Reform Rooted In Unions: Then & Now

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"I am a teacher, hear me roar."

The term ‘union’ refers to legally recognized assemblies of workers of specified industries. In terms of educators and those in the education ‘industry’, teachers unions can be one of the most powerful voices in terms of educational politics when operated efficiently. Today however, teachers unions are receiving a huge part of the blame in the failure of America’s past educational reformation attempts, attempting to tackle the same issues that once resonated in educational politics 100 years prior. This essay seeks to explore how one woman’s vision ties with the modern idea of what a teacher union is to stand for. It will explore the way teachers unions of the late 1990’s have accepted or rejected the view Margaret Haley and the Chicago Teacher’s Federation set forth of in 1904. Though there are social issues of race and class being dealt with by contemporary leaders that she could not have foreseen over a century ago, it will move beyond that to also accentuate the similarities in the goals of each time period’s vision of what makes a teachers union, to ultimately show that if Margaret Haley were to live a century longer, she would most closely identify with the social justice unionists of the 1990’s than industrial or professional unions.

To understand what Haley stood for, one may look at her upbringing for a preface. An average farmer from Illinois, Haley grew up with a sense of security and comfort, but not luxury. Like many other children from her town, she spent her time playing in multiplayer games, not in the sense that we know, but those that required open air and a handful of children. These two prerequisites were not hard to meet, as the family’s farm provided ample open space, and being one of six children made finding playmates easy. I-Spy, pom-pom-pull-away, and farmer-in-the-dell were all part of her childhood. “Except for a greater number of books, we lived after the fashion of most farm families at that time and place” (Rousmaniere, 5). Haley claimed that the books are what made her house different, but furthermore, her exposure to books at such a young age made her stand out from her peers.

Margaret Haley's autobiography "Battleground"

The trend continued, as Margaret Haley was a woman unlike many of her time, backing down to no one and rejecting traditional “ladylike qualities” of her era. “Described as an anathema to her opponents, Margaret Haley was portrayed as a militant, a radical, a lady labor slugger, a character assassin, and an advocate of the mob rule” (“Battlegrounds”, xxxi). Her personality even rang through the way she titled her autobiography “Battleground”, in which she opens with the line “I never wanted to fight” (3). This would seem ironic to anyone who knew her legacy, for most of it was a fight, an ongoing struggle for educational reform beginning with the institution of teachers unions in her home state. In fact, mostly all the woman did was fight once she entered the education system as a 16-year-old sixth grade teacher in 1884, and never looked back as Haley “fought to correct tax inequalities, increase the salaries of teachers, expose unfair land leasing by the Chicago Board of Education, and among all things, develop teachers’ consciousness about citizenship and responsibility” (Rousmaniere, 212).  This is what Margaret Haley believed was the real meaning of ‘educational freedom’.

To achieve this so called ‘educational freedom’, Haley wanted to try a different, unprecedented way of educating children, all rooting from the creation of what she believed was the most effective teachers union. She longed for a teachers union that had the luxury of increased budgets, but also one that shifted its focus from “factory-izing” education to the instincts of individual teachers, as well as the assistance of communities surrounding the schools. From Haley, we are given three main themes of what she believed were essential in behind the implementation of teachers unions in the interest of reforming education to better serve society, rather than simply to perpetuate what already goes on.

The first theme behind her vision of unions is her advocacy of incorporating school reform from a financial standpoint into the agenda of teachers unions, urging the public to become aware that it is the public’s support that is needed in our schools. Haley expanded on this in her 1904 address titled “Why Teachers Should Organize”,

“Nowhere in the United States today does the public school, as a branch of the public service, receive from the public either the moral or financial support needed to enable it properly to perform its important moral function in the social organism” (“Why Teachers”, 148).

Haley realized that education was more than sitting in a classroom, education is an epiphenomenon of some sorts. When it does not work as it should, it goes beyond the miseducation of a child to education failing as an institution for ultimately not pulling its weight in efforts to shape society. Like the cliche that states a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link, when education fails, economic and social injustices can be traced back to that weak link, a truth that Haley and reformers around the turn of the 21st century both agree on. “If the American people cannot be made to realize and meet their responsibility to the public school, no self-appointed custodians of the public intelligence and conscience can do it for them” (145). Haley insisted that teachers unions would have to strive for the public’s financial and moral support, for without both she feared the continuance of the treacherous hegemonic structure our country has been known to operate on.

Building off the previous theme comes her firm assertion that schools are a driving force behind our democratic society, and for that the teachers should be active citizens. Haley said, “The methods as well as the object of teachers’ organizations must be in harmony with the fundamental object of the public school in a democracy, to preserve and develop the democratic ideal” (145). Expanding on her previous concern, a worry of Haley’s was that those associated with the public school are not fully aware of how much of an epiphenomenon school actually is. She wrote,

“We teachers are responsible for existing conditions to the extent that the schools have not inspired true ideals of democracy, or that we have not made the necessary effort toward removing the conditions which make the realization of these ideals impossible” (147).

Margaret Haley believed that teachers should take the brunt of the blame for this, and in order to prevent the ongoing failure, they should aim to produce a democratic society in which free intelligence is the starting point. The only way to achieve this freed intelligence, and ultimately build a society inspired by the original ideals of democracy would be to have teachers become aware that behind their power to educate children, there lies a much larger investment in our democratic society.

The third theme is coherent through her address her insistence upon teachers having the right to control their own working environment. Haley firmly believed in the fact that regulated classroom environments by those not a part of the teacher-student population were not the answer.

“The atmosphere in which it is easiest to teach is the atmosphere in which it is easiest to learn. The same things that are a burden to the teacher are a burden also to the child. The same things which restrict her powers restrict his powers also” ( 146)

She explained that because students’ primary goal of attending school is to become educated, and teachers attend school to primarily teach said students, there is no explanation for a conflict of interest amongst teachers and students. Haley insisted that a valuable education comes through freed intelligence, a result of this free activity of the teachers that she speaks of. She wondered how someone could justify someone other than a student or teacher being responsible for their own learning environment and conditions. It would be unfathomable that a learning environment be created without the input of these two parties, with the interests of these two parties at the forefront of any agenda having to do with education.

Margaret Haley fought hard for justice inside and out of the classroom and wished the best for any who followed in her footsteps, evident in the way she closed her own autobiography. “It is only in the hope that my experiences may be a field map that I have marked them down. For men and women die, but the old, old war of might against right goes on” (“Battlegrounds”, 271).


The modern teachers union movement began in Chicago in 1897, but fast forward almost an entire century to the 1990’s and the old, old war of might against right Haley spoke of lives on. Many of the issues faced by Margaret Haley and the Chicago Teachers Federation back then, from undermining of education via insufficient budgets to testing to debates over the factory-ization of schools, remain pressing topics of education reform today.

Peterson's compilation of contemporary unionist theory

With the collaboration of the minds of reformers Bob Peterson, Michael Charney, and other contemporary unionists, three ideotypes of unions have been created in industrial, professional, and social justice unions. The first is industrial unionism, which focuses primarily on defending teachers’ rights and working conditions. Margaret Haley demanded more than that. Professional unionism embraces the idea of teachers as professionals, and that their responsibility lies within providing a child with a quality education. Again, Haley wanted this, but more. The third type of union is a is a hybrid sort of union referred to as a social justice union. Although her beliefs were not entirely the same, Margaret Haley would best fit amongst modern social justice unionists. This type of union goes beyond the sole interests of the teacher or student, and recognizes that in order to make progress it must be a team effort, including teachers, parents, and friends, for education is much more than merely the institution sociologists classify it as.

During a three-day institute in 1994 sanctioned by the National Coalition of Education Activists, a Bob Peterson and Michael Cheney led a group of 27 fellow teacher union activists in creating a draft of a social justice union to better govern public education.  The draft states,

“Too many have been quick to blame children and their communities for school failure, and slow to identify educational policies and classroom practices that, in the long run, serve those who want to see public schools die out or be sold off to the highest bidder” (Peterson, 128).

Set out to seek justice for education workers and to better schooling in the interest of public education, these unionists wanted to, at the very least, see schools no longer be run as capitalist enterprises. To counter, the institute produced a list of goals or objectives an ideal social justice union would have in mind whilst serving the community. They can best be broken down into four main themes behind their view of a complete social justice union.

The first of their ideas is an urge for all to become aware that parents and neighbors of our students are key allies to the army of students and teachers in the struggle for social justice, and that by building strategic alliances with all parties (parents, labor unions, and community groups), equality will inevitably follow. Social justice unionists believe that,

“Because parents play a central role in the education of their children and are our strongest political allies, education unions should work to insure that parents are full partners in our school” (129).

Like Haley, social justice unionists would like to urge the public to become aware of the role education has for them, their children, their children’s children, and so on. Instead of blindly supporting the first policy that one is prompted with, that usually has only the interests of a select few in mind, that often does nothing to counter injustices and even reproduces the ones already in place, people need to take an interest, if not for themselves for their neighbors. In their draft, contemporary unionists even suggest things like paid workdays for when parents chaperone students to further get their point across (130). In 1904, and modern times, unionists agree that the best education system is one that encompasses not only students and teachers, but all members of society, for that is exactly who education serves.

The second of their themes builds off of their first, and claims that in order for true democracy to make a comeback, organizations that claim to be democratically driven must not function with a bureaucratic philosophy. The 29 leaders write,

“Members often feel that their union is as distant from them as school administration. Communication is too often one-way, with union newspapers and newsletters arely seeking opinions or input. Some local and state apparatuses are dominated by cliques of individuals, making entry into union activities difficult for new members or rank-and-file activists” (129-130).

If things remain the way they are, and if hegemony continues to be the harsh norm, democracy will drift even further from the public’s hand. Unionists assert that by operating with a mobilized membership mentality, in which decisions are made only after widespread discussion amongst all members, change can finally be seen in education, and society as a whole. Haley spoke of the responsibility of the school in her 1904 address,

“That the public school does not feel its responsibility in the matter of political corruption, for instance, nor realize the effect upon the schools of this corruption and the misdirected activity of which it is a symptom, is proof that the public school is not yet conscious of its own vital function in society” (“Why Teachers”, 147).

Furthermore, they, like Haley, claim that to place the blame on the school for the lowered democratic ideal is not the answer either, for the public school is not aware of its power, but with the implementation of education as unionists lay it out, both past and present, it will not be long before progress towards truthful democracy is made.

Their third idea calls for the social justice union prototype to not only define and defend the rights its members are entitled to, but to also coincidentally fight for the rights of students and improvement of the broader community as a whole. The draft states,

“The interests of education workers are best served by defending public education while simultaneously working to transform it. Unions of education workers need to accept some responsibility in for the problems of public schools. We need to use our resources, membership, and power at the bargaining table and in the legislative arena to help resolve these problems” (Peterson, 129).

Similar to Margaret Haley’s third belief, contemporary unionists believe thatthe best education occurs when the decisions are made with the interests of both parties, those working in public education and those benefitting from it, ranking of the highest importance in the minds of those in charge of deciding. This is often referred to as the ‘factory-ization’ of education, defined in Haley’s address as

“…making the teacher an automaton, a mere factory hand, whose duty it is to carry out mechanically and unquestioningly the ideas and orders of those clothed with the authority of position, and who may or may not know the needs of the children or how to minister to them” (“Why Teachers”, 148).

In the past, traditional teacher accountability has gotten dumbed down in a sense, as those in power dance around the actual issues while instead focus on simply getting by and meeting brainless standards set by someone so far removed from the whole process that it almost resembles tyranny. Instead, Haley and contemporary unionists both agree that is the teachers that need to be not atop the system, but instead right in the middle of it, collaborating with all parties involved to design the most effective curriculum for a specific institution. The draft insists that social justice unions, “Put teachers and others who work in classrooms at the center of school reform agendas, ensuring that they take ownership of reform initiatives” (Peterson, 130). Contemporary unionists go as far as to suggest mechanisms such as peer mentoring, peer evaluation, and career ladders to constantly improve those in charge of educating society (Peterson, 17).

The fourth of contemporary leaders views is what sets their vision of teachers unions apart from Margaret Haley’s back in 1904. Essential to successful schooling today is an awareness of the internal structure of society in terms of the injustices having to do with race and glass. Rewind a century however, and this was not yet the mindset. In the early 1900’s, a man by the name of Booker T. Washington was advocating for African American’s right to an education, but he had not yet built a following large enough to counter the white supremacy apparent in America at the beginning of the 20th century (“From Slavery”). Because of this, it can be argued that Margaret Haley in 1904 was blinded in a sense, not aware of the reality that schools have a dual, contradictory role in which they “reinforce and reproduce class, racial, and gender divisions and inequality…[and] they provide an opportunity to break down those same divisions and inequalities” (Peterson, 16). Haley therefore did not include any specific way to combat these issues of race and class, but were she alive today, she would definitely argue against funding through property taxes, one proven way to lengthen the gap between classes and education.

Thankfully, contemporary leaders do realize this and have since picked up where Haley left off, and have added a fourth underlying theme of teachers union to counter injustices relating to race and class. At the tail end of the draft, Peterson and his crew state that an additional theme for unions to operate on.

“Encourage those who work with children to use methods of instruction and curricula that will promote racial and gender equity, combat racism and prejudice, encourage critical thinking about our society’s problems, and nurture an active, reflective citizenry that is committed to real democracy and social and economic justice” (Peterson, 130).

The case of schools failing to challenge students academically, dulling them down to the same level as the assessments that they are judged by, and ultimately remove from within them the ability, as well as the desire, to learn. The contemporary crew suggested changes that would increase respect for all cultures, as well as practices that will help break down stereotypes that society has created for those that are not white and heterogeneous (130).  Social justice unionists call for more attention being paid to school-related practices, and to implicate within them a curriculum that promotes not only a better education, but also equality amongst all.

After thorough analysis of both the beliefs of Margaret Haley and those of contemporary unionists like Bob Peterson, although separated by over a 100 years, it can be concluded that Margaret Haley, were she alive today, would without a doubt stand alongside (or at least close by) Peterson and identify herself a social justice unionist. Despite the lack of detail paid to the concepts of race and class and their relation to education, both parties clearly envision a better society starting with the implementation of an unprecedented style of unionism, one that treats education as more than a place where kids go to school, and where teachers go to work. The ultimate goal would be to eventually, through this new style of unions and education, achieve a world in which we are all seen for who we are, different but all in the same, for since when has being human become not enough to be entitled to all our world has to offer. When the system is designed for the people, by the people, the true definition of democracy, there is no possible conflict between the good of society and the members of society being served.

Richmond, VA already has an implemented 'social justice union'

Margaret Haley’s insistence on educational reform rooting from the implementation of a union that was financially and morally supported by the same public that it is serving, a union that operates with real democracy in mind, and a union that is operated by teachers, students, parents, and all those directly in the middle of it all coincide with the first three characteristics contemporary unionists drafted. They envisioned a union in which members of the community become allies in the fight for social justice, a union that truly operated on democracy rather than simply claiming it did, and exactly like Haley saw that the most efficient union would operate with both the interests of students and teachers in mind. Similar even in the way they would implement their respective ‘ideal’ unions, Haley and contemporary leaders agree that a passive approach will result in little to no progress being made. Haley wrote how the current system is a hindrance to real leadership, as “no man or woman dares lift a hand against a board of education if he wants to hold his job” (“Battleground”, 274). Peterson and company build on this, as they find that for something radical to get done, it would require firm action. Social justice unions should “aggressively educate and mobilize its membership to fight for social justice in all areas of society” (Peterson, 130). In the U.S., there already exists a Richmond teachers union committed to social justice. This differs vastly from the former way of reforming, the ‘compartmentalizing’ of education, as Haley defines it. “One of the troubles of reform is that reformers all put their own isms into airtight compartments. Educators will have to be the engineers to relate and balance the issues” (“Battleground”, 271). ‘Justice for all’ needs to be more than just recited at the beginning of each school day, and with the implementation of teachers unions constructed around the aforementioned ideals of Margaret Haley along with those of prominent contemporary unionists, change is certain to be on the horizon.

Primary Sources

“Advice from Margaret Haley, Leader of Teacher Unionism.” Diane Ravitchs Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2013. <>.

Besieged: School Boards and the Future of Education Politics. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press, 2005. Print.

“From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909 History.” History. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2013.<>.

Haley, Margaret. Battleground: The Autobiography of Margaret A. Haley. Urbana:University of Illinois Press, 1982. Print.

Haley, Margaret. The Gardener Mind. New Haven: Yale university press, 1937. Print.The Yale Series of Younger Poets.

Haley, Margaret. “Why Teachers Should Organize.” In National Association of Education. Journal of Addresses and Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Meeting (St. Louis), 145–152. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1904.

Peterson, Bob. Transforming Teachers Unions. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, 1999.

Rousmaniere, Kate. Citizen Teacher: The Life and Leadership of Margaret Haley. Albany: State University of New York, 2005. Print.

“The Chicago Strike and the History of American Teachers’ Unions”N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2013. <>.

Author’s note: I chose this topic because I’m interested to see how Margaret Haley’s vision of teachers unions in 1904 compare and contrast with the ideas of unionists today, because many of her concerns seem to still resonate. It’s amazing that its veracity transcends a time-span of well over 100 years.


Research Paper Proposal: Evolution of Teacher’s Unions (2013)

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Research Question: How is Margaret Haley’s vision of an ideal teachers union in 1904 challenged or supported by teacher’s union activists around the turn of the 21st century?

Relevance: Teacher’s Unions can be one of the most powerful voices in terms of educational politics when operated with efficience. Today, teacher’s unions are receiving a huge part of the blame in the failure of America’s past educational reformation attempts. For me, studying the history of teachers unions, specifically Margaret Nolan’s utopian teacher unions dating all the way back to 1904, and how unions today compare and contrast with her vision would give me a deeper insight at the rights of a student and what the word “education” entails. I woud like to first see if it is accurate to say that unions today are a prohibitor of substantial educational reformation. From there, I will see how one woman’s idea ties with the modern vision of what a teacher union is to stand for. I am curious to see how Margaret Haley’s (ahead of her time) view of what unions should be has evolved to the sense of the most modern vision, the “social justice union”.

I plan to focus on the years between and including 1904-1999, and even touch on today and perhaps the future.

Research Strategy: After speaking with you, I headed to the library plan this whole thing out. Already having two articles from in-class reading was a big kickstart. The same can be said for the copy of Citizen Teacher you showed me, along with the book on unions that you kindly offered. In addition, I found Haley’s autobiography, which I thought could also offer a good understanding of the woman she was. There was another book she wrote that I found while looking for this one that I plan to search through too. If I find that there is a certain aspect of unions that my research may lean towards, I will consider adding and removing select sources.

Primary Sources:

Besieged: School Boards and the Future of Education Politics. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press, 2005. Print.

Haley, Margaret. The Gardener Mind. New Haven: Yale university press, 1937. Print. The Yale Series of Younger Poets.

Haley, Margaret. “Why Teachers Should Organize.” In National Association of Education. Journal of Addresses and Proceedings of the 43rd Annual Meeting (St. Louis), 145–152. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1904.

Haley, Margaret A. Battleground: The Autobiography of Margaret A. Haley. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982. Print.

Peterson, Bob. “Survival and Justice: Rethinking Teacher Union Strategy.” InTransforming Teachers Unions, 11–19. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, 1999.

The Climate Report

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When the Hartford Board of Education sat down this Tuesday, March 5th, to conduct a special meeting they planned on spending most of their time discussing the contract approval of Parent Academy, an initiative committed to improving Hartford’s communities. The meeting was considered special because it was held in addition to the Board’s monthly meetings, primarily to discuss Parent Academy. However, roughly fifteen minutes after the event commenced at Hartford’s Public High School, it was clear that the Board had additional serious issues to address.

Board members discuss Achieve Hartford! while the audience follows along.

According to a new survey developed by the American Institute of Research and administered in HPS by “Achieve Hartford!”,  the social climate amongst Hartford Schools was something that deserved attention.  The study, in it’s second year, was reporting annual findings. While parents and school administrators believe that school climate has improved over the last year, the Board found the students perception of school climate to be unsettling. In comparison to the 2012 survey, peer climate Board member Richard Wareing, who was visibly upset over the reports findings, immediately asked the Achieve Hartford! team, “Why do so many youngsters feel that school is not a good place to be?” No one in the school’s packed library had an answer.

Although many questions over school safety remained unanswered during the meeting, one thing that all the board members could agree on was the obvious disconnect between student and adults’ perceptions on school safety.  There were two categories designed to measure the social climate, peer climate and respectful climate. Peer climate referred to the students’ perception of their day-to-day interactions amongst each other, while respectful climate was through the eyes of the adults (staff and parents). One specific example came from surveys covering grades 3-5. It was found that 43% of students saw an improvement in peer climate, a 4% increase since 2012. At the same time 82% of adults saw interactions amongst students to have improved, a 6% increase since last year. A 2% difference may not initially seem significant, but if that trend increases for a period as short as 5 years, a 10% disparity between the actual social climate and perceived social climate will have emerged.

In discussing possible explanations for the differing views of students and adults, Board member Richard Wareing offered, “In terms of school safety, the data suggests that the further you get away from the hallways, the better it looks.  I’m curious to see what the adults are basing their perception on.”  But that wasn’t the only thing the board was curious about; they also wanted an explanation for inflated percentages of survey participation in several public schools throughout the state.

While no one completely undermined the contributions of Achieve Hartford! in their quest to restore the Hartford Public system to health, several questions were raised over the validity of the surveys they conducted.  Several Board members agreed to one glaring weakness of the surveys: inaccurate participation rates.  For example, Achieve Hartford! reported that Hooker Environmental Sciences Magnet school’s 3-4 grade participation percentage was raised ten points, from 96 to 106 percent.  But how is that possible?  Chairman of the Board, Matthew Poland, wanted to know how 106 percent of the student body could have participated in the survey?   In their response to the Chairmen’s concern over the legitimacy of the study, the Achieve Hartford! team suggested that the inflated participation rates were due in part to both unfinished and retaken surveys, a flaw resulting from keeping the surveys so anonymous.

Many students, parents, and media members appeared engaged by the presentation. This second adaption of the American Institute of Research’s study, despite some flaws, was one that under correct guidance, had potential to become a powerful tool in the belt of Hartford educational reformers. Board Chairman Matthew Poland described the study as, “a very telling one, and it tells that work has to be done to understand what is happening within our hallways and why it isn’t a good place to be with your peers.” Members of Achieve Hartford! demonstrated how it can be used by a high school senate to dig deeper into the climate of a given school by placing reason to the alleged findings. The team continued to say that the ultimate mission of the survey would be to illustrate how parent involvement has increased as a means of engagement rather than through their perceptions. “Almost in the sense of customer satisfaction,” added one member. Although the findings of the survey produced many different reactions amongst the board members and the community, all the participants of the meeting walked away with the shared enthusiasm that through the involvement of Achieve Hartford!, the Hartford Public School system can and will develop better relations amongst the networks of students, parents, and teachers- it’s just a matter of time.

Stephen Goniprow ’14 and Robert Ugolik ’15 are full-time students at Trinity College in Hartford, CT that have taken an interest in the local movement for educational reformation.

Where are we racing to exactly?

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“An education was something that would help you go very far in life, and something that wouldn’t be taken away from you.”

–  Vicki Abeles, director of Race to Nowhere (2010)

Director Vicki Abeles working with son (Race to Nowhere 4:40).

“Race to Nowhere” is a full-length documentary dedicated to education today. The film took shape when the director Vicki Abeles had learned of her daughters stomach pains being caused by stress. The mother in Abeles took the foreground, and never looked back, as she spoke with students, teachers, and parents coast to coast to try and determine what is to blame for the increase in stress amongst students today, and how our education system could be reconstructed to eliminate such pressures. Through the investigative work of Abeles, it is clear that the outrageous pressures of school, sports, and parents are piling up and invading the childhoods of today’s students, to the point where action is necessary.

In recent years, tests have been the primary measure of educational achievement. Tests are constructed long before lessons are taught, and lessons are therefore often overstuffed with content. This is where teachers feel the need to assign homework, to make up for the content that they are unable to cover in class. Sara Bennett, founder of Stop Homework, believes that the practice of homework can be traced back to the implementation of testing as a measure of success (and the aforementioned cycle) that came as a result of the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk (Race to Nowhere 27:48). Similar to Bennett, author Diane Ravitch seems to trace the derailment of educational reformation to the same instance. Ravitch writes in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, “Where did education reform go wrong? …But all roads eventually lead back to a major report released in 1983 called A Nation at Risk” (Ravitch 22). Combined with The No Child Left Behind Act, never before have two documents placed such importance on “proficiency”. This can be seen in its mission, as described by President George W. Bush, “The principle behind the No Child Left Behind act is to set high standards, believe every child could learn, and measure to see if were getting results” (Race to Nowhere 28:10). Abeles believes that the words “high standards” and “measure” are where our country went wrong. That is when the whole “Race to Nowhere” went in motion, and the average student lost their place in society.

School as an institution is depicted within the film as a training facility rather than the learning facility that it is supposed to be. One of the film’s main themes is homework, and its effects, or lack thereof. The filmmaker attempts to get the viewer to truly question the purpose of homework with data as well as the use of her own feelings. It is meant to be shocking when Denise Pope of Stanford University gives evidence that suggests there is no correlation between homework and academic success at the elementary school level. When students do become old enough for a correlation to exist, homework eventually loses its effectiveness after about an hour (24:23). The film also made claims that homework times have doubled and tripled over the years. This may be true, but some critics argue that it is misleading. Some say that the numbers Ableles chose to use were too low (8 minutes a night in 1981 as compared to 22 in 2003, though the number is tripled, 16 minutes is not as provoking as the term tripled), therefore deeming the fact insignificant.  Abeles described her own daughter as “a duck trying to paddle as quickly as she could to keep her head above water” as she continues her educational journey  (24:10). Either way, that is not how I would like my child to appear to me at any time, ever. An AP Biology teacher tells of his recent decision to modify his students workload, “When you cut homework in half and AP scores improve, then what’s the value of the homework” (26:20). It seems that Abeles holds homework partly accountable for the fullness of her daughter’s daily schedule, and homework isn’t nearly as important as it was believed to be.

Another aspect that the filmmaker examines is how sports have grew less innocent. One story told is that of Sam, a high school wrestler. He describes how pressure can come from competition between the sport and the school. “The school is like you’re dedicating your whole life to your grades, and then the sport is like no you’re dedicating you’re whole life to me” (22:30). This is becoming common throughout the country, with athletics and academics fighting for the top spot in teenagers’ lives. For some, athletics have helped obtain an education. It also can be dangerous however, as in Sam’s case, where the pressures eventually grew too large and caused him to drop out. Balance is what our generation is missing, and Abeles makes that clear by including that pressure also comes from things that are thought to relieve it, such as sports.

The same can be said for the role of parents. Traditionally parents are viewed as a source of comfort, care and protection. But today, those qualities seem buried under a long list of achievements that a parent has for their child. Within the film is a clip from a forum on stress in a high school in Concord, CA. A young lady tells how the worst question parents are asking is “And?” The “and”, literally meaning “what else” or “that’s it”, sends a message to the child that what they’re doing isn’t enough in terms of AP Classes, sports teams, clubs and community service. Coming from the mouth of a young student, Abeles wants viewers to become aware of the fact that our generation has set such a high standard for everything, to the point in which everything is a competition. Our lives might as well be a race to nowhere. Darrick Smith, an Oakland teacher, claims that the process is actually “dehumanizing” (7:08). It is sickening to hear of the students who associate the feelings of rejection or failure with death. Furthermore, it is literally deadly, as evident in the disturbing examples of students who chose to escape all of the tumultuous pressures via suicide. Abeles actually dedicated the film to Devon Marvin, a friend of her daughter’s who tragically took her own life. There is no reason a child should ever have to live under such stress, yet it seems to becoming more common.

Race To Nowhere is a film that focuses on the student of today, and how he/she is pressured for success inside the classroom, as well as outside of it. It has captivated many Americans, and Abeles continues show the film off as well as host discussions afterwards for those interested (I found this pretty cool, that she comes to most of the screenings for discussion). It examines how the education policy of meeting proficiencies has actually had a negative affect, how students feel pressured to cheat just in order to pass, and how teachers fix scores in order to secure their job. Abeles tells of places that are trying to find that balance, like her son’s school that encourages days of no homework, and the success that has come of it. But she is careful to remind us, “There is no best anything, it is a match between children” (55:20). A film worth watching, it attempts to bring attention to the issue of stress among students in a numbers driven society, what the filmmakers believe to be primarily responsible for said stress, and how to combat the stress for many reasons, most importantly the health and futures of today’s students. Director Vicki Abeles seems to be urging parents to become involved before its too late.



Works Cited

Race to Nowhere. Dir. Vicki Abeles. Reel Link Films, 2010. Web.

Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing

          and Choice Are Undermining Education. New York: Basic, 2010. Print.


[Don’t] Plagiarize

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Example 1: Plagiarize the original text by copying portions of it word-for-word.

No measure is perfect, but the estimates of value-added and other “growth models,” which attempt to isolate the “true effect” of an individual teacher through his or her students’ test scores, are alarmingly error-prone in any given year. Sean Corcoran, an economist at New York University, studied the teacher evaluation systems in New York City and Houston. He found that the average “margin of error” of a New York City teacher was plus or minus 28 points.

Example 2: Plagiarize the original text by paraphrasing its structure too closely, without copying it word-for-word.

Economist Sean Corcoran found that the average “margin of error” of a New York City teacher was plus or minus 28 points. Therefore, a teacher who has ranked at the 43rd percentile could also fall between the 15th percentile and the 71st percentile. The value-added scores are subject to change. A teacher who gets a particular ranking in year one is not forever associated with said ranking.

Example 3: Plagiarize the original text by paraphrasing its structure too closely, and include a citation. Even though you cited it, paraphrasing too closely is still plagiarism.

Economist Sean Corcoran found that the average “margin of error” of a New York City teacher was plus or minus 28 points. Therefore, a teacher who has ranked at the 43rd percentile could also fall between the 15th percentile and the 71st percentile. The value-added scores are subject to change. A teacher who gets a particular ranking in year one is not forever associated with said ranking (Ravitch 270).

Example 4: Properly paraphrase from the original text by restating the author’s ideas in different words and phrases, and include a citation to the original source.

NYU Economist Sean Corcoran set out to prove how difficult it can be to determine a teacher’s impact solely through the teacher evaluation systems implemented in Houston and New York City. He found that there is an extreme fluctuation amongst scores over the years, and compared the odds of accurately determining a teacher’s impact via these systems to those of a coin toss (Ravitch 271).

Example 5: Properly paraphrase from the original text by restating the author’s ideas in different words and phrases, add a direct quote, and include a citation to the original source.

Due to findings of instability throughout the Houston and New York City teacher evaluation systems, NYU Economist Sean Corcoran deems both systems not entirely accurate. Corcoran reports, “The value-added scores also fluctuate between years. A teacher who gets a particular ranking in year one is likely to get a different ranking the next year” (Ravitch 271). Maybe it is time for a change in how we assess the teachings of our educators.

Works Cited

Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. New York:

Basic Books, 2011, pp. 270-71.

How to investigate the history of intelligence testing, and not be fooled by key words

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Prompt: How do you find scholarly books on the history of intelligence testing? Imagine that you decide to write a research essay on the history of intelligence testing, particularly how it evolved in U.S. education during the twentieth century. Describe your search strategy for finding books on this topic at Trinity Library, and cite five of the most relevant titles. (Hint: the goal of this question is to distinguish between keyword and subject-term searches.)

This past week I was able to meet with Trinity librarian Erin Valentino. I have learned in my time here that it would be considered foolish not to meet with a librarian before beginning research in the library. Her assistance in navigating the vast collection of media within the library is something that was essential to me completing my source detective question.

To begin, she asked me what kind of media I was looking for. I replied “books” as the question states. She told me had I answered articles, we would look under scholarly sites such as JSTOR or simply the Trinity College Article Database. Because I did answer books however, she directed me to WorldCat, which searches amongst all types of media. She told me we will be utilizing the “advanced search” feature.

I began by entering “iq test history” in the keyword field.

I recieved 1,637 search results. I was told that because I had searched by keyword, any publication containing the texts: “iq”, “test”, and “history” will be generated. I searched through the first 15 until I was able to select a book that I thought would be essential in a report. It was titled “IQ: a smart history of a failed idea”.

On the bottom of the page was the call number, which is how one would find it on Level 3. But to the right is a field titled “More like this”. This is used to suggest books of similar topics to the inquirer. It also lists the subjects these books are categorized under within the system. One subject I found on the right side of the page jumped out at me: “Intelligence Tests–history.”

Subjects> Intelligence Tests -- history.

I brought my cursor over the text and clicked, refined the search for only books, and was brought to a more concise, only 214 items long. This is when I felt I had arrived at where I was supposed to be looking for information, for all the books shared the subject of “intelligence tests– history” rather than simply containing a word or three. Keywords can help you start, but once you have figured out which direction you want your research to head, subject searching is much more helpful.

*I was able to further specify the subject into “intelligence tests–history–20th Century United States”, in an attempt to address the initial question better, but I found that some books were left out of the search that would have been useful, such as The Big Test by Nicholas Lemann.

At the end of my research session, I organized my results in order of relevance and found that the 5 most relevant books on the subject of the history intelligence tests were:

The mismeasure of man
by Stephen Jay Gould
The intelligence men, makers of the IQ controversy
by Raymond E Fancher
The big test : the secret history of the American meritocracy
by Nicholas Lemann
IQ : a smart history of a failed idea
by Stephen Murdoch
Measuring minds : Henry Herbert Goddard and the origins of American intelligence testing
by Leila Zenderland
The 5 most relevant books on the subject of the history of intelligence testing.

A special thanks to Erin Valentino for her assistance during my research.

Learning Goals

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In taking this course, I hope to further my knowledge about the educational system of our country, and how they have changed along with the times. So far, I think I picked to the right course to learn about that kind of stuff.

Specifically, I am interested in System Building vs. Decentralization. I helped out in HPS last year and definitely recognized that things were different than I thought they’d be. I am curious to hear the opinions of scholars who have spent their lives trying to determine the best way to educate the American youth, and hopefully form a belief of my own.