HUDSON–After completing his five-year term on the Hudson School Board, Peter Meyer says, “I’ve aged five years for every one.”
For much of his term Mr. Meyer was the maverick, frustrating some observers by the number of questions he asked. But by the time his term expired, he headed three committees: Curriculum, Code of Ethics, and Code of Conduct. He’s proud of the work they accomplished and hopes the new board will continue the work and follow the recommendations.
A new curriculum has not yet been adopted, but progress has been made. “Not having a curriculum is a terrible way to educate kids.” said Mr. Meyer. “Sometimes a kid will read the same book three times with different teachers.
The district now has a code of ethics and a new code of conduct. Mr. Meyer also promoted the idea of having kids walk to school if they lived within a mile of their school through a program called The Walking School Bus.
In a recent interview he said that much remains to be done. “Change is hard,” he said. “Institutions are used to doing things in a certain way but change is required when only 50% of kids are proficient in reading and math.”
Mr. Meyer learned about education through his job as a journalist. He wrote about education for LIFE magazine in the early 1990s, when he profiled E.D. Hirsch, one of the nation’s most influential educators. “That story opened my eyes to the terrible dysfunction of the nation’s public schools, which has been well documented. When we moved to Hudson fulltime in 1997, and my son entered school here, I offered then curriculum director Marilyn Barry to bring consultants from Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Foundation to Hudson. Unfortunately, the district passed. Had we started using the Core Knowledge curriculum then, we would have been light years ahead of most districts in the state,” he said.
Since 2000, Mr. Meyer has worked fulltime as an education writer and editor. He was the manuscript editor, and is now contributing editor, at Education Next, a policy journal, and also works as a senior policy fellow at the Washington, D.C. based Thomas Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank.
He recalled how the rest of the board seemed in shock when he won his seat in 2007 after 92 district residents voted for him in a write-in campaign. That year, when no candidate came forward to run for the spot, he tried to recruit someone. When that failed he ran himself. At the time, the administration and board president forbid this reporter from speaking with board members other than the board’s president and Mr. Meyer had trouble being heard at meetings.
“It was a low point,” he remembered. “Interest in the school and education was so diminished that no one wanted to run for school board.” He ran a stealth campaign. Even his wife didn’t know about it.
He had withdrawn from the school board a few years before for personal reasons; he ran in 2007 because, “I saw it as an opportunity and a duty to fill out the term I had never finished.”
“Hudson is trapped in educational theory that is 30 years out of date, but we’re getting back on track,” said Mr. Meyer. He believes the theories of John Dewey, the American educational reformer and philosopher who died in 1952, have had a profoundly negative effect on education today, seen in an emphasis on customized learning, critical thinking, project-based learning and a child centered classroom. “We’ve gone from one of the best systems in the world to a mediocre middle of the pack,” he said.
“It’s a giant social science experiment instead of an education which is teaching kids reading, writing, science, history, math, art and music,” said Mr. Meyers. “We have come to believe you can’t educate kids until you solve problems of poverty and character…. Solving Poverty is nice, but the best way of doing that is getting our kids a world-class education. We have the money; we just need the will power to do it.”
He cites a group of high schools in Ohio that, like Hudson, have a high incidence of poverty, but unlike Hudson have a 100% graduation rate and kids that go on to college in large numbers. “They can do that here,” he said.
In 2011 Hudson had a 63% graduation rate and a 15.7% dropout rate.
He also faults the press for not keeping the public well informed about how bad education has become.
He defended his practice of asking lots of questions at meetings: “I felt it was important so I and the board can get information. After all, that is what you use to make good informed decisions.”
Mr. Meyer was a strong supporter of the Alternative Learning Program discontinued two years ago, the casualty of a budget crisis. He says it successfully served students who were not succeeding in the regular classroom at a fraction of the cost paid per student by the district for the general education program.
“Unfortunately, the system rewards failure,” said Mr. Meyer. “There’s money available for schools in need of improvement. The more poor kids we have, the more we get for Title I. That’s an incentive to have more poor kids.”
Mr. Meyer credits recently retired Superintendent Jack Howe for many positive changes since his arrival in 2009. “He got rid of a lot of the paranoia that plagued the district. He let people talk. Board meetings are now more open and lively, and I was allowed to get things on the agenda,” he said.
“I’ve learned a lot from being on the board, but I have not changed from being a “maverick,'” he said.
Mr. Meyer’s son graduated from Hudson High School last year, having started his education at John L. Edwards Elementary. He now attends the University of Chicago.