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Education: A teacher’s response…

September 20, 2011 1 comment

I sent my pal Rob, who is an X-Teacher, an article from the New York Times on character development. His response is poignant for all of its ideas, hard work and sincere effort on the part of the many teachers and staff who participated in their search for solutions to student motivation and behavior problems. I am posting the letter here as I feel it makes an important statement from an educator who was fighting the good fight. I have another post but thought it could wait. Read this and see how you feel. It is posted as it is written except for a few minor corrections made for clarity of thought.

Hi Sandra….. Hope this finds you well….

The “gritty” NYTimes article about character development brought these things to mind for me:

·    STARS
·    TAP
·    Random Acts of Kindness
·    Bulldog Bucks
·    Traffic Tickets
and others which lacked witty acronyms or slogans.

These were some of the “character-based” initiatives that were required for each teacher to implement at the middle school in which I taught.

STARS: Each letter stood for some character trait; those that I do remember are S= Success, T=Teamwork, A=Achievement, R=Responsibility (or was it Respect?  probably was Responsibility, as this was in the time before bullying became such a focus, thereby not a real emphasis on Respect back then)…  and the final “S”, I just don’t remember what it stood for. Each IDT (Inter-Disciplinary Team) had to meet and brainstorm and agree to and submit to the faculty its clever acronym for the “new” “character building” program that year; STARS, (submitted by my IDT by the way) won the honor by majority of votes.

TAP: This one, the Teacher Advisory Program, was in effect the year I started teaching and lasted for only a few years longer. It was a “special” extended homeroom period once a week during which time the teacher was to “get to know” those students and become their mentor, their adviser, that one teacher each student could count on and come to with any problem they might have. This program was to be centered on teaching values, with several resources available in the faculty section of the library (Media Center didn’t exist then) in case one needed help with planning a lesson or two.  This program was resurrected a year or two after STARS fizzled out.

“Random Acts of Kindness” was a big focus for a marking period or two. Teachers were given a quantity of mini certificates which were to be discreetly given to students who were observed performing a kind act to another. Students could feel better about themselves having been recognized for doing something kind.

“Bulldog Bucks” was the name of the recognition/reward initiative of my IDT in which students were given “Bucks” for not only being kind to others but for completing homework, having materials, raising hands, and other expected student behaviors.  Unlike just receiving a certificate of kindness, Bulldog Bucks had an added incentive in that students could “cash in” their bucks for homework passes or save them up to attend the big ice cream party at the end of a marking period. Of course some students found ways to trade bucks for favors, bully others into parting with theirs, or even steal them on the sly. So each student then had to sign each buck, making it personal with a deterrent for fraudulent use. I recall that Bulldog Bucks went bankrupt before the end of that school year.

“Traffic Tickets” were an effort to improve conduct and behavior in the hallways.    Students were to monitor themselves and each other. This program didn’t last very long, as there were too many police and no consequences for the offenders.

Another program that began in earnest was some sort of small group sessions of selected disruptive or behaviorally challenged students meeting weekly with the school psychologist and the school counselor. What they actually did there, or what they talked about, or any results, or really just anything about this program was pretty much kept under wraps. These students missed a class a week, and were responsible for making up the work. Don’t know how long it lasted. God knows they could still be having these sessions even to this day!

After reading the article again today, these things came to mind and perhaps I’m anxious enough to talk with you about it that I just couldn’t wait until Friday’s class (in the gym) to share. Each of those programs came and went, some lasting longer than others, but mostly they were short-lived. I think TAP lasted several consecutive years; the others hardly a year at most.

And what, Sandra, do you think these programs accomplished? All of the thought and planning, and meetings and planning, and time and effort, and more meetings that went along with each of these ideas??

And why, Sandra, do you think these well-intentioned programs “failed”?  What was the biggest deterrent to their extended successes?  The program itself?  The kids?  Think the most obvious answer is………..

Thanks for sending the article. It was very interesting to say the least.
Hope to see you at the gym on Friday!

Education & British Riots in the Welfare Society

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I am passionate about Parenting. I know for certain this is the thing, if done right and seriously, would elevate society and solve many of the serious problems we face today in our schools, work force, and political structure. I have been frustrated at my inability to express this idea in a way that would communicate the problem, its origin, and the results we face on a daily basis in our classrooms, social structure, and political ideology.

Fortunately, I read an article this morning by Max Hastings, who writes for Mail Online, a British newspaper. He expresses the underlying social problems so well that I thought I would provide excerpts in this post. All emphasis in the article is mine.

MR. MAX HASTINGS:

“A few weeks after the U.S. city of Detroit was ravaged by 1967 race riots, in which 43 people died, I was shown around the wrecked areas by a black reporter named Joe Strickland.

He said: ‘Don’t you believe all that stuff people here are giving media folk about how sorry they are about what happened. When they talk to each other, they say: “It was a great fire, man!” ’

I am sure that is what many of the young rioters, black and white, who have burned and looted in England through the past few shocking nights think today.

If you live a normal life of absolute futility, which we can assume most of this week’s rioters do, excitement of any kind is welcome. The people who wrecked swathes of property, burned vehicles and terrorised communities have no moral compass to make them susceptible to guilt or shame.

Most have no jobs to go to or exams they might pass. They know no family role models, for most live in homes in which the father is unemployed, or from which he has decamped.
They are illiterate and innumerate, beyond maybe some dexterity with computer games and BlackBerries.

The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations. They do not have what most of us would call ‘lives’: they simply exist. They have their being only in video games and street-fights, casual drug use and crime, sometimes petty, sometimes serious.

Today, those at the bottom of society behave no better than their forebears, but the welfare state has relieved them from hunger and real want. When social surveys speak of ‘deprivation’ and ‘poverty’, this is entirely relative. Meanwhile, sanctions for wrongdoing have largely vanished.

When Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith recently urged employers to take on more British workers and fewer migrants, he was greeted with a hoarse laugh. Every firm in the land knows that an East European — for instance — will, first, bother to turn up; second, work harder; and third, be better-educated than his or her British counterpart. Who do we blame for this state of affairs?

Of course it is true that few have jobs, learn anything useful at school, live in decent homes, eat meals at regular hours or feel loyalty to anything beyond their local gang. This is not, however, because they are victims of mistreatment or neglect. It is because it is fantastically hard to help such people, young or old, without imposing a measure of compulsion, which modern society finds unacceptable. These kids are what they are because nobody makes them be anything different or better.

A key factor in delinquency is lack of effective sanctions to deter it. From an early stage, feral children discover that they can bully fellow pupils at school, shout abuse at people in the streets, urinate outside pubs, hurl litter from car windows, play car radios at deafening volumes, and, indeed, commit casual assaults with only a negligible prospect of facing rebuke, far less retribution.

So who is to blame? The breakdown of families, the pernicious promotion of single motherhood as a desirable state, the decline of domestic life so that even shared meals are a rarity, have all contributed importantly to the condition of the young underclass. The social engineering industry unites to claim that the conventional template of family life is no longer valid.

And what of the schools? I do not think they can be blamed for the creation of a grotesquely self-indulgent, non-judgmental culture.

This has ultimately been sanctioned by Parliament, which refuses to accept, for instance, that children are more likely to prosper with two parents than with one, and that the dependency culture is a tragedy for those who receive something for nothing.

The judiciary colludes with social services and infinitely ingenious lawyers to assert the primacy of the rights of the criminal and aggressor over those of law-abiding citizens, especially if a young offender is involved.

How do you inculcate values in a child whose only role model is footballer Wayne Rooney — a man who is bereft of the most meagre human graces? How do you persuade children to renounce bad language when they hear little else from stars on the BBC?

A teacher, Francis Gilbert, wrote five years ago in his book Yob Nation: ‘The public feels it no longer has the right to interfere.’ Discussing the difficulties of imposing sanctions for misbehaviour or idleness at school, he described the case of a girl pupil he scolded for missing all her homework deadlines.

The youngster’s mother, a social worker, telephoned him and said: ‘Threatening to throw my daughter off the A-level course because she hasn’t done some work is tantamount to psychological abuse, and there is legislation which prevents these sorts of threats. ‘I believe you are trying to harm my child’s mental well-being, and may well take steps . . . if you are not careful.’

That story rings horribly true. It reflects a society in which teachers have been deprived of their traditional right to arbitrate pupils’ behaviour. Denied power, most find it hard to sustain respect, never mind control.

I never enjoyed school, but, like most children until very recent times, did the work because I knew I would be punished if I did not. It would never have occurred to my parents not to uphold my teachers’ authority. This might have been unfair to some pupils, but it was the way schools functioned for centuries, until the advent of crazy ‘pupil rights’.

I recently received a letter from a teacher who worked in a county’s pupil referral unit, describing appalling difficulties in enforcing discipline. Her only weapon, she said, was the right to mark a disciplinary cross against a child’s name for misbehaviour. Having repeatedly and vainly asked a 15-year-old to stop using obscene language, she said: ‘Fred, if you use language like that again, I’ll give you a cross.’

He replied: ‘Give me an effing cross, then!’ Eventually, she said: ‘Fred, you have three crosses now. You must miss your next break.’

He answered: ‘I’m not missing my break, I’m going for an effing fag!’ When she appealed to her manager, he said: ‘Well, the boy’s got a lot going on at home at the moment. Don’t be too hard on him.’

This is a story repeated daily in schools up and down the land. If a child lacks sufficient respect to address authority figures politely, and faces no penalty for failing to do so, then other forms of abuse — of property and person — come naturally.

So there we have it: a large, amoral, brutalised sub-culture of young British people who lack education because they have no will to learn, and skills which might make them employable. They are too idle to accept work waitressing or doing domestic labour, which is why almost all such jobs are filled by immigrants. They have no code of values to dissuade them from behaving anti-socially or, indeed, criminally, and small chance of being punished if they do so. They have no sense of responsibility for themselves, far less towards others, and look to no future beyond the next meal, sexual encounter or TV football game.

 They are an absolute deadweight upon society, because they contribute nothing yet cost the taxpayer billions. Liberal opinion holds they are victims, because society has failed to provide them with opportunities to develop their potential.

Most of us would say this is nonsense. Rather, they are victims of a perverted social ethos, which elevates personal freedom to an absolute, and denies the underclass the discipline — tough love — which alone might enable some of its members to escape from the swamp of dependency in which they live.

Only education — together with politicians, judges, policemen and teachers with the courage to force feral humans to obey rules the rest of us have accepted all our lives — can provide a way forward and a way out for these people. They are products of a culture which gives them so much unconditionally that they are let off learning how to become human beings.

My dogs are better behaved and subscribe to a higher code of values than the young rioters of Tottenham, Hackney, Clapham and Birmingham. Unless or until those who run Britain introduce incentives for decency and impose penalties for bestiality which are today entirely lacking, there will never be a shortage of young rioters and looters such as those of the past four nights, for whom their monstrous excesses were ‘a great fire, man’.

“The truth cannot be told and be misunderstood.”

Education; Teacher Cheaters in Pennsylvania!

August 7, 2011 1 comment

I have a friend who is a teacher. She told me after reading my prior post on the Atlanta Teacher Cheaters, “Teachers shouldn’t be judged so harshly. Too much is expected of them. They have too much on their plate.” Stunning!

Why are we making excuses for teachers who are unable to educate their students without cheating them and stealing their futures? Who do the teacher unions speak for in this appalling 11 year intellectual theft?

The New York Times reported on July 31 that Pennsylvania joined the many states whose teachers are involved in a massive teacher cheating scandal involving 89 schools, 28 of which are located in Philadelphia, whose inner city children are mostly black. If, like Atlanta, this has been going on since 2000, think of the drastic, mind numbing consequences for these students who have been allowed to cheat and actually were assisted by the teachers in their cheating!

This is 2011. This cheating began in 2000 and eleven years later these students, who were robbed of their future by these teachers, have been out of school for 6 years. Where are they now? What are they doing? Where do they live? What glorious dreams do they have? Who stands for them?

Let’s look at Teacher Cheaters from the perspective of the student. Let’s call him Nate. He is a minority student in the Atlanta or Philadelphia school system and in the eighth grade. When he entered the eighth grade he was not performing at his grade level. It is the end of the year and he is being tested by his teachers to see if they brought him to grade level or above. He is too young to understand the terrible consequences for his future if he is passed on without certain scholastic proficiencies. At this time in his life he does not think of his future. He does what his teacher directs him to do and if the teacher teaches him how to cheat that is what he learns how to do well. He cannot read nor do mathematical skills at his grade level, but he does become proficient in cheating as taught to him by his Teacher Cheaters.

Nate is passed from one grade level to another with the assistance of the Teacher Cheaters and he graduates with a diploma, which he can barely read. Or worse, he may have dropped out of school. Nate needs a job because he is now 18 years old. His parents have given him the boot and told him to support himself. He can’t read well; he can barely do the most basic math skills; and his spoken language is unintelligible or filled with the most deplorable grammatical speech patterns, which condemn him to a life of poverty, crime or flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s for minimum wage. It was told to me once, “The spoken language is what determines your class, prosperity and success in life.” This subtle influence that plays upon the ear is as true as the sun rising in the morning.

Nate is doomed. He never had a chance. His Teacher Cheaters got their bonuses, promotions, and Federal Funding for 11 years as Nate struggled to make sense of his time in their prison.

Never before have teachers had so many reasons to cheat. Student scores are now used to determine whether teachers and principals are good or bad, whether teachers should get a bonus or be fired, whether a school is a success or failure. If the Teacher Cheaters were doing what they were hired to do there would be no reasons to cheat. Is this broad based scandal foreshadowing the wholesale incompetency of teachers, administrators, and unions? Are they covering up this horrible crime against the youth of our nation? If they are doing what they are paid to do there would be no reasons to cheat.

Instead of accepting responsibility for their crime against Nate, teachers are finger pointing towards a host of others, which I find irresponsible, time consuming, and unproductive! When they cheat a student they cheat the entire country. I am so happy I home schooled our sons. They are now very successful young men who can read, speak articulately, and add, subtract, divide and multiply.

“If a seed of a lettuce will not grow, we do not blame the lettuce. Instead, the fault lies with us for not having nourished the seed properly.”

 Buddhist proverb

Education and the Teacher Cheaters

July 17, 2011 1 comment

The New York Times July 16, 2011 editorial states, “A cheating scandal in which scores of teachers and principals in Atlanta’s public schools falsified student test results has thrown the system into chaos and made its name synonymous with fraud. This shameful episode has destroyed trust in the schools and made it impossible to determine how much students are learning and whether the system is doing its job.”

At least 178 teachers, principals, and administrators in the Atlanta public schools cheated to raise student scores on standardized tests, according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. These teachers and administrators helped Atlanta’s minority children cheat for money, which included teacher bonuses for raising a child’s academic level, to teacher evaluations, and federal money for performance. This is being referred to as an “ethical lapse”. I call it Criminal!

Now Washington DC and Los Angeles, and maybe other school systems, have been implicated in this horrible crime against innocent and mostly minority children. The Council of the Great City Schools recently released a study that says, “By fourth grade only 12 percent of black male students read at or above grade level, while 38 percent of white males do. By eighth grade it falls to just 9 percent for black males, 33 percent for whites. Black male students are almost twice as likely as white males to drop out of school. And in some big American cities the dropout rate is around 50 percent.”

Cheating teachers, principals, and school administrators aid and facilitate these children ending up in poverty and crime. Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools says, “The overall academic achievement of African American males was appallingly low (in this study), not only in cities, but nationwide.”

According to a November, 2010 report by Bill Whitaker, who wrote an article for the CBS News’ series on education: Reading, Writing and Reform, “Dropouts cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually in public assistance programs like food stamps. It costs on average $25,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year and only about $14,000 a year of community college.”

What should alarm us is that these “professionals”, and I use this term with disgust in referring to these cheating teachers and staff, felt that their students could not even pass basic competency tests, despite targeted school improvement plans, proven reforms, and state-of-the-art teacher training. This massive fraud against minority children, those who need education the most, is a reflection of these “professionals” who are so ordinary and incompetent that they need children to cheat on tests so they, teachers and administrators, can receive their bonuses and rewards.

While they spend their bonus money and bask in the glow of their rewards they condemn their students, without a trial and jury, to a life of irreversible poverty, ignorance, and maybe crime. How terribly heartless of these so called “professionals”. I wonder what the Teacher Unions have to say about  these people? Who will they defend the teachers or the children?

How terribly disheartening for the minority parents and their sons and daughters, who they entrusted into the public educational system. They thought their children would have opportunities they never had by getting a proper education. What they have in Atlanta, Washington DC, Los Angeles and maybe other cities across the country, are their children who cannot read, write and do mathematics at grade levels. One step forward two steps back! If it were my sons I would be storming the gates of the educational bastion with fire in my eyes and a sword in my hands.

What a mess!

Education; The Kahn Academy – Educating the World

How about this for a concept – have the students do their class work at home and their homework in the classroom!

WOW, that’s an amazing idea and it is what Sal Khan dreamed up when he was tutoring his cousins. Up until Sal came along educational institutions invested heavily in computers. However, this huge technological investment was mostly relegated to computer labs run by teachers who weren’t provided the right tools to properly integrate computer technology into their day-to-day instruction. As a result we didn’t teach kids with the computer, we taught them how to use the computer. These lessons are foolishly taught to a generation of students who are teaching their parents computer skills. Computer labs were a side show, expensive investments largely squandered due to a lack of good content or purpose.

Sal Khan states, “What’s so different about our approach?  For one, we are leveraging the computer for what it does best and leveraging the teachers for what they do best.  We are ensuring students can truly work at their own pace on their own time. We are making sure students actually master concepts before they move on. We are empowering teachers with the real-time data they so badly need.  We are allowing teachers to make much better use of classroom time, with more peer tutoring, project-based learning, and one-on-one coaching.  Most importantly, we are making learning fun.”

Sal gave a presentation to TED 2011 on March 2011. It is entertaining to watch and Sal is a most amazing thinker and humble human. Like so many remarkable concepts and start-ups that have sprung forth from his generation, Khan Academy is free to anyone on the globe who wants to learn, to any teacher who wants to teach those who need it the most, to any parent who wants to help their child overcome intellectual obstacles, and to any administrator who wants their school, teachers, and students to succeed and prosper. It is FREE. All of his courses are FREE to ANYONE on planet earth!

Why is this of value?

We live in a world that teeters on the brink of chaos and destruction. Billions of people live in poverty and ignorance, without hope. They live this way primarily because they are illiterate or barely educated. Their lack of literacy enables those who are literate and shrewd to seduce them into ideologies that intelligent, confident humans would shun. They become slaves to the slave makers.

We all know an educated society is one that flourishes and grows. It is one that offers opportunity and rewards literacy, intellectual skills, and creative lateral thinkers. All things are possible through the educated mind. Khan knows this and dedicates his Khan Academy to the world. He wants to educate the world.

I’m for that. It is a noble enterprise and it is FREE.

I started out with nothing
and I still have most of it left.

The Chicken or the Egg: Good Parenting or Good Teachers – What comes first?

“For more than forty years I’ve taught literature, history, consciousness, and writing as a senior teacher and administrator in major American and Asian universities, and in progressive preschools and schools. In part because of the subjects I teach, in part because of the ways in which we work together, students of all ages often confide in me with uncommon intimacy and trust.

I’ve learned far more than I’ve taught. In particular I’ve learned that for all human beings nothing in life is more important than our experience of parenting. How we’re parented determines almost everything about how we envision and respond to ourselves, other people, life, and the universe: how we exist, how we seek, and what we accomplish.” Peter Glassman

I too taught school and had students confide in me with ‘uncommon intimacy and trust”. There was Gloria, whose mother was having an affair with a student who was 20 years younger than her mom. The student came to Gloria’s house one afternoon and shot and killed the mother. Gloria escaped his rage by hiding under the bed. I saw Gloria once after that and then she went to live with a relative in some distant place. Then there was Zack, who sat beside my desk one day. He was a “hippie” at 15. He drew a flower on the floor with chalk and said to me, “It is not the place where you live that makes you happy; it’s where you live in your head that makes you happy.” Zack walked onto the interstate one night in a happy state of mind and was hit and killed by a truck. Billy came from a family of PhD’s. Expectations for his success were high. He had blazing red hair, a frail frame, artistic nature, and was gay. He could not bear to reveal this to his socially prominent parents. He confided some of his misery to me. He became an addict. Kathy was the only child of doting parents. She was a talented artist who loved my English class and its emphasis on the art in each child as we studied literature and composition. She came to me one day in tears describing her parent’s shame with her desire to be an artist. She ran away. I too learned more than I taught.

Despite the immense importance of parenting we do not require courses, instruction, direction, or mentoring before a man and a woman make this amazing decision to have a child. However, we do require instruction, licensing and permitting for driving a car, flying an airplane, operating heavy equipment, opening a business, or practicing a profession. But in parenting, the single most important responsibility we ever undertake as adults, we offer no preparation in what children need, how children develop, and how we best can fulfill our immense opportunities and responsibilities in guiding, guarding, and gracing our children’s lives. Faith traditions, schools, or workplaces do not and should not assume this vital work.

This is the sole responsibility of parents in the early years. They are the ones who build self-esteem, confidence, sensitivity, compassion, and intellectual curiosity in their offspring. Parents are the ones who instill manners, respect, vision, ambition, and a desire to learn and to know. Yet in every jurisdiction on earth anyone can become a parent. We can raise our children, shape their minds, or devastate their souls in almost any manner we choose. Step into your malls on any weekend to observe our nation’s parenting results.

We create voids in a child’s life with our unskilled parenting. Voids create vacuums which are opportunistically filled with one substance or another. “Children have but one work in life. They learn. Learning is all that children do. They do it full-time, and they do it with genius. They observe. They glean. From the foundation of their own experience, they employ their intellect. They interpret. They judge. They learn.” Peter Glassman

Children long to learn from their parents; they are their first example, their first love, their first hero’s. However, as we parent badly or ignorantly, the void in a child’s life slowly fills with powerful competitors, the fascinating and alluring electronic media and their peers, who are a major influence in their lives. Because they have no strength of family to sustain them, they succumb to these immensely empowered alternative forces: schools, friends, play environments, and most importantly the contemporary pop culture that form our children’s emotional civilization. Parents, who have many excuses for their haphazard parenting skills, surrender their responsibilities for their children’s soul life to televisions, computers, or iPhones. These artificial caregivers become our children’s primary companions.

In our own hurried, frantic lives we let go of the careful and necessary supervision of our schools. We let lapse the passion for our children and our basic and necessary expressions of love and care. Children will not accept this void. They need to be loved, guided, and parented. If we can’t be there for them they will do three things to compensate for their unfulfilled yearning: they will decide we do not love them; they will conclude they do not deserve to be loved; they will look for, discover, and become profoundly influenced by other persons or presences that will parent them in our place.

In the end, we send these hapless children off to our schools, where classrooms are chaotic, disruptive, and filled with children whose parents had little time for them in the early years. Teachers often teach in classrooms that are obsolete and filled with children who have no identity or purpose. We expect teachers to be surrogates when we should be expecting them to bring the intellectual curiosity of our children to life. Teachers should be setting children on fire with knowledge and exploration of their God-given abilities. This should be the most exciting adventure of each child’s life; learning and exploration. So who is to blame for the failure of our schools? For the failure of our children?

Is it the chicken or the egg?

Nation Builders; In Defense of Teachers

March 20, 2011 3 comments

“In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders. I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect right here in the United States of  America”

President Barack Obama

The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation issued a report titled, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts.” It compared the U.S. education system to those of the highest performing countries as ranked by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). According to the most recent PISA, the U.S. was ranked on average at 19th among more than 50 countries for science, 15th for reading, and a dismal 27th in math. Chinese, South Korean, Japanese, Canadian and Finnish students left ours in the dust.

The McGraw-Hill report found four key differences between the United States and the most successful countries:

1.    In successful countries, teaching is held in much higher esteem as a profession than in the U.S. Entering the profession is difficult, and candidates are drawn from the top of their university classes. These countries provide more resources for teacher training and professional development, and they give teachers more responsibility for leading reform.
2.    High-performing nations establish rigorous student achievement standards, premised on “the proposition that it is possible for all students to achieve at high levels and necessary that they do so”.
3.    The U.S. spends more money per pupil than almost all countries studied but lavishes resources on the more economically advantaged schools. In high-performing nations, budgets are often much smaller and extra resources go to disadvantaged schools.
4.    The U.S. is no more stratified socio-economically than the average country studied, but class differences have a much more pronounced effect on educational achievement here than in high-performing nations.

How can we change the results we are NOT achieving in our public schools?

First, we can upgrade how we value teachers. As a profession, education is not held in high esteem in the U.S. It is noteworthy that countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform. Perhaps more important than boosting pay, we should create methods which place teachers in charge of policing the standards of their profession. We need to give them resources for professional development. Principals should be chosen from the ranks of the most successful teachers. Testing and assessment should serve not to punish schools, as in the U.S., but to assess which students and classrooms need more attention, as in high-performing countries. When teachers are given both resources and responsibility to help under performing students, even school systems with strong teachers unions, such as Ontario, Canada, perform at a high level.

Most high performing countries have developed world-class academic standards for their students and these standards are responsible for the overall performance of their education systems. The approaches to standard-setting in countries range from defining broad educational goals up to formulating concise performance expectations in well-defined subject areas. Most of these countries have also incorporated their standards into systems of high-quality curricula and external examinations at the secondary school level. For example, our son’s attended school in England where they took their GCSE exams (our high school equivalent) prior to their admittance into their A-Levels. The GCSE exams are used to construct clear gateways for students either into the workforce and good jobs or to the next stage of education, the A-Levels and universities. Children meet your expectations because they don’t know any better. If we think they are stellar they will believe it because we believe it.

PISA results show that the amount of money a nation or state spends on education is not a decisive factor in achieving high scores on student assessments. Despite spending more money per student than other countries, neither Luxembourg nor the U.S. has managed to break into the ranks of top PISA performers. The U.S. hovers in the middle ranks, along with countries such as Estonia and Poland, each of which spend half as much per student as the U.S. New Zealand, one of the highest performing OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, spends well below the OECD average. The number-one ranking Shanghai, with top scores in every category, illustrates forcefully what can be achieved with moderate economic resources in a diverse social context. In about half of OECD countries, disadvantaged schools tend to have a lower teacher/student ratio, on the assumption that children from less economically advantaged neighborhoods and cultures should have more and better teachers. High-performing Singapore sends its best teachers to work with students who are having the most difficulty. That pattern is reversed in the U.S., Israel, Slovenia and Turkey, the only four OECD countries to favor their economically advantaged schools with more teachers on a statistically significant basis. In the U.S., this is partly due to school systems that are locally financed with tax rates based on the value of local homes and businesses. This allows people who are better off financially to form a school taxing district that can raise more money for hiring the best teachers and providing other desirable resources.

Most importantly, and above all, the top countries in the world value their teachers and the human capital for which they are responsible. Finland regularly tops global comparisons of national performance. In 2010 it was ranked Number One in educational achievement in a Newsweek magazine survey of “The World’s Best Countries”. In Finland, it is a tremendous honor to be a teacher. They are afforded a status comparable to what doctors, lawyers, and other highly regarded professionals enjoy in the U.S. Only one out of every ten applicants makes it into the Finnish training pool for teachers. Despite their high status, teachers in Finland are not paid much more than teachers are in the U.S. on a comparative basis keyed to per capita GDP. However, they do enjoy tremendous respect and regard from both the general public and their nation’s political leaders. One teacher who was asked what made him want to be a teacher, replied that, “It is the most honorable of all professions; it is a patriotic, and a national calling to be a teacher”.

Finnish teachers take great care to protect and maintain the status of their profession. They regularly stay after school, uncompensated, and work together on each others professional development. They set their own performance standards. The Finnish government establishes some achievement guidelines, but as a general rule there are few attempts to enforce performance, and there are not many measures taken to ensure accountability. Government education leaders trust their teachers to do their jobs well. Precisely because Finnish teachers enjoy that level of trust from education officials, they accept the responsibility and reciprocate by excelling in the classroom every day.

The examples set in the best-performing PISA nations show so decisively that the U.S. needs great teachers to once again be a great nation when it comes to educational development and achievement.  We must do our best to both develop exceptional teachers and raise the level of professional regard in which the job of teacher is held by the public and officials.

Last, in countries where teachers are respected and valued we see parents raising their children to have high regard for education and educators. Their incidence of teacher abuse and disrespect is nearly nonexistent. Their classrooms are orderly and serious. When we value teachers as professionals in the U.S. we will find a return of respect, order, and seriousness to our classrooms. Teachers are NOT baby sitters. They do NOT teach Values. They teach our children how to reason and become creative problem solvers. Parents teach values, respect, behavior, and a desire for knowledge. Parents should do what they do best and teachers should be allowed to do what they do best.

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