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NOW on Demand
Week of 5.1.09

A Radical Fix for Schools?

Do we need to gut our public schools in order to save them?

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How is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan going to spend $100 billion in stimulus money—almost twice the education budget—to fix our nation's schools? During his seven years running Chicago's public schools, Duncan went head to head with the teacher's union and skeptical parents by closing down low-performing schools, getting rid of all the teachers, principals, even the janitors, and reopening them with new staffs as "turnaround schools."

It's a drastic step, but the results have been promising. This week, NOW travels to Chicago to investigate the collateral damage of a top-to-bottom school makeover, and to get a glimpse of what the future of education might look like for the rest of the country.

"We have to be willing to experience a little bit of pain and discomfort, but our children desperately need it and deserve it," Secretary Duncan tells NOW. "Just as we have to do it, unions have to change, principals have to change, teachers have to change, parents have to step up... business as usual is not going to get us there."

Web Features

Issue Clash: Merit Pay
Two experts go head to head on the divisive issue of merit pay for teachers.

Extended Interview: Arne Duncan
The Secretary of Education did his homework for the job by implementing drastic changes in Chicago. What did he learn?

In Your State: Stimulus Spending on Education
See how your state plans to spend its share of the $100 billion in stimulus funds devoted to education.

Book Excerpt: "Work Hard. Be Nice."
Jay Mathews tells the story of two young men who founded KIPP, a nationwide network of public charter schools.

Related Links and News

Department of Education: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (pdf), chart outlining how the $100 billion in education stimulus money is being allocated.

Edweek: Transparency Elusive as First Stimulus Funds Flow

The Huffington Post: Obama Education Plan Speech: Stricter Standards, Charter Schools, Merit Pay

Inside Higher Ed: Rise in Distance Enrollments

The New York Times: Study Cites Dire Economic Impact of Poor Schools

The New York Times: Large Urban-Suburban Gap Seen in Graduation Rates

U.S. News & World Report: Online Education Offers Access and Affordability

The Wall Street Journal: Education Push Includes Merit Pay Obama outlines plans for education reform

Viewer Comments

Commenter: KP
Why would a school district have to hire an organization to hire a principal??? That makes no sense.

Commenter: MP
Tell me--where are the parents of those kids who were cursing at the principal and fighting in the hallways? Did they get fired too?

It starts at home. You can hire and fire teachers all day long but, essentially, if parents aren't engaged in their children's education to the best of their ability, then it won't matter.

Sure, educators have some culpability, sometimes, but teachers influence perhaps nine months of a child's life. I don't see where they should bear 100% of the blame.

Commenter: Catonya W
From a parent stand point, I was initially against the turnaround process that took place at Harvard. Knowing that I wasn't going to move out of that neighborhood anytime soon, I decided to give it a chance. For those skeptics out there,those same children that gave the old staff problems are still at the school. They aren't being told to sit, stand, walk, and stay quiet on command. They are being taught to be respectful to their peers as well as the teachers and other adults in the school. In an environment that isn't chaotic, our children are learning more and we don't see the violence that we used to see in the school. This turnaround was the best decision for Harvard School. I can tell you that because I have four children there, and I've lived through 11 years of this school. You can't tell the story if you haven't lived through it.

Commenter: AnneH
Okay I started teaching in fall and resigned in February due to violence that was out of control in my room. I had no mentoring, my lesson plans were picked apart, I was told that there was no reason to remove a student in the room, I was told my voice was too loud, too soft, I was too anxious. When I finally asked the principal about mentoring she said I could ask the mentor, no consideration that I had already asked.

My last straw was when a student was violent and not disciplined. I think I made a statement however I am out of a job in a really tough market. I am in debt way over my head and I STILL have not had any effective training in dealing with violent children. I student taught in an affluent school where I dealt with totally different issues. BTW I can't that I am a petite soft spoken woman.

I want to know why we are providing all this money to train teacher from scratch instead of finding those burned out teachers and giving people who already have the heart for teaching get the skills.

If anyone knows of a way I can learn or get the training I need in Colorado please post it, I am heartbroken over losing my chance to teach. I can't imagine how many of those teachers feel who have been teaching for years and weren't offered any support like that principal was.

Commenter: Nora
Wow. What puff on an extremely important issue.
I'd be curious to know the student population pre/post turn around. If this school is anything like the corporate profiteering charters that Duncan sees as the salvation of schools, you can bet that a substantial percentage of the students presenting the biggest behavioral challenges, were not in attendance at the "turn around".

No doubt there are enormous struggles in our public education system, but are basketball skill, military experience and height going to offer the long term solutions? Is it appropriate to train children to sit/stand/walk on command? Is the goal really to have "quite" children? Maybe those are the only options when we've decided that huge schools teaching standardized curriculum is the best approach to better test scores. Um. I mean education.

I expect better of NOW. This was not journalism, it was a pr piece for Duncan.

Commenter: Steve Minnick
Many of America's public schools are terminally sick.
They are run by union thugs and corrupt thru and thru.
Like in my district year after year, the voters vote a resounding NO to the budget, then must vote again (also a resounding NO, then the district adopts it's budget anyway with NO voter support.
This means we have NO vote at all. It is a meaningless joke.
The ONLY solution for the schools and districts that are sick like this is to FIRE EVERYONE, KICK OUT THE UNIONS, and CLOSE the schools for at least one year if necessary.

I am all for public education.
I am against having it stolen, misused, looted and run as a cash cow for a pack of entrenched CRIMINALS.
I would gladly see a year's gap in my kid's schooling for the chance that they may attend a real school instead of the sham they are forced to languish in now.

This depression must deepen until it slams down the gov-med-edu-union-insuro-banking cartels that have usurped the livelyhoods and blackened the outlook of America's once proud and hard working people.

Commenter: Sylvia Pesek
It seems inconceivable that teachers are the only profession where excellence is not compensated. Doesn't it make sense that to attract excellent teachers, you offer decent salaries and benefits. There is no job in America more important than that of those who help mold our children's futures. If the salary base

Commenter: Sheila Bunch
I watched the program with interest, but was disappointed to see that the "big change" was basically Classroom Management 101. I suspect that the main change was having a principal setting standards of behavior, and I'm assuming, backing up his teachers when there are problems. It seems a little convenient to kick out the teachers with seniority and substituting in lower-paid recent graduates. This reminds me a little of Animal Farm - sending the old horse to the glue factory.

Commenter: Barb
A large element o the problems faced by the schools is poverty and the available time parents have to spend on their children. Today, even professionals are expected to work not 9 to 5 but more like 9 to 6:30. In lower income families, both parents must work and then come home to housecleaning, cooking, repairing old cars, appliances and all the emergencies that can't be fixed just by spending money they don't have. Parents are often so overwhelmed, they aren't able to adequetely supervise homework and make sure children get enough sleep. Children whose parents have the time and energy to show interest in their subjects learn much better. And then there are those thousands of children that go to school without an adequete diet. How does a parent so overwhelmed provide 3 wholesome meals a day? What are the effects of a diet loaded with sugar and corn syrup on the ability of children to concentrate in school? It is amazing to me how little is mentioned about the effects of American poverty and workload has on our educational system.

Commenter: Romas
About 60% of Indiana property taxes go to education, for what? My generation built the empire state building , went to the moon, invented the airplane. invented plastic, etc, etc... what has the last 2 generations done? the computor? The cell phone? Blue tooth? I spit on these acomplishements, tiny and transient, of little worth in the long run, all soon to collapse. Meanwhile, the world has turned from the truth of the bible, and is suffering the consiquences. What a waste of time and resourses, raising a generation of wienies, full of knowlegde, but no wisdom, failing at every turn. Wake up! Pbs is part of the problem, not the solution. wake up!

Commenter: Betty Barkley
In my school district, you have to have an Associate's Degree to be a staff assistant. I don't have a problem with this, but why can't each applicant be judged on their own merit, their educational experience (not only Associate's Degree), plus a lifetime of experience being out there in the work force. We have several staff assistants who have A.D.'s but they do not relate well to the students, plus common sense seems to be lacking. The people who do the hiring have no idea what goes on in the classroom after these people have been hired. It seems to me they are more intent on hiring people with A.D.'s, than hiring people who can relate to students. It makes me wonder what the people are like in human resources??
Thanks for your excellent programs. I enjoy everything I see on NOW. It always makes me question what is going on in our world and what are we going to do to help in some way? I think alot of schools need a turnaround. It just seems like this is they way we do it, and we can't do it any other way.
I would love to work with these students, but cannot because of the Associate's Degree situation. And there are other people who are in the same boat.
Thanks for letting me vent.

Commenter: George T. Karnezis
My own special interest in this subject comes not only from the fact that I grew up on Chicago's South Side and have great memories of going to primary school there, but also from the fact that I am a retired educator.

I have several questions that were either never raised or inadequately addressed by this episode of NOW.

First, it was not sufficiently clear why good teachers at some schools needed to be dismissed along with all other employees. I need to know what philosophy of "management" is at play here and how the firing of good teachers strengthens education, even if some are rehired. This question was never put to Secy. Duncan. Instead, we heard from him that there was going to be "some pain." What I'm asking for is what I should have received as listener: a complete and thorough questioning of this philosophy in order to gain a thorough understanding of its rationale.

Second, while I am pleased to learn that there has been an improvement in the Harvard School, I am routinely disturbed when folks like Secy. Duncan seem to flip off the question of class sizes (or numbers of students taught) as somehow irrelevant to students' success. I believe there is sufficient evidence, long standing, to refute this claim. Ask wealthy people who send their children of privilege to expensive private schools whether one thing they are willing to pay for is the small class sizes that allow teachers to bestow sufficient individual attention on their students.

So, while it is true that the conditions for successful teaching and learning are complex and may not be reducible to one or two factors, it is wrong, misleading and contributing to the public's MISEDUCATION for the Secy. of education or any other expert, to claim that size does not matter.

Finally, a general complaint which I have aired, in vain on several occasions, but here goes again: why is it that when opposing "parties" receive media attention, all too often we never see them in dialogue? THus, in this episode we have Duncan (on the one hand) and the teachers union representative (on the other hand). In short, the rule seems to be: let's do our usual polarizing so that those who disagree are seen and heard separately as talking heads, but never, ever shown as exchanging views before one another. It doesn't have to be this way, nor does it have to be stupidly done the way McGloughlin does it with his silly badgering on Washington Week.

I doubt that what I've said here about this point will make any difference. But I needed to say it yet again. And while it may seem a contradiction, I do value your program. It's just that this one seemed to me to leave all too many questions unanswered, and the real question of clear educational inequality, as documented so well by folks like Jonathan Kozol, remains ignored.

I'd like to see a show that focused on a poor performing school in Chicago and then compared that school with, say, one in Naperville, or Evanston, or Oak Park and ask what accounts for the differences.

Commenter: wash
Teachers at Harvard Elementary were victims of lack of leadership just like their students. The staff may have needed some retraining and re-visioning after their years of suffering, but not dismissal.

Commenter: Anne Pemberton
I would like to comment on some education issues.

First of all merit pay must FOLLOW an overall increase in ALL teacher remunification. And, note, you cannot judge what a teacher accomplished in a year of educating by measuring the outcome of his/her students against a different cohort. Either test at the beginning of the year, determine a baseline, and then compare results at the end of the year ON THE SAME SET OF STUDENTS. Anything less will fail to reward the teacher who accomplish the most with the children they are actually teaching.

At the present level of test technology, we are unable to measure those skills that are most important for students to acquire: the ability to learn and the ability to think critically and solve problems. Rather than improve "testing as we know it", it would be better to slide on over to a portfolio system of assessment, where the students' products are judged, not their pencil marks on a bubble sheet.

And stop forcing kids to learn insignificant facts, and teacher drilling on those insignifican facts and having the audacity to call it "learning", and count the "measurement" as indication of the ability or lack of same on the part of the teachers.

By all means replace bad teachers, but be sure you do so BEFORE the gain tenure. It is said that it take 3-5 years for a teacher to perfect his/her craft. Don't let those who aren't cutting it in the first 2-3 years continue until they gain tenure. Root them out early and do a better job of replacing them than you did in the original placement. Far too often schools that are not attractive to the best teachers settle for hiring "warm bodies" then, let them remain until tenure is gained. Do whatever is necessary to attract the best teacher to ALL schools, and if it just isn't possible, wire the kids to the Internet, and let them do their learning online with an expert in the field at some distant location.

Makiing better use of the Internet in education is a key to 21st century education improvement. Students can be matched precisely by their learning styles to a teacher who will comfortably meet their needs (often such teachers themselves have the same style of learning). A scientist in one location can teach one or several classes, bringing his expertise to K-12ers, or a compassionate teacher can coax along a troubled student using the latest, and the soon-to-be-created web tools.

Anne Pemberton
Vice President, Educational Synthesis

Commenter: Connie Crossley
I watched with a great deal of interest today's program and want to comment about teachers leaving the profession in the first three years. As a teacher with 25 years experience I was caught in the state of Texas's decision in 2004 to change the GPO ruling that allowed teachers to collect spousal social security. That change resulted in thousands of experienced teachers leaving a profession they loved because it did not make financial sense for them to stay, even though many like myself would have preferred to go on teaching.

Now the state has made some changes to that ruling and I am once again looking to go back and am finding that my age and where I would be on the salary schedule work against me. And, I have learned that in a teaching position like the one I left, my former school district has filled this similar position 5 times in the past five years with first year teachers who have not chosen to stay.

As a first year teacher once myself I found the advice of experienced teachers very helpful. I am concerned that many schools will not have a balance between teachers with experince and those just entering the profession. It appears to me that many young teachers do not stay in the profession for the long term. What are the statistics showing concerning this?

My current job at an art museum puts me in contact with teachers who have no control over their students and in many instances have not prepared their students for this educational opportunity. And then there are those, who like myself when I was teaching, that thoroughly prepare their students and set the tone for the field trip.

So how do we keep good teachers in the profession? Are we heading for an education system where experience and expertise are not rewarded? And, in this economic climate where schoold districts are in trouble financially, will veteran teachers whose performance is excellent be forced out in favor of first year teachers that can be paid less?

I would be very interested in knowing the current statistics on the number of teachers staying in the profession and if that impacts education in our country. I do agree that the kind of leadership that a school principal projects sets the tone for the entire school, but that is just one part of the equation.

Commenter: jesus v silva sr
do it the Obama way

Commenter: Travis
Teachers are not motivated by money?? Please...much research has gone into the affects pay has on teachers and one such effect is more MALE teachers in education. Michigan, the highest paying state for teachers, also has the most male teachers.
Now I am NOT saying that pay is essential, but I am saying that it is a factor, along with a billion others such as the community the school is in, parental involvement, teacher-teacher relationships, GREAT school leadership, etc...
I am currently getting my Masters degree in Europe after completing a BSED in Elementary Ed. in the state of Missouri. I am all about radical change, I have witnessed HORRIBLE teachers and HORRIBLE principals who just sit and stay b/c people are afraid to kick them out. Tenure has become a means of keeping the foul in....and does NOTHING for the GREAT teachers b/c they would stay anyways. School leaders are the same..all the way up to the Sec. of Ed. and the President. Until someone gets into education with a know-how on both the business side of schooling as well as the pedagogical side, nothing will ever improve as near the rate as it can or should.

However, not to be entirely dreary, our school systems and our teachers (the GREAT ones) work their butts off b/c they care, they continually reflect and find best practices, and b/c they are able to thrive in a profession of great responsibility. Cheers to you all!!!

Commenter: Gabriel Cardenas
I think that children dont have a want to and love to learn; they have lost contact with the value of an education and some black kids think getting an education is selling out to the white man. I think the biggest changing that attitude is the election of obama they see an education will help them. We should be harping on that. Further more you have to show them what the education gives them: middle class homes, travel, interesting satifying jobs, etc. Fixing teachers is 50% of the problem. Also we have to teach kids to respect teachers and to treat them right, otherwise the best teachers who want to work in a good environment where they are appreciated and feel safe will not become teachers.

Commenter: Dawn Bushman
I am one of those who would be considered a "classified nobody". I have a bachelor's degree (business), but because I don't have an education degree I, like the other classified employees at my school, are treated like dirt by the teachers. To hear the remarks by the woman from the Teacher's Union was not surprising, but sad. Without the classified staff, the school would be shut down by the Health Board.

I make less than $20,000 per year so affording college is pretty much impossible. The Dept. of Ed for my state nickels and dimes you for everything, just so that you can be certified.

But, yet, because I run a computer lab, some the teachers will often defer to me to teach technology to the students. I do not get paid for this, otherwise maybe I could afford the amount required to become a fully certified teacher.

Commenter: Carol Jones
I look to PBS and NOW for something rare in journalism - truth and in-depth reporting. I sure didn't get it in your recent program with Arne Duncan and on one Public Elementary School in Chicago.
As a 25 year retired teacher who often worked in so called "underperforming" schools, I felt betrayed
and outraged. Your interview of Duncan reminded me of how FOX interviews Dick Cheney. It shows how little most people care about public education (except when they can make a profit off of it or have children in the public schools), that you can refer to a technique thats been around for,at least, a decade, as "new".
"Turn Around" schools (in California we call it "Reconstitution" or "Reconstituted" schools), was used on a few schools in my district over 7 years ago, before Arne was given his superintendent job.
You portrayed him as a Knight riding in on his white horse with his brilliant "new" idea and causing massive change for the better. I doubt it was originally his idea because it was one of those 'gimmicks" superintendents hear about and promote largely to make it look like they're doing something and thus justify their jobs and high salaries. More importantly is whether "Turn Around"
schools "work". Admittedly, I haven't kept track of whether the schools it was used on 7 or 8 years ago
have greatly upped their test scores. I do keep in touch with teachers still in the district and no one has mentioned any great changes. The two issues for
this type of school are low test scores and discipline. Most elementary schools in whatever neighborhoods can achieve order and discipline with a good Principal. Discipline starts at the top.
I'm not sure how many more 6'7 ex army educators are
around but Duncan got lucky at Harvard Elementary.
Greg Palast decribed Obama's pick of Duncan, his basketball buddy, as "Obama's Brownie Moment". I agree. Imagine the fear and turmoil created by firing an entire school's teachers and workers, even the sweet cafeteria ladies (who were all hired back!)
Imagine the time and paperwork and emotions involved.
All because a school needed a new Principal. And then
we learn 70% of the teachers were hired back by the
same District! The other 30% were probably among the brightest who decided they were tired of being scapegoated and jerked around and left teaching for more lucrative jobs. What a cruel joke and hoax.
After "discipline" comes the issue of "test scores"
I loved what David Simon said on the Bill Moyer's show about education and the clip that was shown on "juking(?) the stats". I loved what he said about everything being for someone's promotion. It sure worked for Duncan! When teachers know their very jobs and livelihoods depend, unjustly, on scores on a standardized test, it's not surprising they might teach to the test. Education becomes boring drill that has caused the loss of countless creative teachers and glazed the eyes of countless children.
I'm also saddened to see the teachers unions starting to be, apparently, rendered more and more powerless as these "Great Men" such as Duncan devalue
teachers. I noticed the young, inexperienced teachers being trained to rush in and "rescue" Harvard Elementary were being trained by an older,
experienced mentor teacher. Maybe if the older,
experienced teachers were the problem, the new younger, inexperienced ones should be training themselves.

Commenter: David Leister
I watched you program on Mr. Duncan and the feature on an elementary turnaround school in Chicago. However, I would like to see a story about what Mr. Duncan did to change the middle or high schools in Chicago. Thank you

Commenter: JM Fay
Mr Duncan was in Denver several weeks ago. He was interviewed on Your Show on MYTV20 which is a local show for CO. He made a comment on how he was disappointed that the CO legislature had killed a bill to allow instate tuition to illegals because he felt we had a great opportunity here according to him. Its amazing to us how someone in his position would say something like this when if CO did that; then we would have to also allow instate for residents of other states per federal law and we cant fund our higher ed now so the colleges and universities have to use out of state tuition to pay some of the bills.

Why didnt NOW also bring up all the illegals that the schools are forced to educate due to the Supreme Court which when they dont speak English; when there is only so much money to go around takes away things from the kids of citizens and legal residents?

We love this show but feel you need to go further in this issue.

Commenter: rosemary
I thoroughly enjoyed the program this Friday evening on PBS about the Chicago Schools and what Arne Duncan has put forth. I am a teacher and I totally support his efforts on how he is attempting to improve the Chicago schools and hopefully will transform other public schools in the U.S. Hawaii is in dire need of some assistance in their public schools. I hope the effort is put forth here as well as other places. It is huge responsibility and not one that can be accomplished by a small group of individuals.

Commenter: W. Robertson
Not only are low-performing schools being closed. High performing "small" schools are being closed nationwide for "budgetary" reasons.

The Orange County (Florida) School Board is planning to close several schools including high-performing, highly regarded schools
this year.

Florida (50th in the nation) is one of three states that must apply for a waiver for stimulus money because of drastic cuts in its education budget has made it ineligible for meet thestimulus money. Despite a very challenging lack of state governmental financial support, "Education Week" ranked Florida schools 10th in the nation. This high ranking results from the dedication of teachers, parents, communities, and the students who have been battling hostile state government determined to underfund public schools while encouraging vouchers for private and religious schools.

Is Arne Duncan or any other national educational leaders addressing the closing of high-performing schools because of corporatist and religious special interests that want to undercut excellent public schools so that tax money can be diverted (through vouchers) to religious and private schools instead?

Commenter: Jill Street
This Radical Fix for Schools program looks like the same type of propaganda school's are bombarded with by money seeking consultants and teacher trainers every day. They claim that if you use their methods all the students will have nearly perfect behavior, and learn at an advanced level. However, they don't include other variables: such as the fact that if the student does not conform to their expectations, he is shipped off to another school. (A typical school does not have this advantage). I have seen the same phony presentation repeated again and again and again. Where is the scientific proof? It is lacking. Changing one school is easy. Get rid of the few students who really have difficulty in a school situation. This show was a commercial, designed to convince. It is based entirely on subjective, anecdotal evidence, with no effort to be scientific.

Commenter: Vernon Pardue
It appears that Secretary Duncan has returned discipline and control to the classroom and the schools. This is a critical tool that has been systematically stripped away from teachers and administrators over the last 60 years. The new teachers being hired were not born knowing how to control their difficult students. They were taught these control techniques and have been supported in their efforts by the administrators who hired them. Existing teachers have not benefited from that training nor do they have support for that level of stringent discipline.
We need all our teachers. I suggest we provide training to our willing principals, teachers, and staff and provide support for discipline at all levels. Rotate personnel into the required training and codify the necessary support for the level of discipline required.
Defeating education in America is a process that begins at home and extends into the schools and classrooms. Defending it must extend beyond the school-ground into the home.

Commenter: John New
This union busting is very distressing. I feel we working Americans will regret the "standards" forced upon us by corporate America.
These schools that are being reconstituted do not retain the same students. Invariably when you see high power/high profile researchers or consultants come into a district or to a school and claim remarkable growth with the "same" students. There is a missing piece of data. The researcher/ consultants never seem to track the number nor the academic and behavioral performance of students/parents that choose to leave that school/district.
The parents/ students that do not wish to perform at these "newly" established levels simply move to the next closest school or district. The effect is the drop in surrounding school or district's scores and the increase in performacnce, better scores and higher prestige of the newly reconstituted school.

Commenter: Susan Palmer
Re: A Radical Fix for Schools?

The success of a school depends very much on the leadership and tone that the principal sets. Every school develops a culture and when the principal does not provide the leadership, discipline, and clear expectations that is necessary, the entire culture of a school is poisoned. When a school is out of control, it is next to impossible to turn it around just by replacing the principal. Old attitudes of the staff and students remain making it virtually an impossible task for a principal to turn around. The quickest way to change a school with a poisoned cultural climate is to replace everyone. This complete change also sends a message to the community and students that the old culture is out and makes it easier for a new staff and principal to establish a more positive disciplined and safe place to learn.

What is needed is better communication and cooperation between teachers, their unions and school districts. School district administrations, need to reassure teachers that good teachers will be reassigned and that reassignment does not reflect on them personally, but is a necessary move to change the school.

Commenter: JAB
Interesting show tonight. I would like to see schools and students improve. However, I would like to see a show specifically addressing how our US schools became so inadequate to need such radical actions. If I recall correctly, NOW did a program not too long ago clearly showing how funds were being intentionally redirected from lower income districts into more affluent areas. Also, when the economy suffers, those same areas suffer even more. What part has our country's own government played in the destruction of those schools? I saw the possibility of our country's schools looking more in the future like those in communist China. Also, the thought of former military personnel being put in control is very unnerving to me. When a new CEO comes to a new organization one of the first things he or she does is to fire all the employees out of concern that they might be loyal to the old system. Some of that may be good, but some may be very detrimental to our future.

Commenter: Bethe Orrell
I loved this program! I taught in one of those shcools (a high school) in Rod Paige's Houston School District. The biggest reason to gut the school in my view was never mentioned. The school I taught in had an attitude of failure. The kids were expected to fail, or pitied for thier predicaments. The worst were pushed into dropping out by teachers, administrators and staff who were tired of dealing with them. A culture of failure will not be cured by changing the principle.

I applaud the efforts of our new education czar, after being horrified by the last director, whose policies I knew all too well.

Thank you.

Commenter: Barbara
How about pink slips for parents? They don't feed or bathe the little ones. They don't put them to bed at night. They send them to school sick, throwing up, with fevers, with pink eye, whatever...
If I ran wild in elementary school, I did not worry about what my teacher said/did. My parents would bounce me off the wall at home if someone from school so much as frowned at me! And, no, we were not always thrilled with the schools I attended. However, my family made it clear it was my job to be there, do the work well and on time, get good grades, and get on to the next level of education.

How about the parents who send us their teens who have roamed the streets all night, party every weekend, and never do a lick of homework all 5 or 6 years of high school? I am truly tired of America's teachers being the scapegoats for the disintegrating American family.

Someone else had them for at least 5 years before they arrived in elementary school. Once they are in school, someone else has them the other 17-18 hours a day. I am tired of being ridiculed, cursed, trashed, slammed, abused, threatened, and blamed for the incompetent parents and lazy kids who want a scapegoat for their own immaturity, laziness and carelessness.

It's no fun being a parent today. However, mammals come with parents for very good reasons. Those mammals "educate" their young how to live and survive. For humans, that means kids come to school socialized, at least partly. That means they know how to walk down the hall. That means they're smart enough to shut up when a teacher/para/school aide is speaking to them. That means they know they have work to do when they go home each night. That means nutritious meals are provided even if they don't like everything. That means they are put to bed at night and properly rested for school work. That means they are held to high personal standards in the home. That means, lying, cheating, stealing, vandalism are dealth with at home. Yes, we in the schools are there to reinforce positive behaviors when lapses occur, and there will be many lapses with young people. But basic character and socialization (or lack there of) is pretty well set in the home at an early age. This sets the stage and determines success or failure in school and career.

I make it clear to my students that I have three criteria: Responsibility. Respect. Readiness to learn.

As most of my colleagues say: "Dream on!"

Duncan with his rewarding teachers for training is just a smoke screen. I travelled through the NYC school system with some of the most highly trained teachers in the country. These astonishing professionals constantly inspired me to learn and to share that learning with my students. These professionals also had a sense of ownership about their schools and students, and parents shared that ownership, too. Today, the powers that be don't want any teachers (or parents) to have a sense of ownership about education. Competent parents have been tossed by the Bloomberg administration, which has turned education into a travesty in this town. The boutique schools movement is now being used for several purposes:

One: It siphons off the best students (no ESL, no mentally or physically challenged) and creates "good" schools. Since parents get babysitting services, they think they're wonderful. There's been no real change in achievement. Teachers who don't give high grades are routinely threatened in NYC, usually by administrators who have hardly spent a day in a classroom. (Most years it seems the mayor's office orders the graduation rates from the high schools. High school guidance counselors could sure spill the beans on falsified grades and altered student records that have created the "surging" graduation rates under Bloomberg.)

Two: The most important goal is to get rid of authoritative (note: not authoritarian) teachers who have been the backbone and bulwarks of the school system for decades and lower public costs. Training, experience, credibility, teaching skills, subject knowledge, are all a threat to the Bloomberg model. Highly trained, highly qualified teachers in the NYC schools are routinely ridiculed and abused by a morally bankrupt management. Over fifties are especially targeted. Some senior teachers arre fighitng back with discrimination charges in this town. How does administration respond? They just add the 45 plus crowd to the harassment list. Nothing changes. The Giulinai/Bloomberg axis has been allowed to run public schools to the ground in this town. Our foolish state legislature has handed everything over to Bloomberg, even though the "experiment" has proven a miserable failure.

The standard for teaching in NYC, is pretty, young, slightly stupid, easily intimidated, just able to read the script handed to you by the 29 year old Assistant Principal. If you show signs of having a real good mind, or you challenge the bankrupt authority, you'll be crucified in front of the entire staff for sticking you head up above the mud.

A generation of some of the finest teachers that even lived has been systematically dismantled in NYC. And the public does not care!

It's a wonder some of my friends in the NYC schools have not been arrested committing murder on the job. When you're ridiculed by students, ignored by parents, and trashed by management (usually in front of the kids) it takes a superhuman effort to remember why you love teaching kids and how much learning means to you every single day. But in this school system, teachers are the source of all problems.

By the way, did I tell you Arne Duncan is a fraud?

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Extended Interview: Arne Duncan

Book Excerpt: "Work Hard. Be Nice."

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