I drafted this statement on the renewal of American public education.  It was published in Education Notes (Fall, 2003) with twenty-nine signatures (listed below), including Professor Pedro Noguera and Coalition of Essential Schools founder Theodore Sizer.  If you want to sign it, send me your name and affiliation (if any) at 

–Brian D’Agostino, 10/26/09



          We the undersigned teachers, school administrators, parents, students, and citizens--acting on our concern about the future of education--endorse the following guidelines for renewal, especially regarding public school systems in the United States.
          In this statement, we articulate an analysis and program of policy reform intended as an alternative to the current climate of cynicism and narrow thinking about public education.  In a Spring 2000 article, for example, The New York Times compared two school districts and found that the better funded district did not perform as well academically.  The article failed to note that the high performing district served culturally advantaged, affluent families, while the low performing district struggled under inner city circumstances that could not be offset by the small additional monies allocated to their schools.

          The article also failed to note that affluent school districts statewide and nationwide generally spend more per student than inner city districts.  Had the New York Times looked at this larger statistical picture, it would have found a positive correlation between spending and academic achievement. 

          To be sure, renewing public education is not only a matter of more resources.  We also seek to reexamine the values and goals of education, which means questioning the currently fashionable dogma that standardized test scores adequately measure academic achievement.  We want schools to help develop caring, concerned, and informed citizens who demonstrate self knowledge, emotional intelligence, and active participation in our democracy.  To this end, we support portfolios and other forms of authentic assessment that can take account of such hard-to-measure values and goals.

          This three-part statement therefore begins with a reexamination of values, goals and assessments.  We then address where additional resources can best be applied to make our vision of possibilities a reality.  Finally, we tackle the question of where the needed resources should be taken from in a context of fiscal limitations.

1. Rethinking Values and Goals

          In its Jeffersonian origins, the primary goal of public education in the United States was to equip citizens to participate in democratic governance.  Women, African and Native Americans, and poor whites were historically excluded from public affairs to varying degrees, and education has played a central role in their ongoing quest for equality.   While continuing to pay lip service to this civic function of education, most Americans today view school primarily as the source of skills and credentials needed for individual private success.  This development in part reflects the eclipse of democracy itself in an age of the global market economy.

          In this mercenary and competitive context, we rely on standardized tests of individual performance on verbal and mathematical skills as the dominant measures of educational success.  Merit pay for teachers and administrators would be based on such test scores, notwithstanding that some of the most capable and dedicated personnel in public education work in inner city schools where low test scores reflect a surrounding culture of poverty.  Meanwhile, with educational theories and practices measured by test scores, school has become increasingly unable to satisfy basic human needs for community and meaning, and our nation’s youth in their alienation turn to gangs, drugs, and violence. 

          In response to this crisis, we the undersigned call for a fundamental reassessment of the values and goals of education.  Schools must be connected again with the process of building a democratic and humane society.  Educational practices conducive to such goals, such as cooperative learning (having students work in groups), must be extended into the mainstream of secondary and higher education.  Self-knowledge must be valued and cultivated as the foundation of meaningful academic knowledge.  Alternative, authentic assessments suitable for measuring the success of students, teachers, and schools in achieving such goals must be given the same authority currently given to standardized tests.

2. Committing Needed Resources

              While the goals of education have narrowed in the age of global capitalism, the demands placed on teachers and schools have ironically never been more far-reaching.  Educators are expected to deliver higher test scores while simultaneously picking up the pieces of a competitive social system that erodes family and local community.  Such contradictory expectations combined with insufficient resources build failure into the academic system, creating a culture of blaming that prevents politicians, administrators, teachers, parents and students from working productively and cooperatively to solve real problems.

          Rethinking values, goals and assessments is necessary but not sufficient for educational renewal. Schools cannot combat the social evils of gangs, drugs and violence and help build a democratic and humane society without a massive infusion of public resources.  The remainder of this statement provides guidelines for applying these resources to good effect and for funding such renewal in a politically responsible manner.

          Meaningful educational renewal demands a massive increase in public funding for five objectives: (1) building and maintenance of adequate facilities, including internet access, laboratories, and sports facilities; (2) smaller class sizes; (3) higher teacher salaries; (4) improved teacher training; and (5) replication of innovative programs of proven effectiveness.  To help ensure that public resources are actually applied to these objectives, all public schools, districts, and boards of education should be independently audited at regular intervals with a clear and understandable report made public after each audit.

          Discrepancies between the facilities of our nation’s public and affluent private schools is the most visible indicator of fiscal neglect.  Ninety percent of New York City’s public schools, for example, are in need of significant repair according the General Accounting Office.  Massive investment is needed to correct such inequitable access to facilities.

          In an era of global capitalism, individual students come to school with unprecedented social and emotional needs.  Earning a living in today’s corporations is typically an exhausting and alienating experience, leaving parents with less energy and presence of mind for their children.  Television, video games, and other corporate-controlled forms of culture have undermined the role of families and local communities in socializing our youth.  The daily experience of poverty, violence and racism create additional and very serious obstacles for inner city youngsters.

          Under these circumstances, teachers and schools can help build learning communities where healing and self-development occur, but only if student/teacher ratios are small enough to permit teachers to interact with students as individuals and to address their special needs as learners.  Such quality education is not possible if a high school or middle school teacher, for example, is responsible for five classes a day, with thirty students in each class.  We who are committed to educational renewal call for maximum class sizes of twenty, and for maximum teaching loads of four classes per day.

          Smaller class sizes and reduced teaching loads will require schools and districts to greatly expand their teaching staffs.  Such reforms would also constitute greatly improved working conditions for teachers, and as such would help attract qualified personnel into education.  Inner city schools and districts, however, will still not be able to attract and retain sufficient qualified teachers, especially in shortage areas such as mathematics and science, until teacher salaries there become competitive with those offered in suburban school districts.  A commitment to educational renewal therefore demands equitable compensation for all teachers, which means raising the salaries of inner city teachers to the same levels that suburban teachers currently enjoy.

          Public school teaching is one of the most demanding of all professions, yet adequate resources are not applied to teacher training.  New teachers are typically given undesirable and difficult teaching assignments that would tax even experienced teachers, while being required to devote extra time to staff development programs that often do not address the kind of problems they encounter in the classroom.  The inevitable result is a high rate of burnout and dropout from the profession among new teachers.

          One remedy is a system of training in which new teachers are given reduced teaching loads and help in their classrooms from mentors who are themselves highly successful and effective teachers.  Such teacher training, which is effective where it is already practiced, should be the norm in school systems throughout the country.  The costs involved in reducing the teaching loads of new teachers and their mentors are a necessary investment in upgrading the effectiveness of teachers.

          Like education itself, teacher training should not be limited to new teachers but is a life-long, self-directed process.  The abovementioned reduction of teaching loads from five to four classes per day is not a luxury, but a necessity for ongoing staff development.  It would enable teachers to spend more time visiting one another’s classes, exchanging ideas, information, and experiences about successes and failures in the classroom, and conferring on the special needs of individual students.

          Finally, resources are needed to replicate innovative programs of proven effectiveness, for example: human relations programs, improved nutrition in school cafeterias, the integration of technology and the arts with traditional academic curricula, and stress management/brain development techniques. 

3. Changing Public Priorities

          The agenda of renewal outlined above will require an increased fiscal commitment to education that may seem ambitious by current standards.  Yet an even larger scale of public revenues is currently squandered on federal and state programs that are ineffective at best and even destructive.  The United States currently spends more than fifteen times as much on military forces as our seven most likely adversaries combined.  (Today, the U.S. spends more than the rest of the entire world combined. -BD, 10/26/09).  State governments spend billions of dollars annually to incarcerate non-violent offenders who could be sentenced to much cheaper and more effective programs than prison.  Why does such wasteful government spending require no justification, while it seems ambitious to propose a far reaching policy of educational renewal?

          These misguided public priorities reflect an underlying philosophy of domination.  According to this philosophy, competition among individuals, groups, corporations, and nations automatically rewards merit, entitling the winners to use wealth and power to pursue more wealth and power, and absolving them of any meaningful collective social responsibility.  This philosophy is destroying America and the world.  We must replace it with a philosophy of partnership, in which every person contributes his or her unique gifts, in collaboration with others, towards building a sustainable, peaceful, productive, and equitable future for all.

          How can schools contribute to such a future?  First, in their internal operations, schools must embody the values we wish to create in the world as a whole.  Schools must be structured environments that support open, comfortable, and ongoing communication among administrators, staff, parents, and students.  Schools must enable all parties concerned to collaboratively identify problems, plan strategies for solving them, and follow through with appropriate actions.  Academic goals and assessments must aim to develop every individual and support his or her success, not to separate winners and losers on behalf of a competitive social system.    

          Secondly, resources commensurate with the educational needs outlined above must be made available and spent wisely.  On the one hand, this will require a massive redeployment of public revenues from unneeded military forces and prisons to schools, especially in the inner cities.  On the other hand, it will require an opening of educational finances to public scrutiny in order to combat corruption and ensure that revenues actually find their way into our nation’s classrooms.

          We the undersigned teachers, school administrators, parents, students, and citizens exhort our political leaders to publicize, debate, and act upon the above guidelines, and thereby, to choose life.


Priscilla Barry, New York City

Dan Bassill, President, Cabrini Connections (Tutor/Mentor Connection), Chicago, IL

William Boyle, public school teacher, Michigan

Constance L. Benson, Research Associate, Center on Violence and Human Survival,
City University of New York

Vincent Brevetti, Principal, Humanities Preparatory Academy, 
New York City Department of Education

Alva Buxenbaum, Public School (Elementary) Teacher, New York City

Brian D’Agostino, Ph.D., Teacher and United Federation of Teachers Chapter Leader, Humanities Preparatory Academy, New York City

Lore Eargle, New Port Richey, FL

Victoria Fernandez-Gambino, New York

Gary Ferdman, Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, New York City

Ann Finneran, Hurleyville, NY

Peter Gambino, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist

Fernand Grauls, Ph.D., Montreal, Canada

Christopher H. Jones, Ed.D., Chair, Department of Education, Maharishi University of Management

Myriam Miedzian, Ph.D., New York City

Mae Munroe, Ph.D., New York City

Ron Miller, Ph.D., The Foundation for Educational Renewal, Brandon, VT

DeeAnna Newhouse, Riverside, CA

Pedro Noguera, Judith K. Dimon Professor in Communities and Schools, 
Harvard Graduate School of Education

Bruce Novak, University of Chicago

Diane Perlman, Ph.D., Philadelphia, PA

Don Schmall, Foundation for Ethics and Meaning, New York City

Donald W. Shriver, Jr., President Emeritus, Union Theological Seminary, New York

Peggy L. Shriver, Assistant Secretary for Research, National Council of Churches, retired

Theodore R. Sizer, Chair, Coalition of Essential Schools

Beverly Stern, public school teacher, New Haven, CT

Rick Ulfik, Board Chair, We, The World, New York City

Rev. John H. Vaughn, Executive Director, The Peace Development Fund

Barbara Dawes Vogl, Change Management Systems, Santa Cruz, CA