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Obama is wrong about D.C. schools

President Obama told NBC interviewer Matt Lauer on Monday that there was not a public school in Washington that matched the education his daughters are getting at Sidwell Friends, a private school. As a former Sidwell parent (I lost a family vote to send our daughter to a public school) and a longtime observer of the D.C. public schools, I think he is wrong.

Sidwell has fine teachers and high standards, but like all private and public schools it also had some mediocre teachers and some blind spots -- such as its reluctance to challenge some students because it would be wrong, as a teacher there once told me, to make them "uncomfortable."

The District does not have many public schools as good as Sidwell, but there are some that set the same high standards and have teachers just as good. Several elementary schools in Northwest Washington, which attract affluent families like the Obamas, match Sidwell. Deal Middle School and Wilson High School, into which those schools feed, are also just as good in every important way. There are also at least two other public high schools that match Sidwell, the School Without Walls and Banneker The Obama girls would have to apply to get in. I suspect both would be accepted.

The president, I think, realized his mistake at the end of his answer and said he thought he could have found as good a public school for his daughters if he had done some "maneuvering." That is a better answer. I hope he will correct his first shot at the question when he gets a chance.

By Jay Mathews  | September 27, 2010; 12:35 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  
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Comments

considering this blog might as well be written by NEA, a teachers union, I would expect this post from you. I wonder if this blog has ever defended students at the expense of making the teachers unions look bad. Superman is exposing the ugly truth that teachers unions are a large part of the blame for our failing schools. better late than never.

Posted by: Natstural | September 27, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Headline: "Obama is wrong about D.C. schools"

Actuality: "Jay Matthews is wrong about everything."

I wish you had won your family vote, so you could see firsthand how ill-prepared your children would have ended up at the hands of D.C.P.S.

Posted by: soffrin | September 27, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

considering this blog might as well be written by NEA, a teachers union, I would expect this post from you. I wonder if this blog has ever defended students at the expense of making the teachers unions look bad. Superman is exposing the ugly truth that teachers unions are a large part of the blame for our failing schools. better late than never.

Hey Jay,
You must have achieved some sort of balance in your writing. I sort of thought that you defended Rhee way past her "sell by" date. Now you are an NEA shill? Not that NEA ever had a horse in this race as you well know.

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 27, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

This comparison to DC schools is ridiculous. Sidwell costs at least 20,000 more per pupil than DC schools and that is not counting the tax breaks that the school must get.

Doesn't Sidwell have small class sizes?

In my experience, take 2 teachers who are equally "effective" and give one 32 students and one 12-15 students and the teacher with the smaller classroom accomplishes more and interacts more with the students. The students also get to do a lot of fun, research type projects because they each get a computer, they get individual help, etc.

Interesting that President Obama picks a longer school year as a solution to educational problems. I can see why working parents want their kids in school so they don't have to worry about finding camps and so forth for the summer months.

I think that could be a solution for a lot of working parents, but wouldn't solve anything educationally.

Nothing President Obama has said in the article I read struck me as showing he knows a lot about this issue from all sides.

I am a little disheartened by the reform vs. union tone of all this. I am not in a union at all and I still don't want schools spending all their time on standardized testing practice. They will take out all the real learning and replace it with formulas that kids can use to pass tests.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 27, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

PLEASE BE well informed
about educational
matters ---

because it is a fact that
the SIDWELL FRIENDS private school teachers
actually belong to a union !
The SIDWELL FRIENDS schoolteachers
are members
of a workers union.

Wake up and
be aware of actual facts, please !


-------------------------

Posted by: tellthetruth10 | September 27, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Headline is total misinterpretation of what Obama said. Obama just implied that his kids have a much better chance at excellence at Sidwell Friends then just about any of the public schools in the district. That is not an opinion that is a fact that just about everyone in the area knows is true.

DC is one of the few places I would seriously consider not letting my daughter go to public schools. Anywhere else I am a strong supporter of using the public school system. I grew up going to PG public schools and seem to have done well for myself. I am an engineer now.

DC schools are getting better, raising test scores, firing bad teachers, etc., but it has only started. I would not want my daughter to have to deal with a system that is so obviously flawed that they will push a student through to 12th grade that does not know how to add fractions.

I do not put all the blame on teachers or teachers unions like many others do. I feel learning starts at home. The teachers are there to teach the material and kids should be able to ask parents for help/encouragement. Now if the previous generation does not know how to read or add either it is that much harder for the student to excel.

Teachers have it rough at schools, never knowing if they are going to get harassed by parents or students or worse their own administration about non-sense.

Everyone that blames the teachers/teacher unions please tell me the last time you tutored your kid in math. Better yet when was the last visit the teachers other than the first open house of the year?

Posted by: jjjones82 | September 27, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

Would you say that the majority of Sidwell parents are well educated, and might this have an impact on their class dynamics?

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 27, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

The question to President Obama about Sidwell should have been:

"Why doesn't Arne Duncun look at Sidwell as a model for public school reform?"

or

"What is it about Sidwell, specifically, that makes it a superior school in your mind?"


Posted by: celestun100 | September 27, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I just read the whole transcript and see that this whole DC vs. Sidwell is just one question out of many.

President Obama spoke mainly about how great and heroic teachers are. Why is there no article about that?

Posted by: celestun100 | September 27, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Now that I am retired, I can be politically incorrect about what I say so here goes:

Most people do not choose a school based on buildings, teachers or materials. They choose one based on the student population of the school. This goes for preschool as well as college. In other words, they look at who goes to the school. Are the students high-achieving? Are they well-behaved?

When my older son was in the fourth grade in a public school, I visited his school during the day. His teacher, a Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA, was doing a fine job but my eyes were on the children. Several were very poorly behaved and kept interrupting her. When I got home, I told my husband who said, "We can't send our son to a school like that." So we began looking at parochial schools. I didn't even ask about the teachers but studied the behavior, the classwork, and yes, the test scores of the students. My spouse and I chose the school with the highest achieving, best behaved students. As Jay said, some of the teachers were mediocre but all the kids still did well.

I'll admit to another very politically incorrect fact: In all my years at a low-performing school, I never allowed my sons to even visit because I was afraid for their safety.

If we are going to improve schools for all children, we need to begin with the truth.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 27, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

You would have to be intoxicated to not think the NEA was against Rhee. Rhee and the unions were not exactly best friends. This blog continually has been against Rhee and for the teacher's union. Be it in comments about pay for performance etc. Its just a mouthpiece for another special interest group.

Also the VAST VAST majority of private schools are not union. I would be very surprised if SF was union. SO unless you are going to post a link stating their teachers are all union, I'm calling shenanigans.

Unions care more about how many years of union dues you paid than how good a teacher you are (or even how many years of experience you have).

Posted by: Natstural | September 27, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

How about a column by Jay Mathews regarding the need for public education in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics?

According to Education Week last week:

... the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, looks broadly at the need to improve STEM education for all K-12 students, with a focus on new federal actions to better prepare and inspire them in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

...the National Science Board, raises an alarm about what it sees as the failure of the U.S. education system to identify and nurture the next generation of high-achieving STEM innovators...

The question should be whether the United States needs public education in the the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In 2000 there were plenty of Americans enrolled in these fields because there were jobs for Americans in these fields.

Now enrollments have dropped since there are no longer entry level jobs for Americans in these fields and these fields require at least 5 years of work in entry level work to obtain the necessary expertise and experience in the field.

Why should the public spend money on these fields when Americans will not spend $50,000 to $100,000 in a field where there are no jobs for Americans?

The government policy is to accept the idea of only the non exportable jobs for Americans so why should public funds be spent on fields where there are no jobs for Americans.

Far better for public funds to be spent on training auto mechanics and nurses which still offer jobs for Americans.

The House Committee on Science and Technology
June 12, 2007
As Dr. Alan Blinder, one of today’s witnesses testified, these examples seem to be only the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Blinder has estimated that more than one in four American jobs are vulnerable to offshoring. More striking is his finding that most American technical jobs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are amongst the most vulnerable to offshoring.
......................

By the way the President should have sent his daughters to two of the worst public schools in D.C. With all the Secret Service agents there would be at least two safe public school in the black neighborhoods of D.C.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

So if I am reading this correctly, like the Obamas, you had a choice between sending your daughter to an elite and expensive private school or to a public school in NW DC where she would be around other affluent families who are equally isolated from the majority of the parents and children trying to benefit from the DCPS system. And, like the Obamas, your "family" chose Sidwell. How incredibly disingenuous of you. Many parents and children have no choice in where they go to school here in DC and therein lies the message behind the President's interview. Those who have no choice will likely get a raw deal. As you have proven in the schools and locations you reference, people who live near or east of the Anacostia river are not even treated as relevant in this discussion-- although a significant number school-aged children live in these areas.

Posted by: jambajan@hotmail.com | September 27, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Most people do not choose a school based on buildings, teachers or materials. They choose one based on the student population of the school. This goes for preschool as well as college. In other words, they look at who goes to the school. Are the students high-achieving? Are they well-behaved?
Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher
........................
Thanks for the truth and honesty.

Maybe if there was recognition of the real problems of these schools something would actually be done to create safe schools with classroom environments where teachers can teach and children can learn.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

"What is it about Sidwell, specifically, that makes it a superior school in your mind?"

Posted by: celestun100
...........................
It is safe and any disruptive student is removed quickly. The Secret Service actually can drink their coffee and not be in the classrooms.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

I vote that all liberals be forced to shop at the grocery store and eat at the restaurant located closest to their home - and no other. Elites love their monopolies, for other people, so much, let them try it for a few years. I can only image the howls.

Posted by: Bellamia | September 27, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

You would have to be intoxicated to not think the NEA was against Rhee.

Dude, if you want to union bash at least get your facts straight. DCPS is an AFT represented district. NEA has no role there. Rhee made the WTU look real weak, and inept. The NEA could use her on a recruiting poster I think the bigger point is blaming the union for everything. That's like blaming the players association for a bad call in professional football. Unions make sure individuals get due process, they don't make the rules.

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 27, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Those who have no choice will likely get a raw deal. As you have proven in the schools and locations you reference, people who live near or east of the Anacostia river are not even treated as relevant in this discussion-- although a significant number school-aged children live in these areas.

Posted by: jambajan
.........................
No worry Jay and the President are in full support in firing the teachers in these public schools for not dealing with public schools that any parent with common sense and choice would not send their child to.

Remember it is the teachers that have made these public schools unsafe and filled with disruptive students.

If only these teachers would learn classroom management skills all would be well.

One large retailer had a Back to School Sale for children going to these public schools. There was a special on steel toe sneakers for children and a DVD showing which kicks to be used when attacked. There were also Kelvar vests for children with an extra special discount for teachers.

I guess that now that Rhee is gone no one any longer has to pretend about these public schools in D.C.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I vote that all liberals be forced to shop at the grocery store and eat at the restaurant located closest to their home - and no other. Elites love their monopolies, for other people, so much, let them try it for a few years. I can only image the howls.

Posted by: Bellamia
.......................
More absurdity.

I thought the rich and elite were the Republicans and no one in their right mind would consider a Republican a liberal.

Beside anyone with intelligence would not call the President or Jay Mathews liberals.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Addendum: Gannet Tseggai of the White House Domestic Policy Council emailed me a transcript that part of the interview. The president isn't implying anything. He is asked if he thinks his daughters would get "the same high-quality, rigorous education in a D.C. public school" as compared to
Sidwell. His answer: "I'll be blunt with you. The answer is no right now."

But also said, three sentences later, "there are some terrific individual schools in the D.C. system." I agree with him on that. My only quibble is his statement that they weren't as good as Sidwell.

For mamoore1--- you are exactly right. Having lots of parents with college educations can have a significant effect on classroom dynamics, but I have seen classrooms where almost no students had college educated parents, and the dynamics were as good as at Sidwell because of the quality and energy of the teacher.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 27, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

Or the quality and energy of the administration. I think that most schools can be successful, if you remove the students who have no interest in learning and are disruptive. That is the allure to many of the charter schools in DC. KIPP works well on that principle (and longer hours)

Most folks don't mind that their kids are going to school with poor students, they care that their children are going to school with disruptive kids that ruin their education.

Teachers are a piece of that, so is administration, parents, etc... and we need to recognize that. Unfortunately, there is no good answer. No one wants to say the obvious, which is that if a student is continually disruptive to the learning process, we need to have a different environment for them. Charter and private schools have that ability, public schools do not.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | September 27, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

but I have seen classrooms where almost no students had college educated parents, and the dynamics were as good as at Sidwell because of the quality and energy of the teacher.

Posted by: Jay Mathews
...............................
More of the drivel of Jay Mathews. No mention where these mythical classrooms are.

I guess they are not in sufficient number in the poverty public schools of D.C. with 56 percent of students that fail 4th grade reading.

But then this is Jay Mathews who has to change now since he can no longer claim his hero is Ms. Rhee who never met a teacher that she did not want to fire.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Jay,

Or the quality and energy of the administration. I think that most schools can be successful, if you remove the students who have no interest in learning and are disruptive. That is the allure to many of the charter schools in DC. KIPP works well on that principle (and longer hours)

Most folks don't mind that their kids are going to school with poor students, they care that their children are going to school with disruptive kids that ruin their education.
Posted by: Wyrm1
......................
Oh my god. This heresy to Jay Mathews.

Admit this and Jay Mathews would have to be selling Reform schools instead of Charter schools.

Jay Mathews has pretended for years that Charter schools do not have the advantage of dumping the disruptive students back into the public school system.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

but I have seen classrooms where almost no students had college educated parents, and the dynamics were as good as at Sidwell because of the quality and energy of the teacher.

Posted by: Jay Mathews


They exsist, I've taught some. Rhee would fire me in a heartbeat. Just for a change why don't we ask some teachers how to make this happen, and what gets in the way.

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 27, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

My humblest apologies for blaming the wrong union that ruins these kids lives. However I'm sure the NEA is out there ruining countless other school systems across the country. Whatever union is in bed with Jay, its obvious that he is a mouthpiece for the group.

The saddest part is that the minorities with no other options but public schools are the biggest supporters of the unions. The wealthy don't need Rhee to reform the school system, they just send their kids to private school.

Posted by: Natstural | September 27, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Why let facts get in the way when you have strong opinions

Posted by: mamoore1 | September 27, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Well of course Obama is right about his daughters' school being better than any public school in Washington.

Which is one motivator for those of us who work hard. So that our kids can do their best.

Which is why those who argue so hard for redistribution of wealth are wrong. Under their scenario, there will be less, not more, Sidwell Friends schools.

Unless you are part of the governing class that has traded the hard-earned wages of those who work for votes.

Just sayin'

Posted by: conservative5 | September 27, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

I hate to disagree but private schools have one great advantage that is superior to public schools and that is class size. Private school (not the Catholic schools or other religious schools)have very small classes and the ability to focus on each child and his or her needs. My children started private school starting in 9th grade and were significantly behind their peers in most of the subjects.The teachers can give focused, individual attention in these small classes. They are also not bound to a lock-step curriculum with curriculum guides that are often difficult to figure out. I vote for private schools. I think one should compare college entrance rates and test scores between DC schools and Sidwell and other expensive, elite private schools.

Posted by: goodjuli20031 | September 27, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Obama is another leftist hypocrite.

They shill and press for billions of taxpayer funds to be sent to the teacher unions which enriches the corrupt leaders who then redirects huge amounts back to the Democrat Party in campaign contributions to fund elections and propaganda for the Democrats who then direct more money to the teacher's union?

For the far left nuts here, how is it possible that the epitome of the Leftist wet-dream of a school system which spends more on its students than the majority the country and countries worldwide, isn't fit, after 40 years, of providing the education for the President's daughters? How can that happen since leftists KNOW that government and money is the answer for everything???

MARK MY WORDS, in 20 years, some leftists boob will be making the EXACT SAME ARGUMENT concerning your now government controlled healthcare.

"...the latest Marxist messiah shouldn't have to send his kids to the government hospitals with which you idiot communist saddled the rest of the country because they don't measure up to what this bigwig can afford"

The first step is that EVERY SINGLE LEFTIST from Barry Obama to Katie Couric to Matt Lauer all the way down to the leftist fools at the WashPost should be BARRED FROM USING PRIVATE MEDICAL FACILITIES AND SCHOOLS. They should be required to get their healthcare at the local "free clinic" and their children should go to the public schools.

End of story.

Posted by: LogicalSC | September 27, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Obama's not wrong. The problem is that YOU were wrong about OBAMA. He is a true, classic socialist. He wants the masses to consume what is good for the public to consume, but he is privileged and therefore they SHOULD have better than others.

Obama's right. DC public schools are a mess and they're only going to get worse now that Gray is in charge next year. Oooops, I meant to say: Now that the teachers union is back in charge.

Losers.

Posted by: stinkyliberals | September 27, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to ask a question. How many schools of Sidwell's caliber exist in Caracas? Havana?

That's right: one for each city. And the kids of the governing class all go there.

And here in the United States, how many schools of Sidwell's caliber are there? Thousands?

So think about that next time a progressive talks about the flaws in our free enterprise system and democracy.

Under socialism, there will no longer be a need for private schools outside of Washington DC, because only the governing class will be considered worthy.

Posted by: conservative5 | September 27, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Obama finally says something that strikes of the truth and he gets blasted for it by this guy with an agenda. I'm starting to feel sorry for Obama. I need a beer.

Posted by: Narquan | September 27, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Under socialism, there will no longer be a need for private schools outside of Washington DC, because only the governing class will be considered worthy.

Posted by: conservative5
........................
Under fascism, there will no longer be a need for private schools outside of Washington DC, because only the governing class will be considered worthy.

Under Mickey Mouse, there will no longer be a need for private schools outside of Washington DC, because only the governing class will be considered worthy.

Perhaps conservaitve5 would enlighten us about the socialism he is speaking about in regard to this article instead of meaningless tripe.

Or is this the usual where individuals make idiotic remarks out of the blue in an attempt to show that they are clever?

I always liked George Wills but if this is the new conservatives in this nations he should start to find a new label for his beliefs.

And by the way the real conservatives never used the label socialists for those who they opposed. They actually could make their arguments without labels.

Historically it was fascists who would label those who they oppose as socialists and/or communists.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

When my daughter was a Sidwell Friends, she had 100% great teachers. As someone who has taught, I know great teachers when I see them. Mathews must have imagined a mediocre teacher at Sidwell in order to pretend that his preconceptions were correct.

Posted by: jsthrift | September 27, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Which is why those who argue so hard for redistribution of wealth are wrong.
Posted by: conservative5
....................
As a conservative I am sure you believe that Americans will not take jobs when they can get unemployment.

In the same way the rich should always be taxed a great deal. Say 90 percent.

If they simply can live well with the money they make they get lazy and stop looking for new investments with high returns.

The higher the rich are taxed is in reality the best for the economy. In fact historically the most growth in our economy was when the tax rate was 90 percent or higher for the rich.

I also believe like you that this tax on the rich should not be used as redistribution of wealth in poverty programs. There are plenty of programs where the money can go that are not poverty programs.

I am glad that we are alike in our ideas.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Typical scoundrel elitist that soaks the taxpayers to throw money away on public schools and then sends his own children to an exclusive, ultra expensive private school like SF. Bet you fought really hard to send your kids to public school in DC - only a hypocrite like you and Jimmy Carter are so friggin stupid to even consider such a plan - but the private school trained spouse told you "no way".

Posted by: calditz | September 27, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

When my daughter was a Sidwell Friends, she had 100% great teachers. As someone who has taught, I know great teachers when I see them. Mathews must have imagined a mediocre teacher at Sidwell in order to pretend that his preconceptions were correct.

Posted by: jsthrift
.....................
Send them over to the poverty public schools in D.C. and Jay Mathews in a year would be calling for them to be fired.

Remember that according to Mr. Mathews even an average teacher should be enough to improve the grades of any student, no matter the difficulties the student has in learning.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

for jsshrift---Some years they were 100 percent good, but not all. Three teachers stand out as being actually harmful and off putting, but one of them worked very hard to get better, and did.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 27, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

How about it's none of our business where or how any parent, from the President to your neighbor chooses to educate their kids, as long as they give those children the best education they can afford. Parents who send their kids to private schools still pay taxes to fund public education. That's all they owe you folks who think "elite" is a bad word. Why do cosnervatives hate smart people?

Posted by: greyK | September 27, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Typical scoundrel elitist that soaks the taxpayers to throw money away on public schools and then sends his own children to an exclusive, ultra expensive private school like SF. Bet you fought really hard to send your kids to public school in DC - only a hypocrite like you and Jimmy Carter are so friggin stupid to even consider such a plan - but the private school trained spouse told you "no way".

Posted by: calditz
......................
I am a little confused.

From the war comic books of the 1950's are these the elitists of the running dogs of the capitalistic or the swines of the fascists.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

XXXX is another leftist hypocrite.
Posted by: LogicalSC
.........................
Is there such a thing as a rightist hypocrite?

Would LogicalSC be happy if someone was a non hypocrite leftist?

If someone is a hypocrite leftist, does that mean that they are actually a rightist?

If you a hypocrite about chasity it usually means you are promiscuous.

Does being a hypocrite about intelligence mean you are an idiot?

With all this confusion is LogicalSC a logical person or a hypocrite logical person?

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Why do liberals demand the lower and middle class send their kids to public schools that are victims of teacher tenure and lack of accountability? Why don't liberals walk the walk?

This is exactly what is wrong with the democrat party. The elitist attitude makes those kids in D.C. who don't have the money, but who are so scared to go to school - they don't learn and fear physical violence. The liberals have carried the teacher union water to prevent those kids from going to a private school through a voucher program.

Every child the liberal forced to go to public school in D.C. is one child not saved and given a chance. More money is spent per student in D.C. than any other place in the world, and they are still not learning and are not safe. This is just not right.

Posted by: Cornell1984 | September 27, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Obama took away Charter schools from Washington.
The teachers unions have destroyed American education and our economy.
Only Chris Cristie of NJ a Republican is doing something about it.

Posted by: joanz3 | September 27, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

@bsmallack- you are making me laugh!
Jay,
You don't have to give names, but give examples of the off putting Sidwell teachers.

I know that some places that are considered excellent sometimes are actually a little stale. They sometimes need reform and don't do anything new
because their mediocrity works with the students because the parents are so involved. Other places have world class programs but you would never know it because the population is going to move on and nobody gives them credit.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 27, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

It seems likely that outside major metropolitan areas, including the District, schools are doing a reasonably good job. That's a testable hypothesis. If careful analysis of existing statistics tends to validate it, then discussions of educational problems would always make it clear that the whole system isn't in need of life support--only the concentrations of educational and related problems that all too frequently are attributed indiscriminately to the system as a whole, giving the attendant impression that the whole enterprise is "going to Hades in a hand basket".

Posted by: Gonzage1 | September 27, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

The leftist programs, like single payer HC and all union public schools are a joke. Obama and his buddies would love to push single payer on the public, but also would say they would make sure all their family got any help that was possible. IE they don't live by the same rules as the rest of society.

There is nothing wrong with someone wanting better for their family, in fact I would say there is something wrong if you don't. However there is something massively wrong about saying everyone else should do X, but I am special so I did the opposite.

Posted by: Natstural | September 27, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack and others: Teachers work in schools; they do NOT make them.As a retired teacher, I can say that without reservation. Administrators and parents call the shots; no one wants a little darling corrected or disciplined---nor do admins want 'trouble' with a parent. Sooooo teachers 'deal with' far too much really bad behavior and really negative attitudes from students AND parents. Most teachers, myself included, were idealistic and humane,hoping to make a genuine, positive difference in children, teaching & leading their students to a love of learning. Parents have let us down all the way, with very rare exceptions;they have low or weird expectations of their own kids, and admins want to "keep the public happy," teachers be damned.

Posted by: mb1957 | September 27, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack and others: Teachers work in schools; they do NOT make them.As a retired teacher, I can say that without reservation. Administrators and parents call the shots; no one wants a little darling corrected or disciplined
Posted by: mb1957
..................
This might be the case in the poverty public school but not the middle class public schools.

No principal or administrator wants a parent complaining about a disruptive and/or prone to violence student being ignored.

These students are quickly dealt with and many cases removed to the second tier school system. I know of one of these second tier school systems run by a former correction officer.

Parents in some cases are forced to either seek outside help if they want their children to continue in the school system.

The parents are paying large property taxes and there children tell them what is going on in classrooms.

Some of these school districts even have local laws where a parent has to go to the local court if there are too many unexplained absences from school.

It is a whole different world when parents pay high property taxes for the public school system.

Of course there are cases where snotty behavior has to be tolerated, but disrupt the class repeatedly and it is dealt with.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

Obama took away Charter schools from Washington.
The teachers unions have destroyed American education and our economy.
Only Chris Cristie of NJ a Republican is doing something about it.

Posted by: joanz3
......................
For those not from NJ, Chris Cristie is a disaster who forced many teachers to be laid off because of the budget crunch.

You have to do better than that if you care about public education.

And only someone absurd would say that teachers have destroyed our economy.

This is probably the nonsense of those who support the offshoring of American jobs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics that began in 2001 to cheap foreign labor.

Now they claim there are not enough Americans enrolled in colleges for these fields.

Of course no American any longer wants to spend $50,000 to $100,000 for a field where there are no jobs for Americans.

Boy I hate these idiots.

If you want Americans back in these fields support the Senate bill to stop offshoring of American jobs and stop all the visas for cheap foreign labor in this country. Americans will once again flock back to enroll to study in these fields.

The House Committee on Science and Technology
June 12, 2007
As Dr. Alan Blinder, one of today’s witnesses testified, these examples seem to be only the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Blinder has estimated that more than one in four American jobs are vulnerable to offshoring. More striking is his finding that most American technical jobs in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields are amongst the most vulnerable to offshoring.
...................
If you want a laugh do a search: pot rutgers christie.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Why do liberals demand the lower and middle class send their kids to public schools that are victims of teacher tenure and lack of accountability? Why don't liberals walk the walk?

Posted by: Cornell1984
..........................
Usual slop from Republicans.

Most middle class families move to areas with high property taxes for the public schools so contrary to this Republican slop they are happy with public schools.

That only leaves the lower class and we have this Republican slop that the Republicans are really bleeding hearts about the lower class.

What nonsense since every one knows the motto of the Republicans are that they have never seen a program for the lower class that they did not want to cut.

I wish the Republicans would stop thinking Americans are fools.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 27, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it is right to include the children into this political debate. How parent's decide to educate their children is a private matter and should not be part of a political debate.

Posted by: education1 | September 27, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Wrong or not, an education from a Private or a Public school should simply be accepted as an education. Let's encourage all students to aquire an education whereever they can afford it, or not. For example, if all the students attending Sidewell were to become the Heads of States of the countries in world, don't you know surprisingly that "the education level" of all the HEADS OF STATES of the world is equivalent to that of High School students?. So, whether a child graduates from Sidewell or any public school, he/she can still become a world leader, as long as he/she completes her education.

Posted by: lkasina | September 27, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Actually I heard the President say that there were some public schools in the DC area his kids could have gone to but those were ones that had special criteria or a lottery to get into. His children probably could have usurped all the other students and taken a slot but how fair would that have been. He also said that he wished all the schools were as good. Now, considering American public schools didn't just start having problems in Jan. 2009, I wonder why so many people are vilifying the President over this?

Posted by: catmomtx | September 27, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

No DC resident should have the option of selecting schools for their children. Government schools are good enough. President Obama really should not be consulted about what he wants for his children. The only question should be where do you live. After that the DC public schools should decide what to do with his children.

Posted by: jy151310 | September 27, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

Is anyone surprised that a hypocrite poverty pimp like Obozo would send his little darlings to one the cesspool schools he and his poverty pimp brethren have created.

Posted by: carlbatey | September 27, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

The 10:05 comment is really offensive and has not place here.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 27, 2010 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Obama took away Charter schools from Washington.
The teachers unions have destroyed American education and our economy.
Only Chris Cristie of NJ a Republican is doing something about it.

Posted by: joanz3 | September 27, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse
________________________________
First of all--no one took Charter schools away from Washington.
Secondly--If unions have destroyed American Education, why is it that the states which rank highest in student achievement happen to be strong union states (like MA or MD for example) and right to work states (typically TX and southern states) rank lower?
Thirdly--the only thing Gov. Christie is doing is saving money by firing a lot of school personnel. Rumor has it he is giving tax cuts to the wealthy. That will help the economy?

Posted by: musiclady | September 27, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

This is an old issue, about whether kids of the POTUS should go to Sidwell or public school. I recall the issue being raised when I was at Sidwell, regarding the Nixon girls. With respect to these daughters, education is not the only issue, security concerns I think are mitigated by sending them to Sidwell.

Posted by: montanan1 | September 28, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Several notes:

All parents make the school decision based on their own perception of your local public schools and financial abilities. I went to parocial schools all the way through college; my wife and children to public. We thought, when we had to decide, our local public schools offered the better opportunity for our children. Fortunately they did.

It's clear that Mr. Mathews is still nursing his, out voted in the family, bias against Sidwell Friends. That's based on his perception.

Mr. Obama's choice, based on his family decision, for his daughters was based on his perception of the DC school system --- nationally noted as mediocre at best.

For those who are calling the NEA a union. Sorry folks! Unions are created by the workers to allow for collective bargaining. The NEA was created by an act of Congress in the 1890's. They never wanted to even act like a union until the teachers union, the AFT, began to knock them off in the 1960's. They thought unions were "Oh so unprofessional"

As far as the "experts" meeting about the nation's schools, for once can we ask the classroom teachers whatthe need to do the job? NEVER has been tried. The education system has deteriorated to it's current state by following experimentation from the top down.

Teachers know what children need. Superintendents rarely do. Bottom up is how the problem needs to be solved!

Yet a PhD, for some reason, commands more money with rarely the ability to deal with children. Unfortunately, the Education system has become the Peter Principle on steriods. And, now these "experts" are going to tell us how to correct their mistakes.

Two "old saws" apply here with, unfortunately, more truth than falsehood.

One: "Those that can do! Those that can't teach. Those who can't do either, teach teachers. Those that can't do any of the above write books about the topics and become "experts" or superintendents."

Two [from one of my college PhD philosophy professors who had himself in perspective]: "Some folks obtain a BS degree. Now we all know what "bs" is. Others continue on to obtain an "MS" which is more of the same! Those who really want to appear to be experts continue on to achieve a PhD which stands for piled high and deep."

In Washington, to paraphrase Churchill on mankind, the powers that be have actually tripped over some of the truth. However, they've picked themselves up; dusted themselves off; and, continued on their way!

Posted by: JohninConnecticut | September 28, 2010 6:57 AM | Report abuse

Jay,
I'm sorry, but you are just flat out wrong on this one. And I'm not sure how you get to opine on the quality of Deal and Wilson when your children never attended. My son did attend Deal for 8th grade and the low standards and low teacher quality was shocking. He barely cracked a book and came out on the honor roll (as about half of the kids often do). The writing program was pretty much nonexistent and the English class seemed remedial. My neighbor's daughter goes to Wilson. One of her first assignments? A worksheet where she had to fill in one word to describe the character of each main figure in To Kill a Mockingbird. One word? That's remedial English, Jay, not college prep.

I had two kids go to a challenging private school for 8th grade. So how did that compare to my son's experience at Deal? Apples and oranges. One was college prep, incredibly challenging, high standards, no busywork. The other (Deal) seemed like DC-CAS prep.

And if you don't believe me, ask my son. When he went on to a private high school, he said that Deal was a "joke" and hadn't prepared him at all for the rigors of his new school. Many kids who go to Walls will tell you the same thing about Deal.

I really bristle when "reporters" opine on DCPS but have never sent their kids to a DCPS school and instead use private schools (as I believe is the case with you and Ms. Strauss.)

Posted by: trace1 | September 28, 2010 6:59 AM | Report abuse

Another comparison. Private schools believe in educating the whole child, which includes physical education. While many private schools have rigorous athletic teams, often with no-cut policies (jv teams take care of the non-star athletes), Deal/Wilson definitely cut students who want to play. More importantly, Deal has PE for half the year, and nothing at all for the other half. Even when it does have "PE" many classes are taken up with "health" class, no physical activity at all, just a lecture.

Kids at Deal are not allowed to eat anything at all until lunch time - which sometimes isn't until 1 pm. They go to class with stomachs grumbling, but no matter, snack would be too "disruptive."

Every private school I know of either provides a healthful snack or encourages kids to bring one so they can focus on learning throughout the morning.

Deal security guards routinely screamed at my neighbor's daughter when she tried to go in the building during recess to see teachers for extra help. The security staff at private schools treat children with respect - and vice versa.

Again, Jay. You're just wrong. Deal and WIlson set up rules for the worst-behaving kids, and the well-behaved suffer in a prison-like environment. You really should talk to parents who have experienced both DCPS and private school.

Posted by: trace1 | September 28, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

Or how about this one, Jay? I believe that Murch has removed history as a separate subject from its 5th grade curriculum and instead will teach bits of it through the English program. Why? It's not on the DC-CAS.

How does that compare to Sidwell's 5th grade?

Please. More facts. More reporting. Less opinion.

Posted by: trace1 | September 28, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse

In 8th grade, my daughter's Facebook status said "working on lab report." (The school assigned them just about monthly, not just to hone science skills, but as another means of teaching how to write clearly and effectively). Her 8th grade friend from Deal posted on her wall: "what a lab report?"


Jay, I think you could learn a lot from parents (and kids, actually) who changed from Ward 3 DCPS schools to private. We have first-hand experience of both. I'm wondering why you didn't speak to any before writing this piece.

(Also, typo in my first post . .. "was" to "were" in first line)

Posted by: trace1 | September 28, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse

The larger question is which students are thirsty for knowledge, come from a family that reveres education and is stable.

National statistics are bogus because our
school populations are more diverse (in every aspect) than the international "leaders" in education.

Finland? Give me a break...and a student that knows the privilege it is to get an education...and I'll give you a scholar.

Posted by: BluePelican | September 28, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

A current DCPS parent (4 kids in DCPS) - I think this time Jay you said it right - the Distrcit doesn't have many public schools as good as Sidwell but it does have some. And hopefull soon, more. The Obamas, like all well to do well educated families, had a lot of good choices. That is not true for everyone. And that is what needs to change.

Posted by: bpine2 | September 28, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Obama is right. They asked a question and he answered it truthfully. I would hate to have a President who lies. Anyone who knows the private and public systems in DC as I do knows that Sidwell far outranks most of the D.C schools in terms of academics. We're not living in a communist society-there are haves and have nots. People with money can afford to send their kids to private school but others scrimp and save, buy smaller houses, apply for financial aid (which you can get if your child is smart and you go up to the schools and talk to them and I mean really engage them) and manage to send their kids to private schools because D.C schools are generally terrible. Others are forced by lack of any circumstance to rely on the public schools that fail them. We do have an adequate budget and spend more per child than many other states so the issue is why are the dc schools so terrible? Instead of taking Obama to task, why don't we ask that question - as President, since you know what parents in the district are facing, what can you do to help? If it's not a question of budget, then what is it? Is it the teachers (Rhee), the parents? the curriculum, the behavior of the kids? Are parents with low academic skills lost in terms of helping their kids? How about tutoring programs to raise standards in small groups? How about counseling and safe zones where kids can work if they come from crazy home environments? We need to discuss these issues in a public forum and come to an understanding of what the issues are for each school and each section of D.C and figure out how to move forward. At least Rhee tried something-unfortunately it hasn't been enough time to see if it worked or not- still, it was directed action at a problem. Our kids are our future and these words are more than the lyrics of a song. If we leave them nothing financial, let us at least try to leave them a good education. Let us hope Gray put this on the front line of his agenda and use this as an opportunity to engage with Obama- or he won't be mayor in 4 years time either. Can we make that a promise and not an idle threat?

Posted by: schools1 | September 28, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Folks just need to chill. We are making too much over the President's remarks The DC Public Schools system has been in a state of flux for decades Eventhough things have gotten better in the last few years the DC Public Schools has a history of revolving door Superintendents over the last 25 years. Its no secret that many Middle Class black parents sent their children to Private Schools, DeMatha, Arch Bishop Carrol, St. Johns, Bishop McMacnama. George Town Prep, Gongaza et al.
If they have the cash they are not sending their kids to Balloo. The Private schools I mentioned --- all these schools are peopled with the sons and daughters of middle class black families many of whomthink the same way as the President. So for Vince Gray and the writers at the Post to try and make Political hay out of the President's remarks is bush-league. Its not like DC is Montgomery or Fairfax

Posted by: Carprin | September 28, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

As a veteran of an impossible battle with an uncreative, scripted, unresponsive public school system with a lousy curriculum; Fairfax County Public Schools, I beg to differ. When my wife and I pulled our son from Fairfax in 6th grade, after their idiotic reading curriculum had permanently damaged his ability to acquire reading skills, we vowed never to inflict that on our children again. Let me emphasize, however, the problem was not lousy teachers, it was lousy administrators and lousy curriculum, bolstered by an institutional attitude that "we don't care, we're so big and wealthy that we don't have to." The failure of the public schools starts at the top, not at the classroom level. Fairfax's failure was its lack of accountablity, not due to its isolation, as was the case in DC with Rhee and Fenty, but due to its sheer size. My wife and I are not wealthy, but we have chosen to forego better houses, cars, vacations and even employment opportunities to send our kids to a private school that is more diverse and higher-performing than any public school in DC, Maryland and Virginia. Neither of my two younger children would have escaped FCPS without being damaged, although in different ways. As a HS baseball coach, I've been to both Wilson and Sidwell regularly. There is no comparison.

The high-performing DC element6ary schools in NW, like Eaton, Key and Janney, also do a disservice to DCPS in general; the motivated parents at those schools are extremely successful at diverting resources from the rest of the system to their own children.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 28, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Obummer is an idiot and so are the people fighting michelle rhee in DC. Obummer never met a gov program, a tax or a union he didn't like or would take a payoff from. If we continue to be PC about the fact that "pay for seniority" jobs don't work and that we need to move away from tenure and to pay for performance for all gov jobs in particular teachers...we will have the same crap...the fed watses nearly 100B per year in the Ed dept and barely gives a penny to any schools.....the states should do their own thing and give Obummer the finger....he says one thing and does another...as long as he is tied to socialism and the unions...he will fail....so far he's done terrible at everythiung he's touched.....to be sure I'll get negative comments against what I have just written....but the proof is out tehre that a free market in teachers and gov employees and a rejection of the union protectionists every day creates better results.....another example of great public schools and the union logic is the 500M plus k-12 school in LA county...most schools housing only 4000 students cost 1/20th of that....unions and politicians greasing each others palms.

Posted by: briankmc | September 28, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

thanks to celestun100 for the call out on that thoughtless comment, so rare for this blog.

and thanks to bpine2 for the nice words.

With some exceptions, another good run of comments that tell us a lot about private and public schools.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 28, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Here is one where the President Obama is correct.

Obama: Democratic voter apathy 'inexcusable'
By BEN FELLER, AP White House Correspondent

Admonishing his own party, President Barack Obama says it would be "inexcusable" and "irresponsible" for unenthusiastic Democratic voters to sit out the midterm elections,

It is true that Democrats should not be apathetic or without enthusiasm.

Go to the polls in November 2010 and vote for any Democrat that pledges to work for selecting a new Democratic candidate for President in 2012.

In the area of public education it should be obvious to most Democrats that this President is no better than the previous President.

If Democrats are concerned about public education work for selecting a new Democratic candidate for President in 2012.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 28, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Valerie Strauss makes the only comment of this Sidwell Friends issue that is valid and I suggest everyone should read her article on this issue.

She states that the President has chosen a school for his children that is just the reverse in regard to his policies on public education.

Race To The Top is really race to the bottom with "reforms" based upon the worst public school systems in the nation.

Massachusetts and a few other states have the best public schools in the nation while we have the absurdity of Race To The Top where these states have to accept and implement standards that are lower than the standards that these states currently have in place.

The reality is that many public school systems are doing well and have good teachers yet the "reform" of Race To The Top is almost totally based upon the idea that the majority of teachers in the United States are doing a poor job and there is a need for expensive computer systems to analyze test results to make teachers better.

Meanwhile this idea at Sidwell Friends would be considered absurdity just as it is considered absurdity in the majority of public schools that have fine teachers.

To gain admittance to Sidwell Friends a child must pass a test. Yet there is nothing in Race To The Top for public schools system in large urban areas to test children upon entering the school system and place them in schools based upon their ability. Apparently teaching children basically on the same level with abilities works well for Sidwell Friends but for public schools we should just throw children into schools and classes by chance so there are multiple levels of abilities in the same class room.

Time to recognize that to improve public education in the United States it is necessary to adopt method of the public school systems that are performing well and the methods of private schools that perform well instead of the ideas that come from the worst performing public school systems.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 28, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Obama attended private school. Why would he send his kids to public school?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punahou_School

Posted by: win_harrington | September 28, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

mcstowy writes:

"The high-performing DC element6ary schools in NW, like Eaton, Key and Janney, also do a disservice to DCPS in general; the motivated parents at those schools are extremely successful at diverting resources from the rest of the system to their own children."

Please, do not perpetuate that myth. You are a Fairfax County parent, I presume, with limited knowledge of the DCPS budget. As a member of the HSA Board at a Ward 3 elementary school for years, I can tell you for a fact that we got no more public resources than schools east of the park, and in fact, we often got less. The smaller, under-enrolled schools ended up taking far more than their share, which is why they had to be closed.

Ward 3 schools have more money because parents donate it and/or raise it from private sources, usually to the tune of 200k per year.

Posted by: trace1 | September 28, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Here's another fact-based observation on this topic. Kids who went from Murch's 6th grade (when it went through 6th) to Deal to Walls have been assigned The Epic of Gilgamesh THREE times. Once in 6th grade by that rarity - a teacher with incredibly high standards (she was brand new and left after one year to teach in a Harlem charter school), once in 8th grade, and again in 9th at Walls.

I asked Michelle Rhee about this, and she admitted that the system needed to do a better job at "scaffolding."

I can guarantee you that my kids are not assigned the same books year after year in private school. There is a set curriculum and it is followed.

Posted by: trace1 | September 28, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Kids who went from Murch's 6th grade (when it went through 6th) to Deal to Walls have been assigned The Epic of Gilgamesh THREE times.
Once in 6th grade by that rarity, once in 8th grade, and again in 9th at Walls.

Posted by: trace1
.......................
I looked this book up on the internet and was amazed. From the Spark notes it looks as it would be of little interest to a student. Sounds like when schools used to assign prose texts versions of The Odyssey. I was an avid reader at the time and could not make any sense out of the school assignment of this book in the seventh grade. Cyclopes and sirens had absolutely no appeal. I remember now we also had Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie by Longfellow in the 7th grade. Thank god we had the play Julius Caesar in the 9th grade.

I thought the idea was to get students to like reading.

Perhaps instead of spending a fortune on standardized testing and computer systems to evaluate the scores perhaps the public schools in D.C. might spend money on books that children might want to read.

I wonder if Harry Potter is still taboo in public schools but I guess tales of gods are okay while witches and wizards are not. Seems anything covered in an ancient text is okay.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 28, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Read the Valerie Strauss and see why all public school teachers in the United States should convince Democrats to select another Democratic candidate for President in 2012.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 28, 2010 8:53 PM | Report abuse

Ward 3 schools have more money because parents donate it and/or raise it from private sources, usually to the tune of 200k per year.

Posted by: trace1

That's what I call diverting resources. The Ward 3 schools become, in effect, publicly subsidized private schools, just like Thomas Jefferson HS in Fairfax. And, FYI I am not a Fairfax Co. parent. I pulled my oldest son, now 21, out of Fairfax because of the counter-productive and damaging curriculum foisted on both teachers and students by the clueless administration. None of my other children has ever set foot in a public school as a result of my experience with my oldest. As I've mentioned often on these blogs, I am a Ward 4 voter who found Fenty to be an inarticulate show-pony as a councilman, but hoped he would have the sense to hire qualified, experienced administrators, but instead he chose Rhee, Lanier and Singer (his 1st AG), none of whom would have gotten an interview as 2nd tier administrators in any other large city. When stupid hires stupid, you get bad results.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 29, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

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