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American Education on the Decline – so Goes the Nation

January 20, 2014 1 comment

Parents make the rules and set the boundaries for their children. They set them up for success or failure.

All children are required to attend school in the USA. Our schools are the recipients of the children who these parents raise. They enter our classrooms either prepared to Launch into the Future or Dead on Arrival. I could go on about the teachers and their unions; the ways in which they block innovation and change, the ways in which they game the system for their benefit with the children left in their care losing ground internationally. But this is a rehashing of the obvious. What is important to know is that the American public educational system is now ranked 37 in the PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment). More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the PISA in 2012. The test, which is administered every three years and focuses largely on math, but includes minor sections in science and reading, is often used as a snapshot of the global state of education. The results, published in December, 2013, show the U.S. trailing behind educational powerhouses like Korea and Finland.

It is useless to ask, “Who is to blame?” All are to blame; Parents for their irresponsible parenting and inability to have a vision for their children who are undisciplined and chaotic; Teachers for their unique capacity to remain mediocre in times that demand innovative change and diversity of thought; Unions who force every American teacher to pay dues to an organization that enslaves their members to an ethic of unexceptional performance; and Politicians who squander the promise of the youth of this nation as they waste time and opportunities to transform and revolutionize our educational practices in America. ALL are to blame.

Not much has changed since 2000, when the U.S. scored along the OECD (Organization for Co-operation and Development) average in every subject: This year, the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading, ranks 21st in science, and 17th in reading. The U.S. scored below the PISA math mean and ranks 26th out of the 34 OECD countries. Fifty-five percent of students in Shanghai-China were considered top performers, while only nine percent of American students were.

One in four U.S. students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report. Even the top students in the United States are behind: This year, the PISA report offered regional scores for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida. Massachusetts, which is a high-achieving U.S. state and which averaged above the national PISA score, is still two years of formal schooling behind Shanghai.

Why is this important and why should we pay attention to this? Because, as parents, educators, and politicians we should be extremely concerned about how well our children are learning and retaining knowledge; how well they transfer their  knowledge to their life experiences; and how well they implement their dreams and visions using their knowledge. It is statistical fact that a rising PISA score for a country is a good indicator that the economy of that country will grow as well.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

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Parents, Education and Our Children; Who is to blame for our national student failures?

January 14, 2013 3 comments

We live in a culture where “Good” parenting, “Responsible” parenting is not a serious part of our national discussion. We do not make the connection between Parenting and Education. We think they are disconnected and we rarely discuss how they are intricately woven together and inseparable. When our school systems fail our children we blame the teachers, the teacher unions, the bureaucracy, the school districts, the lack of money, the political parties, anything that points the finger outside of parenting. Is this because we are a culture that is unable to accept responsibility for our decisions and actions, or the blame for our national failure as Parents?

We rarely look into the classroom to see what it is that brings disorder and distraction into the educational lives of our students. If we look inside these hallowed rooms we will see children who suffer from various, or all forms of the following: emotionally impoverished, intellectually neglected, physically undernourished, desperate for acceptance within their peer group, and because of  low self-esteem they follow; they do not lead.

Who has birthed and raised these children? What do they see when their children dress like vagabonds, speak illiterately, live slovenly lives, lack basic civilizing manners and respect for authority, their peers, and their parents? Or, are these children the mirror of their own lives? What is it about parenting that so many do it so badly?

It is done badly by so many because of repetitive life cycles preceding birthing that few transcend and break. My parents did, as so many of their generation. As a culture we have failed to address how we help those, who are trapped in these cycles, to understand the seriousness of birthing and parenting. When we abandon the real causes of dilapidated and non functioning educational systems, we abandon the children in them. There is a memorial to the Holocaust Jews in Boston. It reads something like this (paraphrasing)…“First they came for the Gypsies and I did nothing; then they came for the Jews and I did nothing, then they came for the Christians and I did nothing, then they came for me and there was no one to do something…” Who in our culture is serious about doing something?

We blame our failures in parenting on poverty; I say it is ignorance and the inability to transcend it. I was poor; we lived in poverty. The difference in my life were parents whose vision for their children was rooted in education. They knew then, as we know now, that you cannot succeed if you are undereducated or illiterate. We did not take food stamps, charity, or assistance of any kind. There was the fundamental definition between pride and shame. Shame was repugnant. Their pride eclipsed poverty. They knew it was their responsibility to improve the next generation, their children.

The usual cultural chorus I hear is, “Those times were different from these times”. That is correct; we now live in times where those in poverty are kept in poverty by what we now call ‘Social Services’. However, parenting hasn’t changed in a millennium. When Children reach up they still need the comfort of big arms, the comfort of soft voices when they cry, the comfort of community, and the stability and security of family, which means 2 parents – a Father and a Mother. These things never change, Never!

A generation has failed their children and in doing so have bound them to poverty and degradation. These children come to our schools and to our teachers unprepared in the most basic life skills; positive self esteem, good health, early cognitive skills, and intellectual and creative curiosity. BUT, more importantly, these hapless children are not provided a home, no matter how diminished in material things, that is stable, secure, with 2 parents working together to bring the generation they birthed into a greater vision from which they came. The educational statistics for minority communities are horrific. There will be no recovery in our life time if we fail to do something. The solutions are not about money or political programs.

Teachers are not baby sitters and they do not teach values. They teach Mathematics, English, Science. Teachers are not disciplinarians or policemen. Educational facilities should not be places where parentally abandoned children are dumped to cause chaos.

“If we don’t stand for something we are apt to fall for nothing.”

No Child Left Behind – The Basketball Version

September 6, 2012 2 comments

My friend Rob, who is a retired special education teacher, knows my passion for educating children to be skilled and knowledgeable participants in the emerging highly competitive global economy. He handed me an envelope. I read the contents. What follows is a summary of …

No Child Left Behind – The Basketball Version:

  1. All teams must advance to the Sweet 16, and all will win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable.
  2. All kids will be expected to have the same basketball skills at the same time and in the same conditions.
  3. No exceptions will be made for interest in basketball, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities, or disabilities.

All Kids Will Play Basketball at a Proficient Level:

  1. Talented players will be asked to practice on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with athletes who aren’t interested in basketball, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don’t like basketball.
  2. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th and 11th games.
  3. This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals.
  4. If no child gets ahead, then no child will be left behind. They will be issued vouchers for moving closer to the successful team’s area.
  5. Any children who do not show immediate promise, or who show serious basketball visual-motor deficiencies in early grades will be given the “Dribbles Test of Early Basketball Behavior”, even if the child has one leg  or came from a country that has never played or supported basketball.
  6. Even if there is plenty of evidence supplied by sports psychologists that there are hundreds of other conditions that can cause bad dribbling, the child will play successfully.
  7. The administration may consider not requiring them to dribble since it actually is not required in order to be successful at basketball, but it sure helps.
  8. A reasonable accommodation for students under a 504 plan would be to allow them extra distance when being guarded so they can pass the ball more proficiently.
  9. Elevator shoes should also be allowed for students of below average height and any players over 6’2″ may have to have jump restrictions to make this fair to those who are vertically challenged.
  10. The parents of the tall students might also be required to pay extra for the coaching of the short students since they obviously come from a genetically-advantaged background for basketball.

Is this humorous parody, yes it is. I did laugh for about a second.

More importantly, is this how government asserts their vast store of knowledge and insight into how our teachers should be educating their students? It seems the more the government interferes in the classroom the lower the standards become. Government does not understand that this isn’t about money; it’s about teacher talent and passion.

The United States is now experiencing dismal world wide rankings against 34 countries in spite of billions of dollars spent in government programs. The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

We can safely assume that not one child was left behind, but that all were left behind!

Education as Our National Currency

July 4, 2012 2 comments

What do Taiwan, South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Israel and Japan have in common with each other?

They have no oil, diamonds, gold, or other valuable natural resources. As the Bible tells us Moses led his people through the desert for 40 years to bring them to the only piece of real estate in the Middle East that has no oil.  The foreign countries with the most companies listed on the NASDAQ are Israel, China/Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, South Korea and Singapore, none of which can live off natural resources.

Now what does this have to do with education?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published an interesting study which maps the correlation between performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam. Every two years PISA tests math, science and reading comprehension skills of 15-year-olds in 65 countries and at the same time they correlate the total earnings on natural resources as a percentage of G.D.P. for each participating country.  How well do your high school kids do in science compared with how much oil you pump or how many diamonds you dig?

The results indicated there is “a significant negative relationship between the money countries extract from national resources and the knowledge and skills of their high school population,” said Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA exams for the O.E.C.D. “This is a global pattern that holds across 65 countries that took part in the latest PISA assessment.” Oil, diamonds, gold and student success and achievement don’t mix.

The latest PISA results reveal that students in Singapore, Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan stand out as having high PISA scores and few natural resources. Qatar and Kazakhstan stand out as having the highest oil rents and the lowest PISA scores. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran and Syria stood out the same way in a similar 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Students from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, which are Middle East states with few natural resources, scored better. Also lagging in recent PISA scores were students in many of the resource-rich countries of Latin America; Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Africa was not tested.

What these numbers say is that if you really want to know how a country is going to do in the 21st century, don’t count its oil reserves or gold mines, count its highly effective teachers, involved parents and committed students. Schleicher states, “Today’s learning outcomes at school are a powerful predictor for the wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run.” Societies addicted to their natural resources seem to develop parents and young people who lose their important  basic instincts, habits and incentives for academic success.

Schleicher further concludes, “in countries with little in the way of natural resources — Finland, Singapore or Japan — education has strong outcomes and a high status, at least in part because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills and that these depend on the quality of education. … Every parent and child in these countries knows that skills will decide the life chances of the child and nothing else is going to rescue them, so they build a whole culture and education system around it.” Teachers are held in high regard and are not unionized, parents are very involved and participate in their local schools, and children are expected to excel, no excuses accepted.

Knowledge and skills have become the global currency in this century. It is currency we can’t print. It begins with parents in the home who are determined their children will have every opportunity they can avail themselves to in order to succeed. This knowledge currency is propagated by highly effective teachers who are turned loose to innovate in their classrooms, free from administrators, unions, and regulations. It carries on with committed students who developed habits and a strong desire to learn aided by the guidance of their parents and teachers.

This is the only currency, an educated, competitive population, that will renew itself when all the oil wells, diamond mines and gold are gone from the ground.

Education; Teachers want Family Involvement with Student Behavior

February 28, 2012 5 comments

Many teachers across the country complain about the loss of learning in public school classrooms due to undisciplined children who come from dysfunctional homes. Their parents are children who have children, are usually single parents, and uninterested in the upbringing of their hapless children. The greater percentages are minorities and they are poor. These parents send their children to school and expect teachers to control them because they cannot or will not. You do not have to be rich to teach children acceptable behavior and respect for their elders and peers.

Alternatively, parents who do care send their children to our public schools where they sit in these disruptive classrooms waiting to be educated by teachers who are continually distracted by a minority of disruptive students. Teachers can no longer overtly discipline these out-of- control children due to current laws and politically correct rules and regulations.

Teachers need HELP! They need it from their principals, their unions, their parents, and society in general. We must allow teachers to teach in classrooms where order prevails and respect for authority is the law.

A.L. Lannie and B.L. McCurdy wrote a book in 2007, “Preventing Disruptive Behavior in the Urban Classroom: Effects of the Good Behavior Game on Student and Teacher Behavior”. They verified that classroom disruptions are associated with lower student achievement for the offending student, as well as for that student’s classmates. In the “Schools and Staffing Survey”, conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics, public and private school teachers were asked if student misbehavior, student tardiness, and class cutting interfered with their teaching. During the 2007–2008 school year, 34% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that student misbehavior interfered with their teaching, and 32% reported that student tardiness and class cutting interfered with their teaching. A greater percentage of public school teachers than private school teachers reported that student misbehavior (36% vs. 21%) and student tardiness and class cutting (33% vs. 18%) interfered with their teaching. For example, among the states and the District of Columbia, the percentage of teachers who reported that student misbehavior interfered with their teaching ranged from 59% of teachers in the District of Columbia to 29% of teachers in Pennsylvania. This is a serious problem not only for teachers but for children whose parents care and take the time to parent and teach values.

McGraw-Hill Education and the Kellogg Institute at the National Center for Developmental Education have published that, “…63 percent of students at two-year colleges and 40 percent at four-year institutions are in need of remediation nationally, and statistics show that those who take remedial courses are more likely to drop out”. Who is responsible for this great American tragedy – the Parents or the Teachers?

All are to blame for shirking their responsibilities to a generation of children who are competing in a world where India, China and other third world countries are churning out highly skilled innovative students. Will American children be the order takers for the educated, disciplined, respectful, cultured, innovators whose parents take parenting as a serious responsibility in this century?

Parents need to send disciplined children to school and teachers need to be prepared to teach them the skills they go there to learn.

Education Nation: Teachers Want a Voice as Decision Makers

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a school in Washington State where the teachers decided what they wanted education to be like for their 650 kindergarten through 6th grade students. The staff collaborated as a group on what they believed constituted good teaching. Many of their group decisions continue to guide learning in every classroom at their school.

They began by redefining their teaching relationships with their students by deciding they would stay with the same class for two years instead of one. AND, they included students with special needs in their classrooms instead of segregating them out. They decided to be guides for their students allowing the students to direct their own learning. They did this through “inquiry based projects”. Several times a year these teachers helped their students develop questions in subjects that the students were interested in and wanted to investigate. The teachers then integrated reading, writing and communication skills into long-term projects.

Instead of giving all the answers to their students these teachers guide them in searching for responses to their own questions by assisting to help in research and identify and sort through information resources. These teachers have created a climate of collaboration not only between their students, but also the with the school staff, who supports their changed role in the classroom.

In their daily conferences with team partners, teachers encourage each other to make changes and try new things. One states, “Because we stay with our students for two years, we can’t use the same ideas with the class the next year, so we are always coming up with new projects.”

When teachers have a voice in their curriculum and a chance to be decision makers in formulating learning in their classrooms, learning is improved for each student. When teachers encourage a heterogeneous population in their classrooms, students become more involved in helping others to achieve and succeed. Everyone has a need to give and help those who are disadvantaged. When we segregate our population of students from each other they lose their sense of compassion for those who are unlike them.

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, and an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity, and innovation, presented at the November 2011 TEDx London conference. He states that education must be Personalized for the student, which improves motivation for teachers; that education must be Customized to students to their place within their community; and that education must include Diversity instead of requiring teachers to subscribe to conformity. Sir Robinson strongly recommends that learning involves local community partnerships where students are exposed to the world in which they live and become community participants.

When teachers have a voice in their classrooms and the curriculum they teach; when they have a chance to be decision makers in their profession, they become motivated and inspired. Their classrooms become learning centers where students accept responsibility for themselves and others. They are invested in producing and collaborating for the success of all. None are left behind because all are involved.

For the above to happen educational leadership must be supportive of creative teacher innovation within the classroom. They must trust their teachers and advise rather than dictate. Of course it takes secure leaders to pass on creative responsibility to their teachers. Secure administrators are a rare breed. Their penchant is to control rather than relinquish.

What an amazing torrent of creative energy would be unleashed if teachers had a voice in decision-making within their classrooms and supportive educational administrators!

“Civilization is a race between education and catastrophe.”

Post Script: Yes Rob, the teaching example I give at the top of this post is simple in its approach. I know that many teachers live and work in small communities throughout this great nation. Their school budgets limit funding to basic concepts. This is written for them. Innovation in small districts across our country depends on the educator’s imagination and ability to engage their students in meaningful and passionate intellectual exploration. It does not take money to develop creative minds; it takes commitment. Sir Ken Robinson writes about getting back to basics. To me, getting back to basics means organizing learning experiences for children which develop inquisitive minds with tenacious curiosity. Once those minds are set into motion it is essential to then teach children how to use their knowledge and curiosity in their own life applications. What good is knowledge if we are unable to solve the mysteries in our own lives? What good is knowledge if we are unable to apply it to expanding our own horizons. Yes, simple approaches develop amazing innovation.

Education Nation: What Teachers Want – Part 1, Salaries

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I watched the September 25th, Sunday NBC program called “Education Nation” hosted by Brian Williams. It was a Teacher Town Hall Meeting filled with teachers talking about teaching and the state of education. They came from all over the country. They taught in a large variety of public school systems, charter schools, teacher controlled schools, parent owned schools, and at all grade levels. Their backgrounds were from tenured to first year teachers, rural to big city schools, and from every walk of life imaginable. The teachers were well represented and candid.

A survey was taken. The national teacher survey and the town hall teachers agreed to the following points of professional concern in American public education. This is what they say they want in their discussions:

·    Raise teacher salaries
·    Give teachers a voice, a chance to be the decision makers
·    More supportive leadership
·    More family involvement
·    Help with student behavior

This post will discuss teacher salaries. The next additional posts on this subject will discuss each point listed above.

Part One – Teacher Salaries – Some Reported Statistics:

·    According to teacherportal.com first year salaries range from $24,872 to $39,259.
·    An average salary for teaching across the nation is $33,950.
·    With 10 – 19 years the average salary is $48,088.
·    With 20+ years experience the average salary is $56,055.
·    U.S. teachers work about 1,913 hours over a 180 day school year that is 36 weeks long.

The average teacher’s hourly wage is competitive with many professions as indicated in the chart below. Teachers get the summer off and are able to supplement their wages through summer school, summer work, tutoring, coaching or other means. Teachers receive state benefits, pensions, and have a secure career with a retirement that is independent of social security.


According to a survey conducted by the NEA (National Teachers Association) Teachers spend an average of 50 hours per week on instructional duties, including an average of 12 hours each week on non-compensated school-related activities such as grading papers, bus duty, and club advising. This averages to 62 hours per 5 day week. Very little of this time is spent working directly with students in activities such as tutoring or coaching; far more time is reported on preparation, grading papers, parent conferences, and attending meetings. Teachers have a long week of which some is compensated and some is not. They have the summers off when other professionals do not.

The question was asked on Education Nation if teachers thought they should receive higher salaries – 74% in the room said yes, the national survey reported 75% of the teachers said yes. BUT, interestingly there were 10 other items that ranked higher in the survey. Melanie Allen, a Boston teacher said, “This (teacher salary issue) really strikes home for me because when I know passionate, excellent teachers who’ve left the classroom, it’s not because of lack of dollars, it’s lack of voice. We want a chance to be the decision makers. We’re on the ground, we know what needs to be done and we want the chance to do it.” I say BRAVO Melanie!

Teachers are not well represented by their unions or their spokesmen when it comes to their image, devotion, hard work, and determination to help their students succeed. Most have a passion for what they do and they need a voice, not only over what goes on in their schools, but on the national level where many of us are ready to hear them speak. We want to hear from the teachers who are on the front lines, not the union bosses who sit in their offices sipping coffee with their large salaries taken from the union dues teachers supply.

Do they want more money? Yes.
Are there 10 other things that are more important to them? Yes.
They don’t teach for money; they teach because they love what they do.

More to come in my next posts about what teachers want.

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