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Migrating school districts to an effective method for organizing education work

Robert Caveney
Comment from John Merrow, PBS NewsHour education correspondent

Dialogue from Taking Note, a blog by PBS NewsHour correspondent John Merrow

Bob Caveney 17. Nov, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

Hi John,

A method for organizing school districts, with testing and the schedule guarantees:

A) some students will be ahead, bored, idle and not working;
B) some will be behind, tending to fall more behind, a problem which only compounds.

It’s this follow-the-schedule method, enforced with tests which causes students to fall more behind, relative to grade level, on average, the more years spent in public school.

Moving away from the schedule requires students get some amount of autonomy. This presents a different problem. Many students, are not _yet_ able to wisely and responsibly use the freedom required to follow their own individual plan. When autonomy is provided to students who are unready for that freedom, the result is chaos.

You see the problem. For students to have their own plan, they need autonomy, autonomy many students are not _yet_ ready for.

It seems like our two choices are guarantee chaos or guarantee idleness.

There is a 3rd way from the Latin origination of education, educere, meaning to lead out the student from within.

IF we could, and we can (we have evidence), by leading students through inner exercises in an “inner gymnasium”, little by little (it takes about a month), students begin to better hear the wise part within, develop the skill of the will, and a deep satisfaction takes hold;

THEN it becomes safe to provide the very autonomy students need to work on challenges just right for each student.

This is real education work – leading out the student from within – done by trained educators. Only students can do the knowledge work, the reading, writing and arithmetic.

Leading out students from within solves a structural problem of ‘the-one’ and ‘the-many’ that is unique to eduction work.

All the best,


Reply from John Merrow, Education Correspondent for PBS NewsHour and President of Learning Matters, an independent production company based in New York City. 

John Merrow 18. Nov, 2014 at 9:40 am #

Very thoughtful analysis. Thank you. It is a Catch-22, but there is a the way out. It requires trust, high expectations and methods of verification that involves student judgment as well as that of adults. Ted Sizer used to say that you cannot have a well-run school without the active leadership of students. “More police” is never the solution, he said, because kids can always find ways to get around, defy and subvert the authorities.

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