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No “Change” in Education Policy Either

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This past week President Obama made a major education speech in front of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. In the speech Obama laid out his policy proposals for improving America’s schools. The good news is that his plan, at least for now, proposes no new legislative initiatives. The bad news is that the president did not propose to end Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program. Thus, the president of change is once again reneging on his campaign promise.

This wouldn’t be so bad if our education system was in good shape. The previous president was a neanderthal in many ways including his views on education. As a teacher myself, Bush’s NCLB legislation is one of the many reasons why I chose to teach abroad. I can honestly say that I have never spoken to an education colleague who has any fondness for the program. The reason is simple: the NCLB program is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing to prepare our students for the world of the future.

So what does NCLB mandate? Essentially, the mandate is for schools to improve the academic achievement of their students. That sounds fair enough, but the problem is that it seeks to measure this achievement through standardized testing. What is wrong with this assessment approach since teachers have traditionally used tests to grade their students? Lots. First of all, and this is from my personal experience and the experience of many of my colleagues, enormous pressure is placed on teachers from school administrators to constantly work to improve test scores because if schools do not improve scores there are strict penalties like a cut in funding or outright takeover of the school by federal and state officials. Consequently, teachers have become test preparers instead of instructors of critical thinking and problem solving skills. The tests trump all beneficial features of a holistic education. There is not enough time for field trips, music, the arts, and physical education because maximum time must be given to drill and kill exercises in math and English to prepare for the tests.

Then there are the interventions for learning disabled students and English language learners that are needed if these students are to achieve high scores on the tests. The problem is that NCLB does not allocate any funds for this purpose. The program is essentially an unfunded mandate for the states. Schools are held to high standards but are not given the resources by Uncle Sam to carry the mission out.

Lastly, NCLB provides for no consideration of other school issues like developing a school culture, addressing the emotional needs of children, and assimilating new immigrant students into the mainstream of the school. For schools to be totally successful in carrying out their mission to provide a quality academic program, these issues must be addressed first. The federal government’s program has it backwards – academic achievement measured by constantly improving test scores will develop a school’s culture, meet the emotional needs of all students, and assimilate new immigrant students into the mainstream of the school. Anyone with a logical mind knows this is absurd.

Naturally, NCLB is not the whole problem with our education system. The program is carried out by the Department of Education (DOE) and its $46 billion annual budget. $46 billion dollars a year and the best this department of the federal government can do is give us an education policy that is better fit for the long gone Industrial Age than for the Information Age? What we need is a new paradigm. The teachers’ union dominated DOE is not the institution to provide it. After all, the DOE has had 29 years to improve our education system and it has failed miserably.

Again the solution to our problems can be found in the private sector. In 1999, Morton Egol, the managing director of Arthur Andersen’s School of the Future Program, gave an address that outlined the changes that were needed in the American education system. He envisioned a system that moved away from the “mechanistic ways of working and organizing ourselves” to a system that instilled higher order thinking skills, creativity, self-directed learning with a collaborative foundation, and technology. Somewhat radical in his approach, he rejected the “factory-like, assembly-line structure of schools” where “rigid grade levels and “fragmented” time slots prevailed. Most of all he rejected the old system based on examinations which he claimed, rightly, contributed to squashing the love of learning and high dropout rates. In its place, he proposed a dynamic system that provided the latest in computer technology for students to work in teams on real world issues. Less than 2 years after Egol’s address, the Bush Administration put into law NCLB. Fortunately, Egol’s legacy lives on at the Alameda Community Learning Center.

Obama had a golden opportunity to live up to his campaign mantra “Change We Can Believe In” at least as far as education policy is concerned. It would have been a no brainer to abolish NCLB. In fact, if he was really for change, he would have scrapped NCLB, abolished the Department of Education, and returned education policy to the states and the people where it belongs under the 10th Amendment. Given the teachers’ union’s stranglehold over the Democratic Party that is too much to expect. I was just hoping for the demise of NCLB.

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About Kenn Jacobine

  • Baronius

    Kenn, there’s a lot in this article that I can agree with. But the complaints about standardized testing are hard to stomach. I think it’s great that teachers are pressured to teach students English and math. There are a lot of problems with our educational system, and I don’t believe that the best solution is to stop measuring the results. Besides, the only way to restore the credibility of the high school diploma is to make it meet some objective standard.

  • “the only way to restore the credibility of the high school diploma is to make it meet some objective standard”

    Exactemundo – especially as regards the exit exams, college entrance and SAT.

    A modicum, standard “knowledge,” basic skills in language and arithmetic – that’s what high school education is supposed to be all about. Anything beyond that is gravy.

  • Kenn may have wished for NCLB to be scrapped, but neither Obama nor Clinton expressed any intention of doing so during the primary campaign last year. The mantra was to fix it and properly fund it.

    Although you may not approve of even more federal education funding, this will actually be the first time in years there is any discretionary money to spend. Arne Duncan is a smart, accomplished guy, and neither he nor Obama are in thrall to the teachers’ unions. It will be interesting to see how the money is spent.

  • leighann

    Being pressed to teach English and Math is not the problem with NCLB. The problem is that because there is so much pressure on the schools and the school system to meet the requirements of NCLB that instructional time is sacrificed to teach to the test. Thre are days spent teaching students exactly how to respond to certain types of test questions, how much to write, how to time your answers, the test vocabulary and taking practice exams to get ready for the test. This is time that could actually be spent teaching subject matter.

    I have seen days put aside to reward students for doing well on tests when instruction should be going on. Why do they have to reward? Because in many instances (all instances in Kentucky) these tests do not count toward the students’ grades. The results of the tests do not effect them in anyway and they know it. To reward them for giving their best faith effort on these tests is the only incentive that they have to do well. Some do well just because they try to do well on everything. Some just simply do not care if it does not effect them, but teachers are held accountable for the scores of these students.

    I believe that NCLB was created with good intentions.(By the way, both parties voted for this legislation. In the words of a school lawyer that I once met,”Who would vote to leave a child behind?”)I do not know how many actual classroom teachers that are still in the classroom were involved in the process of writing this law but it could not have been many. That is usually the problem in education. People make this stuff up who have never actually been in a classroom or who have been gone for a long time. They do not know the reality of it or they have forgotten and bought into these ideas that would be very nice in a perfect world but in the real world are impossible to implement.

    They put task upon task on teachers not realizing that the very tasks they require to prove that the students are getting an appropriate education are taking so much of the teacher’s time that the planning of lessons is sacrificed therefore the education of the students is being diminished. Education is suffering in part because of the laws implemented to make sure that it doesnt.

    Teachers are told to scrap tests and make them like the state tests so that the students are familiar with the format. “You have to practice like you play.” Then they have to go to meetings (during planning periods) to critique these tests then revise and resubmit. This is only one of the small tasks that are handed to them to improve test scores. Maybe it does not sound like much to do but when you are given hundreds of these little tasks and others like them, it begins to add up.

    I have worked in several different schools. There are a few teachers who I would not want to teach my child but they are the exception. Most of the teachers I know work long hours, take a lot of crap and put their hearts and souls into teaching their students. They work long after school has dismissed, take it home with them and work during the summer. It is very frusterating then to hear so many people put them down. So many times people who have not walked a mile in their shoes talk about the education system and the poor teachers. Many of them have no idea what they are talking about.

    One example of what is wrong with NCLB. They literally mean that NO child will be less than proficient. It sounds good but remember that this it literal. There are students with intellectual disabilities, behavior disorders, learning disabilities, ADHD and various other disabilities. Then there are those who just do not care becuase they have other tragic things going on in thier lives (that the school can do nothing about), there are those whose parents do not care, parents who think education is not important and pass that on to the children, students in poverty, students who move several times in a year, students who speak other languages and many, many other issues. To say that teachers can fix all of these issues when they have 30 or more students per class (120 or more if they are in middle school or high school)is saying that they have the ability to solve all of societies problems. It would be a miracle! If it were possible, they would deserve a Nobel Prize or something. Still, when everyone is not proficient they are blamed. They are poor teachers.

    Believe it or not, there are faculty meetings that last for hours trying to figure out why there is a gap in the scores of students with disabilities and regular ed. students and what they can do to close it. In NCLB there can be no achievement gaps for students with disabilities and children without disabilities.

    There is a definate need to find teachers who can solve things such as autism, intellectual deficits and apathy.

    There was one school system where there was a mass exodus from special education one year. All of a sudden many of the students who had been tested and for years were given services for disabilities were retested when their evaluation was due and no longer had disabilities. It was just coincidence that it was about the same time the schools were trying to fix the achievement gaps. Now these students who had previously been special ed because of things such as mild mental retardation were considered regualar ed students. That is one way to close the gap. These issues are why these laws are absurd.

    Schools are forcing children who have these (intellectual)disabilities to sit in Algebra and Geometry classes. They are telling teachers that if they modify enough the students will be successful. In many schools there is no longer things such as living skills to teach them to manage a checkbook or fill out a job application so that they can be more productive citizens and live more independently. They have to be taught the same standards as the others. They have to be exposed to it becuase they have to take the same test. (That is with the exception of the students with the most severe disabilities who are made to do alternate testing). They sit in these classrooms frusterated and disgusted becuase they have no idea what is going on. The teacher cannot slow down for them or she will not be able to cover all of the cirriculum to be taught that year and the students will not do well on the tests. They are set up for failure.

    Not to mention that tracking is not allowed anymore (putting students in classes according to ability level). The classes are mixed with students from every ability level. The teachers are told to teach to every level at the same time. Plan lessons so that the low acheivers come up to proficient, the middle achievers come up to advanced and don’t forget to challenge the gifted. All this planning is to be done when? Teachers no longer have planning periods to plan because they have to fill out paperwork and go to meetings to figure out why the test scores are not higher. They often do this after school also. The people who are sitting in state offices, wearing the fancy suits who have never set foot in a classroom to teach say that it can be done so it must be true. After all aren’t there schools that are doing it?

    Some of those schools were visited by teachers and principles from underperforming schools on this quest to figure out what they were doing wrong. They found that for the most part, these schools had figured out how to “cheat” or work the test and the rules of the test. They had found loopholes or legal ways to cheat the test and this is why the scores were better. If anyone knows of one of these schools who accomplish this task on the up and up I would like to see them given their Noble prize. They also need to go to the states’ penal institutions, homes for the mentally ill, doctors, reasearchers and whoever else has tried to fix these problems and let them know how they did it so the adults can be helped also. Then we could live in a perfect world.

    I know this has been long but I just wanted to add one more thing. While working at a military school I learned that these federally run schools do not have to follow NCLB and they don’t. Well the one that I worked at didn’t. They are not under the same rules. They are already federal so they do not have to jump through the hoops to be federally funded. The money is already theirs. That is funny! Not really.

    I do work in the school system and my writing/spelling is usually better, I just do not proofread as well here. When I write on here it is off the cuff. My grammer gaurd is down. It is kind of hypocritical. I know.

  • Since when do Presidents of the United States dictate Education policy? When did parents, grandparents, foster parents, the members of the village — when did they lose the inalienable right to have governance over their children’s education? Parents have had it too damn easy in the last 40 years. There’s been little, if any, accountability expected from parents to their children and educators. That’s not letting the NEA off the hook, either. The teachers’ unions in this country have too much power, too much money and an arrogance akin to Hussein & Sons.

    Educational overhaul in this country is just as important as health care reform as well as the re-regulation of the financial and securities industries. I’ve long been a proponent of education’s overhaul and wish that others would get on board. While home schooling is great for those parents who are intelligent enough to provide a well-rounded education, it’s not a realistic option for the majority of America’s future.

    Higher Education. Children aren’t inspired in our schools any longer. We need to tap into the talent at community and state colleges, engaging students in education to actively participate in the public education sector of their respective communities — to share their thirst for knowledge with the most impressionable of children. Introduce kids to the prospect of college from the minute they hit kindergarten and never let them feel that a college education is out of their reach.

    Purchasing Power. Homemakers, where are you going these days when you shop? You’re hitting the bulk warehouse stores. You’re buying the 48 roll toilet paper sleeve, 50 pound box of ultra concentrated methane based detergent, etc. What about school districts banding together, in some cases entire states? Buying a railroad car of school supplies and distributing them in house gives districts buying power. Duh? Didn’t administrators take home economics?

    Merit Pay. You bet your ass there should be merit pay. Teachers have been under paid for too damn long. And there have been teachers who are OVERpaid as well. But it’s not only about merit pay incentives. It’s about a cooperative dynamic between teachers, administration and parents. It’s about rules of engagement. Teachers need support and we need teachers to listen to our concerns. You turn the teaching profession around in a generation and I guarantee you that being a teacher will finally be as respectable as being a lawyer (bad analogy, good point).

    The Bottom Line. I’m most passionate about education because I feel robbed. Imagine, for a moment, that 30% of all the investment dollars dissolved on Wall Street had been vested in education? Imagine, if you will, that education was such a priority in this country that the corporate world worked in active partnership with their respective communities to make education every child’s entitlement. If we had invested in our kids — given them an education based in civics, personal accountability and excellence, we wouldn’t have produced the idiots that went on to mismanage the Securities and Exchange Commission. There may be Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon. I assure you that every resident of this land is one degree of separation away from a kid that needs a quality education.

  • It is so easy for critics to make broad charges against teachers just as they do with government workers. It’s wrong, but it’s easy.

    I taught junior high English for a year in a catholic school and substituted at various levels in the Indianapolis Public Schools several years ago long before NCLB and the predominant use of standardized testing. My wife taught in IPS for 5 or 6 years – the last couple of which DID require the completion of standardized tests by all students every year.

    Things were not good in most of our schools then, but for the most part, the situation is little or no better now.

    Where are most of the failures? Most, not all, but most, are found in inner city school systems and schools in otherwise poor communities.

    Just look at the average physical plant that most inner city children attend. Many of the buildings are old, often in poor repair – literally having leaking rooves, numbers of broken windows, out of date and inadequate heating systems (some schools still have steam pipes wrapped in asbestos,) despicable bathroom facilities with leaking or out of service plumbing and fixtures; antiquated electrical systems – many still having old knob and tube type wiring. Cafeterias in schools having them also are ill equipped and the quality of the food served is often atrocious. Labs, gyms, auditoriums and class rooms are often poorly equipped and in poor repair. And forget air-conditioning.

    Then, take a drive out to suburbia and check out those schools. Many are veritable palaces – huge sprawling edifices, many no more than a few years old. Most have all the bells and whistles. These schools are like bright shiny new pennies while many inner city schools one could liken to old, worn buffalo nickels.

    And this isn’t even considering the differences in programs, the quality of teachers and administrators, the availability of teaching materials, books, state of the art media, computers, community involvement, etc., etc.

    Do people really imagine that a child is likely to obtain the same quality education in an old, broken down, antiquated inner city school as they would in one of the comparatively marvelous suburban schools? Does this equate to a level playing field? I think not. How much potential is lost? It’s part of the recipe which insures that the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich. But the reality is that we all lose.


  • You’re right, Bar, and what can we do to change it? The dynamics for inner city teachers are tougher but that doesn’t mean we can’t strive for quality — especially in large urban areas. That’s where local corporations, institutes of higher learning and parents have to engage in a new dialog. I know it sounds all fuzzy and Utopian. We’ve got nothing to lose for trying.

  • Great posts, #s 4-7:


    that was as detailed an account of the problems with public education I haven’t heard in a long time. You do have first-hand knowledge of the situation, and you communicated very clearly.

    One idea, in particular, I consider of greatest importance: the putting together of all students of varying learning abilities in one class. What in hell happened to the special education program – like Head Start and the like? The idea was conceived in the sixties. Have we abandoned it? Until we recognize that all children (through no fault of their own – and there is a myriad of factors) do not have the same fresh start, we’ll never be able to solve that problem. And putting them all together – aside from diluting the quality of education – only discourages those with disabilities as well as all the rest. No wonder the voucher program received public support as one of the ways (for some kids) to escape the dumbing down that takes place in public schools. Could you or some others tell me about what happened to special ed?


    Yes, the inner city kids are more disadvantaged than the rest – but I think it presents a lesser problem than mental/emotional disabilities. There’s always something that can be done with those kids provided you start early enough and get them motivated. I know it’s an uphill climb, but the nature of the problem has less to do with innate ability than socio-cultural factors.


    Very impressive bullet points.

  • Doug Hunter

    I am sick of the old cliche that the problem is buildings. Buildings have never taught anyone a thing. Urban school districts have some of the highest per pupil expenditures (I believe DC’s is the highest in the nation) with limited results.

    It’s not that hard to see it has less to do with buildings and teachers and more to do with the culture and values of the community where the school is located. If you have parents who care and control their children and children who want to learn and succeed all the other stuff will follow. Likewise, if you have parents who could care less and children with the same attitude you can waste as much money as you want and you’re not getting anywhere.

  • I agree with Doug, there. We need more than a face-lift or a cosmetic change.

  • Doug,

    You may be sick of the cliche’ but the cliche’ is true. I don’t argue with your position regarding community values and involvement. But, neither am I talking about cosmetics. The importance of the teaching/learning environment is all too often given short shrift. The visual and tactile evidence of these kids depravation is all around them in their homes, their neighborhoods, AND in their schools.

    Inner city kids and those living in other poor communities need quality education just as vitally as suburbanites. Where do the best teachers go? Do they go to inner city schools where they will have large classes, in crappy, drafty old buildings with outdated or totally missing facilities and equipment? Or might they be lured to a nice bright new suburban palace with, as I noted above, all the bells and whistles?

    There is a desparate need for science and math teachers in ALL schools. Again, to where are the better ones likely to gravitate? Wouldn’t it be far more attractive for a science teacher to work at a school having state of the art labs, equipment and other teaching aides?

    There are certainly good, earnest teachers in our poor communities, but they are largely fighting a losing battle.

    As you point out, per student expenditures are often higher in the poor communities. That does not necessarily that money is not an answer, but that how that money is spent may be at the crux of the problem.

    Some kids do manage to get a good education in even our worst schools. But they are far more the exception than the rule. The greater majority of those kids either barely eek out a degree, or just don’t bother to finish. A few of the best and brightest make it out, but how about the rest of them? The fact that it takes extraordinary efforts on the part of administrators, teachers, parents and students for even a relative few kids to succeed should be a sign post.

    The average kid in good, well supported schools generally do far better in life than the average student coming out of poor schools. If we are truly interested in the future of this country, we owe it to ourselves and moreso to our kids and their kids to make it possible for the greatest number of children to have a positive learning experience through their formative years in our schools. There are no guarantees in life, but given the opportunity for a reasonably equal educational experience, a far greater number of our young people would be prepared and able to make positive contributions to our society rather than being a burden on it.


  • Roger,

    B is for Baritone, not Baronius.

    B (aritone)

  • But what about instituting some remedial programs in those communities, Baritone, so to prime those kids in order to overcome the socio-cultural disadvantages they inherit?

  • leighann

    Special Education is not gone. They way that the program is implemented depends on the school district. There are still some resource classrooms, that is classrooms that are especially for students with disabilities, but there has been a big push to get rid of them. It is called inclusion or mainstreaming.

    Let me start here. There was a study done years ago (I forget the name of it now but can find out if you would like)that drastically changed education. In this study, a number of students were randomly split into two classrooms. The teacher of one classroom was told that her students were gifted or high achievers and the other teacher (control group) was not told anything. The results of the study: the class where the the teacher was told that the students were advanced did much better on the testing. That is the short condensed version of the study. What did it mean to education? That student performance has a strong positive correlation with teacher expectations.

    This is one of the main reasons why schools no longer officially track students. Some still do just not officially. They reason is that if a teacher knows that he/she is teaching a “slower” class, then the teacher’s expectations are lower for that class and the students do not perform as well. I tend to agree.

    Now with special education, there was a practice for a long time of labeling any student who gave a teacher any difficulty at all as having some sort of disability and putting them in some little room away from the rest of the student population and forgetting about them. They really did not care what this teacher did with them as long as they were out of their hair. They had to serve them becuase of IDEA (the law that says students with disabilities have a right to a free appropriate public education) and even though they were at times, following the letter of the law, they were definately not following the spirit of this law. It became an issue of seperate is not equal. It was also an issue of teacher expectations. Then the pendulum swung in the other extreme direction where all students with disabilities were to be served in a regualar classroom.

    It is true that many students with learning disabilities, students with behavioral disorders,severe ADHD, etc. do better in a regular class due to teacher expectations and
    exposure to the cirriculum that they were not recieving in the resource classrooms. Many of these students are intellectually on the same level or above the same level as students without disabilities.

    The problem is that inclusion classrooms are not
    implemented the way they are supposed to be. In one of these classrooms there is supposed to be a regular education teacher and a speceial education teacher. They are supposed to co-teach. The regular teacher for the subject matter and the special education teacher for the strategies to teach the ones with disabilities or maybe the ones without disabilities who is just struggling. In idea it sounds good but in practice it can be a nightmare to work out. The teachers are often not given common planning times, they have one special education teacher in several different classrooms (sometimes at the same time), the special education teacher has an enormous amount of paperwork to complete for the students on her caseload, and often times all of the students with disabilities are put in the same classroom that is mixed with a few regular education students when the special ed. population should only make up a small percentage of the class. It is a mess!

    Like I said, good ideas in a perfect world where everything is done like it should be and there is plenty of money to implement these programs.

    With all of the meetings, testing and paperwork the faculty and staff at a school are often just streatched too far to be effective, especially in these situations.

  • So you’re saying, Leighann, the problem is with the bureaucracies, no? What about some fucking leadership from the principal or the people who run those schools (and I don’t mean the Board of Education)? It would seem to me that if we had right people at the top, that would be the first step toward resolving these problems – one by one and on a case-by-case basis.

    It’s one area, I think, that the parents could and should organize to create the right kind of pressure in order to have those key positions filled with the most qualified and right-thinking people.

  • leighann

    Having the right people at the top would be good. I am thinking about people who have actually been teachers and they have recently been teachers. It is so easy to sit in an office somewhere and come up with all these nice ideas about how things should be done. Unless they have actually “been in the treaches” they are clueless about how it will actually work out. There are truely people in postion of supervision at our central offices that have never been classroom teachers. There are those who were only teahcers for a couple of years and got out becuase they could not handle it or did not like it but they dictate to us how we should be doing things. They tell us if that if we were doing what we should be doing then it would work.

    I will say that for most prinicpals they do the best that they can with the resources they are given. [

  • Of course. A true educator is not just some arm-chair philosopher who thinks up the ideas but who has love and passion for education and with hands-on experience. Teaching always ought be a vocation, never a job.

    So what are your ideas for cleaning up this mess?

  • Clavos


    While I certainly wouldn’t argue with you about the stark differences between inner city and upscale suburban schools, I would argue that even the upscale suburban schools are seriously deficient, and the fault lies with the way teachers are trained (or not trained, as is really the case) to teach.

    There is far too much emphasis in the colleges of education on the mechanics of teaching, and far too little time is devoted to teaching the material future teachers will be imparting to their charges.

    And I also blame the teacher unions (NEA, AFT and various state, county and municipal teachers unions) for the sorry state of teachers. Their long-time resistance to performance measurements and merit pay are major stumbling blocks to identifying and culling the the incompetent individuals.

  • I agree entirely. The TA is an anathema. Ever since it’s formation in the sixties, I’ve always been suspect of that organization.

  • Clavos

    My #18 is directed to Baritone’s (not Baronius’) #6…

  • Cindy


    Thanks for this article detailing some of the problems with NCLB. I agree it should be scrapped. I have a lot of problems with the educational system anyway, but NCLB is so fraught with ignorant ideas that I think it interferes with even the possibility of positive change.

    Alameda Community Learning Center seems like a step in a much better direction for education to take. I particularly like their Contemporary Community Citizenship (CCC). This community discussion forum and the move toward forming a sort of direct democracy involving learner (interesting that they use ‘learners’ and ‘facilitators’ rather than ‘students’ and ‘teachers’) determination of educational and community decisions is heartening.

    The way this learning center is designed to be non-competitive, with the learners being active participants rather than passive vessels, taking control of their own goals and life plans is something I hope that enough people come to recognize is how children learn to become thinkers. Public schools have a problem, they keep doing the wrong things over and over with small tweaks.

    I love this bit of one of the kids’ essays:

    Learners are totally free to do as they please in their free time during school hours, granted immeasurable trust by the Facilitators. The school is a democracy, in which suggestions and proposals are heard and heeded. Here, respect is passed around like a needle or metal detector is passed around at a traditional high school. Those who refuse to accept the hospitality of the school are dealt with appropriately. AACLC is not just a house of education; it is a lifestyle. It’s satisfying. It brings joy to the prison that once was known as school. It is no longer a daily appointment to find ways to cut, but a true community for those willing to learn and have fun.

    I think that pretty much says it all.

  • Roger,

    To your #18 – Undoubtedly some, perhaps many communities are doing just that.

    I’m not suggesting that lavish new schools are the only, or even the primary answer. As Clav aptly observes, there are problems even in the best of schools in the best of communities.

    But, again, I point to the environment. Perhaps a much larger # of kids would be eager, or at least less hesitant to get up each morning to go to a school that was not a fucking pit.

    As to the effect that teacher unions have had: I’d say there has been both good and bad as with most unions.

    The rise of teacher unions came owing to the manner in which many school corporations abused the rights of their teachers. Greater demands of teacher’s time, the expansion of class sizes – sometimes to as many as 40 to 50 kids, deteriorating working conditions, and pretty much across the board low pay, especially in light of greater and on-going educational demands, ultimately forced teachers to organize to protect their own rights and to give them some clout in negotiations with the school corporations. In many cases, prior to the advent of the teacher unions, there was for many no opportunity to negotiate salaries or benefits. It often was essentially a take it or leave it situation.

    The teacher unions have at times overstepped their bounds as have most unions at one time or another. But, no matter how you look at it, no matter where teachers work, teaching is a tough job. Teachers have little respect in the U.S. Many people still look at it in the manner: If you can – do. If you can’t – teach.

    Good teaching is an art. And the necessary skill sets differ widely depending largely on what level and/or what topics one is to teach. A really good high school teacher may not be worth squat in a 2nd grade classroom and vice versa. How one deals with kindergarteners varies from how one handles 5th graders or high school juniors. How one teaches literature is likely far different from how one would teach chemistry.

    Teachers who manage to find the right niche and do well are relatively few. It takes a passion beyond the normal desire to succeed in a career and make a living. That is all too often forgotten or ignored.

    So many people, especially political conservatives, are rarely willing to spend a dime on schools in poor communities. They consider it throwing good money after bad. I suppose in some cases that is true. But that is a function of oversite to assure that the money allocated is spent properly and as intended. Waste can be reduced.

    Nevertheless, it still remains that all kids deserve the best education possible. Denying them such access because people don’t want to spend the money is short sighted and harmful to their future as well as ours.


  • How can I disagree with your conclusion, B-man. My concerns is that apparently the vast bureaucracy created in matters of education has become dysfunctional and the stumbling block.
    There’s go to be a way for individual schools – especially those in the “depressed” areas to set up special programs, use whatever means at their disposal, whatever, to deal with the SPECIFIC problems they’re confronting – and bureaucracies seem to stand in the way, along with federal mandates.

    What’s your idea of a solution?

  • Teaching always ought be a vocation, never a job.

    A point that has been lost from the perspective of Union management.

  • Silas,

    “Teaching always ought be a vocation, never a job.” Quoted again.

    Of course that’s not always or even often the case. For many, teaching is a fall back, a safety net which sadly reinforces the can – do, can’t – teach notion. Not to be sexist, but I know at least back when I was in college, a lot of girls I knew majored in education with the goal of teaching a few years until they met Mr. Right, and then chucking the job to be wife and mom. I know that is a stereotype, and frankly, I don’t know if that holds true today.

    It doesn’t necessarily mean that those noted above are bad teachers. Some might be really good at it. The problem is that many don’t stay with teaching when other opportunities open up for them.

    On the other hand, some of them wind up staying with teaching because other opportunities DON’T come their way. That can make for bad and bitter teachers.

    I suppose some wind up staying because they discover that they are in fact good at it, and they like it. That makes for good teachers.


    I’m not as intimately involved now as I was when my own kids were in school. Obviously, community involvement is vital. I’m sure that any number of individual schools make various attempts to initiate and maintain programs that include teachers, administrators, parents, politicians, business leaders, perhaps retirees and whoever else they can bring into the mix. Surely, some schools don’t.

    I still believe, though, that the main thrust must come through the establishment. Grass roots efforts can make for positive changes, but the big ticket items – namely the schools themselves – can only come through the auspices of a willing and able government. Donations from the neighborhood Walmart and PTA bake sales are not going to get new schools built, nor even old ones brought up to snuff.

    Keep in mind as well that when we are discussing poor and/or inner-city neighborhoods, we are also talking about kids from broken homes, single mothers on welfare or working 2 or more jobs. We’re possibly talking about drugs and gang influences, high crime and overarching poverty. It’s a far different situation attempting to get parental involvement in their kids education. Some don’t care. Some care, but have little time while jostling with multiple usually low paying jobs. Most poor rural or poor inner-city neighborhoods don’t have many mini-van driving “soccer moms.” (or “hockey moms” if you prefer) meeting each other for lunch, rambling around to the mall and then queuing (sp?) up to pick up the little urchins at school and then running them off to gymnastics, ballet, tuba classes, or yes, to soccer (hockey) practice.

    Rather, you’ve got a lot of latch key kids who make it home either walking or on a bus, unlocking the door of an empty house or apartment and perhaps fending for themselves for supper. I know the above is not true in all or even most cases. But it IS true in enough cases to have a significant effect on the performance of such kids in school.

    I don’t have any specific solutions. As you suggest, the solutions may well vary with each school, with each community. Simply throwing tons of tax money around will not solve the problems. But using tax money wisely and at least in part to significantly improve the schools themselves can certainly help.


  • Doug Hunter

    My gut feeling is that there is little benefit to new buildings and increased education spending per pupil. The spending per pupil thing has been studied extensively and seems to show that there is little benefit to increased spending there.

    I’m actually really surprised that I could find no studies which documented the educational results of districts before and after they constructed new schools. Again, this is my gut, but I suspect if there was a large improvement it would be well documented and used as a basis to request new construction funds.

    If anyone can find one that looks at the same school districts before and after construction I’d love to read it.

  • leighann

    I have worked in the school system for 10 years now. In only one of those years did I work at one that was not a title one school. (A title one school is one where a high percentage of the students are on free or reduced lunch.)

    The school where I am currently employeed is one of these schools. We have many of the problems listed above even though the school is a fairly new school. It is very nice. Many of the problems still exist.

    Roger- I do not know the answers. I do know in order to do the job like the people at the top are saying we need to do it, we are going to have to have more people. There is no money for more people. I have worked at three different schools and have seen a few principals come and go. While some did manage better than others, even the very best that I have seen just did not have enough to work with. Keep in mind that even with teachers, parents and staff volunteering time there are just not enough people to go around.

  • I went to public school in the States and will make these points.

    1. Teachers managed to make learning boring. In first or second grade, I was enthusiastic about school. By the time I had reached the seventh grade, it was a dull grind for me. What little knowledge you see me display here is not the result of the efforts of the school system – they are my own efforts, a bookworm bored stiff in school who read far beyond the pathetic curriculum of the State of New York. Mind you, I went to the better of the schools, not the under-funded slum schools.

    2. I remember in the fifth grade, one of the best teachers I ever had harangued us for over an hour telling us to tell our parents to support the teachers’ union in its efforts. Mrs. Turin let loose with hammer and tongs, with the passion of a stump speaker. I have the feeling that she found herself bitter indeed as the teachers’ union wound up in the hands of time servers and clock watchers. The stale bureaucrats of the teachers’ unions seemed always to leave the odor of flatus around them, turning teaching into the same drudgery that teachers turned learning into for students.

    3. For all the bad-mouthing of standardized tests shown in the article, they are necessary in a school system where learning is made a bore and a chore, rather than the enlightening and inspiring experience it ought to be. Factory teaching requires factory testing, unfortunately.

  • Leighann (#28),

    Well, the first thing I would do is strip the bureaucracies to bare minimum. The administrators take too much of a chunk from the dollars which should be devoted to education. The Board of Education should be peopled with volunteers – as part of the public service.

    If money’s the problem, cut salaries, so there’d be more money going around for those who have a calling. In other words, if we start with the proposition that teaching is a calling – and I think we must – everything will fall into place.

    Fuck the teacher’s union. I’d like to see it dismantled. These are revolutionary steps, I admit, but I don’t think nothing less would do. The educational crisis we’re facing justifies it.

  • This may not be the best thread to post this, but what the hell. It touches on “education” in a peripheral way.


    Battle brews over Bush library.

    I’ve always thought it kind of presumptuous for outgoing presidents to busy themselves with building a monument to themselves, regardless of their record. It ought to be done by the historians, if at all, not themselves. What an ego trip?

    So now we have this semi-literate person, IMO, one of the most mediocre and unaccomplished presidents, trying to leave a mark for the posterity. And in these hard economic times. It’s megalomania and self-delusion of the worst kind.

    Submit your scribbles, I suggest, to the Library of Congress, and be done with it. Let posterity judge you if there’s anything to discover about your greatness that thus far has escaped unnoticed. That would be the most noble and patriotic thing to do – perhaps the only act for which you may claim merit.

  • Another item of interest:

    SAT in the Recession: Do it online!

    Here is one idea of taking test-preparation out of the curriculum: Do it online!

  • Clavos

    So now we have this semi-literate person, IMO…

    And yet, he got through Yale. And with a better GPR than John Kerry.

    …trying to leave a mark for the posterity. And in these hard economic times.

    “Hard economic times” is irrelevant.

    It’s private money being spent. Money voluntarily donated. No different from one of my clients spending millions of his/her own money on a yacht.

  • Clavos

    Construction and operation of the Bush library will likely create more “stimulus” and jobs/income for the area than most of Bam’s plans.

  • I still think the whole idea is but tooting one’s horn. What’s wrong with the Library of Congress?

  • BTW, getting through Yale with connections shouldn’t be that hard. Look at the the kind of crop that graduates from Yale and Harvard because of the emphasis on multi-cultural studies under the auspices of Cornel West.

  • leighann

    There is pressure on teachers to join the teacher’s unions. Student teachers are forced to join in order to complete the requirement of student teaching. I have joined in the past because I thought I had to for the insurance but the school where I am currently employeed carries insurance for employees independent of the teachers union. I am no longer a member and have even opted out before when the union was the only way to have insurance.

    On the military base the the teacher’s union is very strong. While it is good in some ways because it protects instructional and planning time for teachers which is always beneficial to students, it was also many times counterproductive. It did take the professional attitude away from many of the teachers and staff. They would not give one more minute than what they had to at times and they were protected in that. Anyone who has ever worked in the school systems knows that you just can’t do that. There were teachers who would not even show the new teachers around without asking for comp time for it.

    I ended up resigning due to the fact that they were asking me to test students as part of an evaluation for special education but would not give me trainig on how to administer the tests. These were tests that were in large part going to determine if a student was labeled with a disability or not. The reason that I got no training was that they could not ask me to stay after school for the training. I volunteered but that would mean that they would have to ask someone to stay after to train me and they could not do that without paying them. They did not have the money.

    Teacher’s unions…UGH!

  • leighann, Hi and welcome to Blogcritics. I need you to delete the trackback url that you have entered into the URL: box just above where you type in your comments. That space is where you would enter either the full link to a site of yours or another site you want to link to.


    Christopher Rose
    Blogcritics Comments Editor

  • Clavos

    Having connections may help one get into Yale, but getting a degree is another matter.

    If it were so easy to get through with connections, Yale graduates would not be eagerly sought by employers and Yale itself would not be one of a handful of top-rated American universities.

    Bush is inarticulate, particularly when speaking publicly, but “semi-literate” he is not.

    I still think the whole idea is but tooting one’s horn.

    It is. So what? You do that constantly on these threads.




    It’s a former president’s perquisite, practiced by virtually all of them.

  • Well, it seems to me, Leighann, that’s the root of the problem. They’ve got their tentacles into everything.

  • Doug Hunter

    “If it were so easy to get through with connections, Yale graduates would not be eagerly sought by employers”

    I think anyone would rather hire someone with a 90 IQ/diploma whose family and friends were high ranking politicians and bureacrats than someone with a degree, a 150 IQ, and no connections. Connections, and the favoritism and corruption that comes with them are the only things that warrant a 7-figure+ salary.

  • Clav,

    Just a question for you: Weren’t you one of the contributors here a few months back who were lambasting Ivy League grads as being useless sycophants?

    Baritone (NOT BARONIUS)

  • “You do that constantly on these threads.”

    You’re projecting here your own motivation for posting. Don’t make a mistake assuming we’re on the same page in that regard.

  • Clavos

    Bar (safer that way!),

    I don’t think so, but I may have. In any case, there’s no denying they’re in demand, in both the business and academic worlds, regardless of what I might think of them. (I’m rarely consulted by someone considering an Ivy League grad for employment)

  • Clavos

    Projection, my ass, Roger.

    Even a cursory review of your comments (and articles) reveals your own (overblown) idea of yourself.

  • I may come across that way, I grant; but it’s not arrogance, nor a false sense of confidence. But it doesn’t address the motivation why I write and post. And for you to assume that it’s “tooting my own horn” is awfully presumptuous.

    Ergo: you must be projecting

  • Clavos

    And for you to assume that it’s “tooting my own horn” is awfully presumptuous.

    I’m not “assuming” anything, Roger.

    It’s evident.

  • It’s evident only to such biased minds as yours.
    You’re entitled to your own opinion, of course. I don’t give a fuck what you think.

  • Clavos

    I wouldn’t expect you to, Rog.

  • Res ipsa loquitur.


  • I tried before. No longer. And under the circumstances, since our feeling is mutual, I see no point in interacting with you directly.

  • Clavos



  • An excuse for not digging deeper, whatever the reason.

  • Baronius

    Oh, rats. A great thread falls apart.

    We don’t often talk about education on BC, but when we do I’m struck by the passion and the similarities on all sides’ positions. So let me toss out a few positions and see if we can all agree on them.

    1) “No child left behind” (the concept, not necessarily the law) is a flawed idea. Children should have access to as much education as they can handle, but we can’t expect all children to achieve equally.

    2) Teachers are trapped in a maze of conflicting agendas. National education policies, school administrative staff, and teachers’ unions don’t teach students; teachers do. We should be able to fire the bad teachers and reward the good ones, but we shouldn’t blame teachers in general for the current problems.

    3) School facilities shouldn’t endanger students’ safety or health. Beyond that, increased infrastructure spending can’t save a failing school.

    4) Ideally, teachers inspire students. Often, good teachers are working against families and neighborhoods that devalue education. Whatever the solution is for our current educational crisis, it will have to address the inspiration of students.

    Any other general principles we can agree upon? And do we even agree on these four?

  • I agree with you on all four points, Baronius, and I believe so have many others here.

    So why do you say this thread is falling apart?

  • Baronius

    Things lurched into Bush-bashing and name-calling. That never leads anywhere.

  • I haven’t done that. And yes, doing so in the context of this thread doesn’t advance the discussion at all.

  • Yes, you are so right about this. I am a Texas teacher and we have the TAKS test. When Obama chose Arne Duncan he was saying “we are going with the status quo on this.” Both are pro charter schools and closing poor black schools as done in Chicago.

    We have closed some schools here too and some on the verge. And just what is the problem with those schools that are on the brink? They are poor, Mexican and or black or both or all three combined. These schools have the highest percentage of SPEDs.

    My sister just returned from a conference in San Francisco about ADHD children in the schools. And we concur. What is shocking to me is that this has been reclassified as a mental illness and not a mere disability.

    If this is true, then teachers are in real trouble. Having dealt with SPED I can tell you it can be like a looney bin. They are clumped together to keep order in the rest of the classrooms. And worse of all they too must pass some form of the TAKS test with their dysfunctional memories.

    What to do? NCLB is an unfunded mandate and that should be reason enough for Obama to ban it. Either fund it or kill it. And with them giving those AIG crooks billions, think of what it could have done in the classroom?

    That won’t happen. White collar criminals are far more important than black and brown kids.


  • “White collar criminals are far more important than black and brown kids.”

    That’s the right kind of attitude. I wish it was expressed more often so we could get a real sense as to who is responsible.

    Keep on plugging.