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Again, No ‘Genius’ Grant

Posted on | September 30, 2014 | Comments Off on Again, No ‘Genius’ Grant

The postal service lost the letter.  Again!  I even delayed my vacation to be waiting by the mailbox for the trusted Michael the mailman to deliver the good news that I had been selected for a MacArthur “genius” fellowship.  But nothing.

The announcement on September 17 that 21 new Fellows had been picked, and I was not among them, came as another blow to my fragile ego.  But what a deal it would be:

Fellows will each receive a no-strings-attached stipend of $625,000, paid out over five years. The Fellowship comes with no stipulations or reporting requirements, and allows recipients maximum freedom to follow their own creative visions.

But in truth, these sound like some folks that I’d like to have lunch with.


Genius travels.  Talented people congregate because being in the company of other energetic and driven people multiplies their own disciplined gifts.  And when they travel, they come to California.

A foundation press release notes, “Comparing birthplace to location at the time of the award, the most popular destination state for Fellows was California, followed by New York.  For example, 2009 Fellow Camille Utterback, born in Indiana, and 2008 Fellow Walter Kitundu, born in Minnesota – both artists – lived in San Francisco at the time of the award.”

Then, as a sobering aside to the self-limiting costs of aggregation, it notes that adjusted for size the states with the most resident MacArthur fellows are New Mexico, Alaska, and Vermont.

I’ve Been Away and Didn’t Tell You

Posted on | September 2, 2014 | Comments Off on I’ve Been Away and Didn’t Tell You

I’m sorry.  I’ve been away for a while and didn’t tell you.  Writing the ‘On California’ blog at EdWeek.org has become such a full time job—my wife Leanne thinks it is an obsession—that I’ve had little leftover time for Mindworkers.

Also, given that I have another outlet for educational policy writing, I need to rethink what to do with this space, and that’s a work in process.

Just to reflect, in many ways ‘On California’ is the project I was built to undertake.  It’s the newspaper column I never had.  It’s a way to combine my early training and instincts for writing with four decades of social science.

In another way, though, it is tough work for an old guy, and there are days that I think that something more contemplative would be better for my soul.

I promise I will come back soon.  As soon as I figure out what to say.

Interviews with Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck

Posted on | May 27, 2014 | Comments Off on Interviews with Tom Torlakson and Marshall Tuck

I interviewed State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and his challenger in the June 3 primary Marshall Tuck.  Excerpts from those interviews are posted at ‘On California.’  The full text transcriptions are available by clicking: Torlakson or Tuck.

BTW: ‘On California’ is off to a good start.  Nearly 3,000 visitors in the first month, and we are still getting the word out.

Note: The interviews with Torlakson and Tuck have been removed.  They were targets of spammers and bogus comments.  The transcripts are available by emailing me./ ctk



A Small Tribute to a Fallen Photographer

Posted on | April 4, 2014 | Comments Off on A Small Tribute to a Fallen Photographer

I weep for fallen journalists, particularly photographers who put themselves in harm’s way to tell us stories that we find inconvenient.

I never met Anja Niedringhaus, the Associated Press photographer who was intentionally shot by Afghan police officer on Friday, but I cry for her nonetheless.  Reporting war is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.  According to one count, 16 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001, twice the number that died in World War II.  We don’t have flags and special ceremonies for these fallen, so those of us who write and photograph should at least pause.

Take a moment and look at her images courtesy of the Atlantic blog In Focus.

Then ask yourself, why are we there?  Who are we helping?


‘On California’ Launches at EdWeek.org

Posted on | March 25, 2014 | Comments Off on ‘On California’ Launches at EdWeek.org

On CA logo

Beginning today, Education Week is launching a new blog about the Golden State, which I will be conducting, one hopes with the help of a few friends.  The first pieces are up at http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/on_california/

Go, look, comment.

Soon, I will write a piece about why I am doing this, which will be posted on the EdWeek site.

‘California The Great Exception’ at Education Week

Posted on | March 3, 2014 | Comments Off on ‘California The Great Exception’ at Education Week

Education Week has published an opinion piece about California that I think sets the tone for substantive discussions about the direction of public education in the United States.  The state, pointedly, is not following Arne Duncan’s lead, but it is not following Diane Ravitch either.  It’s headed in a third, or is it a fourth, way.  In any case, please read and comment.  There will be more coming along from EdWeek.  Stay tuned for an announcement.

‘On the Road’ with the Common Core

Posted on | February 21, 2014 | Comments Off on ‘On the Road’ with the Common Core

Charter Oak Superintendent Mike Hendricks and Assistant Superintendent Jeanine Robertson

Charter Oak Superintendent Mike Hendricks and Assistant Superintendent Jeanine Robertson

I’m headed out on what I am calling the Common Core Road Trip, to see what schools in California are doing with the prescription to teach to “fewer and deeper” standards.  Over the next weeks and months, I’ll be traveling the state, and telling the stories of how the 30,000-foot glossy promises of increased student engagement and substantive learning look at ground level.

As reported earlier, I am following the efforts of the Associated Pomona Teachers and the Pomona Unified School District to use interactions about the Common Core as a way to hit the reset button in labor-management relations.  More about them later.

This week, my first stop was in Charter Oak, a 5,700-student unified school district in Covina, where Jeanine Robertson taught for 31 years and  was the teacher union president before becoming a principal and then assistant superintendent for instruction.

On Thursday, She and I visited three Charter Oak schools, saw students working on the new standards, and talked to them, their teachers, and school administrators about what it takes to transfer from a world driven by “factoids” to one that asks students to explain why and how they took a particular pathway to solving math problem or to understanding a story or text.

Much more will follow here and in a new space that will be opening in a few weeks.

The DMV and Expensive French Shoes: Who Treads Better?

Posted on | February 16, 2014 | Comments Off on The DMV and Expensive French Shoes: Who Treads Better?

Repaired shoes

Repaired shoes with tag showing that they were received on August 8, and newspaper from the date they were returned, November 22.

I’ve had a close encounter with the California DMV.  The dreaded Division of Motor Vehicles required that I take the exam before it would renew my driver’s license.  Since I had not taken the written driver’s test for nearly 40 years, the experience filled me with much trepidation, and put me in a room with many 15-18 year olds.

The DMV computer was having a bad network day, and not everything was going smoothly: the lines were long, and I was prepared to grumble about government incompetence.  But surprise: the DMV folks were actually nice, well informed, and helpful.  They circulated among the people waiting, asking what they had come in for, passing out the proper forms, and giving folks clipboards to write on.  Service with a smile, mostly, continued throughout the process.  Despite the computer problems, I was fingerprinted, eye examined, tested, photographed, and out the door in 75 minutes.

Not bad for government work, I thought.  And I contrasted this with the service I’d received recently from the maker of expensive French shoes.  Over the years, I’ve purchased several pairs of pricey Mephisto shoes.  They fit my feet, wear well, and they can be rebuilt to last for decades.  I still wear a pair I bought in 1991.

Last summer I noticed that the soles on a pair of old favorites were wearing out, and so I sent them to the company’s repair service in San Diego, which advertises that the turnaround time would be about four weeks, which seems plenty long enough.

The shoes I sent on August 1 were returned on November 22, 16 weeks including shipping.  The proffered reason was that needed materials had to be shipped from France.  Gee, they’re French shoes; that would be where the repair materials might come from, and—last I knew—cargo planes from Paris landed in California every day.  These soles must have been on a container ship that traversed the Panama Canal.

Mephisto didn’t offer even a hint of an apology much less a refund or reduction price for its lousy service, which in retrospect left me thinking, I’d rather deal with that most dread agency of government, the DMV.  So, when I pass the fancy French shoe rack in the future, I’ll keep on walking.

(BTW: read the manual and take the practice tests.  It’s fun to pass with flying colors while the youngsters struggle.)

The Conversation I didn’t Have with Barack Obama

Posted on | January 8, 2014 | Comments Off on The Conversation I didn’t Have with Barack Obama

Obama Bobblehead

Obama Bobblehead meets Chuck on the beach

12/31/13 Kailua, Hawaii: I’ve been working on an Obama sighting for several days now.  He’s vacationing here, and we jog on the same beach…just not at the same time.  But a rum-punch inspired dream conjured up this conversation:

CTK:  Nice day, Mr. President.

BHO: Chuck!  Fancy meeting you here.

CTK: Just vacationing with my family.

BHO: Me too.  (waving at another runner) It’s friendlier here than in Washington.

CTK: (noticing that the runner smiled and waved with a full hand)  I can see that.  They’ve even got a welcome banner down at the Island Snow place.

BHO: They should, after all the business I’ve sent their way.  Who would have thought you could make a living on shave ice? People follow the motorcade when we go there.  The stuff is full of sugar, but it’s good.

CTK:  The root beer?

BHO: Yea, root beer rules…. So, Chuck, tell me what you’re thinking.

CTK: Inequality, Mr. President.  I loved your speech.  Stay with it.

BHO: Is anyone other than Robert Reich and the New York Times paying attention?

CTK: Not too many, but remember the Occupy Movement.

BHO: Only barely, and that’s the problem.

CTK: Hang in there, Mr. President, inequality is the civil rights issue of this generation.  You know the stats as well as I do.

BHO: But how do I get people to pay attention.

CTK: Bully pulpit.  Do what TR did and make friends with journalists who want to go after the story.

BHO: It’s complicated.

CTK: Personalize the attack.  Over and over.

BHO: That’s risky.

CTK: So is losing.  Do you really think that the republic will hold together without a solid middle class and a working class who has hope for the future?  What happened to that campaign organization?  All I get from Democrats is scare pitches for money.

BHO: So, I thought that you were supposed to be interested in education policy; why not start with schools as the great equalizer?

CTK: Schools can’t help kids when opportunity is limited to the top 10 percent.  But I do have an education policy plea.

BHO: Yes.

CTK: You gotta’ realize that Duncan’s plan isn’t working.  He’s lost the Red states over federal intrusion.  He’s lost California over teacher evaluation.  He could have had anything he wanted in an ESEA revision, but he wasted his political capital on Race to the Top, and now he’s piddling around with waivers.  That’s not accomplishing anything.

BHO: So what should we do?

CTK: Give everybody a waiver.  That will kill off No Child Left Behind and let the Common Core of Standards and its assessments kick in.

BHO: That’s it?

CTK: That’s about all Duncan can do.

BHO: But schools are still failing our students, particularly poor Black and Latino kids.

CTK: I know.  It turns my stomach and troubles my soul. But the federal tool kit is not all that large, and your administration is running out of time.

BHO: That’s the case.

CTK: The Trojan horse in education reform is to change how students learn.  When your girls want to look up something what to they do?

BHO: They Google it, of course.

CTK: That’s my point about education.   I’d take the remaining Race to the Top money and focus it on getting learning tools in the hands of students.  Kids could carry around machines that would teach them algebra or history?

BHO: Nah, they’d just play games.

CTK: What if the games taught them algebra or history?

BHO: Possibly. Can we talk more later?  Hey, Happy New Year.  Gotta’ run.


(Dr. Leanne Kerchner enters).  Wake up Chuck, you’re talking in your sleep again.

CTK: I just had a great conversation with Obama.

LBK: In your dreams.





Reporting on Common Core starts in Pomona with candid talk between labor and management

Posted on | December 19, 2013 | Comments Off on Reporting on Common Core starts in Pomona with candid talk between labor and management


Pat Dolan leading discussion in Pomona

Pat Dolan leading discussion in Pomona

I spent two days this week with the teachers and administrators of the Pomona Unified School District as they sought to find a way forward in implementing the Common Core.

Associated Pomona Teachers took seriously the requirement in California law that school districts were supposed to “consult” over implementing the new standards and testing system.  (This requirement was part of the conditions attached to the $1.25 billion that Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature sent to school districts to prepare for the new standards.)

Pat Dolan and his associate, Ann Delehant, who may be the best labor-management process consultants in the country, led administrators, school board members, classified workers, and teachers through a series of conversations designed to allow them to judge their capacity to work together.

Pomona was the first stop for me on what will become The Common Core Road Trip, an investigation into how the glossy promises of higher standards and deeper learning meet the reality of districts, schools, and classrooms.

Morgan Brown, the executive director of APT and superintendent Richard Martinez heard some unvarnished opinion about the sometimes-rocky relationships between teachers and the district, but anger and tension flowed rather seamlessly into some concrete ideas about sharing work and decisions.

I’ll have much more to say later, but I didn’t want the week to pass without recognizing the substantive work going on and saying thanks for letting me sit in.

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Charles Taylor Kerchner is an Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Fellow at Claremont Graduate University. My daily musings appear in the blog. The archives of my EdWeek blog are available via link under the 'On California' head. Some of my photography can be seen by clicking on 'Gallery.' And numerous links to academic work and other research and commentary can be found by clicking on 'Projects.'


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