A New Public Education

Rebuilding the Foundations of our Public Schools
Jay R. Kaufman, Project Director
Sarah Cannon Holden and Theodore R. Sizer, Associate Project Directors

A New Public Education is a project designed to engage educators, politicians and the public in a disciplined and deliberative process to redefine and renew public education in Massachusetts.

The quality, governance and finance of our nation's public schools are raising serious questions about how well prepared our schools and our school-aged children are for the twenty-first century. Not since Horace Mann first invented public education in the early 19th century has the need for reform been greater. Schools better reflect the values and social realities of Mann's time than our own, and public confidence in the education establishment is low and ebbing.

The project team has an abiding commitment to and passion for public education, and is determined to rebuild the foundations of our public schools. This will certainly entail rooting out much that is rotten, confronting well-entrenched ideas, individuals and institutions, and challenging ourselves and each other to change. But we believe that more than the fate of public education is at stake. We subscribe to Mann's belief that the viability of democracy (which demands an informed and engaged electorate) and the strength of our economy (which, more and more, requires not just knowledge and wisdom, but a lifelong ability to learn) are directly tied to the vitality of our public education system.

In Massachusetts, as in the nation, there are many examples of successful teachers and successful schools. Yet we also know that, however we define and measure success, many of our public schools are falling short of the mark. Renewal and reinvigoration of public education are the Commonwealth's and nation's top priority. In facing this challenge, we must begin with a set of questions as fundamental and critical as they are difficult.

1. Can we identify the characteristics of successful schools and school systems?
2. Can we define the conditions - cultural, economic, political, physical - that encourage success?
3. What public policies foster these conditions and that success?

The future of public education rests on our ability to find complete and compelling answers to these questions. Proposals for reform come from every quarter - from classrooms to corporate boardrooms, from individual teachers to school districts and state authorities, from Presidential candidates to angry parents. The result to date has been more heat than light, frustrating gridlock, bitter confrontation, and few creative ideas. Much of the contemporary debate about public education is about how to fine tune a system that is ill-suited to the twenty-first century. Frequently, criticism is rooted in a political rather than pedagogical agenda, and much of the creative thinking borrows heavily from a private enterprise model that, while instructive, may not be perfectly suited to the world of public education.

Working with a research team drawn from education, arts and science, public policy, and business, we are undertaking a three-phase, 18 month project.

In the first phase, our project team is collecting and researching different examples of successful schools and school systems. These are being critically reviewed in search of a set of characteristics and conditions associated with success. In the second phase, we will subject both our research and our analysis to review and criticism through a series of public conversations both on line and in communities and constituencies across Massachusetts. Based on our evolving understanding, we will then draft a white paper and invite both a panel of experts and the public to join us in an education symposium in the project's twelfth month. That symposium will mark both a target date for completing our analysis of characteristics and conditions (the answers to our first questions) and launch the project's final stage focusing on policy ideas. In the project's final six months, we will, again on line and in public forums, explore policy options. In a final report to be completed in the project's eighteenth month, we will offer a set of conclusions and policy recommendations as well as a set of open questions for professional educators, politicians and the public alike.

We will, at all times, seek to conduct this exercise consistent with what we understand to be best educational practices. We will, ourselves, be a learning community. We will stay focused on important questions. We will be disciplined and rigorous in our research and analysis. Our search for answers to our three questions will be inclusive (engaging the broadest possible participation) and it will be ongoing, growing as it unfolds.

Our goal is a set of realistic and realizable recommendations designed to renew public education in our communities and in the years immediately ahead, not in theory or some distant future. It is our hope that this project will foster exciting and empowering new approaches and debates in our schools, communities, and Commonwealth. In the end, we will measure the project's success in terms of our ability to generate new ideas, shape a new vision, engage participation, and ultimately empower and embolden citizens in our communities and in our Commonwealth to take action to renew public education in Massachusetts.

The project is directed by educator and State Representative Jay Kaufman, with author and educator Theodore Sizer and mediator/arbitrator Sarah Cannon Holden serving as Associate Project Directors. The project is undertaken under the auspices of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life at Brandeis University and in collaboration with the University's Education Program. Major funding has been provided by the Forchheimer Foundation. While the project team is housed at the University, much of the public conversation will occur at meetings, symposia and other forums across the state and at a Web site designed to encourage an ongoing exchange of ideas. We are also inviting a large and diverse list of advisors to meet with us regularly to critique both the process and content of our work.

A seminar taught by the project team will engage undergraduate and graduate students in the research and analysis elements of this project.


A New Public Education Staff

Jay R. Kaufman, director of the project, has served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives since 1995, with primary focus on education, health care, environmental and social and economic justice policies. While an undergraduate at Brandeis in the 1960s, he founded the Student Educational Policies Committee which introduced such innovations as a student-produced course evaluation, pass-fail grading option, interdisciplinary majors, and student representation on the Board of Trustees and tenure review committees. After graduate work in history, he founded, and, for 14 years directed, the Massachusetts Bay Marine Studies Consortium, an association of 18 colleges and universities offering interdisciplinary environmental education courses and engaging in public policy projects.

Sarah Cannon Holden, associate director of the project, is an attorney specializing in arbitration and dispute resolution with a practice in New York and New England. She served for six years on the town finance committee in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and then nine years on the Lincoln-Sudbury High School Committee. She was responsible for negotiating three contracts with the teachers and administrators, and participated in evaluation and reform efforts at the school. In the early '80s she co-founded a group actively seeking the halt of the production of nuclear weapons.

Theodore R. Sizer, also associate director of the project, is University Professor Emeritus at Brown University. He has been a high school teacher in Boston and Melbourne, Australia, Headmaster of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and, most recently, Acting Co-Principal of the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts. During the 1960s and 1970s, he served as Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. He is the founder and chairman of the Coalition of Essential Schools, a national school reform organization, and the author of numerous books and articles.


Curriculum

Public Schools and Democracy, ED 150b, Fall Semester, 2001
Sarah Cannon Holden; Jay R. Kaufman; Theodore R. Sizer

Course Description
This seminar will explore fundamental questions about public education, considering both what is pedagogically sound and politically achievable. We will examine the need and opportunities for -- and obstacles to -- major structural changes in our system of public schooling. Our basic question is this: Is it possible to make fundamental changes in public education? We have faith that the answer to this question is "yes," but, in all honesty, this course is part of our effort to answer this critical question. The semester will culminate in a student-led presentation on how to implement large-scale education reform in Massachusetts. The course draws on policy studies arising from a Brandeis-based project, "A New Public Education," which is designed to bring focus and a set of new ideas to the debate about the future of public education in Massachusetts and the nation. This seminar is an integral part of "A New Public Education" and engages students in the project’s research and policy-development activities.

Learning Objectives

  • The course is designed to encourage and empower students to be informed contributors to the public debate and policy making about public education. You will be able to:
  • articulate ideas about the link between public education and our democratic institutions;
  • discern the ingredients of successful school system design and redesign;
  • understand the key policy decisions that shape school system design and redesign;
  • identify the key constituencies that must be in alignment to effect change;
  • make, justify and defend – in writing and orally – compelling arguments for public policies that engender successful teaching and learning

You will be members of a community of learners. We, students and teachers, will be creating together. This requires your informed engagement, willingness to take risks, and think both critically and creatively. This is what we expect of you and what you have the right to expect of each other and us.

Recommended Events
From time to time, we will let you know about activities in the Greater Boston area that complement and are related to course material. We urge you to take advantage of as many as your time permits. Two of these, public policy discussions to be held at the Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, are included in the class calendar. The Museum is located at 33 Marrett Road (Route 2A) near the Massachusetts Avenue intersection. From Brandeis, take Route 95/128 north to exit 30A (Route 2A east.) Follow 2A for approximately 3 miles. You will see a brick wall and the museum entrance on your left.

Course Requirements:
Participation: Your informed class participation is expected. (30% of grade)
Briefs: You will be responsible for writing a one-page brief in response to a question or case study associated with class sessions as indicated on the schedule. This brief is due to be posted on the course’s WebCT site by 6pm on the evening preceding class. Think of it as testimony to be delivered at a public hearing of a school board or legislative committee. You will be graded on the quality of your ideas, the effectiveness of your arguments and evidence, and the style and mechanics of your presentation. The question/case study will be a point of departure for class discussion. (25% of grade)

Term Project: You and your classmates will be responsible for a major project. This will be a team effort and you will receive a grade both for your own contribution and for the group’s overall work. Readings, class discussions, guest lecturers, research and conversations with your classmates will all contribute to your ability to raise and react to the large set of issues that need to be considered in the course of developing your project. Progress reports and interim presentations are due as indicated on the class calendar. The project presentation on the last night of class will be made before an audience of teachers, school administrators, taxpayers, and public officials. A written report is due one week later. (45% of grade, divided equally between individual contribution and group effort)

Term Project: You are part of a small group of advisors charged with developing a briefing paper for the Governor of Massachusetts. The Governor is about to announce a major education policy initiative. As a candidate, the Governor spoke of the need for boldness, "thinking outside the box," and radical reform. It is now time to deliver on this rhetoric. Your challenge is to prepare a policy brief for the Governor identifying the one most important policy to introduce. If there is only one thing that must be changed, one key point of entry to the serious transformation of education in Massachusetts, what is it? Why is this the pivotal policy to put in place? Make a compelling case for the need and opportunity for this new policy. What can and should be done to effect change? What are the first and subsequent steps that must be taken? What are the risks and benefits? Can you justify your proposal as educationally sound, politically viable, and fiscally responsible? Can you sell the legislature, the business community, professional educators, and the public on your ideas? Important note: The Governor has specifically asked for an extensive, in-depth, data- and research-driven analysis of one key idea, not a list or series of good, equally-important ideas. The Governor is also serious about wanting to make change, not simply propose some great visionary scheme that is destined to lead nowhere.

Instructors
Sarah Cannon Holden
is a lawyer specializing in arbitration and dispute resolution with a practice in New York and New England. She served for six years on her town finance committee and then nine years on the Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School Committee. She was responsible for negotiating three contracts with the teachers and administrators, and participated in evaluation and reform efforts at the school. In the early ‘80s she co-founded a group actively seeking the halt of the production of nuclear weapons. She is married and the mother of three grown children.

Jay R. Kaufman has served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives since 1995, with primary focus on education, health care, environmental and social and economic justice policies. While an undergraduate at Brandeis in the ‘60s, he founded the Student Educational Policies Committee which introduced such innovations as a student-produced course evaluation, pass-fail grading option, interdisciplinary majors, and student representation on the Board of Trustees and tenure review committees. After graduate work in history, he founded, and, for 14 years directed, the Massachusetts Bay Marine Studies Consortium, an association of 18 colleges and universities offering interdisciplinary environmental education courses and engaging in public policy projects. He is currently directing the "A New Public Education" project.

Theodore R. Sizer is University Professor Emeritus at Brown University. He has been a high school teacher in Boston and Melbourne, Australia, Headmaster of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and, most recently, Acting Co-Principal of the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts. During the '60s and '70s, he served as Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. He is the founder and chairman of the Coalition of Essential Schools, a national school reform organization, and the author of numerous books and articles.