Monday, January 31, 2011

Why do politicians keep bashing public school teachers? by Jo Chiparo

Bashing of teachers is the favorite subject for politicians these days. Their rhetoric follows the same theme: The country is falling behind in education because of bad teachers.

I have read statistics stating that Asian students are more advanced in math, science and reading than students in the USA. If this is true, we must be diligent in examining ways to raise these scores. However, it can be for several reasons other than bad teachers.

I would better respect politicians if they would be honest, and instead of saying teachers have crippled education, say they want to eliminate the way education is structured in the U.S. by placing all blame on teachers and replacing public education system with charter and private schools.

Would problems be solved in a fair and proper manner by doing away with all job security and rewarding with merit pay? And if teachers are going to be rewarded for their successes, how is this going to be determined?

Most teachers know that merit pay will not work. Favoritism and cheating would play in the scheme of the situation? Morale among teachers would plummet, and the country's best and brightest would choose careers in other fields.

As for the old adage that bad teachers can't be fired, it is false. It is more difficult and takes more time to fire a bad teacher who is on tenure, but it can be accomplished.

In no way am I upholding a bad teacher. When there is a problem with a teacher, it should be dealt with through proper channels in a fair and proper manner.

I take offense at the remark Gov. Mitch Daniels made in his State of State address when he said "class size is virtually meaningless" for a good teacher. It is true and I agree that a teacher with excellent discipline techniques can manage a classroom more efficiently than a teacher who doesn't display those special talents.

Picture being in a classroom with 32 kindergarten or first-grade children. No matter how efficient the teacher, that is far too many children dropping pencils, having to use bathroom facilities, talking, crying because of a stomach ache or suffering from ADDH. Add this situation to children who have a limited English vocabulary or who come from a troubled home and you have a chaotic atmosphere.

Another misnomer is when our students are compared to Asian students. The programs are structured differently; furthermore, the whole culture is different. It is comparing apples to oranges.

One of my best friends is of Chinese ancestry but was raised in Indonesia. Her goal was to come to America and study at Wayne State University to earn a master's degree in chemistry, which she did. (That is the goal of many foreign university students.)

She came from a disciplined family. Throughout her school years, her parents made her rise each morning at 4:30 to study two hours before breakfast. After school, she studied another two to three hours.

When she entered junior high school, students in her class were funneled into two directions -- an academic program or vocational program. The programs are known under the acronyms of SMA for those who can continue academic studies and SMK for those who study vocations preparing for work. She was chosen for the academic program.

Following high school, it is extremely difficult to be accepted to an undergraduate college in Asia. She said she met with several hundred other students in a large gymnasium. She was accepted, but only a couple hundred were allowed to enroll in college -- the cream of the crop you might say.

This is one of the reasons that students in Asia study so diligently. They know they have a small chance of being accepted to a university.

The education program in China is also different than the U.S. I have read they gear their education toward tests starting in primary and going on to university level. It is thought that this suppresses personal and professional development.

Much different, the United States concentrates on development of personality and practical skills. We emphasize individuality. Scholarships are awarded to students who not only have academic skills but who have taken part in social activities and have been active in community service.

Also in our educational structure, students with learning disabilities take tests -- such as the ISTEP in Indiana -- along with top students. These tests measure a teacher's and a school's success.

In the book "The Learning Gap," written by Harold Stevenson and James Stigler, they say, "We (Americans) pride ourselves in providing a popular education for all students and not just an education for a select few. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the more representative American samples obtain lower average scores."

Stevenson and Stigler write that differences in Asian and American education are "parental attitudes toward schooling, children toward learning and society toward education."

Another factor Stevenson and Stigler pointed out is that Asian elementary students have frequent breaks during the day for playing vigorously. American children often have only one recess during the entire school day. Also, Asian students have a longer school year and are not away from academics a long period at a time.

Before the education system of the U.S. is channeled to Charter and private schools, perhaps more research should go into these many differences.

Once again, no one should uphold bad teachers and the U.S. should continue to strive for better education, but teachers should not be scapegoats for all woes of education.

From statistics I have seen, Charter schools are not showing improvement over public schools. Some scores are better, some scores are worse and some are about the same.

If this whole purge against teachers is to lower pay and exclude seniority, perhaps politicians should be the first to take an initiative for a lower pay scale and term limits.

Jo is a staff reporter for the Greene County Daily World. She can be reached by e-mail at .

Monday, January 24, 2011

Test scores and economic competitiveness. By William J. Mathis

What does international economic competitiveness have to do with kids’ test scores?

Not much.

If we look at it from a jobs perspective, 70 percent of United States jobs require only on-the-job training, 10 percent require technical training, and 20 percent require a college education.

Although the Obama administration claims that the jobs of the future will require much higher and universal skills, the Washington D.C.-based Brookings Institution says that the country's job structure profile will remain about the same. The proportion of middle skill jobs (plumbers, electricians, health care, police officers, etc.) is not expected to decline.

In stark contrast to the school reform rhetoric, the dramatic job slowdown will be in the more highly skilled jobs.

The cry reaches fullest volume when talking about science, math and technology training. This is where we are supposedly behind the “economically competitive” needs for the 21st century.

Unfortunately, only one-twentieth of United States jobs require science and math backgrounds. For these positions, there are three times as many qualified applicants as there are available positions. Far from any shortage, the United States produces 25% of the world’s most talented youth.

The problem is not the failure to “supply” a sufficient number of qualified applicants; it is with the failure of the “demand” side of the equation to supply enough high tech jobs. Underemployment or unemployment among the college educated afflicts 13% of people with bachelor’s degree people and 9% of those with post-graduate training.

Paradoxically, the universal ascent of technology requires less proficiency – not more -- for most jobs. For example, flashing items under a scanner requires less skill than hand- keying in prices. Despite the economic downturn, if the objective is to be internationally competitive in science, math and technology, then the private sector has to invest in these types of jobs. The numbers demonstrate they have not.

Contrary to the simplicity of the sound bite, the drivers of national economic competitiveness show a much more complex and nuanced connection with education. The United States fell from its usual first place in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) competitiveness index to fourth in the latest ratings (China is 27th). The reason for this fall was not education. Rather, it was macro-economic instability.

The nation’s economic swoon has a whole lot more to do with sub-prime mortgages, exporting manufacturing jobs to low wage countries, debt, and the cost of two wars than it does with increasing our over-supply of highly trained, under-employed high tech people.

Having sound institutions, well-maintained infrastructure, market efficiency and business efficiency are among the more direct and influential factors in global competitiveness. In the WEF’s “Twelve Pillars of Competitiveness,” only two relate to education (health and primary education; higher education and training).

The Forum warns against cutting expenditures in basic education -- which, despite temporary federal bail-outs, is exactly what the states are doing. For higher education, where the United States has traditionally shined, the Forum speaks of teaching “adaptability.” However, adaptability is not a trait often associated with the ever-increasing push for high stakes standardized testing.

Furthermore, predicting, standardizing, teaching and testing the hard skills that will be essential in the work force 20 years from now require a level of economic divination that is more prophecy than rational policy-making. Our best knowledge is that soft skills such as versatility, adaptability, using evaluative information, and encouraging a wide range of talents are far more important to national, economic and personal development than the mastery of certain cognate.

To be sure, many proponents for the new standardized tests claim they test higher-level skills. Such claims have been common in the past. The record, however, doesn’t support the claim.

High stakes standardized tests narrow and dumb the curriculum. Social studies, science, art and music instruction have been reduced by a third in some states. If it is testable in a standardized way, it is unlikely to measure the knowledge, flexibility and creativity needed for a new and uncertain age.

Finally, if international test scores are your measure of interest, as the recent report on PISA points out, high scoring nations and school systems are characterized by equal opportunities for all children. [In the latest PISA results, American students overall earned generally average scores in reading, science and math, though scores in high-income areas had top scores.]

Unfortunately, the United States has become the most inequitable of the developed nations -- a very dubious number one ranking. The simple arithmetic shows that we will remain low-scorers as long as we perpetuate huge economic disparities and inequalities in the quality of schooling we provide. Number one ranked Finland has 3% poverty while the United States has over 25% poverty.

It is the scores of our most needy children that pull our national average down. One of the reasons that other nations are catching up and surpassing us is because they are building their middle class while the United States is pursuing policies that destroy theirs.

The highest scoring international states have high resiliency scores, which is based on the link between socioeconomic levels and test scores. That is, do children boot-strap their way up through education? The United States has among the worst resiliency rates.

Thus, education as the road to the American dream is becoming more of a dead-end. Further, when families and students fall into poverty in the United States, they tend to stay there far more than they do in other countries.

Yet as a matter of policy, the reforms promoted by both Republican and Democratic politicians explicitly or implicitly claim that the achievement gap (and thus equality) can be closed by dint of privatization, more efficient pedagogy and market based reforms. The research to date shows that even under the best of circumstances, such reforms simply do not have that much educational or social power.

So what does international competitiveness have to do with kids’ test scores? Not much.

But if we obsess on test score ratings and test based accountability systems as our key to international competitiveness, we will not only fail to be economically competitive, we will fail in the plain measures of equality, decency and fairness that are essential for a democracy and a civilized society.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Why 'Inside Job' bests 'Waiting for Superman' on school reform. By Kevin G. Welner

Over the past couple months, I’ve been asked to participate in a few panel discussions about Waiting for Superman. The film presents a stark, moving portrayal of the denial of educational opportunities in low-income communities of color. But while the movie includes statements such as "we know what’s wrong" and "we know how to fix it," viewers of the movie are hard-pressed to identify those causes and solutions -- other than to boo and hiss at teachers’ unions and to cheer at the heroic charter school educators.

So in the panel discussions we try to make sense of that simplistic black-hat/white-hat story. We argue about whether the movie offers a fair and complete picture (it doesn’t even come close, unfortunately). But we never get to deeper issues about what’s wrong and how to fix it.

I thought about that when leaving a showing of the other prominent documentary currently showing, called Inside Job. It offers an explanation of how the current economic crisis came about, describing the securitization of mortgages; the extraordinary leveraging of assets; the regulatory capture by Wall Street leading to minimal enforcement of federal regulations -- a deregulation intended to spur innovation; and the fraud, greed, hubris and general belief among hedge fund titans and others in the financial services world that they are infallible.

The film also points out the growing and now extreme inequality of wealth distribution in the United States. "The top 1 percent of American earners took in 23.5 percent of the nation’s pretax income in 2007 -- up from less than 9 percent in 1976."

Consider those final three items: (1) the advocacy of deregulation in order to free up innovation, (2) hubris and general belief among hedge fund titans that they are infallible, and (3) increased wealth inequality.

If Superman had explored these issues instead of bashing unions and promoting charters, moviegoers might have walked away understanding a great deal about why the families it profiled and so many similar families across America face a bleak educational future.

The movie certainly showed scenes of poverty, but its implications and the structural inequalities underlying that poverty were largely ignored. Devastating urban poverty was just there -- as if that were somehow the natural order of things but if we could only ’fix’ schools it would disappear.

Rick Hanushek is put forth, saying that if we fire the bottom 5 to 10 percent of the lowest-performing teachers every year, our national test scores would soon approach Finland at the top of international rankings in mathematics and science. But no mention is made of the telling fact that Finland had, in 2005, a child poverty rate of 2.8 percent while the United States had a rate of 21.9 percent. That gap has likely gotten even bigger over the intervening five years.

Rather than addressing these poverty issues, Superman serves up innovation through privatization and deregulation. We’re shown charter schools that give hope to these families. But what we’re not told is that the extra resources and opportunities found in these charters are funded in large part with donations from Wall Street hedge fund millionaires and billionaires.

Problems of structural inequality and inter-generational poverty are pushed aside in favor of a ’solution’ grounded in the belief that deregulation will prompt innovation, all the while guided by the infallible judgment of Wall Street tycoons. It’s no wonder that Inside Job better explained the school crisis than did Waiting for Superman.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Why Teachers Go Bad. By Larry Strauss

Communism, terrorism, bad teachers -- the new enemy of freedom, finally getting the recognition they deserve.

Ineffective. Disorganized. Boring. Lazy. No class control -- or too much control. Bad things go down in those classrooms. Fights break out. Things get vandalized. Minds get wasted. So do millions of dollars of public funding.

Of course, you're not one of those bad teachers -- and neither am I, though I have often thought that there is at least a little bad teacher in all of us and that one of the greatest challenges of being an educator is guarding against those impulses. I suppose I should speak for myself on that account.

I have never seen or personally heard of anyone entering the teaching profession for the purpose of stealing money from the tax-payers and sabotaging the lives of children. They all seem to start out with the right intentions.

Like Mr. D who came to our school with passion and energy and a desire to rewrite the destinies of his at-risk students. He taught English and drama gushing with his love for literature and creative expression. He threw himself into the work and set out to mount a production of Romeo and Juliet from the ground up with virtually no budget and a drama class of more than 30 students none of whom had ever before been in a school play. They were students who had been incarcerated, who had been expelled from other schools, sometimes for assaulting teachers and administrators. He worked long hours and the results were stunning. The rest of the faculty watched the performance in awe. It contained moments that transcended the lives of everyone involved, even though the original Romeo had disappeared two days before the production (on the run from gang rivals, according to his associates) and Mr. D had to find a last-minute replacement -- who performed the role with a script in hand.

Mr. D was never the same after that play. By the next fall he'd become sullen and temperamental. He missed days, then weeks of school, lost control of his classes and curriculum and found himself in combat with disgruntled students. One day he completely lost it and was taken from his classroom in handcuffs. A sad and sobering day -- especially for those of us who remembered what he'd been like before Romeo and Juliet. We understood that this over-extended overly-passionate too-thin-skinned soul-fried man wasn't so different from any of the rest of us. He'd made mistakes, lost his way. He might have had personal problems we weren't aware of. Maybe we could have given him more support. Perhaps he would have survived or even prospered in a different situation with less challenging students and more external structure in the school. On the other hand, he had done serious damage to our students by not really teaching them for a few years. He probably shouldn't have lasted as long as he did.

Like those aging burn-outs. That's the kind of bad teacher I'm most afraid of one day becoming -- once effective, even inspiring, but having let it all slowly slip away. We had a math teacher, Mr. T, around that same time as Mr. D, who taught probabilities by playing cards and shooting craps with students and letting them sleep and come in and out of the room as they pleased. If anyone demanded some real math instruction, he would direct the student to a table with tattered math books and say, "Do some problems." He was in his thirty-second year with the school district. More recently our school received a must-place social studies teacher, Ms. B, who showed animated movies and gave students rudimentary worksheets of seemingly arbitrary subject matter which they would pass around and copy from each other when they weren't talking on their cell phones, braiding and trimming hair, polishing sneakers, practicing graffiti or snoozing.

Perhaps I'm idealistic to believe that either of them had ever been effective teachers but in other cases I've witnessed the devolution: first the complacency, then the exhaustion, a year or two with particularly recalcitrant students, over-heated and/or freezing classrooms, combative administrators, nasty parents, a personal crisis or two -- then they go into survival mode. I am determined never to let it happen to me -- but I think it would be arrogant to believe that it couldn't have or couldn't still.

Now that bad teachers have been identified as a public enemy, the fear of becoming one makes new teachers particularly susceptible to the fraud that if students are quiet and obedient -- and can bubble enough right answers once a year on a test -- then they must be learning. That belief can create surreptitiously bad teachers who control students without really teaching them very much.

An even greater challenge for new teachers is defending themselves against the collective resistance and seemingly intractable disinterest and apathy of students. It is easy to interpret this as an unwillingness to learn. There is, of course, a profound subtext to this behavior. The overwhelming majority of students want, somewhat desperately, to be made to work hard and get and smarter -- though the students themselves may not fully understand this. I have seen teachers allow the apathetic bravado and feigned recalcitrance to erode the integrity of a curriculum and surrender to a career of low expectations and uninspired instruction.

There are probably many ways to succeed as a teacher, with differing combinations of temperament, talent, knowledge, pedagogy and even luck. But the most essential element might be empathy. Unless a teacher understands what it is like for his or her students -- the tedium of school, the fear and anxiety of life, the insecurity and narcissism and exhaustion of the adolescent culture -- it may not be possible to reach them in a meaningful way.

I was lucky. Having myself been a marginal-to-bad high school student, I have always understood the quick-triggered boredom, the tortured restlessness and pent-up rage, and the vexation at adult authority that so many of my students feel. That understanding -- above everything else -- has kept me from losing my effectiveness.

Without empathy -- and, for that matter, without a sincere affection for the students -- I don't see how anyone can endure six hours a day in a classroom.

It's what I've admired -- empathy and a love of students -- in the teachers who've inspired me. For those in education and government who are infatuated with objective measurements, I'm not sure there will ever be an accurate one for empathy or love -- but perhaps the testing industry ought to make an effort.

Meanwhile we should have more empathy for struggling teachers. Right away! Eradicate that pervading sink-or-swim attitude. Get over the false belief that more mandatory training and test-driven pressure will improve the quality of teaching. Re-direct those resources into a real, extensive, meaningful and sustainable support system.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Is Boycotting Tests a Solution to the Ruinous Culture? by Shaun Johnson

In my last post about how testing ruins elementary education, a lively debate with readers ensued. One commenter in particular wondered about solutions for the so-called "ruinous" culture I noted in the title. I thought about it over the last couple of weeks and there was one idea that sort of took over the rest. I couldn't get anywhere else without acknowledging and unpacking it. So, I'm going to run it by readers here and see what reaction it gets. A bit of a disclaimer first: This idea or solution to some of education's testing woes is purely hypothetical. But I feel like I have to start somewhere before walking it back. And maybe this has been proposed already to tremendous failure or resistance. Here we go anyway.

What would happen if tests were boycotted? Seriously. Imagine if a bunch of parents and community members got together and refused to allow their students or children to take the state tests. I can envision waves of parents requesting that their children sit it out in the media center. Perhaps parents who stay at home can offer childcare services to those that work, keeping their children home during testing week. Set up a play date or a field trip to a museum. Would this not seriously compromise the ability of education leaders and reformers, those who believe quite erroneously in the ultimate power of quantitative metrics, to use these measures to make every decision? Yes, it would, and then we can finally have an adult conversation about viable alternatives.

Without those precious test scores, hands would be forced. Natural inclinations -- nay, addictions -- to weights and measures could drive leaders into frenzies. Would they barge into schools and demand immediate assessments? Would they pull children aside in the hallways and drill them with math questions? I can see the suits standing in the school's foyer, reading aloud short passages about plant fertilization, and asking anyone within earshot if they understood the author's purpose. Men in ties, on their knees in front of a class on their way to art, are asking in desperation, "Oh why won't you just choose an answer? Someone tell me, is it A or B?"

Before this gets even weirder, I must admit that the most likely and logical outcomes would be losses of funding and jobs. No melodrama, just pink slips and program cuts until the mess is sorted out. Indeed, the power of a boycotting tests would come from universal participation. Many schools or communities, quite understandably, would be too cautious to participate. Those few that do refuse testing would only be setting themselves up for more pain, as they become scapegoats for such insolence.

Without much research on my part, a testing boycott driven by parents and community members is the only real interesting solution I can think of right now. It is certainly foolhardy and idealistic. But what if the power to test and measure was stripped away? What if the data was simply withheld or held hostage? Nothing is more personal to those without much power -- the students -- than what they know and how they feel. Those in power, however, covet that information the most. Considering what many leaders have done for or to schools so far, perhaps they don't necessarily deserve it. I completely understand that the hands of teachers, principals, and even superintendents are tied. I don't have children of my own, but I do know that as an educator, some kind of resistance like this can only come from parents and other members of the school community. I also know that as an educator, our time to draw these harsh lines is running out.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

We Cannot Solve the Problems with Tests by Creating MORE of Them By Anthony Cody

Albert Einstein once famously said "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." Our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is proving that in spades. In his recent op-ed in the Washington Post, Duncan acknowledges widespread dissatisfaction with standardized tests, and the way they have narrowed the curriculum. He then asserts that these problems will disappear under his guidance:

That is why many people across the political spectrum support the work of 44 states to replace multiple choice "bubble" tests with a new test that helps inform and improve instruction by accurately measuring what children know across the full range of college and career-ready standards, and measures other skills, such as critical-thinking abilities.

So we will fix the problem of over-reliance on tests by producing new and improved tests, which we can then rely on even more.

Dr. Stephen Krashen offered a cogent rebuttal to Duncan on the Answer Sheet, where he pointed out:

The plan presented in the Department of Education's Blueprint for Reform calls for an astonishing amount of testing, far more than we have now with No Child Left Behind. The only people I know who support the testing plan have spent very little time in schools, haven't read the Blueprint, or just aren't listening to real education professions or students. Or all three.

We are about to make a mistake that will cost billions and make school life (even more) miserable for millions of teachers and students. The only ones who will profit are the testing companies. We should be talking about reducing testing, not increasing it.

Wolf Blitzer of CNN interviewed Duncan yesterday, and pressed him to respond to Krashen's critique - which he did by restating his assertions:

Teachers, parents, students want real information. They need to know, are students learning? Where are they improving? Where are they not? Where do they need more help?

Those next generation of assessments are going to help us to get there. That leadership is being provided at the local level, not by us in Washington.

As Krashen pointed out in Schools Matter,

According to the Department of Education Blueprint, it will include summative (end of year) testing, interim testing, and will encourage testing more subjects. Since the Blueprint also calls for value-added testing, we can also expect pre-tests at the start of the school year. And this "leadership" comes from Washington, from the Department of Education, not for the local level.

We are being told that we can fix the problems with tests by making them more frequent, and more able to measure critical thinking. My problem is I have no confidence that this is true. I believe there are economic interests at work here - powerful and wealthy publishing companies who will greatly profit from a whole new generation of assessments, who are pushing for this behind the scenes. I do not believe that we will get less teaching to the test when we give the tests more often, and attach even more importance to them by tying teacher evaluations and pay to them. This is nonsensical. I have not seen the new tests being generated by the consortia, but I do not believe that any test that is mechanically graded, or even graded by low-paid humans, can successfully measure critical thinking and problem-solving.

Duncan calls for a greater investment in teachers, but the Federal government is not in a position to fund teachers, so this talk is cheap. Teachers are funded at the state level, and many states are facing huge deficits, and we are about to see a further disinvestment in schools and teachers. Meanwhile, for all his talk of local control, the next generation of tests will essentially be another unfunded federal mandate, because federal funding will be made contingent on their adoption by states. And these tests will impose a significant NEW expense on school systems across the country, just at the time when the bare bones of our schools are being dismantled due to budget cuts.

There may indeed be bipartisan support in Washington, DC, for Duncan's agenda. But as the costs for these tests become apparent, I believe leaders at the local and state levels will see the choices that we are being forced to make. We must connect the dots here. Billions of education dollars spent on tests are billions taken away from the classrooms where learning actually occurs. And more tests will NOT improve the trouble we have with over-reliance on testing.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

America’s disdain for its children By Valerie Strauss

Americans don’t really think very much of their children. Not really.

Yes, we love our own children, and sometimes the kid next door. But a look at the education world as we enter 2011 reveals how little we really care about childhood and the importance of creating the conditions in which young people can grow and learn in safe and secure and smart environments.

If we did actually give a hoot about kids:

*We would never tolerate a poverty rate among children of 21 percent.

That’s one in five kids who live in poverty, or nearly 15 million children in the United States who live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, currently pegged at $22,050 a year for a family of four.

And that, of course, doesn’t include the kids who live in families of four who make $22,051 a year. Or $22,052. In fact, research shows that families need an income of about twice the poverty level to cover basic costs, so at that rate, 42 percent of American children live at or close enough to the poverty level so that basics aren’t being covered.

*We would never pretend that any single institution, especially public schools, can overcome the problems caused by a life in poverty. Reformers would stop staying that citing poverty as a problem is “an excuse.”

Don’t, please, write me and tell me that I am offering teachers an excuse not to work hard. You know I’m not.

Acknowledging that poverty matters means that we have to counter its effects when children come to school -- making sure they eat, can see, hear, aren’t exhausted – and more broadly, address the causes of poverty on a societal level.

*We would stop our hypocrisy over standardized tests.

On one hand we admit that they are too rudimentary to be used for any high-stakes decisions.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in 2009 at the National Education Association’s annual conference: “I understand that tests are far from perfect and that it is unfair to reduce the complex, nuanced work of teaching to a simple multiple choice exam. Test scores alone should never drive evaluation, compensation or tenure decisions. That would never make sense."

And on the other, we use them for high-stakes decisions anyway.

When the Los Angeles Times published so-called “value added” test scores to rate teachers in the city’s public schools last summer, Duncan said, “What’s there to hide? In education, we’ve been scared to talk about success."

*We would not demonize teachers, but rather treat them as professionals.

This means paying them a professional salary, ensuring that they have professional training (not a summer crash course), giving them a large role in what happens in their own classrooms, and finding fair ways to evaluate teachers so that those who don’t belong in a classroom can be removed.

*We would stop thinking that we can tell anything about really young kids by subjecting them to silly tests and recognize the value of learning through play. Quality pre-kindergarten would be a national priority.

*We would stop underfunding public school systems.
We hear plenty about how much public money is being wasted, and, certainly, one can always find places where it is. But the bigger problem is that public systems are being starved. Some systems have cut out a day of school each week because they can’t afford it, and there is talk in California about cutting an entire month out of the public school calendar.

This is nothing but sickening.

*We would never allow the public school system to be dependent on the good will of private citizens or foundations.

*We would stop pretending that charter schools are the be-all and end-all of public education.

Yes, yes, some of them are tremendous schools. But most of them aren’t any better than their local traditional public school, and many have less “accountability” than traditional schools, but you couldn’t tell that by listening to some school reformers and wealthy funders.

*We would stop pretending that teachers unions are the cause of all of the ills of public education, and accept the common-sense refutation that the problems are the same in states without teachers unions. You don’t have to love unions to accept this reality.

*We would really try to consider what kids need and think.

For example, we know that for biological reasons, teenagers fall asleep later at night, and one study showed that students attending high schools with later start times were less likely to report being sleepy during the day. But we stick to early start times anyway.

*We would remember that the public school system is our most glorious civic institution. Yes, it needs to be improved, but not in the way we are doing it now. We would, in fact, inject humanity into public schooling. Somehow we’ve let that slip away.

Add up all of this, and then tell me how much America really likes its children.