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Does It All Add Up? Who Should Save Public Schools?

Testing, testing. Is No Child Left Behind working for anyone? It's standardized its way through schools since 2001, troubling seemingly every teacher, parent, and student in its formulaic path. Getting all children above the mean score by 2014 is its ultimate goal even if teaching for tests is its consequence. Good magazine this month takes a look at the state of public education, how it's changing, and how it can be saved.

Philanthropists have poured well-meaning money into schools, but the question is, are they helping? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's effort to create smaller schools has seen mixed results. Smaller classes mean more attention, but it's also been hard for schools to maintain electives and extracurriculars.

On the other hand, billionaire Eli Broad's effort to run schools like businesses is even more controversial. He favors increased standardized testing, scripted curricula, merit pay, and replacing school administrators with managers, and so does his money. He even has academy that trains school leaders in the Broad way.

Money is changing the way public schools operate, and those with money, regardless of qualifications, are making the decisions. If public schools are a national treasure, shouldn't we treat them accordingly? Good calls parents to action and asks them to make noise, take a stand instead of opting out or sending their kids to nearest private school.

Is this too idealistic? Or in this age of hope, is change from the bottom up possible? Anyone, anyone? Bueller?


Join The Conversation
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 8 years
Roarman: If I can jump in on this one.... The "Assistant Superintendent for Business" that I suggested should have veto rights. Certainly the certificated people should select specific curriculum, but if it's not financially viable, the business folks should be able to stop it. If an enrichment program costs more to run than the grant which supports is provides, it should be closely scrutinized. (Yes, this happens. A lot.)
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
I would want those people to be qualified in financial matters first. The school superintendant is there to fight for the school system and the kids. We also need someone in there who is keeping the reigns in on what they are spending.
Roarman Roarman 8 years
UnDave-Would those responsible for deciding how the money is best spent on educating the students also be knowlegable in what is needed to best teach children? Or would they only be qualified in finacial matters? I think that everyone needs to work together towards making schools the best environments for learning. When cutting budgets and funding we seem to lose sight of what we are really taking away.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 8 years
Vespa: I think there are two concerns about standardized tests: (1) A "one size fits all" solution isn't ideal. Some kids just don't test well, for instance. Also, students who are special ed or barely English learners are expected to take the same tests as the "regular" student population. (Because schools tried to circumvent the scoring system and tweak their statistics by *not* having these students tested, there's been a renewed emphasis in ensuring that *all* students are tested. (2) Frankly, IMO, teachers don't like having their autonomy challenged. They are the emperors and empresses of their little domains and their assigned minions, and many of them behave accordingly. For those of you who haven't "been there - done that", it's absolutely astonishing how little control you have over your children's education. They will throw every bureaucratic monkey wrench imaginable into your efforts to ensure that your child is treated and educated appropriately. Then they will just stonewall you and stall until the issue is moot. They will also try to teach your kid that they should take responsibility for their own schooling and thereby cut parents out of the loop. How can you fight them if you don't know what's happening? As for the much-heralded "school choice"--if the adjacent schools are also abysmal, or already overcrowded, how useful is that?
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
i think that if we're talking about public education then the people should be involved - in how their children are education and what opportunities they have. it's hard when you want the best for your kids yet you don't know what the real correct way to do it is. in my opinion, i think that doing things as a business just isn't the right way to go. incentivising grades is a nice gesture but it doesn't teach you anything in the long run. for some people, standardized testing isn't where they find success. for myself - i consider myself to be intelligent, however i always did poorly on standardized tests - so that would just make my confidence level decline and i'm sure that my grades would suffer as well. as for the smaller class sizes - i think that it's a nice idea and probably a great one - but there are certainly trade offs with the smaller number of people. you don't get the diversity in the student body - and you don't get the additional classes that would notmally be part of the mix if there are fewer students.
thelorax thelorax 8 years
I'm appalled at the direction our schools are heading in, and I'm disgusted that "we the people" are content to stand by while bad policies are implemented and we continue to re-elect the same corrupt, out-of-touch, immoral leaders who will continue to write bad policy. Everyone complains but no one does anything.
Vespa Vespa 8 years
Two things: One, I know this isn't a popular view, because "standardized tests" is a dirty word in education, but what exactly is wrong with them? I don't see how standardized math tests or reading comprehension tests promote memorization. I know this is probably because I did well in school and usually did well on tests, but this is just something I never get, and I'm always too embarrassed to admit it in conversation but I can come clean thanks to the anonymity of the internet! Two, it has always seemed weird that there is not more supervision of teachers. It's normally just one adult in a room full of kids. I remember my teachers being observed maybe once a year by an administrator in class? And that's how we end up with nutbags pushing their own agendas or just plan untruths.
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 8 years
Also, in my experience schools (at least in Los Angeles) are more about social and political indoctrination and political correctness than information and critical thinking. My daughter's government teacher, for instance, told her that the Supreme Court only hears about five cases a year. Her English Literature teacher is enthralled with sexually suggestive material, even for the freshmen, and doesn't like to hear alternative theories or views of literature. He spent much of last year pushing the unproven theory that Shakespeare was gay, and would not permit two-way discussion on the matter. We've had some gems, too, but we need to reevaluate the purpose of public education and ensure that the schools support the public good, not their private agendas. We also need to be sure they don't change teaching methods every time there's a new trend. By the time they use our kids as guinea pigs--which is what they do--and find out it doesn't work, we've lost a generation of students (figuring a four-year high school cycle).
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 8 years
Lots of good comments since I looked in last. Education has value for all of us. Without it, our future is crippled. There's a lot of money thrown into education. It is frequently not used well, but the educators won't listen to to business folks. Until they learn to use resources effectively, I don't think we should give them any more money. One small case in point: frequently there are meetings in Sacramento (regarding curriculum, testing, etc.). So, we send at least one, often two or three people to the meeting--from each county (there are 58). If it's only a one-day meeting, I believe an average cost per person is probably $250 (or more) for airfare and expenses. So now we have $250 times 116, or $29,000 statewide. Why couldn't this be a teleconference, using existing civic facilities? Heavily scripted curriculum might be annoying to some veteran teachers, but it is an aid to newer ones and assures that students get the material they need and coursework is well articulated from grade to grade. I don't want my kids' teachers to be *too* "creative".
liliblu liliblu 8 years
Who determines who the bad apples are? What happens to the bad apples?
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
It seems that we are missing a crucial point here. We have two issues: 1)How do we educate our kids? 2) How do we keep our educational system from bleeding the community dry? More often than not, the school board is made up of people who aren't the most gifted in the finance department. Because of this they make financial mistakes. But they do know about teaching. My thought is we need to take the financial aspect out of the hands of the people who can't handle it responsibly, and give it to a position that would be responsible for that aspect. We also need to remove the "bad apples" from the classroom, so that teachers can teach and inspire. Those teachers that don't want to "teach and inspire" need to be removed and replaced.
liliblu liliblu 8 years
What if the script only works for half your class? I remember teachers grouping students. They never stated this group reads faster than the next. We were the blue, orange, red, or yellow group. Teachers would then work with each group while the rest worked on another assignment. Each student was taught the material in a way that was best for them. We learned, just not always at the same pace or in the same way.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
Yeah I used to live with a teacher who was very active in her district there for got to know a lot of teachers in the Oakland Unified School Dist. and they loathed having to follow a scripted approach. They said it stole the creativity away form them. It's like if it's going to be scripted why go to college just hand us a script and well follow it.
MartiniLush MartiniLush 8 years
Yes, Heidi, agreed - and only using standardized testing as a measure is only going to teach kids how to memorize things, not how to think!
HeidiMD HeidiMD 8 years
I think running schools like businesses emphasizes to students that they should only do something if there is a tangible outcome (like money). I fear that actually paying kids for performing well will stamp out a child's love for learning. I think, in our huge consumer culture, we should be teaching children that there is more to happiness and success than simply financial gain. I don't care HOW busy your schedule is, but it is my opinion that you should be willing to get involved in your child's education. Is it that difficult to attend a parent/teacher conference, an occasional school board meeting, a PTA meeting, or just volunteer some time once in a while?
MartiniLush MartiniLush 8 years
LOL, lil! I have the soundtrack from Lean On Me on my IPOD and just turned it on! ;-) Laine, as is often the case, I love your suggestions here!
Jude-C Jude-C 8 years
The thing about scripted curricula, too, is that that will take away much of the ability of truly excellent teachers to come up with creative and innovative ideas to educate our children. If we were able to staff our schools with lots of high-quality instructors, rather than substandard teaching staff, many of these problems would not be quite as problematic.
liliblu liliblu 8 years
"standardized testing, scripted curricula, merit pay, and replacing school administrators with managers" Running a school like a business will not work. Children learn differently and at different speeds. Scripted curricula ties the hands of teachers. Children are not emotionless beings. What goes on in the world around them can effect their school performance. How will that be handeled in a business?
liliblu liliblu 8 years
So many issuses come into play when you talk about NCLB. How are children in special education evaluated? ESL students? During one testing session I watched a third grader place his head on the desk and say, "I'm tried of taking this test." It took a several minutes to convince him to finish. He's a bright child and when I looked at some of the questions he answered, I could find no mistakes. But how many did he rush through just to finish? While I think standardized tests should play a role in evaluating schools and teachers, there has to be more.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 8 years
I tried to avoid this post because all I'm gonna do is harp about what I always harp about, but I'm bored. There is simply no excuse for allowing public education to fall victim to the circumstances of economics, War, or class. We've seen Washington pull money out of thin air for other things but when it comes to our children (the future of what will be the United States) we somehow just don't have it in us to rally for them. Maybe we need to think of ignorance as a perceived danger because when there is one we mobilize like little soldiers to protect our children. Dropping everything to move into position like the buffalo circling their calves. This is what our children need from us now. They need us all parent and non parent to see what their & our future could be if we if we demand action rather than settle for rhetoric.
MarinerMandy MarinerMandy 8 years
I think standardized tests are great for looking at general trends. I just have issues with them being used as judgement for individual students. Because there are so many different learning styles and test taking styles, they only accurately assess students with the test's style.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
This whole discussion makes me want to go home and watch Lean On Me!
Cassandra57 Cassandra57 8 years
I work in an public educated-related job, but not a school, so I see a slightly different angle. First, every Superintendent should have an Asst. Supt. with an MBA (and the authority to use it). It's astonishing how little fiscal common sense a lot of certificated educators have. Also, education is extremely elitist. A couple of my co-workers have MBAs, and others have business degrees, but we are given little (if any) more credibility than high school graduates in clerical positions. Ultimately, we can advise, but don't have the authority to save people from their bad judgment. Next, we need to stop mainstreaming everyone and tailor the education to the students' needs. Also, we need to get the disruptive and criminal element out of the standard classrooms where they hinder education for everyone else. We need more qualified--and more-qualified--teachers. I'd love to see some positions opened up to non-certificated people with suitable skills. I've had my kids come home and share "facts" with me that were flat-out wrong.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
Which is why I specifically stated that testing should be coupled with teacher evaluation. It sounds to me like your teacher was lazy.
colleenb colleenb 8 years
Alternately, lilkimbo, I bombed the standardized test that was taken when I entered first grade and was put it in special ed for reading. Then in the next round of standardized tests in 3rd grade, I scored in the 99% percentile for reading and my parents had to fight to have me removed from the program. The school said, you couldn't tell much by those tests. Anyway, my mom flipped out and that was the end of that. It was traumatic!
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