Monday, April 30, 2012

From pineapples to small schools, alum Mike Klonsky's work is no small talk

From UIC Alumni Magazine, UIC College of Education

April 30, 2012

Professor Michael Klonsky teaches in the College of Education at DePaul University in Chicago. He also serves as the national director of the Small Schools Workshop, and on the national steering committee of Save Our Schools, a national movement dedicated to supporting public schools. Klonsky has blogged, spoken and written extensively on school reform issues with a focus on urban school restructuring. Klonsky received his MA in Education Studies in 1992 and his PhD in Curriculum & Instruction from UIC in 1996. He talks with Communications Director Eva Moon.

Can you talk about how your UIC education laid the groundwork for your future work?

The college, under both of our deans, Larry Braskamp and then Vicki Chou, was a wonderful place to learn and develop as an educator. My personal interaction with some of the leading lights in the curriculum field exposed me to a broad range of theoretical and practical approaches to public education. It was Dr. [William] Schubert who first and most creatively raised these three fundamental questions to his graduate students: "What knowledge is most worthwhile? Why is it worthwhile? And how is it acquired or created?"

Can you tell me how you got your start on the small schools road?

The early school reform movement engaged hundreds of mostly young teachers in transformation efforts within their own schools. Many began approaching those of us within the COE who had been influenced by educators like Deborah Meier and Michelle Fine, who were small schools pioneers in New York and Philadelphia. Among the most influential scholars and prolific writers on small and alternative schools was the late, Mary Anne Raywid who became a mentor to me.

In 1991, Professors Bill Ayers and the late Bruce McPherson created the Small Schools Workshop, and they invited me to become involved in this project that was focused on the ideas of democratic education, personalization, reflective teaching practices, and professional community. My dissertation documented our collaborative work with hundreds of Chicago Public School teachers and principals engaged in transforming large, traditional high schools into smaller learning communities.

What is the current state of the small schools movement?

Susan Klonsky [his wife] and I wrote a book in 2007, Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society, whose title pretty well sums up the status of the current small-schools movement and the co-opting of the language of school reform by business-type school reformers. While there are still dozens of wonderful, teacher-led, public small schools around, most have been swallowed up in the drive toward privatization and over-emphasis on standardization and testing.

Tell me about your blog. How widely is it read? What is the impact of the issues you raise and the subsequent discussion?

I have been blogging for nearly a decade on my SmallTalk blog, and am also active on Twitter. My blog gets about 30,000 hits a month and I have close to 3,000 followers on Twitter – not nearly as many as Lady Gaga's 7 million, but enough to make it worthwhile for me. I usually blog early in the morning, while I am reading through the daily media. I write about things that catch my attention, like the recent mass turnover of Philadelphia's public schools to private management groups, or the crazy standardized test questions in New York around Daniel Pinkwater's children's story, The Hare and the Pineapple. Bloggers and tweeters played a big role in that story going viral, and in forcing some inane test questions to be pulled from the tests.

As you reflect on your time at UIC, what lasting impressions do you have?

I still look back on my days in the College of Ed with great fondness. The COE faculty instilled within me a love of learning and of teaching that I still embrace. Even though I'm semi-retired, I still enjoy my life as an educator, now teaching graduate students Philosophy and Sociology of Education at DePaul.