AERO E-News 20.9.2011

Today there is good news and bad news. We have a great gathering to report about, but also we have received the sad news that John Gatto has had a stroke and progressive education pioneer Vito Perrone has died. Among the multiple ways he worked to improve education and assessment, Vito Perrone was for many years a member of FairTest’s Board of Directors. We send condolences to his family as we celebrate Vito’s life and recommit ourselves to his vision.

Thank you for supporting what we do! I hope you find this issue helpful in your work.



Recently we received the sad news that John Gatto has had a serious stroke. Last night I talked to his wife who told me that John was in the hospital for a week and has been in a rehab center for three weeks. He has speech problems and problems on his left side. But she said he can walk 40 steps now and his speech is getting better. We need John to return to full health! If you would like to send some good words to John you can write to me and I’ll put them together and get the messages to him. Send to

Some of our Gatto materials:
Weapons of Mass Instruction
The Underground History of American Education
2006 AERO Conference Keynote Address
2005 AERO Conference Keynote Address
2004 AERO Conference Keynote Address


On September 17th I had the opportunity to participate in an event that could be an important prototype for educational change. I was asked to be a presenter at “Parents Decide!” The inspiration of Dennis Pratt, retired from a career in high tech startups, he organized a presentation of a spectrum of educational choices to parents from central Massachusetts. Parents were invited to the free event through a variety of media outlets. There were presentations from representatives of supplemental programs in mainstream schools, charter schools, independent schools, and homeschool programs. My presentation was about learner-centered alternatives and was well received. After the presentation the parents came to the AERO table and gobbled up many of the books we had brought.

It was refreshing to be talking to people who are not yet part of any network but just searching for information to find choices for their children. The International Democratic Education Conference in England, the AERO Conference and the Rethinking Everything Conferences were great events, but it was nice to be in a situation in which I was not “preaching to the choir.”

I’ve spoken to Dennis about future plans and we are very interested in organizing similar events elsewhere. If you are interested in this, write to me at


There is a lot of exciting news about this year’s course. Several of last year’s class members who have now started their schools and programs will participate in the course to help new members. Chris Mercogliano, who wrote “How to Grow a School” will again help with the course and we have several new guest speakers. All class members will get the books “How to Grow a School,” and “Turning Points.” In addition they will receive the DVD of the School Starters workshop from this year’s AERO conference.

The places in the course are gradually being taken, but we have a record amount of interest, far more than there are places in the course. We hope we can find a way to accommodate everyone’s needs and get them into the course. If the course is filled, some may need to audit. Payment plans can be arranged for those who need it.

A couple of comments from former course members:

“This course has been spectacular– it really has opened many doors for me and made a *major* step in the right direction for me opening my school– both in what it has taught as well as in the people I have met.”

“This course has been immensely helpful. Among other things, I’ve discovered that there is a considerable body of literature on the subject of alternative education, but the literature is NOT readily available. You won’t encounter it as required reading in teacher preparation courses. You won’t find it in most public libraries.”

Click here to learn more or sign up for the Start a School 101 course.

Also, our Spanish-language School Starter’s course will again be offered this year. Early bird registration will go on until October 7. 

Click here for more information or to sign up for the Spanish School Starter’s course.


The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and the US Department of Education assembled leaders from 20 of the largest school district for a discussion of providing choices. Their report Reforming Districts Through Choice, Autonomy, Equity, and Accountability: An Overview of the Voluntary Public School Choice Directors Meeting strongly affirmed the importance of providing learning alternatives of various kinds including open enrollment, magnet schools and charter schools for all students to better meet the needs and preferences of parents and students. School districts need to take leadership for a seamless combination of choices even if it means relinquishing levels of control.

From the International Association of Learning Alternatives‘ standpoint, this is an overdue but welcome affirmation of our position that all students should have a choice of distinctively different programs.


Speaking of IALA, they made a donation of $1000 to the AERO matching fund. The fund now stands at $5675 not including the eventual 50% match, from 60 AERO supporters in 21 states and five countries. We are aiming for a total of $20,000 to get us through the year, when we expect we can receive more foundation grants. If you have not contributed please do so if you can. All donors have now received the Internet link to the keynotes from the recent AERO conference, as you will when you contribute.

Thanks to all who are supporting AERO! If you can become a sustaining supporter let us know and monthly donations will continue to keep us going.

You can donate to the AERO annual fund here.

by Thomas Ratliff, member Texas State Board of Education
September 12, 2011

In the fourth week of this academic year, I would like to borrow and tweak a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to describe what is happening in public schools all over Texas, “The State Doth Test Too Much, Methinks.”

Educators and school board members across the state are becoming painfully aware of how much testing the Texas Legislature has inflicted on our local schools and our children.

Did you know, this year our public schools will spend almost 1 out of every 5 days conducting tests for the State of Texas? Yes, that’s right, an average of almost one day a week, or nearly 20% of the school year. According to the Texas Education Agency, Texas public schools will spend 34 days out of the 185 day long school year conducting tests mandated by state government, an average of 4 days per student. Keep in mind; this figure doesn’t include the number of days spent taking other tests (6-weeks tests, weekly quizzes, semester exams) or getting students ready to take the state’s tests. Due to the high stakes nature of these tests, schools spend extra time getting their students ready to take the test by working on testing strategies, and other things that take away from learning the material. I think this is over the top.

We have all heard politicians talk about wanting government to run like a business. If a business had its employees take 20% of their time to fill out government reports about how they are doing their job, that business wouldn’t be around very long. It’s not productive and adds little value. As the old saying goes, “A cow doesn’t get heavier the more you weigh it.”

To put a dollar figure on this problem, consider this. Texas spends $44 billion per year on public education. Of that, almost $1 billion is spent on testing days, just for the state. If you are looking for ways to make public education more efficient, this seems like a good place to start.

To be clear, I support accountability. Should there be some general measure of how our public schools compare to one another? Absolutely. But I also believe the State of Texas should be accountable to the parents of public school students and explain why we must endure so much TESTING at the expense of LEARNING.

What these figures tell me is very simple. The Texas Legislature doesn’t truly believe in the term “Independent” School District. The Texas Legislature apparently believes that if THE STATE doesn’t test the kids, NOBODY will. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe in our local schools and trust them to do what’s best for their students. We don’t need more mandates or rules from Austin or Washington. We need less.

There was a day when the Texas Legislature set the standard of student expectations and left the rest up to the local school districts to get the students to meet or exceed that standard. But just like the days of Shakespeare, those days are long gone.

About the author

Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress | Two Thirds Design