My View: Myths on American schooling
September 25th, 2012
04:30 AM ET

My View: Myths on American schooling

Courtesy Michigan State UniversityBy William H. Schmidt, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: William H. Schmidt is a university distinguished professor at Michigan State University. He serves as co director of the Education Policy Center, co-director of the U.S. China Center for Research and holds faculty appointments in statistics and education. He has co-written eight books, including “Why Schools Matter,” “Teacher Education Matters” and his latest book, “Inequality for All.” 

Myths have a powerful ability to shape our understanding of the world, sometimes for the worse. There are three myths about schooling in America that have distorted how we view education and compromised our efforts to improve it. Dispelling these myths is the critical first step to ensuring that children learn the content, skills, problem-solving and reasoning abilities essential for today’s world.

Myth No. 1: Everyone has an equal chance to succeed in school.

Americans see our country as the land of opportunity, where with hard work anyone can succeed in life. Education has always been one of the key parts of this idea, providing a “level playing field” so students from every walk of life can go to school, work hard and make something of themselves.

I absolutely agree that education should serve this role, and I wish that today’s system managed to live up to this fundamental responsibility. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. The sad truth is that schooling in America is like a game of chance where the opportunities are arbitrarily determined by where a student lives, the school they are assigned to, the teacher they have or the textbook they’re given.

If you’ve been following debates about education, you’re probably aware that there are big inequities in how much money schools get, how good the teachers are and the kinds of skills children have when they first arrive at school. What doesn’t get very much attention is what I call equality of opportunity to learn, which is just another way of saying that every student should have the chance to learn challenging content.

It’s a simple idea with profound consequences. Whatever the resources, the quality of teachers, or the talent of students, if children are never exposed to strong mathematics (for example), how can they be expected to learn it? If they learn about a topic years after their peers, how are they ever supposed to catch up? Well, the fact is they don’t. Two children could go to the same school and are in the same grade, are both enrolled in a class called “Algebra I” and even have the same textbook, but one could be learning algebra and the other could be learning basic arithmetic.

Myth No. 2: It’s only a problem for poor and minority students.

Another myth says that inequality of educational opportunity might be a problem, but not for most students, certainly not for students from middle-class suburban families. This belief is also sadly mistaken. Maybe a generation ago the majority of students had an equal chance at learning challenging material (although I rather doubt it), but research today demonstrates conclusively that the problem of unequal learning opportunities threatens students from all backgrounds.

I have two pieces of evidence to back up this claim. First, the widespread use of tracking in elementary and middle school – the practice of assigning students to classrooms with different content based on their perceived level of ability. In a 2009 study using data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, we found that nearly three quarters(73%)of eighth-grade students are tracked in some way. In addition, students placed in a lower track aren’t likely to catch up with their peers; in fact low performers do worse in tracked schools.

Second, as part of a study of school districts in several states we looked at exactly what students were learning in different classrooms. What we found was startling: The biggest variation in opportunity to learn is in middle-income school districts, as detailed in my book, “Inequality for All.”

Myth No. 3: There’s nothing we can do about it.

Now for the good news. Many people, when they learn that there is such extreme inequality in schools, throw up their hands in despair. The problem seems so vast, so pervasive, that there’s nothing to be done.

Not so. Although some of the roots of educational inequality, like poverty, are very hard to solve, ensuring greater opportunities to learn is really quite feasible. Today there is a major movement to improve the quality of mathematics and language arts curricula called the Common Core State Standards, which has been adopted by nearly every state. Most of the focus about the Common Core has been about how it might improve average test scores, but another benefit of the Common Core is that it is also a great way to promote greater equality in education by ensuring that every student in every classroom is exposed to rigorous content. Effectively implementing these new standards is going to be a very big task, but one that will take a long step toward giving all students an equal opportunity to learn.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William H. Schmidt.

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  1. Physics Teacher

    Biggest Myth: All schools are failing.

    There are school systems out there that scores as high as the top country scores. But instead of looking at what those schools do or leaving them alone to continue doing what has been working so well, they are lumped in with the worst schools as needing to be fixed.

    This is like a large city having one pot hole on one street and deciding to repave the entire city.

    September 26, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • specialeducationteacher

      Yes, Physics Teacher, that is EXACTLY what it is like. I am a teacher too (third grade) and I can't tell you how many times I've thought: "Wait a minute. This school is successful year after year with making AYP and, more importantly, providing an education that parents speak very highly of. Our tests scores are tops, nearly all of our high school graduates go on to college, and yet we have to literally throw the baby out with the bath water and adopt whole new ELA and math curricula because we're lumped in with everyone else in this stupid reform movement. Give me a break. What about this data driven nonsense we keep hearing about? Hey, Commissioner King, MY school's data is looking real good. Why are you changing us, too? It makes no sense. No sense whatsoever.

      September 27, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  2. weebitwidd11e

    The problems with parents is that when they talk to a teacher it falls on deaf ears. Setting up appointments is rough for parents and if they manage to set up a appointment it's all about what the teachers want and they could care less or at least some of them could care less about what the parent is saying. "Do it my way or not at all." is their motto.

    Setting up appointments is rough for some parents they try to set up before school because they have three children and setting up after school means they have to go to sometimes three different schools to get a child, and take them also or else the child is left at home after the bus drops them off. Teachers don't understand that.

    The other thing I want to point out is that if parents can't get things sorted out the best thing for them to do is to go to the principal. Parents don't do this enough. But if you can't get anywhere with the teacher then go over their head. You don't have to take a teachers BS. I see this often enough that parents take the word of the teacher. A problem wont go away unless it is dealt with. If a teacher is causing you problems then go over their head talk to the principal. This doesn't mean that you go over their head at every whim.

    I brought this up only because a student in the past which now is in the 7th grade but in the fourth grade when this happened was trying to set up an appointment to have a teachers conference. The teacher would not set up the appointment 15-30 minutes before classes. She refused. Said it was after school or not at all. For six weeks the parent tried to set this up. She got no where. To principals if a mother needs to set up before class there is a valid reason for it. A teacher needs to listen to the parent just as much as a parent needs to listen to the teacher. When they collide nothing good comes of it. This parent could hardly wait for her child's school semester to end. She never went to the principal. This teacher was the only one that refused to set up an appointment before classes started. What ever her reason for the after school rule I kind of wonder if she picked the right career. I do know she is no longer at that school. Where she went, I don't know.

    September 26, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
  3. weebitwidd11e

    40 years ago in high school was my first ever time taking Algebra. As crazy as this sounds to some of you not every school has the same courses. You may of been lucky enough to take Algebra in grade school, but not at mine.

    The flack is high about schools having the same courses you might swear that schools were being asked for their heads or something. Some time back I said ALL schools should teach the books, and the same manner and the same subjects. Today we have too many children that switch schools on a dime because parents are job relocating. Even our military relocates. But no one wants to give these students a helping hand and have a level well rounded curriculum waiting on them at their new school. I know students right now that are back and forth to three schools only because certain subjects are not taught in their high school. What subject is that? Calculus! How lucky they are to have a school in their city that teaches it. I know towns that don't even offer this to their high schoolers.

    Today's students don't know what to expect from their schools. One school year they can take college prep the next year the class has been dropped because the school can't afford it. If you can't put emphasis on courses that matter then the students will believe that it doesn't matter either. What are the first courses to go at a public school? Other than sports (not football) it is the college prep classes and accelerated classes that get cut first. In other words the top tier classes you need for College are cut. If the class is not put in because of money then the number one other reason for not offering the course is.. TA DA The school district don't feel the students are adequate enough intellectually to take the class. In other words they dumb them down. Schools are great at dumbing down students. They have had 50 years of practice.

    September 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  4. Bob

    Allthough a good article, the fact that all his reasons why schools are not A " level playing field" lack one main reason is concerning. The PARENTS. Rarely will a child do well in school if parents are not involved, and a large percentage esp poor neighborhoods their not involved. I see it as a problem that this was not mentioned in this story.

    September 26, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • A. Dixon

      That is because it is rarely as simple as "lack of parental involvement" . That is just a drawer under which we file a whole bunch of issues. My partner is a teacher and here are some I have heard about:
      *Mother leaving abusive father (who may have abused the children) is trying to get back on her feet while juggling kids, court dates and rent.
      *2 parent home where both are migrant workers. The child is at school but often missing things like socks or a coat. His family is supporting an aging grandmother whose health issues are draining the family
      *Mother who works 2 full time jobs is never home to be with her son. But she must work because her some has health issues that require therapy and specialist. She needs the money for his health but it means she is not around as much as she needs.
      *Mother who simply did not want the child she had and shows no interest in her kid.

      I believe that most parents want to be involved with their children, but running a household on chump change is difficult and that stops many parents from being involved. Some just really do not care...but we live in a country where we look down on women for having abortions and fight for the right to have them keep children that they don't want.

      Ever see a well-adjusted child come from a parent who did want them? Neither have I...but that is a whole different conversation....

      September 26, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  5. Susan

    From the perspective of the teacher, ability is important, but motivation is even more important. I have students who have a brillant mind, but refuse to do the simplist work. I have special education students who have very little ability, but want to do well. Guess which one I would prefer to teach. Most of my students are from low economic status families and many do not see a reward for working hard. If their parents (or parent) doesn't work, but gets government assistance, they see that they don't have to lift a finger and someone else will buy them clothes, food, shelter, and anything else they want. They expect to be given supplies and food when they get to school. I have actually had students complain that I do not give them full size candy bars for rewards. Parents often don't care or don't know what to do. I have had parents tell me that their child won't listen to them or they act that way at home too.

    September 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  6. Valerie

    You get what you put into it. If you want to be educated, and put forth the effort, you will learn. It's ultimately the fault of the student. Yes, there may be sub par teachers, but in the end, learning is the obligation of the student.

    September 26, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Valerie

      Also like to add a quote I like very much:

      "when the pupil is ready to learn, the teacher appears."

      September 26, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  7. Incredulus

    A common core can, and I have seen it happen, be a low level standard that is achievable by most students. Since classes where students are not "tracked" contain all skill and ability levels, the best students are often not allowed to achieve at a level far beyond the common core.

    Mr. Schmidt is perpetuating the myth that students are well served by common standards in schools.

    September 26, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  8. jsp

    Schooling is a shared responsibility between the school system and home, more specifically parents in my opinion. As an immigrant coming to America when 16 years old, I had to work 3 or 4 times harder than my peers. Although my parents were uneducated, they were interested in what I was doing at school and wanted to support me in every way possible. The school was also open to students who were willing to put extra efforts to get better, and I think that still holds true even today. I now have Master's degree in engineering and I owe all of that to my parents and the American school system. I would not have achieved this much if I had stayed in my mother country no matter how hard I had tried.

    Changing school system is necessary and although it may well be never ending homework for us, we should never stop trying. Also show your kids that you are immensely interested in their school work and you are there to support their learning needs.

    September 26, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • FiveLIters

      Your last sentence hit the nail on the head. Simply put,you can either be there for your kids when they need it during their learning years at school...or you can be there for them,when they're lounging on your couch at age 30!

      September 26, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  9. TimZ

    The only way to solve this problem is to force schools to compete. Give parents the power to choose which schools and which teachers are best for their children and the bad classrooms will soon be empty.

    September 26, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • cccccc

      What happens when all parents choose the same school? Do you have classrooms of 50 kids? That would quickly cause a good school to become a bad school.

      September 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  10. Horus

    Here's something that's not a myth – public schools (specifically at the grade school level) tend to teach to the middle. They pair higher performing students with lower ones (as "helpers"). What this does is pull lower performing students up, while dragging higher performing students down because they are not truly challenged. The end result – mediocrity. Grade school is critical in base development, but teachers keep higher performing kids "busy" rather than challenged. Time to accept that not all kids are the same academically, and by the 2nd or 3rd grade schools should begin dividing up classes based on abillity so that all kids can be challenged at appropriate levels.

    September 26, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Nelba

      We keep hearing how the US needs to improve in science and math, engineering, etc.. Real achievement in those areas is done by enabling those with high ability in those fields make contributions. Yet the emphasis in politics and media is on improving school test scores of average people who will not work in those fields and have no desire to do so. Last time I looked, the budget of the National Science Foundation was close to $8 Billion. Budget of Dept of Education was near $80 Billion, or 10 times as much as NSF. How about we spend a bit more money on real science, instead of test scores?

      September 26, 2012 at 11:21 am |
      • Horus

        Agreed. I would only add that we 1) need to do so at much younger ages, and 2) that schools change the pay scale based on subject and skills. The only way to attract science/math teachers of quality is to pay them. Math and Science majors can earn 3 times what public schools offer – which is why most go the the private sector, or university level. In the south, who would want to earn 30k/year with a math/science degree? Not very motiviated one's, that's for certain.

        September 26, 2012 at 11:35 am |
      • Nelba

        To Horus: you make your point. However a BA degree in "Math Education" is not a BS Math. I know 3 math teachers who I am sure are good at their job. But none of them even heard of the Bolzano–Weierstrass Theorem which is taught in the last year of a real math prgream. Nor do they need to know that to be a math teacher.

        September 26, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • FiveLIters

      I don't know how much things have changed,but I was one of those kids with higher than average learning skills. I found myself in scholars/gifted programs through much of my grade and middle school years,as opposed to tutoring those not on my level. Maybe they have shifted in that direction;I don't know. But I will say that kids should be put on the level that they need to be on,not just an age-based level,and definitely not one that their parents "think" they should be on. While it sucks to not graduate to the next grade with your friends or whatever,if you're not ready...well,you're not ready. But no parent wants their kid to be "held back",regardless of ability,so they sometimes do thngs to get their kid passed or put pressure on a teacher to get what -they- want,and guess what? They end up at a level they can't handle,get frustrated,suffer for it,and make a bad situation worse.

      September 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  11. doughnuts

    Something he left out of Myth #1: Not every child has an equal chancr to succeed in school, because some kids are dumber than others.

    September 26, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Archibald

      Very true. Let's be honest, school isn't for everyone and similarly, careers that require advanced degrees aren't for everyone. That doesn't mean they aren't valuable, or good employees, or good people, or whatever but it does mean that one track doesn't suit every person.

      September 26, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Nelba

      The less academically gifted may be gifted in other ways and become extremenly valuable citizens. While some brilliant, ivy league grads go on to ruin corporations for their own greed, and with that ruin peoples lives, and the US economy.

      September 26, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • rock woman

      Nelba makes the right point, and the newly intensified focus on math, science, testing, and "college ready" does a disservice to those less academically gifted students. I've never forgotten a school board member named Abe, who, many years ago, saved a vocational education program from the chopping block with one simple statement: "Some people," he said, "have magic in their hands."

      September 26, 2012 at 11:35 am |
      • FiveLIters

        (chuckle) Those ones end up being employed at the 'Happy Endings' massage parlor...

        September 26, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  12. Nicole

    My mom is a special ed teacher. She spends two to three full days every two weeks "progress monitoring" (1:1 testing) students plus at least one full day a month in meetings. So that's at least one week a month where she is not teaching. How does that make sense? She also spends at least eight hours a week after school entering test scores, grading, and evaluating IEP's after school, which probably would be better spent lesson planning and doing continuing ed (and all but the IEP part could be done by almost anyone, rather than someone with a master's degree).

    All of these things- teachers needing to frequently test, intensive IEP monitoring, teachers needing to hand grade everything a student turns in, comes from rules made by politicians. From school board members to US senators. Yet much of it has absolutely no evidence basis.

    September 26, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  13. fiftyfive55

    I think this author ought to go investigate the billions of dollars Chicago poured into their schools to help the poor and minorities,the money was above and beyond any other school district and you know what,the minorities destroyed everything and stole anything not nailed down but politically correct people dont like to talk about these things.

    September 26, 2012 at 6:48 am |
    • Nicole

      Racist much?

      CPS spends around $9,600 per pupil, slightly more than the average for the state, which is cheap considering the high cost of living in Chicago and that Illinois is peppered with rural school districts that do not have the same expenses. I believe DC schools spend $17k per kid. CPS also has very large class sizes and overcrowded schools, many schools lacking what other places consider basic facilities, like libraries, playgrounds, and art rooms. They also (until this year) had an exceptionally short school day and school year.

      All those things considered, as well as the fact that middle and upper class parents routinely put their kids in private schools if they can't get a seat at a magnet school or one of the nicer charters (therefore making CPS have a disproportionately high poverty level in neighborhood schools) CPS does pretty decent. They'd be well served to expand early childhood education, get the early elementary class size down to 20 or less, focus more on neighborhood schools, and extend the school year to at least 200 days. But they are doing better.

      September 26, 2012 at 8:16 am |
      • fiftyfive55

        they spend at least double per student than you claim,they do not have large class sizes,they get free breakfasts and lunches at taxpayer expense,etc.,you know it sucks when outsiders try to explain the Chicago public school system without knowing about all the perks Chicago schools get that other schooldistricts dont and stop calling the truth racist,it's just the truth.

        September 26, 2012 at 8:39 am |


    September 26, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  15. old greywolf


    September 25, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • Nelba

      Very impressive but someone needs to teach you how to TURN OFF CAPS-LOCK! 🙂

      September 26, 2012 at 12:09 am |


        September 26, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  16. William

    The problem is two-fold:

    1. First The dynamics of the classroom have changed. America had discarded a system of education that produced some of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. An an engineer, I routinely have graduate student interns from our local university under my supervision. They are all Chinese and Indian. I asked the Dean why this was the case, he replied they are the only students qualified for the program. Sad.

    2. The dynamics of the family have changed. Gone are the days when divorced parents were not the norm. My own children are in the minority at school, their parents are married and we have family structure. Bad grades are not rewarded and bad behavior has consequences.

    September 25, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Nelba

      Good points, BUT. Students with the intelligence and work habits to get into and complete an engineering or science degree could also choose to become CPAs, doctors, lawyers, MBAs, dentists, etc. Professions that are accorded higher status and often higher pay. (Who want to be a nerd?) American-born kids were once drawn to tech jobs for many reasons. Maybe they saw and read about space travel, undersea exploration vehicles, or cool jet planes. They asked their teacher how they could do something like that? and were told, become an engineer! Or they were fascinated by cars when the American companies had 90% of the market. Become an engineer & get hired by GM or Ford! Our auto companies are just holding on to reduced market share. Commercial airline production is no longer a monopoly or Boeing, Lockheed and Douglas. American space activites are a shadow of their former selves. So why are Asian students pursuing tech careers. From some Asian acquaintences, they feel they will be judged on the quality of their work in tech fields. Those coming to English as a new language feel their accent or sometimes unusual use of English will not be held against them. Pursuing tech careers can also help gain them citizenship, which the American born take for granted.

      September 25, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  17. Alan

    The federal standards are part of the problem. My 12yo nephew is being taught to do addition by rounding to the nearest 5.
    my 4th grade daughter was not allowed to be enrolled this year because she failed last year and the district borders changed. The new district referred her to alternate education options because she would bring down the district scores. We are using the online option they offered, but they are requiring us to pay for the mandatory standardized testing for her age group at $150 per test. I'm more worried by the fact that there are few children that live nearby so she does not get to socialize with any kids her age.

    September 25, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  18. Melissa

    No, the issue is that there is less importance put on education than there is on money. Stop being greedy, and start placing more importance on education, health care, and living wages. That is the only way this country is going to survive.

    September 25, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • edk

      America is 2nd in the world for eduation spending per capita...only Switzerland spends more...........we are 2nd in spending and 22nd in results....are you sure money is the answer

      September 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
      • Nelba

        If we increase the pay of a decent but mediocre teacher from $30,000 to $90,000 does that make him a great teacher?

        September 26, 2012 at 12:10 am |
      • doughnuts

        No, Nelba, but if we make teaching more lucrative, then it would attract more talented and capable people to the profession.

        September 26, 2012 at 9:35 am |
      • Nelba

        So you are saying that if there are potentially better qualified or prepared teachers than those now in the system, it is necessary to pay the current middling teachers more in order to attract the better ones. No! Since you say you know
        who the better ones will be, you pay only those more. Otherwise, you are saying that everyone is the same which we no is not true.

        September 26, 2012 at 10:55 am |
      • Nelba

        Correction of course : It should be "which we know is not true." Check before hitting return.

        September 26, 2012 at 10:57 am |
      • cccccc

        the vast majority of the money allocated for education is not spent on teachers' salaries. Instead it is spent on the bloated administration, and the contracts for the books and new programs that constantly come out to reinvent the wheel. Education has become a business.

        September 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  19. Anonymous Student

    I think the core issue is honestly motivation. I find a lot of situations where people either don't see the value in something, or a situation seems so impossible that they don't even want to try. This lack of motivation causes people to see blaring problems and not do anything about them. I also think that any effective solution is going to require a good amount of detail, possibly to the individual level. You can't get a thread in a needle by throwing a meteor at it. I believe that it can be worked out and will be at some point, maybe not soon enough to really affect me, but at some point.

    September 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Melissa

      Lack of motivation, my butt. People have lots of motivation. The problem is that most of the population can't afford the education they deserve. Stop worshiping money.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  20. ISK

    I just wish we'd stop teaching kids how to read, write, do math, etc. enough to pass tests, but rather teach them to read, write, do math, etc. as a set of skills, that will help them to become productive and successful adults, not aged whiners. And by the way, there's always somebody left behind. However, those who care about their own education make things work and some may have to work twice as hard to catch up with others. Those who don't care chain themselves to the sidelines by blaming teachers, government or misfortunes . Wake up. You can only bring the horse to the water, you can't make the horse drink the water. Leave the child's ok.

    September 25, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Johnny

      You are correct!

      September 25, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Mike

      Agreed. I have taught in three different schools, and have come to a similar conclusion. Natural consequences can serve as a powerful learning tool. In most situations we devote countless resources and time to students who simply do not care (despite parental intervention) and consistently chose to do no work. We should them fail.... It is an important life lesson. Unfortunately it looks bad on the school and the teachers if they let this happen.

      Unfortunately, a substantial amount of professional development, time, and money is allocated to motivating students. I agree that lessons should be relevant to students to help increase interest, however, I was not hired to be a motivational speaker. The time and resources spent on unmotivated students should be reallocated to developing our accelerated, self-motivated students' abilities.

      September 25, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  21. Hollywood

    There is no level playing field for students who live in impoverished districts. Plus only 49% of students are actually ready to be collegiates.

    September 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Melissa

      Republicans like it when people are stupid and uneducated. That way you believe whatever garbage they are peddling at the moment about how people that are rich should be worshiped like gods and just be happy you have bread on your table.

      September 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Nelba

      Forty nine per cent of students should not be going to college. That is too high. Higher education should be truly higher. When nearly half the students are "going to college" you need only examine the required curriculum to see that it is watered down to keep students for the purpose of extracting money from them. Germany is the only western nation that is booming and their college graduation rate is about 31st in the world . If you cant think by age 18 there is something wrong with you.

      September 25, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
    • doughnuts

      Bring back vocational schools. I knew guys in high school who were learning to be welders, plumbers, carpenters, and eletricians along with the usual academic subjects. They had no interest in going to college, nor any need to go.

      September 26, 2012 at 9:39 am |
      • anonymous

        I agree with you. There are some trade schools out there but not nearly enough.

        September 26, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  22. norman

    He discussed three myths but forgot (probably intentionally) a fourth, one that I believe is the most perverse of them all. It is the idea that all children are born with an equal ability to become educated. This causes resources to be wasted on ridiculous programs like "no child left behind". Sadly, Jonathan Swift was right, you can't make silk purse from a sow's ear.

    September 25, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  23. mother of two

    It lies with the parents, solely the parents. I am sick of Parents passing the buck to teachers and coaches. Nannies and others. Take ownership parents!! Its not about you, its about your kids.

    September 25, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • jeckers

      There is one other thing that I think is very relevant here that has not been mentioned. Television and technology. When I was growing up, there were so many shows centered around families. You saw the dynamic between parents and teachers working together, what happens when you don't do your homework, when you cheat (and why that's bad) etc... The family life was centered around discipline and responsibility. That also created a framework for the school environment whereby the same ideals transcended there. It was an example to follow.

      If you watch television today – most of the kid's shows have no parents involved. There is no example being set that when you have a problem – talk to Mom or Dad. They cut us out completely. You don't see a positive dynamic between parents and teachers at all. These shows. usually set in a classroom, have smart alecky kids that "know everything". The adults that are in these shows, such as teachers, are made to look dumb and clueless while these kids just do whatever they want, whenever they want. This is the example that we our children are following in the classroom.

      I think this shows a general decline in how parents are reflected in their children's lives and how inconsequential teachers are as well. Maybe this is a comment from left-field, but I think this constant "in your face" absence of parental and teacher figures in the shows that our children watch can have nothing but a negative impact on them. I agree that there are other problems as well – but I think this says a lot about our society and how we view education and families. And if we can't get our views in line with our goals – how does anyone really expect to improve the educational system?

      Just my two cents.

      September 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
      • TV Time

        It's not fair to place the blame on the shows on television. Those shows are all being produced by profit-hungry corporations who design them to sell advertising, sell merchandise, etc. It's not exactly responsible to the children, but it is responsible to the corp.'s shareholders.

        The real problem is that some kids are watching the shows endlessly and taking behavioral cues from them instead of from real people. If anyone has a problem with what's on TV, then just shut the darn thing off. Personally, I don't even subscribe to any cable or satellite service.

        September 26, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • GP

      Mother of two,
      That's very simplistic. Sure some parents don't care. But 75% of 12th grade kids can't do 12th grade math. It's not because most parents don't care about education. It's because the math programs used in most schools are completely ineffective. Its a case of garbage in, garbage out. New math programs are completely foreign to most parents, so they can't effectively help their kids. When parents teach their kids math the way they learned it, the kids are penalized for doing problems the wrong way even when they get the answer right. I know several parents who pulled their kids out of school to homeschool because their kids had fallen behind and these kids went to "good" schools. If these parents care enough to homeschool they clearly did think education is important. It's not the parents' fault if the schools use experimental and ineffective methods of teaching. Homeschooling is gaining in popularity largely because schools screw up kids' educations even when the parents' are very active and involved.

      September 25, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
      • Mike

        As a high school math teacher, I can say the curriculum is pretty much set for which concepts are taught throughout high school. Obviously, I cannot speak to your specific situation.

        However, In my experience, some students simply are not capable of understanding math at those higher levels. Before you blame the school, teacher, etc., you need to accept the fact that they are not capable of understanding such abstract concepts at their developmental level. Many times there is no blame to be placed.

        I have seen many parents upset because they don't want to admit that their child is simply not capable, regardless of how much they may want them to be. It frustrates me that instead coping with their own feelings of inadequacy they lash out at the educational system because it is an easy target.

        September 25, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Mantismech

      I totally agree! Education starts with parents. I have 3 daughters & 1 son. All went to public school and all graduated with engineering degrees. Natural born intelligence is way over rated. It can not replace studying diligently.

      September 25, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
      • Nelba

        Well ... you need both intelligence and work ethic. If either is lacking you will fail.

        September 25, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  24. KWS

    40 years ago there was no internet, no email, no way to disburse and control content to classrooms across America, yet somehow we delivered exponentially better results. The author has wrapped up some qusetions and answers in a package that appears logical, but it's the WRONG answer.

    The problem is in the family, and the personal responsibility to LEARN. Parents complain if the homework is hard, everyone goes on to the next grade in the name of "self esteem", and teachers can no longer utter a stern word at a disruptive student, much less administer any true discipline. If both parents are around, they are both often working, as America is now about having more stuff, more houses, nicer cars, more lavish vacations than it is about close, loving and nurturing families.

    If teachers were free to run their classrooms, maintain discipline and deliver the curriculum approved by their local school districts (maybe following some national GUIDELINES on what should be accomplished in each grade), we'd be far better off than with this union-driven machine struggling to adopt new policies from federal hand-wringers every few years.

    September 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • humtake

      Better results? 40 years ago they weren't teaching Algebra to 6th graders. Grades and achievements aren't the only measures to go by when gauging how successful our schools are. Our kids learn a lot more than we did at a much younger age. Yes, there are some problems but to say the schools 40 years ago did much better is false. All they did better was keep the curriculum's less advanced.

      September 25, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
      • Bobbie

        I have to disagree Humtake, 48 years ago I was in 6th grade, and I was learning Algebra. Our 6th grade teacher gave us all a math book at the beginning of the year and set goals for us to reach. Those who reached them first went on to the next goal. If we finished the math book by a set date, we started Algerbra in preparation for the next level of schooling. While the more advanced students helped each other learn, the teacher was free to help those who were not at our level. There were no disruptions in the classroom, as we knew if we misbehaved we would be sent ot the Principal's office. This was not a free period to get out of class, it was discipline. Our parents were called and we knew we were in trouble. THE BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH SCHOOLS TODAY START AT HOME WITH LACK OF DISCIPLINE AND NO TEACHING OF RESPECT FOR OTHERS.

        September 25, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  25. Macc

    I think the experiment with giving the states and local governments more control over education, has failed. Mandatory kindergarten for all children, this will ease them into the classroom environment. Just do the basics grades 1 throught 3 art, reading, vocabulary, math. They need the fundamental building blocks to handle the rest.

    September 25, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • EnuffAlready

      You couldn't of missed the mark anymore if you were deaf, dumb and blind. It is giving control to the Federal Govt. that has caused the problems. When are you all going to figure that centralization is not the answer?

      September 25, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
      • GP

        The countries that have the best educational systems are generally the ones that are the most centralized. If two schools just a few miles apart are teaching very different things in very different ways, you're going to have problems when kids move to different schools. Not only does this hurt kids who are new to the school, it's also disruptive to existing students. Local control was fine when people moved around a lot less but times change and you have to change with them. I don't think a federally run educational system is the answer. I do think each state should have their own centralized system.

        September 25, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
      • Casey

        Completely wrong. The federal government taking control of our schools will ensure equal funding, common standards, and getting local school boards out of the way. Local school boards are made up of well intended people with no expertise in education.

        September 25, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
      • doughnuts

        Tell it to Finland.

        September 26, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Nelba

      I admit I too dont understand the comment about "giving the states and local governments more control over education." It was always a local issue with state oversight, at least in New York. When did the Feds ever have control. If anything fed influence has grown.

      September 25, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  26. justathought

    i wonder how many teachers could be hired, new schools built, new or revamped curriculums, etc could be implemented if the money sent overseas to "help" other countries were instead used for emergency services, educational systems, etc. What happened to the days when all teachers had an assistant? what happened to parents wanting to be involved with their child's education? what happened to ...? I could go on and on however, I find that I am tired of hitting brick walls and deaf ears.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • JosephS


      Throwing money at the problem is only part of the solution. You mentioned parents involvement – I think this is a big one. How many students would try harder if they knew their parents really cared about their grades? How many parents actually LOOK at the homework each night to ensure their kids are doing it? I remember as a kid it was a big deal when I brought home a report card – good or bad. I was rewarded for success and punished (usually mandatory study time at home with mom) when I did poorly. Sadly, money won't solve this issue, it's a cultural problem. :/

      September 25, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Pat

      So you think a ten percent increase in funding will solve anything?

      September 25, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Nelba

      I graduated a Long Island HS 50 years ago and not one teacher I ever had in 12 years ever had an assistant.

      September 26, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  27. Pan Mat

    This sounds more like the rational behind "no child left behind". As a concept, i have no problem with either author's opinion or no child left behind policies if the resources were unlimited. But since it is not the case, the education system has to make a choice and it often boils down to either the top 10% or bottom 10% as these two segments needs most resources.

    Also the most under developed sector in economy is teachers that have no political representation in the policy making, it bleeds my heart to see teachers salaries getting slashed in California, jobs getting eliminated and yet Congress is comfortable funding $5 billion pension deficit for US Postal service because postal workers are more organized politically.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Bill

      You must be joking here in California the teachers unions are the most politically powerful group.

      September 25, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  28. Sam

    I am a senior in High School, and when I try to remember what I learned all through middle school and even High School, I don't seem to remember anything. Yet, I'm an Honor Student.
    It doesn't make any sense. I find myself going to online schooling after school just so I can learn.
    A majority of schools in America are doing really poorly. I fear for the future of education.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Maria

      I'm sure you learned to read, write, and formulate an argument on your own. I'm sure you taught yourself long division, algebra, and geometry. I am sure you would have read Shakespeare and Hemingway on your own.... Ever hear of Samuel Adams? Booker T. Washingon? Susan B. Anthony? Thank a teacher. Have the common sense to recognize that much of what you now know you would not have been motivated to learn had not a teacher presented it to you – and hopefully your parents encouraged you to absorb it.

      September 25, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
      • Nelba

        I learned a lot from my teachers. I later learned a lot more from my post academic education, which is called real life and from real people.

        September 26, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  29. solrac503

    You can call me a Socialist all day long, but one only has to look outside our backyard to see the success that ALL Social-Capitalist countries have had. We have the funds, we have the knowledge, we're just missing the heart to do anything for our people.

    September 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • JosephS

      The best teachers a child ever has are parents. If our culture can't put a stronger focus on this, every program, budget increase, or fundamental restructuring won't save us. Why not consider paying the students directly for good grades? I've read about school systems trying or considering this before. Usually the public doesn't favor this, but when you think about it I think it fits our culture. We are a capitalistic society deep rooted in the acquisition of wealth. Would you take a job for no pay? (Volunteerism aside) Do you deserve higher wages for harder work? Why not instill these principles in our children, and while we're at it, give them an incentive to work harder during their developmental and education years. For the money conscious – this would be an investment with the dividends being payed in more productive members of society.

      September 25, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
      • Andre Gallant

        I don't favor paying for students' success directly, because the young are often not mature enough to handle their money responsibly, and the education they earn should be compensation enough for their time. However, since we agree that parents' involvement is the issue, I think offering a lower tax-bracket for parents of honor students (proof required when filing) might create an incentive for parents to help their kids with school.
        What's more, schools should start expelling failing students with a 3-strikes policy, while government should expand the adult/distance/alternative education fields in such a manner that those who decide, later on, to become serious about study have an alternative path to a diploma and then to college. Some people are simply not mature enough for school, and forcing them to attend and eventually to graduate only disrupts the serious kids and cheapens the value of the diploma they receive. As long as the door is always open, in one way or another, then throwing out disruptive agents temporarily (giving them time to grow up a a little) is a great solution.

        September 25, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  30. travellingchuas

    I would like more information. How do we deal with the students learning this curriculum at an accelerated pace, while supporting the students who are struggling. Both need and deserve better. The Common Core seems to be a great solution for the "middle". Currently, I am tutoring with 5th graders on basic addition and they are struggling. When I get home, my 1st grader will be bored with work that she learned 3 years ago. What is your solution for the students at the very top and bottom? Both are being shortchanged.

    September 25, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • abqTim

      The new math junk is stupid. Just do rote memorization and the the logic will follow later.
      Kids learn at different paces and schools and teachers all differ; it's up to the parents to monitor their kids to make sure they are being challenged and if not, they need to introduce more classes or switch schools or...Parents just need to DO and not RELY on others.

      September 25, 2012 at 6:39 pm |