Marta Jewson

In my senior year as an undergraduate, I took two sequential semesters of psychology covering both Child Psychology and Adolescent Psychology. They were both pretty challenging as far as elective courses go, but they provided an excellent foundation for the Cognitive Development and Psychology of Learning classes, as a graduate student.

In his Eight Stages of Psycho-Social Development, Erik Erikson describes the stages of development that we experience from birth through old age. The second stage, commonly referred to as the “terrible twos,” is titled “Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt.” In this stage, toddlers struggle to declare and define their independence in an effort to demonstrate personal control. With the realization that one isn’t independent comes shame, and with continued rejection of support, one begins to doubt the ability to achieve independence, or autonomy. One of the most defining events in this stage of development is potty training.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve come to appreciate the writings of Marta Jewson, a reporter for The Lens which is a non-profit news organization with emphasis on investigative reporting and articles of public interest. Jewson, in my opinion, is a journalistic voice of integrity; head and shoulders above many others. In everything she writes, she calls it as she sees it. No fluff. No angle.

On Monday, November 27th, Jewson published an article titled State ratings for New Orleans Schools are on a three year slide. The article asks some tough questions about the lack of progress in New Orleans school despite a decade of reforms with specific focus on the declining performance over the last three years. In addition to speaking with people seeking answers to similar questions, she also speaks with representatives from some of the schools. One particular person’s responses to her questions caught my attention.

Jay Altman, CEO of Firstline Schools, responded saying that charter schools were slower to respond to the new higher standards than school districts. He adds that single site charters don’t have buying power like a district does and it isn’t easy to realign a curriculum to new standards.

“It’s interesting that one of things that helped the schools — autonomy — can work against us if we’re not also open to adopting things that are more standardized when it’s helpful.”—Jay Altman, Firstline Schools

Jay Altman

In other words, in the quest to demonstrate superiority through autonomy, charters forgot that curriculum doesn’t drop out of the sky and does depend on a certain amount of modeling and prior knowledge. It is highly unlikely that a toddler could master potty training with efficiency without modeling by an experienced pottier. Add to this, the fact that the standards haven’t changed. They were only renamed. The assessment is still just as PARCC as it ever was. If it weren’t, then the Tier 1 recommended curricula would be worthless. Most districts that have bought into reforms, which you would expect from a charter, are still using Tier 1 curriculum which is available FOR FREE to download and use.

I wanted to learn more about Mr. Altman, and what I found is that while his reputation is stellar as a leader in school choice, with all of his expertise, guest commentaries, mentions in publications and even TED Talks, I was unable to locate any references to curriculum. In fact, it would seem that in most of the think tanks, philanthropic organizations, research groups, and other reform related organizations, the emphasis is entirely on governance, management of “human capital,” and finances with almost no emphasis on the vehicle in which quality instruction is delivered…curriculum.

The irony here is that in the age of “no excuses” charter schools, the toddler looks to school districts to model its potty training.

One thought on “Autonomy vs Shame and Doubt”

  1. Very good article and assessment of the failed education reforms forced down the throats of the children and parents in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. The education reform$ in New Orleans, that has been hailed as a miracle, does not follow any Best Practices and is not based on any sound research. With that the statement by Mr. Altman is not surprising when you consider that the charter schools are largely managed by inexperienced/untrained teachers and principals that are masquerading as educators. With that the chronic academic failure of the charter schools in New Orleans in not surprising. Altman and others have turned public schools in New Orleans into to profit centers while creating mostly failing charter schools, Firstline Schools which Altman manages has received millions of dollars annually from the philanthropic community in addition to state and local tax dollars.

    For more info on the education scam in New Orleans please visit

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