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John Thompson
John Thompson was an award-winning historian, lobbyist, and guerrilla-gardener who became an award-winning inner city teacher after crack and gangs hit his neighborhood. He blogs at and is writing a book on 18 years of idealistic politics in the classroom and realistic politics outside. A former oilfield roughneck and hitch-hiker, a current backpacker and Obamamaniac, he is a "people person" who seeks compromises, while defending the principles of the liberal arts and constitutional democracy. He is a nonstop memo writer and enthusiastic basketball player, believing that education is an affair of the heart not a narrow part of the intellect.

Entries by John Thompson

'Repeal and Replace' Common Core

(0) Comments | Posted April 21, 2014 | 2:18 PM

The American Enterprise Institute's Rick Hess writes that Common Core critics have raised valid concerns but they've failed to put forward a "notion" of what happens next. I agree that this is a problem. But, the conservative school reformer is on shaky ground when claiming that repeal in...

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How Incompetent Tests Are Terrifying 3rd Graders

(3) Comments | Posted April 13, 2014 | 2:57 PM

The "embarrassing truth" for Tulsa World editor Mike Strain is that he missed two of the six sample questions on the test that Oklahoma 3rd graders must pass to be promoted. The embarrassing truth for society is that we are stressing our children, so some vomit...

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What If We Had a Test and Nobody Took It?

(1) Comments | Posted April 6, 2014 | 4:16 PM

In a rational world, the public school test prep season wouldn't heat up during the winter and the first of April wouldn't signify the beginning of the high-stakes test marathon, and the end of learning during the last quarter of the school year. Before NCLB, testing didn't distort instruction and...

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LA School Board Member Steve Zimmer Stands With Students Against 'Vergara Fiction'

(0) Comments | Posted March 31, 2014 | 2:44 PM

Los Angeles School Board member Steve Zimmer nailed the essence of Vergara versus California, the corporate reformers' legal assault on teachers' due process rights. Vergara is one more insidious attempt by the billionaires to impose a simplistic competition-driven ideology on complex issues of policy and practice.

Zimmer should...

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Coming Together to Become Our Brothers' Keepers

(1) Comments | Posted March 5, 2014 | 3:18 PM

I believe the real Barack Obama is the one who sat cross-legged with students at Washington DC's Powell Elementary School. As the Washington Post's Emma Brown explained, the president rejected the offer of a stool, "taking one boy into his lap as the class spelled out a sentence."

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No Moratorium, No Common Core

(2) Comments | Posted February 24, 2014 | 12:56 PM

No Moratorium, No Common Core. That's not a political slogan. It is reality.

Real world, there are only so many hours in a day, and time is running out on the opportunity to supply materials, training and, above all, the supports that low-income students will need to meet Common Core...

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Rebranding Common Core

(38) Comments | Posted February 3, 2014 | 11:58 AM

Test-driven reform has largely failed but, until recently, it was as great of a public relations success as anything that the billionaires' bounty could buy. They branded teacher-bashing and union-busting as the "21st century civil rights movement." High-stakes bubble-in test prep was spun as "High Expectations!" Defenders of the principle...

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Why a Nice Philanthropist Takes on "Bad" Teachers -- and the Rest of Us

(0) Comments | Posted January 23, 2014 | 9:50 AM

The Am Law Litigation Daily reports that Vergara vs California is known colloquially as the "bad teacher" lawsuit. Perhaps it should be called the "nice philanthropist" suit. An entrepreneur named David Welch and other corporate funders believe that five California laws violate the rights of poor children of...

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Debating Amiri Baraka in the Urban Classroom

(1) Comments | Posted January 15, 2014 | 10:23 AM

The first day of school is devoted to "Orientation," where class procedures and expectations are set, and the team effort of building a classroom learning culture starts once again. One of our first lessons built on PBS's The United States of Poetry. Our inner city high school students...

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Teachers Are Workers

(0) Comments | Posted January 9, 2014 | 1:01 PM

Since I retired from teaching high school in the inner city, I especially look forward to holidays for getting together with former colleagues. As we teachers meet each others' partners, the ubiquitous question is "what do you do for a living?" This Christmas, our introductions led to the question of...

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The Principles That Unite Us

(0) Comments | Posted December 11, 2013 | 10:58 AM

During my two decades as an American Federation of Teachers member, I often worried that we were too moderate. Truth be told, I bet most teachers union members and leaders have shared such concerns. Each time I took a dispassionate look at the political facts we faced, however, I supported...

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The Education Funders' Polite Post-Mortem on Mayor Bloomberg's School Reforms

(5) Comments | Posted November 27, 2013 | 4:05 PM

The Education Funders Research Initiative's "Building Blocks for Better Schools," which caps a three-part analysis of education reform in New York City, turns diplomatic language into a fine art. This scholarly study by Clara Hemphill, Kim Nauer Andrew White and Thomas Jacob says of Mike Bloomberg's controversial policies,...

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Every Generation Must Find Its Own Way to Teach "Grit"

(3) Comments | Posted November 15, 2013 | 7:00 AM

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

I was raised in the Baby Boom era when parents were committed to preparing children to take advantage of opportunities that had been unavailable during the Great Depression. Parents and mentors were devoted to teaching us...

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How Should We Read NAEP Test Score Results in Washington D.C.?

(8) Comments | Posted November 13, 2013 | 1:48 PM

When Michelle Rhee began her reign of erroneous terror on D.C. schools, I limited my comments to the national implications of her policies. As Arne Duncan said, the District had "more money than god," but it was an even bigger mess than the schools that I knew.

In lieu...

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Will President Obama Stop Supporting Corporate Reformers?

(4) Comments | Posted October 30, 2013 | 5:19 PM

President Barack Obama visited Brooklyn's P-TECH High School and praised their results, as well as New York City's and his administration's school "reforms." As the president placed a smiley-face flag on the tip of the iceberg, he seemed to be unaware of the brutality of the market-driven system...

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The Best of Teaching and the Worst of School "Reform"

(2) Comments | Posted September 18, 2013 | 9:14 AM

Rafe Esquith's Real Talk for Real Teachers and James Owens' Confessions of a Bad Teacher both become more powerful when read next to each other. Esquith, the superstar author of Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire starts with lessons for new teachers, then he offers advice...

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Can the Education Trust and Teachers Work Together?

(1) Comments | Posted September 11, 2013 | 10:49 AM

When drafting a response to Joy Resmovits' "Dream Deferred," which drew on the work of the Education Trust, I reread publications issued by that pro-reform organization. The Ed Trust has long pushed test-driven policies that I see as destructive; in my experience, their rushed "reforms" have inflicted the...

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Alison Stewart's History of D.C.'s Dunbar High School and Its Future

(1) Comments | Posted September 5, 2013 | 4:31 PM

Alison Stewart's First Class is the history of the rise and fall of Washington D.C.'s elite Dunbar High School. It tells a story that cannot be ignored if we really believe that school improvement can be the civil rights movement of the 21st century.

Stewart tells the...

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How Should We Teach the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington?

(3) Comments | Posted August 27, 2013 | 5:05 PM

I miss teaching. This week, my inner-city high school students would be finishing a unit on the 1963 March on Washington. We would have been doing it under the cover of some creative writing, however, as I would phrase my lesson plans so it would not appear as if I...

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Will Common Core Force Charters to Go Back to Their Roots?

(4) Comments | Posted August 21, 2013 | 3:44 PM

When New York City replaced its old-fashioned bubble-in high stakes tests with Common Core assessments, the predictable result was a 50% drop in test scores. The decreases were sharper in high-poverty schools. The collapse in test scores was most dramatic in previously high-performing charters that took the test prep short...

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