Marie’s Musings – May 2018

Home » Marie’s Musings – May 2018
Thoughts on education, publishing, and other intellectual titillations – by Marie Brown, Consulting Editorial Project Director

***The following comments, views, and opinions are solely those of Marie Brown, and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Publishing Services, its management, and staff.***


“Parents should boycott schools until gun laws are fixed.”  – Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education


Sadly, most of the education-related news for this month centered around yet another school massacre—the 22nd such event in 2018—this time in Santa Fe, Texas.  Students and teachers were brutally assassinated while innocently going about their daily school activities.  Astoundingly, up to May 19th, this year has been deadlier for schoolchildren than it was for service members –29 children, 13 military (combat and non-combat).  It seems as though every day, there is another such incident reported in the news. Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, publicly silent until now, tweeted the following: “Parents of public school students should consider pulling their children out of schools until the nation passes new restrictions on gun laws.”

MY TAKE (Bias Alert)  We continue to be shocked and saddened by each new school shooting. We hear of our government’s thoughts and prayers, and empty promises to make our schools safe.  But nothing changes.  Duncan’s proposal is far-fetched.  Until the gun lobby’s influence over the President and Congress is somehow challenged, guns will continue to be a way of life in the United States.

And children and their teachers will continue to be killed.

Yes, we also need to better identify potential shooters, but that is a different challenge than removing the easy accessibility of their potential weapons.


Education Week published its annual report card for American students.  A nationally representative group of nearly 585,000 4th and 8th graders took the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2017—the first time the tests were administered digitally.  The results show no change at all for 4th graders in either math or reading, or for 8th graders in math, and a modest one-point gain in reading since the tests were last given in 2017.

In a related report, U.S. 4th graders performed surprisingly well on a new international test of online reading ability. The findings come from the first administration of ePIRLS, a new version of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study.  The top-performing international school systems on the exam were Singapore, Ireland, and Norway.


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is collaborating with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (the philanthropic and investment arm of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician, Priscilla Chan). The two groups are jointly funding a $12 million initiative to support new ways of tailoring classroom instruction to individual students—to support a vision of “whole-child personalized learning” that aims to customize each child’s educational experience based on their academic, social-emotional, and physical strengths, need and preferences. Personalized learning is increasingly gaining interest from educators. This movement, together with the $$ to fund it, bears watching.


Diane Ravitch, whether you agree with her ideas or not, continues to be a provocative voice for education—and a voice that needs to be heard, analyzed, challenged perhaps, but never overlooked or dismissed. Before “disruption” became popular, Ravitch was making waves and making educators reconsider their traditional ways of thinking. She recently addressed a group of public educators in Santa Fe, NM.  Here are a few nuggets I gleaned from the transcript of her talk.

  • Teaching should be child-centered, not test driven.
  • The testing industry drives and profits from excessive testing to the detriment of quality education.
  • Best practice requires only occasional testing, and only to diagnose how a child needs to be supported.
  • Do away with national standards.
  • The present agenda of the U.S. Department of Education is to fund the expansion of public charter schools, thereby diminishing funding of traditional schools.
  • Be aware that some corporations’ agendas include privatizing our public education system.


Chinese companies are making moves in the U.S. education market as they search not just for financial returns but for technologies and business strategies they can bring back to serve parents and schools in Asia. They have shown a hunger for American products in STEM, adaptive learning, and communication platforms. Steven Gal, a senior lecturer of management at Cornell University, said that these moves underscore two different priorities among Chinese investors: “the need to move new money into other ventures and a high cultural value placed on education, creating demand for innovative American products in China.”


John J. “Jack” Lynch was named Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s president, CEO, and director in 2017. Since taking over at HMH, Lynch has overseen a series of transformations at the organization:

  • Created a 13-member executive leadership team, and restructured upper management with two general managers of curriculum – one for core materials, the other for supplemental.
  • Announced plans to spend between $140-$150 million on developing “next generation” curriculum products.
  • Recast HMH as a “global learning company, not a publisher.


Nana Banerjee has recently been appointed by McGraw-Hill Education as its new president and CEO. Banerjee does not come from the school business world, but rather from Versick Analytics, a data provider focused on insurance, energy, and financial service sectors. McGraw-Hill Education is actively adapting and transforming itself by introducing new learning solutions built on technologies of scale, new forms of data, and advanced analytics and AI –joining the movement to personalized learning. The company sees their new CEO and president as a perfect complement to their new goals and their newly-minted name as a “learning sciences provider”.


More than 3,000 K-12 campuses around the country have switched to year-round schooling swapping out the traditional two-month hiatus for a series of shorter breaks through the year. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons:


  • It can stem summer learning loss.
  • It can reduce teacher and student burnout.
  • It can allow for activities to enrich students’ educational experiences by adding intersessions or creative courses.
  • It allows for health care, and other services to be available year round.


  • It would be difficult for working parents job commitments.
  • Tourism and other industries that count on summer vacationers would suffer.
  • High schoolers might be less able to get jobs.
  • It takes away from students’ time to experience anything outside of the classroom and reduces teachers’ time for professional development and growth.

What do I think?  I guess it should be up to the individual school districts to decide.  As a former first-grade teacher, I needed that full two months to recharge my mind and body in order to be ready for the exuberant, high energy six-year-olds waiting for me in September.


I am closing this month’s blog with two little items—both of which have nothing to do with either education or publishing, but perhaps will titillate you.

** There is a company in Japan called Family Romance, one of a number of such agencies that rent out replacement relatives. Here’s how it works—for a fairly hefty sum (about $300,) you can “rent” a spouse, a child, an uncle, a grandmother, etc. for the day—to take to dinner, to go to a concert, to attend someone’s wedding, graduation, parent-teacher conference, school interview, etc, to have someone accompany you when you don’t have a someone in your life to be with you. There can be no physical hanky-panky, and the fee is for one time— renewal, of course, for an additional fee. For more information about this fascinating concept, read the article, “A Theory of Relativity,” from the April 30, 2018 issue of The New Yorker.

** Perhaps the following 85-year old Chinese man would have had an answer to his problem had he been living in Japan.  Sadly, the man was recently widowed, and he was overcome with grief and loneliness.  Not able to deal with the crushing solitude, he put an ad in the local newspaper asking if someone would adopt him. (OK, I shed a few tears every time I think about this.)

That’s all, folks!

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