To Hedrick Smith Productions About PBS Public Schools Documentary

By Carolyn Prager

April 22, 2005
Hedrick Smith Productions
6935 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 208
Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Given the Broad Foundation's support of the San Diego and NYC public school "reform" efforts under Mr. Alvarado and Mr. Bersin, I understand why the Broad Foundation would want to underwrite a production that validates this/these reform" miracle/s." (I am never sure if it is supposed to be one or two miracles.)

I do not understand, however, why a highly respected journalist and public television company would be willing to lend their credibility to a production designed to extol the San Diego and NYC "reform" efforts, in light of their failure to achieve anything approaching constructive reform. I also find it somewhat suspect that the production is slated to be aired (as I understand it) this Fall during the NYC Mayoral election campaign, given the Broad foundation's obvious support for the incumbent mayor's education "reforms."

The failure of these "reform" efforts have as much to do with the individuals promoting and executing them as they do with to their programs and policies-imposition (and I do mean imposition) of very weak curriculum standards, of idiosyncratic instructional methods, of personnel policies dismissive of career educator input, etc.

Above all, these so-called "reform" efforts have suffered from an attempt to aggrandize those who undertake them and to inflate supposed outcomes. You need look no further than Mr. Bersin's most recent attempt to cloak himself in the mantle of Thomas Kuhn's by somehow suggesting that his attempts to transform public school education in San Diego resembled a major "paradigm shift" of historic dimensions ("Making Schools Productive: . . .", Education Week, April 20, 2005).

Mr. Bersin is no Copernicus, alas. Improving public school education in the United States will require major paradigm shifts, shifts that redefine many social, cultural, and political constructs, including those of family, childcare, teaching as a profession, and government responsibility for education. In the meantime, we should be wary of the kind of instant solutions offered and too often imposed in less than holistic fashion by those with little deep understanding of the environment in which change needs to occur.

At your recommendation, I hope that PBS and you will distance yourselves from any mention of San Diego or NYC as reform models. Should this not be possible, I would hope that you would reach for a balanced perspective that not only acknowledges the inadequacy of these reforms and reformers but also provides a thoughtful analysis of why they were not successful.

Carolyn Prager, Ph.D.
Advocates for Public Representation in Public Education
175 West 93rd Street, #16J
New York, NY 10025
(212) 865-1780

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