In Praise of an American Educator.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard or not, Radical Nation, but Rick DuFour — a passionate advocate for public education, a mentor and friend to many, and a proud husband, father and grandfather — passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer.


Rick used his voice to make the world a better place for our students, y’all.

To his core, he believed that the power to change schools rested in the hearts and minds of classroom teachers who were willing to study their practice together.  Just think about that for a second:  In an era when it felt like the entire nation was working to eviscerate our profession, Rick fought for us.  Better yet, he taught us and challenged us and pushed us to accept responsibility for results.

With a seemingly endless supply of energy, Rick counseled and coached a thousand schools and districts over the last 20 years — laying out clear plans for the kinds of steps that practitioners could take if they were genuinely committed to ensuring learning for every child.  He’d nudge when necessary, unsatisfied with stagnation — but he’d also leave you convinced that it WAS possible for schools to succeed, no matter the circumstance.

And Rick made everyone around him a better person.

He was one of those once-in-a-lifetime mentors who was constantly teaching, whether he knew it or not.  I learned to speak from my heart after watching him testify time and again about the impact that poor educational policies had on both students and teachers.  I learned that success required personal grit and determination after seeing him grind as a both writer and a speaker.

I learned that the most important part of being influential is being approachable after watching him spend hours in one-on-one conversations with teachers or principals who needed encouragement or advice; I learned that humility and curiosity are the cornerstones of successful people after watching him ask as many questions as I ever saw him answer; and I learned that true joy in life comes from having a family who loves you unconditionally after watching him invest his whole heart into Becky, his soulmate and best friend.

Let’s face it:  The world lost one of the best American educators yesterday.  

But we haven’t lost his spirit or his soul or his words and ideas.  If we remain just as committed to the notion that together we are stronger, tomorrow’s students will benefit from the lessons that he spent a lifetime trying to teach us.

Goodbye, friend.  And thank you for believing in me.


Blogger’s Note:  As I wrestled with Rick’s death this morning, I decided that the best way to pay him a tribute was to send a copy of In Praise of American Educators — his seminal book tackling the myth of our failing public school system head-on — to Betsy DeVos, who seems hell bent on destroying public education. What better way to prove that the voice of my friend and mentor won’t be lost even after he’s left us.

I’d love it if you’d join me in that effort.

Can you imagine how powerful it would be if Secretary DeVos’s desk was buried in copies of a book written by a man who believed in both you and I and in the power of the work that we do every single day?  And can you imagine how proud Rick would be knowing that we were willing to continue to fight for the kids sitting in our classrooms?  That was his life’s mission, y’all.  Let’s push it forward now and forever.

Are you in?  If so, here’s some help:

  1. You can buy In Praise here on Amazon.
  2. When you are checking out, you can have your copy shipped directly to Betsy by changing the Shipping Address on your checkout page.  Here’s the address for the Department of Education.
  3. If you want to leave a message for Besty, you can add a Gift Receipt under “Review Items and Shipping” on your checkout page.  Here’s what I wrote:  “In memory of Rick DuFour, one of America’s Greatest Educators.  Want to improve schools?  Read chapters 1-5.  You’ll be inspired.”


12 thoughts on “In Praise of an American Educator.

  1. Cathy Johns

    oops! hit reply before I finished – . . .If, in fact, our Secretary of Education thinks that schools with no accountability (accreditation??) can replace any of our quality schools (public or private), then my voice joins yours – children deserve an education that meets quality standards and is held accountable, regardless of whether it is a public or non-public education.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Cathy,

      Totally agree. If public dollars are being spent on any kind of schooling, there HAS to be accountability for the school and the organization responsible for promoting/supporting the school.

      I have no problem with school choice if it includes some measure of accountability — but I’m also tired of people like Betsy DeVos trying to compare the performance of public schools — where accountability demands are through the roof — with schools that she promotes that are not held accountable at all.

      What’s most interesting is if you dig into the research around school choice, most private schools and charter schools don’t outperform public schools at all. Of course, exclusive prep schools might have higher graduation rates, but when you account for socioeconomic status, public schools do at least as well — if not better than — most of the “choice options” parents have.

      I’m not sure that’s a story that people like Betsy want to tell — and that’s simply because they are trying to destroy public education.

      It’s frightening.

      Enjoyed the conversation!

  2. Cathy Johns

    Hey, Bill, thanks for your response to Peggy. I work with Peggy and your response gave us both much food for thought! I met Rick many years ago when he visited the local public school in which the non-public school where I served as principal resided. If, in fact,

  3. ctuttell

    Hi Bill,

    What a great idea! Thanks for rallying us and your beautiful tribute to Rick. I sent my book off but wish I had read Meg’s comments first – I love the idea of annotating the book. I hope others follow suit – we need to speak up and continue to be champions for ALL kids.


    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      That’s the hitch, right Chris?

      What people don’t realize is that the policies promoted by DeVos really DON’T serve all kids equally. I keep thinking about a phrase I heard at some point this week: We can’t confuse “more choices” with “more GOOD choices.” They aren’t the same thing.

      And if we don’t stand up and say it over and over again, kids with parents who are the most in-tune and aware and active will benefit from school choice, and kids with parents who are just struggling to survive will continue to be “punished” with whatever we have left of a public school system when DeVos is done with it.

      Anyway — this stuff riles me up!

      Thanks for joining my book mission….I think it will at least make a point.

      Be well,

  4. Peggy Visconti

    First let me say I am not trying to start an argument, I am sincerely trying to seek a greater understanding. Could Secretary DeVos bring about changes that could be of benefit to all educators and students without having the suggested disregard for public schools? I confess that I have yet to read In Praise of American Educators, but I do believe that there is value added to our society by all those involved in all forms of education including teachers who work in private schools. Sometimes I am disheartened by the over emphasis placed on solely on funding. I wonder if some of her interest in change might be an effort to improve the current system rather than just move funding from one setting to another.

    Finally, I am trying to take to heart your earlier suggestion to comment rather than simply like and share blogs of interest to me. Please be gentle in your response.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Peggy,

      Thanks a ton for the comment! Good discourse should stand at the center of any conversation about learning.

      I think to better understand the fears that I have about Besty DeVos, you should check out the impact that her work has had on the school system in Detroit. You can learn a bit more about it here:

      What she has consistently pushed for is for-profit charter schools and private schools that are not held accountable in any way. The result has been devastating: For profit companies come into neighborhoods and open up dozens of schools. Parents sign their kids up, taking money away from the public schools. Then, those schools do little if anything to provide a quality education.

      The community is then left with public schools that are failing and bankrupt — which builds even more momentum for critics like DeVos to push for even more unregulated, for-profit schools that are not held up to any kind of standard of accountability. Once every public school closes, the for profit companies can continue to offer a poor education with no accountability simply because there are no other options for parents and students.

      There are literally NO other supporters of charter schools and voucher programs that promote the notion that schools taking public tax dollars should be able to do so without being held to fair standards of accountability. In fact, there are some pretty conservative critics of public schools and supporters of school choice that think DeVos’s ideas are extreme and dangerous. When you can make other critics of public schools uncomfortable, your ideas are pretty far outside the mainstream.

      What’s more, DeVos has done nothing but buy influence — both at the state and National level. In Michigan, the state literally came up with a bipartisan plan to expand charters while simultaneously holding them accountable. DeVos and her organization found out about it and flipped out — then, she pressured dozens of legislators who she had given political contributions to over the years to back out of the deal. The plan failed and charter schools remain unregulated and unaccountable in Michigan.

      Do you see how dangerous that is?

      We’re not talking about a school choice model where parents have more positive options for their kids. We’re talking about a school choice model that is specifically designed to (1). undercut public schools to the point where they fail (and their communities fail with them) and to (2). funnel money into for profit companies that have little interest in anything other than making a profit and who aren’t held accountable for performance in any way at all.

      Does any of this make sense?

      Essentially, the people who say that DeVos is right for schools because she promotes more choices for parents don’t always realize that the choices she’s promoting are often super destructive for students and for communities.

      And definitely pick up a copy of Rick’s In Praise of American Educators. The first five chapters do a great job of laying out the research around charter schools and vouchers. They also debunk the notion that America’s public schools are a complete and total failure. What I appreciated about it is the research. We can’t just argue that vouchers and choice are a good soultion until we look closely at the track record those policies have had on today’s students.

      Hope that helps,

      1. Peggy Visconti

        Your insight helps immensely.I already feel like I know more about the real concerns surrounding her in this critical leadership position.
        Many thanks,

        1. Bill Ferriter Post author

          No sweat, Peggy.

          It really isn’t about school choice. It’s about UNREGULATED, FOR PROFIT school choice!

          As an aside, John Hattie — one of education’s leading researchers — has named school choice as one of the five biggest ideas in education that should be abandoned because it doesn’t have a positive impact on students or learning. He calls it the politics of distraction:

          Pursuing things like school choice — something DeVos is all for — won’t get us any closer to our goal of improving education for all kids.

          Rock on,

  5. Meg Ormiston

    Hi Bill, I am taking your great idea with a slight modification. I’m ordering the book tonight and annotating the key points about fighting for our public school teachers and students, and then I will mail the book to the Department of Education. In my minds eye I see lots of post-it notes, highlights and all colors, and handwritten comments filling the pages of Rick’s book.

    I have not read Tim Kanold’s new book Heart yet, but I’m also ordering that book and annotating my thoughts. as soon as I can. I will package the two annotated books together!

    Thanks my friend for the inspiration, now I feel I have a way to share my point of view about the important work being done in our public schools today!

    Link to Tim’s book

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Meg,

      Terrific idea! My guess is that it will be harder to ignore a fully highlighted and annotated text than it will be to ignore a book without annotations.

      My hope is a simple one, though: That Rick’s persistent advocacy for public schools and public school teachers will be honored and recognized. He deserves that.

      Rock on,

  6. Chris Jakicic

    Hey Bill, Thanks so much for this fabulous idea. I just finished sending a copy and hope that lots of people will do the same. This feels like something Rick would appreciate. You are a leader, my friend!

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