Posts Tagged 'public education'

Cultivating resilience…

re·sil·ience\ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\ noun: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful after misfortune or disruptive change 

Since the inception of this blog in 2010 I have written more than 300 posts that have focused on ideas and practices related to teaching, school leadership, teamwork, professional learning, and cultures of continuous improvement.

While these topics remain important, I have basically said what I have to say about them, at least for the time being.

Recently, I have been been thinking about whether American values and this country’s political and civic institutions, including public education as we know it, are sufficiently robust to effectively respond to the unprecedented and unpredictable challenges they are likely to endure in coming years.

That led me to reflect on people and institutions that encounter adversity but are somehow strengthened through their experiences, emerging from them with newfound capacities and resourcefulness.

Such resilience can be found in people of all ages and walks of life and in organizations that serve many different purposes.

For the foreseeable future I will use this blog to seek a better understanding of individual and collective resilience and the ways in which it can be cultivated and applied in our personal and professional lives and in civic engagement.

As always, I look forward to your comments….


When educators neglect “politics,” they do so at their own peril


Each week this summer I’m introducing a blog theme that connects popular and important posts from recent years. Each theme offers a number of perspectives on a perennial challenge of school leadership.

This week focuses on policy issues that face public education and, therefore, school leadership.

Successful school leadership requires simultaneously paying attention to the micro—the urgent and immediate—and the macro—the policy and legislative environment that often profoundly influences their day-to-day work and the well being of students.

Because the first category is typically more pressing and because leaders by talent and inclination find more satisfaction in the daily responsibilities of teaching and learning, it is easy to neglect  broader political context of public education.

I encourage you to scroll through articles in this thread to find those that match your interests.

In addition, I encourage you to take a closer look at these essays:

“What the best and wisest parent wants…”

“The storyline used by those who seek to destroy public education”

“A strong rationale for public education”


What the best and wisest parent wants…

Dennis Sparks

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must be what the community wants for all its children. – John Dewey

The quality of a child’s education ought not be determined by his or her ZIP Code. Nor by the luck of the draw regarding which teacher he or she has been given in a given year.

That’s why it is essential that:

• schools be designed so that all students and all staff members are successful,

all teachers experience various types of informal and formal professional learning each day as part of their work,

all teachers are part of high-functioning teams that continuously improve teaching and learning for the benefit of all students,

every member of the school community feels engaged and supported in his or her unique role,

• the success of reform efforts be judged based on whether they have a positive effect on all students, not just those who are easiest to educate or have the most engaged parents (school privatization programs that leave public schools with fewer resources to educate this nation’s most-challenged students do not meet that criterion).

Taken together, these assertions are the rationale for a strong, comprehensive, and accountable system of public education sustained by dedicated and skillful career educators.

What did I miss?


The two worlds of school leadership

Dennis Sparks

William Glasser’s  book Reality Therapy was an invaluable resource to me in the early 1970s as I sought to help “disaffected” youth be more successful and responsible in life and school. (I had helped found and co-directed a public alternative high school.)

Glasser taught me what went on within and between people mattered and that people of all ages could learn how to be more effective (in this case, both me and my students).

Another book from the 1970s, Kenneth Wooden’s Weeping in the Playtime of Others described the pernicious effects of the juvenile justice system on young people who were incarcerated for status offenses – that is offenses for which adults would not be deprived of their freedom, like running away from home.

Wooden revealed to me the powerful and often invisible influence of the broader system on individuals.

Because of Glasser my work over many years has been focused on creating learning environments for young people and adults that enable success and on developing face-to-face relationships in classrooms and schools that empower both young people and adults.

Because of Wooden I am interested in how the systems that surround schools affect learning and the quality of life within them.

Because my goal is to help school leaders become more skillful in creating school communities that continuously improve teaching, learning, and relationships for the benefit of all students, I want:

To support principals and teachers in doing their very best for the students who are now in our schools.

To interrupt in any way I can the destructive downward spiral of public education by those who will benefit from its demise.

As a result, some of these essays provide practical ideas and processes through which teaching, learning, and relationships can be strengthened. (My most popular post of this type was one on teamwork.)

Others essays are intended to reveal the powerful forces external to schools that seek to undermine public education and to inspire school leaders to act individually and collectively to counter these forces. (The most popular post here was one on the narrative used to destroy public education.)

Taken together Glasser and Wooden taught me that creating great schools for students and teachers requires leadership that addresses both the schoolhouse and the statehouse, a lesson that’s as relevant four decades later as it was in the 1970s.

A strong rationale for public education

Dennis Sparks

As a firm believer in the value of a strong system of public education staffed by well-prepared and supported career teachers, I think it is essential that school leaders be able to clearly articulate a rationale for public education, particularly during a time when it is under serious threat from powerful and well-financed interests.

Diane Ravitch has done a superb job of describing why public education is important and the threat posed to it by privatization. She writes:

“There are many reasons to object to privatization.

“One is that there is no evidence that privately managed firms that operate public services provide more efficient or less costly service. Another is that privately managed firms, when operating for profit, extract public dollars for investors that taxpayers intended for children, for educational programs that directly benefit children, for reduced class sizes, —and not to enrich shareholders. Privately managed nonprofits often pay salaries that would be unacceptable in the public sector. Privately managed firms tend to exclude the costliest clients to minimize their own costs, thus leaving the hardest cases for the less well funded public sector agency. And last, to destroy public education, which is so inextricably linked to our notions of democracy and citizenship would be an assault on the commonweal. Let us not forget that public education has been the instrument of the great social movements for more than the past half century–desegregation, gender equality, disability rights, and the assimilation of immigrants. Once it is gone, it is gone, and that would be a crime against ourselves.”

Readers comment on my recent post regarding the destruction of public education

Dennis Sparks

In a recent blog post I described the basic elements of what I believe is an insidious, carefully-constructed narrative that threatens to destroy public education in this country.

Yesterday Diane Ravitch mentioned my essay in her influential blog, and I thought you might enjoy perusing the varied and lively conversation among readers that ensued.

I encourage you to add your comments regarding my original essay on this critically important subject and to join the comment threads that follow it.



The storyline used by those who seek to destroy public education

Dennis SparksJust as stories can instruct, provide guidance, energize, and help create a desired future, they can also provide a rationale for destruction that becomes so broadly accepted that it is viewed as an unquestioned truth. Here’s an example that is having a profound effect on public education in the United States.

The prequel:

A few enormously wealthy individuals and organizations such as ALEC that are ideologically opposed to government services and/or who see the privatization of government functions as an essentially untapped profit center focus their resources and efforts on remaking public education for their benefit.

Through an unrelenting litany of criticism they have convinced many Americans that their public schools are failing and that they must be radically changed. If these “reforms” are not implemented with urgency, these ideologues say, the United States’ world dominance will fade as “government schools” deprive American’s of their freedom.

The storyline and the plan:

1. What business does is good. It is efficient and effective. What government does is bad. It is inefficient and ineffective. With a small number of exceptions, everything government does can be better done by private enterprise.

2. Public schools are government schools, which means they are inefficient and ineffective.

3. Exploit this country’s financial crisis by blaming public education for economic problems, including the outsourcing of jobs.

4. Blame the  alleged failures of public education on teachers and teacher unions.

5. Use the imprimatur of “reform” to shift public resources to for-profit companies who run charter schools and are online providers.

6. Begin “reform” with historically low-performing schools because of the long-standing challenges they face, which are closely linked to poverty and discrimination. Then expand “reform” to suburban schools using the results of new standardized tests and systems of teacher evaluation as evidence of their ineffectiveness.

7. Transfer public money with minimal oversight and accountability to companies that manage for-profit schools and provide other services.

8. Consign to “traditional public schools” students whose high-cost special needs make them less profitable. Then blame resource-starved schools for not succeeding with those students and begin anew to find new ways to drain those schools of their remaining resources.

The consequence:

• Money that would benefit students is siphoned off as corporate profit.

• Public money is spent to serve non-public purposes (for instance, schools that promote an ideologically-driven form of science education) without transparency and public accountability.

• The “traditional” schools that remain continue to serve the neediest students, and they do so with even fewer resources.

The narrative I’ve outlined is the rationale for a wholesale, ideologically-driven assault on public education that will affect a generation or more of students in virtually every school system.

It remains to be seen whether the forces that are beginning to coalesce in response to this threat can gain traction before irreparable harm is done. The stakes are high, and I remain hopeful.

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