National conversation on education reform picks up

Spurred on by the new documentary, Waiting for Superman, NBC/Universal has decided to take up the subject of K-12 education across all of its various media platforms, in hopes of sparking a national conversation on the subject of reform. The initiative, which they’re calling Education Nation, was kicked off this weekend, and, this morning, on the Today Show, President Obama was interviewed at length on the issue. Here, for those of you who missed it, is the interview, in which, among other things, Obama takes on the teachers union to some extent. [A transcript of the interview can be found here.]

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Also of interest is this Teacher Town Hall hosted by Brian Williams:

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It’s amazing to me that it’s taken so incredibly long for education to rise to this level in the national discourse. I just hope it’s sustained, and that all of this talk leads to substantive reform that better serves our children. There’s absolutely no excuse for the wealthiest country in the world to only graduate 2/3 of its young adults from high school. It’s absolutely criminal. And it’s short-sighted in the extreme. If we’ve going to make it as a civilization, we need these kids to be bright, inquisitive, confident and innovative. We need for them to solve the problems that we haven’t been able to. If they don’t, we’re sunk.

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  1. Knox
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I have a Republican friend that calls teachers parasites, living off the teat of the American people. That attitude is out there. The Republicans have fostered it over decades. It’ll be difficult to change things so that they’re respected now.

  2. Edward
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I don’t think that Obama is anti teachers union. I think that he’s just opposed to their protection of bad teachers. My issue is how you quantify what makes a “bad” teacher. Do we just care about scores on scantron sheets? I don’t think drilling kids on how to take tests makes creative, contributing adults.

    I’d be curious to know more about how Scandinavian schools educate their kids.

  3. TeacherPatti
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Edward is correct…what is a bad teacher? I think I’m a good teacher and I think I know bad teaching when I see it, but I can’t quantify it. It is definitely NOT in test scores, that’s for sure. In my district (and hell, on my caseload), I have kids in foster care, kids who were born addicted, kids whose parents lost their parental rights at birth, kids who don’t get regular meals, kids whose guardian won’t take them to a free eye appt for free glasses, kids with brain tumors, kids who were “homeschooled” (i.e. sat around and did nothing for years), kids who move every four months, kids who have a different “uncle” every week…it goes on and on. How would they have competed with me, when I was in school? I had a mom and dad who had a great income, only child, big house, everything I wanted, but most importantly parents who placed emphasis on education and enforced homework time. When the parents aren’t involved/aren’t around/just don’t care, a teacher’s uphill climb just became more like a mountain. Add to it any of the social ills mentioned above and you’re now on Mount St. Helens circa 1980.

  4. Kim
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Patti, for being a teacher.

  5. JJH
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I don’t like telling people how to live their lives, but if you have a young kid ten or younger in the house you shouldn’t have TVs or video games. I think that accounts for a lot of this. Furthermore, there should be tax credits for people who raise smart kids. The teachers are important, but the parents need to take more responsibility.

  6. Peter Larson
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    There are bad teachers. They exists. But despite bad teachers, good and conscientious parents can make all the difference in the world in making sure that their children are educated. Personally, I’m tired of the blame being put on teachers in the public press. Mostly, I assume it’s because they are viewed as little better than welfare recipients (in addition to being able to read), but I don’t see Repugs vilifying policemen, firemen or Farm Bill benefiting farmers.

    Good teachers combined with good parents make excellent kids, by the way.

    Bad, ignorant parents, make more ignorant kids. Bad, ignorant parents combined with bad teachers make Tea Party members (jk).

  7. Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Kim, thanks :hugs: It is actually a great job and I love it most days.
    Other commenters are exactly right…the onus is on the parents. I do my best at school but I can’t make up for absent or uncaring parents no matter what I do.

  8. Dirtgrain
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    We have some notably bad teachers at my school, but only a few (I can think of only one right now whom I know enough about to make that claim). The solution to our educational problems is not to go on a firing frenzy. For the few who might deserve to be fired, who would replace them? Is there some delusion that really qualified teacher candidates are lined up, ready to take their places? I’ve been on hiring committees at my school (which is in a relatively desirable district to work in)–many prospective teachers who make the second round interviews and teaching demonstrations don’t impress me. My bosses have settled for hiring the best of a shoddy bunch several times in hirings in which I was involved.

    Sadly, after hiring teachers, our administrators do little to help them–little to help the ones who struggle. The teacher in my department who, I think, is doing a terrible job was clearly performing poorly in her first four years, the probationary years. But my boss never worked with her enough to know it, and she recommended that teacher for tenure. Three bosses later, and no administrator has noticed her problems in teaching. Not one has gone through any of the proscribed process for helping her improve. Obviously, a professional teacher, making good money, should be able to do a good job without such help, but going through that process of helping is the first step toward firing that teacher, should that teacher not improve. Teachers can be fired, but administrators don’t take the time to do it.

    Too many administrators are focused on climbing the ladder. They get hired, try to do something flashy that they can put on their resume, so they can climb on up. We’ve been perennially screwed–shit gets changed, twisted and skewed from year to year, administrator to administrator. New consultants are brought in every couple of years to screw things up even more. Even when their initiatives seem reasonable, administrators botch them up, going against common sense and corrupting the spirit of the trendy initiative with counter-intuitive design and totalitarian mandates.

    This summer, Michigan lawmakers passed a law (in trying to qualify for Obama’s Race to the Top) that requires each teacher to be evaluated each year, with teachers having to show student growth in relation to several chosen goals that are to be negotiated with administrators. I can see how somebody outside of education would see that as a great idea–yeah, require administrators to check up on teacher more frequently. But our administrators are now screwed with too many demands on their time, and they don’t know how this whole evaluation, goal-setting and growth-showing plan is supposed to work (we’re in the process of doing it anyway, as per the law). I don’t get how they will have time to do it. Perhaps more administrators will be hired, more money spent from our depleted budgets. With all of the evaluations they have to do now, how will they find the time to deal with the bad teachers they discover? Not that they dealt with them before–but how now? I’m worried that their other responsibilities will be neglected, potentially opening up the district to financial liabilities (say, for example, if the administrator in charge of special education screws up something).

    Worse yet, our current administration, in line with State Board of Education directives, is trying to homogenize our teaching. They want us all teaching the same way, with the same lessons and the same assessments. But then they come with this demand for individual accountability. I’m fine with such accountability, so long as I’m fairly assessed, but then let me teach my students the way I think best. I’m pissed this year.

  9. Hobo Sapien
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    JJH, last I heard, studies show that kids who had TV in their homes but whose parents forced them to show restraint were generally better students than kids who had no televisions.
    Good point, though.
    Everything in moderation.

  10. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    The union is not the problem w/ bad teachers; the union provides teachers with the protection of due process, something we Americans believe in. It is administrators that tenure bad teachers. I spent many years as a parent of public school students, fighting administrators to keep my kids out of “bad” teacher’s classrooms. They would give me the crap about how “all their teachers are good teachers” (NOT!). All I experienced from principals and administrators was stonewalling and defense of the bad characters. And just try as a parent to get rid of flaming asshole teachers. Lazy and poor administrators seem to outnumber bad teachers.

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