Sam Chaltain's blog

What Would Theo Do?

I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, so as this year’s trading deadline approaches, I’m wondering once again what Theo Epstein, the GM of my beloved Boston Red Sox, will do to improve his team’s chances of winning their third championship in six years – after not winning one for eighty-six.

I’m also a lifelong public education fan, so with the Department of Education’s Race to the Top Fund poised to provide billions of dollars in competitive grants, I’m wondering if Arne Duncan can do for public schools what Theo Epstein has done for the Red Sox – take a maligned institution known more commonly for its failures than its successes, and turn it into a perennial winner.

Duncan should start by asking himself a simple question – What Would Theo Do?

Why Send My Son to Public School?

Earlier this week, Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee announced the latest hopeful sign for DC’s public schools –  a spike in citywide student reading and math scores. "We're thrilled at the progress we've made this year," said Rhee. "We still have an incredibly long way to go."

I’m grateful for the early improvements in the DC schools – and I share Chancellor Rhee’s caution. We all know standardized test scores offer just one window into the health of a school system. Any business school student also knows it’s foolish to judge an organization’s overall health based on a single measure of success. And yet the United States is the only nation with an accountability system based solely on standardized test scores.

Our Children (and Our Country) Deserve Democratic Schools

A few years ago, a reporter in Columbia, South Carolina asked local elementary school children why America celebrates the Fourth of July.

Most of the answers were predictably personal. To eat hot dogs, said one boy. To watch fireworks, a girl answered.  Another child thought we all celebrated the Fourth of July because it was his brother’s birthday.

One student, a fifth grader from Nursery Road Elementary School named Vante Lee, gave a different answer. “We celebrate the 4th of July,” he said, “because we celebrate our freedom and the chance to make our own decisions.”

When you were nine, which child’s answer would yours have resembled?

Will We Do What It Takes to Improve Public Education?

(This article originally appeared in Education Week.)

Want to imagine a different path to improving public education in this country? Take my 15-minute challenge.

First, find a partner. Then, take four minutes to reflect and write silently on your most meaningful personal experience in a learning community. It could be a club, a church group, a school, a course, or something else. The only criteria are that it was a transformative experience, and that real learning occurred.

Why Are We Pursuing the Wrong Set of National Standards?

(Originally appearing in the Huffington Post.)

With $100 billion to spend in the next two years, the Obama administration means business when it talks about reshaping the public education system. Why, then, is it ignoring some of the business community’s best insights when it comes to core questions of how to spark systems change?

There’s a disconnect between what the administration is promising – a set of voluntary national content standards – and what we the people will receive – a standardization of the public school system.

55 Years After Brown v Board, Doesn't Every Child Deserve a Quality Education?

Today America marks the 55th anniversary of Thurgood Marshall's historic victory in Brown v. Board of Education. If Marshall were alive, however, he would urge us to stop celebrating 1954 and start accepting responsibility for our complicity in the creation of a "separate but equal" education apartheid system – with one method of instruction for the poor and another for the privileged.

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