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Taking Back Our Schools—and Fixing Them

Posted on Apr 25, 2006
Buzz Wilms
Courtesy Wellford Wilms

Education researcher Wellford “Buzz” Wilms interacts with a student at UCLA.

By Wellford Wilms

(Page 3)

Frustration and suspicion about who might emerge from the shadows to sabotage their plans often lead superintendents to jealously guard their power. In 2002, Day Higuchi, then president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the Los Angeles teacher union, had high hopes for working with the school district’s new “can-do” superintendent, Roy Romer.  Higuchi hoped that Romer would endorse a new union initiative called Lesson Study, a plan to help teachers work collectively to improve classroom lessons. At a breakfast meeting that I attended, Higuchi presented Romer with an invitation to work with the union to develop and spread Lesson Study across the district. When Higuchi finished, Romer flipped over his paper placemat and with a red felt pen drew a box with an S in it.  “That’s me,” he said. Beneath he drew 11 boxes with smaller s’s in them, representing the 11 local superintendents, and below that, a number of small boxes with roofs, representing schools and teachers. Then, pulling his face near to Higuchi’s, he drew bold red arrows pointing downward from the top. Romer jabbed his pen in the air to accentuate each word: “You cannot usurp my authority to manage this district!” It was a dumbfounding moment, one that revealed the true underside of the use of power. Here was a chance for a new superintendent to forge a small but significant step with the union, but Romer, who recently announced his resignation, explained that he was “in a hurry.” He clearly had little time for ideas that were at odds with his own. In the end his refusal to work with the union undermined the possibility of creating a broader base of power that could transcend self-interest.

Nor are the unions exempt from self-interest. A few years ago I helped establish a national group of union presidents called TURN (Teacher Union Reform Network) who were dedicated to remaking their unions as forces to improve education. One way was to cooperate with administrators and encourage teachers to use their classroom know-how to redesign teaching at the schoolhouse. But hostility and mistrust run deep. The union leaders became nervous, fearing that fellow unionists would attack them for “collaborating” with the enemy and that if the effort to collaborate failed they would share the blame. Don Watley, president of the New Mexico Federation of Educational Employees, commented: “It’s like the Normandy landing.  We’ve got the best troops in the world. We’ve got the best officers in the world. And we’ve got the best equipment in the world. But at 0800 when we hit the beach half of us are going to get killed!”  Sadly, in the years to come, the ingrained mistrust, and the unpredictable dance of union politics, prevented these unionists from becoming a positive force in educational reform. Instead, they have been reduced to stockpiling power, much as the Soviets and Americans stockpiled nuclear weapons during the Cold War, to oppose any hostile moves the other side might make. 

So what can be done to break the standoff between teacher unions and districts? How can teachers’ professional authority be restored? How can parents be awakened and brought back into the fold? Experience shows that it can be done. Schools such as Harlem’s Central Park East Secondary, Los Angeles’ Foshay Learning Center, those in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, and many others attest to the fact that schools can be made into safe places where children learn.  Sustaining them is the hard part. 

There is little doubt that trying to build good schools with command-and-control management doesn’t work. School boards, superintendents and union officials need to clear the obstacles—unnecessary bureaucratic requirements and outmoded work rules—to make innovation at the schoolhouse possible. These top-level educational leaders also must make resources available to support new ways of teaching.  Jonathan Kozol has it right. Teaching is the only reform that counts and it can be done only at the schoolhouse by teachers, principals, parents and students working together.


Square, Site wide

Turning school districts upside down will also mean turning a century of top-down management on its head. But where is such bold leadership to be found? One promising place is among big-city mayors. But they must resist trying to take over the schools, as they did in New York, Chicago and Boston with mixed results at best. Instead, popular mayors could use their influence and visibility to tell the truth about the condition of education and to build a popular consensus about how change must occur.

In the next essay I am going to examine what mayors can do.  Waiting for the schools to be saved by someone else is nonsense. Only concerted local action offers a chance.  Doubters should recall Margaret Mead’s observation: “Never doubt that a small group of concerned people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

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By Taquan Stewart, January 14, 2007 at 9:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

First, Wilms’ critique of Kozol’s “fail[ure] to explain why resegregation has occurred.” Wilms also fails to explain. He states that “[m]ost middle-class white Americans simply cannot comprehend the horrid schools that Kozol describes.” What he did not mention was that 90% of American public school teachers and 85% of current undergraduate teacher education program participants are White – a good portion from that same White middle-class. More than 40% of public school students are of color. Prevailing racial attitudes and a lack of cultural competence deserve mention here to complete the point being made.
  Second, the mention of “standardiz[ing] instruction to fit new immigrants to the system” is well taken. However, the nature of American schooling has always been, through standardization, to deculturalize. Native Americans, Blacks, Mexicans, Asians, and women were deliberate objects of the system for some time. Little has changed for the “minority” groups. Asians – who outperform Whites in some cases – fall prey to the myth of the “model minority” when entering higher education.
  Third, that “[m]iddle-class white parents have voted for individual freedom with their feet, enrolling their children in private schools, leaving public schools more segregated than ever.” True! Why? Prevailing racial attitudes. Shapiro’s (2004) The Hidden Cost of Being African American provides sound evidence of this. In mentioning the advantages of “better-off white families,” he states: “[w]hen parents talk about their hopes for their children, it is clear that they are disclosing deep-seated class and racial anxieties.” As for Black families voting for the same freedom, they are simply trying to provide the best for their children without understanding the effects of their leaving. Shapiro points out that the Black families interviewed actually prefer Black neighborhoods, but face a conundrum when considering schools. Either their children attend substandard schools or they exercise their option to exit.
  Fourth, and most problematic, citing Coleman seemingly to make the point that student achievement can be better predicted by socioeconomic status than race. I agree for the most part. But remember, seven years after Lewis (1959) published his Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in The Culture of Poverty, Coleman (1966) released his Equality of Educational Opportunity. In Equality Coleman made it clear that he believed that there were inherent disabilities associated with the impoverished. Arguably, this work, along with Moynihan’s (1965) The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, and Jensen’s (1969) How Much Can We Boost I.Q. and Scholastic Achievement? reinforced Lewis’ “culture of poverty” and possibly cemented it in educational culture. In all fairness, Coleman later published research findings, indicating a shift in thinking, that went largely ignored. In my opinion, Guinier and Torres’ (2002) The Miner’s Canary would have been a much safer source to cite in making a point about socioeconomic status as a predictor of student achievement (on standardized tests, not overall achievement). Not that Wilms is an adherent of the “culture of poverty,” but his mentioning Coleman may inadvertently recruit some to that camp.
  Finally, the bureaucracy is a scapegoat. I agree with Kozol. “Teaching is the only reform that counts and it can be done only at the schoolhouse by teachers, principals, parents and students working together.” The bureaucracy will only change when schools, mainly through the work of teachers, become democratic spaces where all students see themselves in the curriculum, learn how to be justice oriented citizens and infiltrate that bureaucracy.
      I appreciated the piece. My only problem is that it contains safe language that allows folks to escape the fact that ecuation reminds us that we live in a racially stratified society that operates on a black-white binary with white as the polestar.

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By Ion C. Laskaris, December 20, 2006 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wilms is certainly on the right track. Having attended a farm-boarding school of 60 students during WW II for 4 years, and a classical eastern boarding school for another 5, I have mostly been appalled by the inertia of most administrators, many teachers, and the enormous expense of public school operations. It is as if everyone involved, parents included, were obsessed with a compulsion
to keep feeding an enormous elephant instead of tending gently to a small gerbil.

Most public schools seem to end up like “Mordors” in Tolkein’s volume 2 of “The Lord of the Ring.” in terms of confusion, stupid paper work and much neglect of “the life of the mind”. Having taught 9th grade through university graduate students myself, admittedly in the private sector where the freedom to do your best was not interfered with by an ignorant,careerist administrator bent on maximum salary gains, and indifferent to everyone except the power political types on the local school board he had to keep pacified, and perhaps the education union which has always been about money,money,money for Me! Me! Me! and nothing else, I have watched this decline and the useless debates about reform in the public sector for 50 years.

To be sure the private school sector has suffered a decline in the quality of its education product and its expectations like the university level as well in the last half-century. But then our nation as a whole has become intellectually and spiritually degenerate in that time span too.

It is the parent’s generation, and their parents’ generation which has given away our inheritance over the last 60 years. I have not time or space here to tell why that has happened. But after 74 years you can trust my judgements are formed and deep in their foundations.

It is just possible pilot school projects might
find ways to help the children,parents and teachers, (in that order) with no more than 4 full-time administrators with no teaching respon- sibilities, and 6 with teaching duties as well.
But this will take a level of caring like that of Wilms. Then again, “a good man…(or woman)is hard to find!” Good luck!

Ion C. Laskaris, Burlington,Vt.+

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By Rudy Becerra, December 19, 2006 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Dr. Wilms

I read your article. I payed attention to this sentences:

“the problem with public education is not with the teachers, or with the children, but the way we organize the schools..”

“politicians, school board members and administrators are under intense pressure to produce immediate results, i.e., higher and higher test scores”

I’m completly agree because the point of view of Administrators of Education affects the result of education. But in Perú, Administrators of Superior Education don’t follow higher scores; they want to register more students.

The last sentence is: “outmoded bureaucracies that were designed a century ago using top-down control practiced in American industry to mass-produce learning”.  I believe curriculum of technological careers are designed for working in Mass Production Industry, but there are two kinds of Industry: Mass Production Industry and Industry to Order (without standars).
What happened with Education for working on Industry to Order?. It has advantage because create more employment. So that, is necessary to create a new Education Profile for work in Industry without standars. That is m research: how must be the new Education Profile? I noticed that US has several Industry without standars. I visited BFGoodrich (Texas) and I noticed that.
I wonder if you are agree that benefit of Education for Mass Production is declining.

Dr. Rudy Becerra Tamayo
From Peru

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By Bearacuda, May 8, 2006 at 1:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Lori Woods:

Dr. Summerfield bases his opinion on direct observation. So, I wouldn’t cast off his determination about teacher quality. It would help to know more about the criteria his observations contained. And it would be helpful to know where the conclusion that female teachers prior to the 60s were better educators than males afterward. The claim appears to be anecdotal.

In my anecdotal experience, I have observed a few types of teacher:
1) The Burnouts
2) The Drones (beaten into submission)
3) The Survivors (pressed into submission but defiant)
4) The Newbies (less than 5 years experience)

I have seen a few burnouts and drones. Most teachers are survivors. They have weathered years of declining support and increased accountability (while parent/student accountability has decreased). Then you have the wet-behind-the-ear newbies like me. I voluteer coached youth sports for 8 years and loved it. Teaching lights me up. Yet, I find myself to be a statistic. 50% of all new teachers quit within 5 years. I have a mathematics degree from a University of California institution, 2 years teaching education, 10 years experience working with children (10-18 yrs old). Yet, I don’t earn enough to make a monthly payment on a decent home in Southern California. My sights HAD been set on obtaining a Master’s degree in Education. But why? If I do, I’m stuck. And when (not if) the education environment gets worse, I’ll not have any choices. I’ll be unhappy with my work, myself, my life. If all goes according to plan, I’ll begin a graduate degree in mechanical engineering in the fall. It’s my hope that when I’m finished, I’ll get paid a wage I feel I am worth. I want a comfortable life and I’ve worked very hard to try and get it.

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By Lori Woods, May 7, 2006 at 8:45 pm Link to this comment
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With all due respect to Dr. Summerfield, his anecdotal evidence about teacher quality merely perpetuates the problem.  I came to teaching as a second career, full of idealistic intentions of helping “inner city” kids.  Yet after just five years in public education, I find myself looking elsewhere.  There are many reasons why I do not want to continue teaching, some of which are touched upon by Dr. Wilms, but not the least of which is the kind of attitude, demonstrated by Dr. Summerfield’s low opinion of teachers, that seems to pervade the public debate. 

My experience with teachers in the public education sphere has been quite different than his.  The majority of the teachers I have encountered are well-educated, well-trained, and well-meaning. It’s assumptions such as Dr. Summerfield’s that perpetuate the myth that teachers are mediocre at best and mostly dullards.  Our pay scale further exemplifies this.  One must leave the classroom and become a bureaucrat in order to command a decent salary on a “professional” level. 

If you really want to attract more “quality” to teaching, then there needs to be more respect for the professionals. I may not have a Ph.D., but I did graduate magna cum laude from UCLA and have spent endless hours getting my credential and masters, as well as attending numerous “trainings” and professional developement seminars.  But more than that, I have spent the time in the trenches, not “observing,” but actually teaching.  (I wonder if Dr. Summerfield has ever spent any amount of time teaching K-12 in the inner city?)  I strongly believe that bureaucrats and “academics” should not be the ones making public education policy.  Until teachers are a real part of the solution, nothing will change.

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By Elton Ray, May 6, 2006 at 9:18 pm Link to this comment
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A major reason for the prevailing dropout rate is a pervasive culture of elitism in our educational institutions. It seems our school’s goals are to grade students as you would eggs. One group of students are worthy to go on to college, whereas another group is not.

A student who fails a critical final exam is marked for the rest of their life as a failure. the current system does not encourage remedial study. It does not give failures the opportunity to reorganize and succeed.

With such a stigma, can you fault students for giving up and dropping out? The system has given up on them.

If education’s duty is to enlighten youth with knowledge and prepare them to become useful citizens, then it needs to focus on mastery, and not on labeling people as successes or failures.

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By Jascha Kessler, May 6, 2006 at 11:48 am Link to this comment
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Dear Buzz,
What a neat coincidence! I just put down a rereading of your piece 10 seconds ago, and opened the browser to write an email to you to say how clear, wide-ranging, authoritative, and forceful your piece is.  It really should get a full page in the..ha ha..LAT.  You wrote it without jargon, or academese or passive voice, and used telling anecdotes from a career rich in experience.  Admirable.
I had forwarded it earlier today to a classmate of mine at BHSS, class of ‘46, who was out here recently, but lives part-time in Estonia.  He is the head of and extremely energetic in his pursuit of reforms.  The Rainbow Foundation.  His office is located in N. Carolina, or is it South.  At any rate, he just wrote back to say he agrees with your arguments 100%.  He was trying to contact the Broad Foundation when here.  His main notion, for LA, as he has tried it a bit in  Fayetteville, is it? is to create here and in Boston and NY, say, a ring of satellite boarding high schools, each one specializing in biology, chemistry, physics, etc., as in the Arts in NY and Sciences.  He thinks the kids can go home weekends, but should be in a high powered learning situation with peers the weeklong…as I understand it.  He really hasnt yet grasped the enormity and enormusness of LA, because Estonia could fit downtown, with its 1.5 million population, though it has made great strides economically over the past decade or so..and will better I guess when it gets rid of the settlers, meaning the Russkies, of which his present wife is one.  Etc.  An interesting man, full of late-life energy, and very bright, Harvard and etc.  I dont what use he might be locally as an outsider.  But for the sake of ease, I let him use my name and a separate email account to be the local Rainbow Foundation mailbox, etc.  He has long been outside the Academy after a career in teaching.  I suppose you can Google the Rainbow Foundation and see what its setup is about.  The thing that stumps me is, How to get from nonfunctioning poor k-8 schools, or K-9 to highschools that will educate properly at a high level, and select from the poorest and least on the basis of innate potential and talent.  You will recall the success of Paul Goodman’s GROWING UP ABSURD, about schools in the latter 1950s, in which he attacked what you call the top-down governance, and he called the prison-house.  As I mentioned in my short burst to the Dig, our whole culture may also be the source of problems, the idiocy of the hedonistic hypnotic media permeating consciousness everywhere, and even now the iPod movies for kids of less than 8, etc.  There is an æsthetic, philosophical dimension to all this too, apart from class and race.  I gave a lecture on the loss or radical change of our “receptors” as it were, in Israel last December, very abstruse and high-level, but part of the problem, I think, of reaching children even where conditions are ideal.  This is a truly vast vale of darkness and many sorrows we have entered in the latter part of the last century, with high, dark walls looming on either hand, and perhaps a pit into hell at the end…who knows?  Still, you are one who on this front may know how to lay it all out so it can be seen, grasped, and perhaps attacked, how? I dunno.  Mayors are not the be-all and end-all.  And you know that that specialist in the Anderson School has pointed out that over 1/3 of the LAUSD billions, if not more, is pure wasted money on nonfunctioning bureaucratic staff…a rot that makes the city’s schools more like a rotten termite mound in Africa than a machine for educating children. After all, Harvard itself, and the others in that great League, called Ivy, as rotten in some ways as the overgrown House of Usher was, have caught hell for vast grade inflation in the past decade and more…so scores dont really matter all htat much, nor do grades.  As you put it, the zest for learning is blighted almost in the cradle.  On the other hand, most kids are willing and good, and people want the best for them and themselves.  My friend Gary MacDougal wrote a book two years ago about his great efforts and successes in Chicago, MAKING A DIFFERENCE, where he actually seems, during the latter Clinton years, and despite his being a tough Republican, to have broken through the frozen haplessness of the welfare system’s permanent underclass and attacked hopelessness in the family’s of the poorest South Side Black morass.  One could worse than to check out his book. 
Well, enough.  I commend you to the future!  Your campaign has at least left your doorstep with this opening salvo of criticism that spares no one involved in educationalisme…so to speak
Jascha Kessler
Professor Emeritus, of English & Modern Literature, UCLA

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By Harry L. Summerfield, May 5, 2006 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The many failures of public education are familiar. They persist across generations as stubbornly as the failed American energy policy.

Professor Wilms states in clear language the enduring fact that the structure of public education is based on a design flaw. The basic unit of education is neither the school district nor the classroom. The fundamental unit is the schoolhouse, but except in unusual cases, mostly as a result of charismatic leadership, the schoolhouse is ruled imperialistically by higher and larger bureaucratic\political entities whose primary attribute is power. This has been the case since probably the early 1960’s. The schoolhouse languishes as a creative node as if it were a neglected colony.

As Wilms points out, the distortion of power results in continuing, huge waste of resources. According to one recent estimate, sensible reduction of district and state education bureaucracies would make it possible, perhaps, to double the starting salaries of teachers and thus draw idealistic, well educated youth to the task. Rather than Iraq, President Bush, perhaps, should have invaded the central office of each major school district. Shock and awe of some kind is what it will take to meliorate the non-schoolhouse power bases.

Where Wilms and I seem to disagree is on the nature of the quality of teachers. My proposition is that prior to about 1960, women had few occupational choices and the schools were the beneficiary. Bright and ambitious women could and did teach. The pool began to dilute beginning in the 1960’s. Schools of education at the great land grant colleges at that time developed a reputation for attracting the weakest students in the university. Over the course of years, the brightest, ambitious women increasingly sought private sector jobs both for the pay and the opportunities. In my limited experience with my own children, I can certainly testify that the preponderance of teachers they had were mediocre and poorly educated, some to the point where, were they conscious of the fact, they would likely be embarrassed.

Indeed, I found the same pervasive mediocrity in 1974 when I was conducting observations in the lowest income school in Oakland, California and in the very upper-middle-class town of Mill Valley just across the Golden Gate Bridge. Inspired by my earlier work with a cultural anthologist trained by Ruth Benedict at Columbia, I spent hundreds of hours in classrooms. In both inner city Oakland and the beautiful hillside community of Mill Valley, only a few teachers in a school seemed to me to be gifted at what they did. Most were bleak, and it did not seem to me that Mill Valley was especially superior as far as teacher talent went. It takes a good intellect and a certain kind of strong, robust personality to teach k-12 effectively, and there are not an abundance of such people under the best of conditions.

Leaving aside for the moment the impositions of the union in determining personnel policy, if creative leadership and significant autonomy were allowed to exist at the schoolhouse level, I suspect that the quality of teachers would rise because the principal would have greater authority over personnel choice and retention, and, like the early Peace Corp, eager bright young people would be attracted to a dynamic place.  Wilm’s own anecdotes about the famous Oceanville-Brownsville experiment seem to agree with my hypothesis.

I saw it also in Minneapolis when I studied neighborhood schools. The school with all low income, African-American students by chance had assigned to it the highest energy, most educationally ambitious principal. That school was universally regarded as the best school in the city by far. The principal was consciously aware that he operated at the edge of defiance of the central office. He was always vulnerable to either political punishment or co-option, which is what actually happened in the end. They promoted him out of the schoolhouse which only served to flatter the central office for capturing and incarcerating their own best leader. I suspect he took the promotion because he knew he would burn out operating the guerrilla leadership that he did.

Working conditions in K-12 public education are probably even a greater problem than the inherent quality of teachers. For one thing, the bureaucratic obligations, not the least of which originates in “Special Education”, can be onerous for classroom teachers and are mostly irrelevant to their primary task. “No Child Left Behind”, the greatest subsidy ever to the private sector testing industry, has exacerbated this to an extreme unimaginable 30 year ago when there was, it turns out, reasonable doubt by Republican moderates that Federal aid to education would work out to be a good thing. For us idealistic liberals who came of age at the height of the Civil Rights movement, it is a sorrowful thing to ponder now that the Republican moderates in Congress during the Nixon era may have correctly foreseen the abuses that federal aid to education can create.

One can even reasonably challenge that Title I, aid given on the basis of disadvantaged populations, the jewel of federal aid, has been much of a help. As Professor Wilms reminds the audience, the findings of the landmark 1966 “Coleman Report”, findings of severe educational deficiency correlated with race and family income, have never been disproven. More money does not affect the outcome.

Title I had no stipulations about school structure or the quality of teachers employed with its money. Greater than 80 percent of a school district’s budget goes for teachers’ salary and benefits. Title I has been little more than a salary subsidy to relieve the tax burden in urban school districts. That is not a bad thing in itself, but it really is like farm aid. The money is distributed not with the intent of improving the quality of crops or providing fresh vegetables; it is paid to keep the farmers in business, largely producing unwanted corn,cotton and milk.

In 1971 I was treated calumniously by John Merrow (currently a PBS commentator on education) who, in the prestigious Harvard Educational Review, lambasted my first book titled “The Neighborhood Based Politics of Education”.  The attack, in Merrow’s view, was that a “neighborhood base” for education is reactionary.  I was told that one reason sales of the book were so good following the review was because courses at Harvard and other places used “The Neighborhood Based Politics of Education” as an example of how the enemy of public education thinks.

I was, of course, actually a reformer who, based on field research, believed that the schoolhouse was the essential, and neglected, unit of education. Perhaps I bear some responsibility for the virulent reaction to this proposition. I used the word “neighborhood” when what the book is actually about is the notion that the schoolhouse is like the village or tribe traditionally studied by anthropologists. I argued then that the locus of education is firmly planted in the schoolhouse and its clients in the community. Maybe the word “neighborhood” had racist overtones for Mr. Merrow back in the early 1970’s, however, the fact endures that the primary issue then, as now, is “structure”. The locus of power in public education, for better or worse, is inevitably expressed at the schoolhouse level where teachers work and children—I was going to say “learn”, but it is better to say “attend”. Learning is problematical and not enhanced by the top down bureaucratic power that dominates public education almost everywhere in the United States.

Harry L. Summerfield, Ph.D.

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By californiadreamer, May 5, 2006 at 10:22 am Link to this comment
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Dr. Wilm’s comments about Romer and Day Higuchi non-meeting of minds made me recall recently seeing our superintendent on the LAUSD channel dialoguing with the asst. superintendent of secondary education.  This was after the LA Times series showing students sleeping in class at Birmingham HS while teachers tried to explain algebra to them.  The series caused a great deal of outcry among the public and the LAUSD dropout rate was noted as being close to 50%.  So Romer and the secondary school official discussed implementing new interventions to reduce the dropout rate.  What is ironic is that the same people who were in charge as the dropout rate soared and now in charge of correcting the problem.  Teachers and schools are being help accountable through debatable testing standards, why not administrators.  Obviously, it is easy to agree with Dr. Wilm’s critique, but the problem is that nothing happens.  The powers that be are not going to give up power: rather, they will create a whole new layer of bureuacrats to monitor this and that and report back when the outcry has diminished.  Nothing changes.  New teaching modalities are simply re-packaged standard ideas sold by textbook companies with new covers. 
So, what to do?  I certainly cannot prove that a computerized education program would be effective.  I am sure that Dr. Wilm has far more research than I has accumulated.  But it seems to me that we should at least try to reach the students who right now are unreachable and unteachable.  Sure there are family issues and povery and language factors, but many of those existed in the past.  And are we sure that these problems did not exist in the past and simply were not documented?  Technology has transformed so many other social institutions.  Why not education?  Unfortunately, as long as there is resistance not only from the entrenched bureaucracy but from teachers who feel threatened by technology, nothing transformational will ever happen and the problems will continue to be pushed into tomorrow and All Children Left Behind will continue to be the accepted policy.

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By levi civita, May 4, 2006 at 3:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Propose Buzz Propositionon on Education for November ballot: No more than 8 percent of the education budget shall be spent on administrative functions and functionaries of all kinds.

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By Bearacuda, May 3, 2006 at 9:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think we are missing the message Buzz is trying to say. Education solutions are repeatedly being implemented by those outside the educational system.  There are too many hands in the cookie jar.  Californiadreamer, it appears what you are proposing is a cosmetic fix. The reason why 50% of high school students don’t graduate is not from a lack of computers. Almost every student with poor grades has some kind of drama going on at home. It is hard for me to imagine since I grew up in an academically supportive environment.  After school, my job was to do my homework. I didn’t have to do chores, I had my own room, I had my own desk, I was free of distractions, my mom was home to make sure I had these things and I stayed with them. Many students I’ve known who have shown motivation problems have other things going on in their minds. Often, a parent isn’t home when the students come home. Many have jobs because they were kicked out of their home, have to help support the family, or try to pay for the material things our culture stresses is important. These students don’t have their own rooms, a quiet place to study.

    I had a student last year, a senior, who suffered a stroke in middle school, lived in a home with 12 people, had a two year old daughter, and consistently failed math. Yet, she wanted to graduate so she could give her daughter a better life. That was her motivation. She focused in class, took notes, asked questions, did her homework, studied for tests, stayed up to date, and came for tutoring after school. She passed my class with a C. What have these kids got to look forward to? For you and me its a simpler question to answer. We come from an environment where we experience the benefits of an education. But these kids don’t. What they live with is all they know. Parental and cultural influences are stronger than the influences their teachers exert because they don’t identify with their teachers. There is an inverse relationship between a school’s academic success and the percentage of free-lunch students. Having more computers can’t fix these things. Technology is a tool, but it cannot address these issues. These issues are the greater roadblock to education. Technology is not going to liberate and re-energize teachers, smaller class sizes will.

    Not having enough technology is not the reason why 50% of all new teachers quit within the first 5 years. They quit because they are expected to over-work themselves, pay for materials, are underpaid, disrespected, and ignored. If you have this high of turnover for education professionals, how can you expect more from students?

Technology isn’t going to help students focus more; improving their social, economic, and psychological health will. Check out the T.I.M.M.S. report. Other countries outperform the United States with as much or less technology in the classroom. The methods, strategies, and tools are already out there. You can’t create an ‘interactive’ educational computer game that can compete with Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, etc. I haven’t felt myself nor heard anyone else say “wow, I can’t wait to go to school and play mathblasters!”

  Uploading ‘a’ curriculum to a server that can be updated, so that every student can be presented with the same content in the exact same way is ineffective teaching. It doesn’t take into account that students have different learning styles: 1) reading; (2) manipulative activity; (3) teacher explanation; (4) auditory stimulation; (5) visual demonstration; (6) visual stimulation (electronic); (7) visual stimulation (still pictures); (8) games; (9) social interaction; and (10) personal experience.

    I think if the education system got a dime for every ‘expert’ solution to education from those outside education, they’d have millions.  And I think this statement isn’t far off the mark with what Buzz would agree with.

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By Mary Reid, May 3, 2006 at 4:54 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks Buzz! Very thought provoking. I’m a middle school administrator for LAUSD and I still feel like there is hope for the future. I’m definitely a change agent and I need to stay positive to do the work I do.

I agree with Californiadreamer that technology is an important tool for our students. Friedman’s “The World is Flat” is especially provacative. Our companies are now out-sourcing work to places like India through computer technology. Students who used to go to school in America are now hired by American companies in India. These students have jobs close to friends and family and can go to school at night while making a good living and receiving health benefits for their family. India’s business schools are now graduating 89,000 MBAs per year p.31 I fear that if we don’t inspire our students, we will not have work for them in our own country.

In order to inspire administrators in LAUSD, we were recently required to take AB75 classes for our Tier 2 credential. We ALL saw DeWitt Jones’ National Geographic video about changing our lenses and seeing things differently and we all read Richard DuFour’s “Whatever It Takes” and that’s exactly what needs to occur. We need to help these students succeed, whatever it takes from all of us (parents, teachers, administrators, community members), no matter what socio-economic status they come from. If computers work-use it. If the arts work- use it. We need to tap into what excites students and then make the connections to the real world. That will make teachers get excited about teaching again.

When teachers find their inspiration, nothing can stop them. An excellent tool for teachers to practice collaboration and come up with creative ideas is the Lesson Study model. We’ve all read articles and research about Lesson Study and we know that it works. It’s time to STOP TALKING ABOUT IT AND DO IT. Integrating time for Lesson Study during our Professional Development is part of our second order change for our school next year. Using the standards and creating assessments from those standards is a jumping off point to get teachers on the same page. The more creative they are the more participation they will see from their students. Students like structure and purpose. They want to know where the ship is sailing and why it’s sailing there.

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By john D. McNeil, May 3, 2006 at 3:46 pm Link to this comment
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So glad to read of need to examine root causes for learning gaps. Wilms’ first- hand accounts of power struggles and his shifting our eyes from the school itself to the wider environment that controls 75 % of the variables related to achievement is timely.  One more anecdote to add is found in a report last week from San Diego where an NSF science curriculum was so successful in promoting science achievement among the low social class kids, that affluent parents waged a coup , taking over the school board and removing the NSF curriculum ,replacing it with the traditional approach that ensures their children’s privileged status. Also today Tom Hertz reports how a child born into a poor family has a 1% chance to make it to the top 5% in income while a child born rich had a 22% chance of being rich as an adult.

Less political is Michael Feuer’s “Moderating the Debate” where he addresses new approaches to educational policy based upon cognitive views of learning as well as better ways to accept evidence and establish standards for learning.  For me , I think it is time to revisit deschooling. Our focus on the school instead of other vehicles for education and learning is about as effective as trying to reduce the price of gas by improving
the combustion engine,

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By californiadreamer, May 3, 2006 at 9:26 am Link to this comment
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Of course they have the money.  You walk into a store and by a minimac for $450.  How much would they sell you 700,000 for?  I estimate that you could hook up every kid for about $200 million, which is chicken feed for this district. A lot of the infrastructure is there in term of high speed broad band, monitors, keyboards, just sitting around.  The big issue is the software.  Take the textbooks and using a consortium of teachers and software producers start putting the curriculum in a server that can provide quick uploading for every student in every class.  The student logs in and is directed to his place in the curriculum.  The teacher presents a new lesson and then the kids use computers to acquire the information.  Once again, the teacher monitors and provides 1-1 support for those who are having a more difficult time.  Those more able move forward at their pace.  Computer work transitions to small group work to oral language discussion groups to art to PE to some more computer work.  The teacher acquires updated information throughout the day and knows how each student is doing through test and re-test procedures.  If the software needs upgrading, it is easy to add a patch.  The saving from the annual purchase of textbooks and work books alone would pay for all this. Getting rid of literary coaches and math coaches and their supervisors would save millions and millions.  Problem is the entrenched bureaucracy, the special interest groups such as educational supply companies, well, they would like their jobs becoming redundant.  Such is the power of a paradigm shift.  The mayor may be only looking for political capital with his plan to take over the school district, but he truly has an opportunity to effectuate real change.  And for the teachers, liberation from the current standardization would be so renewing and exciting that their careers would be re-ignited.  Most of all the children would benefit.  Any one who has seen an ADHD student focused with 100% attention on a video game recognizes the potential of interactive, individualized, hands-on technology to help our children learn and grow.  The option frankly right now is to build more prisons for all those who are ill-equipted by the present education syster to succeed in the work place of our society.  I think you can tell I am very compassionate about Computerized education and have learned that a bloated bureaucracy is not going to consider anything that places its future at risk.

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By Lori Woods, May 2, 2006 at 11:35 pm Link to this comment
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I have taught English in LAUSD for over four years now and the one constant has been the top-down management. I have often wondered just how much money goes into this behemoth that only serves to affect me and my students either adversely or not at all.  While I struggle on my $42,000 a year salary, most of these administrators make two and three times that amount.  They have been out of the classroom so long, they have lost touch with the experience.  Yet they sit in their ivory tower and send directives, lessons, assessments, trainings, and “instructional guides” that are forced upon the classroom teacher without input or collaboration from the ones who daily interact with the students, parents, and community.  After complaining about the “instructional guides” for English Language Arts and their accompanying assessment exams (which take 8-10 instructional days out of our year to implement), I was told by the “literacy coach” that teachers can’t be trusted to plan their own lessons.  I realized that one of the reasons I am paid so little is that I am not truly considered a professional. 

I very much agree with Dr. Wilms’s call to deflate the bureacracy and give local control to principals, teachers, and parents.  How much money could be saved from this venture?  Perhaps then schools could get all the books and supplies they needed and teachers could be paid like the professionals they are.

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By Bearacuda, May 2, 2006 at 5:54 pm Link to this comment
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  Ok. I just want to clarify something you stated: “I am simple stating the obvious:  our schools are not using the technology that is available to enhance learnng and that is a disservice to our children.” Are you saying schools have the money and resources to implement this technology or should get more support to implement technology? School administrators, teachers, and budgets have been pushed to their limits.  Most teachers want to do their job better.  However, until you can alleviate some pressure for the teachers, you aren’t going to see them marching en masse to the nearest technology seminar.  If at this time you forced this on them, I think you could expect a backlash from the teacher’s.  They are already doing everything that is asked of them and more, and now one more requirement is going to be added.  A sentiment shared by many teachers is this: leave the educating to the educators. Give us room to breathe and let us practice our art.  We understand the importance of our jobs, it’s guaranteeing our future.

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By californiadreamer, May 2, 2006 at 9:18 am Link to this comment
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I appreciate the chance to debate and am sure your experience gives you more insight into the reality of the school system than my theoretical thinking.  However, I do believe that individualized education options are something that should not be dismissed out of hand.  What technology allows us to do is put more feet on the ground through the use of ComputerTutors.  Obviously these machines can’t replace the hearts and souls of real human teachers, but they can teach many aspects of the curriculum at the pace each student needs to learn successfully.  The child who graps the material moves on and isn’t penalized for his achievement while the student who is struggling is given instant remediation and instruction and re-testing to insure that he too has understood the concept presented.  If the teacher’s master computer indicates the child is still having trouble, then the teacher provides support.  The technology should provide interesting and entertaining instruction that challenges the student much as a video game will challenge a child on his Play Station at home.  Headphones and study carrels will reduce distraction and data collecton will allow the teacher to monitor each student’s progress.  The idea of “grades” might disappear as the students’ progress at their own ability. 
Certainly I am not promoting an Orwellian utopia where robots and computers do everything.  Oral language skills can only be developed through discussion groups.  Small groups of collaborative learners teach cooperation and social interaction.  Art projects, PE, all these aspects of education will not be replaceed by students chained to computers.  I am simple stating the obvious:  our schools are not using the technology that is available to enhance learnng and that is a disservice to our children. Unfortunately, half measures often avail us nothing, so the implementation of education technology must effectuate a paradigm shift and many toes will be stepped on in the process.

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By Bearacuda, May 1, 2006 at 10:47 pm Link to this comment
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1) On your comment about a third getting it, a third getting it with help, and a third not getting it at all; I agree. That appears to be my experience as well.
2) It appears you and I feel that our educational system is a mile wide and an inch deep.
3) Assessment is the word used to define how a teacher determines what their students know/don’t know about the content presented. There are many forms of assessment: tests, quizzes, homework, research projects, think-pair-share, oral presentations, direct observation, etc… Technology can be ‘a’ tool for assessment, but not an only tool. It shouldn’t become your only method of assessment.
4) You can’t teach a student self-responsibility if you take responsibility from them: “Computerized education allows for the teacher to monitor the class through instant analysis and to concentrate on the ones who need more help with personalized intervention.” A students knows if they understand or not.  If they do not understand, they must be required to ask. If you take that away from them, they’ll always expect the teacher to know if they know or don’t know the material and will divorce themselves of that responsibility.
5) “ComputerTutors”, who are they? A computer program that monochromatically regurgitates a solution to a problem isn’t as effective as reciprocal learning as a teaching strategy. Students work on a common assignment in groups of 3-5. I require that each group present a 100% correct problem of my choosing. The students in the group each get an extra point if it’s 100%, or no point if not. Therefore everyone in the group has a vested interest in the understanding of other students in their group. This works. There is not greater music to my ears than to hear students argue their answer or method to approaching a problem. That can’t be done with a computer program. Groups are setup academically heterogeneous. So that chances are at least one person in the group understands the content and can attempt to explain it in the manner they understand. This promotes pedagogy within group members.
6) “allowing each student to work at his/her own pace instead of one teacher presenting a lesson plan to a class of 25 who grasp the material at different rates of comprehension.” My opinion is that this is unrealistic. Imagine you teach two subjects, lets say Geometry and Algrebra, 5 periods every day. And you have thirds of every class working at different rates, then it will be a planning nightmare to coordinate 15 different schedules. Then there are other problems, do you setup 3 different due dates for homework for each class? 3 different test dates? If a third of the class is testing, what do you do with the other two thirds? You can’t send them out, or send the third out somewhere else to test. If you divide the class into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ then you’ve created a divided classroom environment and maintaining classroom management will be very difficult. Accomodating these different rates of learning under the best circumstances, 25 students would also be difficult, let alone 35.
7) I don’t buy into the ‘students are inundated with technology argument.’ Remember the ‘new math’? Why should students memorize multiplication tables if they can use a calculator(technology)? As a result, students are ill equiped to estimate solutions. An over-reliance on technology is dentrimental to education. In my opinion, there is no substitute for doing all of the work yourself. If work is outsourced to technology, then there is little learning taking place. Students in my Algebra II class (2/3) can add/subtract fractions without a calculator that can do fractions. And I’m talking about 1/3 + 1/15. A dependence on technology is not an “educational technique.”
    In conclusion, teacher-centered, student-centered, small group, and individual practice are all important teaching strategies that cannot be replaced by technology. Technology can open new avenues of demonstration, but can’t serve as a backbone of learning. I respect your opinion, yet experiencing the battle from the trenches is different than planning it from an office. I hope you don’t feel I’m arguing with you, I’m trying to debate you. That way, hopefully we’ll both learn something. The answer I think is not more ‘smart-bombs’ but more feet on the ground.

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By Walter Jones, May 1, 2006 at 2:03 pm Link to this comment
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It seems the last quote from Margaret Mead made the most sense in this entire debate about the steps that need to be taken to improve our schools.  Buzz points out a few instances, and I know of several myself, where a charismatic visionary educator is taken out of the school improvement equation and the plans that they have put in place have gone to seed.  It will take groups of concerned individuals to faciitate sweeping changes over time.  The “village” concept seems to be the only model for school improvement that can work.

in African-American communities during the time of legalized segregation there were limited funds, materials and expertise, but there was a greater level of family/community involvement.  The teachers, superintendents and families understood the urgency of educating their children, but I cannot say with any degree of cetainty that that urgency exists today.

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By Judith Perez, May 1, 2006 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment
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Thank you, Buzz, for initiating this discussion. Many of the comments in response to your essay are generalizations that have little to do with the reality I live every day. As the principal of a high-performing LAUSD elementary school, I spend most of my energy on supporting teachers, involving parents and finding adequate resources. Yes, funding is important. This year every LAUSD elementary school lost School Improvement Funds—in our case over $20,000 which is close to 25% of our discretionary budget—to secondary schools. What this means in real terms is a loss of classroom assistants who work with K-2 teachers to help kids learn to read and write. I heard this morning that funds currently used to help elementary schools improve math instruction may be redirected to secondary schools, as well.

Why is the district moving our limited funds to the secondary level? My understanding is that Gov. Romer decided that high schools need our money to create small learning communities and cut the drop-out rate. I wonder if UTLA or the administrators’ union, AALA, will address this issue.

Our school’s active parents and I will have to spend more time and energy next year raising money to mitigate these budget cuts. We currently raise money for school library books, chorus instruction, computer lab equipment and software, before-school childcare for working parents, after-school library and homework assistance for students, school beautification, a math instructor, and classroom paraprofessionals. We provide after-school tutoring and enrichment programs, and we keep our school playground open until 6:00 pm so children are safe and supervised until their parents can pick them up.

We have outstanding, hard-working teachers who often meet together on their own time to plan instruction for their respective grade levels. Some of them stay at school until 6:30 pm preparing lessons and would stay later if I’d let them. Our teachers are not the problem! The lack of resources is. If our school had to survive solely on the funds doled out by the district, we’d be in far worse shape than we are.

Regarding the issue of central vs. local control:
We need some sort of balance between the two. Whatever one thinks about the Open Court Reading/Language Arts Program itself or its implementation in LAUSD, there is value in having a single program districtwide. Yes, the program is flawed. It doesn’t do a great job with writing. It’s not wonderful for English Learners or gifted students. That’s why I encourage teachers at my school to adapt it and use additional materials with their students. I say this publicly and can do so because my students are doing well. If I were a principal at a low performing school, it would be risky to express this point of view.

I wonder sometimes if NCLB, with its emphasis on standardized testing and unfunded mandates, was deliberately crafted to undermine public education nationally. Some of it’s requirements are impossible to achieve, I think. I’m interested in your comments on this issue.

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By alex roberts, May 1, 2006 at 11:51 am Link to this comment
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It’s not just the poor schools that are suffering. When I was in Monterey California, hardly a poor, inner city school, there was an incident where a classroom ceiling fell in on students…purely from age and neglect of maintenance.

I firmly believe there has been a concerted and protracted effort to undermine public education. The purpose of this is to point then to all of the problems and offer up the solution of vouchers.

This ‘solution’ will effectively undermine public education further eroding it by siphoning money off and redirecting it to private institutions.

Since poorer families will be unable to meet the need to pay the balance of tuition the voucher won’t cover, this scheme becomes essentially a way to subsidize the rich as well as the religious.

Mr. Wilms is on the right track saying we need to take back the schools and redirect monies from the bloated administration to where it will do the most good; on the front lines of education.

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By californiadreamer, May 1, 2006 at 11:46 am Link to this comment
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In response to bearacuda’s post, I would reply that technology is probably the only answer because it provides more individualized education than in currently possible with the 25+:1 ration of students to teacher.  One teacher told me that the pace of education is so rapid in order to meet the California curriculum standards that the teacher does not have the time to reach all the students.  One third of the class “gets it” after the initial introduction of material, one third “gets it” with some re-teaching, but one third doesn’t “get it” and they move on with the others in the class.  Computerized education allows for the teacher to monitor the class through instant analysis and to concentrate on the ones who need more help with personalized intervention.  With ComputerTutors the ratio becomes more like 25:25.  With our software development capabilities and broadband access available in LAUSD schools, it seems almost negligent that we have not introduced more technology in the classroom.  I don’t mean to replace teachers and don’t minimize at all the impact of “personalized” education, but feel that the teacher’s ability to reach individual students would be enhanced by allowing each student to work at his/her own pace instead of one teacher presenting a lesson plan to a class of 25 who grasp the material at different rates of comprehension.  Maybe billions have learned without the use of technology but we have a new generation of learners who are deeply involved in technology in their daily lives.  It may be that the age of reading is over and the new age of technology needs to be the basis used for education.  The little red schoolhouse may have to give way to laptop learning.  And why not?  Certainly we should not be afraid to try out new educational techniques.  If we must have technology for our smart bombs and lunar landings, why not for education.

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By Scott Phelps, April 30, 2006 at 10:30 am Link to this comment
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Thank you for this thoughtful review of the recent history of promising developments and persistent problems in our field.  As a first-year graduate student in UCLA’s School of Education and a Pasadena school board member, I hope to use his essay and those forthcoming to spur some discussion in both arenas!

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By Tina Johnson, April 30, 2006 at 6:30 am Link to this comment
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As a former university librarian I’ve had the opportunity to work with students individually, and in small/large group situations from all classes and socio-economic backgrounds. Many of the high school graduates who come from our urban schools come to the university struggling from behind the eight ball: mis educated and in many cases not prepared for the rigorous journey to complete their education.

I agree with the premise presented by Buzz in his article. There is no escaping the flaws of our public educational system should we continue the path of experimenting with gimmicks to educate our children.  Quick fixes to the symptons do not work and will never work as long as the root of the problem is ignored. I’m of the opinion that the current No Child Left Behind initiative has compromised the leadership and innovative thinking of our principals,  zapped the creativity of teachers desirous of teaching and diminished the curiosity and desire of those who are at risk of learning. As pointed out in the discussion, social class does impact upon the learning environment of student, but more so in the absence of certain privileges I think the lack of parental involvement, to much bureaucracy, along with the command and control factor all serve to guarantee failure and they are indeed the true villains in the equation.

Having moved to a small town in rural America after working in a large metropolitan area, I’ve observed closely the public school system in action. The struggle for power between the local school board and the superintendent is a contentious situation, opportunities are being missed which could make a diference in the education of the children, low teacher salaries impact the quality of teachers hired and the few that are passionate about the profession find it difficult to do what they do best, teach the underprivilege.

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By David Tokofsky, April 29, 2006 at 10:19 pm Link to this comment
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On Tuesday at LAUSD Board of Education 2132417000 there will be discussion of elementary social studies textbooks and the lack of time for social studies, science and art in the upper grades fourth and fifth.  I invite all of you to come and participate as k=3 reading programs, if successful, should not impinge upon the upper grades launching into the reading to learn rather than fixating in the learning to read mode.

david , Member Board of Education

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By Mariam Russell, April 29, 2006 at 3:24 pm Link to this comment
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It is impossible to keep children from learning.
It takes a lot of work, planning, and money to insure that our children get out of school not knowing where Florida is when they live in that state, and not able to fill out a job application, much less actually do a job.

The only way this control can be directed at the educational system is control from the top down.

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By Susan suntree, April 29, 2006 at 2:49 pm Link to this comment
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The elements of the national crises in education, which Buzz so accurately describes, also are found in the whole of American culture. Despite our pretensions to individualism, we are a top- down society with an ever-widening gap between those at the top and those at the bottom. (Just note the difference between the per student money spent in wealthy versus poor school districts.) Segregation by ethnicity and class is the American way of life. Consequently,the wealthy are carefully protected from the damage that having lousy schools inflicts on students and their communities.

It is significant, as Buzz points out, that the students who attend well financed public schools are not even as afflicted by the current focus on standardized testing since, even if they comply with No Child Left Behind, their school days are enriched by many other modes of learning, as well as being clean pleasant places to spend a busy day. The schools that serve the poor, who are often English learners, are the ones most hobbled by not only the list of lacks we have become so accustomed to hearing (no paper, no text books, no clean bathrooms, no after school programs, etc), but by unmitigated standardized instruction and testing imposed by the Bush administration.

When we discuss how to fix our disintegrating schools, we are talking about how to fix a declining America. Nothing will come of any of it until everyone, rich and poor and the fewer and fewer left in the middle, pays the cost of abandoning our once cherished American institution: public education for all.

Paulo Freire advises: “Start where you are.”  Each student, teacher, each school, each parent, each community is a place to start. I agree with Buzz that we should begin our “fixing” by asking each one: What are the problems you see? How would you fix them? What do you need to get that done?

Perhaps this would start a democracy movement that might spead to the whole country.

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By Peter Lownds, April 29, 2006 at 1:50 am Link to this comment
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Immigrant parents cannot be ‘criminalized’ and their first-generation children expected to rise en masse to the phony NCLB bait. The culture of silence reigns in the LAUSD adullt schools where I have taught for the past twenty years. As the relatives of previous generations of immigrants, let us remember the Power of the Word (printed and spoken) to free harnessed minds!  My solutions: Bring good books, discussion, debate back into the classrooms.  Create a new “WPA” from the surplus of talented and ambitious young people in the entertainment industry.  If all the unemployed and underemployed writers, actors and videogame designers in Los Angeles were welcomed into ghetto schools as stimulating study buddies, we could take the pressure off overburdened teachers and bring the current dumbshow to a halt!

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By Alex J. Norman, April 28, 2006 at 4:18 pm Link to this comment
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Professor Wilms has identified some of the causes of the problems with our educational system.  Granted our policy makers and bureaucratic leadership play a pivotal role in the creation and perpetuation of those problems, however I see a situation in which there is enough blame to go around.  Certainly the bureaucratic maze and resistance to change is a large factor, and union concerns with contracts instead of academic performance is a contributor, but the students and parents have also opted out of the system rather than dealing with it.  I don’t know what the solution is but it has to involve some discussion among all of us (community activists like me included) as to what we can do the improve the academic performance of our students.  Further we need to give some attention to creating a violence-free, safer environment for children to learn.  Consequently I see a role for us all, District Admnistrators, Union leadership, parents, teachers, students, and community leaders.  We all have to claim ownership.

I say this having spent the better part of 2 years as a change consultant trying to convince LAUSD that the LEARN initiative was a good one for beginning reform efforts.  The concept was a good one, the timing was right, but the leadership at the District level and trust and confidence in the Superintendent’s office were non-existent.  That said, I can hardly wait for the next essay in the series.

Alex J. Norman, Professor Emeritus
UCLA School of Public Affairs

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By Frank Krasicki, April 27, 2006 at 7:07 pm Link to this comment
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There are so many wonderful responses here.

Paul Moore’s hit a nerve with me; “Buzz is an honest and earnest supporter of public education but he is mistaken in believing there is a genuine movement to reform the system. There is though a very real effort to destroy it.”

The command-and-control observation is a keen one.  Twenty-five years ago or so the Berlin Wall fell and public education has never recovered.  The national crisis of what to do with unnecessary military personnel played out in an all-out assault on schools.

Discipline and order became the new syllabus and schools today are run like paramilitary operations in far too much of the country.  Along with the military-style of discipline came the mindless memorization of factoids and standardized testing - and a generation of teachers and administrators more suited for prisons than schools.  The rhetoric changed from learning to 24x7 criticism of kids, parents, teachers, and schools.  Tough was never, ever tough enough.

It is no co-incidence that Kozol describes students (usually minorities) whose classroom responses are restricted to Manchurian Candidate-like dialogues, “Yes,-I-like-school-it is-wonderful-to-study-4-hours-every-night-they-treat-me-well.”

Watching students who are considered success stories often makes me wince because their personalities are blank, their soul is laid bare, and the grinning idiots responsible for the condition are snapping their suspenders with pride, “Told ya they could learn if ya just teach em right!”

Our country is being intellectually gutted by the right-wing lunatics who have taken control of the school bus and are hell-bent on driving it over the cliff.

Time to wake up and take it back before it’s irredeemable.

Here’s where I do my part;

- Frank Krasicki

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By Daniel Fyffe, April 27, 2006 at 6:13 pm Link to this comment
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P.S., Could Roy Romer possibly have been in place so as to ensure and protect bond issues rather than tend to the needs for educational reform. Roy Romers son worked for Merrill Lynch’s Municipal Bonds Dept. and I used to drive him while I put myself throught college.
Paul A. Moore is a kindred spirit and I salute you!

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By Daniel Fyffe, April 27, 2006 at 4:56 pm Link to this comment
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Education at its core must serve an introduction to various venues and avenues in which students can thrive and contribute, and it provides but a vehicle of servitude if limited to basic skills and repetitious root exercises.
Any educator understand the fundamental mission of reading and math, and it does not require an enormous leap of imagination to understand that full societal participation is not contained in an ability to read the declaration of independence or count the change received at a grocery store.
Education cannot presently be viewed from a greater perspective without considering the events unfolding at Compton Community College. This college which serves some of the most underprivileged areas in all of California is loosing it’s accreditation in spite of valiant efforts by a few fire-souls to resurrect it’s academic status from a decade of odious mismanagement.
No a single school of higher learning in all of southern California has come to help Compton’s 6000 students in the struggle to reconstitute. The only way the C.C.C. may still be able to serve its community is to piggy back on the accreditation of a northern California historically black college.
Bush may not care about black people as the rapper Kanyae West pointed out in the now infamous telethon for victims of hurricane Katrina. It would appear equally evident that academia doesn’t give a flying hoot about educating those most in need of a lift.
Rappers incidentally provide outstanding examples of those educational establishments do not embrace. Abrasive, creative, critical, and tattered true pain in the neck champions of the people are not to be found amongst the bulk of conformist chameleons now caged in the annals of supposed knowledge.
Where the hell is the intellectual curiosity and vigor of the 1960’s in today’s schooling?
From a clinical and perhaps rather convenient academic standpoint, Buzz sees the necessity to empower individual districts, schools and perhaps even teachers with flexibility in responding to particular needs in achieving educational goals.
Educational systems do however aim at aligning students with the goals the dominant culture and are formulated to meet perceived future needs of corporations. Educational institutions have become supremely adept in discouraging adversity or diversity of any kind, and this is where current educational methods will fail.
It may be sexy in it’s quasi patronizing stance to suggest a desire to help underprivileged segments of society, and it doesn’t take much effort to sift off the strongest steam through cracks at the top of the boiler, yet this does not example a true methodology of change.
What can we learn from a place such as Cuba, where class-consciousness has been eradicated and a truly broad swath of society is highly educated?
Academics currently enjoy the constant shifting of blame to this or that idea of proper pedagogy, while lacking in evidence of the benefits in learning.
U.C.L.A. stands a great example of this enormous failure, with above a 70% stake of the student body at a 50/50 split between White and Asian students.
Amongst the black peers of my 18 year “mixed” ethnicity son, The word is how an increase of Asians is the only shift that has occurred since the 1940’s when Jackie Robinson attended U.C.L.A. based on his outstanding athleticism.
Under-represented students are hardly a priority of academia, but much rather the ability to compete in academic status versus other institutions. The fear of loosing credibility by taking on students who have not been granted the proper tools to succeed at any instance in their lives can only serve those who have.
As illustrated by low scores amongst underrepresented students of color even with the “new and improved” SAT’s, it appear as if academia is engaged in a self aggrandizing circular chicanery of touting it’s social magnificence rather than to push up shirts sleeves and get to work on the down and dirty.
A caste system has been created in the U.S. where people from the lower echelons do not posses faith in education as a route to achieve social acceptance or even earn an improved comfort of life. 
Critical thinking is hardly foreign to any societal class, and in that very few working stiffs can comprehend the value of an education leading to another tier of discrimination. Coupled with what seems an insurmountable cost of obtaining a higher education, a prevailing attitude of belonging to or not belonging with another group remains a huge wall to be breached.
It is pure nonsense to suggest that missed educational opportunities solely belong to people of a lower economic strata without recognizing how these segments statistically are mostly populated by the same folk who have been suppressed and marginalized throughout the entire American history.
Glass ceilings galore is the society in which we live, and profound divisions still remain to be shattered before we can suggest that we aim for fairness or equality in shaping young minds.
True innovation and change does not emanate from conformity, and protecting a status quo by a veneer of grandiose gestures will ultimately prove counter-productive.
Fostering conflict is as lousy as promoting only the most compliant, however students should not remain the only element to be challenged in and out of an educational environment.
Learning is not an imposition but rather a two way street where we cannot teach and learn from those who are not participating or allowed to enter.
Courage to reform must begin with the wish to inspire and guide the most stimulated minds wherever they are to be found, and such minds may not always be clean, have domesticated attitudes or wear proper attire, but rest assured they do have the power to shake up some rusty academic attitudes and bring ingenuity to the domestic table.

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By Marvin Spiegelman, April 27, 2006 at 4:52 pm Link to this comment
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Thanks very much to Professor Wilms for his informed, evidenced-based and insightful article. I look forward to more of them. As a lay person in this area, despite having been a university professor and teacher of post-doctoral people as an auxiliary profession, I am struck by the many voices and, especially, the complaints and frustration. Furor paedigogicus they used to call it; the wild energy used in the belief that teaching would mend all ills in society, if only we did it right. Social class is the main thing, or race, or money, or uninterested parents or ...? I would guess that keeping things small and local, as Wilms suggests, at least keeps us more real amd correctible.
My heart goes out to the suffering teachers, parents, kids, in their frustration. I can only report that I learned from dedicated and informed teachers and perhaps ten of them, in my years in public schools, university and post-doctoral work, were truly memorable. But my own motivation was central; when this is not present ,for whatever reason, that must be addressed first, don’t you think?
My teaching of others has been fairly easy since almost everybody is eager to learn. I look forward to hearing more from Wilms and his thoughtful reflections.

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By Bearacuda, April 27, 2006 at 4:51 pm Link to this comment
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Californiadreamer: I don’t think technology is the key.  Billions of students have learned from teachers without technology.  Technology is a tool, an added resource; but it isn’t the panacea of education.  I do agree that immediate feedback is very important.  That’s what answers at the back pages of textbooks are for.  That is your immediate feedback.  If a student doesn’t understand, no computer program can substitute for a human educator.  A computer program hasn’t developed a personal relationship with the student.  It doesn’t know what the student’s life contains.  So, how can it possibly relate to a student?
    Prior to this article, the LA Times ran a 4 part series about high school education.  It was good to see that high school education got some attention.  But it didn’t spark a movement.
    I share the sentiments as others that have commented here.  Instead of asking me, “What do I need to get an A?” they ask, “what do I need to do to get a D?”  You can reach a few of them, but a teacher cannot fight against a system that is stacked against education.  When I was in high school in the late 80s, it was the students who were more interested in their grades.  Now, it seems to have shifted.  Teachers and administrators care more about the students grades than the students do.  That is why so many teachers bend over backwards for the educational system.  But as a result, the students get used to having everything handed to them.  It’s an environment they have learned to maninpulate.  Students aren’t lazy, they just aren’t held accountable.  It’s a scary thing when a teacher does hold students accountable for their results to be met by a chorus of injustice by the students.  Getting poor grades doesn’t scare them.  Getting poor grades doesn’t seem to frustrate them much.  You’d think failing a test would be sufficient to get yourself in gear and work harder.  But that just doesn’t happen for these kids.  It appears the students response to the question “aren’t you concerned your not getting good grades?”, to which they reply “what for?”
    Lastly, teachers have to be treated as professionals.  Teachers are highly educated, technical, and hard working people.  People don’t walk into a doctor’s office and instruct him on how to diagnose them.  That doesn’t happen because doctors are viewed as medical professionals.  The same goes for architects, nurses, financial advisors, etc…  In California, a highly qualified (majored in their content area & completed a credential program) beginning teacher cannot afford a house payment.  Isn’t someone with over 7 years of education, holding a position that isn’t respected and supported, who sees 150+ people every day that don’t want to see them, works more than 8 hours a day including weekends, and faces a student to teacher ratio of 40:1 entitled to make enough money to afford a home?
    I am a relatively new high school mathematics teacher and this has been my experience.  Thank you.

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By Mark, April 27, 2006 at 3:34 pm Link to this comment
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Schools with a student poplulation of more than 500 are unmanageable.  (I know you can find exceptions, but under real world circumstances the changes of success are limited) As school populations expand beyond 500 layer upon layer of administration is added to gain and maintain control. Then admin workers are hired to coordinate the administration and so on…..  Small schools also form the core of communities. Kids are able come to know the other students, the teachers and principles. Transportation problems are greatly resolved along with many others problems, you fill in the blanks. One of the biggest benifits is that teachers have a more enjoyable work enviroment. We know the solution-small schools with dedicated teachers and dynamic principles. (It could be done) Consolidation of schools, as if the economies of scale work on children, was a mistake we pay for everyday.

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By Paul A. Moore, April 27, 2006 at 11:34 am Link to this comment
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Buzz is an honest and earnest supporter of public education but he is mistaken in believing there is a genuine movement to reform the system. There is though a very real effort to destroy it. As far back as 1950, the iconic University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman wrote in his book Capitalism that “The privatization of schooling would produce a new highly active and profitable industry.” Friedman is the ideological godfather of today’s assault on the public school system across the country.

From the world’s richest human being Bill Gates to the world’s most powerful corporate entity Wal-Mart and the Walton Family Foundation to the billionaire mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, the enemies of public education can dip into a bottomless well of money to execute their mission. They carry political leaders around in their pockets like so much loose change. The President of the United States and the governors of Florida, California, Texas and New York are just a few who belong to their “destroy disguised as reform” movement.

Our nation’s history recalls public education as a partner of the abolition of slavery in a grand post-Civil War experiment in expanded democracy. Their dream is to arrest and reverse this expansion. They are men unsated by billions in profits plying young people with X-Boxes, iPods, Big Macs, Air Jordans, cell phones, Sprite, MTV, and B.E.T. They want their cake and they want to eat it too. Their appetite includes the transfer of billions of dollars in annual public school funding into their own pockets. They will have a downsized and exclusive for-profit school system to train and educate only the children created in their own image and likeness.

But the American people’s deep reverence for equal opportunity stands between the privateers and their mission. For that reason their designs must be concealed behind the façade of education reform and the smokescreen of school choice. Genuine reforms like class-size reduction and increased teacher salaries are violently opposed. The principle of increasing budgetary outlays to build a more effective homeland defense does not seem to apply to public education. Instead they employ weapons of mass deception that include voucher programs, merit or performance pay plans for teachers, charter schools, and canards like the so-called “65% solution”.

Then there is the most potent weapon in their arsenal—standardized testing. They bludgeon 9 and 10-year-old children, parents, teachers, administrators, elected school boards and whole school districts with it. You failed! You are a failure! You are failing! Yours is an F-school! Strange how something so uplifting is confined to the public schools but testing is for public schools only! Start testing the pre-teen child in the third grade. Keep testing every year until the schools become testing factories and then testing sweatshops where children labor to no useful end. The music, art, dance, theater, physical education and vocational classes are for private schools. Recess and field trips are for rich kids!

With these tools they have battered public schools as Hurricane Katrina did the Gulf Coast. The ensuing New Orleans-style exodus has transformed those schools into America’s Superdome. Huddled inside now are the mostly Black, Latino and white children of poor and working-class parents. Their broken bodies and spirits will be found amid the wreckage after the very idea of universal public education has been demolished.

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By George S Semsel, April 27, 2006 at 8:35 am Link to this comment
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The core of the matter is that neither education nor educators are respected in the U.S. As long as education is given no more than a passing note, if that, in our media, while sports, entertainment and the trivia that passes for news are given broad daily coverage, nothing will change. My Chinese friends do not understand why education is so little valued here, or why the media carries on such a relentless campaign to denegrate the profession and those given to t teaching. Our values are seriously distorted.

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By Ion C. Laskaris, April 26, 2006 at 9:07 pm Link to this comment
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Having been a high school and college/university
teacher years ago, I am always fascinated by
the occasional efforts to break out of a “dead
souls” education system. This seems to be a
national cancer. The same paralysis and dis-
content seems to plague Vermont as well.

There is plenty of blame to go around. And
it seems to me poor Kozol was lamenting the
same unforgiveable neglect in the public
education system around Boston some 36 years
ago. I think administrators + teachers with
education degrees, but frontal lobotomies when
it comes time to tend to “the life of the mind”
are part of this national curse. I have never
heard of the NEA threatening a strike about
classroom overloads, trash textbooks, too damned
much paperwork, administrative suffocation, etc
in 50 + years watching its behaviors.

No self-respecting teacher in the private sector
would put up with this kind of domination which
pretends to be “supervision”.

What truly astonishes me is the apparent reality
there are no experiments going on to break thru
this demoralized condition. As for the parents,
I suspect many of them are poor, like more and more Americans, trying to hold down 2-3 low-wage
jobs, or having none. Why don’t you try a free
Saturday afternoon picnic, or church supper, etc.
at times when poor folks can attend? Middle class
folks with cars and some money and leisure time
tend to forget the sheer exhaustion of those in
the bottom of the barrel in a viscious class

I sense all the vested interests in the public education system are only concerned to preserve
their own powers and benefits, and the children be damned - probably forever!

Ion C.Laskaris +

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By R. A. Earl, April 26, 2006 at 9:02 pm Link to this comment
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There seems to be massive, wide-spread misunderstanding and confusion about this notion of “education.”

Einstein is reported to have stated, and I paraphrase, “education is what’s left AFTER YOU’VE FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING YOU LEARNED IN SCHOOL.”

It seems to me most “education” systems as described in this essay are actually TRAINING systems (and not very good ones at that.)

There’s a HUGE difference between EDUCATION and TRAINING. Most of today’s systems are geared toward producing FUNCTIONARIES for society… COGS for WHEELS OF INDUSTRY. Nothing more. Nothing less. That’s why I’ve long advocated that INDUSTRY and BUSINESS should be required to fully fund the school system since it is they who stand to benefit the most from the products.

However, I digress. My main point in this comment is to point out perhaps the obvious… that there are FAR too many cooks at the broth, and those cooks are FAR too politically motivated and “power-over” oriented. I submit it is a fundamental error to place the control and management of critically important “educational” institutions in the hands of amateurs and volunteers… eg elected/appointed school board members. We sure as hell wouldn’t let a bunch of volunteers control and direct our military or mining or automotive industries… why then do we insist that they control the most critical industry of all?

In the essay, it was written “Parents have a significant role to play in their children’s education, but their voices have been largely silenced.” In my opinion, many parents are ill-equipped to be directing an “education” system. Many are woefully ill-educated themselves, at least as educators, and some are so blinded by self-interest, prejudice, religious/righteous nonsense and just plain ignorance that to put them solely and ultimately in charge of a child’s “education” is about as shortsighted a move as I can imagine. Someone needs to tell “parents” that the ability to biologically reproduce doesn’t qualify them to run the world!

That said, a parental “role” - a voice - is, appropriate… just don’t let it be the controlling vote… not if you expect progress or change, that is. The “professionals” clearly can’t be trusted to do it alone either. Left on their own, they build empires bigger and faster than the Romans!

Richard Chapleau in #7951 wrote: “There’s not too much more sad than a parent of a high school student softly crying and saying to me, “I just don’t know how to reach her anymore” as she discusses her child’s progress.” My point exactly… parents are AMATEURS… of course most of them don’t know how or what to teach a child what he or she needs to know to cope with a future that even the parent can’t comprehend or visualize!

Communities need to sort out whether they want children TRAINED or EDUCATED. If it’s trained, then by all means, teach the little darlings as you would teach a parrot… repetition, regurgitation, and test scores until they fit into the “system” like a new part. And for God’s sake NEVER teach them to think for themselves!

However, if you want an EDUCATED population… then the TOP priority is to teach CRITICAL ANALYSIS. Sure, 3Rs, and lots of other FACTS of KNOWLEDGE need to known and understood, and many basic skills need to be learned, but unless and until the learner knows HOW to ANALYSE INFORMATION… sort the wheat from the chaff, identify the “bull” and the “shit”, HOW to THINK INDEPENDENTLY, and HOW to SYNTHESIZE IDEAS, you will produce only a trained monkey… like the one living in the White House at the moment.

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By Mike Cortrite, April 26, 2006 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment
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Professor Wilms hit the nail on the head about the problem of command and control management.  The story about Roy Romer resonates with me and my experience with administrators more worried about keeping control than doing what they’re supposed to do—in this case educating our children

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By Marianne Caston, April 26, 2006 at 6:51 pm Link to this comment
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Thank you for a provocative discussion of the serious problems facing our public schools.  In Santa Barbara we have held community meetings at the public library to engage the public, parents of school children, teachers, teacher educators, school board members and university researchers.  After hearing Kozol speak, we determined that despite the impression that Santa Barbara is a “wealthy” community, our schools are as deeply segregated as those in Kozol’s recent book.  The conversation was excellent, but merely a drop in an ocean of needed communication across groups in our community.  Clear information was shared as well as stories and reactions to the harsh reality of NCLB and the priviliging of standardized tests as the only way to measure learning. 

As a teacher educator, I am passionately commited to educating enthusiastic, compassionate, knowledgeable and skilled new teachers for our public schools.  Our biggest hurdle seems to be that once they are hired, all the wonderful knowledge and skills they have acquired while in our program becomes secondary or worse in the pursuit of test scores.  Only in the schools where excellent leadership is supported by district administration are our candidates finding positions that allow them to use their professinal knowledge.  Such a terrible waste of everyone’s energy turns us cynnical and apathetic.  Unless we are driven, inspired by the work of those such as Deborah Meier, Jeanne Oakes, Sonia Nieto, Paulo Freire and others who have worked for change under even more difficult situations, we would give up.  But we don’t.  We continue to give our hearts and minds to creating schools that teach all our children powerful curriculum so that they can take on the immense challenges facing our world.

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By Debi Jaramillo, April 26, 2006 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment
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I agree whole-heartedly…As a university Reading/Language Arts instructor and K-5 Literacy Coach, I realize our schools are not only limiting the content taught in the classrooms, but are hindering student learning by requiring “pull-out” remedial programs that piecemeal reading and math into bite-sized, meaningless chunks of adequacy, just to pass standardized assessments on out-of-context basic skills.  If we are to improve the system, I believe instructional coaches, administrators, and curriculum specialists in our schools and districts need to work with teachers and students on “teaching for meaning” (see Knapp, 1995) rather than drill and kill.  We can’t blame parents or the communities of poverty…we can’t blame politicians.  What we need to do is start with the people who spend eight hours on the cognitive development of children- it is here where we change lives-one mind at a time.

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By Saul, April 26, 2006 at 4:00 pm Link to this comment
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The problem is both liberals & conservatives will both have to give up objections and allow public schools to operate somewhat like private schools.
Right now we are catering to the lowest form rather then the highest.
We need to have the schools make contracts with the parents that insure their kids will be in school and noy playing hookey, that they do homeworks and that the parents get involved in school and at home.
For those that aren’t willing, then have 2 different tracts- one for those willing to learn and those forced to go to school.
If parents are on board and see problem they should ask for and get tutoring.
Also ditch the idea that everyone is or wants to be college bound and have vocational training which provides for good paying jobs that can’t be easily outsourced.
This can be done. My youngest son went to a school in a wealthy neighborhood but kids were bused in. The principle was a black woman who rode herd on the kids and the PTA wouldn’t put up with any crap and also provided aides to the school.
The religious wrong wants private schools to both get tax deductions or tuition for their kids they are sending to religious schools or to inculcate young innocent minds to their bs

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By californiadreamer, April 26, 2006 at 2:12 pm Link to this comment
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As a school psychologist with LAUSD for over ten years, I have seen the frustration of teachers and seen the blank faces of children not learning in spite of all the structured learning that is being imposed on the district to improve test scores through standardization.  A brand new bureaucracy has emerged to monitor teacher compliance with the new directives.  It is true that is is all politically driven and perhaps the not so hidden agenda is a voucher system that will subsidize the wealthier parents so they can place their children in segregated private schools.  Conservatives have long believe public education to be a form of socialism that a free market economy would drastically improve.  There is one overlying problem that never seems to be addressed.  It seems to me that students are learning differently these days.  I learned to read and continued to read because reading was a form of entertainment that could transport me from my little dusty California town to a world of adventure and excitement.  Today’s children much prefer being transported by video games or television and reading falls by the wayside.  It seems we need to recognize this over-riding fact and start using technology to teach children.  If every child worked at his own pace with a computerized curriculum that provided instant error remediation and each child’s progress was logged into the teacher’s computer, then the teacher could provide 1-1 support to those who need it and those who wanted to move forward could.  Truly then no child would be left behind.  I think we need to effectuate a technological paradigm shift to really change education.  As many have said, parents play a huge role, but we need to bring education into the 21st century.  We shouldn’t teach kids how to use computers, we should use computers to teach kids.

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By Jeri Hurd, April 26, 2006 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment
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I echo what Richard Chapleau says below.  As a 20 year veteran teacher (7-12),I find that parents want rigorous standards until it comes to their child, and then all hell breaks loose if you dare to suggest that child’s performance is sub-standard.  Increase expectations, but you’re hauled in if you have too many D’s and F’s. 

I love teaching, but after 20 years, I’m burned out, fed up with the bureaucracy, the discipline problems, the paper load,  the students who want an easy A without being willing to work, and the administrators and legislatures that measure test scores, not student achievement.  I’m getting out.

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By Jill Chapin, April 26, 2006 at 10:53 am Link to this comment
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Contrary to what this article tries to portray, there was no “new idea” to reform school.  As usual, these discussions about improving schools skirts the main reason why our schools are failing.
It’s not so much that we keep parents silenced; it’s that they choose to remain silent unless they complain about how bad their schools are.  Parents sure do need a voice - but at HOME, to monitor their children’s TV, friends, homework, free time, values, work ethic, etc.
Scholars love to debate the “problem of public education.”  They should really be talking about the “problem of the public”. 
If things are dysfunctional at home, why would these kids from there magicallly morph into students with a “zest for learning?” 
Reformers have egos far too big.  Truth is - they aren’t the problem - or the solution.
Except they are the problem if they continue to hide behind politically correct answers.  The finger needs to be pointed toward those in the audience of a PTA meeting, except there are far too few sitting there to see that finger.

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By Bob Simpson, April 26, 2006 at 10:19 am Link to this comment
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The goal is a vibrant, relevant and effective educational system, one that prepares students to be productive, active and energized participants in society.  The educational system is the biggest of bureaucracies, one whose goal is far too often to maintain the bureaucracy, not to provide vibrant education.

Speaking for administrators interested in empowering faculty, families and students to structure an educational environment conducive to the goals stated in the article, we buck the system at our own peril.  Change cannot come about if we are not willing to fight the battles needed to redirect institutional energy, but in far too many instances one must be willing to lay a career on the line in order to do so.  And at the end of the day, there is no guarantee of success.

Countervailing forces are powerful.  Institutional inertia is powerful.  The possibility of sacrificing a career or career goals can be frightening.  But living with the status quo should be even more so.

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By Kathleen McCoombs, April 26, 2006 at 9:52 am Link to this comment
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This article is extremely interesting and I would like to read the rest of it—the third page cannot be accessed.  Something about “database connections”  Help!

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By Daniel J.B. Mitchell, April 26, 2006 at 9:27 am Link to this comment
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An interesting piece.  Since I know zilch about the issue, I will make some observations based on going through the public schools of New York City, 1948-60.  My impression is that the schools were at that time bureaucratic, top down, etc.  They “worked” as far as the middle class was concerned by leaving maybe a third of the students behind.  Schools were either de facto segregated by neighborhood or, where the neighborhood was mixed, by grading.  The third grade classes in a mixed school would be labeled 3A, 3B ... down to maybe 3R.  The higher in the alphabet, the “better” the students and the more learning that went on.  By the time you got to 3R, the teacher just kept order, or tried to.  At the high school level, poor students ended up in vocational schools or vocational tracks or dropped out.  And there was not much vocational learning if they stayed.  Students in the middle got “general diplomas” which meant they were not headed for college.  But the girls learned typing and the boys learned “shop”.  They could get jobs after graduating with those skills.  The top third went on to college.  And within the top there were the elite schools, Stuyvesant (at the time all male) and Bronx Science (co-ed). 

Here is the politically incorrect observation.  The old schools “worked” OK for 2/3 and did a good job for the top 1/3, despite bureaucracy, top down management, etc.  Now the schools don’t seem to work well for anyone.  The old system could function a) because it got middle class support for being ok for the top 2/3 and b) because it really wasn’t expected to leave no child behind (and so didn’t have to carry the cost of trying to do so within its budget).

===Dan Mitchell

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By Richard Chapleau, April 26, 2006 at 9:18 am Link to this comment
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As a classroom teacher and a graduate of the UCLA doctoral program, I know of Dr. Wilm’s work first-hand.

I agree wholeheartedly that there is blame enough for all in the equation.  Buzz, I hope that we see more work on the parent side of these issues.  Yes, the politics of absurdity are everywhere in our schools.  Up the Down Staircase is alive and well after a half a century.

However, in the trenches, I don’t see disempowered parents.  On the contrary, even in the lower SES area where I teach, parents are in charge.  The unwritten rule is that if a parent complains, pedagogy be damned.  The education system is dedicated to an unrocked boat.

So I see teachers doing nothing that might challenge a child’s intellect and therefore engender the dreaded phone call/email from admin.

I see administrators telling me to “raise my standards, yet lower my expectations.”

I have so many wonderful children in my classrooms who are completely unprepared for academic work.  My belief, and it is borne out by looking at numerous “cum” files in the office, is that the child was abandoned somewhere many years before. 

We have monthly parent meetings, usually called by a parent.  We run about 30-40% parent attendance at these.  No apologies, no show, no call.  The teachers sit and wait to help for a family that never comes.

My goal is to hold teachers very accountable for their work, and also to hold them accountable for going beyond the call of duty.  Ours is a helping profession.  Still, there must come a time when the community is also asked to quantify some sort of accountability of its own.

I’ve renamed NCLB (nicklebee) to CLBBF (Club F): Child Left Behind By Family.

We need to get more help for these struggling families, and we need to do it early.  There’s not too much more sad than a parent of a high school student softly crying and saying to me, “I just don’t know how to reach her anymore” as she discusses her child’s progress.

Richard Chapleau
Holiday Valley, California

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By Morgan Hatch, April 26, 2006 at 9:14 am Link to this comment
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This is the type of clear-headed discussion that needs to percolate in education.  Prof. Welms not only points out the narrowing of pedagogy which results from increased focus on test scores, he makes important mention of the pitched-camps that now line up all in the name children.  I hear in the article a sense of real opportunity that comes and goes in the midst of organizational standoffs.  Stakeholders appear to really be holding stakes!  And they are pointing them at each other rather than noticing Jose has his hand raised waiting for a little help.

There seems also to be an implicit challenge from Prof. Welms for anyone who cares about education to look past the hopeful yet transitory success of a charismatic leader to find a sustaining model of teaching and learning that captures imaginations among anyone who walks the halls of our public schools. 

Looking forward to the piece about mayoral control.

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By Edward P. Fiszer, Ed.D., April 26, 2006 at 8:51 am Link to this comment
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Dr. Wilms’ article captures the dilemma facing public schools.  Quick results are expected but cannot be fixed by quick actions proposed remotely.  Kozol’s work showcases the deep rooted issues facing schools across the country that require sincere answers.  These answers must be generated from the school stakeholders themselves since only the individual school itself truly understands their unique population and can propose appropriate remedies.  “One size fits all” approaches do not work - yet these top down approaches persist.  I look forward to the follow up essays from Dr. Wilms.

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By Harvey Hoyo, Ed.D., April 26, 2006 at 8:38 am Link to this comment
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I agree with the theme of the article: the class room needs should drive the instruction with some form of collaborative process designed to support that instructional program.  Perhaps, it is time we look more seriously at the charter school movement. 
Several years ago, Dr. Libby Gil, former Superintendent of Chula Vista Elementary School District, implemented a plan to reorganize that school district into charter schools.  She was trying to “open a window” and create a change from a top down management structure.  Preliminary results in increased academic achievement appeared positive.  Dr. Gil is no longer in charge of that district.  I wonder where the district is at this point in time?

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By ann, April 26, 2006 at 8:24 am Link to this comment
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We have structural problems in education that can be addressed by the government.  One: teachers.  My mother was a teacher and the last years of her life she was at an assisted living facility.  Every woman she ate dinner with, there were five or six at her table, had taught or been educated to teach.  That was education in the 1930’s.  No so today.  I know people who would make excellent teachers but are struggling to pay for one class at a time in junior college while they work a job or two.

My plan: the government pays for the education of teachers in return for so many years of service back to the community.  Some teachers will stay in the profession, some will leave.

When people reach early (forced or voluntary) retirement from their professions (not necessarily teaching)  there should be a place for them to participate in education programs.  Retired workers have a wealth of information that should be passed along at the junior college or university level.  They might also want to work as counselors or help teach reading skills, music or other areas they are interested in (teaching American history and civics?).  This could provide them with medical insurance to fill the gap between retirement and Medicare and give them limited income.

We should also consider dissolving the Department of Education.  I have read the number one indicator of how well a child will do in school is parental involvement.  But if all the decisions are made behind closed doors in Washington D.C., parents have less opportunity for involvement. 

I believe also, instead of just block grants to States (after we dissolve DOE) there should be regional centers set up headed by Universities (the institutional responsibility could revolve on a five or seven year term to keep ideas fresh and power shifting).  These centers would be used to coordinate and facilitate information passing between educators.

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By Richard Gilbert, April 26, 2006 at 8:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a former classroom English teacher and a former Director of Sales for a multinational sales organization I have had many experiences that dealt with the thrill of learning by teaching others and the despair of failing to get my message across. Your article is closer to defining the problem than any other I have read.

Add to those problems you underscore the new tax revolt exacerbated by prop-2.5 in Massachusetts which constrains spending by law and forces every additional expenditure to an over-ride vote thereby segmenting the big picture into so many bumper sticker sound bites.
Small towns and big cities are not able to afford the schools they need. In Massachusetts small towns are forced to increase taxes yearly to support the school-operating budget. Woe be unto the town that needs to include a building program on top of the operating budget. Clearly the states(s) need to plan for how the economics work in the future. It is going to be a huge problem because to place the funding at the state level invites a bureaucratic disaster.
How do we direct expenditures where they are needed, reward the top teachers to teach the lowest class students and instill a desire in students and their families that they really need an education to get the most out of their lives. I agree it must be done; what is the plan; what is the first step?

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By mlipka, April 26, 2006 at 7:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You have presented a whole lot of grist for the mill. And used a compelling argument for better schooling. In a recent conversation with a teacher his complaint is, “No Child Left Behind” Law. Why? You must have the children memorize for the test. Teach no skills. The solution you presented fits in exactly with this complaint. Move the bureaucrats aside; federal, state and local and let the teachers teach. Evaluate the teacher, not some standardize test developed by someone in some far off part of the country but on the objective standards for the grade level using existing models developed by other sucessful schools. Then one can judge the school on a whole. Then the district.

Recently I took a class and to my chagrin the math was bent to “new math”. I’m old school and problems were easily solved and I was done before the others could read the problem. When asked to present my solution my answers were corrects but my method was wrong. Too many cooks in the kitchen, lets get back to basics. It worked before lets get it to work again.

Thanks for a thoughtful argument to a problem in need of a major solution.

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