Our Schools is Good

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

People seem to have a love/hate relationship with No Child Left Behind. At first glance, it makes sense... schools have to perform well, and face punishment if they don't. It has plenty of backers. Critics will tell you, though, that the law has hamstrung public schools with impossible goals and not enough funding to reach them. Whoever is right, there's little argument that something needs to change in the public schools. Rudy Crew spent time at the head New York city's school system, and is now in charge of the fourth largest system in the country, in Miami-Dade county. And, in a new book he offers answers. Let us know what questions you have for Rudy Crew, about the problems in the public schools, and what to do to fix them.



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The quality of our schools cannot be accurately measured by narrow-minded standardized tests. These tests force teachers to teach testing skills used only for these tests. (I remember spending time in second and third grade completing entire worksheets of how to properly fill in the bubbles.) The time it takes to prepare and take these tests, as well as the money spent on the materials, could be much better used to provide art and music instruction, classroom materials, or remedial math and reading services to children who need them. ( The argument that these tests identify students who need extra math or reading tutoring is bogus- a good teacher can recognize a child who needs help WITHOUT the results of a standardized test.)

Sent by Rebekah Sims | 2:11 PM | 8-30-2007

It seems that we have not (as a country) come to grips with the fact that our public schools were a bargain for many decades because women filled the vast majority of teaching positions when there were limited career choices open. Now we want the same caliber persons teaching but want them at same bargain (lower pay) that yesterday's teachers accepted. Salaries must meet the importance of this important job.

Sent by Kate Berding | 2:22 PM | 8-30-2007

What Mr. Crew is suggesting won't work.

I know, because I live in a city where we tried what Mr. Crew suggests. My city, Watertown, MA, spends twice the national average on a per-pupil basis. Adding together funding from property taxes and a very active grant writing program, we spend a whopping $15k per student. Our teachers average $61k, approximately twice the average income of a resident of our city. They have a benefits package and a pension, something our residents can only dream of.

Result? 1 out of 3 fourth graders can't pass the basic math exam. We're failing to make AYP.

When anyone brings this up, it's met with the equivalent of a shrug -- 'tests don't matter' or 'the only thing that matters is the income of the kids' parents, we can't do anything.'

Don't bother to try what Mr. Crews says. You're just throwing money down a hole.

Sent by Lisa Williams | 2:22 PM | 8-30-2007

Our school district is providing much needed services on shrinking budgets. Its hard to say a school is failing when high school students can graduate with their associates degree, train in apprenticeship programs and still offer quality fine arts programs. This is not a wealthy school in a state that is known for providing steady funding. This is a rural school district in Oregon. It can be done, but for how long on so little is the question.

Sent by T. Dugan | 2:30 PM | 8-30-2007

More data:

National average teacher salary (2005): $47,602
Watertown average teacher salary (2006): $61,000
Average salary, nationally: 32,000
Average salary, Watertown: 33,900

Average per pupil expenditure, US: $8,287
Per pupil expenditure, Watertown: $15k

Result: Doesn't work.

I personally would support a tax override to benefit our local schools -- even though I pay to send my kids to private school -- because I believe children deserve a good education. But at this point, I just think it's hopeless: adding more money won't work.

Sent by Lisa Williams | 2:34 PM | 8-30-2007

what about testing? we teach to the testing, no time for anything else...

Sent by Michele Johnson | 2:35 PM | 8-30-2007

I teach in Philadelphia. Our school is over 50 years old. In the winter it is cold and when the weather gets warmer, the building is extremely hot. The building is old dreary and has little technology. It is not a productive learning enviroment. Our school is not unique and we are teaching in the of poorest schools. This are also issues that need to be addressed.

Sent by Theresa Willer-Grinkewicz | 2:38 PM | 8-30-2007

I think our citizens need to change the way they feel about taxes and be willing to pay more of them.

Sent by Becky | 2:39 PM | 8-30-2007

My wife is a 3rd grade teacher and she has been teaching for 20 plus years. She feels and complains to me that she does not have the time to teach. She thanks to "no child left behind" is continually evaluating the children and does not have the time to "Teach" the children. Let the teacher teach the children which she loves to do and release them from the continual "paperwork" which is now "computer-work" so the schools meet requirements of reporting, while requirements of teaching and learning suffer. The emphasis is in the wrong place currently.

Sent by Leonard Reeves MD | 2:39 PM | 8-30-2007

Here's a cheap way to improve our schools: Initiate a bottom-up evaluation system targeting teachers, administrators and programs. I've done this during my 30-year career in middle schools and believe me, it works. Of course, it's a bear to get staff tie-in, but perseve, dear hearts, persevere.

Sent by donald wallace | 2:40 PM | 8-30-2007

What is this guy talking about? What's wrong with "variability"?

Sent by Norman | 2:42 PM | 8-30-2007

I live in Pembroke Pines and often listen to your School Board meetings just for entertainment value, sadly not educational. I wish they would let you speak more.How do you address the issue of State Legislatures that do not adequatly fund schools and some School Boards and Members that are so politicized that they they are using the office as a stepping stone or are there for their own agendas and have lost sight of the fact that they represent all children not just a select few. Has Miami School Board come out against the proposed decrease in property taxes and if so why do you appose it?

Sent by Laura -Pembroke Pines | 2:42 PM | 8-30-2007

Mr. Crew is correct in theat there are many problems facing the public schools. A big problem is teachers are forced to be the parents to unfocused, un parented children. I believe education is key to even fix this problem as education can solve the poverty problem.In general, The richer areas have fewer problems as the richer parents have the bandwith and knowledge to provide what Mr. Crew wants.

Further, the seperation between church and state needs to be maintained. Giving vouchers just kills the public education system.

Sent by Toren Orzeck | 2:42 PM | 8-30-2007

While I certainly agree that our teachers deserve to be paid more, I believe that the primary problems with our country's education system are cultural, not financial.

I taught for four years at a private school in Indonesia, where teachers, administrators, parents, and students worked together to create a rich learning environment where everyone thrived. Administrative bureaucracy was minimal. Teachers had flexibility in curriculum and could play while teaching, making the subject matter engaging for students. Students actually wanted to go to school and learn. Parents and the community in general respected teachers.

Paychecks at this school were an afterthought. The emotional reward from teaching was far more valuable than the money.

After that experience, I moved to North Carolina and experienced far more culture shock than I did when I moved to the other side of the world. Illogical bureaucracies enforced asinine policies. Administrators had their hands tied by laws. The average absence rate for my classes over the entire year was over 30%. Parents were often distant and uninvolved. Substance abuse was rampant amongst students. My "success" of helping a student who had previously been in the 1st percentile of math ability get to the 50th percentile was regarded by the state as failure. And so on... The environment was destructive.

After two years trying to "teach" in NC, I retired from teaching at the ripe old age of 30, and $100k a year wouldn't lure me back to a school with the same issues.

Sent by CAF | 2:50 PM | 8-30-2007

After teaching 30 years as a Denver public schools teacher, now retired, and a teacher coach for a new teacher program with 3 grandchildren in DPS.

These are my thoughts:
teacher pay should be increased

second career teachers can be motivated

the majority of students are not taught by someone who looks like them i.e culturally or ethnically,

there needs to be a core respect for our students, not a missionary attitude or savior attitude when working with students and their families.

Denver's teacher union supports mediocrity. Unions have their place in negotiations for salary. OUr taxpayers pay our salary, we essentially work for them.

Many parents relate to the school through their own personal school experiences.

There is not only a drop out problem, but a push out problem.

New teachers need mentors who are positive and experts, not cynical people who relate the negative of the school climate.

Teachers in residence programs should do their certification during the summer, these new teachers are innodated with meeting, inservice etc.

Not everyone who is drawing a paycheck, should even refer to themselves as a teacher, it takes a special person to do this honorable job.

I believe in the separation of church and school.

Everytime the discussion of improving education is held, there should be a small child sitting in the middle of the table to remind us of our FOCUS!!!!!!!!!!

Sent by Susanna E. Rodriguez deLeon | 2:51 PM | 8-30-2007

Throughout high school my son's motto, "I don't need to know it I just need an A."

This is the environment that he was raised in, memorize the information. Finally, in college he realizes he needs to be able to apply the information.

Sent by T. Lawson | 2:54 PM | 8-30-2007

As much as what My Crew is saying in theory is a good idea, in reality it puts focus in the wrong areas. First, a starting teacher is likely to be fresh out of college and not trying to raise a family. We have rafts of starting teacher full of educational theory that do not make it to year three or year five, because there prospects are so limited for the future. The problem is not where they start, it is the dark tunnel before them.

Second, it is not a question of money for MOST teachers at any point. They are professionals, and they have salaries and benefits that a member of the would kill for, largely because they have string unions and easy political support (Who among you is opposed to teachers? We shall burn you at the stake!) Combine that with smile-and-nod job security, and it is a recipe for removing initiative and keeping only people who choose to be automotons. Eliminate gym. Kill the arts. And so on.

If you look at the recent surveys of teachers in California (as NPR has), you will find it is the paperwork and the oversight and cranky parents and demanding college boards and so on that have killed the profession- not the starting wage.

I realize Mr Crew is proposing some holistic solution, but as any educator will gladly tell you big reform movements come and go, but education remains the same.

What is boils down to is people. Orange County California adopted whole word reading as an experiment. One principal said no, and her school was the only one in the district to improve reading scores.

For my part, I wanted to join the teachers core for underserved areas. Decent wage, loan forgiveness (almost more valuable than the wage), but even though I had a science and math education (from and ivy league school), I would have to go to teaching school without pay for six months just to join!

Colleges of Education are sources of derision on campus. We don't need more teachers. We need more people that want to teach. Right now, it is just not possible to be a passionate subject matter experts and join a classroom. Let people interview, see if they are suited to teaching. Don't assume they can't until exposed to doctrine.

Sent by John Dean | 2:56 PM | 8-30-2007

Private schools here in the north bay area of California charge upwards of $15K/year per kid. The most affluent public school districts around here make do with half that amount. Less affluent districts try to meet the needs of poor kids (usually black and brown kids) with even less money, not to mention less qualified teachers.

Nationwide, public schools and for that matter public two- and four- year colleges are chronically underfunded, and in California at least, we spend a great deal more on prisons than we do on kids. We also, as a country, spend more for health care for the elderly than we do on children. At the basest level, compare the cleanliness and attractiveness of shopping malls to that of our school buildings!

It would seem that we simply don't value our children. And we absolutely don't value other people's children, especially if they aren't white or don't speak English. It's incredibly short sighted, since it could be argued that they're all our children, because they're everybody's future. I'm not sure how we change that, but if we don't, we're headed for a very bleak tomorrow.

Sent by Judith Hurley | 2:57 PM | 8-30-2007

We have no problem with schools we have problems with education. In the case of schools ask the children in any third world country who attend school under a tree in the middle of no where.
Our educating of our children is abysmal. The education gears our children to become nothing but indentured labourers. It does not engender thinking sentient human beings. This is reflected in the new u tube sensation who is the runner up in some dubious beauty contest,(and yet she is attending a good college)
Let me leave with this anecdote. If a child in some forgotten nation in Africa cannot hunt,seek out water, grow a crop tend aflock or safe gaurd itself from the elements around it then that child is not likely to reach adulthood. The young boys whose sense are being dulled by the war in iraq if they are not willing to learn how to fire a gun and safe gaurd themselves they too will become another dead statistic. Now compare what the educational system does for our children it ceratinly is not preparing them for many of there own eventualities and yet they are so many nuances to our own existence. Lets say tomorrow that we have no oil to run our cars our electricity or any of our conveniences, are we prepared for this babel of a life come down around our ears? when all that our living has been predicated on no longer exists. Are we prepared for anything like this.
No we are not and so our education is a disgrace if not abysmal.

Sent by Leighton Johnson | 3:03 PM | 8-30-2007

I believe a big part of the reason why students are failing is because parents are working long hours and they no longer have time to help children with school work. After-school programs designed to help children with homework, or simply teach them new skills, can help rectify this problem, yet I do not hear much about increasing the number of such programs. Why is that the case?

Sent by M. Gold | 3:09 PM | 8-30-2007

We must remember that our children are not merely "human resources" for our economic well-being. The most fundamental purpose of public education has always been--since at least Thomas Jefferson--to prepare children to assume the primary political "office" of citizen ("We the people . . ."). Unfortunately, since at least the turn of the 20th century our schools have been captured by the hegemony of the modern business management ideology. Raymond Callahan's classic book, "Education and the Cult of Efficiency" (University of Chicago press, 1962) is a must read for anyone claiming to have a solution to the problems of public education in American. The most dangerous idea proposed by some is to transform our public schools into "government" schools by establishing uniform "standards" throughout the nation. Likewise, we do not need to privatize the schools. American public schools have a special relationship to government. Newton Edwards, a prominent education law historian, said it best: "Public education is not merely a function of government, it is of government itself." The fundamental problems with public education would be significantly reduced if there was a more equitable distribution of wealth in America. Given more resources, parents in the lower SES would be able to give their children far more opportunities to acquire the language skills and experiences (travel, etc.) that bear heavily on test performance.

Sent by Charles J. Fazzaro | 3:14 PM | 8-30-2007

It's not about the money and focus on funding can lead us astray. The latest released OECD PISA survey shows that the USA is already one of the highest spending nations per capita on education but achieves below the OECD average on most measures. Korea, Finland, Japan, Canada, the Czech Republic, Australia and others perform better and spend less. Money isn't the solution. We need to rethink, reframe and move beyond the testing obsession. Read Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant" and you will understand a little better the culture that has led to this focus on control, accountability and standardised testing that is strangling education in this country.
Pat Buoncristiani - retired principal in Australia and Virginia

Sent by Pat Buoncristiani | 3:30 PM | 8-30-2007

First thing that should be done is get rid of the archaic school board system and have a national school system that give each kid, regardless of geography or income, the same educational resources. A national curriculum where nonsense, like creationism, is kept out, and teachers have the same pay and benefits like any other federal worker. Educating the next generation of citizens is too important to leave to dummies.

Sent by George from Oregon | 4:01 PM | 8-30-2007

Mr. Crew I tuned in late to the show and continued to listen in my driveway when I got home. I am not sure if anyone mentioned the cooperative efforts of both school districts and union. It is essential to the success our educational systems. A few years back, as an AFT teacher member on the Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) I have had the opportunity to visit vocational / technical schools in Miami-Dade County and was most impressed with their real life work both in teaching and learning. As a teacher and union member who is now retired I valued every opportunity that my district and union afforded me to make the transition from industrial-era practice to knowledge-era teaching and learning. NYSUT and the AFT and my Kenmore Town of Tonawanda School District supported me in developing professional capacity centered around student work and achievement and creating life-long learners. Until all the players are at the drawing board we will continue as a country to be in an educational crisis. School districts and Unions must cooperate if public education is going to change. Your time on Talk of the Nation has given those listening new insight into a serious crisis. Thank you.

Sent by LINDA ULRICH-HAGNER | 4:26 PM | 8-30-2007

Mr. Crews comments are interesting. I find it frustrating that the people who want to be teachers have such a hard time being a teacher. My wife has been a teacher for many years and during busy time in her life she accidentally let her state credetials slip. 2 years later she is having a hard time passing a test that is almost impossible to study for. She wants to be a teacher and has been a teacher but can only work at charter schools now due to this issue. The taking of the certification test, getting results and retaking if needed is about a 6 month cycle. Missing passing this test by 3 points has kept her from having a job in the public schools for the last 3 years. Why can't this system be fixed?

Sent by Jim | 4:38 PM | 8-30-2007

I believe we need to add two subjects to the national curriculum.
1. Law and Tort basicas
2. Stock market basics
I have two Master's degree and don't know what a point is on the stock market (and I am a C.P.A). Not one class in college discussed this.

When I bought my first house, I had no idea how to read the purchase agreement.
What about when people buy cars and don't know how to calculate interest or buy houses with adjustable mortgage rates? If Americans knew what these terms meant, our housing industry wouldn't be in such a mess now.

Sent by Clare H. Mix, CPA` | 4:41 PM | 8-30-2007

I was in the first graduating class at my high school that had to pass the ISAT (Idaho State Achievement Test, I believe) before I could graduate. It was a joke and a waste of time. Also, you could retake the test to actually pass in case you failed the first or second time. We also had district mandated final exams for each of the core classes (and even most electives). I think you really discount the value of a teacher when they have limited ability to express their interests in teaching styles because they are incredibly focused on making sure all bases are covered so that everyone can do well. Not to mention, you waste huge amounts of learning time reviewing and making sure you learned everything in the name of being well prepared.

Sent by Kate Vonk | 4:50 PM | 8-30-2007

As a parent of a 2nd grader , I am extremely concerned that DPS is allowing a class of 33- 7 year olds in the school and that???s not even the smallest class. I want DPS to take a look at the overall class sizes at our school and others in the DPS system, if the class size is too big for one teacher to manage, then it is necessary for the schools to divide the class or add additional teachers. We have been told time and time again that the schools cannot afford additional teachers. That receiving funding for additional teachers is not related to class size but the overall attendance in the schools. Private schools continue to advertise low student to teacher ratio maybe this is another critical area for DPS to look at. I am!

Sent by stephanie wachman | 5:08 PM | 8-30-2007

As far as ???failing??? public schools go, the problems are due to educationally ineffective cultural values held by the parents of the students. Of course, we are mostly talking about ???problems in the public schools that poor kids attend.??? Many of the parents in these schools are simply unable to instill in their children the type of attitude, or engage in the activities, which will produce academic achievement. The reasons are legitimate and relate to culture and history. However, there are exceptions.

Although they attend the same ???bad public schools??? and have profound income and language limitations, many urban immigrant Asian kids are able to attain higher average academic achievement than other minority subgroups. Asian families are simply continuing to benefit from the 2500 year-old teachings of Confucius. Perhaps helping other families to learn and embrace ideas from other cultures can be added to the list of things that ???should??? be done to fix the ???problems in the public schools.???

To see how cultural values can affect academic achievement, look at students in Oakland???s public schools. Average (Percent Proficient and Above Proficient) test scores for Asian students are significantly higher than for Blacks and Latinos in both English-Language Arts and Math (60% vs. 26%). This is despite the fact that the Asian median household income in Oakland is about $34,000, which is higher than that for Blacks ($31,000+) but below Latinos ($39,000). In addition, although both Asian and Latino students have limited-English fluency at home, average test scores for Asian students are significantly higher than those for Latino students.

On their own, schools will never be able to instill the critical education-receptive values into students??? minds, and thus be able to educate them, unless the student-teacher ratio is drastically reduced and we make these needy students attend school for more hours each day and more days each year. Then the schools would essentially be doing the childrearing, right?

Otherwise, the only hope for widespread, improved academic achievement for the low-performing subgroups would be if a leader emerged from our society who would guide them towards new cultural values.

Sent by s.higgins | 7:26 PM | 8-30-2007

I am an international American teacher. I had to leave the United States in order to have a teaching career that truly uses the skills I could have given to a public American school. I have an M.A. in European history. In spite of this level of specialization, I had spend NEARLY TWO YEARS to become certified to teach Social Studies as a high school teacher. Even then, only one state would certify me fully. One state insisted that all my M.A. qualified me for was a minor certificate to teach social studies, under a designation that said I was NOT EVEN A TRUE EXPERT. I might add that I won a Carnegie Mellon Fellowship to study history at Northwestern-so my M.A represented a very thorough Social Studies background. I am also able to teach French, but the state of Kansas refused to accept my credits from the SORBONNE in Paris when I tried to renew my teaching certificate there. Evidently, my credits from the oldest French university in the world simply were not enough for that state. Student teaching nearly drove me out of teaching altogether. I had a supervisor who saw me as a recruit in a war, and I had to be toughened up, taught to deal with hostile classroom environments by being left in them with no guidance, as I was encouraged to treat the students as enemies rather than as the people I was serving. I was ready to quit. Then I discovered the private school system. I had to accept low pay, and boarding responsibilities, but this school actually wanted me to teach French and history as AP subjects. From there I discovered the International Schools system. I have consistently found-as have other American teachers that teach internationally with me- more pay, more respect, and supportive teaching environments that value my desire to teach history and French at at a high level in schools outside the United States. Now I teach in Taiwan, where the students all take AP courses. Many people in the American educational system seem completely unaware of this expatriate group of American teachers who have exiled themselves-not by choice-just because as human beings they found the rest of the world wants what they can offer in the classroom more than the U.S. does-enough to offer them good salaries and positive working environments. When I trained to teach AP Psychology at my present school in Washington State this past summer, the supervisor did NOT KNOW that my school in Taiwan was offering an AP program. She said: "It is impossible. Those people don't do our program.," when I needed her help in getting my syllabus approved by the College Board. She was forced to apologize when indeed, I found my school, duly registered to provide 12 AP Courses-all for English speaking Taiwanese students who want to be ready to attend American universities- on the College Board website. The fundamental problem in my teaching career has always been: No one at home wants what I have to offer. I have been told more times than I can count: All you know is your subject- we need classroom managers- by American administrators. In response, I have joined a world teaching community. I hope in the future my own country can change its priorities, value teachers, value learning, and recognize that education is fundamental to the health of any civilization. No teacher should just be seen a traffic cop, bringing kids under control or as a cog in a vast machine, responsible for providing students with high test scores on standardized tests. I am afraid that this model-not that of education as a fundamental intrinsic value that everyone must foster in our children, is the one that drove me out of my own country.

Sent by Elizabeth Wyant | 10:22 AM | 8-31-2007

Love is being squeezed out of our public schools. It must sneak in the back door, steal time from test preparation, and hope it is not found out by erupting into a hug, a prayer, or a free moment of serendipitous joy. Those moments are history. Teachers are chained to pacing guides, QCC???s, and to the other ludicrous requirements brought about by the gods of public education that control the purse strings and know nothing of Abraham Maslow and Jean Piaget???who have been replaced by those who believe that children are parrots who must sit on their perchs and chirp back the proper choices to an often poorly worded multiple choice test. To quote a very important book, ???Knowledge puffs up, love builds up.??? Children are taught about a lot of things in our public schools, but how much do they really know? There is a difference between knowing about something, and really knowing it. I taught for several years being able to pace the class according to their mastery of the subjects presented. I can no longer do that...so now I just tutor. (This blog entry was inspired by an article in the Morganton, NC, News Herald called ???Knowledge Wrapped in Love??? by David Doster.)

Sent by marilyn mcintosh blair | 1:42 PM | 8-31-2007

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