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Posted at 11:30 PM ET, 06/24/2010

Principal: How to REALLY turn around a school

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is George Wood, principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio, and executive director of the non-profit Forum for Education and Democracy, a collaboration of educators from around the country.

By George Wood
For the past 18 years I have worked as a high school/middle school principal alongside a dedicated staff and a community committed to improving a school.

In that time we have increased graduation and college going rates, engaged our students in more internships and college courses, created an advisory system that keeps tabs on all of our students, and developed the highest graduation standards in the state (including a Senior Project and Graduation Portfolio).

But reading the popular press, and listening to the chatter from Washington, I have just found out that we are not part of the movement to ‘reform’ schools.

You see, we did not do all the stuff that the new ‘reformers’ think is vital to improve our schools. We did not fire the staff, eliminate tenure, or pay teachers based on student test scores. We did not become a charter school. We did not take away control from a locally elected school board and give it to a mayor. We did not bring in a bunch of two-year short-term teachers.

Nope, we did not do any of these things. Because we knew they would not work.

There is no evidence that firing staffs and using the turn around strategies that failed when Education Secretary Arne Duncan was in charge of Chicago’s schools is suddenly going to work (here’s the evaluation from Duncan’s supervisors).

Tying teacher pay and tenure to scores on the current batch of narrowly constructed tests has never worked and will not work now, as Thomas Hilton, former researcher at the Educational Testing Service notes.

Charter schools do not do any better than good old public schools. And there is no evidence that eliminating democratic involvement with our schools through elected school boards improves educational opportunities for kids.

While I applaud the commitment of the young people who see programs such as Teach for America as a way to serve the nation, it is a shame that we think the best we can do for kids in our most challenged communities is a steady diet of inexperienced short term teachers. (And it might not be all that effective, according to a new report examining the academic achievement of students under the instruction of TFA staff.)

So would somebody please explain to me why the new reform agenda is made up of so many unproven or failed strategies?

Everywhere I turn the mantra is the same—fire teachers, close schools, start charters.

Even from people who should know better.

One more thing, I also find it interesting that some of the more powerful pushers of these ideas are the so-called titans of Wall Street—the Broad Foundation, Bill Gates of late, and Democrats for Education Reform (a bunch of well-funded venture capitalists). Hey, private capital did such a great job with the economy (and oil wells), why not turn over our public schools to them?

While legislators and opinion writers seem to have drunk deeply from the ‘reform’ Kool-Aid, I believe the people who work with kids at the school level know better.

What we know is this: To turn around a school and keep that success going requires a commitment to staff development and teacher support. You cannot just keep hiring rookie teachers or threaten veteran teachers with ‘death by test scores’ and hope somehow to create a culture of learning and engagement.

At our school we rely on weekly if not daily staff development activities, school wide learning strategies, and staff evaluation focused on improving instruction and cultivating the leadership skills of teachers to help and coach their colleagues.

There is no incentive linking pay to performance or threats of termination; rather we rely on collaboration and the collective wisdom of the teaching staff to improve student achievement.

Ensuring that every young person learns means constant reassessment of the curriculum, multiple measures of student achievement, and support systems throughout the school.

We cannot rely on the archaic standardized tests we use today to judge student learning as they dumb down and narrow curriculum. And we must make sure that every student has equal access to the conditions to learn in every school.

For every student rise to his/her potential we must use our communities, through internships, mentoring, and, yes, school boards that hold educators accountable to the local community.

I know this is no longer thought of as reform. And as I get ready to shake the sweaty hands of my 18th graduating class, I have to admit to being part of the educational establishment.

But would somebody please explain to me how the success of my staff, and many schools just like ours, is no longer of value to a nation that seems to still want a good public education system?

Maybe we just don’t have a good press agent.

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | June 24, 2010; 11:30 PM ET
Categories:  George Wood, Guest Bloggers, Teachers  | Tags:  obama and school reform, race to the top, school reform, school restructuring, teachers, turning around schools  
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Comments

Kudos to this principal for doing a great job, I'm glad he has found so much success.

But, how does working in Stewart, Ohio (a very white, thoroughly middle class area) qualify him as an expert on the reforms needed in disadvantaged, urban schools? Some of these schools are desperately failing and need a drastic response before another generation of scholars is lost. We don't have 18 years to turn around these schools.

Posted by: HappyTeacher | June 22, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

HappyTeacher-

You're right that Stewart, Ohio probably doesn't have much in common with troubled communities in many parts of the country. But the writer still makes important points about the failures of current reform efforts. Just because a reform involves drastic measures doesn't make it a good idea.

Posted by: aed3 | June 22, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Happy teacher - the principal doesn't present himself as an expert on reforms for disadvantaged schools, but makes the point that expert solutions for these schools (or any public schools) are not being used and common sense and research results are being ignored.

Where is the logic in doing something drastic if there's no reason to think it will work and many reasons to think it won't?

Since when is doing something brash and ill-founded the best and most reasonable response to a crisis?

Firing teachers to improve education is about as logical as killing the bearer of bad news.

Posted by: efavorite | June 22, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

But, how does working in Stewart, Ohio (a very white, thoroughly middle class area) qualify him as an expert on the reforms needed in disadvantaged, urban schools?
Posted by: HappyTeacher
.........................
The question should be how have we allowed the very questionable policies in regard to the problems of disadvantaged urban schools to become the policies of public education in the United States?

Setting total national public education policy based upon the needs of disadvantaged poverty urban schools since 2001 makes as much sense as forcing children that are not overweight go on strict diets.

It is no wonder public education in this nation has deteriorated since 2001.

The problem with public education is not the problem of public schools in poverty areas but that as Americans we have abandoned common sense.

Posted by: bsallamack | June 22, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

The author's point, that real improvement in education takes time, money and commitment; and that fads and miracle cures don't work, is obvious to anyone who has paid attention. Unfortunately, Rhee, Duncan, TFA and the rest of the "reform" cult rejects any evidence, research, or experience that questions their faith in their cult's superstitions, as expressed in Wendy Kopp's education manifesto.

Posted by: mcstowy | June 22, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

There was none of the phony Duncan-Obama-Klein-Rhee reform at this author's school. I guess because this author has common sense.

Posted by: aby1 | June 22, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

This principal is a great leader, which a most essential ingredient to the success of any enterprise. This principal seems to recognize providing a quality product, supporting your people, and serving the customer, which is what all great enterprises do.

Continuity is critical to build and maintain culture; this school seems to do it, and others should learn this from it.

Posted by: pdfordiii | June 22, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

This is a refreshing counterpoint to the KIPP love found at the other featured blog on this page. I believe that successful, traditional public schools have their place and are still extremely important to our country's prosperity. Charters aren't the right fit for every student, that's why so many are "counseled" out.

Posted by: amcg | June 22, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

We seem to have a theme emerging in response to "school reform" quick fixes. That is that real progress in education requires communities consisting of students, teachers, administrators, parents, school boards and local community businesses and organizations working together. It requires lots of hard work over many years to make sure that the resources are in place to support the best programs for that particular school population and that teachers are trained properly to do their jobs. It acknowledges common sense ideas like experience counts in how well you do a job, major investments of time and money should be based on evidence that those initiatives will actually work, that worthwhile progress does not happen overnight and that success does not come from punishment and threats but from cooperation, appreciation and support both in the classroom and in the teacher's workroom. How did our leaders forget the things they should have learned in kindergarten?

Thank you Valerie for facilitating these discussions and providing us "little people" with a voice!

Posted by: kmlisle | June 22, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher, I feel that the real problems facing public schools are 1) complacency and 2) bureaucracy.

The reform movement has sprung up to address these things...and should be commended for doing so.

If the KIPP model works for some students, it should be supported, not attacked.

At the same time, if principals like the one in this article can get the job done on their own, we should free them to do that.

Posted by: holzhaacker | June 22, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I think the attacks on Klein, Rhee, Duncan, and others are misguided.

While I don't agree with all of their approaches, I commend them wholeheartedly for putting the focus where it belongs: on student LEARNING.

For too long, our schools have been mired in complacency and in doing things just because "that's the way they've always been done".....and a great upside to the charter movement is that it has forced a discussion about HOW schools are operating.

I have problems with an over-reliance on test scores, like many of the posters here...we need more authentic, real world assessments.

..BUT, I also know that the quality of a school shouldn't be measured by a bunch of arbitrary or tangential things like "seniority" or graduation rates (achieve by grade inflation).

At the end of the day, schools should be measured on how well their students are prepared to function in college or the world beyond. Period.

Posted by: holzhaacker | June 22, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Ultimately, the education problem is much like the energy problem:

We have to move away from the one-size fits all model (the "fossil fuels" of education) and move to a more diverse (yet still public) system.

If schools like KIPP work for some students, great! Why attack something that meets the needs of so many students just because it isn't for everyone?

For example, just because we can't switch the entire country to wind power doesn't mean that wind power shouldn't be part of the mix.

I feel the same way about charter schools like KIPP....they may not be for everyone. But for the students they DO serve, they can be a godsend and a rescue from mediocrity.


Posted by: holzhaacker | June 22, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

Dear Principal Wood,

I'd be happy to be your Press Agent--consider it done! I have a lot of 'well-connected' (ok, facebook) friends who will join me!

Thanks for this inspirational letter providing hope to teachers and parents all over.

Posted by: rsolnet | June 22, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

I thank you for writing this article. It just goes to show that one size does not fit all and never will!
My daughter is not standardized and never will be. We need to get rid of the tests and go back to teaching!!!
Different schools should offer different subjects and the kids should be able to choose what best suits them.

Posted by: slgut | June 22, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

holzhaaker-

Since I'm the only one who mentioned KIPP, I assume you are referring to me when defending KIPP against its "attackers."

I think that KIPP schools achieve great things with their selected students. I have had the opportunity to see the work they do in person on several occasions, and hear great things from a former colleague of mine who now works at a KIPP school.

I didn't attack KIPP, I stated a reality. If you truly believe that charters don't weed out students who won't conform to their rules then you are naive. I have taught in a high-poverty, urban public school for ten years, and believe it or not, teachers at my school are out there striving to rescue kids from mediocrity too. The difference is that we have to find creative ways to deal with chronic behavior issues or excessive absences, because we will still be teaching our problem students tomorrow, rather than finding them an environment that's "better for them." We don't have the luxury to assume the take it or leave it stance of many charters.

Most charter school advocates would have a problem with your wind-power analogy, because you relegate them to niche status. I guess you and I can agree that charters are not for every child, no matter how impressive their results. I don't know that the reformers that you defend would agree, however, that there are any limits to the groundbreaking power of charter schools.

Posted by: amcg | June 22, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

holzacker - I agree with you about KIPP - the problem is not that KIPP provides a good solution for some students, but that some of its promoters present it as a miracle cure for all students.

It isn't. Nothing is.

Posted by: efavorite | June 22, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

I knew four students who attended a KIPP program in DC. All four were asked to leave the KIPP program. That cannot be coincidental. I cannot and do not trust KIPP when in my small subset they elminated 100% of the students I knew.

Regarding the above... wow, talk about CONCEITED! Why do I doubt that Stewart, OH ever had DC's problems. Did Stewart, OH have a Mayor Barry who stocked the schools with non-teachers who got their slots through political cronyism? No? No nationally famous corrupt crack-smoking mayor with total control over who got hired? Then, Principal Wood, you do not know what you're talking about.

Let's put it this way, in 2007-08 a teacher joked with me on the playground. "You remember back in the day," she began, "when we all were on the boat at Go Gos?"

To reiterate, to be "on the boat" means to smoke Love Boat aka PCP. I want Principal Wood to tell me how he would handle a teacher who told a parent that she used to do PCP. Riddle me that oh great and powerful principal!

Posted by: bbcrock | June 22, 2010 11:12 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock, I think you and every other parent in the country should DEMAND teachers as good as Principal Wood has in Whiteville, OH -- and principals as good as Wood, too.

Q: Why did you stay in D.C. to raise kids if you couldn't afford to send them to private school? I took my one school-age (black) stepchild to Howard County from inner Baltimore County as soon as I could afford it, and turned down a free house in Baltimimore City because of the school problems there.

Dime's had problems in his life, but at least he's a high school graduate -- and literate, passable at math, and computer-competent.

Posted by: roblimo | June 23, 2010 2:39 AM | Report abuse


Happy teacher wrote:

But, how does working in Stewart, Ohio (a very white, thoroughly middle class area) qualify him as an expert on the reforms needed in disadvantaged, urban schools? Some of these schools are desperately failing and need a drastic response before another generation of scholars is lost. We don't have 18 years to turn around these schools."

......

Your thinking really is the problem of urban school failure.

Take a mirror out and put it on your desk. Then take a look at the last 30 years of urban education and who the teachers were and still are; who the administration was and is and what is getting done. ( 36% illiteracy rate in DC)

don't come looking for others or don't come blaming others, blame rest with the community itself and the plundering of school resources, money, positions etc done by the very community itself.

If the parents and the community use the schools as plunder it is no wonder the kids are not getting an education---moe importantly they are not valuing an education.

wendy kopp, bill gates, eli broad are jsut the jackels moving in to steal taxpayer funds and they know that if they pay off the elected officials, the schools officials and selected people in the community they will get what they want


of no.... look to yourself for the cause of the problem and then find solutions


we are not buying what you are selling.

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | June 23, 2010 6:04 AM | Report abuse

Quite frankly, here in DC...to find a principal with 18 years of experience is a RARE FIND. The only one that comes to mind so-far is Ms. Tukeva at Bell Multicultural...hence she has turned her school around and has acquired national ranking.

Sad to say...if you told a newly recruited principal of today...that any worthy recognition will not arrive until year 15 or more in their career, I can assure you a snide remark would be your answer.

Posted by: PowerandPride | June 23, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Here's hoping that Jay Matthews reads this article.

Not that it would make any difference. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

One other thing... when people characterize the "Fire 'em all, let god sort 'em out" approach as an Obama-Duncan-Rhee-Klein tactic, I don't think it is completely fair. This is a logical extension of the Spellings-Page-Bush, and for that matter Gingrich-Clinton policies of the past few decades. No Child Left Behind was a policy based on punishments like firing everyone and starting over at schools that lag behind narrow test score goals. The disciples of this approach read some studies that say that teachers are important to student achievement, and instead of concluding "We need to bolster and lift up these important engines of education", they instead say "We need to rip out the engines and put in cheaper, disposable engines to fix education, while 'outsourcing' the maintenance to desk jockeys and bureacrats." It really is such a cynical approach that could only be supported by outsiders, and I completely understand why the author feels like he must admit to being part of the "educational establishment," as if having expertise and skill were something shameful. It's as if they are saying "Only people that don't understand the challenges should be allowed to address them!"; like going to the hospital but insisting that only the security guards and administrators be allowed to operate on you...

Posted by: wolfgang1 | June 23, 2010 9:06 AM | Report abuse

i am sure our beloved high school principal called for firings in the wall street/local mortgage broker debacle as well as the bp oil spill because of incompetence, but apparently he feels teachers should be exempt from firing irrespective of performance. if that is the kind of logic american education leaders employ, no wonder they cannot teach our children.

Posted by: george32 | June 23, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

DC has some of the worst most jaded teachers in the country, so I think fire them all is appropriate.

Posted by: FormerMCPSStudent | June 23, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

This is what every effective principal knows and what every dedicated teacher appreciates: a true instructional leader that understands that his/her job is to empower and support teachers. We may have been on a different road if DC had bothered to go through the appropriate vetting process BEFORE agreeing to confirm Michelle Rhee.

We may have had the opportunity to witness experience such as this to facilitate the needed reform and we may have chosen a proven leader with results that span far beyond three failed years of teaching and no school administrative experience.

Minus the intimidation and threats that both teachers and principals are subjected to, DCPS may have sustained the much needed stability that will never be realized with the continued hire/fire practices that occur in this system presently.

Thank you for writing this article. Appreciating the workforce counts and experience does matter.

Posted by: candycane1 | June 23, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

First,I want to thank you all for commenting. When I write these blogs it is in the interest of trying to spark a discussion outside the beltway, with real folks who do the work every day speaking up about what works in schools. And to those of you who had nice things to say--thanks, it makes going to work just that much easier knowing you support this effort and are part of it.

I should address a few misperceptions about my school. We serve a poor, rural area of Ohio; average family income around 22K, starting teacher salary around 24K, and our racial make up is the same as the Ohio average. Our per pupil expenditures are about 6K, among the 10% lowest in the state. We sure aren't 'whiteville' or middle class; but I admit we are not DC or urban--though the things we have done have worked in NY, DC, Providence,LA, and points in between.

As for success, our test scores this year (if you care about these things), beat the state averages; 100% of our kids who apply to college got in, last year all to their first choice including Harvard and this year only a few not getting in their first choice; our college-going rate has gone from about 18% to over 70% and our graduation rate hovers around 93%. A transcript study of our graduates (done by The Coalition of Essential Schools with Gates funding) finds them earning a 3.2 gpa in college and having enough credits to graduate within 4 years.

The point of my piece was not to brag; but damn I am proud of our school. Rather, it was to point out that to improve our schools for all kids will not be the result of quick fixes or the work of take over artists who may be gone as fast as they arrived. It is long term work, based on the development of the teaching staff, standards and expectations that make sense in the real world, and with the support and engagment of the community. And it does take leadership that is around for a while (can you imagine any successful company, non-profit,charity, hospital, etc. that changes leaders every 2 or 3 years????).

Again,thanks for your comments, I read them on every post and try to think about how I can best communicate what I believe it takes to have equal educational opportunity for every child when I write.

Posted by: DocWood | June 23, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

:"But would somebody please explain to me how the success of my staff, and many schools just like ours, is no longer of value to a nation that seems to still want a good public education system?"

It is "of value". It sounds like your approach relies on leadership. That cannot be mandated or implemented by a socialist (i.e. a government-owned and operated monopoly) bureacracy. You have succeeded *despite* this, perhaps. You should do even better under a system of CHOICE, and I dare say as a charter or private or voucher-funded school, where resources will *flow* to your success.

:"Maybe we just don’t have a good press agent."

It's not a matter of PR; many people just simply don't BELIEVE in it anymore. The previous system (relying on the altruism of school boards and administrators, rather than forces of competition and choice) has failed, despite the occasional bright spots like yourself.

NCLB and national testing is new to this country, and is undoubtedly sub-optimal approach. It is a HAMMER with which to clear away the human catastrophe that is all too often defended and rationalized by the UNIONS and their allies and sympathizers (i.e. folks who have some blind spot for the abject failure of the system, nostalgia for the past, and who continue to believe in "Care Bear" solutions). Parents must be given CHOICES. One size does NOT fit all. Political agendas must NOT be allowed to determine the course of school administration and educational priorities.

Posted by: jejonesdc | June 23, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

All I can state about this principal's article is "Amen" to every point!

Rhee's tenure as head of DCPS has been disastrous, and only blind supporters like bbrock would continue to campaign for her in the face of overwhelming evidence of her incompetence. And talk about cronyism! Rhee has raised the practice of cronyism to a level the likes of which this city has never seen.

Rhee came in and immediately maneuvered, along with the mayor, to empty the central office, replacing everyone she fired with her cronies, a convenient fact bbrock fails to mention when he cites cronyism. Since she and the mayor gained the right to fire the central office staff, she has been devising new ways to fire, fire, fire everyone else, then has sought to justify her actions with chronic prevarications. Her actions are tantamount to a smoke screen manufactured to hide the fact that she really had no other plan when she accepted the job, and still appears bereft of a clear strategy for raising the achievement levels of our students.

True reform indeed does take some time, and with only five years of teaching experience, even I know that it should not resemble Rhee's creation of a top-heavy bureaucracy designed to breathe down teachers necks. Her time would have been put to better use enhancing the curriculum Janey left her, and carefully constructing an infrastructure designed to serve the needs of ALL students.

In the wake of a disastrous leader like Rhee, reform must be steered by someone who possesses maturity of leadership, inclusive of the capacity to demonstrate common-sense people skills as well as integrity. Rhee has none of these characteristics, and, sadly, not even a basic understanding of what it takes to be a successful teacher.

It's time for her style of reform--if one dares call it that--to disappear from the District of Columbia's landscape ASAP! We can do better and our children deserve so much more.

Posted by: vscribe | June 23, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

"But reading the popular press, and listening to the chatter from Washington, I have just found out that we are not part of the movement to ‘reform’ schools."

George, regardless of whether the press of those in Washington choose to recognize it, you ARE part of "reform movement."

The only validation you need is the success of your students, faculty, staff and community. Keep pioneering meaningful advances, and there will come a point when your efforts will no longer be able to be ignored.

Great work. Congratulations!

Posted by: briandshelton | June 23, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock, ...

Q: Why did you stay in D.C. to raise kids if you couldn't afford to send them to private school?
------

Whoa! What a horribly invasive question! What kind of weirdo asks such a question?

1. Private School costs skyrocketed in the 2000s faster than my income. I priced Sidwell, WIS, GDS and others in the mid 1990s prior to buying a house. I certainly can afford to pay 1997 Sidwell tuition. I have friends in other states getting top flight prep schools for $20k per year- find that in DC. I donate hundreds of dollars to my PTA. Sidwell will cost a parent roughly $38,000 per year after books, fees, etc. That's $75,000 for two kids. Are you telling me that should be affordable? that's like half my income!
2. I would be angry about DCPS as a taxpayer no matter where my kids went to school. Public School is important. That's why I have so many issues with poor-performing Charter Schools that suck money from DCPS schools.

Anything else you ask is none of your business.

Posted by: bbcrock | June 23, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

"like going to the hospital but insisting that only the security guards and administrators be allowed to operate on you..."

Wolfgang1, your post is all hot and bothered but the problem is you're ignorant and uneducated about DCPS- There are teachers teaching elementary school students who do not form grammatical sentences when talking to parents, do not send error-free announcements home to students, do not have error-free bulletin boards or signs in and outside of their classrooms. Parents do NOT want good teachers fired, however it was my experience in 2007 that roughly 50% of the DCPS teachers were incompetent. I knew teachers who could not and did not pass Praxis I who were furious that their jobs were at risk!

So, you are in error and an apology is required- half of the teachers teaching our kids are aged "security guards" with no computers at home and little intellectual curiosity. Bad teachers have told me that ALL the teachers in their schools were good. Well, I thought to myself, you are a terrible teacher, so your "experience" and your "opinion of the Chancellor" are junk.

Posted by: bbcrock | June 23, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock: "half of the teachers teaching our kids are aged "security guards" with no computers at home and little intellectual curiosity. Bad teachers have told me that ALL the teachers in their schools were good."
____________________

It's a shame that this is what you have in DC. I teach in Montgomery Co. and I can honestly say that this is definitely not the case in my Title I school. If it were, as a teacher I would share your concerns. Those of us who work really hard and do a good job don't want to work with colleagues like those you describe. I can honestly say that I've only seen a handful of teachers like that since I've been teaching. I do think that teachers like you describe may be more common in inner city schools. Perhaps it's because no one wants to work there. I don't know. It has to be frustrating.

Posted by: musiclady | June 23, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock-
and your district will always have its share of lousy teachers as long as your community persists in offering poor working conditions and an environment that treats teachers with hostility. It's actually surprising that even a lousy teacher would choose to be there. In short, you get what you pay for.

What is your suggestion for attracting better teachers? Do you have any specific suggestions?

Posted by: aed3 | June 23, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

One of the biggest problems with the Obama/Duncan approach is they scapegoat teachers for the failures of parents and students. Sure, teachers are very important and too many have low academic or discipline standards. Too many administrators though provide inadequate or nonexistent support for their teachers.

Parents and students, above all, need to be most responsible for improving underperforming schools. There is a pervasive subculture among many students who disparage classmates who try to be academically successful. This would be unimaginable in most East Asian, African or European schools.

Common sense though seems too complicated for Obama and Duncan.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | June 23, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

I am a DCPS parent and I have been very happy with almost all of the teachers my children have had.

I am so tired of the same old line by those like bbcrock giving extreme examples and then making blanket statements. Stop the stereotyping! Stop the hating!

Yes there are some bad teachers. Principals have the power and have had the ability for years to fire them. Most chose not to because it was a cumbersome process.

As George Wood has shown, a leader needs to inspire people to do their best and give constant support and professional development.

Thank you to to George Wood for writing an intelligent piece on public education that cuts through all of the "REFORM" rhetoric.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | June 23, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

bbcrock: "Wolfgang1, your post is all hot and bothered but the problem is you're ignorant and uneducated about DCPS"

Seems to me that someone needs to worry less about "error-free announcements and bulletin boards" and more about what's really important, i.e., it is rude to call people names, bbcrock.

But beyond that, I appreciate your attempt to educate my "ignorant and uneducated" self about what it is really like in DCPS. Thank you. I will tell my coworkers about it, too. Oh wait, that's right--they are all DCPS teachers since I AM ONE TOO, for eleven years now actually. But I guess I don't know what I am talking about.

In every profession there is a distribution of skill and experience, and teaching is no exception. The point is we shouldn't just fire people--we should help them get better at their craft. And yes, some may not. But to say HALF the teachers are no-good and not teachable? Sorry, but I think you are the one who should be offering the apology.

(Oh, and if you are going to point your finger at teachers' grammatical errors, you might want to proofread a little. Your post contained several grammatical and punctuation errors that my students could have identified for you.)

Posted by: wolfgang1 | June 23, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

"There is a pervasive subculture among many students who disparage classmates who try to be academically successful."

I would say among MOST students, all too many teachers, and society in general. President Bush (the elder) tried to disparage Clinton for having been to Oxford. President Bush (the younger) told a class of schoolchildren that he never liked to read and joked all through both terms about his poor grades in college. (To be fair, some people have suggested that he might have a learning disability.) Adlai Stevenson was sneered at as an "egghead." I personally know someone who voted agains George McGovern specifically because "he's never worked in his life--he was only a college professor." I know someone else who said it was unfair that his friend's ex-wife got half the profits from their auto repair business, since "she was only the bookkeeper and he did all the work."

Many times in school I was urged by teachers to stop reading and go play a game at recess or advised guidance counselors to get involved in sports instead of taking college classes during the summer. I have quite a few "bookworm" friends who had similar experiences or were called "teacher's pet" for answering too many questions in class; one of the first things I learned in first grade was never to volunteer to answer the question and to miss a few now and then even when I knew the right answer. I heard my mother and her colleagues worry about a student who sat quietly and read--"He's the sort who will grow up and kill somebody someday." (And this from the mother who encouraged me to read!)

My high school principal congratulated the debate team for winning a debate, but he disrupted classes for pep rallies for the football team.

Granted, there were classmates who enjoyed learning--we formed a small group of misfits at one table at lunch--and teachers who discussed the books I was reading with me. And, freer as an adult to choose my associates, I have found groups where I fit in.

The first step in improving education in this country is to value it.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 24, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

sideswiththekids wrote: The first step in improving education in this country is to value it.
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I couldn't agree more! I would also suggest that we need to value education in all content areas rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. As a music teacher, I find my content area is often trivialized. Anyone who has ever studied music in depth knows that it is an extremely rigorous course of study. Often my students are surprised a the tasks they are given, complaining that it is "hard." Somewhere along the line they've gotten the idea that because it is fun, or appeals to the senses, that it must be easy. I don't understand why people want to dismiss subjects that offer so many opportunities for kids to exercise high order thinking just because they are perceived to be "fun!"

Posted by: musiclady | June 24, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

US K-12 kids are the most difficult set of school age children to teach in the world. Most of them have been subjected to advance adult experiences so much that they are no longer mentally willing to undertake what it takes to be a scholar. Worst still, parents and the government have not made things easy for teachers to teach effectively nor ensure effective learning among students. Education has become big business, with too many speculators who are only interested in only the financial gains they can make while the education confussion lasted. Charter school or firing all teachers cannot help sustain a culture of improved teaching and learning in our schools. In order to ensure improved teaching and learning our education laws have to change in favor of teachers. More so, our parents and governments at all levels have to support teachers’ efforts in teaching, disciplining, and administering punishment on students in our schools. It is unfortunate that teachers who should be regarded as the first line of official law enforcement in society can be fired for beating a student, whereas a policeman can beat a student and the student is made to apologize to the policeman for what should have been a teaching and learning moment on jay walking. This nation seems to prefer deadly force over corporal punishment for our students and that is why students are not learning and the prisons are filled up. The current mind set of moving towards charter schools, voucher, and firing all teachers have to change or America will face education melt down reminiscent of the recent financial met down.

Posted by: eskaywill | June 24, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

"So would somebody please explain to me why the new reform agenda is made up of so many unproven or failed strategies."

The reform movement is not really about educational reform. It is about discrediting our public schools and our teachers for the purpose of privatizing the schools for personal gain (as in Wall Street). For the first time in history Corporate American has a chance to get its hands on billions of school tax money.

But there is good news: the media is waking up (thank you, Valerie) and the American people are catching on. Look for positive changes in the fall.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 25, 2010 1:13 AM | Report abuse

Thank-you for this article George Wood! It is encouraging.

Posted by: aby1 | June 25, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Dear Dr. Wood,

All those students have you to thank and I am sure your school has a very good reputation and that teachers want to stay there. If you are the educational establishment, then we are in good hands. Keep getting the word out!

Posted by: celestun100 | June 25, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

George Wood needs to see the flaws in our education system such as the numerous distractions, the expense paying for public schools, the bullies, abusive teachers, teachers who can't teach, overcrowded classes. They need to address that issue.

Posted by: lockdeltz | June 25, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Thank God!!!! Someone finally spoke the truth. I could not have said it better. Educators really need to organize against the current direction before our system is completely destroyed and every-child is left behind. We've made too much progress toward improving education to lose the gains that we have made. I voted for Obama, but find that his education polices are disasterous. It's like watching a train wreck happen.

Posted by: Djphoenix | June 30, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

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