Your Education Worries?

This photo was taken by Flickr user | Mathieu |; it was used under Creative Commons license

School is back in session, and parents, students, teachers and policy makers are gearing up for another year of challenges, questions and cafeteria mystery-meat.

Over the next few months, Day to Day will be doing a series of reports on education, and we'd like your help thinking through what sorts of issues we should be looking at.

So what are your top education-related concerns? Paying for college? Violence? Sex education? Test scores? Drugs? Too much homework? Too little homework? Over-scheduling? Lack of afterschool programs? Tracking? The achievement gap? Technology in the classroom? Charter schools? Vouchers?

You can leave your suggestions in the comments field below, or you can use the Contact Day to Day form if you'd like to leave us a private note. Please make sure you use a working email when you comment, though, as we may want to do a follow-up on your idea. If we generate a segment out of a listener suggestion or story, we'd love to be able to give you a shout-out, but we can't do that if we can't contact you.

So what are your thoughts?



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Providing my child with an education that will allow her to compete with children educated in other parts of the world.

Sent by Juliann | 2:21 PM | 9-4-2008

Yes, I am concerned about all of the above....However, as the parent of a highly gifted child in the public school system I especially worry whether or not she is getting the education that she deserves. With constant budget cuts funding to support gifted programs is almost non-existent in our school districts, locally. I question whether I am cheating her by keeping her in the public schools? We strive to provide her with extra-curricular activities that feed her mind and creativity. However, there are many families who do not have the resources that we do and/or are not able to advocate for their child.

On the flip side, with the pressures of making sure that her intellect is well nourished, there is the worry that she doesn't have enough time to simply be a kid.

The honors classes that she attends at her school frequently have significant amounts of homework, sometimes as much as two to three hours a night. For reference: She is 11 and in 7th grade.

As a member of a County Office of Education Board of Trustees I have concerns about providing our kids with the best education possible, achievement goals, school safety, standarized testing and lack of funding.

But, one of my biggest concerns as both a parent and a trustee is the conflict between those who attack the public schools for not being efficient, effective, overpaid and underworked; and those who maintain that they are doing the best they can with the resources they have...Each side is so locked in to their posture that we are making little progress to evoke true change. So, as long as we continue to point fingers and posture, our public schools won't improve and our children, our future will suffer.

Sent by Heidi | 3:04 PM | 9-4-2008

I am the parent of a 7th grader enrolled in a public, Los Angeles middle school. Given the drastic budget cuts in California, I am frightened for the future of ALL our children. In particular, I am frustrated about the lack of foreign language and art instruction; the extreme focus of classroom time on testing; and the general lackluster vision of what constitutes a successful, well-rounded student. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, at least one-third of students (no one seems to know the real figure) drop out before graduation. What happens to them as adults, and what can we do to address that disgrace? I am also very curious to know what motivates a person to become a teacher in this bleak environment.

Sent by Susan | 3:19 PM | 9-4-2008

I once thought school vouchers were a good idea, until I realized that the funds offered will not be enough to make it possible for poor children to go to high quality private schools. What it will be is a gift to private school parents, a tax-payer funded scholarship for wealthy families, while the poor will still only be able to afford public schools. The public schools in this environment will be worse off, because they will have less money to operate with.

Sent by Catherine M. Mitchell | 4:07 PM | 9-4-2008

Sports, sports, and more sports.... Our local high schools look more like Olympic training facilities than places of eduction.

Sent by Craig | 3:09 AM | 9-5-2008

When looking at the education options, please do not forget Homeschooling.

Many parents have chosen to educate their children themselves because of the concerns which have been listed and out commitment to our kids.

Sent by Debra | 9:50 AM | 9-5-2008

Testing has sucked the joy out of learning. Example: my children's elementary school uses the popular Accelerated Reader incentive program. Children are tested to determine their reading level, and then they read books at that level or higher and are tested on them. They accrue points for each test they pass and receive prizes.

A week ago, my fifth-grade daugher finished her library book. So I suggested she read the first book of The Spiderwick Chronicles, which I'd bought for my kids a few months back. I'd just finished it myself. She said she couldn't read it because it might be below her AR level, and she couldn't check that from home.

Incredulous, I urged her to read it just because it's a good book. She looked at me liked I'd suggested she go get some locusts and boil them up for a snack.

My kids are great readers who've been exposed to great literature since before birth. We receive two daily newspapers and scads of magazines, and our bookshelves are overflowing. But they see no value in reading a book that they won't be tested on.

I don't fault the teacher, really, because I'm sure that's not the message being sent. But that's the way their pre-adolescent minds are interpreting what they hear at school. And it's completely frustrating.

I even blogged about this:

Sent by Kate Beem | 10:45 AM | 9-5-2008

As an early childhood educator my main concern is for the littlest of children. The care for the youngest is often given by those with the least training, the lowest salaries and as an afterthought. Even though as a professional I know that the youngest are the most vulnerable of all children. Waldorf education is working to change this but is it slow work and it goes against the grain of our culture.

Sent by Amy | 10:09 AM | 9-6-2008

I have a senior daughter who has adopted balance as her mantra. Throughout high school, she has bucked the pressure to compete (by taking the most advanced classes and repeating standardized tests over and over again) in favor of pursuing her passions: dance, chorus and working with children. She spends time with friends of both sexes bowling, hanging out at the beach and going to drug and alcohol-free parties (where the parents are home). She has dated but has not had a serious boyfriend, and I have learned to trust her good judgement. Now I worry about her as she faces a year of rejection from UCs who will see her "average" statistical profile as unexceptional, even though she has already set her sights on becoming a child psychologist. I believe she will be one of many truly exceptional young people who will be forced to begin her higher education at a community college instead of California's highly regarded UC system. Until public universities stop looking at kids as statistical packages, our schools will continue to "teach to tests."

Sent by Ellen Girardeau | 1:43 PM | 9-6-2008

I am a 24 year old returning college student. Before deciding to resume my engineering degree, I was a restaurant owner/operator for around 5 years. As a result I have some varied experience in the job markets, business, economics, and education.

Before I state my case, I want to make clear that this suggestion has nothing to do with curricula designed for students with learning disabilities. Having these programs in place is crucial to providing opportunity for those individuals.

I write this to express my major concern with the public education system in the US. In doing a little research, I found that the education in the US is among the best in the world from K-6. Where we fall short in comparison to the rest of the developed world is in secondary education, 6-12.

This suggestion may sound radical, but I have a few solid arguments that back this up. The key to improving US education is eliminating all high school curricula other than what is now considered 'advanced'. This, in my opinion, would eliminate the opportunity for students to select a lower quality education and would reduce the cost of education per student because only 1 curriculum per grade level per subject would have to be elaborated. Also, the grading system would be more indicative of a student's abilities in the various subjects. In other words, our high schools would operate more like universities.

As a restaurant owner and operator in the Lee's Summit Missouri area, and as a Lee's Summit North High School graduate of 2002, I began to notice some startling trends. For background, the Lee's Summit school district is by no means a poor quality institution. Because I operated a business in the area, I worked with graduates and soon to be graduates of that school district. I was appalled at the fact that the average graduate does not know basic geography. The average graduate knows little algebra. The average graduate doesn't have basic knowledge of government systems, major world cultures, economics, or history. I met a high school graduate who thought that the language of Spain was Portuguese. Through this interaction, I began to see the devaluation of the high school diploma. The scary part is that the Lee's Summit school district is considered to be very good.

The fact that I attended in the same school district as these employees is important because of how different an education I received. When I got to high school, I had to enroll just like everyone else. I was blessed, though, because my family would not allow me to select 'easy' classes. That is, they expected me to take the highest level classes for my grade level. That's a rarity. As a result, I had to work through curricula that treated the subject in depth. Thanks to that, I did not need to take any remedial classes when I started college. My higher level of education opened up opportunities that made my successes possible.

The phenomenon that concerns me is the type of selection made by a student without that family pressure. What I observed while going to high school was that the students who wanted to get by with the bare minimum could select classes that treated the subject matter in a more superficial way than the upper level classes.

In my opinion, this has 3 detrimental side effects.

The first is that the opportunity for a better quality education is lost at that moment. If the student changes his/her mind, it is difficult to take a more advanced course because the one he/she is in won't provide the preparation for the next course at a higher level. In other words, once that decision is made, it can leave the student behind if a correction isn't made quickly.

The second is that it devalues the grading system and the value of the diploma. I believe my GPA was a 3.2 in High School. Had I taken the lower level classes, I could have had a 3.8 or even a 4.0 GPA. This would put me at a higher class ranking, and given me a more flattering transcript. The problem here is that the grading system says very little about the student's education. If all students are held to the same high standard, those who excel in certain subjects will show high marks in them. Those who struggle with certain subjects will show lower marks in them. By being able to select the lowest level classes, a student could earn the same marks as a student that has selected the highest level. Degrees from universities are well respected because to earn one, you have to complete specific curricula to a certain level of competency. I can't take lower level classes and expect to get an engineering degree. I'm forced to study at the same level as every other engineering student at the university.

The third, and most 'out of the box' concept, is that it creates market forces between the student body and the school systems that favor lesser quality education. By allowing students to choose what kind of classes they take, a supply and demand dynamic is created for the different class offerings. If very few students at a school will select high level classes, very few are held. If the majority of students in a school choose higher level classes, then the majority of the classes will be of a higher level. So, by offering choice to our high school students, we are making the work of improving education much more difficult than it should be. If we only offer one curriculum per grade level, it would free up the time and money spent on developing the different strata of curricula. It would save cost on assets because more of the same materials would be used for each grade level. That would mean that the economics of mass quantities would push down the costs of books, lab supplies, computers, etc. And while on the topic of mass quantities, even more money and time could be saved if each grade level is standardized across the whole US. So, by saving time and money in these categories, we can use those savings to increase spending on faculty salaries and benefits. That way we can allow the market forces of the job market to help improve our quality of education.

So, in my opinion, eliminating the different levels of curricula would have 3 major positive results. It would improve the education that every student is exposed to. It would give substantial meaning to the grading system and the diploma. And finally, it would reduce the administrative, material, and labor costs of the public education system. These 3 things would give us an enormous head start in improving education in the US.

Thank you for reading my suggestion. I hope to see meaningful dialogues on this subject in the near future.

Matias Byers

Sent by Matias Byers | 3:46 AM | 9-8-2008

How about considering a subject that is never brought up? How the teacher's unions are a big obstacle to improving the quality of education. School administration is not allowed to use the tools business has used for quality improvement because the strong unions prevent real reform while fighting any competition.

Sent by Wayne Luke | 2:03 PM | 9-9-2008

Lowering grade scales. Grade scales have been reduced from faling grade at 69 to 64 or 59, almost anyone can get an "A", what would be next? Eliminate all expectations?

Sent by Concerned parents | 12:36 PM | 9-11-2008

My husband and I are urging our high school senior to explore "gap year" options, as he has neither decided on a major, nor developed the study skills he'll need in college. His guidance counselor is pushing us to have him apply to four year colleges, because that's what almost all the students in our highly competitive district do. We worry that without a clear direction, he will flounder in his first year, not only squandering thousands of dollars from his college fund, but possibly developing a negative attitude about college as well. A year of useful work, whether paid or not, will help him approach college with a more mature mindset, and perhaps with a major decided from the outset.

There seems to be no shortage of companies eager to sell gap year programs in exotic places, which may wind up little more than glorified vacations. There is not much to go on for finding "college app worthy" and truly educational gap year activities close to home.

Sent by Margaret | 2:11 PM | 9-11-2008

Test scores in elementary school is putting too much pressure on elementary school children. The teachers are under so much pressure from their administration for the children to do well that they only teach to the test. This is a losing situation for both. what happened to learning that embraced reading and learning how th think critically?

Sent by Peggy Cohen | 3:13 PM | 9-11-2008

I agree with a lot of the comments. I have two children, aged 8 and 10 in the Hillsborough County, FL School District. Because of all the tax cuts, and because the economy is slow, FL has a large deficit. Our kids do not get recess because there is "no time in the curriculum" and no money there for someone to watch them. Not that they'd want to have much recess anyway, most of the year, because there is no covered court, no inside gym, and it's HOT out there people, it's 92 and sunny. Apparently in one of the AGP classes, there are not enough text books. The kids have to share, I think it's for 4th grade Math. I should add that we live in a new area, the school is only 3-4 years old, and it probably has as much funding as any in the area.

But even more disturbing to me is the baseline level of the curricula. My 3rd grader has spelling words, and I'm not kidding here, such as "ray" and "rice". I can't even believe I'm typing that! My kids are considered Academically Gifted, but even for the "average" third grader, this has to be fairly simple. Are we dumbing down everything for the sake of those struggling? How will that affect our economy? And the lack of focus on Math and Science in this country does not bode well for the future. Superpowers are based on innovation, and if you can't think logically and creatively to innovate, or can't spell or write well enough to communicate your innovations, then the best idea in the world will never come to fruition. We can't let that happen to us, but it seems we are headed in that direction.

Sent by Bronwyn Tulloch | 3:31 PM | 9-11-2008

Middle school texts are too heavy (and too expensive). My kid's backpack weighs over 20 pounds, just for the required homework.

Homework levels are too high---2 hours a night (the school policy) in addition to over 7 hours in school comes to more than a full-time job.

I hear what others are saying about the lack of programming for gifted kids--we ended up in a private school that we can't really afford, because our local middle school offers essentially nothing for gifted kids.

Sent by Kevin | 9:57 PM | 9-11-2008

I would like to see more research on the effects of homeschool students versus other methods of youth education. From my professional experience, I have observed a drastic difference between the learning outlook of homeschooled students versus that of students who attend public school, for instance. The students who are homeschooled seem to yearn to learn far more than other students I encounter as an instructional substitute and private tutor. They also seem to utilize more reflective thinking skills and have more motivation for striving for their absolute best. These are strong qualities that will help them through a growing number of life skills and enhance their overall quality of living too. A report that takes an honest look at all sides would be most helpful for many educators, I imagine.

Furthermore, I would like to see more reports about the benefits of online learning for youth, especially since the recent increase of online public schools, online tutoring, and other online learning systems in place. It would be helpful to note how students fare in comparison to traditional bricks and mortar schools, and whether it is a learning enhancement in any way, as well.

Thank you very much for this opportunity to contribute!

May the world "Njoy education and have FUN learning!"

Njoyucation Online Tutoring

Sent by Ms. Joy | 1:10 AM | 9-12-2008

My concern is the lack of AYP (adequate yearly progress) for bright kids. The Fordham Institute on results of NAEP studies shows that "While the nation's lowest-achieving youngsters made rapid gains from 2000 to 2007, the performance of top students was languid."

I don't care whether you call them bright or gifted or high-achieving... Don't ALL our kids deserve to learn in school?

Sent by Carolyn K | 1:35 AM | 9-12-2008

My child is learning at home for the first time .. he's a seventh grader and I finally pulled him out of a public school where not only was he being underserved, he was also being endangered. My big concern is how to know if the online curriculum is really working. And, what to do next year .. will we stay home for the rest of his education?

Sent by TR | 2:33 AM | 9-12-2008

I too have huge concerns about teaching to the lowest common denominator. My 8 year old son skipped 3rd grade and is now in 4th grade, in a supposed "advanced" class. This week he brought home his vocabulary list. It contained words such as "spill", "else" and "button". My son wants to go to MIT and be a scientist. How will he ever gain the skills he needs with a snail-paced education such as this? It is so unfair. We cannot afford private school and so he suffers with endless boredom in a dumbed down public school. We live in a rural area, so if he does not attend public school he will have virtually no interaction with other children. Does anyone remember the ad campaign, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" ? It certainly is.

Sent by Maura Muller | 11:43 AM | 9-12-2008

I would like to see a report that defy the concept that more $$$ = better school. Too often the school performance is linked with $$$. While abundant example around the world show that operation efficiency is the key factor. While the rest of the world think too much dependency on PC and calculator is detrimental to a student's thinking and calculation skill, many US school districts continue invest heavily on "technology" (nick name for computers and over head projectors and interactive white boards and fancy websites). At the same time, the whole US education system keeps crying poor as usual.

Maybe it is not a bad idea to outsource our education to other countries that can do a much better job with much less $$$.

Sent by Naysayer | 12:15 PM | 9-12-2008

Please remember the unique needs of our gifted students. Of all the children in our classroooms today, most likely the child who will learn the least this year will be the gifted child. What can we do to support this population and their parents?

Sent by Denise | 2:10 PM | 9-12-2008

The biggest problem with the public schools for our family is the lack of above grade level instruction and grouping of the students who need it.
Our daughter, now 10 and in 6th grade, was driven to learn almost from birth.
She was hours old when she first stood up while I was trying to burp her and then when she rolled to the side while I tried to get a diaper on her. By the time we were home, she knew that I fed her: she was happy to cuddle with Dad until she got hungry. Then she would raise her head and look pleadingly at me, eventually crying if I didn't feed her quickly.
By the time she was 5, she tested on the 5th grade level for reading and math. I was able to get her directly into first grade, but she LOST skills and got seriously depressed during her first two years of school. For third grade, I homeschooled her 4-6 hours per week for grade 4-8 Reading, Grammar, Vocabulary, and Math work. That February, she tested above average for 8th graders on the 8th grade level Explore test. For 5th grade, I went into school to pull out about 8 students for reading the Odyssey in the fall and MacBeth in the spring. Last year, I taught her and 6 other students Algebra.
Students should NEVER LOSE skills in school. A 5 year old shouldn't have to go to a 5th grade classroom to get 5th grade level instruction. School districts badly need to find the students who need above grade level instruction, group them together, and teach them on a challenging level.

Sent by Margaret P. | 8:13 PM | 9-12-2008

I am particularly concerned about dyslexic children. Because of abnormal (unique) brain wiring, dylexics are often gifted and yet they have trouble learning to read, write, and spell. In Oregon many of our brightest students languish in special ed classrooms, never learning to read. Without reading skills, they cannot contribute to our society's future problem solving.

Sent by Rita Petherbridge | 10:58 AM | 9-13-2008

As a teacher of gifted students my newest concern is the state mandated 90 minute reading block and the rigid application forced on the gifted student. My class is made up of students of at least one grade level above reading expectations, but I must adhere to a program where I MUST teach grade level for at least 30 minutes. Now, we all know the 30 minutes of grade level exposure was meant for the below-level students, but it is law. So I pull out my basil readers and we read a story built around a set vocabulary and skill on grade level...whether or not my students have progressed beyond it or not. Now, I can tell you that my students can use some of that 90 minutes toward science or math...or better yet, independent learning opportunities to support their deepest held interests, but no, I must teach reading in that 90 minutes. My suggestion is to look at the state and national mandates, and look at how they are negatively affecting out high-ability learners.

Sent by Alison Mitchell | 1:53 PM | 9-14-2008

As a parent of two extremely bright children (I hesitate to use the word "gifted" due to the connotations and prejudice against it), my issue is with the budget cuts destroying any challenging programs and curricula for intelligent children.

When schools teach to the lowest common denominator, those at the top are being ignored. In my opinion, "No Child Left Behind" is leaving behind the children with the most promise for the future.

It is admirable that the powers that be are finally addressing the needs of those students who fall through the cracks, being advanced through the education system while gaining no real knowledge. It is the implementation of the methods that is the problem. Focusing solely on ensuring all children are merely "proficient" results in no students being "outstanding". One of these ignored, bored geniuses may just hold the key to one (or more)of society's greatest problems. Should this child be forced to endure repetitive rote learning in order to pass a test aimed at struggling students?

If the United States ever truly wants to compete as an equal power in the new global economy, we need to stop and take a serious look at how we educate all of our children, but especially the most intelligent. As of now, we (seemingly) discriminate against those who are intellectually superior, believing instead that mediocrity is ideal.

Sent by Amy Klamar | 10:17 PM | 9-14-2008

I agree with all the well-articulated posts about gifted children falling through the cracks.

I also want to add a very different concern. My son is severely allergic to peanuts. His elementary school isn't nut-free, but does provide a "Peanut-free" table where he usually sits and eats alone. He's okay with that now, but this isolation could affect his love of school as he gets older. Furthermore, it seems public school teachers aren't allowed to have life-saving Epipens in their classrooms, so we have to hope that if he's exposed to peanuts someone will realize his symptoms in time to get to the office and locate his Epipen and administer it in time properly. He's only in Kindergarten, but we're contemplating putting an Epipen in his backpack and teaching him the symptoms that merit using it (so that his chances for survival are much higher). I worry about him every day, and it seems like a no-brainer that any school containing even one deathly allergic child, should be completely peanut-free. If it were someone else's child with the allergy, I wouldn't think twice about saving the peanut butter for non-school hours. A child's life is worth a lot more than the convenience of a PBJ sandwich.

Sent by Kerah Pelczarski | 1:47 AM | 9-17-2008

We removed our son from the local elementary school to homeschool last November, because he became physically ill (migraines, night terrors, weight loss, stomach and bowel issues....) from the academic pressures of the early grades.

He is thriving, and now homeschooling is about so much more than physical health! Our son learns by voraciously reading, asking questions and finding out the answers, spending time with friends ("socialization"), and exploring our world every day. My first blog post, entitled "Community," is about our homeschooling experience:

I conducted a small-but-significant survey of homeschoolers in our region last spring, and asked, among other things, why they took their children out of public school; every family, from many school districts in MA, RI, and CT cited academics as a reason (for most, it was the only reason). Families homeschooled because they felt that too much emphasis was put on achieving high test scores, that there's more to life than the 3 R's, that schools are trying to fit all children into one mold, that creativity and enjoyment are being sucked out of school.

My education-related concerns encompass the woes our son suffered and how to alleviate them for the millions of children who cannot homeschool, and also that we're sacrificing our nation's children on the altar of test scores rather than supporting their innate curiosity, creativity, and love of learning. If schools could relax about achievement and focus more on these three pivotal components of education, the world would be a better place.

Sent by Karen | 11:53 PM | 9-18-2008

Please address the lack of grouping by ability/acheivement in elementary school and the bigotry of low expectations. In these economic times, ele. schools have turned to whole class instruction with class sections that include mainstreamed children as well as unclassified. It is totally unfair to unclassified children to have to repeat academic work they mastered in prior years in the name of 'fairness' to 'those that can't', especially when they will not be offered a make-up the following year. It is even more unfair when the entire grade level curriculum is not covered, and only those with above average financial means can afford the private tutor to keep their children on grade level. Response to Intervention for academically low students is not enough -- those students that are on and above grade level deserve to learn how to learn new and challenging material before they hit middle school and are left to sink or swim.

Sent by D | 2:53 PM | 9-23-2008

I am surprised to see so many people expressing the same things I have been feeling about our public school system for the last several years. The lack of ability grouping, especially in the elementary levels, is going to impact an entire generation of children in our nation. The desire to promote fairness has caused us to swing too far away from appropriate education. All children of the same age are not at the same level developmentally.
My son was not being challenged in his public school setting. What frustrated me most about the experience was when I met with teachers and administrators all of our suggestions were always met with "no". No moving ahead for reading, no moving ahead for math, no grade acceleration, no pretesting out of material. If we had even once been given the response, "Our hands our tied, we have to follow this system", it would have been easier to take. Instead it was, "We are the educational experts and we don't do it that way". Now our son is cyberschooling with much success. The cyberschools are competing for business, so they try hard to meet the needs of the kids. The brick and mortar schools no longer have any motivation to please the stakeholders. If they soon don't learn to be competitive and offer more choices for our academically gifted children, the face of education in the United States is going to change drastically.

Sent by Michelle | 10:16 PM | 9-23-2008