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Five Great Educators Who Make a Difference

Columbia University's Teachers College Press comes out next month with a book about five important reformers: James P. Comer, John I. Goodlad, Henry M. Levin, Deborah Meier and Theodore R. Sizer. If you were assembling the leading American thinkers and writers about education, you would have to include these five. They tell the stories of how they became so obsessed with education and what they learned about improving schools in the book "Those Who Dared: Five Visionaries Who Changed American Education."

Deborah Meier, founder of the Central Park East Secondary School and a leader of the small school movement in urban areas: To my question, "What do our kids who are the most at risk need?" the answer, in one, short sentence, is: exactly what our most advantaged kids need, and then some. We learn best and most efficiently in the company of those who are demonstrably good at doing what we'd like to do and those whom we can imagine becoming. That's the history of the human species -- and that's precisely what formal schooling has eschewed for most kids.

James P. Comer, the child psychiatrist who pioneered research on raising student achievement among poor minorities via collaborating with parents and community services. To educate the lowest achieving students (who are most often poor, in rural isolation, or from marginalized minorities), it will be necessary to turn traditional schooling on its conceptual head. The current, mechanical, input-output model that pervades our schooling system and focuses immediately on curriculum, instruction, and assessment must be changed to a model that focuses primarily on relationships, creating a positive culture, and student development.

Henry M. Levin, the economist who has taken education research to new heights in creating the idea of accelerated education, rather than remedial education, for low-achieving students : What poor children need is what all children need: a nurturing, safe, and stimulating environment that will build on their strengths. Instead, we ignore the nurturance and safety and leave the stimulation to happenstance on the street.

John I. Goodlad, a leading intellect and statesman on the role of education in a democracy: The small lens of observing problems of schooling narrows the scope of analysis and remediation. Consequently, the present one-size-fits-all model of so-called school reform has led to a narrow curriculum and a reliance on tests of academic achievement as the sole criterion of individual and school quality. Not surprisingly, the scope of efforts to reduce the to-be-expected gap in pupil achievement is confined to the obvious, such as calling for harder work on the part of principals, teachers and pupils. Modest returns become the norm.

Carl Glickman produced a  piece on reducing the dropout rate among urban and rural poor youth with his colleagues on the High School Completion Task Force of the Education Policy and Evaluation Center, part of the University of Georgia's education school: Economists Clive Belfield and Henry Levin of Teachers College found that with every additional dollar spent on high-quality programs to keep high school students in school until graduation, the economy benefits by a return of $1.30. Just as important, every student who graduates high school adds to the core of knowledgeable and active citizens of one's neighborhood, state and nation.

Can we afford not to act? Only if we do not care about our common future
The article "Five Great Educators Who Make a Difference" appeared at October 17th on "The Washington Post"
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