School Name Study

School naming is very much on the radar in Madison. There is a new “study” on trends in naming schools. Too bad it is from Jay P. Greene and like most things associated with him (not all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day) , next to useless.

Greene is correct that what we name schools and how we arrive at those names is important. From there, he goes wrong. Greene identifies trends away from naming schools after people and presents them as seemingly both a cause and effect of a decline in civic values. Either way, acording to Greene the villian is the usual suspect: “progressive education.”

Leaving aside the irony of a proponent of charters and vouchers expressing concern about civic values, there are some big problems with Greene’s assertions (conclusions gives him too much credit). First, we all know that some names communicate more in the way of civic values than others, so the proxy metric is pretty lame. Beyond that, the progessive reforms Greene identifies happened about a century before the trends he identifies. Hell of a lag time. It is probably weakness of the study, but I was glad that Greene didn’t touch on another horrid trend: selling the naming rights to schools and facilities. I could go on, but why bother, I think I’ve already put more thought into this “study” than the author did.

Danny Rosenthal (the Quick and the Ed, hat tip to Sherman Dorn who has more to say) put in his a two cents and asked that we consider the educational possibilities of names such as “Roosevelt Amino Acids a2 + b2 i-before-e Hyperbole High School.”

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under AMPS, Best Practices, Local News, National News

2 responses to “School Name Study

  1. david cohen

    I wish folks in Madison were as concerned about other issues within the MMSD as they are about the school naming issue….for example, what will be cut from the 2008-2009 budget to pay for the operating budget of this new school? What about 4 yr old kindergarten and it’s relevance to equity issues? The list goes on, and folks spent an awful lot of time and energy on naming a building. It’s funny, from my view, to see parents who NEVER have been involved in the schools suddenly entrenched in a naming controversy. I wish that was all most of us had to worry about.

  2. tmertz


    I think school names are important, but you are right that there are more important school matters that I wish would generate the same level of concern and activism.

    Some good news.

    The BOE will begin considering a referendum in August. Some of us have been meeting to keep the issue alive and get ready to help when the time comes. You are welcome to join us…drop me a line.

    The Performance and Achievement Committee will hold some kind of discussion of 4 year old kindergarten on July 23d.

    Equity is among the Board priorities for the year.


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