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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 11/29/2010

What Tom Friedman got wrong about schools and why it matters

By Valerie Strauss

The great New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote in a recent piece that if he were a cub reporter today, he’d want to be “covering the epicenter of national security -- but that would be the Education Department.”

Then he goes on to quote liberally from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, taking no account of what veteran teacher Anthony Cody, in a recent piece on his blog, described as a serious mismatch between the secretary's words and actions.

If Friedman the cub reporter had turned this piece in, a veteran education editor would have sent it back, asking him to back up his contentions with research. He’d have a hard time.

Look at just a few things Friedman got wrong. He wrote:

“Duncan, with bipartisan support, has begun several initiatives to energize reform — particularly his Race to the Top competition with federal dollars going to states with the most innovative reforms to achieve the highest standards. Maybe his biggest push, though, is to raise the status of the teaching profession. Why?

“Tony Wagner, the Harvard-based education expert and author of “The Global Achievement Gap,” explains it this way. There are three basic skills that students need if they want to thrive in a knowledge economy: the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate.

“If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes. As Wagner put it, 'They took teaching from an assembly-line job to a knowledge-worker’s job. They have invested massively in how they recruit, train and support teachers, to attract and retain the best.' ''

First of all, Race to the Top funding didn’t go to states with the most innovative reforms to achieve the highest standards. It went to the states that promised to make the reforms that the Education Department liked most. A comprehensive analysis of who won the money concluded that winners in the first round (and the same process was used in the second) were chosen through “arbitrary criteria” rather than through a scientific process.

Besides, the “reforms” aren’t exactly innovative. Education historian Diane Ravitch has written that merit pay schemes have been tried repeatedly since the 1920s but never worked very well.

School choice and charter schools are hardly new concepts either. As for being innovative, some charter schools are and some aren't, and the same can be said for traditional public schools. When it comes to doing well on the measure that counts the most in today's education assessment world, standardized test scores, most charter schools do no better or worse than traditional public schools, according to the largest ever study of these schools, conducted at Stanford University.

As Friedman quotes Duncan as saying, “You can’t keep doing the same stuff and expect different results.”

The strongest, most recent research shows it is bad practice to link teacher evaluations to standardized test scores because these schemes are unreliable. The Education Department itself released a study this past summer that revealed high error rates for "value-added" measures that use test scores to evaluate teachers.

There are other, fair ways to assess a teacher’s effectiveness, but they require time and effort.

I believe Duncan when he says he wants to raise the status of the teaching profession. But, willfully or not, he effectively does the opposite by pushing bad evaluation programs, and supporting programs such as Teach for America, which takes newly minted college graduates from elite institutions, gives them five weeks of summer training and puts them in the toughest classrooms in the country to teach.

Seriously, does anybody really think that the teaching profession is elevated by a revolving corps of Ivy League gradutes with five weeks of training? Certainly not Finland and Denmark, the countries Friedman (and other commentators) writes about.

What did Finland actually do to turn its poor education system into a winning one? Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, an expert on teacher education who served as Barack Obama’s education adviser during the transition between the 2008 election and the start of his administration, wrote:

...Many people have turned to Finland for clues to educational transformation. As one analyst notes:

"Most visitors to Finland discover elegant school buildings filled with calm children and highly educated teachers. They also recognize the large autonomy that schools enjoy; little interference by the central education administration in schools’ everyday lives, systematic methods to address problems in the lives of students, and targeted professional help for those in need. (Sahlberg 2009, p. 7)

"However, less visible forces account for the more tangible evidence visitors may see. Leaders in Finland attribute these gains to their intensive investments in teacher education – all teachers receive three years of high quality graduate-level preparation, completely at state expense – plus a major overhaul of the curriculum and assessment system designed to ensure access to a “thinking curriculum” for all students. A recent analysis of the Finnish system summarized its core principles as follows (Laukkanen 2008; see also Buchberger & Buchberger 2003):

* Resources for those who need them most
* High standards and supports for special needs
* Qualified teachers
* Evaluation of education
* Balancing decentralization and centralization


So, yes, Friedman is right; Finland did invest in its teachers. Just not the way we are. And aren’t.

Friedman never mentions the issue of poverty, which today’s education “reformers” see as an excuse for poor teaching even though the research on what living in poverty does to children and their ability to learn is overwhelming.

No, it doesn’t mean that kids living in poverty can't and don't learn. And it doesn’t mean that teachers can't and don’t make a difference.

It does mean that leaders who ignore the effects of poverty fail to see the importance of providing proper supports for these children -- meals for the hungry, glasses for the seeing-impaired, etc. And it means that teachers wind up getting blamed for conditions outside the school that greatly affect a child’s ability to progress in algebra.

Finland, it should be noted, has a poverty rate among children of under 3 percent; the United States, 21 percent.

Anybody who doesn’t think that doesn’t affect student academic performance in a big way is deluding themselves, as is anybody who thinks teachers alone can make up for the effects of hunger and violence and sleep deprivation and little early exposure to literacy.

Friedman listed the three things young people need to be able to do to thrive in a knowledge economy: "the ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving; the ability to communicate effectively; and the ability to collaborate."

These are not the skills that are fostered when standardized tests become education's focus, When the scores are used for high-stakes decisions on students, teachers and schools, what becomes paramount is test preparation, and, as a result, curriculum narrows while kids spend time learning how to fill in bubbles on answer sheets. We saw this happen in the No Child Left Behind era, and while Duncan often says this is no way to run a school system, his policies are doing nothing to change it.

It matters when important columnists ignore research about subjects they are writing because they have followings and their readers expect that they have done their homework. It’s too bad Tom Friedman didn’t study a little harder for this.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | November 29, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Race to the Top, School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  arne duncan, education secretary arne duncan, performance pay, public schools, school reform, schools, standardized tests, teacher evaluation, the new york times, tom friedman  
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Comments

I really hope you are being recognized by Post leadership for bringing to our attention the opinions of outstanding educators nationwide. For far too long, we have jumped from gimmick to gimmick, attempting to solve what is called the "education crisis".

It is clear that we cannot continue to villify teachers, yet expect to attract the brightest persons to the profession, for more than just a two year resume embossing exercise.

It is also clear, that school systems have regularly starved teachers of needed professional development, especially DCPS, while at the same time the requirements to be successful have been changed by every piece of thoughtless legislation passed by the Feds or the City council. Consistent professional develop PRIOR to implementing changes would be smart. There is a great difference in bringing down unions, as some seem bent on doing, and trying to fire all senior teachers. Bad employees should be fired from any job.

The level of poverty and the dysfunction that comes with it is significant in urban schools and more so in DC where the majority of students come from households below the poverty level. This produces a high level of special needs children with both physical and mental disabilities, that unless creaming is occurring, or out of boundary rules enforced strictly, makes if very difficult for "whole' schools to do well in all but the must ideal conditions. More training is needed.

I hope you will conitinue to challenge the "soundbite" version of education reform. There are no easy answers, but it will certainly not happen shooting teachers.

Posted by: topryder1 | November 29, 2010 6:50 AM | Report abuse

I really hope you are being recognized by Post leadership for bringing to our attention the opinions of outstanding educators nationwide. For far too long, we have jumped from gimmick to gimmick, attempting to solve what is called the "education crisis".

It is clear that we cannot continue to villify teachers, yet expect to attract the brightest persons to the profession, for more than just a two year resume embossing exercise.

It is also clear, that school systems have regularly starved teachers of needed professional development, especially DCPS, while at the same time the requirements to be successful have been changed by every piece of thoughtless legislation passed by the Feds or the City council. Consistent professional develop PRIOR to implementing changes would be smart. There is a great difference in bringing down unions, as some seem bent on doing, and trying to fire all senior teachers. Bad employees should be fired from any job.

The level of poverty and the dysfunction that comes with it is significant in urban schools and more so in DC where the majority of students come from households below the poverty level. This produces a high level of special needs children with both physical and mental disabilities, that unless creaming is occurring, or out of boundary rules enforced strictly, makes if very difficult for "whole' schools to do well in all but the must ideal conditions. More training is needed.

I hope you will conitinue to challenge the "soundbite" version of education reform. There are no easy answers, but it will certainly not happen shooting teachers.

Posted by: topryder1 | November 29, 2010 6:50 AM | Report abuse

Valerie - Thanks for pointing out the Friedman piece and for providing your careful, annotated response to it.

Unlike you, Friedman did not even bother to reference his sources in the online version of his article. There is not one link to back up his statements - possibly because the purpose is not to educate and inform, but simply to persuade.

Posted by: efavorite | November 29, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Valerie. This is a wonderful research-based analysis of what's going on in US education today.

I wish this could make it into the print edition of the Post.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | November 29, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse

I recall reading Finland and Denmark, like many European countries, allow kids to opt out at a certain age and therefore are not counted in regular classrooms or entangled with classroom problems. Denmark also, if my memory serves me, has an extremely high number of illiterate adults.

If the U.S. were to pick and chose candidates for high school college, and other education/training opportunities we would have high numbers as well. I believe Denmark's system has the state paying for doing little or nothing toward self-sufficiency.

We need improvements, but certainly if we follow the same regulations and laws we should expect little change. Why?

Line up 100 children abreast on a line. Give the orders that on the sound of the starter's pistol they are to run to a finish line (it doesn't matter the length.) Also, tell them if they are not included in the top third of fastest finishers, they are dropped from all programs. What happens? You cannot, and probably would not, expect everyone to complete at the same time...yet we put them in a classroom and give them the same prescription for education.

Posted by: jbeeler | November 29, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

When reading “the great New York Times columnist Tom Friedman,” very often we are treated to over-simplified and inaccurate descriptions of successful international efforts, and the near apocalyptic consequences for not learning from these competitors ... and fast ... or else.

Friedman is a popular author, but not necessarily a populist author; so his description of the U.S. Department of Education as "the epicenter of national security" fits well with his worldview, where the interests of business are inextricably tied to those of education.

Friedman's main thesis is that our “Flat World” of instantaneous access to information and the elimination of trade barriers has effectively made the world so small that we are in virtual competition with everyone; and that would be almost 7 billion people. The argument goes, if we don't adopt and continue to develop the most cutting edge technologies and efficient systems we will be trampled by those countries that do it better.

There is a eerie similarity to the political rhetoric surrounding our nation’s public schools and that of global business competitiveness, or the implied risk of becoming dominated by foreign aggressors. A famous 1983 report entitled, ‘A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform,’ is also referred to as the ‘Sputnik Paper.’ Like Friedman and others, this report scares people, but does not provide the basis for good policy.

A report that should be required reading for all policy makers is 'The Bracey Report On the Condition of Public Education, 2009'. It can be found at this web address:

http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/BRACEY-2009.pdf

The report evaluated three assumptions of current U.S. policy:

1. High-quality schools can eliminate the achievement gap between whites and minorities.

2. Mayoral control of public schools is an improvement over the more common elected board governance systems.

3. Higher standards will improve the performance of public schools.

Gerald W. Bracey died in 2009, but his work, and that of his colleagues continues to confirm some basic facts about U.S. public schools. First, that these schools are not really as bad as we are being told; and second, the affects of poverty, family and community instability are the principal reasons that the aggregated scores for our public schools have ranked so low compared to other industrialized nations. Studies show that U.S. public schools that have similar levels of poverty rank near, or at the top in the world. One would expect Tom Friedman to be on top of this fact, and that we also produce so many advanced graduates by number, if not by proportion.

The problem with modern reform is that it continues to avoid the larger and more difficult issues of poverty in our schools, as many politicians understand that an angry and financially challenged electorate is not sympathetic or patient enough support longer term policies. We cannot afford such a flat world.

Posted by: AGAAIA | November 29, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

--- continued ---

There are good examples that break this pattern, as Montgomery County Public Schools have a much more progressive policy, and the results demonstrate their effectiveness.

Posted by: AGAAIA | November 29, 2010 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Finland's literacy rate among adults is 99%, according to the United Nations Development Programme Report 2009.

Posted by: jakedrew | November 29, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Denmark is also at 99%, according to the same source.

Posted by: jakedrew | November 29, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

@jbeeler: "I believe Denmark's system has the state paying for doing little or nothing toward self-sufficiency."

Your political bias is showing. A good friend of mine lives in Denmark--he's German--and is so happy with the country's education system and social services that he is becoming a Danish citizen. He owns a business and says the Danes use government intelligently and effectively. They take care of those who need help the most, and provide top notch social services that improve the quality of life for all. They spend money on children and infrastructures, and are very tolerant of immigrants, even granting voting privileges.

I'm proud to be an American, but embarrassed when so many of our "leaders" are so spectacularly uninformed, to say nothing of our citizenry.

Posted by: jakedrew | November 29, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Is Friedman as careless in other information he generates? Perhaps I need to stop listening to him.

Posted by: jlp19 | November 29, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

jake, I'm only repeating what I read from Danish news. If I don't count those that opted out then the rates would be high. I believe 60 minutes also reported on this same issue along with employment and their culture. As for your friend, I'm glad. Everyone needs somewhere to go...enough said.

Posted by: jbeeler | November 29, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Valerie - highest accolades again for a truly excellent article.

AGAAIA - thanks for the reference to Gerald Bracey and his work. He struggled for so many years while being ignored. His truths and research still stand. Too bad politicians and "reformers" choose to avoid his information.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | November 29, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

I know we're living in the "post-racial" era but it might have been worth mentioning Friedman's racist proclivities. How about this: "But when Harvard and Yale admitted women and more minorities, white males had to step up their game."

Since when did white males, as a group, ever have to step up "their" game and make common bond against their competition? I am one white male who hasn't joined that club.

Posted by: MickeyK | November 29, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

There are good examples that break this pattern, as Montgomery County Public Schools have a much more progressive policy, and the results demonstrate their effectiveness.

Posted by: AGAAIA | November 29, 2010 8:38 AM
___________________________
Funny you should mention Montgomery County Schools. MD won RTTT funds and the state is expecting MCPS to change some of their effective reforms to match what the state wants to implement. Placing such narrow expectations on systems that have proven to be successful using other methods is ridiculous. I wonder if Arne Duncan thought of that.

Posted by: musiclady | November 29, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

This is not that surprising, especially after having paid close attention to reporting on education for the past few years.
Ms. Rhee has widely inaccurate information on her resume, but Jay Mathews accepts it because it sounds right.
Jay Mathews got things wrong on Maury Elementary a few years back.
Yesterday, the Post ombudsman , Mr. Alexander , suggested the Post newsroom conduct some remedial math for reporters.

As for Mr. Friedman, I recall problems with his reporting 25 years ago. I can't recall specifics without digging up some old books I have.

Posted by: edlharris | November 29, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

@jakedrew

I think you are totally wrong about Denmark. But you are not alone, many left-wing Boasian liberals blithely assume that the famously non-racist and ultra-liberal Scandinavian countries just have no problems at all with their immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. But in reality, Denmark and other Scandinavian countries have found that huge proportions of their academic failure, violent crime, and welfare dependency cases are accounted for by immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. In many Scandinavian countries there has been a right-wing resurgence centered around anti-immigration policies and during the past decade Denmark has enacted surprisingly restrictive immigration laws. Now in order to legally immigrate into Denmark and to become a Danish citizen a college education is becoming almost a requirement (if only this were true for immigrants here in the USA...).

http://www.presseurop.eu/en/content/article/384771-whats-gone-wrong-denmark

http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/547

http://universitypost.dk/article/comment-new-immigration-laws-have-betrayed-me

http://ragingbull.quote.com/mboard/boards.cgi?board=JOKES&read=82345#82345

Posted by: rifraf | November 29, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Finland draws its teachers from the top 10 percent of college graduates, and teaching regularly beats out law or medicine as a career choice among top performers. Dr. Rejo Laukkanen of Finland's National Board of Education, says "We can trust that [teachers] are competent . . they know what to do."

In the US, the bottom third of college graduates form half the teaching corps. Unfortunately, we simply can't trust that "they know what to do." (We could 50 years ago, when gender discrimination essentially subsidized the teaching ranks.)

Teachers are paid about the same as in the US, but the income disparity is not nearly as severe as it is here. Lawyers make more than teachers in Finland, but not THAT much more.

How do we get the best and the brightest into the teaching profession in the United States?

Posted by: trace1 | November 29, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

"How do we get the best and the brightest into the teaching profession in the United States?"

Maybe by treating them as well as they are treated in Finland -- giving them secure jobs, a good union (yes, Finnish teachers are unionized) and lot of freedom in their classrooms (no teaching to the test in Finland) and expecting them to improve with experience - not expecting or even encouraging them leave after a few years for something better.

Also keep in mind that the top students in any field don't necessarily make the best practitioners. Some professional attributes aren't measured well by grades made in school.

Posted by: efavorite | November 29, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

efavorite,

For the last 30 years, teachers have had secure jobs, unions, and freedom in the classrooms (before NCLB).

What's missing? Intellectual firepower in the classroom. We have a system where the bottom rung of college grads teach our kids. So we should give them secure jobs, unions, and freedom? That's simply reckless.

As to your second point, Finland proves that top students, combined with top-notch training, do indeed make the best practitioners.

Posted by: trace1 | November 29, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

"Leaders in Finland attribute these gains to their intensive investments in teacher education – all teachers receive THREE YEARS OF HIGH QUALITY GRADUATE-LEVEL PREPARATION, COMPLETELY AT STATE EXPENSE....:" (bolding mine)
______________
WOW. People who criticize US teachers either don't know or forget that teachers have to pay their own way in our country, aside from in-service coursework, and it means that teachers often:
- take 2nd jobs while they are teaching
during the school year
- have hefty loans to pay off for many
years
- usually work and/or study during the
summer - (they are rarely on vacation as
so many people suppose)
- have to stretch out their graduate
studies due to the cost (my case)
- have to endure many belittling comments
of other people asking why you are doing
this? Go into administration, make more
money, etc., etc., etc.

So, Finland has eliminated one enormous source of stress for teachers who already juggle enormous, complex tasks. Finland sounds like a dream place to teach.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | November 29, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

@trace1--Not all teachers are from the bottom of their college classes. As a 35 year veteran, I graduated cum laude and I was in the top 10% of my graduating class as were many of my colleagues. What's ironic is that many reformers are saying that teachers should not get graduate degrees and continue training. That view is a direct contradiction of what other countries do. People who are top students and who are drawn to the field of education tend to be lifelong learners which should be encouraged.

Posted by: musiclady | November 29, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

@ trace1

I would agree that we need good (even great) teachers, but the burning question is what makes such teachers, and how do we evaluate them in ways that doesn't set them against one another?

Current accountability systems such as IMPACT are not only unreliable, but can severely discourage collaborative relationships between teachers. I would also suggest that the most important qualities of a great teacher are the most difficult to quantify.

The passion and dedication of a teacher for his/her student's long-term success may lead them to teach in ways that may actually result in lower standardized test scores in the short-run. Metric based prescriptive systems that lack the flexibility to recognize such efforts or more innovative solutions to teaching then become adverse to the children's interests. So much for innovation in a Race-to-the-Top.

There is a bigger problem when the 'master educators' and inexperienced principals that DCPS have installed have significantly less teaching expertise than the teachers they are responsible for evaluating. Unfortunately, this is very common, especially given the school turn-arround policies of the past three years. School politics and fragile egos can make a mockery of teacher evaluations, as administrators have sought to punish talented and popular teachers who they consider threats to their control of school functions. Adversarial relationships between administrators and faculty are a natural result of the tensions created by IMPACT and a higher rates of personnel turnover.

There is no ombudsman worthy of note in our schools that can be trusted to insure due process other than the labor unions. As bad as that sounds to many, the nature of teaching makes collective bargaining and legal support the only defense against unprofessional, arbitrary and malicious labor practices. And this applies to both teachers and administrators alike.

Posted by: AGAAIA | November 29, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Musiclady,
Did I say all teachers were from the bottom of their college classes? No, I said about half came from the bottom third.

This is a well-established fact that nobody disputes. Some (efavorite) don't think it's a problem. Having pulled all of my kids out of public school in part because I wanted talented people teaching my kids (not just once in awhile, as happened in their DCPS schools, but most of the time) I think it's a big problem.

Posted by: trace1 | November 29, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

No, Finland doesn't prove that at all. Surely you're analytical enough to know that. As for US teaching for the past 30 years (and before!) - many, many unionized teachers have done very well at providing education - in suburban and other areas where there is low-poverty.

In fact here in DC, some students of unionized teachers are getting high SAT scores and then are getting into the top colleges in the country -- and doing very well.

These same teachers have kids in the same classes with the successful kids who don't do well at all. Some of them have poor attendance and poor study habits, so even though they have the same great teachers as the other kids, they don't do as well.

Posted by: efavorite | November 29, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Efavorite,

Now you're in silly land again. "Some" students of unionized teachers perform well so there's obviously not a problem in the teaching profession?

Your comment is so absurd it's not even worth a response.

Posted by: trace1 | November 29, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

"I've had to achieve at Ballou without much help . . . What did I learn? Watch out for the Dreambusters. You know who they are. Dreambusters are everywhere. Students, teachers, and administrators who said, 'You can't, you won't' . . . "

Ron Susskind, in "A Hope in the Unseen," quoting Cedric Jennings, a 4.02 student at Ballou high school who made it to college, and was hideously unprepared for college-level work.

His fault? Teachers' fault? Read the book and decide.

Posted by: trace1 | November 29, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

"Your comment is so absurd it's not even worth a response."
Posted by: trace1 | November 29, 2010 1:20 PM |

but trace1 - you responded!

In any event - the point is that these supposedly terrible teachers are extremely successful with some students. I would think people who care about education would be interested in how that could be.

Posted by: efavorite | November 29, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

"His fault? Teachers' fault?"

The administration's fault? the family's fault? the society's fault?

Is it important to place blame on one entity, and then punish that entity? without thoroughly studying the problem and leaving out an important element (poverty)? How does that solve anything?

Posted by: efavorite | November 29, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Hey, efavorite,
if my kid scores highly on the SAT and has terrible teachers, I have news for you, It's because I shelled out a lot of money for SSAT prep. Doesn't mean the teacher was "successful."

Posted by: trace1 | November 29, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

efavorite,
The Ballou kid had a 4.02 average. He studied when his heat was cut off, when his family was evicted, when there wasn't enough food: he studied. His mother showed up for every conference.

You're blaming "poverty" and his family for a high school with ridiculously easy curriculum? For administrators and teachers that phoned it in, and worse, discouraged him from pursuing his dreams?

Lordy! Do you ever stop making excuses for adults that fail our children in DC?

Posted by: trace1 | November 29, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Three years of teacher training. Shoot.me.now. As is always the case with LDH, her ideas and proposals make me weep for the profession.

The idea of shovelling the best and the brightest into teaching at the expense of medicine and industry is ludicrous. Presumably the Finnish don't have many opportunities in those areas--or if they do, and the teaching profession is sucking them all away, then shame on Finland.

The problem with the US teaching pool is that they think the Finnish solution is the answer. Spare us all that idiocy.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | November 29, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I have a solution to you all, hand your school keys over to the Gulen Movement and dismantle your school district to privatization.
Why is it that the foreign Gulen Movement that manages over 150 Charter schools in the USA continues to falsely obtain h1-b work visas for un qualified teachers from Turkey / Turkic speaking countries? In the Los Angeles County the Gulen Schools are called Magnolia Science Academy. Read the h1-b Visa report below, they are claiming they cannot find math, science, computer and English teachers in the USA. These schools have recently been busted in Ohio for hiring foreigners via the Concept Schools. http://www2.nbc4i.com/news/2010/nov/23/public-charter-school-funds-under-scrutiny-ar-301282/
H1-b Visa info here: http://www.h1bwage.com/index.php?q=science%20teacher
In fact, did you know that the Cosmos Foundation part of the Gulen Movement has immigrated more foreign teachers in than the largest school district in the USA. Of course that would be LAUSD, who is allowing this? That number for Cosmos Foundation alone is over 1,100 h1-b visas since 2001 and Cosmos Foundation is only ONE of the Gulen Movement’s NGOs that are doing this. Who is dismantling the American Education System so followers of Islamic Imam Fethullah Gulen can teach our children? http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2010/07/gulen-schools-and-their-booming-h1b.html

Posted by: SalesA1 | November 29, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

"Doesn't mean the teacher was "successful."

No, it's hard to tell what causes success or failure when there are so many factors involved. That's why it's so dumb to simply blame teachers.

For the ballou kid - what about the school counselor, the principal, the college admissions staff? Couldn't any of those people tell that this kid wasn't ready for college work? It would appear that a lot of adults failed this kid, for various reasons. Maybe some of them tried to help and were stymied. We just don't know.

I think what happened to him is a shame and I think it's ridiculous to pin it on the teachers.

Posted by: efavorite | November 29, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Why don't you read the book, efavorite?

Are you afraid that a first-hand account of life in a DCPS high school might challenge your stubbornly-held assumptions that poverty and fractured families are solely responsible for low achievement?

Posted by: trace1 | November 29, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

trace1,

Grades and GPA's do not automatically equate to success. Yes, it is possible that the teachers inflated the grades. This situation happens, and it is not always the fault of the teacher. For instance, it sometimes happens simply because the one student seems SO much better than the rest of the group. He does his work. He follows directions. He asks for help. He listens. He performs well on tests. He IS the "A" among his peers in the classroom. Eventually he will leave his classroom environment and join a bigger group, perhaps at Brown University, where he will discover that he is NOT an "A" in the next group. Hopefully, he will persevere and adapt to his new group (Cedric does do this).This situation happens in almost every environment that I can think of. And by the way, much of what happens in "A Hope in the Unseen" can be directly connected to the fact that Cedric was the star among the turds in his high school. Apparently, you only read select parts from the biography.

It is also possible that students with a high GPA and high test scores fail in college for a myriad of reasons. They sometimes fail because they are not socially prepared. They sometimes fail because they have not developed independent skills. And they often fail because the college is not the right situational environment for them. There are dozens of biographical and autobiographical books out there that point out many of these points. For Cedric, he certainly was independently successful; however, he was not prepared for the different social situations or the different situational environment that Brown had. Now, I haven't read the book in a long time (almost nine or ten years now), but I do not recall the author ever pointing the finger solely at his high school teachers. However, I do recall how much the author juxtaposed the two separate environments and social situations at his high school and college. I find it funny that you seemed to overlook this in your final analysis. Perhaps you should read the book again instead of recommending it to other people first.

Posted by: DHume1 | November 29, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Comparing education in the US to that in Finland is apples to oranges. We have three hundred million of the most heterogeneous populations on the planet. Finland has five million of one of the most homogeneous populations. Heck, we have cities with as many people as all of Finland.

And all the criticism of Tom Friedman? Last time I checked he had three Pulitzers. And how many in Ms Strauss's column again? That's what I thought.

To go back over Friedman's article carefully for an accurate and unbiased critique would take more effort than is warranted in this column.

Just one quick point about No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top: The first initiative was passed with bipartisan support (Ted Kennedy as the major contributor of the Democrats) and Race To The Top came into existence under Obama. Last time I checked he was a Democrat (and still is).

How can this be? NCLB essentially happened in defiance to the NEA while RttT came without prior consultation with the NEA. Maybe the two separate administrations simply got tired of adhering to what the NEA wants, said to hell with them and finally did what they thought was in the best interest of children. Wow! What a novel idea for our public schools; thinking of children first? What WILL they come up with next?

Posted by: phoss1 | November 29, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Wrong answer, above.

We want and need most of all to raise the quality of public school teachers.

If that happens, more "status" and "respect" will follow, if not simultaneous with improved quality.

It would be impossible to raise "status" and "respect" without increasing quality.

Teacher quality is the independent variable, not "respect" or "status."

Posted by: axolotl | November 29, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

Interesting, especially since Friedman's wife is a Montgomery County Public School system media specialist at a Bethesda area elementary.
Way to keep folks on their toes, Valerie. Another great article!

Posted by: willoughbyspit | November 29, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Interesting, especially since Friedman's wife is a Montgomery County Public School system media specialist at a Bethesda area elementary.
Way to keep'em on their toes, Valerie. Great article!

Posted by: willoughbyspit | November 29, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Valerie--you are fresh air after so many years of smog; education reporters at the Post became opinionates who didn't get it, who refused to get it, and who likely don't have the heart, soul, or brains to get it....

I had stopped reading the Post after so many years of poor education reporting made it painful to read one more article in support of everything NCLB.

Thank goodness for balance. Every good read, especially a newspaper, benefits from it.

Thank you again for bringing intelligence and awareness back to education reporting.

Posted by: realannie | November 29, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

To better understand the issue of teacher quality, let's look at community college teachers, as opposed to high school teachers. In order to get a full-time tenure track position, an individual must be highly qualified with advanced degrees (increasingly the doctorate) in order to secure a position. This is mainly a teaching job, similar to high school, rather than university teaching where research is required for job permanence.

When we contrast the stiff competition for community college versus high school positions in our country we begin to get an idea of what the problem is:

In the United States our top students usually DO NOT WANT to teach K-12, but many DO want to teach at the college level.

That is the problem right there: During good economic times, we have a severe teaching shortage, especially in urban schools. To put it even more directly, these schools often have to jump hoops just to get anyone with minimal credentials in the classroom. What is fascinating to me is the fact that Michelle Rhee still hired minimally qualified teachers, even when this recession afforded her the opportunity to hire the best available. To me, this demonstrates how fully entrenced this cultural problem is.

So we all more or less agree with the fact that better qualified teachers are needed for our schools, but we don't agree on why. Why do we have such a difficult time attracting "the best and the brightest" to our K-12 classrooms? Why is it so much easier to attract these gifted students to community colleges, even though the students are only a little older?

I believe people like Trace1 and Axolotl suggest some answers. They both show extreme disdain for public school teachers. Both seem intelligent and yet I doubt if either one would teach in the "inner-city" themselves. They would probably not encourage their children to become teachers because "you can do better." This is the mantra of many middle-class families. As I've said before, Michelle Rhee was the perfect example of The One Who Would Not Stoop to Teach. Her type, as we can see from these posts, is common in our country. Simply put, these people look down on teaching children. Anyone who has traveled to South Korea or Finland knows that the same is not true there.

How did this come about? I can only guess but I think there are several cultural and historical reasons. Early on in our history the young girl became a teacher until she got married, so the job was quickly defined as "women's work." Second, it became a good job for working class people who wanted entry into the middle class.

If you took all the SAT scores of college students, you would find that they correlate highly with socioeconomic status, just as all standardized tests do. So the students with the high scores are likely to be the children of affluent college grads while the lowest scores would often indicate a poorer family background.

So how do we get better qualified teachers? To be continued...

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | November 29, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Before I share my ideas about how we can improve the quality of our teaching force, I want to say that in my opinion, the majority of K-12 teachers are hard-working and excellent. Perhaps many, members of the working class, started out with mediocre test scores, but most became very competent with experience. To me, the proof is in the spectacular success of the American people, most of whom attended public schools. That's the proud legacy of the American teacher.

That said, we all agree that we need to do even better, now that the world has become "flat." Here are some of my ideas for doing so:

Instead of insulting all teachers, we need to applaud our best and ask them to mentor their colleagues. We need to ask them, and not business people, to lead us in our quest for an excellent education for all children.

We must have high standards for teachers and insist that all teachers meet these standards. The shameful practice of hiring minimally qualified teachers for urban schools needs to stop. Hopefully, Vincent Gray and the citizens of DC will refuse teachers with six weeks of summer training. Nothing has hurt urban children more than this practice.

A federal program for teachers is a good idea. The federal government could attract and train talented individuals (all expenses paid) and then send these people to high-needs schools. These teachers would be treated as full professionals and would receive good salaries and benefits. They would be trusted to exercise professional judgment while teaching.

Teachers should be encouraged to start their own charter schools and run them. They should determine which teachers get tenure, instead of granting it to everyone, as administrators have done for years.

The profession needs to be elevated so teachers have the same professional status as community college teachers. Highly educated people want to be decision-makers. They will not agree to five years of college just to be treated as they are now.

These are just a few ideas, but the bottom line is that we will never attract "the best and the brightest" to a profession that is poorly treated by the public. This is a perfect example of the saying that people get what they deserve.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | November 29, 2010 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Great article. Wow. As an outsider to the what has gone wrong in the US education debate, this article presents some sanity in the evaluation problems and the structural problems .... rather than the most common utter malarkey.

This article should be used as an outline for rational evaluation and change of the US education system. (Rhee start reading here.)

Posted by: concerneddemo | November 30, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Someone several posts up suggested ways to get top graduates from top tier schools into teaching -- I agreed with some of what was said, but didn't agree with the union comment. I have actually viewed having to enter into a teacher's union as one of the BIGGEST downsides of the profession. I know I am a good teacher and my record, students, and parents speak for themselves; I don't want an unnecessary layer of protection and I don't want the bottom 10-25% of our profession protected either.

My wife, a lawyer feels the same way, and I'd be curious to hear some fellow teachers thoughts on her "union". A lawyer must pay Bar dues ever year, however, most of those dues go to legal funds to help lawyers that are on trial for malpractice. She hates the fact that she has to help pay to defend her colleagues that have either grossly underperformed or acted unethically. This is basically how I view the teacher's union.

Posted by: OldNumber3 | November 30, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Valerie,

You suggest that poverty in Finland being higher than in the U.S. explains in large part why the U.S. trails Finland on international assessments like PISA. This is a fair point - and obviously true. But what the PISA data also says about poverty, which you very conveniently neglected to point out, is that the poor in Finland do much better in school than the poor in the U.S. In other words, the percentage of variance in student performance within the U.S. that is attributable to poverty is much larger than the percent in Finland. The interpretation of this is rather straightforward -- there is a clear school level impact in Finland where top flight teachers are getting better learning gains out of poor kids that we aren't getting here.

You might also refer to the recently released report by Paul Peterson et al. at Harvard which shows even the wealthy, white students with college educated parents in the U.S. don't even sniff the levels of PISA performance of the top performing nations.

Fact check, fact check, fact check. You can't blame it all on poverty. The data won't let you.

Posted by: mhartney | December 3, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

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