Saturday, January 28, 2012



President Obama appeared on TV with his Secretary of Education who outlined his objectives to revitalize the educational systems so as to guarantee a more educated population of the future. 

Sorry, but it is a failure before it starts. 

My background is in education: I have taught elementary, middle school and highs school, and I have been both an elementary and a high school principal. 

Let me address this policy from my point of view.

The new Secretary of Education comes from a background of privileged schools.   These are schools that succeed and score high because the demographic is upper socio-economic, and most parents have a college background.    The schools that are failing do not have the same demographic, the same problems or require the same solutions; and I find the Secretary out of touch with these schools

The Secretary’s entire focus seems to be the same old trite mantra of blame the teachers: increase certification requirements, reward the good teachers and get rid of the bad teachers. 

There are very few bad teachers – but there are plenty of burned-out teachers.   Teachers that enter the field of education are definitely not motivated by income.   They tend to have an ability to teach, they pass strenuous requirements and they hope to find working with young people rewarding. 

The fallacy about bad teachers has been decried by politicians and echoed by unsupportive parents.   When I went to school, had the teacher or principal called my grandmother and said I was misbehaving in class I would have caught hell when I got home – the teacher would have been supported and not vilified.  This is not the case today. 

Teachers undergo the most strenuous oversight of any occupation.   They are required to continue college courses in order to recertify every five years, and at inservices throughout the year and in the summer teachers are brought up to speed on the latest teaching techniques and philosophies.   New teachers receive two formal evaluations each year and tenured teachers receive at least one formal evaluation each year.  Teachers who are having a problem are placed on improvement plans and assisted with improvement.  A good principal not only conducts formal evaluations but sits in on every class room at least a couple of times a month.  Teachers are always under supervision.   

There are occasionally superior teachers; but there are also many good – in the trenches – teachers that teach to the curriculum and do their best, under adverse conditions, to care and educate their young wards.  

More than likely your child’s teacher is better educated than your local bank president, and yet works for a salary more comparable to skilled labor.   The Secretary stated the need to drastically increase the salary of teachers in order to attract other highly qualified people who tend to go into more lucrative fields.   This is needed, but where does the money come from?    

 The Secretary also promoted performance pay – this is not only demoralizing to other teachers but also will tend to go to the teachers in the more productive (elite) schools that continue to excel in test scores. 

The fallacy is, that here again, we are setting up a one size fits all education outline which is contrived by elite educators and unqualified politicians and that is not suited to all public school demographics.

In the average public school, and particularly the schools in crisis, the major problem is that children come into the system unprepared to learn.  These children have poor social skills and are backed by parents unwilling to take responsibility for their child’s behavior.   These children know that bucking the teacher will result in little or no consequence; therefore, classroom behavior has become the major problem for every teacher.   Some of the children are in school to learn; but for many, disrupting the classroom is the goal that will result in peer approval.   Some of these children are actually dangerous.  There are few tools that teachers have to command discipline, and without a disciplined class room requisite learning is impossible. 

The failure to maintain discipline in the classroom is often the fault of the principal, and by extension the superintendent.   Without a strong principal to back the classroom teacher, a knowledgeable teacher can be barbarized by the students, humiliated by the parents and unable to impart the required subject matter. 

Here is the rub: the principal and superintendent hold political positions and are hired and fired at the whim of the school board; therefore, principals (and superintendents) tend to placate irate parents instead of backing the classroom teacher in a controversy.   

School boards are not made up of educators, but most often of parents who have an axe to grind or local politicians looking for an addition on their resumes.   These board members don’t have the education background or the in-class-room experience to understand the complexities of class room teaching.  My last school board was far more concerned (and militant) about why certain children were not eligible to play basketball, than supporting teachers and increasing learning.  The monthly school board meetings were always more like an inquisition than a cooperative learning exercise.

Now we come to testing:  I have taught school in the Eskimo and Indian villages of the Alaskan Bush.  In these villages grandparents speak the traditional language, parents and children speak a bastardized mixture of English and Native language – yet on the test they are expected to read and write and comprehend in highly stylized English.   A few can get past this hurtle, but many can’t.   So, instead of the children being evaluated by twelve years of education within a cultural perspective, we condemn many of these children to failure.   Is it fair to that Native children and children from other cultural perspectives to be denied a diploma, and thereby denied other opportunities for growth and development in adult life, because they can not meet some arbitrary standard devised by politicians and the educational elite?  

It is not rocket science:

We need 100% Federal financing of public schools.

If we took the money we spend on maintaining the largest and most expensive military in the world and divert it to educating our children the problem would be solved.  The main answer for increasing educational outcome for all of our children is a smaller student-to-teacher ratio.  More highly paid teachers in a classroom with a maximum of twelve children would insure the one-on-one time necessary to advance each student.  In low performing schools the student-to-teacher ratio should be smaller.

There is also the necessity to set a high standard of order and discipline in the classroom by removing disruptive student.  There should be highly structured alternative public schools available for the assignment of habitually disruptive students.  Difficult parents of disruptive students would always have the option of enrolling their child in a private school (at their own expense.)

Finally we need to do away with local school boards and have schools run by non-elected educators.   Superintendents and principals need to be judged on performance not popularity.   Expectations of Superintendents and principals need to be increased and teacher performance will follow. 

It is as simple as where we place our priorities: 
We spend more of our National Budget maintaining our massive military than every other country in the world spends on their military - combined.  Likewise, we spend far less on the education of our children than most other advanced countries.  True educational reform of public schools will be costly - a tweek here and a tweek there will not solve the problem.

Educational reform is a political talking point, but the will to actually tackle the problem does not exist.   

The rich and well to do of this country are not concerned about the standard of education of their children – they will have the best education money can buy.   These same people are not particularly concerned about the war fodder being matriculated through our public schools – though they speak to “the problem.”     We have in this country a disconnect between the have and have not’s.    And, as long as the focus of our government is to placate the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, serious educational reform of public schools will remain a political talking point and our education system will continue to decline. 

the Ol'Buzzard approves this post.  


  1. Excellent article!

    "The rich and well to do of this country are not concerned about the standard of education of their children – they will have the best education money can buy. These same people are not particularly concerned about the war fodder being matriculated through our public schools – though they speak to “the problem.”

    This is the crux of it, isn't it? The controllers of our society do not want the masses well educated. A well educated population is less likely to be easily manipulated. My opinion, or course.

  2. Certainly agree with every word of this article. Doing away with schoolboards would be a good move and taking the control away from local legislatures would help to. Arizona and Texas come to mind.
    Teachers work very hard for little thanks. And you KNOW that the kids who cause problems will have parents who will cause problems.
    How do we get this article to go viral?

  3. This strikes me as another problem that most don't want to solve as they will lose their "talking points".

    The rich and the GOP don't want an educated populace as they are harder to control and the better educated, the less likely to vote GOP.

    I've read many articles on how great the schools are in Finland, which makes me proud of the land of my ancestors. There teachers are respected, well paid and have a master's degree before being allowed to teach alone. They also have the support and help of other teachers where they work together to make sure the kids learn. That'll never happen here in the land of "Let's find the lowest cost solution"!!

  4. I couldn't agree with you more.


COMMENT: Ben Franklin said, "I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false."