Category Archives: Uncategorized

Cartoons on Thanksgiving

Oops! I forgot these cartoons that I had published in 2018. So my gift to readers today are two posts. First time in 11 years I have done that!


The national holiday is upon us both in families and in schools. Here are some cartoons that brought a smile to my face. Enjoy!














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Cartoons on Life at Home and in School During Covid-19

For this month’s featuring cartoons, I collected a batch that tickled me and hope they will do the same for you in the eighth month of the pandemic. Enjoy!


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Cartoons on Parenting During the Pandemic

If you are like me, you know family members and close friends who have had to school their children (and grandchildren) since March. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 93 percent of people living in households with school-age children reported some form of distance instruction is occurring. The pandemic has tattooed remote instruction onto the bodies of millions of students and their families. No one asked for the tattoo but there it is.

I have collected cartoons about parenting during the pandemic. Enjoy!


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More Cartoons on Covid and the New Normalcy

Getting through each day during the pandemic with masks and physical distancing, a cratering economy, protests against racial injustice, heat waves, fires, hurricanes, remote instruction—I will stop here–is a small victory. Sometimes humor helps to get through all of this by reminding ourselves that we are all in this together. I’ve collected some cartoons that should bring at least one smile to viewers’ faces. Enjoy!

Rob Tornoe’s coronavirus cartoon for Thursday, March 20.

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More Cartoons on Re-Opening Schools

For this month, I found enough cartoons that tickled me (or at least got me to smile) at a time when I need being tickled, given the pandemic. I selected cartoons that deal with re-opening schools and the anxieties they arouse among parents, teachers, and students. Enjoy!


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Confessions of a School Reformer (Part 6)

This is the last post of a series drawn from “Confessions of a School Reformer,” a book I am now writing. Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 describe my entry into classroom teaching beginning in 1955 and ending in 1972.

In August 1968, no longer teaching at Roosevelt High School, I resigned from the full-time job I had at federal Commission on Civil Rights (CCR). No job did I have for 1968-1969.

Treading water

For the next few months, I was at home. With no more salary checks from either the DC schools or CCR, Barbara found a job as an administrative aide to a Rabbi at a nearby congregation. I stayed home with Sondra and Janice, walking them to school in the mornings, writing, doing household chores and making occasional dinners. I thought that with my name as an urban educator, an expert on multiethnic instructional materials, and author I could drum up sufficient business as a consultant to provide enough cash to cover monthly mortgage payments and expenses. I was wrong.

After sending out many letters advertising my talents and experiences, few requests dribbled in. Of those that came in, most asked me to speak or consult for free. My work on Scott Foresman textbooks brought in a few advances from the publisher. Between my paltry earnings and Barbara’s job we were just barely covering monthly expenses. Apart from worrying about money, I was thoroughly enjoying the time I spent with Barbara and my daughters.

Then in December, I heard from Associate Superintendent of Instruction, Norman Nickens of the DC schools that he wanted to see me. I had gotten to know Nickens when I directed the Cardozo Project and he headed the Model School Division in 1964, a sub-system within the District aimed at reforming schools in the Cardozo area. With the release of the Passow Report in 1967, a devastating evaluation of the entire school system by a cadre of professors from Teachers College, Columbia University, the Acting Superintendent and his successor deputized Nickens to oversee that the Report’s scores of recommendations would be put into practice. Within a few years, Nickens had become the go-to person within the District for reforming the Washington public schools.  [i]

As a respected insider, Nickens was politically smart and knew what buttons to push and levers to pull to get things done within the ever-growing District bureaucracy. Even though I was an outsider who sought changes in the schools, we had developed a mutual respect for one another. He had understood the importance of bringing in a new generation of teachers prepared to work in urban classrooms. And of even greater importance he knew how crucial it was for the District to improve systematically the teaching corps and administrative team. [ii]

Nickens had persuaded the new Superintendent to create a district wide Office of Staff Development in 1968. Nickens asked me to apply. Interviews went well and in January 1969, I became the first Director of Staff Development. I now had an office at the Presidential Building on 12th St., district headquarters for the D.C. schools.

From classroom history teacher at Roosevelt High School to central office administrator responsible for the professional development of thousands of new and experienced teachers and principals was a big leap for me. No longer a classroom reformer who believed that new racial curriculum materials would make a difference in teaching and learning, and no longer a school-wide reformer concentrating on recruiting and training new teachers for an urban district, now I was in a district position poised to strengthen the entire teacher corps of a large urban district.  The key unit of change, where reform mattered most, had shifted in my mind as I went from Glenville to Cardozo to Roosevelt from the classroom to the school and now to the Presidential Building.[iii]

Office of Staff Development

The two years in the District office fully opened my eyes to how the splintered governance of the D.C. schools both complicated and obstructed the already difficult tasks of schooling mostly Black and poor students. Moreover, add to the mix a dollop of fierce racial politics in administrative appointments and how bureaucracies clogged the arterial flow of resources into schools and classrooms. The District of Columbia schools was a textbook case of fragmented governance and unhelpful bureaucracy.

My responsibilities as Director brought me in close touch with the members of the newly elected Board of Education, two superintendents, and an array of both innovative and foot-dragging time servers among central office administrators.

I learned first-hand how the bureaucracy worked amid the fractured city governance of appointed Commissioners who chose Board of Education members being tossed. In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson appointed a mayor and council to run the city government. A year later, an elected Board of Education became a reality. One catch, however, bothe appointed and elected bodies had to make annual trips to the U.S. Congress, hat in hand, to get funded. In doing so, the superintendent and his retinue including elected Board members had to swallow hard the guff that Congressional representatives dished out..

From my journal, December 16, 1969

Another example of how difficult it is to run the D.C. schools….is the calculated crap that eats up time, energy, and resolve. Consider that [Congresswoman from Oregon] Edith Green, chairing the subcommittee on education investigating higher education asked Ben [Acting Superintendent Benjamin Henley] to testify on the teacher training needs of the 1970s. I wrote up Ben’s statement emphasizing that urban school systems will have to assume more responsibility for training and re-training. We [superintendent, associate superintendent, director of personnel, and I accompany Superintendent Henley] go over to Rayburn Building for hearings. Green convened session with [Al] Quie [from Minnestota] and [Albert] Steiger [from Wisconsin]. Questions were rambling, unconnected, and strangely vacuous for a Committee dealing with higher education.

A pattern emerged. Questions on violence in schools were asked by Green. Then Green asked Ben to stay for the testimony of Bolling Air Force Base parents who were complaining about the terrible time their children were having in Southeast [D.C.] schools. Apparently, the parents had gotten to Green who scheduled Ben to be a witness, making the point that violence is in the schools while satisfying the military parents. An arrogant use of power.

Then Congressman Steiger questioned Ben on Georgetown schools [a largely white neighborhood in D.C.] to which Black kids were being bussed. He tsk-tsked the “deterioration” of education and had great “sympathy for the white parents” who withdrew their children from these schools. It was a snotty, arrogant remark that could easily be labeled racist. Ben, as vigorously as he could, disagreed with the Congressman.

This divided authority for the D.C. schools was a recipe for continual conflict within the system. And the recipe worked. The splintered  authority crippled both the elected Board of Education and its appointed superintendents. I learned how things got done officially and unofficially, and the importance of informal and prior relationships inside and outside the bureaucracy. That racial politics was in this stew goes without saying. I also learned how the annual trek to the Hill was crucial for maintaining (but not necessarily improving) the District and, of equal importance, how divorced the Presidential Building at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue housing the Board and administrators were from what happened in schools and classrooms. [iv]

From my journal, July 7, 1969:

How to reform schools, if indeed it can be done. After six months in the system at the level I am, I can see all of the difficulties I had barely perceived and wrote about but they are now more sharply in focus and more complicated which means, I guess, less open to quick, simple changes. My belief that good people working in concert could effect the “right” changes (sounds so much like Lincoln Steffens’ prescription for corrupt-ridden municipal government at the turn of the century) is much more open to question. Not that good people aren’t around but that the distrust and the inertia that is its by-product is so damn pervasive. Good-will, good ideas, energy, and vigor create the froth of reform but don’t seem to get to the substance, i.e., change in behavior. It’s so frustrating.[v]

Within a year of my arrival, however, a newly appointed City Council and an elected Board of Education—dependent upon funding from the Council–clashed over the budget. As the Office of Staff Development’s budget grew and the budgets of a dozen or more District of Columbia curriculum supervisors shrank, these veteran supervisors–offended by the reduction of their influence and smaller budgets–reached out to their friends within city government. Soon their complaints about OSD taking over many of their traditional functions and reduced funding blossomed into racial politics as these downsized supervisors, nearly all of them Black, quietly lobbied the mostly Black Council members to get rid of OSD, led by a white manager.

Tense negotiations between the Board of Education and City Council for the 1971-1972 budget produced deep cuts in the Office of Staff Development’s budget. I saw the cuts at aimed at me. After many conversations with my wife and a politically astute deputy who I had appointed, I decided to resign in order to keep OSD alive. The following year the City Council restored full funding to OSD. By then I had returned to teaching history at Roosevelt High School.

I taught history at Roosevelt until 1972 when I and my family moved to Stanford University so I could get a Ph.D. After working closely with superintendents in D.C., all of whom had advanced degrees, I believed I could do the job. I needed a doctorate. After getting the Ph.D. in 1974, the Arlington County School Board, a Virginia district across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. hired me to be their superintendent. I served there for seven years and returned to Stanford in 1981 as a professor until 2001 when I retired.

[i]Norman Nickens, “The Ineffectiveness of Education Reform,” Doctoral dissertation, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 1972 at:

Teachers College Professor Harry Passow directed the Study. The first finding was damning:

Despite some examples of good quality education, of dedicated and creative profes-sionals at all levels, of a pattern of improving financial support and of efforts to initiate new programs, education in the District is in deep and probably worsening trouble. Unlike most large city systems which have a core of “slum” schools surrounded by a more affluent: ring, the District has a predominance of so-called “inner-city” schools.These schools include large concentrations of economically disadvantaged children, a largely re-segregated pupil population, a predominantly Negro staff, a number of over-aged and inadequate school buildings and inappropriate materials and programs.

A. Harry Passow, “Creating a Model Urban School System: A Study of the Washington, D.C. Public Schools,” (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, June 1967), p. 2.

[ii] Larry Cuban, “Reform in Washington:The Model School Division, 1963-1972″(U.S.Department of Health, Education .and Welfare, Office of Education,December, 1972).

[iii]During the years I was at Cardozo High School working on the Project (1963-1967) teaching at Roosevelt High School twice, working at the Commission on Civil Rights, and finally administering a District-wide program (1967-1972), I kept a personal journal chronicling my activities and thoughts.  The Journal helped me considerably in recalling specific people and instances.

[iv]Steven Diner, “The Governance of Education in the District of Columbia: An Historical Analysis of Current Issues.,” Studies in D.C. History and Public Policy Paper No.2. at:

 Mary Levy,  “History of Public School Governance in the District of Columbia: A Brief Summary,” at:

[v] Personal Journal, vol. 7, May 23, 1969 to January 31, 1971. Entry for July 7, 1969.

 In describing these experiences within a large educational bureaucracy and the coming face-to-face with the politics of governing schools is not the  same as understanding their import on my thinking.  Not until I was at Stanford University working on my dissertation about urban superintendents in 1973-1974 did I come to realize that teaching and administering in D.C. for nearly a decade had shaped my framework for understanding urban schools both organizationally and politically.

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“Confessions of a School Reformer”(Part 1)

I am drafting chapters for my next book with the above title. I described the idea of the book and my experiences in the Pittsburgh schools during the Progressive reform era (see the five-part series “We Are All Reformers”on this blog).

In alternating chapters, the book will describe and analyze each of three reform movements during my lifetime and then trace my life in and out of school as a student, teacher, administrator and researcher who experienced these reforms for over three-quarters of a century.

Since 1939 when I entered first grade until 2020, three major reform efforts have swept across American public schools: the Progressive movement (1890s-1940s); Civil Rights movement (1950s-1970s), and business-inspired standards, testing, and accountability movement (1970s-present).

I have completed a draft chapter of my years as a teacher (1955-1972) in three school districts during the Civil Rights movement. I begin the multi-part series with this post. Comments appreciated.

As a teacher I was not a civil rights activist. While I did participate in a few marches, I was never arrested at a demonstration. Nor did I join any organizations at the forefront of the movement. I did work, however, for a few months at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a federal agency committed to desegregated schools in the 1960s. It was a disaster (see below).

While my wife Barbara and I contributed to civil rights groups and moved our family into an integrated Washington, D.C. neighborhood, my public involvement in civil rights activities was close to nil. But not so in schools. For the most part, then, where and when I was involved in civil rights grew directly out of whom I taught and what I did in my classes at Cleveland’s Glenville High School and Washington, D.C.’s Cardozo High School. 

I was a classroom teacher who worked in de facto segregated Black schools in two cities. As a white teacher teaching history to Black middle- and working-class students who already had experienced segregated schools, racial discrimination, and institutionalized racism on a daily basis—preparing uncommon lessons and instructional materials about the American past was the civil rights road that I traveled in the years I taught at these two high schools.

Becoming a Teacher

After graduating Taylor Allderdice High School (see Part 4), I attended the University of Pittsburgh (hereafter Pitt) for four years while living at home. The first in my family to attend college, I tried pre-med but biochemistry proved my undoing. I drifted into other pre-professional courses and then eventually entered Pitt’s School of Education.

In the early 1950s, the School of Education contained professors imbued with the Progressive ideas of teaching and learning that had dominated the field for decades. I took courses in which I read John Dewey and absorbed the ideology of Progressivism. I cannot remember if I had read his Pedagogic Creed but at the time his sentence: “… [E]ducation is the fundamental method of social progress and reform,” I believed when I entered the classroom.[i]

 In social studies methods courses, I developed a series of lessons organized around a topic in accordance with the Unit Plan laid out in Henry Morrison’s textbook, The Practice of Teaching in Secondary Schools (1926).  I worked at various jobs to fund my schooling but always turned in on time assignments on organizing lessons, assessing students, and orchestrating small group collaboration while figuring out what tasks to give those students who chose to work independently.  Progressive vocabulary and ideology were in the air that we breathed.  And I inhaled a lot.[ii]

My final year in the School of Education required me to student-teach.  When I showed up at Peabody High School, the two middle-aged teachers assigned to supervise me spoke with me for about a half-hour and then gave me their copies of the required textbook and student attendance rolls.  I seldom saw them for the rest of the semester. I taught two classes in U.S. History at Peabody High School while working full time at the U.S. Post Office. 

Turns out, I learned, that teaching is part performance.  That wowed me.  What I remember is that every day was a dramatic show and I had to be ready. My lines had to be memorized. I had to get audience participation. Before each class, I could feel my stomach muscles tense. I was wired for action.

I could write that I entered teaching to improve the lot of under-educated children, to serve the community, or a similar noble sentiment. While such motives may have been buried within my psyche—and I believe they were–what really appealed to me initially was performing with a captive audience and the challenge of conveying to others what I believed to be crucial information, ideas, and skills.

I graduated in 1955 with a major in history and a minor in biology. That summer I applied for a dozen jobs in social studies and was turned down for each one. One month after school started, I found a one-year job teaching biology and general science in McKeesport, a city 20 miles from home. The students I was expected to teach had had a series of daily and weekly substitutes and when they saw me in early October, their eyes glazed over believing me to be another teacher who would leave in a few days or a week. I stayed until June. Any rookie year of teaching is hard but I did survive.

From collecting animal specimens for biology class in Schenley Park’s Panther Hollow to preparing late-night lessons on mass and volume, I barely made it. McKeesport Tech had no wet labs, a few microscopes, and hardly any instructional materials. Thus, I gathered salamanders in nearby creeks. I built pulleys and simple machines. I scrounged cardboard boxes and whatever else I could find at home or buy cheaply at the store.

None of my Pitt education courses coated with Progressive ideology and dressed up with student-centered lessons applied to my flailing efforts to do a journeyman job teaching biology and general science. What did help me survive was Gene Surmacz, the chemistry teacher who had been there for three years. He saw my floundering and asked if I needed help in teaching biology. He gave me lessons that he had used when he taught the course and set aside time for coaching me. He was my life preserver that year

But I wanted very much to teach history and the social studies. Every week I looked for postings of vacancies across Western Pennsylvania and even Ohio. I applied for any social studies spot I could find. And just before school opened in 1956, I heard from the Cleveland public schools (signaling me that I was at the bottom of their last barrel of newbies) that I should report to Glenville High School immediately to teach social studies.  At 21, I left home to start a career in teaching.


[i]John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, (New York: E.L. Kellogg & Co., 1897), p. 16.

[ii] When I began writing this section one phrase kept returning in my memory, “The Morrison Plan.”  So for these paragraphs I looked up who Henry Morrison was, his career (teacher, district and state superintendent, professor), and the text that I used in the methods courses. See “Henry C. Morrison,” Wikipedia at:


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Anniversary of this Blog

Dear Readers,

This post marks my 11th anniversary as a blogger. I want to thank those readers who regularly read my twice-weekly posts, those who have dipped into them occasionally, those who have subscribed to the post, and finally those who have taken the time to write thoughtful comments. Also to the growing number of international readers, I am grateful for your attention to one American’s viewpoint on school reform and classroom practice.

As with all things, there is a history to writing this blog. My daughter Janice who is a writer in marketing communication urged me to begin a blog in 2009. She guided me through the fits-and-starts of working on this platform. After 11 years, I thank her for getting me started on this writing adventure.

For the nearly 1400 posts I have written since 2009, I have followed three rules:

1. Write about 800 words.

2. Write clearly on school reform and classroom practice.

3. Take a position and back it up with evidence.

For anyone who blogs or writes often, I want to say that sticking to these rules has been no easy task. Yet after eleven years, it has been very satisfying. I remain highly motivated to write about policymakers, administrators, teachers, and students–all who inhabit the policy-to-practice continuum–and all who in different ways, with varied ideas, seek to improve schooling. Even amid the past five months of the Covid pandemic.

To me, writing is a form of teaching and learning. The learning part comes from figuring out what I want to say on a topic, researching it, drafting a post, and then revising it more times than I would ever admit so that the post says what I want it to say. Learning also has come from the surprises I have found in the suggestions and comments readers post—“Did I really say that?” “Wow! that is an unexpected view on what I said,” or “I had never considered that point.”

The teaching part comes from putting my ideas out there in a clearly expressed logical argument, buttressed by evidence, for others who may agree or disagree about an issue I am deeply interested in. As in all teaching, planning enters the picture in how I frame the central question I want readers to consider and how I put the argument and evidence together in a clear, coherent, and crisp blog of about 800 words.

Because of my background as a high school teacher, administrator, policymaker, and historian of education I often give a question or issue its context, both past and present. I do so, and here I put my teacher hat on, since I believe that current school reform and practice are deeply rooted in the past. Learning from earlier generations of reformers’ experiences in coping with the complexities of improving how teachers taught, and how they tried to change schools and districts, I believe, can inform current reformers about the tasks they face. Contemporary reformers, equally well-intentioned as their predecessors, in too many instances ignore what has occurred previously and end up bashing teachers and principals for not executing properly their reform-driven policies.

Expressing my sincere gratitude toward readers for the blogging I have done over the past 11 years is a preface to what I will begin writing during my 12th year of posts. Obviously, I will describe and analyze the effects of the pandemic on a key societal institution and its impact on efforts to improve schools. And how teachers, administrators, and students have been coping with this crisis. Also I will be posting pieces throughout the year drawn from a book I hope to complete next year about how 20th century reform movements have affected me as a student, teacher, administrator, and professor. Yes, I confess I am a proud member of the old-old in America.

Again, thanks to those readers who have taken the time to click onto my blog. I deeply appreciate it.

Larry Cuban


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Cartoons on Re-Opening during Pandemic

As barber shops and tattoo parlors open, as customers return to bars and restaurants, as parents are called back to work, louder and louder calls for children to return to school mount. I have collected cartoons that poke at the re-opening of “normal” life including schools. Enjoy!


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More Cartoons on Covid-19 Pandemic

I have selected cartoons I have not used before. Enjoy1


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