The Politics of Education

To continue the discussion started in this thread about about endorsements and this thread about the school board race, let's discuss the politics of education in southern Orange County.

Many people including the local NAACP have long complained about the stratification in our schools, asserting that there are really two systems: one for affluent and/or gifted children and another for low-income and/or African-American students. (I know everyone doesn't fall into these categories, please allow me this generalization for the sake of discussion.)

I've heard countless examples of how these less-favored children are treated poorly by teachers and administrators. I have seen the school system make decisions based on politics and expediency, often at the expense of those who need the most help. But I will readily admit that I don't know much about our school system. The issues are way complicated, and I'm not a parent. (Although I am the child of a former C.H.H.S. teacher, and I was called a "G/T" student when I was at Carrboro elememtary.)

So what is at stake here? What are the current policies, what is their impact, and why do you like them or not? What is "differentiation?" Who is PAGE?



My understanding is that FDR & Buckley were homeschooled in their elementary school years.

Even if someone is tutored at home, the point is still the same. They learned without the school system's particular approach at the time. Which leads to the question: To what extent do school system's systems serve the needs of the school system itself rather than the educational needs of the individual students?


How true, how true, Little fish. But, little fish are much more than bait and big fish are much more than predators. This is lesson that all of us should learn.

Have a great swim, little fish.

Can we get back to learning styles, please? Faley seems to have interpreted that the tactile and taste Learners ( did she really SAY that?) are the big fish and the book/lecture learners are the little fish. Or the other way around. Or something. I can't tell. I don't know why learning style would make someone more likely to be a big fish or a little fish. Maybe someone can explain something here.

The school system talks a blue streak about learning styles and all the rest of if, as a basis for how to arrange classes.

Where does a parent sign up to get full report on what the school system knows about the child's learning style? If they know all this about a child, ought they not to share it with the parent so that the parent can know too?

Well, if you consider PAID tutors homeschooling--then yes, I suppose one could consider them "homeschooled."

I will also allow that it is neccessary, at times, for a "school system's systems to serve the need of the school system itself, rather than the needs of that individual student." To what extent? I don't know the answer to that question--and I doubt anyone else does. Nor am I convinced this is ALWAYS a BAD thing. Isn't it good to learn that, at times, one's own needs must be set aside? Not permanently, but for a time? I just pose the question. You may think that it TERRIBLE--and choose to educate your child(ren) in another manner.

As to learning styles--Skywriter--if you ask your child's TEACHER I'll bet he/she can tell you. My kids teachers (particularly in elementary school) always could. Do you ever talk to "your" teachers? I talked to "mine" freqently--and not always about MY kids. Sometimes I asked if they needed help/supplies/etc. I was always on a first name basis with my kids teachers in elementary and MS. By HS I figured it was up to the KIDS to do that kind of thing--but Istill made persoanl contact at the beginning of each school year and asked them to let me know if they saw problems/needed help. It's amazing what happens if one treats the teachers as allies instead of adversaries.


Let me be clear, Skywriter. I am saying that children learn differently. How you learn is neither bad not good. How you learn is neither little or big (I am trying to illustrate for little fish as to why differences exist in the world and also why it is good). It is just a fact. A public school must provide an engaging learning envirnoment for all students. To do this, we must understand learning styles and how to provide for them without seperating children into seperate rooms (a previous brainstorm... but, then again maybe it was joke).

Diversity is a good thing - whether that be race, learning styles, or social economics status. Adults and children learn from one's another diversity. We learn to live in the real world with all its real problems and real questions to be answered.

Have a good afternoon, folks

Little Fish and Sky Writer

If you looking for staff development "stuff", there are a number of books that Lincoln Center uses. These books work on a host of ssues. In fact, the books that I mentioned above are used in staff development.

Other books are:

Differentiation in Practice by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Caroline Cunningham Eidson

The Parallel Curriculum

by Carol Ann Tomlinson (Author), Sandra N. Kaplan (Author), Joseph S. Renzulli (Author), Jeanne Purcell (Author), Jann Leppien (Author), Deborah Burns (Author)

Teaching Tools for the 21st Century by Carolyn Coil

Solving the Assessment Puzzle by Carolyn Coil

Encouraging Achievement by Carolyn Coil

Little Fish

The differences in learning bring learning into a class. A child who might express her/his interpretation of a math formula or "To Kill a Mockingbird" from one learning style perception and a child who might express her/his interpretation from another brings something to a classroom. Children listen to one another and they also learn from each other ideas.

Putting one type of child in one room and another child in another room would be like having a rainbow with only one color. That's why, little fish, God made big and little fish in the one ocean.

Oh by the way, dear friends.

I am dyslexic as well as ADD. So, if I misspell or leave out a word, understand writing is quite difficult for me (especially when I am hurried). I wrote completely backward (whole sentences) for the first five years of education.

When I was in first grade to fifth grade, people told me that I was metally retarded. When I enter middle school, they told me that I was just lazy. I am now a productive senior software developer.

Isn't wonderful that we can now identify learning disabilities and teach dhilren how to compensate.

"I suppose what I am asking is just because you might learn a particular way about a math problem may not be the same way that another person might learn." gf

Here is a brainstorm! Sounds like the best solution is to divide up all the kids and put them in different rooms where each can learn best. Tactile--taste (?) learners in one room and book--lecture learners in another.

Oh, and my apologies to skywriter. Have been searching for professional development stuff and so far nothing academic. Anyone else find anything?

Dear Skywriter

What a lovely an identifier. I would like all of our children in the school system to be writers in the sky.

How do you learn best? Are you a tactile learner? Are you an abstract learning? Do you have learning disabilities? Do you enjoy hands-on learning? Do you enjoy a lecture?

When you look at learning math and object to writing a poem about how angles can be applied, how might you think children (who have a variety of learning styles) might learn, retain, and apply that particular concept. Please understand that I describe for all of you a series of real lesson that are being taught now. Real lessons that have excited individual students now. Not just how it is suppose to be.

Do remember that this is an elementary class. There are many ways that a child can understand and define how angles work through a story or a poem. Might I add that there has been wonderful children's books that have written about math problems in a illustrated, visual, written way that have defined a mathematical principal. I might suggest that you pick up a copy of "Math Curse" by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. It is delightful tale about fraction, whole number, and other math principal defined literary terms. I have read delightful definition of angles from children that fully understood the terms that had been previous defined in a lecture (teacher center) class. This is called a "show you, now tell me what you learn" experience..

As Terri defined learning is by telling a story. That story can be different for each child. How the story is told can depend on the child telling the story. The object is to teach the lesson, define the parameters, and allow the child to apply it to their life.

The children that I spoken of are children who did not (in their early years… elementary school and middle school) well in a pure lecture (teacher center) focus. But, they achieve in a hands-one approach. When they were able to touch and taste their material, they succeeded.

I am not defending learning centers where children practice self-defense moves. However, if a child is doing self-defense moves in a learning that means that they are not engaged. However, if you can define for a child what are the angles that best define a self-defense move or express an angle that better protects you from your opponent, you can and you will engage them.

When I taught rocketry, children who did not understand a simple formula for determine velocity suddenly found how that formula could be applied and used. They suddenly understood it and they became excited by it. They strive for the simple movie tickets that I awarded to the winning team and at the end they understood and applied a principle.

I suppose what I am asking is just because you might learn a particular way about a math problem may not be the same way that another person might learn. Even DaVinci (who was dyslexic) learn in a different way than the rest of us. Isn't it wonderful that he figured out how to apply his creativity and his genius without the requirement of attending a lecture. Alice Walker who won a Pulitzer Prize failed her fourth grade-writing test. Isn't it wonderful that she found a way to express herself, so that the world could hear her vision, her dream, and her creativity?


Know all about it. Have for some time. Thanks for posting the site. Still think middle school ought to be a place of academic learning, just like high school is expected (at present) to be. I like the idea of children learning material, information and ideas in school.

SKywriter-- I don't think ANYONE has said the schools plan on ELIMINATING "academic learning." Would you mind defining the term "academic learning"? I'd like to understand what YOU mean by the term... Then I might understand why you feel the schools are ELIMINATING it...


Right on, Melanie--

I would say that someone could make quick work of debunking SkyWriter's assertion that middle schools are not particularly academic. Just post in the details of what professional development opportunities being offered this year by Smith Middle School, as called for in the Smith Mission Belief Statement , which in part, reads as follows:


The mission of the R.D. and Euzelle Smith Middle School is to prepare all students to achieve high standards and become lifelong learners. With this overarching goal as the central focus of our every effort, we will engage teachers in ongoing, targeted professional development opportunities.

That's what I get for responding when I am in a rush. Your points are well taken, Savant. I was not clear in my post. But, I stand by my recommendation for all three books.

Ms. Delpit is a proponent of children accepting responsibility for their education and for the teacher maintaining control of their class. As I quote Ms. Delpit, I appreciate her statement that “if you don’t have control of your classroom, someone else will”.

From what I have read in both that book and "Dreamkeepers" (also written by her) is the idea that teacher must maintain the same expectation for all children (whether they come from rich home or poor homes, whether they are white or African American). The teacher must have cultural proficiency (the old adage “understand your audience”). The teacher must have the expectation for that children control their learning, that children have responsibility for learning, and that children can/will succeed.

However, I will go back to my original point which is clear from both writers that a teacher must engage the individual child in learning and building on a child’s strengths. The school system must have a framework in place to support that premise.

I am struck with many examples of success in the district using some of the above tenets – engagement, seeing the whole child, and maintain equal expectation.

Example 1: A child (who was notorious for ill behavior and poor performance) ended up in Phoenix Academy at grade 11. Before he graduated from high school, he scored over 1200 on a SAT (without taking Geometry and after being labeled as only “community college” material) and received a scholarship to UNC Central. He stated that he changed for two reasons – 1) I felt like people believed that I could succeed and 2) teacher saw who I was for the first time. I remember him clearly singing out with the voice of angel in the East auditorium. He sang his praise for God. He had created significant and lasting bonds with his teacher (all of who loved him dearly).

Example 2: This child whom I just talked to yesterday in a classroom. There was the same expectation about him. When he became engaged and he believed in the expectation of achievement, he changed. He is articulate and excited. He was a “problem” child. Now, he just scored 4 on the AP Physics test and he is planning for college. Planning for college was not even in his vocabulary two years ago.

All of this is done by wise, strong, and brave teacher and administrators that go beyond the façade and see the whole child. They take the box away and the child blooms.


"All of this is done by wise, strong, and brave teacher and administrators that go beyond the façade and see the whole child. They take the box away and the child blooms." Says Faley.

Can you let us know how eliminating math and doing art projects and poetry instead have brought about these two success stories? I think that people on this list want to understand more about this.

IF a child wants to learn a geometric theorem instead of cutting out circles of construction paper, will that still be allowed under your going "beyond the facade"?

Skywriter--you missed the point. THE SYSTEM eliminated Math for this child--because he was placed on the Vo-tech or community college track--and not encouraged to take the neccessary courses for entry into the UNC system.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are unaware of the four tracks for graduation from NC public schools. If your children are not yet in MiddleSchool that is entirely possible.

This link will take you to the NC Course of Study Graduation Requirements. Please read it. I hope you will then understand the unfairness of your previous statement.


Oh, yes. . . I would like to find the middle school track that will allow a child to learn something academic. Since I moved here, all I have heard is that academics are simply not important in middle school. I believe there are some kids that like to learn difficult material in middle school. Tell us more about your four tracks idea. That might have some application for middle school.

I was wandering down the hall here at the law school yesterday and noticed a poster for an event to be held on Saturday, February 7 called "Tracking Educational Success: Derailment, Wreckage, and Rescue." Could not be more germane to the discussions we've all been having here.

Here's a link to the full description of the conference:


Skywriter--it's not MY "four tracks" idea. It's the "pathways" that the State BOE has laid out. DID you visit that site? Because you really should. It will be important to your child someday--should you choose to remain in the NC Public School system--even if it isn't here. OR should you want your child to have the opportunity of attending a North Carolina 4 year university--without having to attend Community College first.

I would just cut and paste the info--so that you would not have to go to the trouble of clicking on the LINK I provided in my earlier post, but Ruby has asked us not to post info that can be obtained elsewhere on the web with reasonable ease.

I shouldn't have to beg--but I will. Please inform yourself. Please. It will be important. It IS important.

Tone does not always come across in text--so I will tell you--I am sincere. I am NOT being sarcastic.


Have you read the whole book, SkyWriter? Interesting reviews over at make it sound like there are some other issues here too. Worth taking a peek at, I would imagine.

There is an interesting article on education and the achievement gap in today's Wall Street Journal written by a Nobel Laureate. Page A14.

Lisa Delpit talks about the need to understand children and their culture and devise an instructional plan that is unique for their individual needs. She does, as stated in another post, advocate for direct teaching to disadvantaged kids rather than the open-ended critical thinking type strategies 'taught in schools of ed.' But that doesn't mean she doesn't see value in those strategies for non-disadvantaged kids. "Teaching is like telling a story. But you have to look at people while you're telling the story and you can't tell the same story to everyone." That's differentiation.

This is an eye-opening book and I recommend that everyone read it. Other People's Children is a chillingly damning indictment of liberal education theory--theory like that which fuels what is now going on in Chapel Hill Schools.

Here is what the book is all about, from page 13:

" Many people told me I was a good teacher. . . I had learning stations. I had children write books and stories to share; I provided games and used weaving to teach math and fine motor skills. I threw out all the desks and had carpeted open learning areas. I was doing what I had learned. . .. my white students zoomed ahead. My black kids threw the books around the learning stations. They practiced karate moves on the new carpets. Some of them even learned how to read, but none as quickly as my white students. I was doing the same thing for all of my kids. What was the problem?"

In short, Delpit had been told by the liberal education establishment how best to teach what they taught her turned out to be a bunch of bunk, as she understood when the disadvantaged children in her class began to fail under the recommended frills of modern education. The book is all about how she turned AWAY from these trends that sound so good, but which teach children nothing.

Faley recommended reading as follows:

The first book is "Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Dr. Lisa D. Delpit"

One of my favorite quotes in the particular book are:

"I learned in graduate school that people learn to write not by being taught "skills" and grammer, but by "writing in meaningful contexts. I learned that the open classroom was the most "humanizing" of learning envirnoments, that children should be in control of their own learning."

I do believe that Faley forgot to mention that this quote represents what Delpit found is HARMFUL, not what she is recommending for society.

Other suggested reading:

"Learning All the Time" , by John Holt

"A Different Kind of Teacher", by John Taylor Gatto



If this was Math Superstars--I'm not surprised in th least. Unless things have changed mightily in that program--(granted it's been YEARS since my kids were that age)such occurences are not uncommon--adn why I , ultimately, refused to have my children participate.

If, however, this was a CLASS assignment, I would have contacted the teacher the next day and asked the teacher to explain the a polite,non-condescending, non-confrontational way. You'd be amazed at what you learn when you do this.

I MIGHT use the same technique with a kid in MS--depends on the grade, the kid, the teacher. In HS I would assume the teacher expected the child to find the formula in the book--and if the child couldn't work it out on his/her own I would suggest he/she speak with the instructor at lunch. I certainly couldn't help--I'm useless at any kind of math other than that needed for everyday life. And I make/made certain my boys MS and HS math teachers knew that. My children were never penalized for not having all the CORRECT answers--just if they hadn't ATTEMPTED an answer.


Duncan--I think the issue is sequence. In the old days, we were taught the technical aspects of writing first and then expected to be good writers without having much or any (school) practice in looking at the world around us and finding something meaningful to write about. Creativity was not a very large part of the 'learning' process. The emphasis now is on the creative aspects of writing with technical aspects woven around the writer's interest in the subject. Part of this change is due to a shift in accepted theories of learning. The old instructional strategies were primarily behavioral while today's strategies are more multidimensional.

*"I learned in graduate school that people learn to write not by being taught "skills" and grammer, but by "writing in meaningful contexts."*

With all due respect, this attitude toward writing is only partly useful. Taken to an extreme it became deeply frustrating to me as a book editor. I think I know a little bit about how people "learn to write," and while beginning with a "meaningful context" is essential, so is having a deep familiarity with grammar, proper spelling, syntax, concision, and other "skills." Learning these other skills encourages an appreciation of fine sentences and a consequent desire to make them -- and this is at least as common a trait among writers as is the desire to convey "meaningful context," which I take to mean "having something to say." In my experience, much "meaningful context" was obscured by improper syntax, misplaced modifiers, mixed metaphors, inexact use of words, and an impoverished vocabulary. Having something to say and knowing how to say it are the two essentials of fine, meaningful writing.

Plus it was annoying to correct simple spelling errors made by people well past school age.

"No wonder there's a poster at our pediatrician's office describing how best to rig a pre-adolescent's backpack for maximum load-bearing efficiency."

I know they are pushing stuff on kids earlier and earlier these days. But, I hope they are not rigging out your new daughter for her backpack just yet.

Gloria Faley, thank you for your most entertaining and engaging description of differentiation. You give the following example of how children are supposed to learn math in Chapel Hill Schools:

"(Option 2 - for on-target students)

Compose a story or poem about angles. Use all three types of angles. Be sure your story includes the distinguishing characteristics of the types of angles. Illustrate your story. Present to class to teach the characteristics of angles."

An article about international math testing, indicates as follows:

"The highest-performing nations in mathematics were Singapore, Korea and Taipei. Other high-performing nations were Japan, Hong Kong, Belgium and the Netherlands."


Can anyone offer personal experience with schools in the top performing nations? In Singapore, Korea, Taipei, Japan, Hong Kong, Belgium or the Netherlands, is a poetry project such as Ms. Faley's ever used?

If not, can someone fill us in on how these countries excel and continue to trump the United States of America?

I am doing a very quick post. I appreciate the thoughtful conversation that is progressing on this thread.

There are three wonderful books to read on both minority education and on engaging children in the learning process.

The first book is "Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Dr. Lisa D. Delpit"

One of my favorite quotes in the particular book are:

"I learned in graduate school that people learn to write not by being taught "skills" and grammer, but by "writing in meaningful contexts. I learned that the open classroom was the most "humanizing" of learning envirnoments, that children should be in control of their own learning."

The other two books is writen by Dr. Philip Schlechty, who talks in great depth about engaging student into the art of learning.

Working on the Work : An Action Plan for Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents

Shaking Up the Schoolhouse: How to Support and Sustain Educational Innovation

If you have a chance, please look at these books. There has been so very good conversations betwen teacher and adminstrator in this district around these concepts.

I apologize for the brief post.

If you have the time, please get hold of this book.

A trapezoid can be treated as a right triangle and a square/ rectangle. I imagine the lesson the day before the homework was assigned was on ways of seeing odd shapes and breaking them down into simpler shapes in order to use known formulas for calculating the area of the odd shape. It's hard to tell from this conversation what you all understand/don't like or don't understand, so I'll just repeat that one difference in the classroom today is that there isn't as much emphasis put on having one "right" way of solving a problem. The day after the assignment the teacher probably asked who solved the problem, asked for volunteers to show their solutions on the board, and then asked each volunteer to explain their reasoning. The purpose is to 1) help the teacher know where individuals may need assistance in how they reasoned through the problem and 2) to let kids see that there are multiple ways of figuring out a problem. I am not a math educator so this is about as much as I feel comfortable saying in defense of what the teacher *may* have intended.



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