necessity of good discipline, let alone real safety issues.

    Far too much time and far too much money is being spent on illiterate, uninterested, disruptive and/or dangerous teenagers; it’s too late for them to be successful in a regular school and they are preventing everyone else from learning anythin. REMOVE THEM. PERIOD. FULL STOP. If we do right by kids in early grades, we should have fewer problem kids as teenagers.

    Comment by momof4 — October 27, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

  3. As a homeschooler, I question that the problems of our schools fundamentally lie with the quality of the teacher workforce. I say this because I see many successful homeschoolers who are basically pretty average people. The differences lie in the conditions under which they work.

    Part of it is the very low ratio of students to teacher although some, who have large families, have limited time for each pupil. They often use peers (ie siblings) effectively.

    One major advantage enjoyed by homeschoolers is the lack of bureaucracy. Unburdened of the necessity to complete paperwork documenting that they have met the requirements, they actually have more time to teach and to search for answers. They select their curriculum and change it if it doesn’t work for them. Rather than attending mandated enrichment days, when they need help they search out workshops that actually relate to something with which they want help.

    To put it succinctly, homeschooling parents work like adults. Teachers are all too frequently treated as if they were idiots. The effect shows.

    Comment by Homeschooling Granny — October 27, 2009 @ 2:52 pm

  4. BTW, not all parents consider art/music/dance/theater teachers to be an essential part of school. In my prehistoric, small-town school, our 1-8 teachers included music history (and American folk/patriotic songs) and art history as part of the regular curriculum. None of my 1-4 teachers had a college degree, either, but all of my 1-8 teachers would have been insulted at the idea that they were not knowledgeable enough in art and music history to teach it. As for performing any of the art/music/theater/dance areas, I see that as an extracurricular activity, just like PE and sports. The school day should be academic,with recess at the k-5 level, at least until that part is being done successfully on a nationwide basis.

    Comment by momof4 — October 27, 2009 @ 5:03 pm

  5. I’ll say the same here as I said at Bridging differences.

    Smaller class sizes, greater access to the arts, and improved beauty and functionality of our public schools are all commendable and I’m sure would be included on the lists of many parents.

    HOWEVER, I was curious to see the title of today’s entry as what the best and wisest parents would want for their own children. Curious because this is not the cohort I would have focused on nor the one I believe Obama is worried about either . The best and wisest parents are probably going to get it right on their own and are not in need of any of Obama’s $4.3 billion Race To The Top monies.

    I believe Obama/Duncan have focused the money in the right place, on parents who may not fall into either the best or wisest category, namely the urban/poor. This is certainly not to say all poor or all urban parents have the most problems, but as almost a generation of states can now validate through NCLB tests, their children are experiencing the most problems in school. These are the kids identified over and over in the achievement gap.

    The primary area I like the administration’s focus on is (I also am a merit pay fan as you know) lifting the cap on charters, not because charters have proven to be more effective (academically) but; (1) because it gives urban parents a choice, previously afforded only to families of wealth, and (2) it gives urban parents a SAFE PLACE to send their children to school. In many instances with charter schools there is also an extended day component which allows urban youngsters an alternative to after school solitaire as well as avoidance of the ubiquity of neighborhood gangs.

    Yes, if I were an urban parent (am a parent but live in the burbs) a safe school (day) would be a top priority, if not the top priority for my child. As we’ve all read about, many charter schools are structured in such a way that their administrators don’t have to tolerate the discipline problems public school administrators would love to see disappear. They are allowed to simply show these troublemakers the door.

    I would have to believe also that a safe school would be much more conducive to improved academic development than a school with a track record of discipline problems.

    Just one person’s take on the issue.

    Comment by Paul Hoss — October 27, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

  6. The best/wisest of parents’ values sound like they are remarkably similar to Diane’s. Isn’t that an amazing coincidence?

    Comment by Tracy W — October 28, 2009 @ 8:12 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

While the Core Knowledge Foundation wants to hear from readers of this blog, it reserves the right to not post comments online and to edit them for content and appropriateness.