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Practically Idealistic blog
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  John Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
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Friday, July 25, 2008

"Toward Excellence with Equity," by Ronald F. Ferguson

I picked up a copy of  Toward Excellence with Equity: An Emerging Vision for Closing the Achievement Gap, by Ronald F. Ferguson, a mentor in graduate school. Though several of the book's chapters are already familiar from his earlier work, this appears to be an important, timely compendium. So far, I've read only the introduction, in which he justly suggests:

“. . . a social and cultural movement for excellence with equity—a movement that goes beyond the boundaries of the schoolyard to include families, communities, out-of-school supports, youth culture, and civic engagement. The key conception of equity is that group-level identities should be worthless as predictors of achievement. While all groups should rise toward excellence, those farthest behind should rise most rapidly. . . . I call on all Americans to provide high-quality developmental supports and experiences to children from all racial, ethnic, and social-class origins until excellence is a normal outcome and membership in a particular group no longer predicts anything of consequence in our society. American rhetoric will then have become our American reality.”


12:10 am edt 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

School Construction, Benefits and Costs

New Haven has benefited from an extensive State-supported school construction and renovation program, totaling some $1.5 billion, over a decade.  With building materials and other costs rising, and with associated debt service a growing concern here and across Connecticut, the pace of the program has slowed.  Some school projects have been delayed, and efforts at "value engineering" have tried to save money without meaningful effects on building quality.

The Treasurer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, concerned about school building costs there, is suggesting a series of model high school (and perhaps eventually elementary/middle school) designs to limit costs of state-subsidized school construction.  Slopes, wetlands, and other issues could affect the feasibility of such modular designs. 

The merits and applicability of such a program--given practical, architectural as well as aesthetic considerations--are unclear.  Still, the idea deserves study.  While pursuing high-quality learning environments, it should be possible--whether through model designs or simply architectural imagination--to harness facilities savings for core educational purposes and budget relief.

According to "Treasurer wants limit to designs for schools," this July 18 Boston Globe article by James Vaznis and Rachana Rathi:

"State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill, trying to head off what he calls 'Taj Mahal' high schools . . . wants cities and towns to begin using off-the-shelf building designs that could cut school-project costs by 30 percent."

According to the report Growth and Disparity: A Decade of U.S. Public School Construction by Building Educational Success Together (BEST), Connecticut ranks second nationally in school construction spending—and Massachusetts third—understandable given both states' relative wealth.  (BEST is a partnership that includes The 21st Century School Fund.) 

The study looked at the period 1995-2004, during which the states that spent the most money per student on school construction were Alaska ($12,842), Connecticut ($11,345), and Massachusetts ($10,735), compared with a national average of $6519. 

New Haven's school construction/renovation program has helped make its magnet and other schools more appealing and to create more conducive learning environments for students and teachers.  Increased pre-kindergarten capacity, and use of the facilities for broader after-school and neighborhood purposes, have also resulted.

A new building is far from a guarantor of academic progress.  There are certainly cases of schools, locally as nationally, that have achieved encouraging successes without new buildings—New Haven Academy (housed in swing space), for example, and some charter schools come to mind.  Historically in the U.S. as in other countries (e.g., India, where even now electrical service is erratic and air-conditioning a luxury, let alone state-of-the art computing labs, swimming pools, and so on) serious academic work has occurred despite the absence of the most advanced technologies.

Yet school spaces can be either a boon or a detriment to learning.  Surely the academic improvements at New Haven's King/Robinson School, for instance, have been eased by a building that is a radical change from the previous, gloomy Robinson structure.  Few affluent suburban public or private schools skimp on facilities.  Stasis can bring stagnation, especially in science and technology.  Cities need to keep pace, to the extent possible with facilities as with teacher quality and other fundamental priorities.  The Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, in contrast to Plessy v. Ferguson, concluded that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."  Vastly inferior facilities in segregated schools were part of the problem, something modern educators and cities are rightly seeking to address to the extent resources allow. 

(The report cited above, Growth and Disparity: A Decade of U.S. Public School Construction, demonstrates this point vividly.) 

See (former New Haven resident) Algernon's Austin's May 18 post, "Class and Racial Disparities in School Construction Spending" on his Thora Institute blog: http://www.thorainstitute.com

Also of possible interest: the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities.

7:02 am edt 

Friday, July 11, 2008

Connecticut's Environment

An update on posts below from May 19 and May 27. . .

The State Council on Environmental Quality recently issued its 2007 report, concluding that "results were mixed" and that "progress is hard to find in most leading environmental indicators":

The State Department of Environmental Protection has this plan on open space acquisition and preservation:

Also see:

1000 Friends of Connecticut
Environment Connecticut
  and ConnPIRG

8:37 pm edt 

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