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Letter to Mr. Levine

Posted By: Ivan Hannel on July 12, 2002
Mr. Levine's article was probably the most balanced and best written piece on the future reality of the voucher/charter movement that I've seen yet.

Like him, and with the same reasoning, I'm guessing for the lower scenario. Being from Arizona and seeing our current crop of charter schools, I certainly hope so, though I also look with hesitation at my state's public system.

There are two factors he did not mention (with good reason) that might increase the movement to nonpublic schools. The two things that could spur a movement towards vouchers are increased change in technology combined with heightened economic competition from abroad. I guess one could call them a sort of "macro" X-factor in the voucher/charter/private/home schooling scenario.

Competition from abroad might make regular Americans more skeptical of the ability of public schools to educate students to be competitive in the new "new economy." Technology that begins to replace many workers may do just the same. I think that this is a possibility even if public schools are actually successful in improving students' skills in the specific domains of reading, writing, and mathematics.

Heightened economic competitiveness depends not only on cognitive ability but on a culture of risk-taking. Though certainly the US leads the world in this area at the moment, in part because of the academic excellence of many schools, this relative balance is certain to diminsh. It's hard to qualify, let alone quantify, but it seems to me that other countries are really moving forward in this area of "entreprenurial IQ."

I'm not sure what public schools, or any schools, can do to inculcate this attitude in students. In my own experience with so many schools and districts, as I watch students of low and middle class, I am often surprised at how passive they are in attitude. They often have significant cognitive potential but their attitude towards the possibility of their own success, defined academically or otherwise, is diminished.

In our work with schools and districts throughout the US, we train teachers in how to use questioning strategies to help students develop critical thinking skills. Of course, I am happy by the increased student achievement attributed to us by districts on several of the states' criterion-based tests. This is all to the good.

But what's intriguing to me is that my recent book, Highly Effective Questioning: Developing the Seven Steps of Critical Thinking, is now being translated in Chinese (Cantonese?) in Hong Kong. I also have another business venture where the manufacture is, again, in China. Perhaps its just seeing these two small ripples in the larger pond, but if the economy for the lower and middle classes becomes more competitive, I hypothesize that parents will turn to any kind of schooling that is different from what they themselves experienced. Given that the vast majority of students are still in public schools, it would seem that the public system has the most to lose in any type of change, prompted by whatever set of reasons, including the two I have mentioned.

In any event, I thank Mr. Levine for his cogent article. It succintly succeeds where this post has rambled.

Ivan Hannel, J.D.
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 Letter to Mr. Levine by Ivan Hannel on July 12, 2002
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