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Posted at 10:55 AM ET, 10/30/2010

Dear Jon: Let George speak

By Valerie Strauss

Dear Jon Stewart:

George Wood, a school principal, has traveled from Stewart, Ohio, to attend your Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C.

The least you could do is give him a minute to talk about the insanity in his profession, education. You don’t pay much attention to it on your show, and you could make amends here. Sure, the schedule is tight, but maybe Sam Waterston could cut out a verse of his poem.

Wood is the principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart and executive director of the nonprofit Forum for Education and Democracy, a group of educators from around the country.

He doesn’t go for the current wave of “reform” in public education, the one that presumes that standardized tests and charter schools will lead us to enlightenment. You can read some of the things he has written on my blog here.

Since you’ve ignored my earlier suggestion to have education historian Diane Ravitch on your show to talk about the mess that is school reform, here’s another chance to redeem yourself.

Here's what George wants to say. If you don't think it is funny enough, throw in a few jokes. What's funnier, for example, than thinking that teachers should be paid by how well their students do on a standardized test? Or that a single teacher can erase the effect that poverty has had on a kid? I'm laughing hysterically already.

From George Wood:

“America’s public schools are a national treasure, and it is past time that we started treating them as such. Every one of you here today probably has a schoolteacher to thank for the fact that you can read, add and think rationally. A teacher who opened your mind to new ideas, who helped you speak that mind and listen when others spoke theirs. It’s a great system, and it opens its doors to every kid no matter their race or nationality, no matter what language they speak or if they can speak at all, no matter rich or poor, motivated or not, whole or impaired.

“We have spent too much time blaming our schools for all that ails us. Sure schools could do better — but so could the banks, big business and Congress. Schools, our teachers, and our kids, are not responsible for the economic strains our nation feels; or for the loosening bonds that threaten the civil discourse our republic requires. They are, however, part of the solution to these threats to our social security.

"But only if we come together on a few things in the name of a saner approach to making sure every kid has a good public school to attend.

“First, we have to admit that as much as schools can do, they can’t do it alone. It is hard for a child who is homeless, hungry or in pain to heed the lessons of her teacher. America should, as part of education policy, work to see that every child is safe and secure, has good medical care, a roof over her head and food in her stomach.

“Second, we must all admit that there is no doing a good school system on the cheap. America is 14th among the 16 industrialized nations in how much we spend on our kids’ education. But it is not just how much we spend, it is where we spend it. In the Harlem Children’s Zone, a project that considers all of what it takes to raise a child, the charter schools are spending one-third more than the public schools in the city, and they still are struggling.

"This is not a condemnation of that important work — it just means we should admit that we are going to have to invest heavily and in a targeted way if we want our schools to work for all our kids.

“Third, over 90 percent of our schools are good old regular public schools — not a charter or a choice, just where kids go to school. If we are serious about every child having a good school, it won’t be by creating a few fancy alternative schools. It will be by improving all of our schools.

“Fourth, we already know what works. All our schools -- charters, magnets, public -- have had successes, but we don’t seem to learn from them. Successful schools are places filled with good teachers who are well supported, where strong connections are built with students and families, where kids do real work, not just read textbooks or listen to lectures, and where kids are evaluated by what they can do not by what test question they can answer. They also are places not segregated by social class.

“So what would a sane person, perchance a sane Congress, do to help and support our kids and schools? Hate to be simplistic, but here you go: We have to shore up our safety net for all kids to have access to health care, food and shelter; use federal resources to get dollars to kid in the most need; and focus on all schools using the lessons learned from our most innovative and successful schools and getting the regulations and rules that prevent this change out of the way.

“This is what I wish for my school, your school, all schools. We don’t need Superman. We just need some sanity.”

Thank you for listening, Jon. You were listening, right?


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By Valerie Strauss  | October 30, 2010; 10:55 AM ET
Categories:  George Wood  | Tags:  george wood, jon stewart, keep fear alive, rally to restore sanity, sam waterston, school reform, stephen colbert, stewart, washington rally  
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Although George Wood is correct, the media, Congress and Arne Duncan won't listen.

Posted by: educationlover54 | October 30, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

This is all well and good, but sometimes you have to just buckle down. America doesn't need any more art historians or beatnik poets. We need scientists. We need mathematicians, engineers, and physicists. We need to teach kids to value those subjects. You don't get those kinds of minds without rigorous study; yes for a test.

Teachers shouldn't be the only ones who are under the microscope of course. Parents and administrators need to be held accountable for their kids' performance as well.

But look at the difference someone like Jaime Escalante could make on poor disadvantaged kids? There was no question of how unfair it was to have to teach to the AP test. Some things are measured objectively. If we ask more out of our children, and we don't give them excuses for not trying, then they will surprise us.

Posted by: Quazar87 | October 30, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Educators (teachers, administrators, professors) have long lobbied for changes that will benefit poor children: infant monitoring, social and medical supports, high-qualified preschools, small classes, support for children with severe behavioral problems, experienced and qualified teachers, enriched curriculum, research-based instruction etc. but many citizens have pushed strongly against these improvements because of the cost involved. The current "reform" movement, no doubt aided by the recession, is fighting mightily to keep the status quo, which I define as poor schools for poor kids.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 30, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

You missed the point of the rally.

Ms Strauss, the whole point of the rally was to be just that. A *rally* not a political event but a reminder that reason is out there, we are not alone. Injecting *any* cause other than that would have been devise and defeated the _whole_ purpose.

This was clear from the beginning, "Rally for Sanity" -- not for YOUR sanity, not for MY sanity but for all of us to talk in a civilized manner. Whatever your motives maybe, Ms. Strauss you cannot fault Mr. Stewart for following through with his vision.

Education is exceptionally valuable but you'd do better to make clear and concise (fewest words possible) points in favor of your opinion than ask Mr. Stewart to take up your mantle.

Respectfully Yours, RT

Posted by: wpost16 | October 30, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

"I'm laughing hysterically already."

Valerie, you're the best!

Posted by: rsolnet | October 31, 2010 12:38 AM | Report abuse

Nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room. Too many of America's teachers just aren't that bright; nearly 1/2 come from the bottom third of college graduates. The days of gender discrimination, which effectively subsidized the teaching ranks, are gone.

So what do we do now? How can we compete globally in technology jobs when teachers' unions fight against higher pay for highly qualified math and science teachers -- and those grads go elsewhere?

Posted by: trace1 | October 31, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I think many people are facing "the elephant in the room." Practically every other word is about the teachers who are not well-prepared or "that bright."

The truth is that many people who are among the top two-thirds of college graduates would not even consider K-12 teaching. The bright women who used to accept these jobs are now in all fields, along with the men. When I suggested teaching to my sons, they burst into laughter slapping one another on the backs. When I asked for an explanation, all I got was "Come on, Mom." The implication was that the answer should be obvious to everyone. Their wives, the kind of women who would have become teachers in the old days, are university professors.

Research tells us that unions have nothing to do with it. Finland and other nations with enviable systems of education have strong unions. Other countries with good schools have no unions. There is no correlation. The same is true for the United States. Some high-achieving states have strong unions while others don't.

We all have our explanations as to why teaching does not attract high-achieving college students. I believe it is a societal problem as we have many citizens who have disrespect or even contempt for this job. (e.g. "I didn't send you to Cornell to become a second grade teacher.") You don't need a Ph.D. in sociology to know that people will not choose a profession that isn't well paid or highly respected. It also has a lot to do with the fact that it's still considered "women's work."

What do we do? Because it's a national problem, it needs to be attacked at a national level. I'd like to see a "federal fellows" program that would offer a free graduate level education at top colleges to talented college grads who want to be K-12 teachers. These people would then be assigned to high-poverty schools where they'd receive excellent salaries and the freedom to run their schools (maybe charters). Hopefully these would become prestigious and highly sought positions.

As I've written before, all test scores, including those of the SAT, correlate very highly with socioeconomic status, so the fact that a teacher scored relatively low on her SATs indicates she is probably from the working class. It does not necessarily mean that she is not "bright."

There is no easy solution to this problem but every citizen who trashes teachers is part of the problem.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 31, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Hey everyone,
Let's send a message to George Lucas telling him to do a documentary about this high stakes testing craze and the other issues Diane Ravitch talks about in her book. Go into schools that are test factories and then schools that are actually teaching kids to think etc. Who are using formative assessments etc. Go behind the Billionaire boys club to see what's actually happening in this business model of education? Can you imagine this documentary starting with a futuristic look at schools - all charter schools- all segregated - all test prep centers - all kids with glazed eyes??? Let George Lucas know that he should consult Dr. Ravitch, Dr. Peter Johnston, Dr. Allington, Dr. Darling Hammond, Ellin Keene, Harvey Daniels, Katie Wood Ray, and George Wood as they are the experts in education.
Just go to, and learn more about his mission and then go to

Posted by: tutucker | October 31, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

Publicly funded yet privately managed – Charter School fraud is an easy concept. Charters can be succesful it depends on the “agenda” of the the managing company. Accountability has not caught up to the growth of the Charter movement. In the USA we have an Islamic Imam – Fethullah Gulen (Gulen Movement) that manages over 130 US Charter schools they have taken over $1 billion in Educational monies in the last 10 years and are growing like rapid fire.
The Gulen schools have a network of foundations and instutitions layered over the schools and much of our educational money is going to non-educational expenses such as: Turkish Olympiads, trips to Turkey for the students and local politicians, H1-b Visas of over 2,000 uncredentialed teachers from Turkey (while American teachers are handed pink slips) this money is to fuel the grand ambition of Fethullah Gulen who lives in exile (for a reason) in the Poconos, PA area with his $25 billion in wealth from inflitration in: education, media, police, poltics and military. Seems the same model works very nicely in the USA. Do your research!!!

Posted by: SalesA1 | October 31, 2010 10:49 PM | Report abuse

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