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A $100 Billion Question: How Best to Fix the Nation's Schools?


If you had $100 billion to fix our schools, what would you do? A surprisingly smart list of suggestions for the education portion of the federal stimulus money is circulating in the education policy world. A group of experts claims authorship. I don't believe committees are capable of good ideas, so I doubt the alleged origins of the list. But let's put that aside for a moment and see what they've got.

Better yet, why not come up with our own ideas? My column seeking cheap ways to improve education yielded interesting results. By contrast, think of what we could do if we had enough money to buy the contract of every great quarterback: guarantee the Redskins a Super Bowl victory. Many expensive school-fixing schemes proved just as insane and just as useless. But Barack Obama is president, and we are supposed to be hopeful.

Take a look at the report, "Smart Options: Investing the Recovery Funds for Student Success," sponsored by the Eli and Edythe Broad and Bill and Melinda Gates foundations, and judge for yourself whether 37 people wrote it. The group included Ted Mitchell and Jonathan Schorr of the NewSchools Venture Fund and John E. Deasy and Lynn Olson of the Gates Foundation.

I have graded each proposal. Their goal is to get the biggest change by January 2012. I think they are dreaming. The federal stimulus is designed to save jobs, not raise student achievement. But some (not all) of the ideas are so good some states might (repeat, might) be tempted to try them.

1. Develop common American standards (my grade, C-minus): A bad start. I am not against academic content standards. We taxpayers pay teacher salaries and need to know our kids are learning useful stuff. By 2012, the committee wants "fewer, clearer, higher, evidence-based, college- and career-ready standards adopted by at least 40 states representing the majority of the nation's students." They argue that foreign countries with good standards make us look like we need to repeat a grade. But getting 40 states to buy into this will require many, many meetings. That 2012 deadline is a joke. And I have yet to hear a great teacher tell me her class really rocked because of clearer, evidence-based state standards.

2. Provide data and information that educators, policymakers and parents can use (A-minus): Parents often tell me we have too much testing and too much data. My reply to them: Move to Bali. This is the world we live in. The young teachers I know, their laptops flipped open at every meeting, don't want to fly blind. They want to see who is progressing, where, and trade ideas with other teachers. Schools and states would be able track each child's progress. Six states have all 10 elements of the gold standard, the Data Quality Campaign. The extra money would help put at least eight elements in 47 states by 2012.

3. Conduct meaningful teacher evaluations (C-plus): Maybe this was a committee project after all. The sticky residue of group blob is all over this idea. We need good teacher evaluations, but it is one of the most difficult reforms. Unions have to be involved, but the proposal barely mentions them. The committee wants every state and school district by 2012 to have a system that provides "differentiated supports and rewards to teachers based on their performance, with at least 50 percent of teacher ratings based on how much teachers contribute to students' academic progress over time." After that, they will figure out how to restore newspaper profits and keep my cubicle neat and clean.

4. Turn around low-performing schools (A-plus): They suggest closing the poorest-performing 5 percent of schools in every state and replacing them with schools that have "higher expectations for students and the operational and staffing flexibility to effectively meet students' needs." Some public schools, regular and charter, are already doing that. With the financial boost, a 5 percent target is feasible and meaningful. Under the No Child Left Behind law, the bottom 5 percent usually rearrange curriculum, get a new principal or call in more experts -- in other words, practically nothing.

5. Help struggling students (A-plus): This is the most practical and direct of the five suggestions, and it doesn't eat up $100 billion in one gulp. Students at least two years behind in reading, writing and math would be given a longer school day and year and would be assigned to teachers of proven effectiveness. That is how the best schools have raised achievement. If we can't do it for everyone, we can at least start with those who need it most.

Below you will find five ideas suggested by education experts and five ideas Jay came up with on his own. Create your own plan to fix the nation's schools by ranking the fixes below. Don't like the choices? Skip the survey and write your own top 10 list in the comments.

By Washington Post Editors  | May 11, 2009; 1:00 AM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  
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Comments

What an odd collection of choices. You neglected to mention any of the following that I'm sure a lot of people would like to see on there:

-smaller class sizes
-higher teacher pay
-more charter schools
-vouchers
-more Title I funding
-more alt cert teachers
-merit/performance/incentive pay/bonuses
-longer school day/year
-school uniforms
-stronger discipline systems
-ending social promotion

and there must be at least a dozen more I missed

Posted by: coreybower | May 11, 2009 3:35 AM | Report abuse

At the top of any education reform list must be : smaller class size, higher teacher pay,special education training for all teachers, mentors for children with problems , home visits by teachers for early childhood classes, ongoing mandatory teacher training ...more power for the individual schools , less power from the top,more feedback and help from teachers(great ones)...stop reinventing the wheel( there are great models out there...find them and use them)and of course there are lots more but your list looks like it was put together by bureaucrats who have never been inside a classroom or at least not for a very long time...By the way what are your credentials as an educator? I have been an early childhood educator for 40 years and love teaching now more than ever...like a good wine I only improve with age!!PS And Teach for America programs....6 weeks and then they get the most difficult classroom???? Imagine having open heart surgery by a resident who has had only 6 weeks of training..I mean Imagine??

Posted by: belsas1 | May 11, 2009 8:16 AM | Report abuse

1] Fewer, higher, evidence-based standards.
2] Better, more robust and useful test data.
3] A smarter, national teacher evaluation system.
4] More training and power for principals.
5] Double teacher development days.
6] Close the lowest performing schools.
7] Help students at least two years behind.
8] Open AP and IB courses to all students.
9] Limit H.S. teacher loads to 80 students.
10] Allow teachers to visit parents at home.

It should occur to people that if the "experts" knew anything we wouldn't be in this position to begin with. I keep waiting for Jay to realize this, but I'm giving up hope.

My suggestions.

1) Ignore experts. I.E., anyone with a Phd in education most likely has nothing of value to offer the debate. The guy who washes the floors in the school knows more.

2) Better selection of would-be teachers. In other professions people who are not likely to make it are shown the door early on. The world of teaching accepts EVERYONE and then allows people to be weeded out two three years after they've started teaching. This is not only idiotic, but unethical.

3) Better training of teachers. Not more of the same junk that got us to where we are. Teaching should be an apprenticeship program that lasts at least two years. It should be supervised by experienced teachers -- in the field and age group in question. Experienced teachers should have greatly reduced teaching loads and be acting as mentors to new teachers.

4) Teacher evaluation should be performed by experiened teachers, again in the subject and age group in question, and not by administrators, many of whom are too young to have any experience or knowledge to begin with.

5) Administrators should take a more active role in discipline and leave teaching to those who know more than they do.2) Better selection of would-be teachers. In other professions people who are not likely to make it are shown the door early on. The world of teaching accepts EVERYONE and then allows people to be weeded out two three years after they've started teaching. This is not only idiotic, but unethical.

Posted by: physicsteacher | May 11, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Talking about "fixing schools" in isolation of a broader approach does not target the larger societal problems that have led to the academic acheivement gap. An inclusive plan of action targeted at educating parents, improving health care, eliminating unemployment,crime, children having children, etc. are what is needed. The Harlem Children's Zone is such an attempt and it aims at changing the entire culture of an area. It is my understanding that President Obama wishes to replicate this effort in some 20 urban areas and until such plans of action are implemented, we will continue to be placing "bandaids" on gaping wounds.

Posted by: flowenbach | May 11, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

1) Pay teachers like the professionals we expect them to be. When teaching, nursing and secretarial work were the only paths open for women we had a never ending supply of well educated, energetic talent to fill teaching positions and they would accept low pay because there was no other choice. Fast forward to 2009. We need to pay teachers substantially more ($70,000 to start and ending a career in the six figures). If we did this we could dismantle the unions (people making this type of money don't need a union) and attract the best to the profession, and not just for the 2-3 years that the Teach for America kids give us. Teachers could be hired and fired "at will" like other professionals. Teachers put in hours at night and on the weekends for which they are not renumerated. The must constantly take courses to keep up their license. No wonder the smart ones burn out or leave. It's the money, stupid.
2) National licensing standards for teachers so they can move from state to state without having to jump through tons of hoops.

Posted by: beckyhill | May 11, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

The number one priority should be implementing meaningful evaluations for teachers. The lack of real evaluations is the main difference between the teaching profession and other jobs, and prevents real change in schools. It would lead to higher teacher satisfaction, because the high performers would not carry as much deadwood. It would lead, eventually, to high teacher pay, since the cushiness of teacher jobs is one reason people don't see a need to increase spending on salaries.

Option 4 is half-right. It suggests "closing the poorest-performing 5 percent of schools in every state and replacing them with schools that have "higher expectations for students and the operational and staffing flexibility to effectively meet students' needs". These are good goals, but we shouldn't be closing schools to do it because it creates too much disruption. Instead, we should force those schools to have higher standards, and give them the operational and staffing flexibility without using a "nuclear option."

My fantasy solution would be to implement REAL school choice: cross district public school enrollment, and vouchers valuable enough to allow low income students to attend the same schools high income students attend. I believe European countries have this kind of system.

Posted by: timothy_in_dc | May 11, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I agree with flowenbach that "fixing schools" can only happen when we address larger societal concerns, much like what is happening through the Harlem Children's Zone and Geoffrey Canada. But since we are only allowed to address education reform, here is my suggestion:

A seamless educational system (be it P-16, P-20, or however one would like to title it) should be developed in every state based on a simple template developed at the federal level that can be adjusted according to state needs. It is archaic that we still have disparate levels of education divided into blocks of grades. For instance, there is no longer any rational explanation for middle or junior high school. In fact, it is there that we lose most of our children in the education pipeline and trying to address needs in high school is already a lost cause. Proof positive: On all international assessments, U.S. children lead or are close to leading the pack in the 4th grade and yet by 10th grade we are woefully behind the rest of the world. These kids are lost in middle school. And then we have trouble even getting these lost student through high school, much less onto postsecondary education - which is essential in order to have a career with a salary decent enough to live a middle-class lifestyle.

I want to mention that I am not naive enough to believe that P-20 councils that are all the rage in states is the path to a seamless education - in fact, I believe most of these councils are red herrings meant to make us believe we are actually getting somewhere. REAL change through hard choices to get to a seamless educational system where children don't have the opportunity to get lost in middle school or any other level of education is an educational reform - combined with many of the ones on the list presented in the post and report - that can make a difference for students and improve educational outcomes.

Posted by: vinroc31 | May 11, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

One of the ideas that will have the least impact from the above list is doubling teacher training days. The idea assumes that the inservice days we currently have are worthwhile. However, out of the three school districts I've taught in, I've always found that the quickest way to make a teacher laugh is to open the conversation with: "Tell me about the last valuable inservice you attended...."

This is not to say there aren't conferences that are VERY worthwhile. I've attended many of these that were valuable, insightful, and a significant help in making me a better teacher. However, the ones generally offered by districts are, unfortunately, nowhere near that quality.

Posted by: Busboom | May 11, 2009 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Reducing high school teacher loads is, in effect, a class size reduction and has the data to back it up. See William Ouchi's new book "The Secret of TSL (Total Student Load)." Reducing class size for elementary schools does not work, the data show, unless you can get down to about 17 per class or less. That may work if you confine the reductions to K-3, but beyond that you send a lot of money without much of a return.

Posted by: Jay_Mathews | May 11, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I tend to agree that the best way to fix a school is to fix parents and the community. But that's not likely to come out of the $100 billion. To me, it's crazy that state standards vary - last I checked, math, science, and history don't care if you're from Alabama or Wyoming. Local issues might come into play in a social studies course, but that doesn't require a separate standard for reading.

Then again, I'm not sure that having a common national standard will have a lot of impact. Teachers are where the rubber meets the road, and they should be held accountable for the achievement of their students. At the same time, they should get training in ways to produce that achievement, and the evaluation should account for the differences in student population.

I'd note that without meaningful teacher evaluations, which Jay graded a C-minus, there's no way to identify the teachers of proven effectiveness in whose classes to put the struggling students, which Jay graded an A-plus.

Posted by: tomsing | May 11, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Many of the suggestions that are made here MIGHT work -- but they, like everything else we have tried will be derailed by one common factor that virtually NO ONE wants to address (except the first comment poster listed it in the list of "issues):

Classroom disruption/discipline/social skills

For too long, there has been this bandaid mentality that has us continually trying to fix various issues in the school system. Smaller classroom sizes, more and better qualified teachers, higher teacher pay (particularly merit pay), more money spent on academics, individualized instruction, more technology, trying to improve school safety and security.

We spend BILLIONS of dollars across the board trying to address these all as discrete, unrelated problems. But, their not.

Spend billions of dollars on new-fangled reading programs, yet no appreciable improvement in reading.

Billions on new programs trying to narrow the achievement gap -- that doesn't work.

Merit pay for teachers -- not fair to tie pay to performance when they are possibly losing 20/30/40% or more of teaching time to unruly students and unproductive classrooms.

Billions spent on anti-bullying initiatives -- but even the Post tells us that bullying among 12-18 year olds has risen from a 1-in-4 chance to a 1-in-3.

I could go on and on, but here's how to make the fastest change in our education system along ALL lines -- academic, social/emotional, safety and security, teacher recruitment and retention, equal education for all segments: we make sure that schools integrate effective social skills education into their core curriculum.

You can't teach them if they don't come to school because they are afraid or don't understand why it's important to show up (and have parents that support that). You can't teach them if they aren't paying attention. You can't narrow the achievement gap if the low income/minority/non-native students do not understand what skills they need to be successful in school, and in the job market once they get out of school. You can't keep teachers if one of the top three reasons for them leaving is the level classroom disruption and discipline. We can't BUILD enough schools to support smaller classroom sizes, and even a few out-of-control students in a small classroom will ruin the learning for all.

Sure, do a lot of the other things we're talking about but recognize THIS: if we address things at the root core of the problem, we get much bigger, more effective gains. Conversely, if we DON'T, everything else we do will continue to underperform or outright fail.

And, this is NOT just theory; I can show you how it works, that it works consistently, and that EVERYONE benefits. Email me if you're interested at corinneg@socialsmarts.com.

Posted by: CorinneGregory | May 11, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Am I missing something? How come no one mentioned abolishing tenure? Or at the very least, finding a cheaper, faster way of getting teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom out of the classroom?

Posted by: 1voraciousreader | May 11, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

The best way to fix the nation's public schools is to emulate Catholic schools as much as possible. It would still cost some of that $100B that Jay is eager to award as no change for public schools would be cost free. And, clearly public schools could not become clones of Catholic schools. However, if you're going to use a model to improve, then Catholic schools are a pretty good place to start.

If you have any doubt about the efficacy of doing this, just look at how much better Catholic schools do for/with those most students who are most deprived compared to public schools. It's not even close. Catholic schools win hands down.

Among students from homes with college educated parents, the differential in performance between Catholic and public schools is not great. It's pretty much a wash. However, this isn't the student population of concern. This is the roughly 20% of the public school population that doesn't need change. Just let them be and concentrate on the 80% that do.

Posted by: fairfaxvaguy | May 11, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Why not expand on your point #5 and require that after 2-3 years of initial employment, all teachers achieve a status of "teachers of proven effectiveness". If you say that this is not practical then your point #5 is moot and I would not hold out much hope for fixing the schools. No company in the private sector lasts too long without holding their employees to a standard of "proven effectiveness".

Posted by: westchesterjoe | May 11, 2009 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Here's one that doesn't even cost any money.

Get all the schools to delay the date at which they let current teachers know their contracts won't be renewed.

In Texas, it's done in February. A "nonrenewed" teacher gives up, and basically just goes through the motions in March, April & May. We could get 3 more months of solid teaching out these teachers if we delayed the notification dates.

Posted by: she-bear | May 11, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Stop grouping students into classes by age and instead group them by content mastery.

Posted by: she-bear | May 11, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Jay,
I really think you missed the point about implementing clearer, higher, evidence-based standards nationwide.

You're probably right when you say that the top-notch teachers don't credit such standards for their success. That's because great teachers have learned how to implement their own clear, high, evidence-based standards.

But average teachers, and more importantly NEW teachers, desparately need this guidance. It can come partly from better teacher training and strong mentoring, but the profession desperately needs a firmer scaffold to drive our growth. National standards in line with this approach would perfectly fill that need.

Posted by: mdennis74 | May 11, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

The choices that you have suggest why well meaning are just reordering the deck chairs on the Titanic. The schools number 1 problem is discipline or lack thereof.
Any school can be made better once discipline is in place. Its start with the parents, if their children are causing a problem the 1st time a phone call the second detention the 3rd the parent sits with their children for THE DAY at all of their classes including lunch.
Once the parent is held accountable, for some it will be the 1st time in their lives, and the student embarrassed their behaviour will change.
I know I'll hear well "some parents can't take off from work" my response is then its OK to ruin 30 other kids education? Baloney if you can't take off then the schools can set up evening hours so that parents and children can address the issue.
We always dance around the issues and fixes 80% of the time its the parents. Ride the school buses the same ones causing the problems there are the same ones causing problems in class or the lunch room

Posted by: EugeneRobinson1 | May 11, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Please: No more "better, robust, and useful test data." I'm drowning in data that tells me the same thing--students who have significant mental disabilites cannot and will not perform on grade level at the same age that their non-disabled peers do. A child with a 73 I.Q. will not perform fourth grade work when he is in fourth grade. Not if the standards are as rigorous as they are supposed to be. Students who have spent less than 4 years speaking English will not do as well on a test given in English as their native speaking peers. Students who do not attend school will not do as well as their classmates that DO come to school regularly. Students who are highly mobile--defined by my state as a student that moves between two districts in one year--will not do as well as a student who stays put. I have students who have moved 4 times during this school year, and have moved over 15 times since they started Kindergarten. I teach Fourth Grade. Surprise--they are behind, with significant academic holes in their education by the time I get them. To help all of these groups of students, schools have to look at and have the resources commited for intensive small group programs tailored to address the needs of these students. I have a great money saving idea where to get those teachers--all the teachers that have been pulled out of a regular classroom to be math and literacy coaches, interventions,etc. If you can't actually see a child from where you're standing--YOU'RE NOT HELPING A CHILD LEARN. You're just taking up space in an ever expanding administrative mess that spends it's time bandying about phrases like "robust data" and "research-based standards." I'm seeing way too many administrators assuming that they can simply "restate" and "educational double speak" their way to better education. More teaching time, less paperwork--Dear God, please half the development days, don't DOUBLE them!--and get everyone into a classroom actually teaching! There are no magic bullets--it's a real job that takes real time and real effort. To overcome the real issues in education, start supporting the classroom teacher--they can tell you what needs to be done. Just ask!

Posted by: inthetrenches1 | May 11, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Wow how about none of the above?

1) Bring back local control
2) Bring back skills-based learning without political agendas
3) Get rid of fad programs like IB, Goals 2000, NCLB
4) Allow the teacher to be the boss again - not a 'GUIDE' with no power to teach
5) Stop spending money on foolish consultants who network together and who are selling snake-oil (pay attention Jay, this means you)

Posted by: username | May 11, 2009 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Don't tell me to go readin' no books by anyone named OUCHY, LOL.

Get rid of all the 'experts' .... they know crap!

The custodian knows more!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Especially if he was born before 1942.

Posted by: username | May 11, 2009 11:04 PM | Report abuse

All of these discussions ignore 50% of the issue. Student Accountability.

Folks, student accountability is nearly gone. Students are allowed to take tests and redo assignments over and over until a desired result is achieved.

Students are no longer accountable for doing work well the first time.

And don't get me started on deadlines. We teachers are not allowed to have deadlines. Students basically get to turn in any assignment whenever they or their parents demand it of the principal.

I pity future employers. They are going to be dealing with a workforce that doesn't respect deadlines or quality work.

Posted by: tazmodious | May 12, 2009 1:36 AM | Report abuse

People are clamoring to get federal vouchers to send their children to private schools. Schools that do not have to follow the same rules, endless data crunching and standrdized tests that public schools are required to do.

It's as obvious as the nose on my face that what we need to do is give public schools the same freedoms that private schools have to actually educate.

Why is there such a double standard amongst the ill informed general public?

Instead, we who teach in public schools get more and more administrivial BS to deal with every year. Thus we spend less and less time teaching every year and people can't seem to understand why public education isn't working.

For once, It would be nice if the teachers in public schools get to decide what is best for the kids like they do in private schools.

Unfortunately that won't be until Hades freezes over.

Posted by: tazmodious | May 12, 2009 1:51 AM | Report abuse

Nothing that comes from the federal level will begin to address local problems. What is a vital change in one school has nothing to do with the changes needed in another school. The federal level is too far away from personalizing education....and that is where the power of change must and should come from.

Teachers standing with their classrooms, knowing each student and their unique needs is where we can start changing things. It's not about test scores on some nationalized, standardized single point-in-time measurement. It's about what happens everyday to clearly tell students what we expect them to learn, helping them learn that, teaching them to assume responsibility for their own learning and preparing them to show what they know.

Nothing on the list speaks to that.

Nothing on the list acknowledges that it is the expert use of instructional tools coupled with the power of ongoing, continuous assessment data that will change how well student succeed in learning.

It's not about test scores. It's about learning.

Local schools and districts know what they need to do. If they don't, then the state level people should step into help. Why not give the $$$ to the states and let them define and create plans that make sense for the people they serve? I just know that Washington DC is a long way from where I live and I'll bet they know very little about the situation of my students and their needs.

Posted by: mratzelster | May 12, 2009 8:04 AM | Report abuse

We do need higher standards, but what we also need more is a move toward more Big Picture type schools for high school students an Early College high schools.

A Big Picture type high school has students do internships that go with the major have as a graduation requirement.

This will give students more real world education instead of just getting ready for the TV Jeopardy.

You also need to get after students in the first grade level an earlier that are highly absent. Those students are at great risk of low grads and dropping out of high school.

Posted by: richardginn | May 12, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Do not neglect America's brightest children. Raise expectations for everyone, but don't imagine that will be enough to challenge the kids at the top.

We don't make the travel soccer players hold back so they can play with everyone else. We don't tie their ankles together so the less capable kids won't feel bad. We teach them to compete, because it's a tough world out there. We nurture their talent, let them be the best they can be, get them special coaches. We teach them how it feels to rise to an appropriate challenge, how to work hard.

And we need to do the same for academics.

Posted by: x_rhs | May 12, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I would like to see the Gates Foundation or others fund the production of high-quality packages of video material that could provide schools and students with an alternative to the lecture portions of high school courses. These packages, of maybe 200 20-minute units, (from which schools or teachers could choose, based on state standards) would be more like PBS NOVA programs, than mere talking heads, and would include plenty of humor, animation, special effects, affiliated games, etc. Where enough schools or students chose them, they would free teachers to focus on moderating class discussions/ Q&As, individualized student assessments, and working with more students. Moreover, different variations of the presentations could be produced to target and engage niches of students who now tune out and drop out. Thus, versions of the presentations for AP calculus could target (1) viewers of "Project Runway" (2) athletes, (3) video game addicts, (4) Harry Potter fans, etc., by taking all their examples from the interest area and featuring guest appearances from luminaries in the field. The result would be to provide all students with free access to superior quality presentations for their courses, and thus school choice on an individual class by class basis.

Note, I have written a more detailed, 12-page description of this draft proposal.

Posted by: msnadel | May 12, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Okay here is a fantasy for low-performing middle/high schools. Create a school within a school with concierge service. If the parent and student agree to a high standard of compliance--attendance, behavior, staying in touch with the school, etc.--they get a contact person within the school who smooths the way. The parent could get on demand info about anything related to the student. The student would get into the best classes with other serious students. Fantasy. . . but I can dream.

Posted by: pittypatt | May 13, 2009 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I agree with x_rhs that our schools need to do better by our brightest students. My dream is for every student who can handle the academic challenge to be able to attend to a school similar to Thomas Jefferson, Boston Latin, Stuyvesant in NYC, etc. For students in rural areas where there are too few qualifying kids to support a day school, there needs to be a public boarding school like the one North Carolina runs.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | May 13, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I recently posted this same question on my own blog and asked my urban high school students to respond. Here's a snippet from one student:
"I would want to provide the school with more books, equipment, school supplies, i would want 2 add more elective classes, better teachers that actually want to teach their students, a more helpful principal that care for her school and is more involved. i would want to make Tennyson high school our temple because this is our home."
I don't think we invite students into these kinds of conversations enough. To read the rest, here's a link. You can skip what I wrote and scroll right down to the student comments: http://teacherrevised.org/2009/05/13/100-billion-to-fix-america’s-schools—what-would-you-do/

Posted by: teacherrevised | May 13, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

The problem is that we want to pretend that every child is college bound....Guess what we only have space for 25% so what is going to happen to the other 75%. The system needs to better allocate resources and be willing to tell parents that little Johny is not going to college but he has great skills at building and we have a program that will help Johny be the best builder. Or Jane would be a great dental assistant.
The biggest problem with the school systems in this country is that there are few options for kids. So they get bored and either make trouble or drop out. We spend double what every other industrialized country spends on education and we don't even rank in the top 20 for quality. So saying we need more money is a joke. Saying we need smaller classes does not hold water because we have the smallest class sizes in the industrialized world. We need to stop mainstreaming kids that need more help, we need to track kids that are not likely to go to college and we need to make college free to everyone that qualifies so that class has nothing to do with who gets a higher education.

Posted by: tim237 | May 14, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Give the parents more power. Don't oppress the top students (academic talented). Give them a chance to reach their potential. (No funding needed)

Wage a public campaign to raise the awareness on academic excellence. Down play sports stars in schools. Make learning a game. Give hefty praise to the students who are doing great in school. So everybody else will want to be one. (Right now in most public schools, during the morning announcement or assembly , principles will only praise sports stars. If we can let our kids to compete in academic area just like in sports. We will have an army of top scientists then sports stars.) We can get the new break through in tech field from our home grow teams, not foreign imports. We need to change the view on learning of the country. Learning is cool.

Reintroduce all kinds of academic competitions back in school, at least from middle school level. Just like in sports, everyone wants to win. In turn kids will try their best to learn. (Old fashioned competition still works, look at the Europe and Asian.)

Posted by: zcxia | May 14, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Teachers apparently have educated Washington well to endorse the familir list of MACRO variables as the obvious solutions to the "problems" in our classrooms in America and have convinced journalists to take them seriously as well. The debate becomes let's compare lists!

We see few if any direct references in any of the list(s) to concerns with a) direct improvement of instruction (implied perhaps in improving teacher evaluation) and/or b) the design of instruction.

Teachers make thousands of decisions daily to try to orchestrate the attention of learners, deliver clear/effective teaching presentations and invite active participation of learners (John Goodlad) --the MICRO variables over which teachers DO HAVE CONTROL.

Why no obvious concern with the very variables that COULD make a difference and for which we are paid to direct our attention? Do teachers really believe (talk about) their craft anymore as the CRITICAL variables in determining if a student learns?

The analogue in medicine would be the surgeon who exhibits no interest in improving his/her surgical techniques, but wishes instead to direct our rapt attention to the number of surgeries scheduled that day, the number of assistants in the operating room, the administrative configuration/funding of the hospital, the academic credentials of the surgical team, or God forbid, his/her salary and working conditions. Meanwhile the patient languishes (dies?) on the operating table.

Absent also are ANY references on the list(s) to funding for related empirical research to validate the claims/discussions in which teachers/administrators engage as to what constitutes excellent instruction.

Related to this latter concern, is teaching a reserch based profession or an over grown cottage industry? Do we call into question the cyclical pedagoical fads that dominate popular discussions of our work (and regrettably) most professional development on the topic of what constitutes good teaching? Do we consistently do so with reference to any empirical (versus anecdotal) evidence?

Teaching is both an 1) art and a b1) logically/empirically determined set of behaviors exercised in classrooms with a b2) related set of logically/empirically validated tools. It's either that or we are afloat in an anecdotal ocean of personal claims. But find me the national stakeholders willing to put these issues on their lists!! Teacher unions? Policymakers? The National Clearinghouse for "What Works?

The list(s) invite a yawn!

Posted by: pdxren | May 14, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

The first thing we must do is to close most of the schools of Education. These are hide bound Ideologically oriented institutions that rarely have any faculity that have actually taught children.

We have reasearch based programs that have been shown to significantly improve student achievement that are ignored by most schools of education.

I recently discussed a new reading intervention study with the head of one of the largest reading programs in the country. She dismissed the reasearch that included well documented improvements and changes in functional MRI as "contrary to accepted practice". Intrestingly she has a Doctorate in reading Leadership and has never taught anyone to read. Nearly all schools of Education are lead by similar "Leaders".

Untill the leadership in Education Schools changes we will never have good schools.

Posted by: josephkee | May 15, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Schools should integrate. Chicago students had the right idea earlier this year when they boycotted inner city schools by bussing themselves to the suburban schools. If you want what better schools have, then you need to go to a better school.

In my hometown, schools underwent a court-ordered "consolidation." Poorer children were bussed to schools in wealthier neighborhoods. It wasn't enough for the school system to give each school the same amount of money because schools in wealthy neighborhoods would always have more due to wealthier parent giving and more successful fundraisers.

Posted by: dcpsinsider | May 15, 2009 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Boy, some of these are REALLY BAD ideas. Opening AP and IB classes to all is the worst of the lot. All it will achive is water down the advanced class and bore the already bored advanced students to tear. I can guarantee you, if AP classes are taught like AP classes are supposed to be taught (ie, so the students can pass the AP test and get the college credits) vast majority of the students are not up for it.

You want a cheap fix. Tell parents to turn the TV off.

Posted by: AT_MD | May 16, 2009 1:15 AM | Report abuse

The school system in Detroit started downhill when, about 45 years ago, teachers were no longer allowed to physically discipline disruptive students. White flight to the suburbs made it worse. Cross-town bussing made it worse. Social promotion made it worse. Lowering standards made it worse. Teacher tenure made it worse. Powerful teachers' unions made it worse. I could go on and on!

At the heart of all this is the switch from a Conservative philosophy to a Liberal philosophy regarding education. May I respectfully ask, "Over the last 45 years, has there been any improvement, whatsoever, in our inner city schools?" The answer is obvious! Is it not time to finally recognize we are on the wrong path? Is it not finally time to reverse the pendulum and begin going back to a system that worked?

Coming from a family of educators with nealy 100 years of teaching experience has made it abundantly clear to me that we are leaving generation after generation of children behind with almost no hope of success, with little or no self-esteem, and with no ability to compete for jobs. My heart bleeds for these lost children! I too have a dream! I dream that someday schools will teach students who will become successful adults. Adults who will look back at their school time as a positive experience. That day will come! The question that goes begging is, "How much worse must it get before we, as a society, finally act to turn it around?"

Posted by: spiderwebb | May 16, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Top 10 Ways to Address the US K - 12 Education

1) Recognize that you can't fix education. Wrong Problem and Wrong Language.

2) Understand that true Education is a complex mix of classroom instruction, institutionalized processes, home & parental structures and society's morays.

3) Understand institutionalized education can not address home structures or societies. Focus simply on education and instruction.

4) Recognize that addressing education is 2 tiered: A. National Initiatives B. State Initiatives. The Federal Government should not and more importantly can not mandate an educational framework. That is a state initiative.

5) Federal Initiatives should simply fund education initiatives, demand measurable accountability and promote best practices across every level of the education framework.

New Educational Framework:

6) Create a consortium of states and a cross section of districts to implement a radical new educational framework and a 14 year plan. Create a fully funded federal program with a clear exit strategy after failure or success as identified through benchmarks.

7) Start at the bottom. Create a 14 year approach starting only with pre-kindergarten in year 1. Then pre-k and k in year 2. Then pre-k, k and grade 1 year 3. And so on.

8) Create 1 set of straightforward, intuitive, and interlinked standards from grade pre-k to 12.

9) Create valid and reliable means to measure student expectations, teacher expectations, district's personnel expectations and institutional expectations.

10) Proved a framework for gathering student data, instructional best practices data, teacher effectiveness data, district personnel data and institutional effectiveness data. A framework to analyze and share that data.

We are overcomplicating the issue because it has been politicized. Radical change is needed not small steps but big steps and big change. The above is a framework and the radical change is in the details. There is not enaugh room in this post for true radical change of paying high performing teachers more then crappy teachers and the decision not be solely based on test scores. Create an institution that reflects that world as we want it not as it is.

Posted by: delta2112 | May 16, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

I love this conversation. Unfortunately most of the ideas just rehashed old ground that really does not help. In spite of all the ideas, we are still faced with the same problem - a kid who is behind needs to spend TWICE THE TIME in school - there is no magic or secret teaching technique that will get ALL the kids who are behind up to speed without EXTRA WORK. I know this America, we have a pill for everything but there is no replacing just plane hard work! And if parents are not going to spend time exposing kids, talking to them, encouraging them, having dinner conversations, reading the paper, even watching TV with the kids (much less doing schoolwork) it makes it extra hard on schools. That said here are some thoughts:

Red Herring - New evaluation system - been in the military and corporate America - these things are only as good as the people who write them and follow up on them; Administrators are too overworked to put the real quality time into making this work...changing the evaluation criteria will not do a thing!

Red Herring - Change the standards - If you ask me this is only a way to make some folks some money (1) People keep changing the standards but, guess what, they say the same thing in a slightly different way - I can go around this country and see a million different 8th grade math standards, you know what, I can pretty well tell you what 8th graders need to know in math and it will match (2) The real standard is the tests - you can write the standard any way you want but its how you test them - WHAT IS THE CALIBER OF THE TEST - Want to spend some money (a very little bit) - get these tests right so they are not TESTING TECHNIQUE tests and they are good determinants of knowledge

LOWER STUDENT LOAD - great one but make it count. More teachers and less students and more flexibility so that kids who are great in math and self directed can have larger classes and kids who are getting up to par can have smaller classes - kids who are bad in math, contrary to their wishes, take MORE math classes to get up to speed

PROVIDE MORE ACADEMIC SUPPORT IN SCHOOLS - FIND A WAY TO KEEP KIDS IN SCHOOL FOR TWO MORE HOURS - Another afternoon snack period and then tutoring FOR ALL STUDENTS!!! (parents will love this - most are not home until 6-7 pm anyway) -

MAKE WHAT WE HAVE RUN BETTER - Stop making ME GO TO STAPLES AND COSTCO!!!! Give me closet of paper, a good scanner (to scan things I come up with) and the RIGHT TECHNOLOGY to engage the students -

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT - A MUST - Every teacher at least once per month out of the building to reflect, learn something new, share a new idea.....

THE IDEAS REALLY ARE NOT $100 BILLION IDEAS - THEY REALLY ARE JUST MAKING WHAT WE HAVE WORK!

Posted by: petercat926 | May 16, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Dcpsinsider- any time you start busing more than a small percent of poor kids into a wealthy area, all you'll do is just drive the flight to private schools.

That's what the difference is between the Boston suburbs where I grew up with the S.F. Bay Area suburbs where I now live. Boston's METCO integration program only brings in a small number of city kids into the suburban schools. In addition, there's a bit of selection effect as families have to apply to the program. METCO is typically viewed fairly favorably in the suburbs that participate.

By contrast, the county where I now live in the Bay Area does large scale busing. That has brought gang violence into the schools in the nicer neighborhoods. In turn, that has created a flight to private schools by pretty much anyone who cares about their child's education and can afford the tuition.

Posted by: CrimsonWife | May 16, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Lots of ideas and blather. However, the crux of the problem began back in the 1960s with relaxed disipline and going to about zero today. The student and parents have to take responsibiltiy and not depend on a lawyer to get "Little Johnny" off the hook... when the teacher/legal authority hooks "Little Johnny" the strap should come out at home and consequences administered by the parents also... the school should have a free rein to enforce reasonable rules... with punishment if "Little Johnny" flaunts his identity to disobey those rules.

The student is subordinate to the teacher and the school. The students must be taught there are consequences to bad behavior, not doing the assignments and on time, or just being a bad actor.

Posted by: JKERNER | May 16, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher in one of those high poverty, high immigrant inner-city high schools, these are my suggestions:
1. Respectful, consistent, enforceable, clearly defined expectations and discipline for students, teachers AND administrators.
2. Reduced teaching loads. I have taught between 150 and 100 students each year over my teaching career. I taught more individualized and responsive material when I carried 100 students.
3. Appropriate expectations of students and faculty. Students CAN do more, but basic skills in reading and writing are necessary as well as the psychic energy to learn. Adolescence is a wonderful and miserable time of life. I venture to say that few competent adults would be willing to return to that age and its attendant insecurities if given the choice. Room must be made for the children who carry a greater than average burden of care.
4. Do not penalize the teacher who has worked hard to teach illiterate, inattentive, and over-stressed students a subject they deem useless (world history). I routinely pass between 1/3 and 1/2 of my students and that high a number only because my conscience is looking the other way and I must pass a certain number for my school to survive.
5. Protect the teacher as much as the student is protected. Address teacher burn-out! There are many teachers in my school who should no longer be teaching. They have tenure. If teachers were respected by the administration and supported instead of punished when change was needed, there would be less burn-out.
6. GET HONEST about the problems! When people are put in an untenable situation with high demand for success, high numbers to teach, and large numbers of students with behavioral, and literacy problems, ethics are bypassed and grades are inflated. Survival demands it.
7. Apply rising standards first at the elementary level and later at the high school level when students who had to pass elementary standards have reached high school. Then it is a level playing field.

Posted by: hay-teach | May 17, 2009 6:15 AM | Report abuse

It’s strange that articles like this never mention school boards. I have been attending school board meetings since 1966 as well as the meeting of other local boards of various types. School boards are generally the worst with most members ignorant and incompetent. They know little about education or their favorite subject of budgets. If you want to improve the schools, improve governance first or the school boards will become a major impediment to change.

Posted by: jbel48 | May 17, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

As opposed to more teacher development days, I would say teachers need more planning time during the day. And, that planning time needs to correspond to the planning time that other teachers have, like gifted, special ed, and ESOL, so that lessons can be more collaborative.

Posted by: rrap1 | May 18, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT.

Until the parents of under performing students start to work with thier kids in the schools, this problem will not change. How many blogs and message boards to we have to fill up before we realize that the best schools also have the best PTO,PTSO and PTA's? Parental involvement works!

Do you want to use the stimulus money for something good; pay parents each month to be in the schools with thier kids. Make it a law that each parent must work one day in their children's school each month for each each child they have until they reach high school. In return the federal government pays them the missed pay. Make it just like jury duty, except you can't get out of it.

Posted by: thensell | May 18, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

People, please. The Education Establishment created the mess we have; they like it just the way it is! They won't permit improvement if they can help it. The only hope is an intervention. We have to discard all their favorite bad ideas: Whole Word, Reform Math, Constructivism, Self Esteem, Cooperative Learning, No Memorization, Critical Thinking, Process Writing, and dozens of others. For more of this analysis, please Google "38: Saving Public Schools--A New Paradigm."

Posted by: BruceDeitrickPrice | May 18, 2009 8:10 PM | Report abuse

People, please. The Education Establishment created the mess we have; they like it just the way it is! They won't permit improvement if they can help it. The only hope is an intervention. We have to discard all their favorite bad ideas: Whole Word, Reform Math, Constructivism, Self Esteem, Cooperative Learning, No Memorization, Critical Thinking, Process Writing, and dozens of others. For more of this analysis, please Google "38: Saving Public Schools--A New Paradigm."

Posted by: BruceDeitrickPrice | May 18, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the smaller class size. How about longer days for kids needing extra help BUT the help must be in a different style of teaching the subject.

They need to teach study and time management skills upfront.

How about Kindles with an index card program (ipods already have them)

They also need to re-do all the math books. As a person with advanced degrees in engineering, I am shocked at how they teach math - they try to make it as difficult, confusing and boring as possible. They take a three step problem and generate six extra meaningless steps. It was fun when I was a kid. Not now.

Posted by: geemom | May 19, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

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