Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chicago to Close Public Schools

Is closing schools really the answer to solving the education problem in the U.S. today? I personally do not believe so. Check out the article below to learn more about the recent announcement by the Chicago school board to close 54 schools:
Chicago to Close 54 Schools to Address $1B Deficit

- Lindsey

What is Wrong with Public Education and How Can We Fix It? by Evelyn

Click on the link below to check out Evelyn's project!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Education Reform by Arissa

     Have you ever sat in class and wished your teacher wouldn’t be so boring? Well if so, many students empathize with you. However, it is not always our teachers’ fault for “being boring.” The educational system has many challenges facing it and teachers are, at times, are not given the creative liberties to teach something interesting. Also, teachers are given the short end of the stick because they are generally given way too many students per class and they are not paid nearly as much as they should be paid. These challenges make it problematic for students to learn, but the solutions to these problems are not easy to implement. They require taking risks, which may seem difficult for some education leaders to employ, but if anything is going to change, then something has to be done.
One major problem with education is overcrowding in schools. When teachers have class sizes that surpass 40, it becomes difficult for every student to get the attention they need. Teachers have trouble getting to know all their students on a personal level and therefore have difficulty relating to them. Subsequently, these teachers with too many students cannot understand how to address certain problems with each student, which may impede their learning. As a student at a private institution, my teachers take an interest in my learning and get to know me as a person inside and outside of the classroom. Because of this personalized attention, I feel engaged during class and I strive to put forth my maximum effort because I am interested in learning. Also, my teachers make themselves accessible whenever I need any extra help; they are available before school, during lunch, and after school so that it is more convenient for me to get the help I need. In addition, I feel completely comfortable asking my teachers for assistance when new topics are becoming jumbled in my head, however, this is typically not the case for students who have overcrowding in their schools. Teachers at these schools, have too many papers to grade, so they struggle to put aside time for their students to visit them when they are struggling; generally this leads to frustration by the student and once again he/she will become disinterested in school.
Also, with overcrowding, teachers have a harder time remembering all their students by name, and they end up becoming a number. When a teacher forgets or does not know a student’s name, the student is generally offended and becomes disinterested in school and less likely to pay attention in class. This summer, working as a Breakthrough Miami teacher, many of my students explained how different their schools are compared to Breakthrough and how they enjoyed Breakthrough classes much better than actual school because they said their school teachers did not care about them and did not take the time to help them or offer them extra help when they were struggling. Many of my students also said they were impressed that I remembered their names after the first day because at their middle schools, their teachers constantly mixed up their names with other students’.
One solution to the problem of overcrowding is to make a limit on how many students can enroll in each class at a certain school. A teacher should not have to teach more than 30 students per section and they should not have to teach more than 3 sections for a block schedule or 5 sections for normal periods. Typically, more than 150 students are attending a public school, therefore more teachers need to be hired. With more teachers qualified to teach the same class, the students can be evenly separated between the teachers so that no one teacher has to teach math for example to half of the sixth graders at one school. Though it may sound expensive to add new teachers to the payroll, 48% of local taxes go to education, 44% of state taxes go to education, and 8% of federal taxes go to education ( This funding from the government goes towards maintaining the upkeep of the school and making sure the school can continue to operate. Accordingly, the government funds teacher salaries and it may be arduous to add more teachers to the payroll because the funds may not be available, which leads to the next challenge facing education.
There is a lack of funds for education. Whenever the government needs to cut back on their spending, it is usually targeted at education. Teachers, arguably, have the hardest job because they are responsible for the development and growth of their student’s intellectual curiosity. Therefore, they should be paid according to effectiveness as a teacher. To solve this problem, higher percentages of our local and state taxes should go towards education. Though this may cut funds for other important and necessary programs, education is by far the most important on that list and should receive the money it needs to ensure teachers are receiving the correct amount of pay for the job they are doing in the classroom.
Similarly, Teacher Unions prove to be a continued challenge for our educational system. Teacher Unions allow teachers to vote against the reforms needed to improve education by putting a focus on the teachers rather than on the students they are teaching. These Unions also protect “bad teachers.” If a teacher is seen as ineffective, he/she can be sent to the “Rubber Room,” where nearly 700 teachers are sitting in a room being paid their teacher’s salary for doing whatever they want from 8 to 5 everyday. This is absurd because people are being paid to do nothing and the funds going to pay these teachers in the “Rubber Room” are coming from the government and therefore are using up education funds on worthless things (  
Teacher Unions are extremely powerful; these Unions have made it possible that “bad teachers” cannot be fired. “Bad teachers” are either sent to the “Rubber Room” or they are bounced around from one school to the next, hoping the school was the wrong fit for them and they will excel in other environments. The problem with having bad teachers remain on the payroll is that it decreases the funding for other teachers who deserve the money and it takes away from their students’ learning. A “bad teacher” is the teacher who comes into class and sits as his/her desk doing his/her own thing, not paying attention to their students. Kids go to school to receive an education, not be to baby-sat for eight hours. Students deserve better than a “bad teacher;” they deserve someone who is invested in their education and will go to any extremes to guarantee every one of their students has learned something at the end of the school year.
The only way to fix this problem is by eliminating Teacher Unions, which will not be an easy feat. Because Teacher Unions are so powerful, they are able to reject what the education leaders try to implement to reform education. If “bad teachers” were removed from the payroll, this would allow for more funding for better teachers and a raise for teachers who have worked as an educator for many years and have done their jobs effectively. If there were a monetary incentive for teachers to teacher their students as much as possible in the most effective ways, many teachers would be willing to put forth the effort because it would result in a payoff, which is generally the issue they complain about. However, the problem becomes how to weaken Teacher Unions. One possibility is to give teachers certain benefits to persuade them from joining a Union. These benefits can include, a higher salary for those who are not a member of a Teacher’s Union or ensure that a teacher cannot be fired within the first five years of becoming a teacher because the adjustment may be more difficult than some anticipate. After five years, though, if a teacher proves to be wasting their student’s time and not being productive during class, then the teacher should rightfully asked to leave.
The final major challenge facing the education system is standardized testing. All year, teachers teach towards the test; every activity is supposed to prepare one for the test. However, no real learning is taking place when a teacher has to teach for a final examination. The quote on quote learning in the classroom becomes robotic and students are not learning what is interesting to them. Again, the problem of boredom arises and students become disinterested in school and have a lack of motivation to do their assignments, which in turn becomes frustrating for the teacher. Also, standardized tests do not test one’s knowledge; they merely test to see if you can figure out the tricks of the test. Therefore, the tests do not test everyone fairly; some people may be great test takers, while others struggle with test taking and people learn differently. Some students may be able to watch a film and grasp the knowledge from an visual standpoint, while others may be able to listen to a lector and remember the key ideas from an auditory perspective, and even others find it easier to learn when they have hands-on activities, which is a kinesthetic learner. These three learning types should be incorporated into every teacher’s lesson so that every student can succeed. However standardized tests do not take into account what type of learner one may be and the presentation of the material may be detrimental to their success.
Standardized tests are used in public elementary and middle schools as a measure for who has mastered the learning for that age level and who should move on to the next grade level. Standardized tests are also used in high school as a measure of comparing students from around the country for a spot at a certain college. The state standardized tests should be done away with because then teachers can teach their students interesting topics and there is not pressure for a teacher to teach towards a test. Also, if a teacher has to ability to choose topics to teach his/her class, they can choose topics that their students want to learn and the learning becomes more engaging and the students take a liking to learning. The teacher should be able to say at the end of the year, who should and should not continue to the next grade level based on the activities they did in that class. Now many people may worry that there is no way to compare students with standardized tests, but all students do not learn the same way and what one learned form one activity, another might have learned something different. The key to schools is learning and education, not how well one can perform on a test. 
Standardized testing for college should also be done away with because students already have many distinguishing factors on their resume and their application should be enough proof of whether the student is eligible for a certain school. Though some colleges use standardized tests scores as a measure for merit-based scholarships, these colleges can use other parts of the application as a measure or they can require students to write an essay or do a creative project to show why they have earned the scholarship.
All in all, there are many challenges that face the education system and many of the solutions involve taking a risk on a new type of system, but if educators and the government are ready for a serious changes, they need to take some risks and try new ideas until something starts to work. Without creative installments into a classroom, students become bored and disinterested in school, which is frustrating for everyone and no real learning is occurring. I hope there is a serious change to our educational system because kids do not deserve to have anything but a rewarding education. Lastly, if things do not change, we, as a country, will continue to fall farther behind other improving countries and our current governmental problems will never be fixed because there will not be anyone able enough without a proper education; it is a downward spiral if our educational system is not changed soon. 

The "Education" System by Stephane

     The United States prides itself in claiming that it is the “leading” nation among the world. Many do not argue against this belief, how could they? The U.S has arguably the best army, and free market economy. Ever since the Great Depression, the United States has established itself as an elite nation, debatably leaving the rest well behind. Yet, with all these accomplishments, where does education rank in comparison to the rest of the world? Dead last is not the answer but it seems that way for many. It is difficult to understand how such a prosperous nation could do so poorly in educating the children, the future of the nation. Among all other nations the United States ranks 17th in education, yet it ranks first in GDP. Finland and South Korea have the top two educational systems, and ironically enough rank 16th and 35th in GDP. The question that remains is the following: shouldn’t the most prosperous nation be able to provide the best education worldwide? Both South Korea and Finland manage to provide an exceptional education with arguably much less funds than the United States. At what point will the U.S recognize that the current system is unresponsive? Too many decisions are left in the hands of politicians, and not enough in the hands of people knowledgeable in education. As long as this remains this way, the U.S cannot remain the leading nation worldwide.
      To begin with, although the intentions of the federal government are to establish a national standard, they truly should have no jurisdiction in this process. On paper it works well because ideally every child in the U.S in 3rd grade should be learning the same thing, but it would be arrogant to believe this. The reality is that those schools in wealthier sectors will always do better. Not only are parents generally more proactive but these schools are receiving more federal money than poorer schools. This is because at the state level these schools spend more money therefore they receive more federal money. Here is the first flaw. A school in a “bad” sector should receive more federal funding that the state itself cannot provide. But in theory all schools should receive the same amount per student. Allowing the poorer schools to continue to fail is the direct result of a system that is not getting the work done.
      Although these are murky waters, it must be clear that the wealthier schools are not being punished if they receive less money than a poorer school. Instead it is understood that the school is performing well, and that other schools are in more need. If the federal system continues to give more money to the wealthier schools, all they are doing is increasing the gap between the poor and rich. The truth is that the federal government has to show their commitment to these students. Poorer sectors only chance of improving is through funding. If these students are aware of the changes being made to improve their school, then perhaps this could become a small incentive for them to work. Considering that the majority of these students endure hardships on a daily basis, coming to school could become a relief and eventually an escape. But all of this is only possible if the federal government funds these schools more. Otherwise, if they continue to treat the students at these schools as just numbers/statistics and predetermine their future from what has always been a “tradition”, then the sad truth is that these schools will never be nothing more than drop out factories.
      At a state level, two things must happen. First of all, the funding should be distributed equally and they must get rid of standardized testing. Similar to the federal system, it is illogical to give more money to the schools that are already doing well. But funding is highly influenced by standardized testing, and in Florida specifically the FCAT. In theory the FCAT is purposeful. At every grade level students are tested on the same set of skills and graded on the same scale. Even though this is an attempt to have a “single” evaluator, many schools have lost the essence of what it means to learn. Due to the FCAT there is no ingenuity in learning, and quite frankly teachers lose all freedom in doing their job. Teachers are forced to teach students how to pass the FCAT, instead of the course material that could be beneficial to them in a future. Projects and innovative techniques are not advocated because these skills are not required when the FCAT comes around.
      If the FCAT is eliminated, then teachers can teach at their jurisdiction, and students can learn for the right reasons. Success is no longer determined by one test. If that was the case then students could study at home and take the FCAT when the time comes. There would be no need for teachers. But if it is removed, then public schools are looking at a similar situation to the one in private schools; independent learning. An environment in which learning occurs multiple ways: allowing the teachers to teach as they please, and not allowing the performance on one test determine whether or not they are “good” teachers. Lastly, giving students a voice in what they want could go far in a system that struggles so greatly. It is proven that private school students are nearly twelve percent more proficient in reading and math by the time they graduate compared to public school kids. Something about how private schools run their schools is clearly showing positive results.
      The most important part to all of this is eliminating the Teacher’s Union, or reducing the rights teachers are given under the Union. Teachers have no incentives whatsoever to teach. Whether or not they teach their students accordingly, it does not affect their payroll because at the end of the day an excellent teacher and a horrible one will walk out with the same paycheck in their pocket. The worst part about this scenario is that students that are dealt with bad teachers fall way behind, and the people who should be held accountable cannot be fired under the Union. The Union has gained too much power, and consequently has advocated for inept teachers to keep their jobs. If the Union was eliminated every teacher would be forced to perform. There should be yearly contracts and at the end of each year each teacher is evaluated depending on their student’s performance and on course evaluations done by higher ranked officials. Those who excel receive bonuses and those who fail will not return. Not only does this create an incentive for teachers to work, but it creates a positive atmosphere for the students as well. An atmosphere in which work is rewarded and anything less is not tolerated.
      Public, charter and private schools are not foreign to me since at one point or another in my life, I attended one. Without a doubt private school has been the most challenging yet rewarding of them all. On the other hand, the other two have had many gaps. The two most obvious flaws are the learning gaps between honors and regular classes and the teachers. Only way to solve these problems is by correctly funding these schools. Clearly the United States has the resources to do this, it now becomes a matter of finding teachers and officials who are truly passionate about helping students succeed. Sometimes the only incentive a student needs is that one teacher who truly shows interest in their success through thick and thin, especially for the poorer students who struggle to trust anyone at all.

In our government class we were assigned to write Op-Ed pieces and bills on education reform. We will be posting some of the projects on this page. Enjoy :)

- Lindsey and Caroline

Education Runs Deep

Education runs deep, like religion or politics, it is central to our being and we certainly all have our own opinions, defined by extensive experience, on the subject.
Attempting to reform the education system in America is treading on hallowed ground. All systems of public education came into being in order to meet the needs of industrialism, in the 19th century. Ever since then, they haven’t really changed. They’ve been churning out generations of Americans, all instilled with a very similar scholastic formula; there is only one way to do school. Ironically, such a concrete system is based on very abstract concepts.
The education that molds us today is meant to take us into a future we cannot grasp. Children starting first grade this year will be graduating high school in the year 2024.  We have no idea what the world will look like next year, much less in 12 years, and yet, we are preparing our children for it.
We place them on the tried and true track to college, completely predicated on the idea of academic ability.  The valued subjects are the core subjects—mathematics, sciences and humanities—because they are the ones that are going to land the greatest number of students a job, once they enter the “real world”. Yet, it completely ostracizes an entire chunk of young minds, who are told that what they are good at—painting, dance, violin—is not valued, not only in school but in the “real world”.
Imbuing millions, literally millions, of children with the single goal of getting into college is extremely detrimental. It truncates the entire learning experience. It creates this notion that there will come a point where one will no longer have to learn, because they’ve learned everything they need to know. They’ve reached the finish line.
However, we continue to extend that finish line. Degrees aren’t worth what they used to be. MA’s and PhD’s are becoming the new norm. It’s a process of academic inflation.
Reforming such a rigid, complex and increasingly ineffective system isn’t a task for a single politician in Washington D.C., nor is it something that can be dealt with by building a few progressive and creative schools. It’s an entire mindset that needs to be altered and a society that’s going to have to change along with it. 

- Caroline

Teachers in America

     One of the biggest challenges facing the American education system today are teachers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2011 there was a projected 3.7 million full-time-equivalent elementary and secondary school teachers. This was up 7% from the projected number in 2001. Clearly, the problem we face is not finding more teachers. Our real problem is finding quality teachers--teachers who are passionate about their subjects and are dedicated to their students.
     Our previous post was a visual comparison of the Finnish and American education systems. One of the most shocking comparisons was the quality of their teachers. In Finland, only the top 10% of graduates are accepted into teaching programs. In the US, Teach for America--perhaps the most prestigious teaching program in the US--had a 12% acceptance rate in 2012. Acceptance rates into schools of education in large universities tend to be higher than 12%. Acceptance rates to the top medical schools in the US can get as low as just 3% of applicants accepted. Of course we want our doctors to be the best of the best, but do we not also want our elementary and secondary school teachers to be the best possible as well? After all, they are the ones who inspire and teach our doctors. Who would our doctors be without their teachers? In order to begin improving our education system, we must first learn to appreciate our teachers.
     An abundance of teachers does not mean quality teachers. A large amount of teachers in the public school system are ineffective and downright lazy. Unfortunately, this is especially true in the poor urban areas where families cannot afford to send their children to private schools. The New York City school district has its own lazy teacher room--known as the Temporary Reassignment Center, or the Rubber Room--where they currently stick 600 ineffective teachers for an average of 3 years. The best part is that these teachers get paid full salary to sit in a building on Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eight Street in  Manhattan and do absolutely nothing. If you don't think that there is something wrong with this picture then you seriously need to consider what the world will look like when these neglected children become adults.
     So how can we fix this problem and start to encourage quality students to become quality teachers?
     A few months ago I was talking to a friend of mine about where our peers would be going to college next year. He mentioned that his twin sister would be attending School of Education at Duquesne University in the fall on a scholarship that promised her nearly full tuition as long as she stayed enrolled in the program all four years. My interest piqued, I decided to do some more research into the scholarship. According to the Duquesne's website, the scholarship covers 50% of tuition and other fees and can be combined with other grants and financial aid. It is given to the most academically promising students in an effort to encourage students to go into the teaching profession and to be the best possible teachers (find out more about the scholarship at the school's website:
     As I learned more about the scholarship, it started to sound like a better and better idea. The scholarship accomplishes two goals necessary in order to start to improve our education system. First, it is an incentive that will attract the best students in the nation to the teaching profession. Second, the scholarship promises quality teachers. If teaching programs can attract the best, most passionate students, it follows that after four years of schooling they will be the best, most passionate teachers (or at least in theory this should be true).
     So I propose, that every state school should have a similar scholarship program in which promising students who enroll in the education school at a state institution should receive up to 75% of their tuition and fees paid for. The money would be provided to the states from the federal government and kept in  its own fund with money awarded to recipients each fall prior to the school year. If a state so wished, it could add its own revenue to the fund in order the increase the number of scholarships. The one condition would be that students who receive the scholarship must work at a public school in the state that paid for their education for four years. This will ensure that students have a job when they graduate and the states get back what they put into the student. It would be a win-win for everyone involved--the student gets a nearly free education and a job, and states get quality teachers to teach a new generation of students.
     If there is any hope to turn our education system around, we must start with our teachers. How can we expect our students to be at the level of Finland's students, if they are not properly educated and attended to. There is no easy, wave-of-the-wand solution to the problem, but any change may be good change at this point. So let's put our political differences aside and begin to work towards a common goal to right what we have broken.

- Lindsey