Monday, October 26, 2009

Ted Sizer

Leonie Haimson sent this about Ted Sizer, who died recently.

Ted Sizer, who died last week, was one of the founders, along with Debbie Meier, of the small schools movement, in which smaller classes were seen as one of the essential components of successful schools. See below obituary in the Boston Globe.

Yet when Gates and Carnegie foundation seized the movement, and created a new wave of small schools, they no longer recognized small classes as necessary. In fact, they went so far as to consciously exclude class size as a factor to be studied in any of the numerous studies they financed that analyzed the possible reasons for the success or failure of small schools they financed.

Many of the groups that the Gates foundation continue to support in NYC have continued in this vein, discounting (or ignoring) the importance of class size in their analyses and efforts. But Sizer knew better:

“Get the class size numbers down,’’ he told the Globe in 1996. “Give me a small school where teachers want to work together . . . and I’ll show you a school that doesn’t need a metal detector, I’ll show you a school without a high dropout rate, I’ll show you a school where children are doing well."

Sizer started as headmaster of Phillips Academy where class sizes were and continue to be very small -- 14 or less; and unlike many others including those in this administration who sent their own kids to elite private schools with small classes, he was consistent in his message that inner city kids need and deserve these sorts of quality conditions as much as the children of the wealthy -- if not more.

Perhaps Debbie would like to add some reflections on Sizer?

Theodore Sizer, 77; leader in effort to overhaul education

Theodore Sizer spent decades trying to change the way educators look at schools and to show how to create places where students can flourish.

“Inconveniently, no two children and no two schools are ever quite alike,’’ he wrote for the Globe’s Ideas section in 2005 as he criticized the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and its embrace of a standardized approach, as “astonishingly unimaginative.’’

Imagination was something Dr. Sizer seemed to have in endless supply as he led educational institutions grand and modest, from the world famous to the relatively obscure. Only 31 when he was named dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, he subsequently focused on smaller places. After Harvard, he was headmaster of Phillips Academy in Andover, and later, with his wife, was co-principal of Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Danvers.

Dr. Sizer, who also turned the gathered wisdom of his research into a popular trio of books featuring Horace, a fictional high school teacher, died of colon cancer Wednesday in his Harvard home. He was 77.

“He was the most articulate, most forceful, and most convincing voice for American progressive education in the last decades,’’ said Howard Gardner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “And his influence occurred via his writings, the institutions he created, and the deeply humane care he took with the many hundreds of individuals, famous or not, whose paths he crossed over that time.’’

Dr. Sizer, who also served in the 1980s as chairman of the education department at Brown University, founded the Coalition for Essential Schools in 1984, which spread his approach and theories across the country through schools that adhere to a set of common principles.

Among those are the belief that teachers should be directly responsible for no more than 80 students and get to know each child in depth. Also included in the principles is “less is more,’’ a phrase Dr. Sizer often repeated and one that runs counter to prevailing trends toward standardized testing that require students to memorize a broad range of facts in a multitude of subjects.

“Rather than try to cram thousands of facts into a kid’s head, decide what’s really important and spend more time on it, on powerful concepts, rather than trivia that they forget after the test is over,’’ Gardner said. “What Ted would say is what’s missing now is the desire to learn, the passion to learn.’’

Dr. Sizer believed schools should inspire students to want to read and expand their knowledge even when tests weren’t looming. Students, he would say, should develop “habits of mind.’’

Affiliate schools, according to the Coalition for Essential Schools website, include Boston schools such as Boston Arts Academy, Boston Day and Evening Academy, Fenway High School, and Mission Hill School, along with Meridian Academy in Brookline and Brimmer and May School in Chestnut Hill.

In 1994, Dr. Sizer also founded and was the first director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. Two years later, in an interview with the Globe, he articulated a change that could have an immediate impact.

“Get the class size numbers down,’’ he told the Globe in 1996. “Give me a small school where teachers want to work together . . . and I’ll show you a school that doesn’t need a metal detector, I’ll show you a school without a high dropout rate, I’ll show you a school where children are doing well. These big, standardized, mechanized institutions that we received from our well-intentioned grandparents don’t work anymore. All that you have to do is shadow a child at school throughout the day. By the end of the day, you are so angry and bored that it is no surprise that students drop out. Nobody is doing anything.’’

Theodore Ryland Sizer was born in New Haven, the youngest of six children and the only son. He attended Pomfret School in Pomfret, Conn., before going to Yale University, from which he graduated in 1953 with a bachelor’s in English literature. Enlisting in the Army, he rose to the rank of captain and, in 1955, married Nancy Faust.

He spent his first years in education teaching at Roxbury Latin School and at Melbourne Grammar School in Australia. Using the GI Bill, he went to Harvard, where he received a master’s and a doctorate in education and history.

Dr. Sizer began teaching at Harvard and was named dean of the education graduate school in 1964, staying in that post until becoming headmaster of Phillips Academy in 1972.

“Phillips Academy has lost a legendary headmaster; the nation, a great visionary and an innovative leader of education reform,’’ Barbara Chase, head of school, said in a letter to Phillips Academy. “Yet we always will be richer for what he has left us: a sense of how schools can be their best - centered, rigorous, and most importantly, inspirational places for our young people, the nation’s future.’’

Leaving Phillips Academy in 1981, Dr. Sizer studied secondary schools around the country, research that formed the foundation of three influential books: “Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School,’’ in 1984; “Horace’s School: Redesigning the American High School,’’ in 1992; and “Horace’s Hope: What Works for the American High School.’’

Creating Horace, a composite character that was a high school teacher, he used the three books to explore the failings of education in the nation and how to create better institutions of learning.

Dr. Sizer had written books before that were tailored to an academic audience, but with the Horace trilogy, his wife said, “he thought: ‘I want to reach a wider group of people. I want them to hear what I have seen and what I think. How can I do this?’ ’’ She encouraged him to draw from the stories and vignettes he brought home from his travels to high schools as the framing narrative.

Although Dr. Sizer’s research and charisma could hold the attention of any room, he often preferred to listen and learn from those who inevitably gathered around him.

“I think he was always part of the conversation,’’ his wife said, “but he was sometimes a more silent partner than you would have expected from a guy who was the most prestigious guy in the room.’’

“It wasn’t that he demanded attention, he commanded attention by virtue of his ideas,’’ Gardner said. “He used ordinary words to create powerful ideas. That’s not true of many people in education.’’

In addition to his wife, Dr. Sizer leaves two sons, Theodore II of Stuttgart, Germany, and Hal of West Simsbury, Conn.; two daughters, Judith of Cambridge and Lyde of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.; two sisters, Hilda Sizer Warner of Washington, D.C., and Elizabeth Sizer Allen of Redding, Conn.; and 10 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on Nov. 21 in Memorial Church at Harvard University. Burial is private.

1 comment:

Blueday said...

The small schools movement owes a great debt to Ted.