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Tests Have Value, But Testing Is Being Misused


Alternate title: What Does the Best and Wisest Parent Want?

Dear Deborah,

I am glad to see that you are trying to draw us back to the issues where we have genuine differences! You and I agree that testing and accountability—as currently practiced under NCLB—have become enemies of good education. We would probably disagree on the value of testing. I do think that testing, when sensibly deployed, is valuable. I am not part of any anti-testing movement. I think it is important to know how students are doing, as compared with their past performance and as compared with others in their grade or age group, and even as compared with their peers in other nations. I also see the value of testing for admissions purposes, as there would be no point in bringing a poorly prepared student into a highly selective institution; he or she would certainly fail. The biggest problem today is not testing, but the misuse and abuse of testing, the way that schools, districts, states, and now the federal government are misusing the results of tests to make high-stakes decisions about teachers, students, principals, and schools.

The list that you draw up to describe the kind of curriculum for which schools should be accountable reminds me of the recently released core curriculum standards developed in English Language Arts and mathematics by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Like you, they would be comfortable with non-specific outcomes, though they do not make recommendations for history, science, the arts, and other subjects.

We could get into a heated argument about literature, history, and the arts. I don't agree that the value of these subjects and of what is taught must await empirical evidence. While it is not true that "everyone should" read Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and Homer, and it is likely the case that only a tiny proportion of the population has done so, I don't think that this far-out reference should be used to bludgeon anyone who would argue for specific curriculum content.

I don't agree that knowing history leads any to repeat and relive old enmities. Most old enmities are based on ignorance, fear, and misinformation. The more we know of history, the better able we are to defuse ignorance, fear, and misinformation. Nor do I agree, as you suggest (I hope playfully), that America's success "correlates with its disdain for history."

As for science, I suspect that superstition and belief in supernatural phenomena and conspiracy theories is the result of poor education in science. To the extent that we can teach students to seek evidence and rational explanations, we will reduce magical thinking and encourage the application of reason and intelligence.

For better or worse, I will always side with those who favor more education, not less. We have words for those who don't know history, who have not read worthy literature, who know no science, and who are indifferent to the arts (and think that their doodles while daydreaming belong in a museum): Ignorant. Those who have no basis for reaching an educated judgment rely on hearsay, biases, prejudices, and the opinions that they picked up from their family and friends.

Thomas Jefferson said it first: Those who expect to remain both ignorant and free in a state of civilization expect what never was and never will be.

The Founding Fathers were themselves highly educated. They knew the muck of ignorance that had produced war after war in Europe, unending conflict over religion, and bitter enmities. They wanted something better in the new nation they were creating. To read their writings is to see how widely they read in history and literature, and how much they cared about learning the principles of science. To read them is to raise questions about whether we are as well educated today as they were. Some are, most aren't. As Neil Postman titled one of his books, we are amusing ourselves to death and allowing popular culture—often degraded and corrupting—to determine the content of our minds.

Jefferson would be appalled. I think John Dewey would be, as well. It was Dewey who wrote that what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all children. I expect that Jefferson, Dewey, and that "best and wisest" parent could find common ground were they to break bread together. I would like to be there when they do!


P.S.: Please let's turn to Arne Duncan's latest statement about his plans for the renewal of No Child Left Behind!



How about a "Truth and Reconciliation" process? A period of time when we use the best tests available (for me this would be something like NAEP & PISA) to study the nature of the problem but agree to ascribe no blame, hold no one "accountable", and not fire anyone.

Certainly we have "bad" teachers out there, but we also have good teachers trapped in a bad system, good systems trying to implement terrible standards, folks trying to teach pretty good standards using awful instructional materials, etc.

Do we really know how to disentangle these things and ascribe "blame"?

So, my proposal is that for 5-10 years we study the problem, report results using the best assessments we can find, conduct research, tell parents the truth about the performance of their kids, and educate the public about the nature and extent of the problem--and blame nobody.

Isn't this (sort of) what Bill Schmidt describes the Germans doing after they woke up to their own education problems?


Dear Diane, at last a topic to warm my heart!!

I myself have long been perplexed as to American's relative ignorance of History, and yet our clear success anyway. Here's my answer:

Americans were not til recently so ignorant of History as they are today. My father, schooled in Akron's public schools, was always fluent of the cultural idioms that I a generation later was deprived of. (See Thursday's description thereof). The very fact that Jay Leno can make a running comedic segment out of people not knowing that Normany was not the civil war gives us some hope. Some viewers still understand.

History classes in the 60's stopped being stories about who did what and became texts about...well, who knows. That, I think, was when things started to fall apart.

Lets call it another part of school ruined by science envy.

(Speaking of,... I am even less sanguine that Science guarantees rational thinking. I've seen too many trained science PhD's latch onto what can only be described as cultlike belief in "Scientific" claims outside their own narrow domain. Indeed, even within those domains, irrational conclusion jumping is common. The scientific method is not so much about individual cognition as about communities weighing evidence over time.)

So how should we upgrade our learning of History?

We should begin by emulating the stupid reality shows.

I know, Ack. Yet why do people watch them? Why was even I for a moment caught up in that stupid wife swap show when it aired in the local cafe? What characteristic of those shows draws people's interest?

It is the peek into another persons life, the brief glimpse at what another experiences for a moment. And, how that moment crosses with ours.

In this Pride and Prejudice is little different. Take away the high-falutin language, the haughty carriage of the characters, the opulent surroundings of the estates, and you have little more than a soap opera. It is how faithfully Austen portrays human silliness--and magnanimity--that commends the work to so many.

Why can't we get back to doing this with History? Why cannot we get back to introducing in full George Washington and Lincoln and Caesar to schoolkids? As persons with lives; choices made both good and not good; evolving persons, formed by circumstances of birth and early experience and later events encountered?

The desk here bears Montgomery's The Beginner'S American History. Its chapter titles ring nothing like modern texts; they instead run: Columbus. John Cabot. Ponce de Leon &ct; Sir Walter Raleigh. ..Lord Baltimore... King Philip. ... Daniel Boone. ... General Rufus Putnam. ... Professor Morse. General Sam Houston. ... Abraham Lincoln.

Montgomery starts with people and allows the reader to pick up the surrounding scene. Movies like Pearl Harbor do the same. The History texts we stick students with...have little such pedagogical strength to commend.

We should hand Biography to students to read.

And, all education majors might get a bit of the same prescription.

Amen and Amen to all of this. What especially drew me in was the reference to the inadequate teaching of History in our schools. There are a NUMBER of mesmerizing books out there that are either pure biographies or historical fiction novels. What better way to catch learners' interest that in these tales that portray people and events as they REALLY happened, not as History textbooks think is appropriate.
A great tool in reading historical fiction would be to teach the students how to cross-reference biograpies and conduct further research to find the actual historical facts in the book. Voila - you have a literature, history and research lesson all in one!

Diane: Given the title of this piece, I had hoped to get some insight from you about how testing is misused. Sadly, nothing about that seems to have been included. I found the rest of your comments instructive and valuable. Is there someplace I could go to learn about your insights into misuse of testing?

It is my fault, as I did not include a title when I submitted the article. Someone must have read the first paragraph and devised a title for me, but the title is wrong!

Clearly the blog is about what students should learn in school, not about testing! So, apologies to those who were misled. Mea culpa. Learn Latin while you have the chance, so you will know what that means!

Ken, in the past couple of weeks I have written two blogs about testing and how it is misused, how some states and districts are lying (as Secretary Duncan likes to say).

I suggest that you read my previous blog on "the NCLB Paradox and the Twilight Zone," where test results are meaningless.


I enjoyed the repartee. At the heart of this discussion are two very concerned and caring individuals with ideas and differences that can be bridged. I look forward to further discussion.


One of the characteristics that bogs down debate about history instruction is the compunction to specify "content" and to stretch it out over every grade.

Texas is in the process of revising their "social studies" standards (morphing "history" into "social studies" is another bogger.)

So Texas provides a ready case in point. "Sam Houston" is introduced to kids in K, and his history comes up so many times during the course of the grades, that if kids don't become sick of this Texan and American hero, they should be.

As D&D, and the rest of us here agree, history is not only important, it's fascinating. It's the story of "us," whether the "us" is global, national or local. But I've never come across any treatment of history "standards" that I'd either want to teach or learn. The importance and fascination of history just isn't conveyed.

(It's another way in which the "standards movement" has failed the nation and our students. But that's a whole nother story.)

What to do? I sure don't have all the answers and may not have any. But here'sone orientation:

**Junk the aspiration to specify content by grade and to fill every cell with "something."

**Junk "social studies"

**Defer ANY history instruction until kids have been taught how to read

**Specify the structure in terms of courses and course sequences with prerequisites. Give kids and parents some choice in navigating the structure. With the Internet the "courses" can be computer-guided, with teachers tutoring and guiding (much as in honor courses and seminars)

**If compelled to "grade" do so on a pass/fail basis based on a final exam that a student has accomplished the intended aspirations of a given course.

**Collectively, it's not necessary and not that desirable that all students go through an identical sequence. Human history, from whatever era or location, rhymes. (If it doesn't, humans find a way to interpret it so it does.) Not all historians go through the same sequence or interpret the same time period in the same way. Historians for the most part are tolerant of other views or are willing to debate without undue emotion or rancor. It seems to me that some of this historiography is likely to rub off on students, to their benefit and to the benefit of others.

When my sons were little I met a woman who had five very well educated children who became accomplished professionals. I asked for her advice on how to keep the joy of learning alive in my own children, who were toddlers at the time. She said, "Follow the interests of your child. If he shows an interest in rocks, take him to the library for books on rocks and enroll him in a science class on geology." I followed the woman's advice and was delighted when my sons graduated from Harvard and Stanford. Like the woman's children, they went on to challenging and satisfying careers.

I tried to do the same for my first-grade students at school by creating a very enriched classroom environment. In addition to teaching the three Rs, I made a special effort to have a joyful learning experience for the children. I wanted my students to enjoy school so there were all the activities that gladen the hearts and minds of little children: music, art, stories, construction, dramatic play etc. After NCLB I was pressured to go back to the sterile classroom of my own childhood and to spend a large part of the day on "direct instruction" and test prep. Soon my students were complaining and I was fortunate enough to be able to retire. I'm so grateful that most of my career was spent before NCLB, which I consider the worst piece of legislation in the history of American education. I would go so far as to label its applications as child abuse. I have no doubt that the day will come when everyone recognizes this.

So if I could choose the best education for each child, I'd ask for teachers who know how to cultivate the interests of their students so as to keep that joy of learning alive. If we can do that, all else will follow.

There are various reasons why standards and testing have been eliminated (with highly negative if not disastrous results, in my opinion) from our schools in the past hundred or so years. I would like to speak of one of these reasons.
With one of the points of his Pedagogical Creed John Dewey wrote that literature reflects and interprets but does not precede experience. We know that giving children experiences has been a major goal of our schooling, more important than the study of literature, history, and other humanist areas. But the whole is more complex than just these two parts.
Experiences are important in the education of children. If children do not have any first-hand contact with a subject, studying it might indeed become too dry and seem irrelevant. However, there is a limit to the experiences that any one child, let alone adult, can have, and there is much less limit to what a mind, well trained, can encompass. Therefore, to define “education” as experience only and not to pass on knowledge is to deny children the richness that a good education can impart. A balance is needed in school education between actual experience and cognitive, conceptual work.
Testing becomes controversial in the philosophy that says education is experience. Each child’s experience is different, uniquely his or her own, and it is indeed patently unfair to “grade” a student on a unique aspect of life. But people do need knowledge about the world, and transmitting this information is the major task of school. There is undoubtedly a role for testing in this perspective. Not only teachers and parents, but the student himself or herself needs a measure, a standard, to know where he or she is at any given time in the schooling process. Obviously testing can be badly done when it is imposed on top of a standard-less structure.
So I do agree with what Diane Ravitch wrote in her mis-named blog. My life experience has shown me how much I have lost because my schooling did not transmit the information that my mind was capable of assimilating.

Diane, I for one was drawn immediately to this post by the headline -- and was very happy to read your first graph -- but am more than pleased to read anything that includes TJ's comment about the necessity of an educated populace to a healthy democracy.


I often get emails from strangers asking me to recommend a history textbook that they can use in their home, either for homeschooling or to combat their children's utter ignorance of history.
I invariably respond that I can't recommend any of the current crop of textbooks because they are too boring.
I urge them to scour used bookstores for biographies written at the appropriate level for their children. Lots and lots of biographies.
I especially like the Landmark series of books, now out of print, which included biographies and wonderful retelling of historical stories by first-rate authors, not committees.

I can see that I implied that testing is bad in my last post. That is not the case - Tests are essential for measuring student progress and informing instruction, but they are being seriously misused at the present time. This misuse of tests, caused by the punitive aspects of NCLB, have resulted in frenzied test prep across our nation, especially in low-performing schools. This is especially damaging to young children because it kills their love of learning just when their formal education is beginning.


What do you think of Jo Hakim's history books? They are a world better than the average American history text book.

GB, We already know what is wrong. Our children are not learning very much, which is a condition that hasn't changed much over the past several decades.

How would spending 5-10 years studying the problem change the situation or the motivation to blame teachers for all our school's ills?

I remember the Landmark books; I still have some. They were very popular in the '50's and 60's. One of my favorite was ROGER's RANGERS and the French and Indian War which was essentially a popular retelling of Francis Parkman's history. Diane is right most of the history books today are awful. I used to teach with Daniel Boorstin's A HISTORY OF THE USA. It has an umatched (anywhere) commentary on the historical background of the Declaratin and Constituion which though dated is still useful. Garraty's US History is accurate and reasonably well written but this is for college or AP US history students.

ISI also has many small books on the liberal arts and is a good place to look for curricula and books to read.
Look up their book club on the Internet.

Another good book is QUARRELS THAT SHAPED THE US CONSTITUTION ed. by Garraty . Most of the articles are reprints from AMerican Heritage . First class writing. Fascinating article on ROE V WADE. Also fascinating is the article on DRED SCOTT and PLESSY v Fergusson.

As far as the curriculum wars go I think we are past caring what is assigned and what people do or do not read. Personally, my life has been enriched by reading the classics (mostly in translation). I have delighted in reading the Dryden translation (a favorite of Jefferson's) and Pope's Homer (also a favorite of the 18th century). I have probably read have a dozen translations of Vergil and Homer. My Greek is small but my Latin is somewhat better so I have read Vergil, Caesar, Tacitus and some of Cicero in the original Latin (I am by training a scholar of classical Spanish literature and of course in order to read Renaissance, 17th 18th and 19th century literature one must have some schooling in the classics. Most modern writers are not so demanding by contrast. Of course, Spanish literature is vastly influenced by French and Italian literature so after English literature these are the literatures I have studied. And I have read and seen Shaw and Shakerspeare in Spanish. Any educated Spanish-speaking person -truly educated- has some knowledge of Goethe, Dante, Shakespereare, Moliere, in translation.
Julius Caesar, MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are very well-known. But other English and Scottish authors are not such as Burns who is almost unknown in the Spanish speaking world no doubt because his dialect is too arcane to be appreciated fully. Blake is much more popular (and easier to understand).

Look for the new restored edition of the FIRST CIRCLE by Solzhenitsyn. Daniel Mahoney believes this is one of the great books of the 20h century in any language (see FT magazine)OCT 2009

Of course when it comes to Spanish, there is no question that Cervantes, Calderon de la Barca and Tirso de Molina (creator of the character of Don Juan) are at the very summit. I teach many learners of English. I recommend they read the speeches of Lincoln, Churchill, Shaw, Dickens, Shakespeare and the King James Bible. I tell them if they can read those authors they will know what good writing is and gain a valuable education in literary expression, style and vocabulary. After those authors everything else in English is child's play. I still enjoy Hemingway -he seems like a god compared to most much written today- and old Hem was very well read. One could write a book just on his literary allusions in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway is still accessible but I find more and more the majority of his work is not up to his highest standards of his peak years 1926-1940. His last hurrah was the OLD MAN AND THE SEA. But he is not an essential author, really, just a taste that some people might enjoy. I certainly don't recommend him particularly to female disciples for obvious reasons. Hemingways great weakness were the flatness of most of his female characters.

"Our children are not learning very much, which is a condition that hasn't changed much over the past several decades." (Erin )

Hi All... hope this finds everyone well! Erin i quoted you because this seems to be a fairly common statement these days.

I spend much of my time in public schools and i do not agree.

In many of the public schools in America...particularily in our wealthier communities... i see many kids taking courses and learning alot more then past generations. There are kids taking algebra in middle school and calculas prior to graduating highschool. There are more AP classes in these places then ever before and in these communities most of the kids go on to colleges and university. I see in these communities, new technology, science labs, TV stations...new books and materials....i see the works!
In a traditional sense.... these kids are doing fine.

However.... if we go into our poorer communties this is not the case. Not only are our communities segragated by class so are our schools. In these places...where poverty rates range from 50-90 plus percent... American education has huge problems. There are real equity issues with funding and these communities are at a major disadvantage and so are their children. In these schools i see hand me down technology, few if any science labs, old textbooks and in some cases crumbling buildings. I see less music..less art....less sports...less________!!!

Maybe...America may want to think about STANDARDIZING some of this stuff... some say this is unimportant...funny though... this stuff is never missing in our wealthy communities.

be well... mike

Mike, I agree with you completely. My own sons got an excellent education in the public schools and are the equals of educated people in any part of the world. The same can be said of the children of my cousins, friends and colleagues. Yes, the children of American middle and upper class families are getting a fine education in mostly public schools. The public schools in affluent suburbs like Palos Verdes and San Marino, CA are probably equal to the most expensive private schools. Perhaps these children are not quite as advanced as their European and Asian counterparts, but by adulthood most have caught up or even surpassed their peers throughout the world.

The problem, of course, is that many of our poor and minority children don't have access to these fine schools. Instead, they are trapped in segregated schools where they are surrounded by other children who might not value learning. I know from experience that most of their teachers are dedicated, intelligent and hardworking, but they are overwhelmed by so many behavioral and learning problems. Many people don't care about these children, but they belong to all of us and we all pay the price when they fail.

I'm not certain what percentage of our schools are very low-performing, but I'd guess around 10%. Perhaps if we concentrated on these schools, instead of indicting all of our schools, we could experience more success. As I've said often, I'd like to see many of these children bused out of their neighborhood schools and into high-achieving schools. Children who are left behind should have full-service community schools that would be open all day and all year. And yes, we'd have to offer them the very best teachers we can find: teachers who have already proven themselves and NOT neophytes with emergency credentials!

Linda, Bless you for asking!!

Frequently my signature here links to my cheat sheet on failing education (pdf).

The best thing there are the videos of kids and schools. Some startling stats also leap out:
From SilentEpidemic.org

In cities such as Detroit, only one in three black males earns a high school diploma.
* Today, at nearly 1,000 high schools across the country, graduating is at best a 50/50 proposition.

* In 1700 high schools—1 in 8—at least 2 of every five kids will be gone before they are done. (JHU brief). Many schools (How does your local high school measure up?) see as few as 20% of their students stay in school.
Because such schools often have larger than average population they affect more than their share of students. * Fully one in five US students attends such a school.

And, from the Gates Foundation:
“It is not the case that most of these kids were academic failures…: nearly 90 percent said they had passing grades, and 70 percent said they could have graduated if they had tried.

Thank you, Ed. I suspected at least 80 to 90% of our schools were successful but I didn't have the statistics until now. I am a huge supporter of our public schools because of what they have done for my family and me and for our country. Our schools have offered enormous opportunities for many of the immigrants who came to our country within the last 200 years. They have been the great levelers for so many of us. Anyone who doubts this need only look at the great accomplishments of the American people. Many do not know this, but Americans have led the world in an attempt to educate everyone.

That said, we have not succeeded in reaching everyone. As you have pointed out, as many as 20% of our children are not receiving an adequate education. Because I taught in poverty-ridden schools for many years, I know it is not easy to give the child of the drug addict and prisoner the same education as the child of two middle-class professionals. However, it is to the great credit of the American people that we continue to try to reach every child. Perhaps this is our greatest trait as a people: the desire to give every person an equal chance at a better life.

I believe we can reach all our children if we want to. All we have to do is to look at the 80% of students who succeed and give the other 20% some of those good things: health care, preschool, experienced and successful teachers, enrichment after school and during the summers, etc. As I said before, to me the best way to accomplish this would be to get as many children out of the inner-cities as quickly as possible.

Thanks again for the statistics.

I am not quite sure how we're going to get kids out of the inner city. I don't think that is even a starting point in dealing with the achievement gap. We must improve the inner city.

The inner city is a symptom of poverty. Poverty is the problem. Considering congress can't even pass health care reform, I don't see them ending poverty anytime soon.

So, what to do? Let's start by taking a couple billion of the RTT funds and outrageously fund early childhood education. It is the very young who can most benefit from this intervention which would provide a foundation upon which they can build a more successful school career, even if their home life can't provide it. That's what we're talking about, right?

I mean, we are talking about the kids who don't have the advantages that are so prevalent among kids in "good" schools; the schools are "good" because of the caliber of the kids (as a result of their "engaged" childhood that so many underprivileged lack) who go there.

We need to do something to improve the fate of the students we must educate. We can't change their circumstances (well we could, we just won't, apparently) so we must change what we can.

We can create universal health care, fantastically fund early childhood education, and make school a bit more fun. These suggestions are affordable and democratic, and socially responsible. Why we haven't done them is easy...you don't get rich and powerful helping people or doing the right thing. And America is all about money.

We're doomed.


I agree with most of what you said, but I disagree that we are doomed and I also disagree with your belief that it is impossible to get children out of the inner-city. The vast majority of these students are within a 20 mile radius of excellent schools that are populated by high-achieving middle class children. At least a third of the inner-city children are at or above grade level and well-behaved, so I believe the middle-class schools would accept them if they came with enough money. Some of our large cities are already doing this successfully. Research tells us that a poor child will have a much better chance to learn if he is surrounded by other children who are successful learners.

As to the children left behind in low-performing schools, I agree with what you have said. We need to make these schools the best that they can be. It will take money and the will of the American people. I believe in them. If they won't do it for moral reasons, they'll do it for the monetary ones. Nothing hurts our country more than a huge number of uneducated citizens. We can't afford to let this continue.


Are you seriously advocating taking high-achieving, inner-city kids away from their communities to put them in fancytown? Do you think that's any way to close the gap? And who in their right mind would allow such a segregation?

Your idea would relegate the lowest performers to a permanent place in the underclass, courtesy of elitism.

The high-achieving kids don't need better schools. Hell, they barely need school!

It's the low-achievers who need to be around high-achievers.

My goodness. Do you even realize what you are suggesting?


What do you mean by segregation? Isn't that what we already have in the inner-city? I'm trying to have integration by moving some children out of the inner-city.

I know from experience that many of the high achievers in the low-performing schools fall behind as they get older. Once they enter the middle grades, peer influence takes over. I saw so many bright first-graders become failing sixth graders. These young children are the ones I'm talking about. I don't agree at all that they don't need better schools. The reason I'm suggesting that these children be moved out is because I think the middle-class parents will accept them. This might not be ideal but I see it as realistic and practical. For example, in the school across the street from me about 20% are minority children from the inner city but there parents have to apply for an intra-district transfer. So far as I know, these children are at or above grade level.

I understand what you are saying, but I just don't think the lowest-performing children would be accepted in these schools, but I might be wrong. This is called Prejudice and it's one of the main reasons we have the problems that we do. That said, I do agree that it is these lowest achieving children who need to get out of their schools. How can we do it?

I think we are talking past each other, Linda. I do not agree that it is these lowest achieving children who need to get out of their schools.

It is those schools who need better prepared students, students who have received the benefit of either conscientious parents or a solid, publicly-funded early childhood education (colors, shapes, counting, behaving, singing, being read to, etc).

If we only focus on kids who show promise, as I think you are suggesting maybe without realizing it, the rest will be left to suffer. Right? And then what do we do about them?

We are not going to get uninterested parents to seek out the schools in the better neighborhoods, get waivers, and make sure their children attend, every day, fed, and ready. The kids with parents who will do that hardly need us!

Since we can't count on all parents to do this, we as a society must take it on. The best way to take it on is to fund early childhood education, do things the Broader, Bolder approach mentions, and stop blaming easy targets (teachers, schools) for society's problems.

You and I want the same things for the poverty stricken.. I would rather do something for them rather than abandon them for those who show "promise", which is what your prescription would require.

We cannot call it a victory when we rescue one child as we abandon the quest for a solution to the problem.

Band-aids won't work anymore. They won't work for education reform, they won't work for health care reform. We need big change, otherwise we will end up doing piddly, silly, short-sighted nonsense of the sort you are suggesting, no disrespect.

GB, After reading Mike and Linda's comments, you may have a point about not enough information being out there about how little our students are learning.

Linda, Mike, While our schools completly fail our impoverised children, it is not true that our most supported students are getting an excellent education (comparing them to the best schools around the world). Certainly the results from PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS are all fairly consistent. Our students are getting a fairly average or slightly below average education. Even our best high schools (by AP challenge definition) are providing at best an 8th grade math education to their seniors (compared to the best international school systems).

As for there being a few "failing schools" and the rest being good, the PISA results indicate otherwise; as variances in student learning are much greater within individual schools than the differences in which particular schools a student may attend.

Even more disturbing is the extremely large role that socioeconomic status plays in the US educational system. The best educational systems do close the acheivement gap while raising the educational quality of their top students as well.

When our school system was designed, it was the best in the world at the time. It is not that we have gotten so much worse (we haven't), but everyone else has gotten so much better.

Here is a true story I love to share because I think it is so reflective of American education:

One day about ten years ago I was talking to a man who had moved to California from Japan. When I mentioned the "superior" education in Japan, the man said, "The American system is the superior one." I gasped and asked "What?"

"Yes," he continued. "I have two sons. One is academically talented and one is not. In Japan, my (older) academic son was greatly valued but my younger son was barely tolerated by his school. He felt shame and discouragement. When we moved here my older son went into the gifted and talented program at the high school and my younger son went into an arts program at the same school. Today both sons are very successful. My older son is a doctor and the younger son is a graphic designer who has his own company in Beverly Hills. He makes more money than the doctor but the main thing is that both sons are fulfilled. This would not have happened in Japan."

The man concluded by saying that the American educational system encourages many individual talents, whereas the Japanese system valued only the academic and professional. (I don't know if this is the case, but this is what the man told me.)

So, yes, I am aware of the lower scores that our students get. But do these scores mean that our system of education is inferior? That is not clear to me. Even the education minister of Singapore, a country known for its high test scores, said that his country had a meritocracy of test scores whereas the United States has a meritocracy of talent.

For a very positive opinion of the American system of education, see the work of Professor Yong Zhao of Michigan State. Not everyone assumes that high tests scores equate with excellence.

TFT: If we could close all our lowest-performing schools and transport the children to high-performing schools, would you support that?

Linda, you don't seem to get it; the lowest-performing schools are a symptom, an indication of a problem, not the problem.

When you say close the lowest-performing schools, do you intend to transport all the kids to these higher-performing schools? And then what will those higher-performing schools become? Lower-performing schools is the answer.

In other words, it is not a school that is low or high-performing, it is the students who populate the school.

Hang on....

When you talk about schools, are you talking about the building? the teachers? the students? the principal? the parents? the playground? What do you mean when you say "schools"?

Another way to look at it is a chicken and egg thing: which came first, the bad school (whatever that is--teachers usually) or the kids who show up with nearly insurmountable deficits? I say it's the kids, not the teachers (school).

Schools are not machines that work no matter who the students are. Who the students are determines the "goodness" or "badness" of a school (in the main).
The machine requires all its parts to be in good working order. A good or even great teacher can only do so much before the horrors of home smack any progress right out of so many students. Their homes need reform. Society needs reform.

Failing schools usually exist in the worst neighborhoods, right? Have you ever seen a failing school in Beverley Hills? Piedmont? Mill Valley? No, you haven't. And you won't until you start populating those schools with "bad" kids. Then the "good" kids will leave (like they did 30 years ago) and we will be left with another white-flight problem. Your idea just moves around the good and bad schools instead of solving the problem that creates the difference between good and bad schools.

I sound harsh, I know. But I can't help but feel I am right. Prove to me I'm wrong! You've seen the racism recently directed at our President. It exists, and too many people still feel that those minorities simply don't deserve anything; they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and so-on. Impoverished people don't just turn themselves around. We need to create a reason and an opportunity--the conditions--for them to do it.

They need the rest of us to treat them like members of this society, and help solve their problems, not ship them around as if they have no home, community, or value.

People are morons. They do things that are not in their own self-interest. Trying to move people around is just moving people around, not solving any of the problems that moving them around desires to solve.

All kids deserve an education. All kids deserve good parents. Not all kids have good parents, so I guess the state (teachers, schools) will have to be the parents. That means early childhood education, universal health care, proper funding of inner-city schools, jobs, a clean environment, and a more progressive tax code.

Anything else is simply moving the problem around (like your suggestion of moving the kids) and putting it off a little longer.

BTW, Yong Zhao is awesome!

Linda, Lower test scores are indicative that our students are not learning as much as other students in the top school systems.

You are not the first to suggest that it may be better for our children to learn little so as not to stress them out.

But what if the children are learning more in other school systems because the teaching, the curricula and the school support network is better? Wouldn't we want to embrace those techniques that enable children to thrive and feel more successful in an academic environment?

Embracing the notion that individual children have different abilities and aspirations is a very positive aspect of American culture. I'm not sure how the current vogue for a one-size-fits-all standards-based education fits into that concept, but there may be some compelling argument.

Currently US ed reform seems centered around the "work harder" improvement approach (which frankly, I doubt will result in any improvements in student learning.) Shouldn't we be first trying to work smarter by taking the best ideas from successful school systems around the world?

Americans are quite adept at taking ideas from other peoples around the world and making it better. Why not education?


I don't think Linda said anything about not stressing anyone out.

You say:
Lower test scores are indicative that our students are not learning as much as other students in the top school systems.

No, that's not what they mean. In fact, we don't even know what to do with the scores we accumulate each year because they are reflective of nearly nothing. We don't even know what they mean!

We test a much more heterogeneous group, causing a wider variability in scores. Our top students are tops in the world. Our bottom are nowhere near the bottom of the world. Maybe tests themselves are to blame? Maybe unfounded fear is driving your impression of our students?

You sound like a Sputnik alarmist; those who assumed--wrongly--that Russia was educating its kids better than we were educating ours. It was all nonsense. http://www.thefrustratedteacher.com/search/label/sputnik

What we have learned in the last 100 years about education hasn't changed that much. Neither have kids. They require fun, excitement, experiences, and knowledge related to their world. We don't offer much of that anymore. We've taken away the things that utilize a child's amazing propensity to feed their curiosity--music, art, field trips, spontaneity.

I don't even accept your premise that children are learning more in other school systems because the teaching, the curricula and the school support network is better because that has not yet been shown. Show me where what you say is true.

Testing is not teaching or learning. It makes test scores the goal instead of education as the goal. That's Linda and Yong's point!

Schools in America are fine. America's priorities are in trouble!


The tests that I was referring to were the PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS, not the US state tests. Although the trending data on the NAEP, SAT, AP exams etc. has demonstrated fairly well that our students have been pretty much been learning at the same levels over the past several decades.

I'm not sure why you think that our top students are the best in the world. Certainly the PISA results suggest otherwise. On the latest PISA, Finland had 21% of their students testing at the top levels (5 & 6) versus the US at 9%. If you want to get more specific, one of the top school districts in the country, Bellevue School District, which consistently have 3-4 high schools in the top 100 and by every measure is a well supported high income school district, measured their student's acheivement levels using the TIMSS format. With that test, their 11th and 12th graders were performing as well as 8th graders in the top school systems. Hardly a ringing endorsement of our best students.

Certainly, education in the US has not changed much (for the better) in the past 50+ years. This is not so in other countries around the world.

Education would be fine if we were living in the 1950's where the vast majority of the industrialized world (besides us) was still recovering/rebuilding after a world war. But we are not.

I realize that in the NCLB era, the narrowing of the curricula/teaching to a "teach to the test" mode has done more harm than good. It is wrong-headed of anyone to suggest that our very faulty tests should be driving instruction. Quite the contrary, tests should be following/supporting good instruction.

I'm not sure why you think that citing the international data is being alarmist. Certainly, the multiple international tests are fairly consistent, the US provides an okay education - not an excellent one.

My comment regarding teaching, curricula and the school support network was a question not a statement. But certainly, it could have been a statement.

If you would like support for that statement, The Teaching Gap, does a nice job of explaining some of the glaring deficits in US teaching and the lack of school network support for quality teaching. If you want to look at great math curricula, Singapore math is outstanding in its conceptual approach and problem solving development.

I agree that testing is not teaching and test scores should never be the goal of education. But to broadly discount every aspect of testing leaves us with no path forward. Is there nothing that we can learn from the information that we currently have?

Hi Erin...nice to hear your voice and i agree...we can learn much from others!

Here is some coments from Linda Darling-Hammond in a decent Newsweek article.


Darling Hammond: Finland ranks the highest generally across the board. The Netherlands, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland are all highly ranked across content areas. In some measures the United Kingdom is catching up a little. Sweden is another one, and a lot of the highly ranked countries are in Asia and Oceana—New Zealand and Australia.

What's the key to their success? What are they doing that the United States is not?

First, they have many fewer children in poverty and a much bigger safety net. We have 22 percent of our kids in poverty—the highest proportion of any industrialized country. Our schools have to make up for all of that, including the large achievement gap that kids have when they come to school from low-income families and haven't had preschool education.

Second, they spend their money equally on schools, sometimes with additional money to the schools serving high-need students. We take kids who have the least access to educational opportunities at home and we typically give them the least access to educational opportunities at school as well. We have the most unequal spread of achievement of any industrialized country except for Germany.

Then in Finland or Sweden or Hong Kong or Singapore, teachers get a completely free preparation, with a salary or a stipend while they're training. In Singapore, beginning teachers make more than beginning doctors. Our teachers teach 1,100 hours a year on average. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development average is 650 hours.

How do the examples of these countries support your view of testing?
I have been a longtime advocate for standards. In other countries, that's what you see: you see assessments that are high quality, at least in the high-achieving countries. I sometimes get characterized as anti-testing, which is inaccurate. I am in favor of high-quality assessments and using them for improving teaching and learning, high-quality curriculum and teacher development. I think that in other countries that's what they do.

Sadly... our system does not do much of this and the systems we have in place today do significant harm to kids.

Sadly... i see no indication that this is changing and the state and federal policy is making things worse.

Your take?

be well... mike


Not sure what studies you are citing, but here is one take on TIMSS:


As for Finland, it's apples and oranges. How many ESL kids in Finland? And let's not even talk about creaming.

You have predetermined in your mind that "our schools are failing and our kids won't be able to compete" and so let's do something. Anything!

Our schools are not failing. Far from it. The link I provided shows we have improved to our current 9th place from 18th place. Your fear that schools and teachers are failing our kids is unfounded!

Society is failing the lower to middle-class. Period.

You want to improve education? Provide what the kids need when they need it. Provide early childhood education so a generation can put to use all the things Obama said he was going to do: Universal health care, green our energy, tax the rich, end the war. These things would begin to lift those Americans struggling the most, the lack causing them to remain in cyclical poverty.

You can't fix the schools. They are a mirror of society. Fix society.

Erin, I'm not convinced that lower test scores are indicative of the fact that our students are not learning as much. In fact, even though I know this idea is radical, I think it's possible that our lower test scores might be positively related to the high degree of success among our adults, especially in regard to creativity. Let me explain, using my older son as an example:

When my son was little, he seemed very bright, but was not interested in school. I was tempted to pressure him, but both my husband and I gave in to his desire to play. So he played at computers, ham radio and skateboarding until he was about 16. At that point he started to mature and took some pride in his schoolwork. When he got to college (community because that's all that would take him) he immediately took courses like Differential Equations and got A's in every one! Today he is the "principal scientist" for some government project. He has a Ph.D. from Stanford.

I wrote to Professor Zhao, who wrote back to me. He said that in many countries where children are pushed, they burn out by the time they get to college, whereas many Americans, especially boys, are just getting started. I hope I am not misquoting him. I am certain of one thing: When I told him how I educated my boys, he said he planned to educate his children the same way. Many Americans, including myself, just don't see the advantage of studying Calculus in the ninth grade. In conclusion, is it possible that my son did better because he was given the gift of time? Remember that Piaget did not think children under 14 were ready for hard academics. Frankly I am worried about our present trend to become more like Singapore and less like ourselves.


I hope for the ideal of integration for American children. It is not in the best interest of our country to have children of any color segregated. I feel that we should strive to have children of all races learning together even if it's not likely to happen in the near future. I do agree with you that it sounds presumptuous to want to close inner-city schools. Of course, that would be up to the citizens in those communities.

I taught poor Hispanic and African-Americans for most of my career. Most of these elementary children were like children everywhere: sweet, lovable, eager to learn, normally intelligent, and fairly well-behaved. Fewer than 10% of them had severe learning or behavioral problems, but these children had a very negative impact on their classmates. About a third of all the children could fit right in with children anywhere while another third, in my opinion, would be greatly helped by being with higher-achieving children.

Of course, if too many low achievers entered suburban schools then those schools would no longer be high-achieving and the parents would not tolerate it. That's why I'd like to see the children given public school vouchers so they could apply to any public school. The receiving school would have the option of accepting or rejecting these applicants so they could accept as many as they could properly educate.

Middle-class parents have many options. I just want the same for all children.

Choice, Linda, is over-rated. Let's give them what they actually need.


Linda Darling-Hammond correctly points out the large discrepancies between what children in the top school systems are learning compared to our own. Even more disturbing about our system is the excessive contribution that socioeconomic status has on acheivement. Other countries struggle with the issues of poverty and yet the acheivement gap is much narrower in the top performing countries.

What was puzzling about her comments were the lack of specific educational inititives that enabled these school systems to be successful at closing the acheivement gap. Everyone stuggles with the issues of poverty. The US is not alone in that difficulty.

Finland has demographics quite similar to Germany's and yet Finnish student learning is substantially higher than the German students. Why? What are the elements that enable these school systems to succeed?

Linda Darling-Hammond also mentioned the time that our teachers spend in the classroom is quite high and her numbers are true. But what she didn't say is that many school systems have classes double the size of ours to allow the teachers substantial prep time. Is that a trade-off that we would be willing to support? Would American parents support elementary classes that are 40-50 kids to allow their teachers time to plan?

She also says that she is for standards and high quality testing. But why? Why does she think that standards will help our schools? The top school systems have standards but they are NOT generated or used the way that our standards are. She never addresses how standards should be developed, who is responsible if they are horrific, who is supposed to translate the standards into quality curricula or learning techniques, etc. These questions have been addressed by the top school systems and yet they are never mentioned at all in the US discussion on ed reform. Also, what is the difference between high quality testing and low quality? She never really addresses critical elements of education at all.

I realize that this was more a political article than a real action plan towards improving our schools. But considering that she is an education professor, I would have like to have seen more specific educational initiatives that are enabling these other school systems to be more effective at teaching their children. (Certainly, the information is there if she would have choosen to cite it.)

I do however agree with her last statement; the States and Feds are not pursuing any initiatives that will improve student learning at all, and may in fact result in a further eroding of our student's already mediocre education.

Linda, I would never advocate burning out our children. My point about other school systems is to see if there are any educational elements that are better than our own.

For example, Finland has a literacy rate of 97%. They are able to teach their children to fluently read in 6-9 months. Their 2nd graders decode as quickly as their college students. (This is not to say that their 2nd graders understand what their college students do, only that their fluency is as high.) What 2nd grade teacher in the US wouldn't dream of having numbers like that. So why? How are the Finns able to teach all their children to fluently decode in less than a year when it takes us in the US more than 3 years of instruction and we have an exceptionally high failure rate? Shouldn't we be looking at how the Finns are able to teach so easily and so well?

Another example, 5th graders in Singapore are able to do 3-step complex word problems using fractions. Problems that are not seen here until Algebra I at the earliest. Why? What instructional techniques are they using that allows all their students to be fluent with math? (This is not just their gifted children.) Shouldn't we be looking at how they are approaching teaching and learning to see if there is anything that we could learn from them?

Amid all the angst about burning kids out or stressing them too much, don't we do them a disservice if we aren't striving to provide them with the best possible tools/methods/techniques to be successful academically?

Erin, you seem to attribute all student success or failure to the schools.

There are myriad other factors that impact success or failure. In Finland they don't even start to teach reading until 2nd grade. Fins have health care and other social safety nets we don't have.

I really think we need to look at the differences between societies, not differences between schools. There is much more to school than the teachers and the curricula. Like I said above, our schools are a mirror of our society.

Everyone admits lack of health care is a problem in the U.S., and that lack impacts students' abilities to focus, at school and at home.

We all admit that inner-cities in America are no place to grow up, though the majority of Americans grow up in them.

Adults in America talk about education as a means to get a job and make money; not as a means to gain knowledge that will help enrich one's life.

We need to refocus our concern for these kids away from the school they attend and towards the life America allows/forces them to lead.

TFT, Social ills may be a worthy avenue for improvement. But given that the track record for irradicating poverty using any other method than education is dismal, I'm not sure that I would bank on that strategy as an optimal method for improving student learning.


I'd be with you if we had already tried what I suggested and it didn't work. But we haven't tried yet.

America is not a 3rd world country unaware of technology. Lack of education is not our problem. Our social structure is screwed up, screwing up everything.

Poverty in America is a function of capitalism, not lack of education.

We need universal health care, early childhood education, and a progressive tax code. Give Americans those things and then we will see if our teachers and schools suck as much you would have us believe.

Hi All... hope this finds you well.

Erin... i like your thinking on this and TFT your points are also valid....America needs to do both!! We seem to be in an either/or rather than an "and".

Sadly... we are currently pursuing a course that is far from either of your proposals and we can agree on the fact that its very mis-directed! ( i think )

A sample:
New D.C. Teacher Ratings Stress Better Test Scores-

After an initial observation, all teachers will receive a "growth plan" outlining strengths and weaknesses and plans for assistance, if needed. Rhee said the District is committed to "targeted professional development" to help struggling teachers improve.

By June, their performance will be converted to a 100-to-400 point scale. Those falling below 175 will be subject to dismissal.

be well... mike

Mike (sans the pleasant welcome message),

I think doing both would be hard. In fact I think they are building blocks, one needing the other. You need to take care of the citizens before they can reap the benefits of our schools.

IOW, you can't improve schools (which I define as the population of the school, not the teachers, curriculum or administrators) until you improve the situation of those struggling.

Linda would say education reduces poverty. I say poverty makes education in America impossible for many.

Do both? Let's do the things we know we need to do, like provide health care for all Americans, provide early childhood education for all Americans, and adequately fund schools.

What we don't need to do is "to check every five minutes for the fraction of students paying attention." Why don't we post guards, or watchmen, or the Gestapo in the classrooms?

We teachers are professionals, but we don't get to pee when we have to. We don't get to eat when we need to. We buy our own office supplies. We parent 20 kids or more a year, as well as our own biological children (or adopted). And now we get blamed for America's decline. Go figure (follow the money).

We are paid little and expected to do a lot. Many people think telling teachers they deserve to be paid more is enough. No, we actually need to be paid more, especially if you are going to micromanage every damned thing we do.

What the hell happened to trust? The public doesn't trust teachers and schools because of the kind of nonsense Michelle Rhee and her ilk spout, not to mention 50 years of thinking Russia beat us with Sputnik. It's all nonsense.

And if you want to improve the teacher corps, double the pay and see who shows up!

I will not work in a school where there is this kind of evaluation. It's an insult.

A better evaluation method would be for parents and kids to rate teachers! Who knows if these master teachers who will do the evaluating in DC know what they're doing? If they are master teachers, they are probably old and don't even know how to email!

And Michelle Rhee taught school for a dubious 3 years? WTF? What the hell does she know?

Here's a question: How many teachers you know think the new evaluation process is good? That's what I thought. But, again, what do we know. We're just teachers.

Mike, Sad state of affairs in D.C. So Michelle Rhee has come up with a system for evaluating teachers. How is this going to improve classroom instruction?

The underlying assumption is that teachers already know all the best techniques for teaching, they're just to lazy to use them. I have yet to meet one of these "lazy" teachers that were withholding all of their great knowledge/techniques from their students.

So if DCPS dismisses the low performing teachers, where will they find all those teachers to fill those jobs? What happens if most of the teachers score fairly low? What percent of the teaching corps can they replace every year? 10% 20%? And the new teachers coming in will be scoring in what region? How will this not result in even a higher turnover rate of teachers?

Where is the network for supporting teachers? Where is the information and curricula that could improve teaching? Where is the time and support for develping quality teaching techniques? How do they account for child mobility in value added measures that are only taken once a year?

Some of the top performing school systems do use a value added approach, but mostly as a carrot not a stick (e.g. Schools are rewarded/honored for outstanding results). The top school systems know/believe that great teaching is developed by supporting their teachers not by punishing them.

Finland has the primary responsiblity for student improvement at the school principal level. Singapore has the primary responsiblity for student responsiblity at the Ministry level. The weight of school improvement does not rest on the shoulders of individual teachers alone. Nor should it.

DCPS is yet another great example of misguided ed reform.

I don't think I expressed myself very well because I do believe that poverty plays a huge role in education, but I also believe that education is a way out of poverty. Both approaches discussed in this conversation are necessary.

Because I taught mostly impoverished children for most of my career, I know that the majority of these children are like poor children everywhere: they're poor but they're still loved and cared for. Most of the children in my classes had basic health care (paid by the state), enough food and adequate clothing and shelter. What they did not have was the white skin that would have allowed them to attend schools with more advantaged peers, the way the Irish and Italians did generations ago.

As I said before, the children who fit the stereotype of the criminal child that we see on TV are (thankfully) in the minority, especially in the early grades. From what I know, many do get worse as they grow older. These are the children who need the social interventions that TFT is calling for. I agree that these children need healthcare, preschool, social workers, mentors, nutrition, summer camp, and whatever else we can give them. I'd like to see their families helped out of poverty too, but that's not going to happen in the near future.

The other children's ticket out of poverty is education. This has been well documented and many of us have experienced it first-hand. The big difference is color. Children of color are isolated in high-poverty schools instead of being mixed with children of other SES backgrounds. For these children we need to offer a way out through public school vouchers, private scholarships, teacher-run charters, and even boarding schools.

As for Michelle Rhee, I am ashamed of myself for having these feelings, but I just hate how she is humiliating teachers and so I hope everything comes crashing down around her. I heard today that there is already a growing shortage of teachers as the baby boomers retire. The New York Times predicted that a third of all teachers will retire in the next few years and NEW TEACHERS WILL LEAVE IN DROVES ALSO. As soon as this recession is over, Rhee and people like her will be begging for teachers again. People are blaming the unions for the mess we're in but old-timers like me remember the days when "anyone with a warm body and a degree" could teach in the inner-cities. They took nearly everyone and gave nearly everyone "outstanding" evaluations. Now with this recession it suddenly occurs to them that they can dump poorly educated "Miss Jones" and replace her with "Miss Smith" from Harvard. Well, Miss Smith won't stay for long, we can be sure of that.

All the well-educated sons and daughters of my friends are going into professions other than teaching. There are no more "captive women" to take these jobs. I live for the day when people like Rhee will again start begging, only next time they'll have to offer professional salaries and benefits. Sophisticated evaluations will only matter if there are people to accept the positions. It all depends on economics.

Hi ....

Michell Rhee sadly is just one of many examples of what is happened in our urban area's and who it is we in America choose to do school reform to!

Duncan's Chicago Reforms continue to cause "life and death" problems for kids.

From the Chicago sun times:
Safety at Fenger yields to 'reform'
October 2, 2009

There hasn't been much mention in the coverage of the tragedy near Fenger High School of the fact that Fenger is a "turnaround" school. That means it was subjected to the Chicago Public School system's latest attack on struggling schools by dumping all the staff, even the engineers, and keeping the same students. This "reform" was after probation, restructuring, reconstitution and a host of other unsuccessful Daley-team draconian, top-down efforts.

School turnarounds have turned out to be the deadliest reform of all. How could anyone expect that completely eliminating all the professionals and staff of a tough high-poverty high school could be a good thing?

Contrary to popular belief, teachers and staff in schools such as Fenger and Gage Park and other neglected neighborhood high schools love their students and (usually) love their jobs. We have relationships with kids who may not even have another adult in their homes, or their lives. It's called human capital. We know brothers and sisters and, in some cases, have taught their parents.

No one at Fenger this year has known their kids for more than three weeks. This is a tragedy for all the students, not to mention the effects of the staff elimination on the staff. (Many Fenger teachers devoted decades of their lives to these students, only to have their employer kick them to the curb for a newfangled reform to make the mayor look good.)

I am not saying that knowing the kids better could have averted the melee and tragic death of last week, obviously. But trouble had been brewing at the school even before last week . Staff reported a riot the previous week inside the building, involving teachers being hit, and that two different police stations had to be called in to quell the disturbance.

These neighborhood high schools have been underfunded, under-resourced and poorly managed. For example, CPS provides only one security guard for every 400 students! If schools need more (and they do) they have to cut into classroom funds, further disadvantaging students with larger class sizes. Our schools don't have enough social workers or psychologists to provide critically needed support for these students. Research shows that high-poverty students respond best to low class sizes, but CPS would rather invest in high-priced fancy consulting firms. One program for high school curriculum redesign, for example, costs CPS more than $31 million each year. This money goes to for-profit firms that provide books and personnel to "coach" teachers. CPS could use that money for smaller class sizes and enough qualified personnel to really make a difference, but "turnaround" has more media spin.

So another poorly thought out "reform" has been implemented, this time associated with fatal consequences for one poor student and his family. It's a tragedy and a travesty.

We hear here often of the New York schools but it is in Philadelphia, Detroit, LA, Okland...... name an urban area and we seem intent on using top down poorly thought out solutions....

As we ponder what school reform could be...
How does one fight this mess???

be well and thanks.....mike

be well... mike


You write, "Poverty in America is a function of capitalism, not lack of education." What do you mean by this?

Public schools are not capitalist, unions neither, nor is the fiat money supply controlled by the Federal Reserve. The federal government spends several $ trillions a year on massive anti-capitalist programs such as defense (military industrial complex and wars), Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and countless pet programs. The states, municipalities and local governments tax and regulate away another portion of what productivity is left. And speaking of regulations, there are so many involving commerce that no one knows even a fraction of them. Ever see a copy of the Federal Register?

Why do you think Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, has had a banner year during this crisis? GS is per capita the most politically connected institution in America. They are #4 on the list of the largest political $ donors of the last 20 years. They give even more than the NEA! Check out the ranks:


btw, GS gets bailout money via AIG and other mercantilist ventures (special corporations chosen by the government for taxpayer support).

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are government creations, as is the Community Reinvestment Act. So were the Fed's artificially low interest rates post 9-11. And you say capitalism induced all of this mortgage collapse?

Don't forget that the US Government is simultaneously the largest landlord, landowner and polluter in this hemisphere.

When you blame capitalism, TFT, you are making unsupported claims that neither have evidence or reason. This is a common mindset that plagues our society. Dick Schutz, another commentator here, does the same thing. I am willing, for the moment, to assume that you want what is good for all Americans and not just your narrow tax funded union interest.

If you condemn state capitalism I am with you, for it is robbery and murder for the political class. But if you blanket statement capitalism and do not realize that a free market- a situation sans government- is the only economic mode of a free society then it is you that is in need of an education.

When I say free market I mean the voluntary exchange that takes places between people that have property rights. The government has worked to destroy these relationships- and creates the poverty that afflicts America right now. You read the list of interventions i.e. the Pentagon and Fed Reserve.

The anti-capitalist mindset is killing the goose that lays the golden egg and the children reap the consequences.

These anti-free market actions are rooted in the mindset of people like you and Dick Schutz.
In addition, I do believe it is this collective ideological blind spot that has led our society to this brink- not unlike what drove Germany to two tragic world wars and Russia into 'communism'.

If free-market capitalism is so bad then how do you explain the vast wealth accumulated in recent centuries? The longest part of man's existence was relegated to poverty.

Really, you won't see me talking about what should be done in a class room since I have no expertise or special knowledge. What about you? If you have any back-up for your statement I am eager to read it.

Jeesh, Fallon. I happen to be President of a private, for-profit (we wish) Corporation. So I have to have faith in capitalism, but that's beside the point. Blaming unions for the weaknesses in the el-hi enterprise has only an ideological basis.

If teacher unions were banned by fiat, would that have any effect on the enterprise? No.

If "unqualified teachers" (whatever that might mean) were replaced, would that ameliorate the weaknesses? No.

Charter schools at one time were viewed as a means of busting unions. Over time, charter schools tend to unionize. If teachers unions didn't exist, given current ed conditions, we'd have to invent them.

No matter what topic D&D raise, some folks avoid the topic and air their ideological opinion, the same opinion, over and over. Such is life.


We were (I say were because we seem to be broke now, due to capitalism!) so rich because we reward thieves. That golden egg you speak of has yet to present itself to a huge portion of the population; the portion that actually does the work for those who get rich off it.

When I say Capitalism I am referring to the focus of our government--the military industrial complex, mercenaries, drug companies, everyone who legally pillages from what ought to be spent on the people.

Capitalism is good for some, but it doesn't seem to be working for all now does it?

Hope I'm not too late for this discussion because I'd like to recommend American Voices by Carol Berkin and Alan Brinkley. I think it was a Scott Foresman book. Used copies are available on Amazon for $1.66.

But in the last decade I haven't seen any comparable history texts.

Check out the last letter home from the last man killed in Vietnam,and the war poetry, or "Buffalo Go," or the marine at Guadelcanal that Ken Burns later featured in his WWII series, or the Cesar Chavez passages.

The discussion regarding the merits of capitalism is fun to watch, but completely orthogonal to the subject of shoring up the contents of the material taught in schools.

In the 1950's Sputnik era, the Soviet Union had a more advanced curriculum in math and sciences. See Admiral Hyman G. Rickover's "Education and Freedom". In the meanwhile, the stated US school education goal was "life adjustment". (Some argue that it still is.)

In effect there was a curious inversion going on. The Soviets had competitive schools, the US a competitive economy. In the end, the latter trumped the first. That does not mean that teaching advanced mathematics, physics, chemistry in schools was a bad idea - it just means it was not sufficient to create a 'perfect' utopia.

The US did shore up its college education in wake of the Sputnik crisis. Colleges had (and have) an abundance and a redundancy of first hand research scientists. The same model of decentralized curricular decisions that wreaked havoc with the level of science in the American schools worked wonders at the college level. Least we forget, colleges were (and are) able to recruit research talent from all across the world, something that schools could not do.

There was also an abortive attempt to bring up the level in school math and sciences in the US. This is what the "New Math' movement was about, mirrored by the 'Modern Math' movement in Europe. Coincidentally or not, the movement faltered at the beginning of the 1970's, when (1) the space race had been won by the US, and it became clear that the US had the technology edge all along (2) there was an oversupply of college PhD's in wake of the college expansion of the 1960's.

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