August 9th, 2012
06:40 AM ET

My View: Rhee is wrong and misinformed

Courtesy Jack MillerBy Diane Ravitch, Special to CNN

Editor’s note:  Diane Ravitch is research professor of education at New York University. Appointed by President Clinton, she served seven years on the National Assessment Governing Board which supervises the NAEP tests. She is the author of the best-selling book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” and  blogs at

(CNN) - A few days ago, CNN interviewed former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee about American education. Rhee, predictably, said that American education is terrible, that test scores are flat, and that we are way behind other nations on international tests.

I disagree with Rhee. She constantly bashes American education, which is one of the pillars of our democratic society. Our public schools educate 90% of the population, and we should give the public schools some of the credit for our nation’s accomplishments as the largest economy and the greatest engine of technological innovation in the world.

It’s time to set the record straight. The only valid measure of academic performance in our schools is the federal test called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP has been testing American students since the early 1970s.

The NAEP test scores of American students are at their highest point in history: for black students, white students, Hispanic students, and Asian students. 

They are at their highest point in history in fourth grade and in eighth grade, in reading and math.

As for the international test scores, which Rhee loves to recite to knock our public schools, she is obviously unaware that our nation has never had high scores on those tests. When the first international test was given in 1964, our students ranked 11th out of 12 nations.  Yet our nation went on to become the most powerful economy in the world.

In the 50 years since then, we have regularly scored in the bottom quartile on the international tests or at best, at the international average. Clearly, the international scores do not predict our future as we are the dominant economy in the world despite the scores.

Why are our international rankings low? Our test scores are dragged down by poverty. On the latest international test, called PISA, our schools with low poverty had scores higher than those of Japan, Finland, and other high-scoring nations. American schools in which as many as 25% of the students are poor had scores equivalent to the top-scoring nations.  As the poverty level in the school rises, the scores fall.

Rhee ignores the one statistic where the United States is number one. We have the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation in the world. Nearly 25% of our children live in poverty.

This is a scandal. Family poverty is the most reliable predictor of low test scores. How can we compare ourselves to nations like Finland where less than 5% of the children live in poverty?

Rhee and her fellow reformers say that poverty is just an excuse, but it is not. Poverty is a harsh fact of life.

Children who are homeless, who have asthma, who have vision problems or hearing problems will have trouble concentrating on their studies. Children who have a toothache may not do well on testing day. Children who don’t see a doctor when they are sick will not be able to perform well on tests. Children who live in squalor will be distracted from their schoolwork.

Of course, we should have great teachers in every classroom, but the negative rhetoric that now comes from Rhee and every media outlet and movies like “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” are demoralizing teachers and causing many excellent teachers to leave the profession.

Rhee believes in merit pay but she is unaware that merit pay has been tried again and again for nearly a century. It has never worked. It failed recently in New York City, Chicago, and Nashville. In Nashville, teachers were offered a $15,000 bonus to raise test scores. It didn’t make a difference.

Merit pay fails because teachers are doing the best they can with or without a bonus. Merit pay destroys teamwork and collaboration in the school. Teachers work together; they are not in an individual sport, trying to be first.

Merit pay fails, as does evaluation by test scores, because they both compel teachers to teach to the test and ignore whatever is not tested, like the arts and physical education. Such policies harm the quality of education. No elite school—not Andover or Exeter or Sidwell Friends—evaluates its teachers by the scores of their students on standardized tests. Nor do any of the high-performing nations.

Rhee and the corporate reform movement rely on the outdated behaviorist theories of the early 20th century. Modern cognitive psychology recognizes that intrinsic rewards are far more powerful than extrinsic rewards. People do their best when motivated by idealism and by their freedom to exercise their professional judgment.

The best organizations today recognize the importance of building a strong culture in the workplace—not with carrots and sticks—but with respect and collaboration. Andrea Gabor, the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College in New York City, recently wrote on my blog: “As W. Edwards Deming, a leading management expert and critic of merit pay, once put it: ‘The only reason an organization has dead wood is that management either hired dead wood or it hired live wood and killed it. Merit pay, by dividing and demoralizing employees, is a good way to erode initiative and overall quality.’”

Our teachers need our support. Let’s put an end to the war on teachers in general and on experienced teachers in particular. No profession can exist without experienced practitioners. Teachers need tenure so they have academic freedom to teach controversial issues.

Parents must be involved in helping their kids succeed. Research is clear that what parents do matters even more than what teachers do.  Parents affect their children’s attitudes, behavior, and willingness to study and learn.

Our students and families and communities need support too. If reformers really cared about children, they would build a health clinic in every school. That would do more to improve test scores than all the teacher evaluation schemes and merit pay plans that the reformers are now imposing, without a shred of evidence.

We can improve our schools. We can improve our society. We must work on both at the same time.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Diane Ravitch.

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Filed under: Diane Ravitch • Issues • Michelle Rhee • Policy • Practice • Voices
soundoff (1,069 Responses)
  1. jorge washinsen

    Check the attendence numbers at PTA meetings and compare them against the number of students and you will begin to understand the real problem.

    August 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • John from Boston

      Jorge nailed it! Many parents do not get involved or support their kids education at all. When they do, they succeed. You cannot throw money at that and make it work, sorry.

      August 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  2. PublicSchoolGrad

    Parents! It's the parents and the values kids grow up with! A parent who loves books and reads to their child raises a reader who will do well in school. Families with a tv in every room blaring constantly will raise illiterates.I was a bright kid who attended average public schools and yes, they were too slow for me. My family was working class but valued education. My sister was the first to go to college (on scholarship). Because of her, my brother went (on scholarship) and became a lawyer. So did I (scholarship and loans). I had lousy teachers and mediocre schools but I did it because I had my family's values behind me!

    August 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  3. Bill Scheffer

    Maybe Fox and Rhee are born to be lovers. Breaking down education by the super far right is another way of bringing back slavery, only this time in a legal way. But voters will have to stand up and be heard. Our public could learn a thing or two about history from the World War II veterns. "Nothing great is ever achieved without great, great sacrafice". Our country has become not all that different from England in the 16th, 17th centuries.

    August 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  4. Bill

    While I respect this opinion and agree that poverty is responsible for the lowering of American average scores in comparison to other nations, I also disagree that teachers are not also part of the problem. We focus too much on these test scores as a barometer of our educational system. AVERAGES only reflect the average talent in our country. In absolute number, the US has more bright students scoring well above those in other nations in almost every area...but the lower scoring students bring the US average down significantly. The important detail left out of this discussion is that the absolutely high number of US students who outscore their international counterparts will more than adequately serve our nation well...and this has nothing to do with the quality of our schools.

    I am a liberal Republican who has voted for every Democrat since Clinton for President, including Obama, whom I respect and love as our President. I believe in smaller government when appropriate, but not when it benefits those who would reduce our country to a shadow of its former self, as the current GOP and Tea Party is attempting to do in my opinion.

    That being said, I don't think the Democratic position on teachers and schools is helping our country's longterm interests. Teachers unions, as with all unions, are critical to the success of our country. But as with all entities that have a monopoly on their "industry", unions can go too far to protect their own interests without regard for all of the interests needing to be served. Corporations most often make this mistake in trying to avoid any regulations to make sure they don't screw the public interest, such as avoiding environmental regulations or lobbying against financial regulations to preclude the nightmare causing the Great Depression and most recently the Great Recession.

    Teachers unions are similarly resisting all efforts to attack teacher tenure because it threatens their livelihood. The fact is that no profession deserves tenure as it is practiced today. Teachers should be hired and fired with reviews and guidelines as with all professions. Do I believe that eliminating teacher tenure will solve our country's troubles with education? No, I do not. But it will do something that most people forget about in this debate–it will reward good teachers with continued employment, allow good teachers a better chance to receive merit pay they deserve, and allow districts to weed out teachers who clearly do not belong in the classroom. MOST IMPORTANTLY, eliminating teacher tenure will eliminate this diatribe from the discussion of our schools, allowing us to focus on the true reasons for underperforming schools–poverty.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  5. jorge washinsen

    Have y ou ever tried to win an argument with a rock?

    August 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  6. Barbra

    I believe the public schools are trying to incorporate too much into a school day. I work at the Elementary level and I see how much time these kids spend on "specials", such as PE, Music, Counseling, Art, Media, Spanish andRecess (sometimes 3 per day). I am not saying that these are not important classes as they each have merit, but by incorporating all of this into a 6.5 hour day, our children are not building a strong foundation in the "Basics", which I believe to be Math and Reading. I would be very interested in learning if there was a program/ curriculum some place in the U.S. which focuses primarily on teaching Math and Reading thru 2nd or 3rd Grade. I'd be curious to see how these kids perform on tests. My opinion is that if you submerse these kids, no matter what income level, in intensive core curriculum studies, they will build such a strong foundation and will be able to do anything!

    August 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Mike

      Studies show that students immersed in the basic subjects do much worse in those basic subjects than those who participate in the 'specials' you mentioned.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  7. Robert Harmon

    My view? Ravitch is an idiot and must work for the Teacher's Union. Because the testing she refers to is so high does that mean we should ignore ineffective teachers? I personally had a lot of them and the two daughters I put through college had plenty as well. They are there and protected by tenure rules that are absurd. This lady is so wrapped in the American flag she can't see straight. We all know a passionate teacher can make even the most mundane topics exciting and interesting to students, of any age. That's where the bar should be set. My God, I think she would say Joe Paterno's winning record at Penn State was so high he couldn't possibly be guilty of any wrongdoing. Get real!

    August 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • I'm a teacher

      AT NO POINT does she say, "protect ineffective teachers." Stop projecting your own bias and hate into situations where it doesn't exist.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Sharon

      Your comment is exactly why we are not making any progress. This issue somewhere in the middle of Ms ravitch and yourself. Before I became a teacher after the disaster of 9/11, my view was somewhat similar to yours. I have since learned bad school management leads to unorganized schools where money is spent in dubious ways, lazy teachers who do not put the children first are allowed to take up space and to Good teachers burn out and who are not properperly trained on the new teaching methodology( which has changed 4 times in the 10 years I have taught). Bad management that is asleep at the wheel leads to lazy teachers not being pushed and written up. The union contract requires that teachers who rate poorly on in classroom evaluations recieve support in addresing the issues in question. The problem is many bad school managers don't visit classrooms regularly and do not document the issues. Bad teachers do not have lesson plans , don't check hw regularly and follow up with prents. This is real easy to see if the managers are doing thier jobs.
      My principal is organized and involved. The teachers work in teams to improve in classroom teaching and disciplin. If a child does not follow the consistently enforced school rules, parents are contacted and the principal stands behind his teachers . Parents of misbehaving children often look to blame everyone but themselves. Some principals side with parents on every issue to make it easier on themselves. At a past school I have been forced to accept late homework without deductions, change grades and not discipline a child due to the principal not wanting to deal with a complaining parent to the detriment of the rest of my class. You learn quick to not upset the apple cart. If you know that you will be looked upon as doing wrong when you are doing right, you just may do nothing .
      A good principal provides the training and support needed to allow teachers to excel. A teacher is not and island, he or she needs to work as part of an effective team led by a good head coach.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  8. Finally A Voice of Reason

    Diane Ravitch is exactly right, and seems to be the only one in all this education debate who actually has the data and evidence to support her claims. Stop blaming teachers, stop blaming parents, stop blaming kids - stop blaming period - and start improving the daily circumstances of kids living in poverty. That means at a minimum stable housing (so kids aren't moving from school to school every few months), access to health care (sick, hurting kids can't focus), and access to reduced-cost meals (hungry kids can't focus).

    August 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  9. kahunaj

    My question would be if merit pay hurts collaboration and destroys teamwork in the school, how come merit pay works in private industry?

    August 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Alan

      Because teaching/ education is not a business or industry.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Upstate NY Music Teacher

      Because unlike "products," children aren't quite as malleable by a teacher: they come with whatever strengths and weaknesses their families, communities, and genes provide them with. Some (few) cannot handle the material they are presented with. Some (probably a growing number, sadly) are antagonistic to the process of learning at all! The business model (I worked for years in publishing before returning to teaching) is ineffective when dealing with children, and comparisons almost inevitably fail between the two.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Chris in DC

      I hold a master's degree in education and have several years of teaching experience in VA, but am currently a doctoral fellow in NYC. Merit pay does not work in education because - in spite of the misguided "reformers" who try to apply "business principles" to the classroom - education is not a for-profit enterprise. Great teachers seek to inform, inspire, and empower their students. Rigourous assessment is a necessary component of effect instruction, but it is merely one component of a cyclic process; it is not and should never be seen as the goal or end state. Standardized tests are one of many ways that one can assess students, but they have such weaknesses that they are very poor instruments on which to base conclusions that inform major public policy decisions. Also, teachers (most of whom are very dedicated and knowledgeable) are only one of an entire cast of key players affecting student performance. Parents, other family members, school administrators, guidance counselors, social workers, school nurses, and many others play important roles. The students themselves are also more likely to listen to their peers than adults as they progress from primary, elementary, middle, and into high schools.

      Bottom line: stop demonizing the teachers! If you're a parent, you have a critical role to play that will be more influential in the long term than any individual teacher can ever have. If you're a principal, you must provide the leadership to help both students and teachers reach their fullest potential. Finally, if you're some ignoramous who has no idea what he's saying, then take the time to learn more about the subject before you speak about public education again. I welcome everyone's contribution, but education is not a career for idle practioners; it's a calling that you must commit to. After all, it's only the future of our nation that we're debating!

      August 9, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  10. Dr. Fricke

    I remember a teacher telling the class "there is no dumb question." How idiotic – of course there are. Teachers need to teach that some things deserve to be called "stupid" and "dumb."

    August 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • andres

      Huh? Don't you think that teachers say that to encourage questions? Of course there are stupid questions but if students are afraid of asking questions it hampers the learning process.

      You might think outside the little box that is your dark corner of the world

      August 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Concerned Parent

      "Dr." Fricke – I can see one thing in your post that probably SHOULD be referred to as "dumb" and that is your silly statements! The quote you are bashing is a well known truth that is quite helpful for encouraging students to PARTICIPATE in class discussions! I suppose YOU think students should simply be "lectured" and not allowed to think nor ask questions, huh?! I would certainly hate to be YOUR student!

      August 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  11. MCD

    One item of interest is that the article failed to report what the NAEP scores are. In 8th grade 67% may be at or below basic level. Which means they may or may not be able to read a recipe or write a check. We need to support effective teachers and principals, and remove principals and teachers who are not reaching the goal of teaching our students.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Dr. Ed Fuller

      MCD–The cut points for basic and proficient (and other NAEP levels) have no correlation with what you perceive them to tell us. As are all cut cores, the NAEP cut scores are completely arbitrary. National expert reviews of the cut scores have shown them to be flawed. Please research an issue before making pronouncements.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  12. New Gawker

    Most of the blame is with the teachers union. Making it impossible to fire bad teachers, corruption, wasting money on "administrative" costs that should go to books and school upkeep. Switch to chartered schools like New Orleans and you'll see a major upswing in education.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Dr. Ed Fuller

      Actually, states WITHOUT unions have lower performance on the NAEP than states with unions. As for New Orleans, there is no evidence that charters have worked even minor miracles there. Please research the validity of your statements before making them.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • readingexchange

      New Gawker,

      The data about the effectiveness of charter schools may surprise you.

      "Known as the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school. The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent."

      August 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Concerned Parent

      New Gawk. Charter schools are really just PRIVATELY run schools that are PUBLICALLY funded! These schools tend to cater to affluent, high income familes and steal precious public funding from our inner city schools that are already money-starved! These schools often do not adhere to any standard curriculums and some appear to be thinly veiled religous schools where science is presented in a back-handed and low-profile manner! These schools tend to teach a single minded agenda that does not allow for a good rounded education! The charter schools we have in our area have never matched the performance of our public schools! Our local public schools generate CONSIDERABLY more National Merit Scholars and much higher SAT and ACT scores than ANY of our "charter" schools! I have yet to see a single "charter" school that I would allow my children to attend...

      August 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
      • andres

        Hear hear. Charter schools are a curse in our school district. While I do believe that our school district needs to improve, much of the resources and funding are siphoned off by well meaning but incompetent parents and 'edcuators'. If instead we could remove tenure AND come up with a fair method of evaluating teachers we could get rid of the considerable deadwood, and while we are at it we need to eliminate much of the overhead. I went to a school that had 2,100 students, 1 principal, 1 vice principal (the enforcer), a part time school nurse, janitors, and cooks. The local grade school down the street with 200 students has all of the above and a policeman, a full time counselor, and a second vice principal.

        August 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    What I find interesting is how everyone points fingers. I don't think I've heard anyone say, "We have a problem, I'm part of the problem, and I want to help fix this." Instead, the teachers blame either the students or the parents, the parents blame the teachers, the unions blame people not in the union, and the administrators blame whoever isn't in the room. At the end of the day, most people go home and just "forget about it." Apathy and lack of personal responsibility may be the biggest issue.

    I do believe the authors supposition that the international tests may not be entirely accurate. However, if you look through engineering and computer trade publications, you'll see that for the last decade the major discoveries made are rarely made in the U.S. To me, that is concerning and reflects a decline either in education, work ethic, or creativity. You choose.

    I am glad we have choices in the U.S. I hope we continue to protect our choices. Homeschooling, private school, online school, and public school are all valid choices for the right family/child. Thank you USA for giving us choices. With choices, we do have ownership in our education.

    Granted, in poverty your choices are limited, but this is an opportunity for teachers to really make a difference in the lives of others. What an incredible opportunity teachers have to change lives.

    I want to end with kudos to Michelle Rhee. Whether she says is right or wrong is irrelevant to me. She is making herself part of the solution, and for that I appreciate her.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Paul

      Well said Anonymous!

      August 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  14. Conrad Shull

    "Teachers need tenure so they have academic freedom to teach controversial issues"? In Elementary School?

    August 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • I'm a teacher

      @ Conrad: many Elementary school teachers are also doctoral candidates who do and publish research which may criticize current trends in education. I did some of my observation work (pre-student teaching) at an Elementary school and 2 of the 5 teachers I observed were working on doctorates.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • slekar

      Yes in elementary school. Because in Louisiana teachers are about the be asked to teach creationism in place of or competing with evolution in the elementary schools. These teachers need to be able to say "I cannot and will not teach creationism as science."

      August 9, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  15. billsailer

    Rhee like most educational administrators fail to see that the overburden of supervisors justifying their jobs do nothing to help the teacher. When a child curses out a teacher, have the balls to suspend him rather than talking to the parents and child and commiserating with them. BACK your teachers ALWAYS. We have got to get away from parents going to the administrators and the administrators turn on the teacher. This goes for the School board also. Your teacher is the poor infantryman in the war for kids attention. Sto[p selling them out.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • A Concerned Teacher


      I couldn't agree with you more!

      August 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm |

    The brightest and most behaved kids in the US still fall far behind our Indian and Asian counterparts. We need to focus on what is being taught, and change the priorties in this country. The US focuses too much on entertainment. Educating our children should be number one. It's sad when you see someone like Sarah Palin, who was running for VP, not know the duties or powers of the office. Remember when she said the vice president is "in charge of" the U.S. Senate and "can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes" Sad and embarrasing!

    August 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • I'm a teacher

      @Voice of Reason: Asian countries are STRONGLY tiered based on ability and it's the trade school tiers aren't weighed in the testing. Furthermore, accountability on students and parents is MUCH higher in Japan than it is in the US.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  17. HighAchievement

    Getting high achieving kids is possible for all. Getting good teachers, and reducing poverty are just part of the issue. Parental Support is huge. Teachers being more effective in how they teach. Teaching about how the brain learns. Why character is important, Why feelings matter, Positive peer pressure. All are key components to high achieving kids. If we all work together we can do it.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  18. ineedabettername

    Poverty is a big issue in the US. Check out this heat map of the % poverty rate in the US :

    August 9, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  19. represent bmore

    Poverty and the quality of teachers are both linked to student performance. I did a study in baltimore that found that the worst performing schools were in high crime/ impoverished areas, and employeed teachers rarely having teaching credentials, and generally never having advanced degrees. Teachers aren't paid or trained well enough to work in schools that have additional societal issues do to poverty and crime. Kids in these areas are set up to fail. These areas need the most qualified teachers not the worst. Merit based pay would bring better teachers to theses prison recruiting factories. Also parenting, and community involvement plays a role.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  20. cyberhackster

    You obviously rode the short bus......

    August 9, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  21. Conrad Shull

    Someone mentioned that the quality of teachers today is the same as of "yesteryears". I don't think that's true. Before the 1970's, the workplace options for bright, college educated women were few – nursing and teaching, primarily. Many of the brightest and best educated women after the 70's went on to many new fields now open to them, with fewer becoming teachers and more "just average" female college graduates filling their place. Just a hypothesis, but worth being part of the discussion, I think.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  22. Bigtimeusa

    Total Bull and a sop to teachers unions. Unions only look at longevity and educational advancement which have little to do with being a good teacher. Union forced retainment of teachers we know are lousy is a problem as is the lack of a father figure in too many families. "Self Esteem" as a main focal point of education has resulted in many generations of students with zero logic or critical thinking skills, as everything is about "me". We need a return to merit based teacher evaluations as well as a rigorous curriculum of the "three R's". We need to acknowledge that some students are not college material or simply don't care to learn and move them to remedial programs so the best and brightest thrive without distraction instead of basing what we do on "political correctness". This is done in many European countries.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  23. bannister

    I suppose you think that's funny or clever...

    August 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  24. Matthew Kilburn

    Poverty is certainly -PART- of the problem, but so are bad teachers.

    And lets face it, we've dumped billions into trying to "fix" poverty in this country, multiple times over. We don't have much to show for it.

    There is one good point made by this article:

    "Parents must be involved in helping their kids succeed."

    Actually, she could have stoped at "involved". Liberal social thinking has decimated the family unit. in 1960, nearly 95% of children grew up in a two-parent home. Today, that number is closer to 70%. The left has pushed a line of thinking that devalued marriage, parenthood, sacrifice, and other things which are a critical element of raising kids.

    Until you get the parents back in the home, don't have very high expectations.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  25. Honest Teacher

    Listen, let's be honest. Rhee and Ravitch both make good points. Poverty is certainly a factor that affects the success of our children, but so is quality teaching. I'm a teacher, and I know that good teachers make a difference. Unfortunately, so do bad teachers. I think that is really Rhee's point: what happens in the classroom matters.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • scottmcleod

      Sure, what happens in the classroom matters. But peer-reviewed research shows over and over again that between 2/3 and 4/5 of student achievement is based on non-school factors. Schools only contribute about 20% to 33% to students' overall learning outcomes.

      In addition, teachers are only part of the school equation. They're the most important part, but non-teacher factors such as administrators, curriculum, other students in the school, available learning resources, and so on also impact student achievement. So teachers are responsible for about half (or so) of the school impact, but the rest lies outside their domain.

      When you add all of this up, good teachers clearly are absolutely critical to student academic success. But their overall impact on student learning falls around 10% to 17%. Other in-school and out-of-school factors account for the rest. What this means is that – the occasional tale of heroic, exceptional teachers and schools aside – we should be making state and national policy based on what the research shows generally occurs, not exceptions, anecdotes, personal intuition, or unsubstantiated policy/political claims. And we definitely should not be holding teachers 100% accountable for outcomes for which they're only 1/6 to 1/10 influential.

      We need a much broader (and smarter) conversation about what it means to educate our nation's children.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  26. Mark

    Tradition, Values and Self Discipline.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  27. ian

    bless your heart, sweetie. really.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  28. J

    "Teachers need tenure so they have academic freedom to teach controversial issues."

    That is the most ridiculous reason for tenure I have ever heard of.
    Basically, that would give teachers the right to say and do things that would get them fired. Teachers have my kids longer during the day than I do. I need to know that they are in a safe place.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Leif

      Then you don't know anything about tenure. Perhaps you should go back to school.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
      • ian

        You are so right! If people don't agree with you, be rude and nasty to them! They really must start teaching that in our schools.

        August 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Paul

      I happen to agree with you J, but for different reasons. The notion and concept of tenure was first introduced prior to WWI and I believe was first introduced by NJ to protect College Professors who were being targeted for forced resignation or fired due to their political beliefs. At the time it was warranted to ensure fair treatment and was needed to ensure boosters and board members didn't terminate a professor for dissenting viewpoints. The requirement in modern times for this safety measure though has been dated as their are several other federal laws that prohibit wrongful termination.

      As well, the cross-over to public education prior to the Collegiate level is absurd. Public school teachers do not have quite the flexibility to course materials as they are mandated typically by the municipality or state. Also, they do far more to shield bad teachers than protect good teachers.

      It's a shame though that the teachers unions are the two most influential unions in the US and this will never be repealed anytime soon.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • readingexchange

      "What a Teach For America Teacher Learned About Tenure"

      August 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Concerned Parent

      So, you basically believe that teaching both sides of a controversial issue, puts students "at risk"??? Do you think less education is a better approach or do you simply feel that students should be "taught" what to think?

      August 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
      • achmafooma

        The problem is that most teachers DON'T teach both sides of controversial issues. Most teach their opinion, presented as fact. That should get them fired, but it never does.

        August 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Harry Cole

      If the school day is from 7:30 till 2:00 that's six anda half hours. That leaves seventeen and a half hours in the day, where the heck are your children the rest of the time? Be a better parent and I guarantee your children will do better in school!

      August 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Alan

      Teacher tenure is not a magical talisman that grants immunity from being fired. All it is is a guarantee of due process for dismissal.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  29. LJ in Temecula

    During my 35 year career as a teacher I taught in both, a district near LAX that had a high percentage of students who came from difficult home situations and a district in Riverside County where the vast majority of kids came from Middle Class homes. The vast majority of teacher I taught with in both schools were excellent, caring teachers. I taught Geometry in both districts and put forth my best effort everyday. I remember many excellent math students I taught at the district near LAX, but the state-wide math scores always ranked the school in the 30% to 40% percentile versus other California schools. It did not matter what teachers came and went. It did not matter how many principals came and went. It did not matter how many Superintendents came and went. The scorers were, and even today, remain very low.
    When beginning my career in Riverside County, I did not take any magic pill to make me a better teacher. But now my Geometry students were scoring in the 70% to 90% percentile range. I too believe that poverty, and how it effects a parent's ability to help their child be successful in school, is a major reason why so many of our students do so poorly in school.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Matt M

      Poverty is one issue, if by poverty you mean lack of parental involvement. Statistically speaking, lower incomes have to work more and spend less time helping with children, that is true. However, I must stress that 'caring' and 'motivated' traits for teachers are not excuses for skill. It is a fact that most teachers are drawn from the bottom percentages of their class, rather than the top. That is perhaps a chicken-and-egg scenario – teachers are drawn from the bottom so they get paid less, and they get paid less because they don't perform. It may sound harsh and cruel, but let's take an example from top-performing countries' school systems, say Japan. Who do you think is responsible if the child fails? Parents? no. Child? so some extent. Teacher? almost 100%.
      We need to increase both the requirements to teach and their salary. Perhaps a medical model (the equivalent of a 3 or 4 year doctorate plus a 2 year 'residency') would ensure that we have only the best to teach. Of course salaries would need to start in the 50s to 70s, but if the standards are high, the compensation could be as well.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Gina

      No matter what subject we teach, literacy is the key, not multiple choice tests. Sure, poverty is a factor, but my kids out-score the rich kids down the street when it comes to writing compositions.

      If a student is literate, just the hope alone, the hope of a better future could help them score better on ALL tests.

      You are the same teacher. Why should your evaluation be damaged because of a TEST score. I am sure of it. If literacy became the back-bone of education, all subjects would see an increase in their "scores."

      August 9, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  30. Paul

    Rhee is absolutely correct. It is a shame that Americans can't handle the truth in terms of our education standing in the world; our average math and science scores are drastically low for a country that spends as much as we do per capita on educating our youth. She is facing the facts head on and trying to enlighten parents nationally so we can improve upon a failing system.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • t keller

      Rhee is partially correct. No matter what profession, there are some who are not talented enough or motivated enough to be good performers. In business, these people are eventually rejected. But public employment contracts allow those marginal performers to build up in the system.
      But the view from academia is also correct. Poverty and single parenthood almost guarantee a lack of support for the children. In the end, we need to get a handle on the unwed mother situation if there is going to be a big chance of success.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • J

      I wonder if Paul knows the money that spends on students and in the classrooms doesn't change the fact that some students are still in poverty! Teachers can have the best equipment to teach but if students' learning is affected by their home environment such as homelessness, poor or no parenting.etc, it won't matter what the teacher does.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
      • Paul

        Actually, J, I and Rhee do understand that. Poverty is an issue and she fully realizes that it puts those students at a great disadvantage; Rhee always says as much as she did in the interview Diane Ravitch is remarking on. The areas that tend to be so controversial concerning Rhee are here vehement disagreement with Unions (as she tried to adopt individual teaching contracts in DC) and her push to drive schools to stress teaching the basics; math, science, and reading/writing. You should really inform yourself on the issues you comment on.

        August 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Draeggo

      You should know a lot about identifying problems... sounds like you've been one to the point of arrogance. Sure hope your ilk isn't anywhere near any of my kids.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  31. joe pre-k teacher

    Mike in Pekin is correct. I have taught Eskimos in Alaskan villages, Mexicans in Mexico and in highly regarded private schools (International Schools) in S.E. Asia for 33 years. Currently I teach Pre-K in an inner city school, where 90% of my students and their parents speak only Spanish upon entry. The only difference in achievement I have observed over these many years is the amount of appropriate parental involvement and interest. If the latter is sound the greater majority of students will do quite well.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  32. Truthbetold

    The teachers of today are no worse than before. Whats the difference between today and generations past? Its the family structure...plain and simple. Children raised with two loving and responsible parents will outshine those from broken families time and time again. Sure, there are exceptions but the true difference is the lack of parenting to couple with the teaching during the school year.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Jim

      The reason children from two parent families do better is income level. Our society is set up in a way that two incomes are required to raise a family. Only rarely can a one parent family avoid being below or near the poverty line.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • bannister

      Don't forget the racial component to this problem. Blacks have lower IQ scores than whites – even when they come from the same socio-economic background. Racial differences are REAL even though nobody wants to admit it.

      There are dozens of news stories that tell us how the United States ranks very low in educational achievement. BUT – if we only count the white and Asian scores, the United States actually ranks very high. It is the black and Hispanic children who are BRING THE US SCORES DOWN. This problem will only get worse as whites slip into minority status.

      Sorry to be politically incorrect folks, but from an educational standpoint, diversity is NOT a strength....

      August 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
      • TJ

        Hello Bannister

        I can not believe that you still are buying into that theory i.e. whites have the highest IQ scores:(. To make a blanket statement like that is amazing! It really shows your level of education, which I imagine is not more than the minimum bachelor's degree, if that.

        Sorry, but I call like I read it!

        August 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Mei

      The article does state the importance of family and this is very true. Having a mom and dad that both care about you and want you to do your best, is paramount. Many families today are broken and poverty is also a big factor as well. When the parent (or parents) are both working too many hours to make ends meet, they don't have time or energy to spend quality education time with their children. When they are constantly worrying about the bills, how they will pay for the latest dental bill–it does affect the quality of education at home. And worse, I think schools are not up to par with what is needed in the workforce today.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • Mack

      Having taught jr. high, high school, college and graduate school before going to law school, I know something about what goes on in our schools. And, unfortunately grade inflation and social promotion are running rampant throughout all levels of academia. I have tutored several young people at no charge. And, I remember one history teacher who had a 3 page hand-written study sheet. There were twenty six (26) spelling errors. A geometry teacher in one academic year only covered the first four chapters of the book. Our teacher unions here in Alabama make it almost impossible to fire a tenured teacher. So, the 'trash teachers' continue in the classroom since you can not get rid of them. And, if the 'good doctor' wants to see the power of a teacher union, come on down to Alabama. Rampant teacher incompetence due to the very powerful teacher's union is the reason we are so close to the bottom. Why else would the union block teacher competency testing on the high school level??

      August 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • WorkingDad

      Yes, but teachers are no better. Show me a system that does not hold its employees accountable. I am held accountable every day. Why do teachers not want to be held accountable? I have little control over all facets of my job, but am responsible for what I do. Yes, parents need to be more involved. Students do better when they are. But, teachers need not be above evaluation. We can figure out how to do that right – but it needs to be done.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  33. Peggy Rios

    I've been teaching nearly 20 years in both high and relatively low poverty schools. There are so many factors in low student achievement. Poverty is one of them. Low parental involvement is another. Poor teaching, whether through bad methodology or incompetence is another. Systemic chaos is yet another reason for low achievement. Class sizes well into the high 30's, no school library, no class library, no supplies and more all contribute as well. Lack of reading specialists and other interventionists who are available to teach small groups and one to one lessons are part of it. Low achievement in our schools is such a complicated problem. We need to work on ALL these issues all at once. There are no quick or easy answers. This will take hard work, time, brains and a commitment on the part of school staff, administration, parents, communities and local government. Anyone who thinks this is a single problem issue hasn't really taken the time to look at the problem long enough.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • readingexchange

      Peggy, you are so correct.

      Any school improvement efforts must be multifaceted ... not the narrow view of Michelle Rhee and others "reformers" of like-mind.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  34. Steve

    Has anybody ever considered that many of the countries of which the United States is compared, in terms of student test scores, have 200 plus school days per year. Districts in the U.S. are pretty much uniform in having 180 school days per year. Add another month to the school calendar in the United States and then looks at our relative performance.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Bob

      If you are around the schools you find that much of the time the kids are there is wasted. It's not the number of days, it's making efficient use of those days.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
      • cyberhackster

        Education starts in the home - Parents have their head in a warm dark place when it comes to "Lil Johnny or Mart" -
        All kids hear today is – "Shut up and be quiet" – Go play a video game -No consequence(s) if they do terrible in school...

        August 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  35. Ilan Wilde

    I believe that parents are not as motivated to encourage their children to excel in school today as in the past,but I also believe that there are way too many teachers teaching to the NAEP then educating the students.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  36. Barb

    I think there is too much emphasis on standardized testing as opposed to actual learning. We took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, that was it.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  37. Mrs. Tensen

    Our poor showing in Program for International Student Assessment is also due to the fact that PISA tests 15 year olds. In many countries compulsory education has already ended. Japanese students do not automatically go to school past the age of 14. So we are comparing our entire population to the elite in many countries. This is not a valid comparison.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  38. Al

    Teaching students how to pass standardized tests and using those results as proof of achievement is pointless. Educating 90% of the population is great, except it is being done at 1/3rd the quality of fellow first world nations.

    Teachers are not effective and there have been many studies conducted as to why. Government policy, teacher/student ratio, and parents deserve much of the blame... but teachers are still part of the problem. There are far too many teachers who simply do a poor job. You cannot point back to the 1950's when the U.S. scored nearly dead last in international testing and discredit it by showing the success the U.S. has had since then; they are completely unrelated.

    Diane is the reason the education system is failing. She is one of the few who have the power to improve the system, but fails to see there IS a problem.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Conrad Shull

      Are Medical Board exams pointless? The Bar exam? Nursing Certifications? Microsoft Certifications? All absolutely require "teaching to the test".

      August 9, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Leo

      Thank you Dianne for someone finally taking on these so called education reformers." There are far too many teachers who simply do a poor job", Really Al how many? Where are they? How were they rated? What is your profession? I am sure there are far too many people in it who do a poor job, just like everyother profession. And I am sure that people who compare US students to other countries whos students perform well that students are tested and then given specific avenues to choose from for a career. NOT everone is expected to go to college, NOR is everyone allowed to go to college. Unlike the current US education system. No longer are teachers who have worked in the profession and becomed seasoned are becoming educational management. Now it is teachers with three years experience or people from other fields who have never set foot in a classroom, but they beluieve they can tell an educator how to teach beacuse they read the latest book on education. The reasons that kids fail are due to many reasons, and a large one is lake of parenting. This is across the poor/rich divide. Kids have a lack of respect for education because they are given what they want. Period.
      And oh yes I want someone like Gvenor Cuomo to set teacher benchmarks, because he is an "expert" in the field. Yet another politician trying to ride education into the White House. I'm sure everyone remembers that last president that did that. Bush, as you recall, introduced No Child Left Behind, the biggest scam in education to date. Don't believe me? Just read what the architects of that bill say about it today!
      Schools are no longer part of the community, and children ARE being left behind because our current school policies are flawed.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  39. Wrong Again

    The real enemy of educating our kids is they see no apparent value from education in their daily lives. TV rewards sport and being stupid (reality tv) and American political life clearly is not about smart educated people with responsibility. There is nothing we are going to be able to do broadly on the education front until we change the political debate and get the goofballs of of TV (political).

    August 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm |

      Great Comment!

      August 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  40. Big BIll

    Poverty in terms of dollars and cents is a problem. Misery and poverty in spirit is probably a bigger problem. By many measures, many of the present poor would not be considered poor 100 years ago. It is the response of the family and the child to being poor and the response of society to the needs of the poor that are the main problems. A poor child has not done anything to deserve the burden of poverty. That we allow the environment of poor children to be dangerous and that we deny poor children nutrition and medical care really points to a deficit in the values widely represented in the greater society.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • Bob

      What an excellent response. In many countries, the "poor" do not attend school. And US poor would be rich in a majority of the world. It is the poverty of the soul more than anything. The belief that no matter what I do I can't do better. That's what needs to be solved.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • StevenR

      The present poor would not be considered poor 100 years ago? How do you figure? That is absurd and unsupported by facts. If you look at poverty as top 10 percentile and bottom 10 percentile, people are poorer today than ever. AND THERE ARE MORE OF THEM.


      August 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  41. Peter

    Part of the problem is NCLB. It was a mandated change of education policy that the lawmakers themselves said would require $8 billion a year to properly fund, or it would make no positive difference. They then proceeded to fund it at a rate of about $2 billion a year and expected that the goals would still be met. Penalty for failing to meet the goals; further loss of funding.

    Schools have reacted to it by cutting all programs that are not measured by NCLB, such as music and art classes. One of the best predictors of success in the measured variables, participation in music and art classes.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  42. Denisef

    It's not the teachers, they have no control. These children are raised with no respect for adults! Parents shame on you! When was the last time you heard a child say please or thank you? These are basic skills a parent should be teaching their children from infancy!

    August 9, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  43. former teach

    AFter one year, I quit teaching. My daughter, a special ed teacher, quit after three years. A good friend of mine, a math teacher, quit after two years. All of us quit for the same reason – the administration and administrators. According to the NEA, this is the number one reason teacher quit, double the percentage of the second reason.
    Ravitch's logic is as flawed as the testing she oversees. She incorrectly aligns "the greatest nation" scenarios with our public education. We WERE great in spite of our education system, not because of it.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      Can you be more specific? What about the administration is so difficult. I considered being a teacher 20 years ago, but after sitting in classrooms watching one bad teacher after another having no interest or control of their classes, I decided against it.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  44. One of the Young Autistic Men

    The problem with our education lies with the students and the board of education. Most of the teachers I encountered were excellent compared to than the professors I encountered. During my high school years, I seen student who had potential but do not put their best effort. I was a student who was in all special classes. I fought to be in equal measures with average person and then end up doing better than the average person. Also, the board of education is out of touch with the education system, because the board hardly have teaching experience.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Larry

      Before you judge professors realize that most professors job performance rating has nothing to do with teaching. The political environment has changed the higher education system to emphasize publications and the ability to pull grants into the school. I have been a professor at two major universities and I am only considered an 'average' professor based on my job performance evaluations. Despite the fact that over 90% of my students can demonstrate competency at the skills I teach (which is extremely high) I only publish about two articles a year and average 3/4 my salary in grants brought in yearly. Individuals who publish 4-5 articles a year and bring in twice their salary in grants are considered "great" professors, despite less than 33% of their students demonstrating competency at skills taught in their classes.

      This is the system we have embraced in higher education. Don't be surprised with the results.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
      • One of the Young Autistic Men

        I apologize that I offend you. I did not mean most of professors are horrible in teaching. I met professor who are wonderful at teaching, better than some of the teachers in high school. In my experience, overall, I encountered more than three horrible professors who did teach the students. The high school I been in have less than three. I also understand outside work effort, like for certain professors, it is working in the laboratories. Again, my apologies. I did not meant to offend you in any way.

        August 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  45. K

    "Parents must be involved in helping their kids succeed. Research is clear that what parents do matters even more than what teachers do. Parents affect their children’s attitudes, behavior, and willingness to study and learn."

    Repeated for emphasis. Most poverty-stricken parents do not value their children's education or behavior.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  46. Big Fred

    This is a typical brainiac elite assesment. Throw money at it and what ever you do don't make things competitive. Where's my trophy? The author is probably at the pinky in the air cocktail parties gracing everyone with her brilliance. No substance to this article just elitist pontification. The Educational Industrial Complex is a mess and wants to consume. Feed Me, Feed Me, Feed Me.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  47. readingexchange

    I do not think that Diane Ravitch's article is an attempt to place blame for the educational challenges of the public school system.

    Rather, it is my opinion that, she is calling for the powerful "educational reformers" to acknowledge that poverty has a profound and fundamental negative influence on real academic achievement, so much so, that it can even cancel-out the efforts of even the most gifted and dedicated educator.

    This problem will not be solved by blaming any one group or any one factor.

    Let's get down off our high-horse, roll up our sleeves, look into the eyes of our students, and intelligently work together to help them.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  48. Russ

    I am a retired teacher and I have seen it all. I also know that achievement is based on student attitude and culture at home. If the students value care about what is being taught, they will try to do the work. If they don't care, or understand why it is important, they won't. That said, students coming from some cultures take it on faith that it is important, and will work very hard, while students coming from other cultures don't value education, and won't put much effort into it. This is a generality, there are exceptions with individual students, but I believe it is true that asian and Jewish students have a culture that values education very highly, whereas black and hispanic culture doesn't on the whole. In fact, I have heard it said that school is a "white man's thing". When you are bucking that attitude, and the lure of fast money on the streets, teachers are set up for failure, and giving them a few more dollars won't improve the situation.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  49. jdoe

    It's interesting that people who blame the U.S. public school system point to test scores in Asia or Europe. Yet they neglect to mention that in Asia or Europe there are very strong public school systems. Public education in itself is not the problem.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  50. Kevin Harrington

    This is a delightfully self-serving article that masterfully draws conclusions to support an agenda. It shows Diane Ravitch received an excellent education. Both Michelle Rhee and Diane Ravitch should both be attorneys. (I'd hire either one to argue my case.) They both excel at arguing their sides well while avoiding any obvious distaste for the intellectual dishonestly they engage in. But, I must agree that poverty is a problem in that good education will someday be divided between those with money and those without. Or more specifically, those who can afford private school or home schooling and those who must leave their kids to languish in the public schools.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  51. Person of Interest

    Here's where I completely agree with the GOP, the government is the problem with our schools. Just look at TX they don't like the teaching of evolution (and/or anything that contradicts the Bible) and they are constantly ranked below average on science and math. For that, matter most states below the Mason-Dixon line are below average in Math and science (with the exception of Virginia).

    Which is where I agree with the author, it is a culture thing. The US culture at large is more free than the rest of the world to teach controversial things and thereby more adaptive and innovative. That's why the lower test scores mean less (for now). However, you can't say bad teaching isn't part of the problem. I went to a private Catholic School K-8th and I was far more prepared for high school than my public school counterparts (I went to a public high school). Not only that the grading scale at the private school was far tougher than at the public school. I needed at 90% for an A, and a 82% for a B, etc. But at my private jr. High I needed a 94% for an A and a 87% for a B, so I coasted through high school.

    US Highschools are sad no matter where you are from, it's US Colleges that make up for it. And half the students (not fact, just from what I saw) that go to college now can't have to take a class that is below 101 because they weren't prepard fully. It's not 100% or even 50% of the teachers fault, but there is some blame to be spread between them, School Boards, State Funding, State Certification, Tenure, etc.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  52. jimbo913

    Our education system in America sucks because we largely don't value education and prefer to distract our populace with tabloid news and sports (to be sure something I do enjoy). Our schools are the first on the chopping block when a financial crisis arises (perpetual), we prefer religious teaching to science (and deny basic scientific theories), and refer to the educated as elites. Our population will continue to decline as long as slow-witted leaders and populace realize that the renaissance was not just a period in the past.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Jeff

      I totally agree with jimbo913. We don't take our commitment to education seriously enough. They aren't the indoctrination farmers the paranoid make them out to be. They are the cornerstone of a developed economy that needs a workforce prepared to meet its needs.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • C. Plaza

      Please, no more demands for money for schools. Signed ... a Californian. To the author, I was born in a Peruvian ghetto so believe you me, I know poverty. Poverty is an excuse, period. And yes, we need much, much better teachers, your statistical biases notwithstanding. (After 12 credit hours in Statistics, I know how the results can be chopped, stirred, and cooked. You are a bit above average in that skill.)

      August 9, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • jimbo913

      Went to another news site (Huffington) and see this:

      "Missouri 'Right To Pray' Amendment Allows Students To Reject School Assignments That 'Violate His Or Her Religious Beliefs"

      The fact that we do this in this country is exactly what I was speaking of. We prefer "beliefs" to "facts." Seriously, facts are secondary in school. Embarrassing, shocking, depressing.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  53. Alex

    The article says that every school needs an on site health clinic. What schools need is a full time librarian. It is not just schools but cities have to help. My city gave large raises to several managers but because of lack of funds closed one of its two libraries (in a city of 150,000). That library was a safe place to go after to school, to study and get homework help. Now those kids for whom the main library is too far have nowhere to go after school.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  54. Teacher

    Thank you from my fellow teachers and me. Those in this nation with an agenda to make public schools fail in order to promote their class or religion have been the loudest voices and they need to be countered as this article did. Finland models its education system on ours with the exception of elevating the profession in status and pay to those of doctors and lawyers. Regarding merit pay, baloney, we are educating students not widgets; this nation is blessed with abundant variety and given freedom to teach to this variety, teachers succeed. If you want real change, fix the property valuation that funds schools and lets have real equality. My salary as a highly trained reading teacher is fully half of that of teachers with the same training who live in affluent districts.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • MKBL

      My wife is a teacher, and I'm proud of her and many of her coworkers being genuinely interested in her students' achievement and development. Also I'm one of those critics of Rhee. Having said that, I don't agree with your assertion that people criticize the American public school to promote their agenda. Based on my wife's observation, I realized that there are bad teachers, not just ineffective, including those who are taking advantage of the good nature of young students to just enjoy their benefits or even more than that. The problem is, usually those bad apples are not publicly recognized, not known to parents, and even if they are, it is close to impossible to replace them for various reason. And the real victims are the students who don't even know they are not receiving the quality education that they deserve. Of course socioeconomic differentials play big role in education gap, but that cannot white paint the fact that bad teachers have their own shares as well.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  55. Witchy Woman

    Apologies for any typos in my previous post

    August 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  56. Katie

    It's easy and frankly, quite cowardly, to blame teachers for everything that goes on in a classroom. Kids need rest, they need food, they need guidance, they need discipline and reasonable boundaries, and they need family support. Take away even one of these things and their learning can be affected. Teachers need time to teach – really teach. They can't do this effectively if someone removed from the classroom tells them how to do it – especially when those someones change their minds every year. They can't do it if the funding goes into one pile or to pay off their administrators. They can't do it when they have a large classroom filled with kids who have ADD, who need extra attention, who play with their i-pods and their cell phones instead of paying attention to class, and those whose parents threaten to sue or refuse to back them up. YES YES, I know, not ALL teachers are good teachers, not ALL classes are meaningful – but many other things are quite true too – not ALL parents care about their kids enough to teach them manners or a work ethic, not ALL students are getting enough food or enough rest. In this day and age when bullying comes from the highest levels, in the ugliest of ways (politics & wars anyone??) and kids over way over-empowered due to trendy, permissive parenting (which is NOT just a 'liberal' trait, BTW, – lots of spoiled brats come from solid GOP homes) how can we expect the most highly educated & underpaid people to perform miracles? We need to FEED America. We need to look out for one another – that includes kids AND teachers. We need to instill a work ethic and community-first attitude to replace the toxic "I deserve it because I'm me" and "me first" attitude. We need to CARE about each other. It doesn't necessarily take a lot of money, but it does take a change in the initial mindset.

    If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can understand it, thank them all.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  57. Al A

    Lots of criticism about teachers. Why don't these people who criticize give it a try? Is it because they can't handle the pressure of teaching, or is it because they don't want to work for the pay? Perhaps they don't like children. Or is it instead that they don't really care to make a difference? I'm tired of people who don't do the work criticizing. If there's a problem, it's your responsibility to fix it. And you can't fix it by just griping at teachers. I'll bet most of the people who post these comments have never been teachers, and their only experience in a classroom was as students. I'm tired of people griping, criticizing, and taking cheap shots. By the way, I'm a teacher.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  58. jdoe

    I do think we need a way to measure teacher performance. The fact is that bad teachers do negatively affect students. Conversely, one or a few bad kids in a class, or an especially bad neighborhood, can unfairly penalize the teacher performance-wise. An measurement should be focused on trend, not absolute score, and done as an average over a number of years, with the extremes excluded.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  59. Zafarrano Wolffe

    Ravitch is right on. Ask any schoolteacher. (Don't however, ask those who blame others for their own failures, many of whom have expressed opinions here)

    August 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  60. jdoe

    Both sides miss the point. It's not an either/or issue. Ineffective teachers can be a problem, but that's only part of the problem. And so is pover

    August 9, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • ian

      what is "pover"?
      perhaps it is just more than 'both sides' that have missed the issue.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  61. Witchy Woman

    There are many problems in public schools..not just the teachers. Everyone points at the teacher instead of addressing all the other issues that contribute to educating a person. What about parents? What about povert? What about people like Michelle Rhee? Everyone screams about tenure. This lets me know that you people don't do your research. Most teachers states don't even have that anymore. Michelle Rhee is selling a dream and you people are drinking her brand of cool aid. If you do your research you will find that she barely taught in a classroom 3 years and that she SUCKED as a classroom teacher. She chose the easier path. Spouting statistics and bashing the schools. Telling us how to fix it when she couldn't even do it herself. Some of her views may be true but since she couldn't stand the heat she dang sure can't tell me what to cook in my educational kitchen.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  62. John

    Why is the NAEP the "only valid measure" of academic performance?

    August 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
    • Colleen

      It's the only valid test to compare the US to other countries because it is the only test given to all the countries in order to compare them.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  63. Jeff

    Wow; where to start. I disagree completely that the NEAP is the only benchmark that matters. America must be able to keep pace with other developed countries if we are to have a competitive work force. Public education is the cornerstone of our country and needs to do a lot better.
    Next, are teachers to blame? Partly, yes. There are some lousy teachers out there that are an embarrassment to their profession, that spoil it for the energetic teachers that want to make a difference. The process of firing problem teachers is too complicated, time consuming and expensive. Teaching is too important to be left in the hands of hacks.
    Parents are to blame too. We've become to soft on our special snow flakes that have sky high egos, distraction driven ADD and spend too much time in sports that will never do anything for them. Academics have never been taken seriously enough by American culture, which must change if we are to remain viable in this information age.
    Finally, this BS line about poverty. On the whole, America is a richer country than many of the countries that have better academic scores. We have some very impoverished areas in our nation, but even those areas are at times better off than the impoverished areas of some nations that have better test scores than ours.
    I'm a progressive that firmly believes in public schooling, but I really think the industry of academics needs to pull their heads out of their backsides and see what is happening in the real world. They think the world as they teach it in elementary school is accurate, which comes across in some of the naive statements made by the author.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  64. Bob

    The problems in public education are threefold. Number 3, Union systems that protect bad teachers. Not all teachers are bad teachers but the ones that exist bring the whole system down. 2, Political dialouge like this blaming a societel ill such as "poverty". And the number one problem. Parents. Of course low income and poverty affects these kids as they often have only one parent in there lives and many many parents don't care about there kids education becuase there more concerned about drugs and there welfare checks. Sounds cross, but its true. The system also is so concerned about federal funding and teaching kids the crowd mentality and expelling kids for bringing in nail clippers.
    Want to fix it? start with the parents.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • guest

      Bob, can I blame your parents for your poor spelling? their. not there, for one...

      August 9, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  65. Mike B

    I agree with Mrs. Ravitch that merit pay does not work in its current form, but if we wish to retain talent in the education system the "step and lane" system needs to be thrown completely out. Although incentive theory is dated, these are real people trying to support families. Six years ago I left the teaching profession due to frustration. Frustration that the small group of teachers with talent at our school, those that arrived at 6:00am and left at 6:00pm and put deep thought into their lessons, were paid less than those that checked-out of the profession years ago, a luke-warm body in a seat. Years on the job equalled more money, no matter how incompetent they were at their job. I left teaching, something I loved and would like to return to, but the corporate world offered nearly triple my salary. I've learned a lot over the last six years, staying in the education field, and would love to return to the classroom with these new tools in-hand, but again the archaic "step and lane" system prevents the hiring of talent, it's simply "How many years have you taught? Here's your salary." I'll be able to return to the classroom only after I retire. If you want to change education, free Principals up to hire teachers and pay them what they are actually worth. In addition, give Principals the ability to more easily fire teachers that no longer care. I'm not talking test scores, there are other ways to measure performance than a test. The ones who could care less about teaching are not hard to spot.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Jeff

      Totally agree. The tenure system is broken. Good teachers make all the difference; they lay the ground work that will create the next billionaires, or the next dead end job nobodies, sometimes based greatly on the efforts of teachers. I know not every kid is a genius or prodigy, but I bet a lot of potential is being flushed down the toilet because of uninspiring teachers. If a teacher is a true rock star at their job, they can save lives. They deserve way more pay than what they are getting. A bad teachers deserves a pink slip.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  66. Advocatusdiaboli

    If poverty were the problem, then why wasn't it a problem in the whole 19th century when more Americans were poorer than now, particularly during the Great Depression? We'll never solve our social problems if we don't start blaming the problems on the real source: our decline in social values including declining values of education and teachers. This article is just another witch hunt to avoid blaming our decline in the social and family values that built this nation to it's, now past, peak in the 50s and 60s.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Jack

      You're right, it wasn't a problem during the great depression. I mean, the U.S did great in international high-school test taking measures then right? Oh wait, the article clearly states that the first set of tested rankings internationally was done in 1964.

      Don't be ridiculous.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Bmac

      The 19 th century everyone did not go to school, only the upper class ie rich kids. Poverty wasn't A factor because students living in poverty simply did not go to school.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Andrew Wilson


      Well, in the 19th century, especially before compulsory and free education, half of the public never reached high school. My own grandfather had an 8th grade education before World War II. Do you realize that? In many countries still without compulsory, free education, only the middle class and elite gain a quality education if any at all.

      This is the same with India and China. Half of the reason their high school test scores are so high is that you can drop out at 15 and it is very hard to get into a good high school. There are millions of students who never appear on those test scores due to extreme poverty and dropping out.

      August 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  67. jefffielhauer

    "Our public schools educate 90% of the population, and we should give the public schools some of the credit for our nation’s accomplishments as the largest economy and the greatest engine of technological innovation in the world."

    It's the other 10% that get the job done in the US. That and the smart people we are continually importing from other countries. The reason our country succeeded had nothing to do with education. It had to do with creating a free country where people could develop their own businesses without the government getting in the way. When you do that, all the smart people come. We've slowly destroyed this country through regulation and taxation. Now there are better places to do business, and all the well-educated people will be heading there, including those who are educated by the US public school system.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Dan

      So you're saying that only people that have been educated privately make a positive contribution to our society. Wow. You need to get out of your cave more often

      August 9, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
      • ian

        Generally, one ends a sentence with a period, Missy.

        August 9, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  68. Michael

    I am not a teacher; I was, however, quite fortunate whilst growing up that I had parents and, for the most part, teachers, that cared about my education. I was also fortunate in that I had a goal: from the time I was 4 years old, I wanted to attend the US Air Force Academy – having that one goal focused and honed my learning skills. A huge part of my early education stemmed from the simple fact that my mother got tired of answering, "Why?" ... so they bought a set of encyclopedias ... and she started telling me to "Go look it up." So I did ... and never stopped. So my solution? Smaller classes, get parents engaged, enforce discipline in the classroom and provide the most basic of survival needs: good food and a clean environment. And for the record, my family was considered lower middle class; we were not well off by any stretch of the imagination ... but we made it all work.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  69. Andrew V

    Here we have a professor at NYU suggesting that poverty is the real issue and the American education system is not as flawed as progressives like Michelle Rhee think.

    "Why are our international rankings low? Our test scores are dragged down by poverty." I am floored that a professor of education and CNN would have the audacity to publish it such a statement.

    She hails that fact that 90% of American children receive a public education in America. Why, then, does the cycle of poverty continue? The only reason I have lasted so long teaching in the most challenging environments imaginable is that I believe, with every fiber of my being, that the day every child in America has access to a quality Pre-K through 12 education will be the day the poverty crisis comes to end.

    I invite you, Diane Ravitch, to come to my school where 98% of our students are on free/reduced lunch. I want you to come to room 336 and (over 70% of which scored in the "Proficient" or "Advanced" category on one of the most rigorous state assessments in America) re-consider your view on the effects of poverty. This is not a charter school. It is a traditional public school, with unionized teachers, who work under a common belief that ALL of our students CAN achieve.

    The American education system is failing. The teaching profession in America is a joke. We are failing our students on our own, without the "challenges" of poverty standing in our way. I am the son of a migrant farm worker who became a doctor. To suggest that poverty is the real issue in America is to question my entire existence as a man and my daily work as a teacher in an urban school. Please re-think what the real problems in our system are, Professor. I hope you raise you expectations for our amazing American children and their teachers–even those who come from poverty.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • shoshette


      August 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  70. vbkid

    ANY kid with a tooth ache on a testing day may not do good, not just the poor. But Kids being poor does not mean they don't have access to health care. Moreover being poor here in US far better than being poor in many other countries.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  71. bluevortex

    I suspect that what is wrong with our education system is multi-factor. Surely poverty is one problem but places like India (where I grew up) has much more poverty therefore limited access to education but, for the same reason, also poor education for many but also much excellence in education. I think a central reason for the poor state of our education is social-political. We want the benefit of an education but have forgotten that that requires work from both teacher and student. Teachers have come to see teaching as merely a job; and students have come to think that graduation is a ticket to a job / career. Many people I talk to say "Why should I have to take Algebra?" (etc). There are a number of reasons that fundamentals are important. (1) More than ever before, today's manufacturing jobs require analytical skills. So whereas in the past unskilled labor was very rewarding, this is no longer true. (2) Society needs a talent pool and has the right–I think–to require education in the fundamentals of life and higher education. However, neither teacher education nor students nor families support these values. Change begins with you (or me). We should inform ourselves as to the truth of the situation; as to what we need; and to demand this of our local and national leaders, ourselves, and our families and our associates

    August 9, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  72. anon

    They are both wrong. The real problem is that public schools are government funded and because of that they propagate the propaganda of the government. They teach MORE government is the answer and, thusly, continue the tradition of staying dependent on government. You've got to go to college, hey get in debt to the government.... Then the real leftist agenda begins.

    Please note that I don't think that private right leaning schools are the answer either, they're not. Both private and public education systems breeds ignorance and dependence on something, government or God.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  73. jannerl

    Judging from the resumes I get from people with BAs and even advanced degrees, no one is teaching English or writing anymore. Not speculating why, but the applicants seem functionally illiterate and at the same time, want to come in as management. Very frustrating for businesses who want to hire good people.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • ch

      I agree.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  74. Edlharris

    Merit pay was tried in Fairfax County , Virginia (right to work state) back in the late 1980s.
    It failed there as well.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  75. joe providence

    The problem is that stance Rhee takes on education has been the prevailing opinion dating back to when she was a child – I’m not sure why anyone choose to give greater credence to her opinion at such an inexperienced point in her life. Success at education is 100% dependant on the student – not the teacher. Unfortunately teacher stuck with lousy students who are disruptive, lazy or otherwise adverse to being educated get penalized while those blessed with eager, positive and self motivated students get rewarded. That is the definition of unfair.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  76. Blue Panther

    I've been to rural areas in Eastern Europe and Asia and seen schools in dire physical condition in poor villages and towns that nonetheless produce students who are articulate in their own language, and often fluent in a second or even third, and are wizards in mathematics and the sciences. In the cities the facilities may be a bit better but still sub-standard compared to American schools. Why are so many of our engineers here from those areas of the world? At the risk of sounding like an old codger, I blame the trash culture that demoralizes students and parents alike with its incessant glorification of ignorance, violence, and just plain bad values.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Penguinism

      Blue Panter I agree. My grandparents were from Eastern Europe. As both of my parents worked, I was raised by them. Sadly they would often refer to my classmates as lazy, rude, ungrateful who often times would go without punishment for wrongduing. My grandparents are educated, thoughtful and considerate people, who had no tolerance for the North American way of child rearing. I was clearly taught that there are consequences for my choices and actions. If I was late for school, no excuse, I was late because I allowed the circumstances to be late. If I had failed a test, it was not because of my parents/grandparents or the teacher, it was "I" who failed the test. I have a job working with the public and I deal with these type of people who were lazy as children who did not have consequences for their choices; enjoy your wake up call.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  77. James

    I agree with every point on this article except for the thesis–that teachers have no part in it.

    "Merit pay fails because teachers are doing the best they can with or without a bonus." Give me a break. Saying that is almost as silly as saying that all teachers are bad. We have no way of knowing because teachers fight the implementation of almost any system which measure their performance. So few other jobs have the autonomy and lack of oversight as teachers do. Considering that one bad teacher can do so much damage is also scandalous.

    I am not advocating standardized tests as the panacea, but come on teachers. Work with society to find a way to measure your performance–like almost every other working American. Don't reply on cliches and anecdotes to promote how hard "all" teachers work.

    August 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  78. Inez

    Finally a sensible assessment of our situation. Many people have gained fortune and fame by bashing teachers and public education. American teachers teaching in public schools have created good citizens for many years. What we need now is a more equitable distribution of wealth and an end to the fiction that outsourcing does not harm our economy.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  79. bluegillonthefly

    I'll tell you what. I had a number of pretty ineffective teachers and I'll tell you straight up that they are part of the problem. If you'd prefer not to believe me, get yourself down to a school – I don't care if it's a rich school, a poor school, or somewhere in the middle – and ask the students. They'll tell you the same thing.

    Are they the only part of the problem? No, of course not. However, to say they are not part of the problem is to tell a self-serving lie.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  80. Andrew

    Teachers and schools already do too much. Look at your own, insolvent, inhumane, dysfunctional asses, America.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  81. woodysr

    It seems like a great many "Union" responses posted here. Students from non-poverty stricken areas are also far below what students accomplished in the past while fewer subjects are taught, now we just teach the test.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  82. Rod

    Really? This typical liberal response and apology for mediocrity in our public schools is absolutely maddening. I urge every citizen to visit their public schools and include several classrooms. The quality of teachers is absolutely appalling. It is this argument against merit pay and for tenure that has turned many of our public schools, especially in the inner city, into anterooms for prison. Shame on Ms. Ravitch who should, and maybe does, know better.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Andrew

      You sound like a misinformed idiot. Rod. Go back to Faux Nues.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  83. Frustrated

    As a former teacher I want to say that it is also the parents responsibility. Today these parents cottle their children and protect them in plastic ball. I have been verbally harassed by parents because of reprimanding their children for running in the hallway, setting strict educational guidelines and guess who wins...that is right the parents. The teachers have no control in the classroom its the parents (mothers) who have nothing else to do in life but harass. If you nothing else to do parents that give us teachers negativity, then come give teaching a try or go back to your careers before you had children!!!!!

    August 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Guest

      With your excellent grasp of both grammar and spelling, I am pleased to note that you are a "former" teacher.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
      • shoshette

        My sentiments exactly!!!! And there is the problem.

        August 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • BunB

      I hope you aren't an english teacher. Yuck.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Deb

      Thank you for leaving teaching as your philosophy is a prime example of why schools fail; no team concept. The 3 legged stool of parents/teachers/students is the minimum of how these 3 inter-related aspects of education are met. Success in the classroom requires teachers and parents to engage positively toward their common interest; the student. If teachers do not acknowledge and nurture parents as equal team members then it is easy to point the finger of failure. In my experience parents strive to do their best, and yes there are those who do not but that is not the student's fault. And many times its not the parent's fault either. Parents living in poverty, who do not understand English, those who are illterate, those who have health challenges, those unemployed, life's events, these issues come into every classroom and challenge teaching. However, unlike yourself effective teachers take this into consideration and work to the needs of each student, acknowledging the student's uniqueness and challenges that enter each and every classroom. We do not teach in a vacum we teach within a society and some how during your years learning how to be an effective teacher you missed this point. So on behalf of students I say thank you for leaving teaching and I hope you find another area in which your strengths can be better appreciated.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • guest

      please tell me that you didn't teach english!! " it is also the parents' responsibility" (note the apostrophe)! and parents don't cottle children, they coddle them!

      August 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • guest

      and some proper punctuation and proper use of adverbs wouldn't hurt either! As a teacher, I advocate testing teachers every few years to see their proficiency in the subjects they are teaching. I have lost count of how many times I have had to write notes to my daughter's teachers (all lovely and dedicated people) pointing out errors in homework questions or multiple choice quizzes. a teacher should be embarassed to write a public statement with so many glaring errors.

      August 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
      • shoshette


        August 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  84. BetsyBee

    In NYC, most of the kids are black and Hispanic. Black and Hispanics are stupid. End of argument.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Johnny

      Hey, speaking of stupid, your ex-boyfriend was shot by the police the other day down in Oak Creek.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Timbuck2

      I truly hope you don't teach anyone's children!

      August 9, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • FactsRBad

      I cannot wait to hear the other pearls of wisdom and insight that flow from that big brain of yours. I shutter in anticipation......

      August 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Yah

      You racist dumbnut!!!

      August 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  85. LL

    I teach students who live in poverty. When I use evidence based curricula delivered effectively, these kids excel. Poverty is not the problem! Nor are teachers. School systems need to use evidence based curricula and offer teachers evidence based professional development/support. I have seen teachers a year from retirement who even claim they "don't care" double achievement with the neediest students when these simple measures are followed.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • RL

      I teach in a school where 98% of the students are impoverished. When you don't know where you are going to sleep at night because your dad went back to "his country", this will impact your learning. When you're afraid to go home because, "Grandma has a knife and is threatening to use it on us" will impact your learning. When you come to school with a fever because mom has to go to work or she doesn't get paid, this will impact learning. To stick your head in the sand and claim "evidence based learning" will solve all of these problems, you are being disingenuous and a danger to the student's you claim to serve.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  86. Fresno

    The inconvenient truth is that unless you have taught in a school that has a high percentage of students that come from difficult home situations you only think that you know what you are talking about, in a discussion about educational achievement.

    If a student's family places a high value on education, and has a good work ethic, and there are not too many in his class whose families do not have these values, the probability of his receiving a good education is greatly increased.

    I have heard of examples of inner city schools where very few parents showed up at back to school nights, that are designed as a opportunity for parents to meed their children's teachers. This is in stark contrast to schools that serve middle, and upper middle class neighborhoods.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  87. eliotpound

    Those of you who characterize teachers as "producers" of products, widgets, or workers may have good intentions, but your prescription is ill-founded from its inception.

    Teachers do not "produce;" teachers TEACH – at least when the classroom environment isn't cluttered by "data analysis," the latest teacher-bashing diatribes, or pressure from the clueless to "produce" test-takers. Ask Finland about their views on standardized testing. Ask Finnish administrators what they think of the notion that my performance evaluation is inextricably linked to the "test-performance" of a 16 year old stoner who doesn't give a damn. And ask Finland and other "high" performing nations what their societal view towards teachers is.

    And while some of you are at it, stop grouping all teachers as a bunch of "union hacks." Some of us, hundreds of thousands of us, in fact, are not unionized, have no one, no entity, advocating for us, and we continue to teach students because we love them, our profession, our calling, if you will.

    I resent those armchair critics and for good reason. And fortunately, I don't have to justify myself to any of them. My students, their parents, and my administrators and colleagues are those to whom I answer. And like many others, I stand tall doing it. Come spend a day with me in my classroom, keep your mouth shut, and learn alongside my students. Then the deprogramming of Rhee-ism and Gates-ism will have begun. And there will be hope for you.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  88. Benno Von Archimboldi

    As a Parent of a high-school senior I will say this:

    AT LEAST half of her teachers over the last twelve years have been incompetent, lazy, under-qualified, petty, immature, apathetic or all of the above. That has nothing to do with poverty – we live in a somewhat affluent district. It has to do with the teachers, some of whom just don't care, and others who are not smart enough to teach our kids,

    August 9, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Yah

      If you live in an affluent district, what do you know of poverty?

      August 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
      • ian

        if you live in poverty, what do you know of affluent people or school districts? have you appointed yourself god?

        August 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • G Andrew B

      Maybe Mr. Archimbolti could share with us his academic research that supports his profound convictions about the educational system and it's teachers. He must of received his 16 years of academic training at home.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
      • shoshette

        Correction – it is MUST HAVE not MUST OF

        August 9, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  89. Alice in PA

    It seems as if people misunderstand Ravitch's comments about poverty. To all of you who posted anecdotes about your own success despite being poverty ridden as a child: I warmly congratulate you on your success! Perhaps you can tell us more about how that happened in order to help others. To those who post stories about immigrant families valuing education: you are spot on and the literature from which Ravitch is drawing her knowledge has found that immigrant optimism among children of new immigrants. However, you all are missing a few points. The vast majority of the 25% of our kids living in poverty do not fall into the new immigrant category. Also, anecdotal stories of success are great, but those represent very very few of the stories. How can we help the vast majority of kids? What the research shows is that there is a culture of poverty that tends to keep families in a generational cycle of poverty. This research is more than just a correlation,as one poster accused. There is causation model research also. Basically, if the parents are working several minimum wage jobs just to get by, then that is the world that their kids see. And it about more than just money for food or healthcare. It is about subtle things like how much kids are spoken to at home and using what words. It is about the topics of conversation and how much the kids are asked to think through things. It is about expectations- is school portrayed as just something you have to do or is school something that is constantly being held as an opportunity to d osomething better. Ravitch has never said she has all the answers. What she says is that the answers touted by the corporate reformers have been shown to be overwhelmingly ineffective and that we need to address the core issues and poverty is probably the largest one of those.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • jdoe

      @Alice: What you say is all true. But then it means there's no solution. We cannot make parents change. The system can only work on what it can change. Blaming it on poverty is like saying that if only people stop drinking there will be fewer drunk drivers. That won't change a thing.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
      • Bill

        Joe: If people stop drinking there will be fewer drunk drivers. I'm not sure what your point is. The point of the article was to find ways to improve the things that affect children living in poverty and we will improve overall test scores.

        August 9, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Jimmy B

      Alice in PA,

      Well spoken. I really like your response to all the nonsense that the posters are providing. You're response is reasoned and accurate in my humble opinion. Nice going! :).

      August 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  90. Mike in Pekin

    they are both wrong. The problem with schools is not poverty or ineffective teachers, but ineffective parents combined with a society that idolizes sloth and misbehavior.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Matt

      @ Mike in Pekin – I'm not sure our society "idolizes" this behavior but we sure as hell encourage it through all the entitlement programs offered by our government. This free ride offered by the government allows kids another bad option in life. "My mommy and daddy don't work and they still get monthly checks".

      August 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • ian

      i vote for mike!

      August 9, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • PublicSchoolGrad

      Oh, you've got that right!

      August 9, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • shoshette

      By George I think you've got it!!

      August 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  91. jdoe

    The bottom line is that America was never about making sure every kid is properly educated, just enough. If we need more smart people, we import them from other countries. If we need cheaper labor, we move jobs to other countries. That's how America works.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  92. Chris

    Parental involvement is crucial to our children's educational success. As a parent I am fortunate enough to be able to volunteer in my children's school helping children with reading and math skills development. I agree that poverty plays a huge role in a child's ability/interest to learn, but a bigger role is played by parental involvement. If a parent does not work with their child to increase necessary skills, the child will not succeed. There were a number of children I worked with who were continually unprepared and when I asked if Mom, Dad or any adult helped then I was told "No". The teachers I worked would tell me they had dismal turnouts at conference time – even getting parents to return the conference forms is difficult. When you have 25 students in your class and less then 10 parents actually show up for their scheduled conferences, a teacher knows how much parental involvement they will have.

    Throwing money at the problem will NOT fix it. As a nation we need to pretty much go back to the beginning and totally rebuild our education system from the ground up. There is no reason for colleges to offer remedial math/reading/science/etc courses to incoming students. If they do not know the basic material, they have absolutely no business being in college.

    Contrary to Ms. Rativch's claim, we do not have the most powerful economy in the world. That honor is now held by several Asian nations. Our school year needs to be longer, the school day also needs to be extended. Students need to be challenged more, there needs to be more homework. My grade schoolers rarely have homework, when they do it takes just a few minutes to complete. Teachers receive parental complaints when the work is too "hard" for their students, therefore they start making classwork simpler. Too many students are mainstreamed into classes, they may not be capable of doing the work but parents are insistent and demand they be included. Gifted students are often ignored as schools don't quite know what to do with them, and quite frankly, the belief is that the gifted student will find their own way so the schools don't really expend the effort on them. Many times the parents of gifted students don't have the support systems the mainstreamed students have, so they are not as vocal.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Rationalintn

      There used to be a time when children were expected to do their homework without much assistance from their parents.
      It seems the more they are helped, the more helpless they become.Parents today have become way too involved, and are expected to solve every little issue. We send our kids to school to learn to become independent and have the ability to take care of themselves. OUR inability to allow them to learn from failure is partially what holds them back.

      Can we please ban the term gifted? Really, every other parent I talk to at school believes their child is gifted. The present meaning of gifted is "kids who have enough self-control to pay attention, stay out of trouble, do their work quickly, and maintain honor roll level grades." Gifted, would describe a 10 year old doing college level work with straight A grades.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Gina

      Many kids don't have parents. Truly, it is horrendous. I wish everyone would stop bringing up the parents. Move on. It's obvious that parenting is lacking, and unless we get these kids educated and yes, challenged, we will have more bad parenting. I can't reach 70% of my kids' parents. Instead of a ringing phone, I get a "cricket" message, informing me that the number has been disconnected. When that same kid attacks the math teacher, the math teacher is told to "call" the parent. It's very different today! They don't get expelled immediately because these kids are MONEY. They need to SHOW UP so the school and district can get paid.

      You cannot challenge students if they classroom is a ZOO. You cannot challenge students when teachers cannot teach due to MASSIVE paperwork and mindless curriculum that is changed every school year.

      Your GT student is the least of this messed up system's concern. The whole system is being dragged down. Your GT student is a "swimmer" in life. No, your GT student is a rescue swimmer in life. I also have many that are simply intelligent that are swimmers in life too...But, your kid is a FLOATER, lacking resources because more money is being tossed into education, and that is NOT the solution (you are correct). As a teacher, I am a SWIMER, but this system is doing everything it can to make a floater, and I now feel like I am SINKING!

      Isn't that sad. I have GT students. My GT students are in the Ghetto, in gangland USA, but I look into their eyes, and I see something EXTRA special. But not only are they invisible to this world, they don't have someone like you in their corner. If there teachers weren't so PERSECUTED, they could have more of us, but we are always RUNNING, trying to get this chart done, this matrix done, this piece of crap paperwork that the principals MANDATE...oh, I have never seen anything like it.

      You and I did not have to take these tests, and our country was a super-power. But, I see the decline. I see these amazing kids being kept ignorant to fatten the pockets of PEARSON and ETS and textbook manufacturers.....

      My textbook is so heavy, that when I ask my kids to help me put them away, I say, "be careful, I bruised my wrist twice...."

      It's all about the money and the bubble in tests in this country.

      JUST BECAUSE a kid can PASS THESE tests does not mean they are a critical thinker, ready for the 21st century. As I stated below. 70% of my kids in the "hood" are passing these tests, but this is the question. DO MOST OF OUR KIDS LOVE TO READ? DO MOST OF OUR KIDS LOVE TO WRITE? CAN MOST OF OUR KIDS SPEAK AND SHARE THEIR THOUGHTS? The answer, no matter if they leave in La La Land or Gangland, is NO!

      August 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • HighAchievement

      So lets give parents a way to help

      August 9, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  93. faith

    The success of the American economy is greatly influenced by foreign educated students – and workers, not just on Amercan educated students. Check how many foreign students are at MIT. It will astound you.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  94. Michael J

    Let's start looking at the principals, the so-called school leaders, a bit more. A few extra education credits, friends in the right places, and a similar racial and ethnic background as the students does not qualify anyone to run a school.
    Also, it doesn't help teachers' morale to have people like Ms. Ravitch and the current NYC schools chancellor, who have never actually done the job, expounding on how to do it. And tenure at the secondary and pre-secondary levels is nonsense and does far more harm than good - especially when it comes to principals and other supervisory staff.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  95. elinor

    The result of the problem is clear. The largest number of unemployed now are people who either didn't finish highschool or did but didn't get any further training in a technical school or a community college. Thus, no one wants to hire them. Children are distracted by their world that doesn't seem to revere education. Many parents are not committed to the responsibility of teaching children the need to be educated. We need skilled teachers. To get such people we need to pay higher wages to them. We need teaching professionals who can recognize out of school problems that undermine learning. I think historically unions seek to maintain their own power without supporting their industries. There doesn't seem to be one solution. Dr. Rhee was faced with a school system that had floundered for years, a disgrace in our nation's capital, but no one previously was trying to improve the poverty in the community or the poverty of teaching. So I think it's clear that there isn't one solution, but sometimes skilled, educated, influential professionals like Dr. Ravitch and Dr. Ree can find a way to work together to improve our embarrassing condition of education. Let's stop calling names and get various professionals to work on various obvious failures in the commuities and the schools.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • RL

      Rhee worked as a teacher for only 2 years with very limited results. She taped her students mouths shut. She's not a professi0nal in any sense of the word.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  96. DonJuan1943

    Michelle Rhee should spend some years teaching in an inner city classroom; and then come and tell us what she thinks. Rhee blames teachers for the problem. She is wrong. I spent thirty years teaching in an urban setting. Poverty was the major common factor in most failures I witnessed. Rhee made America feel good by blaming the teachers for the problem. She should be ashamed!

    August 9, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  97. ChocolateSwoll

    So as the richest nation in the world, we're using the excuse of poverty to explain why our test scores lag behind other (poorer) nations.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Gareth

      What measure of richness matters, do you think? Overall GDP? Have visited a public school in a rural area of Tennessee, for example? None of the wealth ends up there, either in the schools or the population.

      August 9, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • RL

      What is it about the US being #1 in childhood poverty that you don't understand.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  98. shared_gum

    I think that the author has a good point, in that the income gap is so much greater in the US than in Finland and other Western European countries. Sure, it's easy to say that everyone should work hard to get out of poverty, but when the most basic values are not instilled in the kids, it's MUCH harder to do that. I myself did not care for Rhee's negative approach. Sure, there are teachers out there who are not good, and something needs to be done to rectify that, but I strongly believe that reduction in child poverty and strengthening of the middle class would help a great deal.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  99. W. Brown

    Ravitch is a part of the cabal that controls education of teachers, and reflects their platform.

    The universal product of a college of education is a graduate who has learned to point the finger at factors other than the too common inability of the teachers that are the cause of our failing, but expensive, public school system. It is poverty, it is the parents, it is the government interference, it is the administration, it is television, it is global warming, it is anything but the failure of the pseudo-profession to attract people who can deal with these factors.

    But of course, if we give them more money, everything will be better. Perish the thought that we would ask them to work full time and year round, and produce students who can function in society.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Rationalintn


      August 9, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  100. Skipper

    There is no question in my mind that the single greatest predictor of educational success of a child is the example set by the parents. While an educated and successful parent can play a vital role in the success of their child it need not be so. There are plenty of examples of working class immigrant families both in the present and in the past of our nations's history whose children have succeeded despite their socio-economic background. Its really about the extent to which a parent is willing to become involved in their's child's life. It's about the value that they place on education as the key to a successful and enjoyable life. Its about taking time to read to their chidren from an early age, to spend quality time with them and in doing so to show them how much their parents care. The greatest gift a parent can give to their child is the gift of self esteem.

    As for teachers, the vast majority of countries outperforming us in Europe and East Asia have traditions that historically respect the role of the teacher in society and in most of these countries the teachers are part of an elite civil service. Does that make them better teachers? I think not. Like anywhere there are good teachers and bad teachers. What empowers their society to ulitmately succeed educationally is the absolute priority their respective peoples place on education as the only path to happiness and success.

    We in the US can never entirely become like these societies and rightly we shouldn't but that doesn't mean that we should not strive to emulate the value they place on education and on their children and a nation's most precious resource. Dealing with poverty will certainly help as will improvemnts to our educations system but its ultimately up to each and every one of us.

    August 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Rationalintn

      The greatest gift a parent can give to a child is to teach him/her self-control. The best predictor of success in school is self-control. A child can grow up in the worst possible situation in America, but if they learn that their own self-control is the solution, they can make it. Children who have self-control, do their homework without being told, they pay attention in class even when it is boring, they put their education ahead of distractions. And when they live in poverty, they still make time for school work, even if they have to work and help out at home.

      August 9, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
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