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Posted at 11:47 AM ET, 10/23/2009

Educator: 'Race to the Top's' 10 false assumptions

By Valerie Strauss

My guest today is Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author. He writes about Education Secretary's Arne Duncan's "Race to the Top" initiative, which is intended to be the successor to "No Child Left Behind."

By Marion Brady
"Race to the Top? National standards for math, science, and other school subjects? The high-powered push to put them in place makes it clear that the politicians, business leaders, and wealthy philanthropists who’ve run America’s education show for the last two decades are as clueless about educating as they’ve always been.

If they weren’t, they’d know that adopting national standards will be counterproductive, and that the "Race to the Top" will fail for the same reason "No Child Left Behind" failed—because it’s based on false assumptions.

False Assumption 1:
America’s teachers deserve most of the blame for decades of flat school performance. Other factors affecting learning—language problems, hunger, stress, mass media exposure, transience, cultural differences, a sense of hopelessness, and so on and on—are minor and can be overcome by well-qualified teachers. To teacher protests that they’re scapegoats taking the blame for broader social ills, the proper response is, "No excuses!" While it’s true teachers can’t choose their students, textbooks, working conditions, curricula, tests, or the bureaucracies that circumscribe and limit their autonomy, they should be held fully accountable for poor student test scores.

False Assumption 2:
Professional educators are responsible for bringing education to crisis, so they can’t be trusted. School systems should instead be headed by business CEOs, mayors, ex-military officers, and others accustomed to running a "tight ship." Their managerial expertise more than compensates for how little they know about educating.

False Assumption 3:
"Rigor"—doing longer and harder what we’ve always done—will cure education’s ills. If the young can’t clear arbitrary statistical bars put in place by politicians, it makes good sense to raise those bars. Because learning is neither natural nor a source of joy, externally imposed discipline and "tough love" are necessary.

False Assumption 4:
Teaching is just a matter of distributing information. Indeed, the process is so simple that recent college graduates, fresh from "covering" that information, should be encouraged to join "Teach For America" for a couple of years before moving on to more intellectually demanding professions. Experienced teachers may argue that, as Socrates demonstrated, nothing is more intellectually demanding than figuring out what’s going on in another person’s head, then getting that person herself or himself to examine and change it, but they’re just blowing smoke.

False Assumption 5:
Notwithstanding the failure of vast experiments such as those conducted in eastern Europe under Communism, and the evidence from ordinary experience, history proves that top-down reforms such as No Child Left Behind work well. Centralized control doesn’t stifle creativity, imply teacher incompetence, limit strategy options, discourage innovation, or block the flow of information and insight to policymakers from those actually doing the work.

False Assumption 6:
Standardized tests are free of cultural, social class, language, experiential, and other biases, so test-taker ability to infer, hypothesize, generalize, relate, synthesize, and engage in all other "higher order" thought processes can be precisely measured and meaningful numbers attached. It’s also a fact that test-prep programs don’t unfairly advantage those who can afford them, that strategies to improve the reliability of guessing correct answers can’t be taught, and that test results can’t be manipulated to support political or ideological agendas. For these reasons, test scores are reliable, and should be the primary drivers of education policy.

False Assumption 7:
Notwithstanding the evidence from research and decades of failed efforts, forcing merit pay schemes on teachers will revitalize America’s schools. This is because the desire to compete is the most powerful of all human drives (more powerful even than the satisfactions of doing work one loves). The effectiveness of, say, band directors and biology teachers, or of history teachers and math teachers, can be easily measured and dollar amounts attached to their relative skill. Merit pay also has no adverse effect on collegiality, teacher-team dynamics, morale, or school politics.

False Assumption 8:
Required courses, course distribution requirements, Carnegie Units, and other bureaucratic demands and devices that standardize the curriculum and limit teacher and learner options are products of America’s best thinkers about what the young need to know. Those requirements should, then, override individual learner interests, talents, abilities, and all other factors affecting freedom of choice.

False Assumption 9:
Notwithstanding charter schools’ present high rates of teacher turnover, their growing standardization by profit-seeking corporations, or their failure to demonstrate that they can do things all public schools couldn’t do if freed from bureaucratic constraints, charters attract the most highly qualified and experienced teachers and are hotbeds of innovation.

False Assumption 10:
The familiar, traditional "core curriculum" in near-universal use in America’s classrooms since 1893 is the best-possible tool for preparing the young for an unknown, unpredictable, increasingly complex and dangerous future.

"Human history," said H.G. Wells, "is a race between education and catastrophe."

If amateurs continue to control American education policy, put your money on catastrophe. It’s a sure thing.

Do you agree or disagree with Marion Brady's views of federal education policy?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 23, 2009; 11:47 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, National Standards, No Child Left Behind, Standardized Tests, Teachers  | Tags:  Race to the Top  
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Ok, what are the right assumptions? That every teacher cares? That principals need only education skills, not budgeting or hr skills? That we should be ok with kids being behind because what is rigor other than saying here is the bar employers and citizenship requires? Yes standardized tests and curriculum have bias, it is the bias of the middleclass/capitalist culture. So yes non-standardized English will be penalized, creative math unless it is for a credit default debt swap won't fly. We can rant all we want about bias but that still does not get those kids hired in a job that pays a living wage. Charters attract qualified people because they are well managed, have high standards and other teachers are not penalized by a slacke unwilling to do what it takes. They are also successful because they don't let parents off, too many public school systems do. No NCLB is not perfect, but educators response has been to be petulent and respond in as uncreative a fashion as you can imagine. Too many have said, fine I will teach the test. That is what tells me our education schools are part of the problem. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over, then we can't look at the fairly widescale failure in much of our urban systems and not say that radical ways of rethinking need to start happening.

Posted by: Brooklander | October 23, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Seriously? So, Brady's thesis is, to summarize, while some argue failure is the teacher's fault, in fact, nothing is the teacher's fault.

Posted by: Etch | October 23, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

"but that still does not get those kids hired in a job that pays a living wage."

Radical ways of rethinking how we value work also need to start happening. Yes we need to educate better. But it is also unreasonable to expect that everyone should pursue an intellectual career. There need to be viable options for people with good high school educations to support themselves instead of needing several jobs to just meet the basic needs of themselves and their families.

Posted by: sonnlkm | October 23, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Just want to second Brooklander's comment and add my own two cents. I've seen, many, MANY responses from teachers and teacher organizations, many follow an approach similar to the above post: debunking "myths" and pointing out an education "truth" is in fact "false." Okay then, if all of those things are wrong, then what is right? I can only speak as a concerned parent and citizen, so I am freely willing to admit that I'm not an expert, that there are reasonable objections to initiatives such as Race to the Top or NCLB. My problem is that I have yet to see an actual counter-proposal. There is only criticism of the proposed changes, never alternative solutions that would work better than the proposals currently on the table. The effect this leaves me with is of the opposing side just sitting there with their arms crossed, saying "no, no, NO!"
I get that parents and society are part of the problem. (See Sunday's Outlook piece) So give me concrete ways to make them part of the solution. We might also need to accept the fact that if one family represents generations of folks who never put any importance in education, then the solution won't come from that particular set of parents--that we have to get creative about a way to break that cycle. Others need to show the kid why she should care, to get him extra support if its lacking at home, to help this generation break through, so when the next generation comes, those kids, now parents, will have respect for education and instill it in their children. Yes, this can't happen overnight, or even in one generation, but setting up long term realistic goals is better then throwing up our hands. Again, you think NCLB is unreasonable with its expectations and benchmarks? Probably true, so come up with more realistic long-term measures of improvement, but we still NEED to have SOME way to measure improvement. If there are weblinks for counter-proposals to NCLB or Race to the Top, I'd love to see them. It would be good for all of us to have alternate solutions to consider. Even better would be for this to stop being such and adversarial "us vs. them" mentality and instead a collaborative effort. We should all agree that our educational system could be better. Let's go from there.

Posted by: firstchap | October 23, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse


#1 As others noted, this is just a list of things that don't work. Give me a list of things that do.

#2 Come on, most people in most jobs get paid or retained by how well they do their job. If you're going to argue that teaching is somehow different, you need to explain why.

Arguing for the status quo when it doesn't seem to be working isn't where you want to be...

Posted by: bobtom222 | October 23, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Race to the Top is simply a continuation of the "test them until they drop" educational policy of the previous administration.

The plan is to spend billions on meaningless local "standardized" tests and computer systems to analyze the results so teachers can teach to the test.

The head of the Department of Education has stated his belief in "best practices—including a single-minded focus on improving student learning and using data to inform instruction.”

The "inform instruction" is teach to the test.

Mr. Duncan may see "test them until they drop" and teach to the test as a Race to the Top in education but to others it simply appears as a third rate ideas to change education into the equivalent of the effectiveness of training animals to perform tricks.

Mr. Duncan may believe that the training of a horse to stomp the ground 4 times indicates the horses understands 2 plus 2 when given two lumps of sugar and two carrots, but most individuals do not share this view.

It appears that Mr. Duncan does not understand that the purpose of education is to enable individuals to think and that the methods of "test them until they drop" and teach to the test have nothing to do with either learning or education.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 23, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

It seems like the people who most disagree with Brady's point of view are those outside of the classroom. Once you spend some time with students with challenging backgrounds, you KNOW that test-centered approaches are killers. Killers of engagement, creativity, innovation for both teachers and students. There are teachers like me who keep plugging away trying not to get sucked into that pressure, but it's hard when you are not ENCOURAGED to be innovative, you do so as a maverick. Instead, we are encouraged to prepare the students for the TEST. Hard to say whose approach works better in my school in terms of test results. Too many variables. I only know that I do my damndest, work my mind body and soul off. And it doesn't show in the testing. I have a nice bell curve, and the bell doesn't cut it. OKAY - for alternatives. Reduced drop-out rates, reduced juvenile crime rates, incarceration rates dropped, drug abd alcohol use dropped, acceptable rates of human productivity, being gainfully employed, citizenship measures, such as voting. We need to decide as a society what we want from our citizens, and focus our education on that. If we want innovators, being test-focused kills that. The National Education Association, ASCD Whole Child Initiative, Forum on Educational Accountability, all present alternatives. The so-called "reformers" have louder voices and more money, which is why you don't hear the other side. My hope that there will a movement FOR these more humane ideas, and AGAINST the Obama-Duncan plan. I hate to say that because I was all inspired with Obama as president.

Posted by: dkeikoa | October 23, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Great comments!! I agree with firstchap and dkelkoa. I also believe one of the problem with education is the educators for the most part have only been in education...since kindergarten actually and have no clue what happens in the world that depends on having educated students...Teachers should be required to rotate through the real world every three years for a year -- the world in which their graduates operate --to see what they need to modify in their classrooms to be better teachers.

Kids need to be able to move at their own pace, with prodding through subjects. Some will move faster than others. That is fine. Tracking should be the norm...but tracking by subject and a method that lets kids advance when ready or slow down if needed. A technical/vocational path and a college path would be good too. co-ops, aprenticeships, internships, night school, flexible hours, online schools...all are needed.

Parents need to be involved and in many ways held responsible for the behavior of their children (being fined or made to do community service - something to get their attention and inconvenience them so they get control of their children...).

If education is suppose to help kids learn how to think, evaluate, analyze, draw conclusions, present their findings, etc. then the testing environment absolutely kills this focus. Testing kills creativity. Students need to be able to go broader and deeper into subjects.

Education is suppose to be challenging. Rote memorization of math facts is critical. Throw out the damn calculators and make the kids do the work.

Forget the child's self-esteem. Give them constructive feedback and be there to encourage them to try again and again to excel. Only with mastery should the advance. Stop social promotion.

I don't believe educators have a clue how to fix the mess of government schools nor do businesses truly want them fixed. There is too much money to be made to continue with the status quo...greed is what drives the pitiful education coming from government schools.

The kids are by no means what is right for them, take the profit out of the system and I believe things will change for the better...

Teachers can complain all they want that they are not the issue. However, until they get their heads out of the sand, stop taking the paycheck (really the retirement benefits) and start teaching and finding their voice nothing, nothing will change. Teachers are you willing to risk your government career? If you are really good the private schools will take you as will the charters. What do you have to lose?

Oh yeah...many of the best teachers are not certified. That should tell you something..they also teach in some of the best private schools in the country...

Please wake up before it is too late. It is only the future of the country at stake...

Posted by: knoxelcomcastnet | October 23, 2009 7:16 PM | Report abuse

All true! Simply ask any person who has actually been in the trenches...the schools and classrooms. Or ask the parent who is having to deal with the absurdities that their children are facing.

Why is that so-called experts of education have researched or studied schools, yet have not actually been a classroom teacher or school administrator?

Brady is right. Like it or not. His answers, as is so often with the education-power-echelon, are falling of deaf ears.

Posted by: tpinney1 | October 23, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

What the first few commenters don't realize is that they are perfect examples of the problem: They want simplistic "tell us what to do, but don't make it complicated and don't make us think" answers.

Educators don't have all the answers, and they'll be the first to admit that. Sadly, when a majority of raised-on-religion voters think simplistic answers exist for everything and they can find them in one old book of superstitions, we shouldn't be surprised when they apply this irrational worldview to education. There ARE NO simple "one-size-fits-all" answers to improving education, only individual approaches to individual students - but that requires funding and teachers allowed to teach without undue busywork burdens, something few understand.

Posted by: WashPost49 | October 23, 2009 8:56 PM | Report abuse

I have spent a lot of time in schools volunteering. I get how hard teachers have to work. Most are good people, that does not make them great teachers. Too many teachers have become charity workers, most often they see themselves in triage mode. One of the problems when you get in that mode is how easy it is to see the problems and not the solutions. I agree with the commenter above that said teachers need to see the world their students will compete in, they also need to teach in a variety of situations not just high poverty, then they may realize that we cannot afford to not pull these kids higher. There are not easy solutions and some children will be left behind if you will, but one thing DC must understand is how far behind our kids are even compared to poor kids in other urban centers. Teachers saying woe is me, Rhee is evil, the tests are terrible get us no where. What too many of them don't realize is that these most recent layoffs were as much as anything because parents are walking, those schools were were underenrolled, they would have had to shift them one way or another. Parents are done and they now have choices.

Posted by: Brooklander | October 23, 2009 9:23 PM | Report abuse

Marion Brady has hit bulls-eyes' on all of the false assumptions; the false assumption
that "School systems should be run by business CEOs, mayors, ex-military officers and others used to running a 'tight ship'" particularly hit a nerve.

Since 1968 to last year when I retired, I have experienced the sea change of leadership firsthand as an education student then a teacher, both in public schooling and private. I loved studying and working in education until we hit the late 1980s, roughly the time that our technology revolution began in the schools.

At that time I was at a school when business interests began to take over,with one of the leaders referring to children "as products" and a board member seriously and sincerely trying to advise teachers on their "financial portfolios" (what planet did this person live on?!? The faculty all wondered), and it came straight out of the early 1900s' industrial revolution and efficiency movement.
From R.E. Callahan, Education and the Cult of Efficiency" ..."In addition to the influence of businessmen on school boards, and to the continuous pressure for efficiency and economy from the popular journals, outside businessmen and educators themselves prodded administrators into conceiving of education as a business enterprise. Thus a school board member from Huron, Ohio, wrote in October, 1911, that 'a board of education is only a board of directors; the taxpayers, the stockholders. The superintendent is a sales manager; the teachers salesmen.'......'it is proper to say that the schools are like factories turning out graduates, which in turn, became employees of the business houses and may be considered the raw material of business.'"

A field that I had once considered stimulating, challenging in a positive way,
and full of heart slowly changed over into
a numbers' game, unrelenting pressure and even intimidation, where one didn't feel safe speaking one's mind. I think it is no coincidence that the liberal arts have been snubbed along the way. And yet, everyone it seems is calling out for a former art teacher, I will tell you that innovation has great difficulty birthing itself, and that the innovation issue is directly linked to most of Brady's other "false assumptions".

What has happened to our "Heartland",
the landscape of the human heart?

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | October 23, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

As someone who has authored op-ed pieces and articles, I imagine that Brady was working within some space constraints here. And inevitably, when people hear things they don't want to hear, they shift the argument to what wasn't covered, or set up a straw man to knock down. (Brady never said that "nothing is the teacher's fault" nor do I agree you can infer that argument here).

If we were to add another false assumption, it would be that teachers don't understand "the real world" workplace. Most teachers I know, including me, have experience working in someplace other than a school. And let's retire the myth that private industry is so effective and full of accountability. We know quite well that some incompetent, lazy, or under-qualified people manage to hold down jobs in many sectors. Yes, it may be easier to fire someone without union protections, but we all know that schools are not the only workplaces where you encounter these problems. If you think job protections from unions are the problem, then why is it that states without teacher unions don't have better schools and teachers? Why have so many studies in the past five years confirmed that as a whole, private, charter, and voucher schools do not outperform the public school system? Look it up.

Someone above wrote, "My problem is that I have yet to see an actual counter-proposal. There is only criticism of the proposed changes, never alternative solutions that would work better than the proposals currently on the table. The effect this leaves me with is of the opposing side just sitting there with their arms crossed, saying 'no, no, NO!'" Really? Do you imagine we've just been complaining and not solving and innovating? If you have yet to see a counter-proposal, you are not looking around. As a quick starting point for examples of innovative and effective public schools and educators, going beyond "proposing" and actually doing something better, I suggest a look at the Learning First Alliance:

Posted by: DavidBCohen | October 23, 2009 11:37 PM | Report abuse

Another teacher here, a successful one of 15 years, and one who despises the mindless testing mentality that is continuing beyond the George Bush administration. I agree with the false assumptions and to those who say, well what do you propose, I say first that you look at how well the system really works when its students are treated equally. As long as we divide our schools into posh and poverty sites, we will continue to have the problems. When international students come to the US, do they seek out inner city schools? Do they find underfunded colleges? Of course not - they seek out the best. We do no create the best schools for all students in this country. We allow real estate taxes to fund or not fund our students, then we blame teachers and think that testing can fix this situation. Be realistic. Standards and testing are not what we need - we need equality and classrooms where teachers can challenge reasonably sized groups of well equipped students. How do I know this? Because I have seen it work - let teachers teach. Our system works far better than the public might think from the constant barrage of guys like Arne Duncan with his prize money for top test scores.

If you're reading this, where did you get your education? Do you strive to learn on your own, to experience all the different kinds of teachers in your path, to be responsible for your education? Were you tested on more than 100 objectives when you were in elementary school as kids are today? Did you learn science or did you study science objectives to be tested? Did you enjoying reading in elementary school or were you hounded to death to constantly recite main idea and main character? Think about it - schools can work if given the chance to be equal for students across the country, and to be updated to topics and content and situations in keeping with the changing technologies of our times.

Posted by: smithtk | October 23, 2009 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Brady is wrong. Like all her ilk, she fails to see that all her whining is utterly irrelevant. The world does not care how difficult the efforts of an individual may be. The only result that matters is whether the person succeeds or fails. If a person succeeds, then the trials and tribulations on the way up become important. If a person fails, then nothing else about them is of any significance.

All that matter is whether an individual student succeeds or fails. Plus whether the next individual student succeeds or fails. Plus the next individual student. . . . And so on, for the total of a classroom, a school, a nation. Nothing else is of any value or use. Only the one practical dvision of success or failure makes any difference to real life.

Idealistic daydreams and romantic fantasies are useless and worthless. Only the one practical question of, "Does this student pass or fail?" counts. Educators must focus on educating, and leave philosophy and social services to those qualified to handle the jobs. If students fail because of an unhappy home or a bad curriculum, that's too bad. The world does not care. All the world cares about is whether the student passes or fails.

Maybe a public sector unionist simply can't understand that, since she can't be fired herself. But whining and sniveling about receiving criticism sure won't help the situation, or improve education. Teaching students is the only way to improve their chances of passing, and becoming someone the world might care about someday. If teachers spent less time denying responsibility, and more time teaching, perhaps they could accomplish the goal they are paid to achieve.

Posted by: Home412AD | October 24, 2009 3:48 AM | Report abuse

knoxelcomcastnet wrote: "Teachers should be required to rotate through the real world every three years for a year -- the world in which their graduates operate --to see what they need to modify in their classrooms to be better teachers."

Actually, many teachers entered the field as a second career. Critics like you need to rotate into the classroom to see what that real world is like- the world in which students and teachers operate (and administrators, school boards)to see what they need to modify in their views to become better, more realistic, in their criticism.
It is all too easy to sit back and denigrate a whole profession based on invalid assumptions.

In addition I assume that all those commentors who feel that teachers are only saying No to the proposals like NCLB, and aren't bringing forth other solutions are equally upset with the republicans who are simply saying No to the current health care proposals, and are writing to them to suggest that they come up with alternatives?

Posted by: researcher2 | October 24, 2009 6:11 AM | Report abuse

When I taught, if I'd felt that somebody who didn't understand my work in the classroom was imposing work on me and my students based on false assumptions, I would have been every bit as frustrated as Ms. Brady is here.

My concern is that I read a "knee-jerk" reaction here. Race To The Top is not simply another "test til you drop" piece of legislation. It seeks to reward states and school systems who have improved outcomes for children. Moreover, it puts its faith squarely in teachers, awarding grants to states and districts who seek to mentor, reward, and therefore retain the best teachers in their classrooms.

Teaching is hard, and teachers are not paid on par with their counterparts. Of course, most of us in the private sector are subject to detailed scrutiny from managers and are "at-will" employees who may be let go any day. With risk, comes reward. This doesn't create any sort of "rancor" within employee ranks. On the contrary, this staffing model has created some of the best products and services our society has ever known. It may not work, out of the box, in schools, but I'm surprised that Ms. Brady and others would reject it outright.

The successful outcomes achieved for kids by programs like KIPP (, Achievement First (, or even DC's own EL Haynes Charter ( would seem to at least merit an investigation into applying some of the school design and instructional principles used by these schools in traditional K-12 public schools. In addition, The Equity Project Charter in NYC, ( is launching this year with teachers who earn $100K+ - and who are "at-will" employees like most of us. Its success could usher in an age where teachers will be paid a fair wage!

Somebody once said, "If your mind isn't open, are you sure you have one at all?".

Posted by: Dougedsolutions | October 24, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

"While it’s true teachers can’t choose their students, textbooks, working conditions, curricula, tests, or the bureaucracies that circumscribe and limit their autonomy, they should be held fully accountable for poor student test scores." Absolutely! Look they train the teachers in poor curriculum, like that "Whole Language Remake" by Lucy Caulkins called "Teacher's College" and then when it doesn't work, which teachers already told them it wouldn't work, the teachers get blamed. Ridiculous, in the meantime they strip our classrooms of everything that DOES work, like the incredible Sing, Spell, Read & Write program. Look what happened in Memphis, that program was working for 4 years under Dr. Pauline Hord, the kids were learning to read easily with that research-based program, then some uninformed administrator came in and dismantled that program, the teachers cried, they wanted what works! This happens over and over again, look what happened here in NYC, the teachers classrooms were striped of everything but that ridiculous "Teacher's College Model" good reading programs were thrown out and now that it doesn't work, which we TOLD them it wouldn't work, they are slowly allowing us to go back to what works. In the meantime the teachers get blamed for not being able to make poor curriculum work. Who should be blamed? The decision makers, the buyers of these programs, hunt them down and get them!!! They're at fault!

Posted by: VeganTeacher | October 24, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I'm responding to Dougedsolutions remarks citing examples of what s/he states does work in the 4th paragraph. None of those programs are large scale replicable due to the demands placed on kids & parents. If you dig deep into the data on these and other programs and look longitudinally at their success you will find that you lose lots of kids. Those that can't make it in these programs simply leave, others are pushed out. Once these programs start getting publicity the data becomes more important than the teaching. Individual student outcomes suffer to create happy data.

Posted by: SactoKen | October 24, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

The main problem with education systems resides with the ability to evaluate the results. The benefits of education are long term in nature, and too many evaluations measure only short term results and judgments of success or failure are made after a single term, or year.

Too often, we forget the environment in which we are trying to provide formal education and we forget that formal schooling is only part of the total education process in which peers, parents, homelife, churches and even movies and television and computer games play an important role that cannot be ontrolled by the teacher.

Teacher evaluation is also one of the real problems of education. The teacher is expected to advance the learning of several individuals with different learning styles in a single class of 25 to 40 students. Sometimes, our successes are actually failures when our "A" student receives a grade mark of 85%, when with good teaching, that student should have performed at the 95% level; and sometimes we succeed with our failures when the student fails with a mark of 50% out of a required pass mark of 55%, but that student, if it were not for exceptional teaching would only have achieved at the 45% level. The problem here too, is that in order to advance the poorer student, we might actually rob the better student of the ability to perform at the highest level.

The requirements of today, often have teachers, who are sleep deprived, teaching students who are also sleep deprived. We also have teachers in some instances who have to teach students who may have learning problems alongside other students who are better prepared to benefit from the education process at the time. Teachers and students are individuals and in life all have to deal with life stresses that could hinder performance; and unless we have a single teacher teaching all the courses, previous teaching in a previous class could affect the teaching outcome in a future class positively or negatively, which means that the efforts of the whole faculty could impact teachers individually as well. We need ways to effectively and correctly ,measure these effects, if we want to have meaningful financial reward for successful teaching, or we need a different system of evaluation.

I think the best description of what we do, as teachers, was said by the late teacher/astronaut who died in the Challenger explosion. When asked what she did as a teacher, the late Christie McCauliffe said; "I touch the future! I teach!" It is how the students fare in the future that would identify good teaching, and even then, we would have to factor in the experiences since leaving school, unfortunately, we have to make our measurements in the present.

Should someone wish to continue this discussion with the writer, please send an e-mail to: .

Posted by: CalP | October 24, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Home412AD illustrates the problem of simplistic answers very well. The message is full of bromides that amount to Nike's slogan of "Just Do It!" and misidentifies Brady as female. Unfortunately, the idealistic daydream and romantic fantasy is that every child will achieve at the same level in every subject. I wish it were so, but it isn't. That doesn't mean you give up on the children who aren't "racing to the top," but that you develop realistic interventions -- not standardized tests -- for meeting those children's needs as best is possible.

And while I find the business model is incredibly flawed as applied to education, I wonder why all those business-model advocates never consider that many businesses -- even large and supposedly stable ones -- fail annually.

Posted by: cuffdc1 | October 24, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse

What too many of them don't realize is that these most recent layoffs were as much as anything because parents are walking, those schools were were underenrolled, they would have had to shift them one way or another. Parents are done and they now have choices.

Posted by: Brooklander
Parents are walking to private and charter schools for the simply reason that these schools are not weighted down by the problem children. Be disruptive or create a problem in educating other children and you are dropped back into the public school system.

Vouchers and charters schools are simply an expensive method to clean out all the children in the public school system that have parents that want a safe and the opportunity of decent school and turn the remaining public schools into reform schools.

It would have been less expensive to clean out the disruptive children starting in the first grade from the public school system to "charter schools" where these children can not be returned to the public school system.

This is what is done in affluent areas.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 24, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

The world does not care how difficult the efforts of an individual may be. The only result that matters is whether the person succeeds or fails.

Posted by: Home412AD
People in the United States only care what the politicians tell them to care about.

How else explain acceptance of a "test them until they drop" educational policy?

Millions of Americans believe that school systems are using standardized tests.

Only the federal government every two years gives a standardized test to children in grade 4 and grade 8.

The "standardized" tests of states and local school systems are meaningless. One can not compare the results of the test given in Mississippi with the results of the test given in Massachusetts.

There is no means to tell anything from these tests and yet the politicians are encouraging that billions be spent on the different tests that states and local school systems create each year.

None of the results from either the real standardized tests of the federal government or the fake "standardized" tests are used to place children in classes.

The results of the 2009 reading tests of the federal government will not even be available until next year. The results of the DC fake "standardized" tests of the last school year are still not available and thus were not used for class placement for the current year or even to determine which children should be held back.

The only result that matters in educational policy is whether the politician succeeds or fails.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 24, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

And while I find the business model is incredibly flawed as applied to education, I wonder why all those business-model advocates never consider that many businesses -- even large and supposedly stable ones -- fail annually.

Posted by: cuffdc1
cuffdc1 should be careful.

People might think and start wondering if pay for performance is so great for teachers, why is the government trying to crack down on the pay for performance with high bonuses that cost tax payers trillions of dollars last year.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 24, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Marion Brady is right to point out the many false assumptions that underlie education reform. The first false assumption, however, should have been: Everything is broken and must be razed and rebuilt. The system is not completely broken, but reformers since the Reagan era have done everything in their power to dismantle public school districts across the country and rebuild them according to their particular political agendas. It's no secret that those on the far right don't even believe that government should be in the "business" of education and would like to see the end of public schooling.

Major reforms make constituents resistant to the incremental changes (small, targeted reforms), which have been shown to be the most effective, precisely because they can be implemented easily and their effects can be observed honestly.

Why is educational reform always an either/or proposition? For example, I am adamently opposed to incessant standardized testing (especially of very young children), but I do not have a problem with an occasional Iowa Test (like students took in fourth and eighth grade when I was a child) or the SAT, which, barring the newly subjective essay section, is generally an objective assessment of skills necessary to handle college-level work.

I also understand Mr.Brady's reticence to embrace national standards. To many of us that looks like a race-to-the-bottom approach, since some school districts are teaching at a far higher level than their more standardized urban school counterparts, which perform so poorly.

I'd like to see some bold politicians who are not hellbent on reforming education. A politician/educational reformer is almost always a bad sign. That's a person who wants to do social reengineering based on his/her class interests and perceptions (more often misperceptions) of "other people's children." People, whole communities of people, should be making those types of decisions, not idealogues with a bully pulpit. Schools can do what schools can do: teach some reading, writing, and arithmetic (and science, of course). Social work, community revitalization, road building, home construction, etc., etc....that has to be the job of someone else.

Posted by: Jennifer88 | October 24, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

The whole purpose of education should be to produce individuals that can think.

Reading is simply a tool for learning to think.

Books provide information and ideas to stimulate the thought process.

In reading and obtaining information and ideas from books and other sources that require reading there is no such thing as below basic, basic, proficient, or advanced.

Politicians have created an educational system based upon supposedly training every child to have at least a basic level in reading.

The effect of this focus is to remove children loving to read since they are forced into a system that believes in basic levels. Any teacher that does not follow the "test them until they drop" and teach them the test and instead attempts to have children love learning and reading is seen as a threat to the current educational policies and risks being replaced. Far better to spend time continuously drilling children with the same material over and over instead of spending time on abstract ideas of education.

Having a basic skill in using a knife and folk may have some value for an individual but having after 12 years in an educational system a basic level in reading has absolutely no value to an individual or society.

Government needs to bring in the educators and get rid of the politicians.

This will not happen as long as politicians are allowed to make false claims about improvements in education.

Unfortunately an educated public is needed to make a change and the politicians have been very effective in ensuring that the public is not educated. A real chicken and the egg dilemma.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 24, 2009 8:19 PM | Report abuse

One of the problems with the schools may be that most teachers and administrators attended them as students. In other fields, medicine, law, even journalism, people go into them, discover situations they are dissatisfied with, start urging change, and spark discussion, and some really creative solutions are suggested. But very few people go into teaching in the public schools unless they actually attended and liked schools, and they tend to think the way they were taught is the right way because it worked for them.

Posted by: opinionatedreader | October 25, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

As a professional educator, I always find the comments interesting and often infuriating. I believe we need to up front and honest. First, there are bad teachers. There are also bad doctors, bad lawyers, bad cops, bad business people, bad pilots, etc. Second, teaching is a tough profession and not for those who are unwilling to work 50-60 hours a week. Third, not all children learn at the same pace or have the same talents and capacities. That means, some kids don't have the IQ for advanced math. Fourth, a child's environment plays a huge role in his / her education. Parents are important!

Solutions? I think a class should test the first week of school. This gives the teachers, parents, and administrators a base line. At the end of the year, you test again and compare the two. This way you can see how effective (or not) that teacher was with each child. I do this will all of my tests as it tells me what I need to reteach or if one of my students is completely lost. Just giving a test at the end of the year is not fair to the teacher or students. If a class comes in reading above grade level, then the teacher can sit on his/her butt and guess what, those kids will do well on the end of year test. Another class averages two years below, and that teacher works miracles and gets them to within a couple months of their correct reading level, but looks incompetent because the students aren't reading at grade level.
Another suggestion is to have parents agree to not take vacations during the school year, make sure kids do their homework, come to parent-teacher conferences, promise to not bad mouth the teacher in front of the student, and have consequences at home for misbehavior at school.
Principals should be an educator first. My principal was a teacher and so makes policy decisions from that view point. She comes into my class weekly and checks my plans then. Every now and then I submit a set of graded papers for her review. I know that if I have a concern with a student, she is a resource I can use. I feel empowered in the classroom and strive to do better every day.
Finally, students have to want an education. I can't force a student to learn. I do hands on projects, include visuals, activities, etc. But, I still have students who won't do their homework or study for tests. If anyone has a way to crack that nut, I'd love to hear it.

Posted by: hkerrie | October 25, 2009 10:03 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Mr. Brady completely. We're facing another expensive failure in education because the newest "reform" is indeed based on false assumptions. Imagine what would happen if businessmen started telling physicians how to treat their patients. This is basically what we have in education. People with little or no knowledge of schools are certain that they have the answers to our education problems.

In President Obama's books and speeches, he shows a good grasp of the complexity of education, so I am puzzled as to why his administration is taking the "schools alone" approach. Here's what I would do to improve education in the United States:

Acknowledge the fact that education takes place in and out of school. What happens at home matters a lot.

Recognize the research that tells us that the first five years of life are the most important in terms of education. Put money and effort into a child's first years.

Provide health care for all children.

Provide high-quality preschool for all children.

Teach children in a way that is developmentally appropriate. Don't continue to ignore learning theory. Teaching to the test is the worst kind of pedagogy and virtually guarantees failure.

Find ways to keep the joy of learning alive.

Support low-income families by providing jobs and housing in diverse parts of the United States.

Provide highly skilled teachers for low-income schools. Do this by offering competitive salaries and benefits to encourage these people to accept challenging jobs.

Recognize the research that tells us that low-income children should not be isolated. Give them public school vouchers that can be used in any public school. Encourage corporations and institutions to offer scholarships to private schools.

Provide rigorous training for all teacher candidates. Have high standards for entry into the profession and don't issue "waivers."

Give teachers a reasonable amount of autonomy on the job.

Provide teachers with help for disruptive students.

Provide teachers with time to prepare lessons and collaborate with other teachers each day.

Include teachers in all aspects of teaching (instruction, curriculum, materials, etc.)

Have a career ladder for teachers and use peer evaluation and review to decide on promotions.

Experiment with schools that are really different. For example, a teacher might be able to educate fifteen students in a private home. This might be a way of getting urban children out of impacted and dangerous schools. Boarding schools might work too. We need to think outside the box.

Encourage teachers and parents to start their own non-profit charters. Teachers would provide the leadership for these schools.(I would not want to see corporate people start for-profit charters because we'll wind up with a Wall Street type dabacle, education style.)

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | October 26, 2009 12:53 AM | Report abuse

The solutions are available and they're all expensive- at least as expensive as running a war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Posted by: danmcguir | October 26, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Let's take bets on the odds Brady is on the NEA/AFT payroll!

This list is a joke. Even the unions know teacher effectiveness has been in decline since the 70s as highly qualified women and minorities have been able to enter other fields outside of teaching. Teacher quality has also been proven as the #1 factor in improving student achievement AND closing the achievement gap. Good teachers agree, that's why they've moved to charter schools in droves!

Posted by: RL67 | October 26, 2009 11:03 PM | Report abuse

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