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  • Laura Migas

    Cynthia Liu, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! for bringing up the fixes that really do need to happen in education. As a dance teacher within a public school, I know the power that dance has to encourage students to come to school and to teach them how to tackle a problem that may have several solutions. They learn to defend and understand their artistic choices as well as their peers. Students learn not only to be creative but to problem solve and think critically. Many who are shy or unassertive also find ways to come out of their shell and be more confident. To reason out a math problem or understand how multiple causes led to a historic event require different ways of thinking, engaging in the arts gives students one more way of thinking.

    And as for standardized testing, the students who are doing poorly on the tests are often rewarded with more and more test prep and feelings of failure. If they don't understand the material the way it's taught one way, giving them more of the same isn't going to help. School is never going to be the same thing as the real world, however; the more closely you can relate the way students are learning in the classroom to the ways that professional work in their respective fields, the more students are going to learn and the more relevant they are going to find that education.

  • murky303

    NONE of these ought to be a priority. ALL of them are liberal talking points and ALL of them are part of the anti-achievement culture that has placed education in the United States toward the back of industrialized nations worldwide.

    My modest (but very sincere) proposals:

    1) Stop using the nation's schools as fundraisers for the Democratic Party. Deunionize schools.

    As Maggie Gyllenhaal's new movie shows, teachers' unions have had their chance. They're an unmitigated disaster for our children, our economy and our nation. If a foreign country had done to our nation what teachers' unions have, a war would ensue.

    And the thuggish, often violent tactics of teachers' unions are the direct result of their national leadership's determination to keep dues receipts up and provide a steady income stream to the national Democratic Party.

    2) Stop using the public schools to socially engineer the country. Stop requiring our kids to parrot politically-correct mis-statements about history and economics.

    3) Consider very strongly using telepresence technology and the Internet to make the debate over integration or the lack thereof moot. Continue the movement toward homeschooling in this country, with an emphasis on improving its current edge over regular schooling.

    4) It's VITAL to restore American students' competence in mathematics at least to the point where it was before the Federal government took over. The current administration is intent on pricing labor (through mandatory "affordable" health insurance that neither employers nor half the middle class - the half that pays Federal income taxes in this country - can afford) out of the reach of American business, which means Americans will have to be able to work in the information technology sector and get paid on Form 1099. Otherwise, no jobs will exist for them if we have four more years of Obama. And that means being able to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and make logically consistent statements. A basic grasp of algebra, at least. Politically-correct, unionized education isn't delivering students with those abilities. That needs to change

    5) American students need to learn Civics once more, if only to learn what their rights are under the Constitution of the United States of America and evaluate whether their leaders have a even a dim clue of what the Constitution says. Four years under a "Constitutional law professor" whose initiatives have been shot down time and time again by the Supreme Court for unconstitutionality should show why we need that.

    • Cynthia Liu

      "NONE of these ought to be a priority. ALL of them are *Tea Party* talking points and ALL of them are part of the anti-achievement culture that has placed education in the United States toward the back of industrialized nations worldwide."

      There, fixed your comment! ;-)

      Let me know when you actually want to engage with what I said.

    • Andrew Foell

      I haven't seen "Won't Back Down," which is the title of the film put out by Michelle Rhee's "Student's First," (thus likely to carry her bias toward edreform) but I have seen "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman," and I plan to watch "The Mitchell 20" ( both of which have a very different outlook on education than the one you describe.

      I'll be watching the "Student's First" production starring Gyllenhaal, too, but I hope to find a different message than what you've described. The only thing I know for certain is that there is no such thing as "one-size for all." I also believe that in order to bring about meaningful reform we need to quit pointing the finger at teachers and work together with them to create different solutions to meet the needs of all learners.

      • jeffg2020

        It's not an issue of not "blaming" teachers, of "teacher-bashing." Brandishing those terms to shut down discussion of something that's structurally broken doesn't move the dialog forward. I'm sure union member X is a very nice person and gives to the homeless and all, but that's beside the point. If the structure is broken, the well-meaningness of individual agents doesn't matter that much.

  • doreen.rose.52

    Excellent article, and intelligent comments! Thank you.

  • jeffg2020

    I agree completely re teaching music and art. That said, the biggest obstacle to good education in urban schools is the stranglehold of the teachers' unions. I don't like to union-bash, and am not against unions per se. Nor am I against tenure. It's a question of the specific union contract a city has to abide by and of who gets tenure. It simply doesn't work to have no mechanism (or no realistic one) by which good teachers are promoted and incentivized and bad ones directed out of the system. Obviously, for any "wheat versus chaff separator" you can find flaws - but those flaws are hardly likely to be worse than what we have now. In short, there has to be a merit pay structure and a way of getting rid of the laggards that isn't agonizing, hopelessly expensive and drawn out. No private enterprise could continue to excel w/out some kind of similar incentive structure.

    • Liz Dwyer

      Jeff - It's interesting because as a former teacher in an urban public school, the union had no official impact whatsoever on what I did/didn't do with my students. But, the union rep at my school was the one who welcomed me to come into her classroom and observe her teaching so I could learn new techniques--and she came and observed me and gave me incredibly helpful feedback. She always encouraged me to be the best teacher I could be--because that's what we were there for.

      Also, the London School of Economics has done a lot of research on incentives: "We find that financial incentives may indeed reduce intrinsic motivation and diminish ethical or other reasons for complying with workplace social norms such as fairness. As a consequence, the provision of incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”

      That makes me wonder if they're the best solution for our schools? Also, have you ever read Daniel Pink's book "Drive"? It's a great book that talks about motivation and incentives. Really great read.

      • murky303

        The union rep at my oldest son's school locked him with herself and two older students and had them beat him up because my wife refused to sign up with the local teachers' union. At the same time, in my younger son's school (both of these in the Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana public school) system, a six-year old boy was sodomized in the schoolyard.

        Later that year, my wife's career as a public educator ended when one of the students in her special education class roundhouse-kicked her in the spine during a teachers' strike.

        Those are the sorts of incentives I've come to expect from unionized education.

      • jeffg2020

        Liz, I'm certainly not saying there should be NO job protection for teachers. As so often, it's a matter of balance. If you look at the process for firing bad teachers in, say, NYC, it's beyond all reason. People respond: "well, but who's a bad teacher?" A) Surely someone is, and B) that's a separate (and important) question. A system has to have a reasonable way to foster good agents and winnow out bad ones, sad to say. As to incentives, I'd like to see the context of that isolated paragraph. I'd find it hard to believe - w/ all respect to LSE - that people aren't fundamentally motivated by a desire to better themselves and their situation. I'm sure if the pay scale were better - but were one that rewarded performance - many people hesitating between teaching and other careers would get off the fence and choose the former.

  • graceadams830

    1) Standardized tests favor those with Asperger's Syndrome. Rather than throw those tests out altogether, we should cut them about in half and use the savings to give right-brain students a chance to show their stuff to grade-consumers. Standardized tests are also cheaper to administer and for the grade-consumers to consume the results of than portfolios of more creative work. 2) Art, music, and phys ed exist mostly to give students a break from the 3 Rs which gives the back of their minds a chance to digest what has been shoved at the fronts of their minds with reading and math lessons. 3) So poor rural schools need extra help in helping their students cope with poverty the same as poor inner-city schools--nearly the same program should work with both. Poverty is the problem in both rural and urban areas. 4) Maybe we need to get creative about finding locations for schools. Willimantic has a magnet school for the performing arts in a slightly remodeled old movie theater. There must be lots of old movie theaters around to remodel as schools. And give the odd-ball location to the charter school--keeping the old school for the public school. 5) Economic and social class segregation is even more of a problem than racial segregation. Local funding of schools very much aggravates to economic segregation problem. It costs public schools more to educate poverty-stricken students than it costs public schools to educate middle income students. Poor students are more likely to have health problems. Poverty-stricken parents are not able to provide breakfast and/or lunch, school supplies including paper and pencils or pens, never-mind anything for extra-curricular activities.

    • Cynthia Liu

      As for #3: rural poverty is in some ways even more challenging than urban poverty, as the resources available are fewer. If you grow up poor in New York City, you can still go to the esteemed NY Public Library and attend many free or low cost arts events or public presentations. If you're a kid from a poor family in rural Mississippi, what equivalent institutions are there? In general the tax base is lower, there are fewer businesses in rural America -- so how does the private sector step up? What if you need an advanced organic chemistry class that requires you to do complex lab experiments but your one room schoolhouse that's a hundred miles from the next town doesn't offer it? You can't do lab experiments online and there's no community college nearby where you can take classes. See what I mean? Different challenges.

    • Jessie Burton

      I wont bother addressing some of your other points because I do agree with them at least in part, but your comment labeled "2" couldnt be more incorrect and it sickens me to think that is all that some people believe arts, music, and PE are good for. Physical Education in particular develops cognitive, physical, AND social skills thus enabling children to excel in the classroom as well as the social setting. It also enables children to improve their ability to implement the concepts learned in other classes in a "real world" practical setting. Lastly, there are physiological effects that increase blood flow to the brain and increase processing power (which I think is what you were alluding to, although your wording makes it sound condescending and of diminished significance.)

  • Steve Kelley

    These five ideas are an interesting start to getting us out of the unproductive education reform rut of the last decade. What is missing from this list is recognition of the broader causes of disparities that include education and health. As implied in Cynthia's fifth point, racial segregation played a role but we also segregated poor people. Poverty and the stresses it can produce are critical issues and we somehow have to find a way to protect kids from the stresses of poverty and segregation. David Brooks had a good recent article ( on this which also won't come up in the presidential debates. Neighborhoods have an effect too.

  • Brian Jacobs

    The best way to make the Education System better is to get rid of the Federal Department of Education.

    • Cynthia Liu

      Who would then enforce non-discrimination laws state to state, and provide federal funding to ensure consistent delivery of instruction to special ed kids, for example? I'm not saying the federal government does this adequately, but I am saying there's a reason IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is a federal law. States shouldn't be allowed to invent their own standards of compliance for a civil rights issue. Wouldn't you agree?

    • Liam Henry Bildsten

      Absolutely. Why can't the Department of Education just be an advisory board made of appointed intellectuals across the political spectrum, or "idea people." A small group of smart people could really provide great *suggestions* to states and municipalities. We don't need a bureaucrat telling Detroit to have the same standards in every aspect as Laguna Beach without adequate funding.

    • snasdeo

      I agree with Brian. Let each state/local school district use the money that goes to the dept of education. they would have enough to boost their own programs and kids!