Suffer the Little Puffins


To perpetuate Tony Kushner’s Puffin Prize, fondness for funny fowl and tilt toward alliteration, he might endow a Distinguished Dodo lectureship. Congratulations on being a creative citizen! [“On Puffins and Presidents,” Jan. 30].



New England’s PB: Beats Leaf-Peeping!

Royalston, Mass.

I read Gabriel Hetland’s “Grassroots Democracy in Venezuela” [Jan. 30] with a sense of déjà vu. Here in New England, we’ve been practicing participatory budgeting (PB) for nearly 400 years. We call it “town meeting.” In most New England towns, residents assemble once a year to vote on the budget—everything from cemetery care and streetlights to asphalt, senior housing and snow removal. So the true origin of PB is up here in the Northeast. It is ironic that Milwaukee, Chicago and Oakland, among other cities discussed by Hetland, must learn about PB from Venezuela rather than from US states and towns. I encourage those in the US PB movement to save the intercontinental airfare and head to New England in the spring. Town meeting is more entertaining than the autumn leaves, and we could sure use the tourist revenue!



Schools for the Poor Are Poor Schools


There is no doubt that President Obama made a serious mistake when he chose Arne Duncan over Linda Darling-Hammond to be his education secretary. Unlike Duncan, who arrived late to the conclusion that No Child Left Behind is a “broken” law, Darling-Hammond always knew it and correctly analyzes its failures in “Redlining Our Schools” [Jan. 30].

Except for the stipulation that teachers must be highly prepared and qualified, there is little to salvage from the disastrous NCLB. Congress would be wise to take Darling-Hammond’s suggestions, unless it is committed to the deconstruction and privatization of our public schools. That would indeed be an American tragedy.



Morristown, N.J.

Hooray for Linda Darling-Hammond blowing the whistle on the Obama administration’s misguided policies to turn around “failing schools.” The proposition that schools that educate only children from very poor families can be transformed by firing the principal and most of the teachers aims at the wrong target.

That said, progressives err in acting like they know how to solve the problem of deep poverty. Of course we need a stronger safety net and more effective jobs and housing programs, as Darling-Hammond notes. But stick to the issue: what to do with “poverty only” schools. Concentrated poverty is the problem. Public schools are the only institutions certain to touch the lives of very poor children. So, stop with the jobs and housing suggestions and focus on what needs to change with educational policies and practices.

Children from poor families begin kindergarten without the vocabulary, general knowledge and familiarity with print they need to begin to read. This is the tragic gap that is rarely narrowed, which means that most poor children are not strong readers by third grade. We know that if they are not up to grade level by age 9 or 10, their chances of catching up are only around 10 percent.

The shame of federal policy is that it fails to concentrate on the kindergarten gap. President Obama campaigned with the right ideas but failed to follow through with what are proven practices:

§ start early with excellent preschool

§ concentrate on intensified literacy instruction in the primary grades and surround students with books, words, ideas, stories

§ spend more time with kids who struggle, check progress frequently

§ adjust and readjust instruction to reflect the needs of individual students.

Simple to describe; devilishly difficult to do. Don’t confuse the issue by trying to solve everything.

The Century Foundation


Rip Up That Pavement Over Paradise!

Eugene, Ore.

We’ve got to rethink the concept of a “growth economy” and focus on regenerating, renewing, repairing and regrowing. Let’s spend a generation hiring millions for these jobs: build miles of bike and horse paths; replant diversified forests, grasslands and hedgerows; tear down derelict buildings and parking lots and plant urban farms; retrofit all buildings; build light rail and trollies; clean up every creek, stream, river, lake, beach; put solar panels, micro wind and water catchment on all buildings; develop clean energy; modernize water and sewage systems; put power lines underground. We need a Great Renewal. Push for these jobs locally, regionally, nationally, even internationally. They can’t be outsourced. Go to We can do this.



All the News That’s Missed in Print

Brown Deer, Wis.

I just want to say thanks so very much. I subscribe to your print magazine and online newsletter and find your reporting especially insightful. While reading, I often find myself a tad chagrined because I’m not reading or viewing a similar story in the mainstream media; MSNBC is the exception. All too often everyone else is missing it, ignoring it or deciding against reporting it. Thanks again for what journalism is supposed to be all about. Really.




An editor misplaced a quotation in Andy Robinson’s “Marxism at Davos” [Feb. 20]. It was Philip Jennings, not Gerard Lyons, who said, “This isn’t the Magic Mountain, it’s the Great Gatsby revisited.”

Eric Alterman’s February 13 “The Liberal Media” column should have referred to the International Atomic Energy Agency, not “Association.”