A Rant on Public Education, Long Time Coming

To understand why the public school system is in any way deficient, you must first understand this:

Schools are, from the ground up, primarily controlled by politicians.

I read this thread on Pandagon and couldn’t help but think of an adage repeated throughout my training: Everyone goes to school, thus everyone thinks s/he is an educational expert.

Politicians, concerned with public sway, bloviate on education and educational policies that have no empirical bearing on scholastic research, do not take into account that the United States is, in part, founded on the belief that education is a fundamental human right, and discount proactive, comprehensive learning in favor of learning that will produce a desired test score. I am entirely opposed to any sort of politicization from Democrats and Republicans alike that turns the educational system away from the individual student and teachers there to serve them. Nor do I have sympathy for outsiders critical of the school system or critical of sound educational practice that have no formal training in eduacation.

So many seem to believe that teaching is easy. It’s babysitting. Research all throughout the Western world shows the same thing: Ask a parent about the state of public schools and they say the system is failing. Ask them about their own children’s schools, and most will say the school is an exception. They’re doing just fine.

Those on the ground, teachers and in-school administators, are puppets for these politicians, strong-armed into the policies that politicians all over the political spectrum enact for the primary purpose of building reputation and maintaining political power. The solace you have as an educator is that when you step into a classroom, the door closes behind you. It’s you and the students. One learns to bullshit very quickly.

You don’t believe in an educational political agenda? Look at creationist ed. Look at sex ed. The policies that push these travesties into being begin at a local level by locally elected officials. Travel upward to see the dearth of educational funding whilst state officials lament the “broken” school system. Travel even further upward to see the federal government’s not-so-secret wishes to tear apart the public school system. Problem with the schools? Run them like businesses. Don’t like the teachers? Fuck ’em.

Education is a political issue — but it shouldn’t be. I am of the firm belief that aside from public support and funding, the public school system should lie at the hands of educators and people trained in sound pedagogical practices. Because this isn’t the case, I may very well pass up on a public school teaching job that I am over-qualified to perform. In no way do I feel obligated to justify my pedagogy to a parade of political assholes who aren’t even familiar with the term.

Fifty percent of teachers who are “most-qualified” to teach secondary education will leave the profession within five years. I wonder why — could it be the low pay? lack of appreciation? romanticization of the profession? political grandstanding? overbearing parents? Take a guess.

Drop the act: Just because you once attended a school does not make you an expert in education.

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42 comments for “A Rant on Public Education, Long Time Coming

  1. May 16, 2005 at 1:31 pm

    I’m interested; what vision do you have of a non-political pedagogy/educational system? Though I agree absolutely that uninformed political opinions hold too much sway in the education arena, I have long thought that informed pedagogy is always “political” in that it is always about the creation of critical thinkers (one hopes) and public communites. Maybe I’ve just read too much Althusser, but I sort of feel that as long as school are involved in bringing up the next generation, they will be sites of ideological contestation. I’d be interested in other teacher’s thoughts on this.

  2. onlooker
    May 16, 2005 at 2:25 pm

    Education is a political issue — but it shouldn’t be. I am of the firm belief that aside from public support and funding, the public school system should lie at the hands of educators and people trained in sound pedagogical practices.

    You cannot have public funding for schools without massive intervention and bureaucracy from the government. It just doesn’t work like that: When federal or state money is involved, there are always strings attached. You say you want education in the hands of well-trained experts, as if those experts don’t have political agendas of their own. Like superintendants don’t have a vested interest in keeping their $300K/year position (and thus might be willing to hide anything that suggests poor performance on their part)? Like teachers’ unions don’t have a vested interest in, well, keeping the dues rolling in from their members?

    If you want a separation of schools and politics, then you have to have a separation of schools and state. End of story.

  3. May 16, 2005 at 2:26 pm

    I think that the word pedagogue has been given a bad connotation over the years by the politicians you condemn, so it’s not a word I would use to talk about the very good teachers I have know who had my four children (they also had some very bad ones). Out here in the least-known state we had a battle this year over defining what is meant by quality education. While the legislators had “fun” with this one, I would suggest that a quality education is one that helps every child attain her or his greatest possible level of achievement. I think this means that each year an individual lesson plan must be developed for each child and they must be assisted by teachers to attain the goals laid out in that plan. We already have that legislated by politicians for the developmentally limited. The most recent issue I have received of U.S. News and World Report has an article with the unfortunately negative headline of “Teaching the Tests.” But the tests they are teaching are not the standardized of the false no-child-left-behind law. They are teaching the tests to show that a student has mastered a subject such as math or English to a certain level. The article cites schools in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

    In my view we have at least four flaws in education in this country. You focus on one: the role politicians play in determining education while catering to their constituents who have no idea of science or of history (both of which are under attack by the religious right who sway the people who were either bored or mistaught in these subjects during their school years and haven’t picked up a book since). I suggest number 2 is the lack of respect we have given teachers over the years with such phrases as those who can’t, teach. Some of this has been brought on (speaking from my own and my own children’s education) by teachers who thought that the main purpose of education was discipline). Number 3 is the idea espoused by those who don’t want to pay for quality that throwing money at education won’t solve what the speakers say are the flaws in education. They don’t realize the opposite is also true: you can’t solve the flaws without money. And number four is, in my mind, the idea that education is a local process while I believe that in our present world where we not only reach across state lines but across national lines, that education is at the least, a national concern and should be dealt with as far as standards are concerned at the national level. That way we wouldn’t (I hope) have to live in a world with people who think science is only a belief system rather than a process and who want to act as if evolution is only a theory.

    While I am not a graduate of a teacher program, I have taught at the college level and have watched education as both a newspaperman and a parent. I wanted education to train my kids to think and to enjoy learning and from the way they all turned out, I think it did. But I also think the teachers had a little help at home in providing a balanced perspective.

  4. Thomas
    May 16, 2005 at 3:19 pm

    On a related topic, I think we expect too much of public schools. Teachers have children for only a few hours a week. The comprehensive environment children absorb is their home environment. It must be a pleasure to teach kids that come to school from a home where they are loved and stimulated. It will always be an uphill battle to teach children who don’t.

  5. Josh
    May 16, 2005 at 3:20 pm

    That’s the problem with you liberals. You think you know what’s right for my child.

    I don’t even know what a “pedagowgee” is, but if it ain’t Jesus, it has no place in my house.

    ::aside::Pawline, wash them dishes already!

  6. sara
    May 16, 2005 at 4:51 pm

    I agree, totally. Unfortunately, the funding comments above are the issue. In order to get rid of state and federal involvement we have to fund schools without state and federal money. Which would probably mean more property taxes, or something, which is how it SHOULD be, but no politician will ever get elected preaching outta that book.

  7. Pete
    May 16, 2005 at 5:01 pm

    Education is political? More precisely, it’s ideological. When we say education must be depoliticized, we mean we refuse to continue supporting indoctrination factories, especially when they overrule the basic values of parents.

  8. May 16, 2005 at 5:44 pm

    I have long thought that informed pedagogy is always “political” in that it is always about the creation of critical thinkers (one hopes) and public communites.

    I agree, Mama, but this is a far more abstract politic than grandstanding intended to gain votes within the governmental system.

    In fact, I think all of the comments above have real merit, but my wish is that politicians would stop politicizing the educational system down party lines and get back to the ideological roots of bettering a nation’s worth of children.

    What a pipe dream.

  9. Grace
    May 16, 2005 at 8:02 pm

    I may very well pass up on a public school teaching job that I am over-qualified to perform

    I am curious what you mean by “over-qualified”. I completed a graduate degree in education a few years ago (I understand you are in a similar program, yes?) and I currently teach in a public school (middle schoolers, bless their little hearts).

    I suppose part of my attraction to teaching is that I can never possibly be finished with it. There is always more to learn, a different plan to try, whatever. I think part of me will never feel “qualified” because I can’t possibly know or do everything I want to in my classroom in any given year.

    In my experience, politicians affect things like, for instance, the “standards” I am expected to teach, but they sure can’t dictate what I use to teach those standards. (Yet) Like you said, when that door closes, it’s me and those students. I decide what goes on in there, by and large. I don’t think of it as bullshitting so much as exploiting a loophole.

    So many seem to believe that teaching is easy. It’s babysitting.

    Especially the parents.

  10. May 16, 2005 at 8:06 pm

    Eh, Grace, I wrote this in a tizzy. Very poor word choice on my part. A plain old “qualified” would do.

  11. Grace
    May 16, 2005 at 8:14 pm

    Just curious. Thanks for the clarification.

    Actually, this post is particularly interesting to me in light of some conversations I’ve had with some math/science grad students I know who are almost universally of the opinion that “education people are stupid.”

  12. May 16, 2005 at 8:16 pm

    Grace: No surprise there. What did they say in particular?

  13. May 16, 2005 at 8:20 pm

    The problem I see is in the definition of what “works best”. See, that depends on your end goal. If your end goal is teaching kids skills and critical thinking and whatnot your educational strategies will be different if your end goal is training them to be compliant and happy with ignorance. Like in my example of evolution teaching–if your end goal is improving your students’ knowledge of science, you teach evolution. If the end goal is making them superstitious and unwilling to question authority because the Rapture is coming any day, teach religion and call it science.

  14. Grace
    May 16, 2005 at 8:35 pm

    Lauren, the quote was an actual quote -“education people are stupid”. (This was part of a discussion on the topic of the general brilliance of math grad students.) Through the course of grad school, I had people tell me that teaching is something “anyone can do”, my graduate program was something that “typically does not attract the strongest students”, I had “more potential”, why do I want to be “just a teacher”. I worked as an editor for a while and when co-workers found out I was going back to teaching, I had someone say to me that most annoying of phrases, “those who can’t do, teach”.

    At first I found it all kind of surprising, and I didn’t really understand why so many people seemed to have this opinion until I realized what you pointed out — everyone thinks they are an education expert (and consequently a master teacher, apparently) because they went to school.

  15. Quisp
    May 16, 2005 at 8:47 pm

    Funny about that adage. The version of it I have been quoting for thirty years or so is “everyone thinks he is a writer, because everyone knows the alphabet.”

    Somebody (PZ Myers?) has a cartoon up where China or India or someone is happy to see the U.S. dumbshitting their children with creationist garbage, since they (the indians or chinese) will be getting all those great sci-tech jobs as a result.

    The politicizing of education (e.g. the Right’s desire to run the public school system into the ground so it can be replaced by private industry) is, as you point out, a nightmare. But it occurs to me that there is a valid type of politicizing that we are ourselves engaging in, if only implicitly. That is: we have to do something to stop this country from becoming the United States of Bigoted Morbidly-Obese Faith-Based Dumb-Shits. Education is of course the only weapon against this (possible but God I hope not) fait accompli.

  16. Quisp
    May 16, 2005 at 8:58 pm

    re “education people are stupid”

    That sounds just like a grad student trying to defend his fragile ego against imagined attackers, i.e. his own self-doubt projected onto straw losers. He may as well throw down some chicken bones and do a dance.

    It helps to remember what Phil Spector (I know, I know) once said about the music business: “95% of everything is shit.” I find it’s handy to apply this wantonly to everything. 95% of today’s best sellers, today’s teachers, math grads, people in line at the DMV, whatever, 95% of them are not going to represent us very well. The idea, I think, is to make that five percent into six, and then seven, etc…

    Of course, the response to anyone who says, “education people are stupid” is “and YOU are the product.” Or maybe, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Something like that.

  17. May 16, 2005 at 9:33 pm

    I have plenty to say about this post; last week I visited a former high school math teacher of mine, a truly gifted educator who was born to the profession. Our hour-long conversation was among the most depressing I’ve ever had. I’ll write at length about this eventually on my own site, but the short version is essentially what Lauren is saying: that schools are controlled by politicians and not by educators. My former teacher – who’s taught for 35 years or so – places the blame squarely on the last provincial government, whose platform of “teacher accountability” essentially gave parents explicit permission to demand anything and everything from teachers.

    Also, a brief reply to the math/sci grad students who have told Grace that “education people are stupid”, as I’m a former math grad student who’s been known to say things that could be interpreted that way. First off, I am very much NOT of the opinion that teaching is essentially glorified babysitting, that anyone can do it, that “those who can’t, teach”, and so on. I teach college math, and I take my work very seriously and find it challenging. However – I have been acquainted with several people, in various provinces and states, who’ve taught the Math For Future Elementary School Teachers course that ed majors are required to teach. And my fellow college instructors’ experiences have been depressingly similar: their education students seem to be of the mind that teaching is little more than glorified babysitting. The Math For Future Teachers classes seem to be almost universally populated with students who can’t do elementary school level math, and who don’t care. You’ll never hear questions like “do we HAVE to learn this?” and “Will this be on the test?” as often as you will from those students. Everyone I know who has taught such a class had students, plural, throw fits that they had to learn, say, grade five level math when they only planned to teach up to grade four level math. (Yes, these people are receiving college credit for learning elementary school level math – and they’re complaining about it.) Depresses the hell out of me, and makes me fear for the future of math education. I sure as hell don’t think that anyone can teach – I think that very few have the talent and the personality to do it. Unfortunately, given what I’ve seen of a LOT of education majors, it seems that many education schools don’t take teaching very seriously: they don’t seem to have any standards whatsoever for admission. So many of those students don’t really want to be teachers: they just got kicked out of some other department and didn’t have good enough marks to study anything BUT education.

  18. May 16, 2005 at 10:25 pm

    I agree with this last comment (and, Lauren, with your response to my comment!). Part of the problem with contemporary education is the education community itself, b/c it cannot decide how seriously it wants to take itself. When I was getting certified to teach in English, it was mind boggling how many people were in my classes who had no problem admitting that they only read glamor magazine. These people were never, in my anecdotal experience, taken to task for their dilletantism.

    Of course, part of this is b/c education schools exist in a culture in general where education isn’t valued, so the blame doesn’t rest entirely on them.

    One sad and provocative thing (and this seems a useful website on which to bring this up) is that when I was in ed school eight or so years ago, one of the solutions proposed was to encourage more men to go into education–on the assumption that where men go, money, prestige, and professionalism follow.

    One of the troubling things about this, to me, is that I have to weigh my disapproval of that strategy against the vast experience I’ve had of women who decided to teach not because of any passion for ideas or knowledge, but rather out of a vague sense that they “like kids” (duh!) and hadn’t gotten to know themselves well enough to figure out anything else to do…plus, it seemed easy, and it fit well with their ideas of being moms.

    Which is NOT to affirm the “lets get the boys to fix education” strategy AT ALL, but just to say that discussion of educational culture does, I think, have a gender component that’s important to attend to.

    So…I think I’m not making an argument here so much as complicating the question.

  19. May 17, 2005 at 3:09 am

    Let me add some additional points in light of several of the comments: when I was teaching in the Liberal Arts school of a college which was founded and still maintains a strong education degree program, the truth was the nationwide, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, education majors had the lowest entrance scores of all accepted college-level students. I don’t know if that remains true since I haven’t been reading the chronicle for at least 12 years. The second comment is that it was evident then, and my college was seriously looking into, requiring five years for an education degree so that majors could have time to develop more strengths in their major fields.

  20. sara
    May 17, 2005 at 5:20 am

    Acording to the Chronicle of Higher Education, education majors had the lowest entrance scores of all accepted college-level students. I don’t know if that remains true since I haven’t been reading the chronicle for at least 12 years.

    I don’t know about that, Chuck. My undergraduate school – a huge state university – regulary denies the majority of people applying to their education program. The GPA/essay/interview requirements to be accepted into the School of Ed are insanely high.

    Now, I’m not sure this is a good thing or a bad thing. I remember quite a few people who were dying to teach but just didn’t have the grades to get into the program.

  21. May 17, 2005 at 5:48 am

    Lots of interesting discussion going on here. Let me add some perspective as a current public high school teacher.

    First of all, as depressing as it may be to think about the politics being played with schools, none of that pressure from without, in my experience, is as bad as the problems roiling from within. I’m not likely to quit because of NCLB or whatever Spellings says this week, but I am likely to quit because a principal starts playing favorites or a superintendent acts like a dick (both of which have happened this year, and I actually haven’t quit . . .) Further, I disagree completely with the notion that education should not be political; I feel that the very act of teaching, for me, is a political one. (I elaborate here.)

    Second, I find discussions of new-teacher quality to be quite fascinating; I knew I wanted to teach from the time I was eleven or twelve years old, and yet I challenged myself with the most rigorous classes available at my high school. I knew I would be an English teacher, yet I took calculus, and so on. Almost universally, the response others had upon learning I “just” wanted to teach was disbelief–surely I was squandering myself! It’s this attitude that needs to change if we’re going to attract better teachers to the profession.

    Third, the way the college I attended did business, I think, is good: The education program at the time (they have since softened this stance) was merely a licensing program. Everyone who came out of that school with a teaching license had to have an undergrad degree in a content area first, even the elementary teachers. This guaranteed that there were at least some standards as to who they let in (and out) the door.

  22. May 17, 2005 at 6:39 am

    I think the UK education system is declining due to ‘targets’, due to ‘inclusion’, due to a lack of discipline.
    I think most paedagogical ideas are the brainchilds of woolly-minded liberals and benefit no-one. I think there’s too much paperwork. There’s too much use of the term ‘plenary’ and lessons being structured. Too much is spoon-fed to pupils. There’s too many exams, too many league tables. And teacher pay is low because they are unionised. This means a good teacher in a good school gets paid the same as a bad teacher in a bad school. Also low pay doesnt encourage people to wanna teach.

    Teachers could earn far more money if teaching were more like healthcare – partially state-funded, partially-private funded, plus, of course, some commercial ties.
    The funny fact is people in the UK may pay the equiv of a $50-60k premium on the price of their home so their child can go to a good school. If they instead used this money to pay better teachers to teach at their local schools, teachers could become more mercenary.
    eg my old school had 1300 pupils – that means combined parents may have spent $70-80mil on house premiums to get their children in – but probably closer to $20mil (it is GMT school and ppl who have children still average about 2.4 or sth)

    Finally a real big problem is attitude. So many parents were let down by schooling so they don’t encourage their children. They dont help to develop a ‘learning culture’ within their child; they dont care if their child misbehaves.
    This is a monster social disease as it means the children of the poor tend to get a worse education and continue the cycle.

  23. May 17, 2005 at 10:43 am

    I have to disagree with onlooker; there is no inherent reason why schools can’t be funded by the public, as a public good, and not micromanaged/highly criticized by non-expert politicians.

    I live in a city that owns its own power plant. You don’t hear this kind of nitpicking and dickering about keeping the power plant functional. It is recognized that a certain amount of people, a certain amount of money, and a certain amount of time is necessary to perform the procedures needed to keep the plant functional, and thus keep everyone’s lights on. We as a society don’t have that same level of respect for the schools or those who work in them.

    Think about other public services that aren’t dickered down. Public water. Sewers. Roads. Think about why public schools are singled out for negative attention, and why public schools are denied the resources needed to make/keep them functional.

  24. May 17, 2005 at 11:03 am

    I don’t think it’s a big mystery why teacher pay is too low. At the time that the U.S. and Britain (and probably other developed countries) adopted universal education, they decided to do it on the cheap by having women do the teaching. Women would teach for little money because they had very few other options and had to take what was available to them. Now that women have other options, far fewer of them are willing to put up with the low pay, bad working conditions, and lack of respect that teachers have to deal with. And the society has not yet admitted that it has to adjust to this new situation. There will always be some people who will put up with the relatively low pay and relatively low status because they love teaching, but there will not be enough of those people to staff all of the nation’s schools. If you want competent teachers, you have to do what we do to get competent people in other professions: treat them right. We can no longer count of a sexist labor market to do the work of teacher recruitment for us.

    In the U.S., at least, we’re not willing to treat teachers right, because it’s expensive, and we’d rather spend that money on tax cuts for rich people and on pointless imperialist wars. It seems to me that a lot of conservative teaching reforms are an attempt to bypass this problem by de-skilling teaching. If teachers just administer an idiot-proof curriculum that is passed down from on high, it doesn’t matter whether they’re smart or committed. I think that’s the theory, although it’s highly unlikely to work.

  25. May 17, 2005 at 12:50 pm

    Nor do I have sympathy for outsiders critical of the school system or critical of sound educational practice that have no formal training in eduacation.

    I love you to death, Lauren, but I have to call you on that statement. Or, at least, I have to ask you to please define “formal training.”

    One of the immense failings of the left is their unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of homeschooling, and the expertise of parenting. I am fully qualified to facilitate the education of my child. Even without one of them there fancy learning papers. And I can do it without accepting Jesus Christ as my lord and savior, thankyouverymuch.

    There is no question in my mind that school teachers need to be trained and qualified (and paid a better wage and more respect than they are currently receiving) but their qualifications have more to do with facilitating group education. I teach computer skills to adults as my paying job, and I understand there is a drastic difference between one-on-one teaching and classroom facilitation.

    Of course, in disclaimer, in general, I don’t believe (and feel it’s downright dangerous) to assume that a college education necessarily qualifies one as a professional or expert. And, likewise, I refuse to agree with anyone who asserts that a lack of a college education necessarily means that someone is unqualified or illegit. I’m not assuming that this is what you are saying, but I HAVE heard people argue that homeschooling is undesirable because parents aren’t “experts” and have no business meddling in education.

  26. May 17, 2005 at 1:33 pm

    RE: Teacher training.

    I’ve long lamented the majority of my classmates. English Ed in particular seems to be the place to go when one CODOs out of another department — lots of failed engineers and business majors. Some of these people are truly talented and creative teachers in the making, while others are only there for a degree.

    The trend at this school is very high standards for admittance, but students already at the college who CODO into the program are usually there for a lack of other options, because they think the profession is easy, or because they want to coach. This is just a personal observation, but one that has been observed by many more of my peers and profs.

    I’m guilty of another sentiment that I loathe — those only finishing up the degree to go elsewhere. I’ve been debating grad school for a long time, but the political bureaucracies in and out of the school system have pretty much cemented my resolve to apply to grad school.

    But then again, I get into a classroom full of kids that I adore and don’t want to pass up the experience of teaching in a high school.

    It’s such a messy lot.

  27. May 17, 2005 at 1:34 pm

    RE: Politics and Pegagogy

    Some of you have rightly pointed out that teaching is inherently a political act — I agree, but again, I think the internal, individual politicization is far different than a government officials political motivations which are laregly superficial and uninformed.

  28. May 17, 2005 at 1:43 pm

    Dru, I in no way mean to downplay the importance of homeschooling and find committed homeschoolers to be an asset even within the ivory tower. Several books I have read recently on teaching have suggested we take hints from homsechooling structures — really, encouraging teachers to take on a lesser structure and encourage discovery learning, hands-on activities, and student-guided learning. Unfortunately with the top-down currucular design, this becomes a decadent supplement in a classroom, if the teacher is allowed to do these things at all.

    Montessori schools as well seem to have parallels with homeschool environments, and considering that E attends one and I am so proud of his intellect, there is no way I can insult that.

    Nor do I mean to value college ed over the auto-didactic. Most people involved in homeschooling and unschooling are very informed on pedagogical ideals and do what is necessary to ensure the best education for their individual child. I think more parents should take cues from homeschooling parents.

    Again, poor wording on my part. What I am really criticizing in that quote are the parents and community citiziens who bitch and moan about teacher accountability and failing schools while their kids succeed and flourish in the PS enviroment. They can’t concurrently be failing AND pushing out scads of successful students. The public school has to be doing something right.

  29. Quisp
    May 17, 2005 at 1:45 pm

    Or to put it another way, your political purpose and theirs are somewhat different. (I take it to be a fundamentally liberal assumption that if the uninformed were poperly informed they would be liberals; as if people were rational and made decisions [or held beliefs] based on facts [“facts”], or even believed in facts distinct from their prejudices.)

  30. Quisp
    May 17, 2005 at 1:47 pm

    coment #30 refers to comment #28.

  31. Quisp
    May 17, 2005 at 1:48 pm

    I see the typo fairy has abandoned me in my hour of need.

  32. May 17, 2005 at 2:06 pm

    Hey Lauren, I figured that’s what you would say, and I didn’t/don’t want to derail a very important thread. I do feel like there are a lot of people on the left who don’t “get” homeschooling, and therefore I feel like I need to be the radical homeschool crusader in these types of discussions.

  33. Jenny
    May 17, 2005 at 3:07 pm


    Yeah, I’ve always been amazed by how much time people spend on discussing whether or not teacher pay is equitable, and yet, the possibilty that relatively recent changes in women’s acceptable career options might have changed this dynamic is never brought up.

    Likewise, It annoys me how people talk about teacher recruitment and retention, but rarely discuss how my generation may demand to be treated differently than our mothers were, or how the image of primary and even secondary education as a female ghetto might hamper recruitment efforts.

  34. May 17, 2005 at 6:00 pm

    So I’m a little late jumping in, but… The ultimate politicization of the classroom came with the No Rich White Suburban School’s Child Left Behind Act. Or whatever it was called.

    Anyway, an oversimplified version of what happened was this: We test the shit out of kids, and we take money away from schools that don’t do well.

    While we might agree that throwing money at a problem isn’t necessarily the best way to fix it, I think it sort of goes without saying that retracting funding for an underperforming anything doesn’t fix many problems, either. But that’s really beside the point.

    To digress, the gun barrel is now pointed at the heads of schools nationwide. Either you perform well, or we take your money and run. And in order to perform well, here are the tests you’ll need to teach to.

    And therein is the problem. No one really has any measureable, useful form of control over the educational style of their school / classroom / district / whatever anymore. Except, of course, for the companies that produce the tests. Slowly but surely, I imagine, we’ll see states full of schools which have painted themselves into a big damn corner, through several cyceles of a) making the tests easier to boost scores and b) tailoring the curricula to said easier tests.

    This won’t cycle out of control, of course, because the suburban schools, to which funding in our state’s budget (Indiana) has recently been funneled will continue to do exceedingly well, since they’re all essentially well-of to begin with. However, the city schools and the rural schools, from which funding is being retracted already in budgetary changes, will basically be programmed to crank out proletariats as fast as they possibly can. Or fall in on themselves.

    I know, I’m a stupid naysaying liberal running round with his head cut off. And maybe it is an exaggeration. But the centralization of control which NCLB left behind is really pretty frightning.

    That’ll be $0.05. I started charging for my two cents :)

  35. May 17, 2005 at 10:15 pm

    re: dumb teachers.
    To some degree it’s a vicious cycle – if education doesn’t pay well, is considered easy, babysitting, a fail-safe, etc., you’re going to get a whole lot of people going into teaching who aren’t exactly the best and brightest. This part of it isn’t entirely untrue.

    It’s also a lot more complicated, though. I’m sure those math grad students have a grasp of the material that would add a lot to the classroom. However, they *also* would have to deal with 12 year old girls. And 12 year old boys. (Subsitute ages as you see fit). You need pretty good interpersonal skills, on top of everything else.

    NCLB, in my estimation, suffers from the same general flaw as education-pontification in general – a failure to deal with reality, in part because dealing with that reality would force us to admit some unpleasant things about ourselves as a country . . .

  36. Jenny
    May 18, 2005 at 3:56 am

    Rather: We test the shit out of kids, and we take money away from schools that don’t do impossibly well.

    NCLB mostly suffers from a lack of anyone who had a hand in writing the damn thing knowing anything at all about statistics, much less human behaviour.

    My mom just finished testing a few weeks ago and it was insane. And these are first graders! And they are going to take their scores and compare them to last years scores and act as if that by itself could actually be used to determine anything.

  37. May 18, 2005 at 12:17 pm

    I think a good principal can have a huge impact, in terms of buffering a faculty from political influence, and putting together and suppoting a good faculty and staff. I’ve seen some good and even great principals, and they all seem to work 80 hours per week, so not surprisingly, they seem to burn out pretty quickly.

  38. Earl Hathaway
    May 21, 2005 at 6:14 pm

    Actually, there is evidence that suggests that teachers aren’t underpaid except for a few areas where they are in high demand (math, science.) See this study
    In particular, merely looking at salaries fails to account for three free months during the summer with which to either vacation or find other work.

    Also, as a taxpayer, I get a say in however my money is spent. It would be a nice ideal to only have “properly educated” (and who decides?) people evaluate pedagogical institutions and strategies, but you are merely in the process of creating an insular, perpetual bureaucracy subject to no review but their own. I’m sure *that* will work well. No massive potential for rent seeking…

    I also think it is perfectly fair for members of the public to criticize public schools. All you have to do is try hiring employees to figure out why the criticism occurs. Or help tutor freshmen in college (I go to UW Madison) — it’s amazing how poorly educated many students are. Whether it’s the teachers’ fault or not, the fact is the school system is, on average, not adequately preparing students.

    A final point: there is nothing necessarily wrong with “teaching to a test” — it merely depends on the test. However, given the number of students graduating from high school unable to properly do basic arithmetic (Moebius Stripper writes about college students in the education department taking service classes from her who are *unable to add fractions*) it seems we would do better, on average, to teach to tests that ask some basic things like, say, grade 4 math.


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  40. lorin11
    May 24, 2005 at 10:11 am

    Thanks to Terrence for posting this. Having just come back to Philadelphia from a visit to California to check out schools for my autistic son, I have a few thoughts rolling around. Let’s talk about the 800-pound gorilla. Money. I was raised in public schools in California, in the golden age prior to that horrible disconnect of society as a whole from the premise of education as a prime goal, known as Proposition 13. Education, that great leveler in a meritocratic society, has become, once again, the privilege of the privileged.
    Let me give an example. In speaking with the head of the autism education program for the county I grew up in, he mentioned that his funding is down, in the last 7 years, to 18% of the level before. The staff available is down from 11 to 5. They’ve gotten a couple of computers donated by parents, which has helped. This is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Real estate has become so expensive that the demographics have shifted to an older population, so school bond issues are harder to pass.
    Every school I passed had a fundraising “thermometer” out front. The junior high school I went to has raised $600,000 so far, which takes care of PE (on the scale). Music and theater are still out of reach. But I suspect the money will be raised. Thar’s money in them thar hills.
    I did an IEP for my son in the Philly school district yesterday. Same issues with money cuts; no thermometers outside of schools.
    We, as a nation, have elected to treat education as best suited for the rich. Given the decline in money devoted to education, in the face of a baby boom which is actually larger than the one after WWII, one can draw no other conclusion. We mandate standards, and then refuse to provide sufficient money to effectively meet the standards.
    And ultimately, we will be buried by our global rivals because of our selfish myopia. Because we have forgotten’s Lincoln’s admonition at the end of the Gettysburg address.

  41. May 26, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    Would you argue that politicians should exercise no oversight over the military unless they are West Point or Annapolis graduates? How is this different from what you are arguing in the case of education?

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