Feb 14, 2013


Got spanked in the comments last time I published a school post.  Folks called me creepy, controlling and a colossal idiot.  

Shrug, let's do it again.

Today we'll look at K-12 education in a triple-bout cage match:

    America vs. The World
    Iowa vs. The Nation
    Public vs. Private

America vs. The World
Our country is pathetic with the amount of money we spend on school compared to results.

There is no correlation between higher spending and improved test scores.

Don't believe me?

USC's infograph shows spend against results from a dozen countries:

Notice America forks the most per pupil of any country in the world, nearly $8K.  Yet our kiddos are sucking fumes of international dorks come testing time.

Japan spends half per student that we do, yet they kick our ass in class.

It's annoying when our politicians demand a tax bump to chuck wads at our flunk factories.

Mo' money ain't the solution.
Iowa vs. The Nation
New York pays $15,500 per student, double of Iowa.  But Iowa trounces NY on SAT scores, we're #2 in the nation after Minnesota. 

What gives?

Higher funding is not the secret sauce.
Public vs. Private
Pigtails is in a private Catholic elementary, tuition's $2,300 per season.   $1,800 out of pocket after a tax kickback and driving allowance.

That is a steal of a deal.

I'm perplexed how the U.S. gov' spends nearly 4x that per student in the public arena.

Daughter's school was built in 1950, it's a dated old girl with drafty windows and no spiff.  Teachers there are generally paid less than at public.  Yet her school's test scores pace or clip every public school in town and the surrounding 500,000 strong suburbs. 

I will say with absolute certainty that money, fresh buildings and iPads are not the answer. 

We gotta stop with "we need to spend more on kids to get ahead."  That line's a joke.

So how do schools squirt smarter kids without spending more?  It's a complex subject with multipronged fixes.  Here are some starters.

  1. Involved parents are by far the most effective way to help our kids get ahead.  I feel this is where private schools can shine.  It ties into my Rings of Influence series; there's more accountability and a tighter cause/effect when parents are running the school vs. the government.  Parents all around need to step up, both private and public.
  2. Better facilities don't make smarter kids.  Parents, teachers and curriculum do.  Stop spending tens of millions of our taxes to build new schools when unnecessary.  Divert cash to humans, not brick and mortar.
  3. Pay teachers on performance, not tenure.  Tenure is a terrible way to determine salary.  Output is what counts.
  4. Lean on a mix of traditional and non-traditional best practices for keeping kids engaged.  The public Downtown School mentioned below has the right idea, I like it.
  5. Make sure parents, students and teachers are meeting multiple times a year at mandatory conferences.
  6. Rather than forcing everyone to pay for public school, give parents a choice where their tax dollars are diverted.  I'm double dipping, since most of my property taxes fund public schools Pigtails doesn't use.  Then private tuition on top of that.
If we could get every parent in this country highly involved with their kids at school, we'd cream the rest of the world in the classroom.  I don't know how to get parents involved, I'd love to hear some ideas on this.
Lest you think I'm some smug jerk that has his kid enrolled in a snotty parochial, I'll rewind a bit and share how she ended up where she is.

Back when Pigtails was 4, I wished to send her to public school in a local suburb, Johnston Iowa.  Wrote a letter to the super', he obliged but said my primary school district must release daughter and allow us to open enroll.  Lettered my district, they refused to let us enlist where I wanted.

Strike 1.

Plan B, attempted to join my district's public Downtown School.  A non-traditional teaching approach that focuses on an integrated curriculum and multi-age classes.  Think of a 1920s-style single room country schoolhouse, with high tech folded in and the latest research and best practices in elementary education.  

Wrote a letter, received a two liner saying the waiting list for the school was three years, thanks goodbye.

Strike 2.

Eff it, I'll homeschool my kid.

And so it was, this single dad working full time taught my daughter across the kitchen table through Kindergarten.

Soon learned I'm not cut out to be a teacher, unable to handle shapes and colors.  Plus it was a squeeze fitting class time after work.

I was discouraged and worried.  Didn't care for the public schools in my district.  Couldn't get into the 'burbs or Downtown schools.  Unable to move to a new district since the divorce was hosing things up.  Baptist at the time, but the Baptist private was on the far side of town and expensive at $5,500 a year.

Stuck, sucked.

Perhaps it was the grace of God I did something I never expected would happen.
I joined the Catholic Church.
Will pen an eBook on that journey, it was a rutted path.

From there it was a done deal to chuck her in the school where we go to church.

Parents and teachers, let's hear what you got on this one.



  1. Parent involvement sucks at my kids' public school. 26 kids in the same kindy class as my son, & always the same 4 parents volunteering for everything. Sad, really.

    1. That's disappointing. I don't help out in the classroom as much as I'd like, but Pigtails and I spent time together at home every night going through homework and talking about the day. She struggles in math, so we work extra hard on that.

    2. I think that there is a massive difference between the parents who turn up at tuck shop every month, but don't give two hoots about actual academics (many mothers at our school) and the parents who work long hours and haven't the time to volunteer, yet still model admirable work ethic to their children and expect the kids to work hard and excel. Just because a parent isn't the "class mother" doesn't mean the home support and educational emphasis is lacking.

    3. Agree, helping with homework and sending kiddos the message that school matters is more important than just being a class mother. Ideally we do both, but I work a bunch and not much time to help in the classroom.

  2. We ran into the same issue with the same district saying no, we could not open enroll out as well. (AND we lived a block from neighboring 'burbs bus stop. There was no way our daughter was attending one of the worst rated middle schools in Iowa. We first tried to get her into another middle school within district, they said no, then we looked at private schools, and ended up just selling and moving. It was a VERY frustrating experience.

    1. So much for "choice" and doing what's best for our children, our schools don't allow us to open enroll. The district wants their cut, they lose out on $7K per head kickback when a kid leaves their district. #greedy

  3. Jessie French2/14/2013

    I'm a high school math teacher (public). I agree with you. We spend the money in all the wrong places and the parent of a child in kindergarten (public).

  4. Jessie French2/14/2013

    Awesome, I am apparently a teacher who needs to proof read BEFORE I submit. I meant to add the bit about my daughter after the bit about me.

  5. I have to totally agree with you on all fronts. My daughter has been going to private school since she was in pre-K and now will be graduating 8th this year. We are going through the stressful task of applying to a few private high schools. It's very daunting, expensive and competitive. And we are also going catholic even though we aren't. Why? Because they are great schools with smaller classes, the non religious high schools that are on par with the schools we applied to are upwards of $37,000/yr and we live in California where the public schools aren't so stellar. (cross your fingers for us that she gets in to one of these schools, there are thousands of applicants).
    Now, I am also experiencing the public school system with my 4 yr old twins who are both special needs, one who has Autism. They attend a school with in our school district but not our home school because the programs they need are offered only there. And it happens to be in a low income area...and English is not the primary language which equals the lowest test scores in the district. Luckily for us, the program the boys are in is fantastic. Go figure.
    My point is, the difference between the low income, low test score schools and the charter, or private school sector is PARENT INVOLVEMENT. When you see it at school, chances are there is also a more involved parent at home as well. Is it because the lower income families don't know any different? Because they have to work more hours? I'm not sure. Life can't be easy for them. We live in one of the most expensive areas of the country. Should the schools and government be so involved that they require a certain amount of hours of involvement from the parent? I know some charter schools operate this way. Like they say, it takes a village. And I commend you for being so involved in your daughter's future.

    1. Dang, $37K/yr for private high school in California, what the?? It's $7K here in IA.

      Schools where every parents takes ownership of the upbringing and education of their kids will have better test scores. In general, my observation is private tends to have more consistently involved parents, but there are definitely good public and charter schools out there too.

      On the last donuts with dad breakfast at Pigtails' school a few weeks ago, HUNDREDS of dads showed up.

  6. I agree with the Accidental Housewife mostly. I have the luxury of being able to volunteer as I am not working outside the home as well but I also spend a lot of time with my kids going over their curriculum and adding support at home. There are definitely some women at the school who just about live there but I have no idea how connected they are with their kids actually at home (not meaning that in a judgmental way at all - just saying you have a point). I have seriously thought about homeschooling just because I feel there is too little emphasis on teaching the kids how to get along and not be so horrible to each other. Obviously home has a huge impact on that but there is a whole culture that develops at school that you don't have direct influence over and I feel we are missing a major part of their development when you only focus on academics. But that is a whole other story. I totally agree about giving the money to the teachers instead of buildings. A truly good teacher is worth their weight in gold and I work hard at building a relationship with them every year (to be honest, some teachers are more open to that then others - and I am not a pushy, annoying parent truly...I am sure they have plenty of them to deal with too).

    1. Parental involvement is a lot of things, here are some that matter to me:

      -From birth, reading daily and helping them learn the fundamentals
      -Making sure kiddo does her homework EVERY night, and assisting as needed
      -Asking questions about her day at school
      -Determine her strong and weak subjects, praising for the good and helping where she struggles
      -Attending class events when possible
      -Staying in touch with teacher through e-mail and quarterly conferences
      -Helping train up the kid in all aspects of life: mental, spiritual, physical and emotional

      I see a lot of the above from other parents in the school where she's at, makes me happy.

  7. Besides parent involvement in school( not so much that they lose track of what is important), I think parents should also pay attention at home. and STOP blaming the teachers.

  8. I attended a Catholic school from pre-school to 8th grade and I'm so glad I did. While the academics were good and we got alot of one-on-one attention, that was not necessarily what stood out for me. As a college student majoring in psychology, I've learned that my experience of grade school was much different than the norm. With smaller class sizes, the problem of cliques and bullying was pretty minimal (of course this could have just been my school) and the parents always knew what was going on within the children's lives since every student knew every child's parent and vice versa. My problem occurred after the private schooling. I went to a public high school and found that the cliques that were formed in the public middle schools were pretty much carried over into high school, which left me the odd duck out. I also struggled a bit with my math courses, since the private and public middle school courses were not the same (I had no geometry). I definitely would recommend keeping her in private school all the way through the high school years if you can.

    1. I attended public school K through college, graduation class of 400+ in high school. Thinking back, the cliques and toleration of garbage that went on in the halls makes me do a face-palm now.

      Pigtails' school is kindergarten through 8th grade in one building, about 550 students in all. You'd think the 8th graders would pick on the younger kids, right?

      Not a chance.

      The older grades pair with the younger kids once a month for class projects. This is the first year my daughter is the older pairing with a younger class. She always runs to the car beaming and sharing how fun it was making crafts with a first grader. When I visit her school, the older kids smile at me and high-five the little ones. Just about puts a lump in the throat.

    2. You'd think! We had a buddy system for the 7th and 8th graders to help take care of the kindergartners in order to teach the little ones how to behave in church and at big school assemblies. Everyone loved it! I would have liked to do crafts with them each month! I always volunteered to help out at their holiday parties so I could avoid the lame dances that were set up for the 6th-8th graders :)

  9. You have parent involvement where it belongs. At the top of the list.

  10. Just last week they did a TV program on Finnish (one of the best in the world) vs. Spanish education (since they're cutting down on ed so much right now here). (It's a pretty progressive show that goes a lot against the current Gov't, just for context).
    I found it really interesting that it was *so* normal to have parents involved in their kids' education, that if the teacher saw there was no involvement, they could call Social Services!!! Also, they mentioned a couple of other things like parents getting (paid) time off work for parent-teacher conferences, and their bosses thinking there was something wrong if they didn't ask for it; plus 7-8 year old kids going home alone after school with no parents or babysitter. Granted they were only alone for a couple of hours, but that would be unthinkable here.

    I've had experience as an student both in the Spanish (public) and US system (both public & private) and I have to say, though, with all of its flaws, the US one was better for me in some ways. If you excelled at Math or whatever, they allowed you to take Math at a higher grade and keep the rest of the subjects at your grade. That's simply impossible here.

    1. Finland does very well on school cost vs. output, confirmed with the graphs up top in this post. I would say there is a 1-to-1 relationship between involved parents and scores. Money and infrastructure are irrelevant. Parents are key, next is teachers.

      Thanks for checking in from Spain!

  11. A (fairly) recent product of public schools in MA, we rank pretty high in the schooling and my parents still considered private school. I loved seeing students from all of the same Catholic/private schools first at my college and now at my work. My public education held it's own but my parents also had very high standards for grades and expectations. I agree with the other comments, it's not so much private vs. public as it is parental involvement. You can go to the most expensive school in MA and still flunk out and one of our best schools is a public charter school (which usually have a lot of parental involvement).

  12. I think sometimes it is a total numbers game....I went to a private school K-12, and loved it, but also graduated in a small town (Carroll, IA) with a class size of 105...lots of 1 on 1 attention, as opposed to the graduating class sizes in my current town (Omaha, NE) of mostly 300-400+. Told the husband that kids are a no deal, unless we can move our behinds to a small town. Maybe this is a little bit of overkill, but he agrees with me:)

    1. Haha, no nookie for hubs until ya'll move to a small town.

  13. Anonymous2/15/2013

    What are your plans for pigtails in the later grades?

    1. Hopefully we'll be able to afford Catholic high school. Tuition gets up there for HS, need to check and see if I can apply some of Pigtails' 529 savings towards that to cool the wallet.

      Also looking forward to a C. college if we can swing it.

  14. I can sum up the difference in one word: discipline! My two elementary kiddos go to a Catholic school and my 16yr old goes to Catholic High School, both built in the 1950's just like Pigtails. Tuition and teacher pay sound very similar to your situation and our test scores at both schools also outpace the bigger budget, nationally ranked local public schools in our city. The major difference, discipline. You forget an assignment...detention. You break the dress code...detention. The kids are expected to have their act together, period. They are being trained to be productive citizens for when they are adults! They get the same message at home. They are also given help by staff when they need it, and pushed ahead when they excel! I love it when my friends with kids in local public schools tell me that our schools are too strict, yet their kids have a lower GPA than my children and usually are no where near as well behaved. My kids know the value of hard work and the achievement that results from that. They value intangible things like family, friends and faith; not the latest generation iPad. That lesson has sadly been lost in public schools and secular families. Is it easy to have 3 kids in private school, no! My husband and I sacrifice financially to make it happen, but it is so worth it. We view it as an investment in our kids and hope that it sets them up for a brighter future!

    1. Right on, discipline is a definate differentiator in private school. There is more freedom and flexiblity to make rules and enforce them, with less worry of backlash from parents accusing staff of being too strict.

      A public school in Iowa a couple years back tried to implement a very basic dress code for students. Guess what happened? Several parents blew up, one of them sued the school district, the district lost. Fail.

      As you say, we should be training up our children to be adults.

      Thanks for the note!

  15. So interesting to read your gripes about the US system. South Africa as a whole doesn't rate very well in die world, but when you look a bit closer, we have these massive divisions. Previously we had "white" schools (most very good) and "non-white" (most very bad). After '94 the education system was integrated and adopted the horrific Outcomes-Based Education (horrific because we just don't have the resources and teachers).
    Move on to 2013 and we have a few great schools (usually ex-white, in town), a few mediocre (ex-white, in the country and some "townships"), and many many very bad school (ex non-white, rural and in townships).
    The good can compare with any in the world, the bad is worse than the worst. But they're considered "South African", and you know what averages do.
    So our independent school system is bursting at the seams, more and more parents opting for private education - which is not necessarily better than the good public schools. It does come at a price.
    For now, we did Montessori pre-school (wonderful), my eldest is attending a very good public school - but sitting in a class of 36! As for high school - we'll see when we get here. We still have fantastic high schools, so all hope isn't lost. Then there's always the Catholic private and a few other independents to consider.
    If all else fails - homeschooling the Cambridge curriculum, as alas, our National Curriculum seems to be getting the finger internationally.

    1. A similar situation here, where the public schools in higher income 'hoods can be very good, the opposite may be true for schools in low income areas. Detroit, Michigan has a depressed economy, guess what percentage of adults are unable to read there? 47%. That is ridiculous!


      Sounds like you've got some options on the table for your kids, and you're showing what I think is a key aspect of being an involved parent: looking at all schooling options and carefully selecting the one that best fits your situation.


  16. (Interesting discussion there on your previous schooling-post! I do get what you said :-)

  17. Stacy K2/15/2013

    First, let me say that I am teacher in a public middle school in Iowa. The school is located in a rough part of town, and our student population is at both ends of the spectrum, with very few kids in the "middle." I manage and teach the gifted and talented program for this school of 550 students. This middle school happens to be the school I went to growing up. I have great pride in this school.

    Next, you need to know that my husband and I are the parents of two wonderful boys, ages 6 and 8. We send them to a private Catholic school. Though I am Catholic and my boys are baptized Catholic, it was never our intent to send them to a Catholic school. In fact, our story is much like yours. We tried to open enroll, were denied. We considered moving, but have never been able to agree on the "perfect" school plan for our kids. Having now had three years with our boys at this private school, I can say with certainty that it was the best thing that has ever happened to our family. Every time we are in their classrooms and see pictures of Jesus hanging, when our boys pray at night for their friends, when my kids say they are excited for Easter, not because of the candy, but because that is the day that Jesus rose from the dead, I know that they are receiving a gift that they never would have received had they gone to a public school. Of COURSE these things can and should be taught at home, but with 6 hours of each day spent at school, it is wonderful to know that they are being taught to hold the door open for others and given time to make their Lenten promise, IN ADDITION to being taught basic academics.

    Now, I need to say that in the world where I teach, you might expect that my students are unrefined and scarred by their public school education. On the contrary. I have some of the most outstanding, well-spoken, Christian young boys and girls that I have ever met. They have completely blown away all preconceived ideas about students who would attend an "inner-city" public school. Yes, most of these students have parents who are extremely involved and who care about their children very much.

    Here's another piece. This year at my annual ITAG (Iowa Talented and Gifted) Conference in Des Moines, we had a speaker who addressed the issue of our lower scores in math and science. Yes, we have lower scores than China. But guess what? They can't figure out how we do such a good job of teaching our students to be innovative and creative. They can't figure out how to teach kids the concept of risk taking, help graduates to design and create new products, and encourage young people to start their own businesses. They are studying OUR system to see what we do differently. One thing is certain, our public schools in America are not mass-producing robots.

    Lastly, I was told by our boy's Catholic school principal that much of their education is subsidized by the Archdiosis, in an effort to decrease the our-of-pocket cost per pupil. This implies that your numbers might be a bit off.

    I'm not entirely sure why I felt so compelled to respond to your post. Education is such a complex issue, and there are certainly no black and white answers. There is one thing I know for certain -- parents are always a child's first and best teacher. We need to model good behaviors for our children and live in a way that honors the Lord. I also know that it takes a village to raise a child. Thanks for making us all think today! :)

    So, I am about as conflicted

    1. Excellent response, I'm going to hire you on as a co-pilot blogger. Pay you in Graziano's.

      The reasons you mention about what your kids get excited about at their school are the same as mine. Pigtails comes home jumping up-and-down when she finds out 4th grade is on deck for leading weekly school Mass. She begs me to attend. Catholic Schools Week crazy sock day is considered a wild, outlandish day for her, she knows more about St. Bernadette than Bieber, and her class prays for her mom daily to be healed from cancer. Difficult to put a price on that.

      I never attended any private schools growing up. My public ed' was strong and friends smart, several of them are doctors now and one's an attorney. Public school has changed a bit in certain aspects since I attended 100 yrs. ago, but there are several in the area I'd put Pigtails in. Trouble is they won't let us in. Their loss.

      Guessing the total cost per pupil in Catholic school is roughly $5,000 in Des Moines, with the diocese and our church kicking in the spread. I tithe generously on top of tuition, so paying it indirectly. Public schools still fork 50% more per student with weaker scores, where in the heck does that money go? Head scratcher.

      I'm lining up to write an article in the Catholic Mirror in the next couple months, keep an eye for a B&P flyby in the DSM diocese.

    2. I forget to mention...the reason the United States is spitting out creative kids and not robots compared to China is due to capitalism vs. communism. The former system rewards innovation with wealth, the latter dissolves creativity and innovation into irrelevancy.

    3. Stacy K2/17/2013

      Okay, tough question. Now, what if acquiring your acreage in the country meant giving up Pigtail's Catholic education? I'm wondering because we live in a small house on 6 acres in the country. I worry about the kids when they are old enough to drive because they would have to make a dangerous turn onto the highway every day. My husband wouldn't mind living in town if we had some land. Since taxes would be so much higher, he says private school would be out of the question. There is a house we are considering, but the boys would have to attend public schools -- including the school where I teach. This is the reason I find myself thinking about the public/private debate daily. Thoughts?

    4. Stacy K2/17/2013

      Oh, forgot to mention. I'd be happy to co-pilot any time. Grazianos works for me!

  18. You are so right on all counts. Lets go one further and do away with the teacher unions. They indirectly hurt the students and are not in the best interest of the GREAT teachers we need.

    1. I wanted to write in the post that unions suck and should have gone away 40 years ago, but chickened out. There, said it, high five. #wisconsin

  19. Anonymous2/15/2013

    As a teacher (in a state that allows for school choice through open enrollment), I agree that money is misappropriated; however, there isn't a single other country in the world who educates every single student regardless of ability or lack thereof.

    1. Our city "open enrolls", but that just means we can attend any public school within the district. They ban my daughter from going to a better school in the district a few blocks away. So much for freedom and choice.

      America potentially has the best schools in the world for special needs and those that lack ability, you make a good point.

  20. As a NYS resident, there are not enough words, bullet points to talk about why our expenditure per student are higher than other states.

    Parent involvement and attention will help in any school situation.
    Love the shorts on Miss Pigtails.

    1. New York has a higher cost of living compared to Iowa, so I expect per-student education there to cost more. However, I'm unsure why the charge is $15,500 each, Sounds like there could be some corruption going on and money's getting siphoned off to stuff unrelated to the kids.

      I'm interested to get your thoughts on this one, could you list out a few bullets on how in the heck NYS reached the $15.5K threshold?

    2. Betty, I totally agree. For one thing, I believe Beard, you mentioned that your mortgage payment was $400. In New York City and surrounding suburbs, you could be paying well above $2500 to rent a 1 BR apt. That is a relatively conservative figure--I'm not talking about a fancy apt in NYC, though maybe certain suburbs, that figure could get you a place with granite countertops. So, young professionals share a 1 BR with roommates. That doesn't even account for property taxes if you owned a home in the area. So that gives you an idea of the money necessary to maintain property for schools, build new ones in the event of overpopulation in a school (which is often the reason schools are rebuilt--because there are far too many students now for a school that was built 40 years ago), and also the higher salaries you have to pay teachers due to cost of living adjustments.

      By the way, did you pay less for your house because it's not districted for a great school? I might be wrong because I am not sure how open enrollment affects home prices.

  21. Just wanted to comment on the idea of sacrificing first-class facilities for better education/more dollars toward the things that really matter since I think it's an important lesson to teach our children. Our pastor recently talked about this at church, drawing attention to the fact that our church's facilities, while adequate, aren't anything to write home about. However, he noted that the money that comes into our church from the donation pot almost always goes directly toward the church's main mission, which is giving to the community/the poor/church ministries like the Youth Group. In reading this post, it struck me as particularly disadvantageous to mislead children about how to make the best use of money, as in other schools unlike Pigtails'. Must be where the idea of the paycheck automatically going to a big house/big car/shiny new iPad comes from.

    1. That's an interesting angle, perhaps we are massaging a sense of entitlement with our kids when implying that success only happens if we build $50 million schools.

      A high school in a lower income area of Des Moines gives a loaded Macbook Pro laptop to EVERY student for "free". Why not loan them a $300 Dell rather than a $1,500 Apple? Doesn't compute, tax dollars blown.

    2. We have that here in NH too: Macbooks starting in KINDERGARTEN. Something very wrong with that picture. Trust me, I love my Macbook as much as the next guy, but I don't need a bunch of 5 year olds getting them with my tax dollars.

  22. I wanted to mention that I totally agree with you on all counts. I am a public school teacher who is frustrated and fed up with our system. I see money being wasted in my district on unnecessary technology and new buildings and throwing away excellent textbooks for the latest version. Yet, I think most people can agree that teachers are underpaid.

    I wholeheartedly agree that teachers (and most professionals) should be paid based on merit. I think it is the only fair thing to do and more than anything, I believe in work ethic. But it's such a touchy subject... how do you determine a teacher's successes? Is it only based on test scores? Should it be based on other factors? Aren't most other factors subjective, though?

    1. Think back to when you were in high school. Were you and classmates able to discern between the weak and strong teachers? It was clear to nearly all of us which teachers cared and truly wanted students to learn. Those are the ones that deserve to be paid more. We also had a few teachers that didn't give a rip. Unfortunately, unions pay them on years of service instead of effectively doing their job.

      Although it's difficult to rank a teacher the first few years of their career, once they've been on the horse awhile, it becomes clear to everybody (kids, parents, staff) who the top performers are.

  23. Anonymous2/15/2013

    I think public schools will do better once there are quality educators in ALL the classrooms, fewer students per a class, and less red tape when allowing parents to put their kids in the school of their choice. I am okay paying money into the public school system but I don't like where it goes, and I think parents should have a say in that.
    In Colorado we have charter schools as an alternative, you are giving up bussing and hot lunches but what you gain is control in how your child is educated and who is doing the educating.
    I have two children a five-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter. My son's father is very stern on education and because of him I have been able to afford to put my son in private school. I get greif for putting all of my child support into that when I'm struggling every month but I choose to because he needed it. He was shy and fearful, and he needed a place with fewer kids and more hands-on approaches to learning in order to blossom. Now my daughter's father (my husband) is not so stern about education and I will probably have to look at an alternate place for her schooling, but she's a different child and will need different things anyhow. I think for her I will look at charter or Catholic schools, as in my opinion those are where kids are recieving the best education.
    Parents involvment is key to any childs success. It is our responsiblity to make the best humans possible and us being involved is key in that. I work 50+ hours but I do my best to involve myself in my son's class and will do the same for my daughter. Every night I eat dinner with them, we work on homework after dinner, read stories before bed. My nights are exhausting and I have zero time for myself most nights but that's what I signed up for when I got pregnant.

    1. Charter schools are a step in the right direction. Removes a layer of rigidity found in full-on public and opens choices for mom and dad.

      Thank you for sacrificing your own needs in order to ensure your two kids are in the best school that fits them. Keep up the good work, rooting for you!

  24. Anonymous2/15/2013

    I am one of the international dorks you cite in your post... But I am also an implant, did my Masters here in the US, got married to an American and happened to settle down here. One thing that I constantly talk about with people from my country is how bad the K12 education system is, here in the US, compared to where we come from. There are a few issues that I see -

    a) It is important to bring a change in the mindset of an young individual. It is important for a child to understand how important schooling is from a very early age and this can be done only by a parent. For low income families, they need to have their children realize that education is the way to get out of the low-income class, the way to better things in life, the way to becoming a responsible contributing member of the society that others may look up to.

    b) The level of education here really sucks (I'm sorry to use that word). What children here learn in high school, children in my country learn in middle school. Seriously, with High School math for example, children in my country are already doing differentiation and integration and other complex math operations.

    c) Too many distractions. It feels like children over here are so interested in gadgets and technie knick knacks that they pay more attention to those, than using their minds. Both parents and schools need to do a better job with this. Seriously, I do not think children should be able to use tablets/phones etc in school unless there is an emergency. Seriously, we survived, and we survived well when we were kids. I see no reason for these. They are simply distractions as children can do other things with them. I do not think that we should get rid of books and pens and just use e-readers and writers.

    d) RESPECT. Bring back this quality in our children. Both parents and schools are integral to bring this back. The children here have to learn to respect their elders & especially their teachers. teachers impart knowledge and they need to be respected for this. When they see respect for them in our children's eyes, they will be encouraged to do better and better themselves. In my home country, a teacher is like God since they are considered to impart knowledge and wisdom.

    e) Its a shock to see how kids dress in school here. This is another unnecessary distraction. Mimicking your favorite pop star or style icon is ok, but school is not the place to do it. School is a place where youc ome to learn. Respect that like you would when you are in church.I am all for uniforms. I do not think it a huge expense/burden to buy a few simple shirts and pants for our children if it helps with their attitudes and aids in fewer distractions.

    f) PRAYER - What is happening to this great nation? I still remember the prayer we said each day at the beginning of our school day and I am 32 today. It had nothing to do with my specific religious views, it was in my opinion, just an affirmation of the values that I need to have as I go through the day to make the most out of it.

    God give me courage to do what is right.
    Courage to speak, courage to fight.
    For honesty and goodness, justice and truth,
    courage to choose the good in my youth,
    courage to own it when i'm in the wrong,
    courage to face the day with a song,
    courage to guard my thoughts and my tongue,
    courage to choose the right when I'm young.

    These are just some of my thoughts. I love this country and my own just the same and would love for the US to be the best when it comes to the education system. My son will be schooled here, he's just a baby now, but I worry wondering what the state of schools would be here once he's ready for it.

    1. Curious... where are you from?

    2. A thoughtful response @Anon, well done!

      Agree with every word you wrote, I've cranked out some posts in the past that cover several of the topics you hit on.

      Like Lisa, I'm curious of your mothership homeland, care to share?

    3. Anonymous2/18/2013

      My 'mothership homeland' :) is India.

  25. Anonymous2/15/2013

    I went to a private Catholic school here in Iowa from Kindergarten to 6th because that's as far as it went in our small town. The junior high and high school had been closed long before. I'm very glad my parents sent me to the school they did for many reasons. Our class size was around 14 so we got a lot of one on one interaction with our teachers and extra help when needed. Our school felt more like a family, especially with attending mass together once a week and learning our prayers together. There was much more focus on family values and learning respect and kindness for each other as that was all part of the religious aspect. All of our parents were involved and with such a small class we all knew each other, parents and siblings well. And I have to say that when we all transferred to the public middle school we all felt that we had already learned much of what we were being "taught" that first year. We definitely had a better grasp on the material. My brother, who always loved school, missed our Catholic school so much when he had to switch over because he didn't feel challenged at all in the public school. Hope to send my kids there someday! Not to say that our school was perfect and sometimes having a small class size had its downfalls but the positives definitely outweighed the negative.

    1. Here's the motto for Pigtails' school:

      Respect, responsiblity, ready to learn.

      Sounds kinda like they are training them up to be adults, huh? Love when picking her up after school, the kids emerge dressed sharp, smiling, the older kids goofing around with the younger. Hopeful we can swing Catholic high school tuition when that comes in a few years.

      Thanks for sharing your story, good day!

  26. Here is some other data regarding the performance of American schools vs. the rest of the world:


    I do also believe the comparisons leave out a wealth of intangibles. Who is administering and reporting these tests abroad (the article linked to above touches on that question in addition to others). I don't believe that US Schools are abhorrently lagging behind the rest of the developed world.

    I do believe that there is vast room for improvement, however. As noted by many above, parental involvement plays a large role. In my area, the District of Columbia spends more per student than any of the surround Maryland or Virginia counties, and performance is lower. So I agree with you that dollars are not the answer.

    Anyway, I'm rambling. Short answer: there is no short answer, but I do not believe we are in danger of losing our standing in the world due to our education system.

    1. That article puts the U.S. as a 5th-tier scorer on the international testing scene. I'm not impressed by 5th place, considering we spend more $$ than any country in the world per student. The rest of the article appears to make excuses for why our scores are lower than they should be.

      Reminds me of what happened in Des Moines a few years ago. An independent firm evaluated public schools in this town and concluded, in their words, our schools are "flunk factories." You'd think our school officials would go, "oh crap, we need to improve our schools." Instead, they reamed the report, made excuses and basically said, "move along folks, our schools are juuust fine, have a nice day."

  27. Oh - on the International Dork front:

    My husband is English and grew up with prayer in school and uniforms, but I think one of the great differences in our two nations is that English children aren't funneled into expectations of college if they are not equipped for that path. There is a focus and a respect on learning a trade, to enable one to make a living. Also, in their secondary schools, there is an early focus on learning skills related to what you plan to study in university, as opposed to our system, which requires brilliant scientists to wax poetic about literature all four years, or future writers to take calculus. (This might be a controversial statement, but I do not think a well rounded education has to include advanced classes in a subject that has nothing to do with your skills, interests or future goals.)

    I have a coworker from Taiwan, and he notes that students (and everyone) there are leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of the gadgets they are carrying. The east is not churning out iPhone free kids.

    Just a few thoughts.

    1. I absolutely agree with you on the idea that not all kids are cut out for college, some should be encouraged to hit a trade school or apprenticeship. You could have written this one:


  28. I am a teacher and a parent...though my boys are not quite 2 so they aren't in school yet. I teach 4-year-old kindergarten in Wisconsin. It equates to "public preschool". I cannot believe the number of parents who are already so uninvolved with their child's education. There are even a couple parents I haven't met and we are more than half way through the school year. I cannot imagine sending my young child to school without knowing the teacher! But there are great parents out there, too.

    Funding is a mess. And I would love to be paid based on merit...though it has to be based on more than student test scores. I think administrator and peer observations need to be included somehow. I could go on and on... If anyone gives you a good answer about how to get parents to step up let me know!

    1. I don't know how you fine teachers have the patience to both educate little ones and deal with disengaged parents. The parents sound like they could be stickier to handle than a room full of hyper 4-year-olds, no?

      Grading teachers that lead older classes are easier to rank on performance, since leaders could enlist feedback from students. A combo of feedback from students, parents, test scores and peers are enough puzzle pieces to determine which teachers are strongest.

  29. As a parent and teacher I really like this post. I would love to be paid on my performance and not tenure and I'm glad some schools are moving that direction. I'm looking at needing another job because I'm burned out with having my students outperform others but not getting any monetary compensation for that. Yes, I'm proud of and happy for my students, but it's a screwy job where you don't get paid for excellence.

    One word about test scores to put them in perspective is that the American education system (at least in math, which is what I teach) prizes different traits than other countries. As the saying goes, "Solved with good old American ingenuity and know-how." Our educational model is built more around critical thinking than rote memorization, which is what pretty much all the international tests are based on. That's why despite such poor test scores we have a plethora of innovative programmers, entrepreneurs, and inventors. It's a bit of an apples and oranges thing, although we certainly don't perform as well as we could or should.

    Parent involvement is key, but it has to be the right kind. My wife taught at a public school in a very well to do neighborhood (the kind where the family goes to their private island for Spring Break) and many parents saw her as their employee, there to give their child a B because the child showed up at school and they don't pay taxes to have their kid failed regardless of homework done or test scores. I teach at a Title I school where parent involvement is sometimes "Just call me if you have problems, I'll smack them around when they get home." Obviously you wouldn't hold up either as shinning examples of involved parents, but the first type is sadly more popular than you'd hope. We need more parents that are involved the way you are.

    1. Agree, reposting a response I made ealier to a comment...here are some things that are important in my book for being an engaged parent:

      -From birth, reading daily and helping them learn the fundamentals
      -Making sure kiddo does her homework EVERY night, and assisting as needed
      -Asking questions about her day at school
      -Determine her strong and weak subjects, praising for the good and helping where she struggles
      -Attending class events when possible
      -Staying in touch with teacher through e-mail and quarterly conferences
      -Helping train up the kid in all aspects of life: mental, spiritual, physical and emotional

      Thanks for choosing to be a teacher, I respect your profession.

  30. I'm a teacher. I feel that one of the predictors of a quality school is quality parents. Parents who care enough to send them to private school, probably also cared enough to spend time with them and educate them during the first 5 years of their lives. When kids enter kindergarten, there are already HUGE differences in student ability. Teachers can teach, inspire and help close the gap, but teachers aren't super heroes. If all parents realized how important those early years are, we'd have better schools.

    Do those other countries test all students like we do? I've had students with severe special needs that have been required to take standardized tests.

    I agree that better teachers should be paid more, but how can you assess that? Solely on standardized tests? Would you want Pigtail's abilities judged solely on her test scores?

    Lastly, if teaching was a higher paying profession, you'd get more quality educators. Young people want to enter professions where their abilities will be valued, where they will be respected, and that will pay a salary that allows them to get by.

    1. You make a good point, and one I forgot to mention in the post. Engaged parenting starts at birth. We should be reading to our children daily and getting them a head start on the basics of shapes, colors, numbers and advanced calc' from diapers.

      There are ways to evaluate teachers and grade them on performance vs. years of service. Responded to a couple readers on this one above. A combo of feedback from students, parents, peers and test scores to form a picture of the strong performers. Parents talk, we already know the weaker and stronger teachers for next year's 5th grade through middle.

      Teachers in some parts of the country are paid an adequate wage. I don't think all of them are underpaid for the 9 months of work they do. I work HARD 12 months a year, nights and weekends sometimes on a fixed salary. Agree that some teachers in some districts are underpaid, but high pay isn't the magic bullet for improving our schools. Public school teachers in this town make MORE money than at Pigtails' private, yet public test scores underperform.

      Engaged parents, not teacher salary, is the secret sauce.

  31. Anonymous2/17/2013

    how many low-income students are in private schools?
    How many students with disabilities are in the private Catholic schools? Or other private schools? Any with autism? Any in wheelchairs or walking with crutches? Any English language learners?
    How many students of color are in the private schools?
    Some believe, with some good evidence, that "choice" is yet another euphemism for "segregation."
    How are we caring for the "least of these" in our classrooms? How are we reaching out to the parents we are so harshly judging for not being "involved"? How are we reaching out to their kids?

    I'm not saying there are easy answers. I'm a single parent, working, receiving no child support (dad is unemployed), both sons are special needs and I'm also going to school to become a special education teacher. I did at one point home school my son, and if I think it's in their best interest and I can afford it, they may go to private school or we may move.

    I hope that when I'm back to teaching, I call the parents who didn't make contact with me. I hope to tell them something GREAT about their kids and ask them how they're doing.

    We live next to a public housing project. Our house is the hang out house, and I have gotten to know the parents. Almost none of them are "involved" in school, and yet we shouldn't judge their level of "caring" based upon how involved their child is in school. Some are working 2 jobs, some are struggling with other family problems, several have special needs children whose needs have required them to quit their jobs to care for their child (and this is how they have ended up in public housing). Some of them simply don't know that it makes a difference to go to their child's school and speak with the teacher, Their parents didn't and/or where they come from it's the school's job - not in a "not my responsibility" sort of way, but in a respectful "I will let and trust them to do their job," sort of way.

    Great discussion here, BTW.
    Lisa G. in CT

    1. "How many low-income students are in private schools?"

      20% of students at Pigtails' private school, over 100 kids, qualify for tuition assistance. It is a false assumption that only the wealthy attend private school or that low income kids are unable to attend.

      "How many students with disabilities are in the private Catholic schools? Or other private schools? Any with autism? Any in wheelchairs or walking with crutches?"

      While I can't speak for all private Catholic schools in the nation, Pigtails' school has several children with disabilities, including a girl that is completely blind. I don't know if there are any enrolled with autism; there are 550 students in all and only 40 of those are in our circle of 4th graders that I'm most famaliar with.

      "Any English language learners?"

      I don't think so. But the percentage of non-English speaking is relatively low in Iowa, so not surprised.

      "How many students of color are in the private schools?

      I thought America is a melting pot and skin color is not important? Since you brought it up, three kids in Pigtails' class of 19 are minorities. My daughter's best friend at school is Vietnamese, we break bread together often in our home.

      "Some believe, with some good evidence, that 'choice' is yet another euphemism for 'segregation.'"

      Please don't stir the race card, that doesn't work with me. All children are welcome and enrolled at her school.

      Even if a family is unable to swing private, parents still needs to carefully look at all options and pick the right school for their kids. Most towns allow folks to pick which school in their district they'd like to enlist their kids. It's up to the parents to do the research to find the right fit, man up and get the job done.

      "How are we caring for the "least of these" in our classrooms? How are we reaching out to the parents we are so harshly judging for not being "involved"? How are we reaching out to their kids?"

      It costs nothing to be involved with our kids. Involved doesn't necessarily mean showing up at school weekly to be a class mom. Engaged in my book is what happens at home, spending time together on homework, talking about their day, showing them how education is important and leads to better things.

      Keep in mind I'm a single dad that works a lot, maintains a 60-year-old house on my own, and I find the time for what's important with my daughter. My life ain't exactly easy.

      My parents weren't engaged with school growing up and didn't send the message that education was important. If they attended conferences, I don't remember it. Kinda lucky things turned out as they did now. Perhaps that void is why I see the value in it with my daughter now.

      I'm sorry for your struggle, to have two children with special needs and no support would be very difficult. Please shoot me an e-mail, I'd like to send you a couple things.

      Peace and blessings!

    2. I'm sure I know as well as anyone that your life ain't easy - i don't think anyone's is. Truth be told, I am not struggling. And when I say "no support", I mean strictly financial. I am blessed with many other supports. God has been very, very good to us. My parents also weren't engaged in school with us, and I wish they had been.

      When I bring up those questions, I am not attacking your individual choices, though I imagined it may have sounded like it. As I said, I may make those same individual choices. And when I talk of "segregation", I don't necessarily mean simply race. If anything, we are far more segregated by socioeconomic status.

      I think my point is (and discussions like this help me form what I think) what about the kids whose parents AREN'T involved? My responsibility, driven by my identity as a Christian, is not to think solely of my OWN children, but ALL children. And i know, from reading your blog, and from your involvement in Big Brothers/Big Sisters, that you "man up" on that.

      But when all the "involved parents" choose to take their kids elsewhere, the kids whose parents AREN'T involved are often left in even more ineffective situations. And then they can grow up and do it all over again. And I am not "playing" the race card. i don't think people are sitting at home saying, "Gosh, there's too many people of color in this school. let's move." But it remains, where I live, the charter schools and the magnet schools are disproportionately of higher socioeconomic status and the "non-choice" schools are even MORE segregated by SES and minority race than they were before the advent of "choice." That's not "playing" anything - that's just how it is.

      Yes, I agree parental involvement is important. In fact, it's the biggest single factor, above race, SES, location, disability or anything else - that predict's a child's success in school AND in adult life. (I will try to link the studies that show that later today...) But I don't think lack of parental involvement is in ANY way an indication that the "parents just don't care" or are of "lower quality" than parents who are involved. There but for the grace of God go I.

      You're right - it doesn't "cost" anything to be involved. But it DOES take knowledge. And resources- emotional, time, and knowledge - that some parents may NOT have. How can we come alongside ALL the children in our schools?

      I believe someone mentioned Finland, which I agree is very difficult to compare to US on several levels. Again, I will try and find my source and link it, but I remember reading that Finland was as shocked as anybody when they came out near the top on educational measures because their focus was not on "improving our nation's test scores"; their focus was on "equality in education" for all their students.

      lunch is burnin', boys are arguing, gotta run.
      Will check back later.
      lisa G. in CT

    3. I agree with most of your response, although this line is difficult:

      "You're right - it doesn't 'cost' anything to be involved. But it DOES take knowledge. And resources- emotional, time, and knowledge - that some parents may NOT have."

      Wish I knew how to get these parents involved. But I'm also not giving them an out and excusing bad behavior due to economic status or otherwise. EVERY parent can spend time with their children and be involved if they so choose. Rather than coddling, perhaps positive change would come for those on the perpetual receiving end if they learned to give of themselves. This:


      The more you give, the more you get.

  32. Anonymous2/18/2013

    I teach at a Title 1 elementary school in Phoenix. I AM held accountable for my students' scores, no excuses. We are not allowed to factor in parent involvement at all. They refuse to recognize that what happens (or does not happen) at home effects the child. I send home review homework. It does not get done. The students and I send home reminders about conferences, parents don't show up for a time that they scheduled.

    Starting this year, my pay is determined by how my students succeed. It makes me sick to my stomach. I chose my job to make a difference, but there is no way my students are all going to pass the test. They will show growth, but not every students will pass when I am the only one fighting for them or instructing them.

    Regarding the money being spent carelessly: They put foam soap dispensers into our classrooms and restrooms. That soap costs more. Obviously. The students wasted it in the restrooms. They pulled all the soap out of classrooms (where it was being monitored and the one pouch would have lasted the class the rest of the year) and put it into the restrooms - where it is not monitored and will be wasted. We have also run out of paper towels, because they upgraded and then ran out of money. Someone is seriously lacking some common sense.

    - Emily

    1. That stinks, how heavily do test scores weigh into your pay scale?

  33. Anonymous2/19/2013

    It's divided into a point system. Teachers get points for different things, such as degrees, endorsements, and school involvement. The main source of points, however, is student test scores. Even if everything else has lots of points, low scores put a teacher as failing.

    It's fine, I get it. I want my students to show growth, I always have. That's why I teach. I do all I can during the day, but at the end of the day, I can't follow all these students home. Parents have to be held accountable as well.

    Poor scores get teachers a warning, an intervention and disciplinary action, and then fired. Never mind if you teach a class of ELLs that only speak Spanish. They have to pass the test.

    1. Hate to say this, but you gotta find out what those tests you're getting pointed on cover, then hone with the kids. That's the downside to that system, it coerces teachers into lasering on specialized, narrowly focused tests. Which means less wiggle room is allotted for teaching on areas outside of those rigid tests.

      Hang in there!

  34. Ok, I am on board, but here is my confusion. I read Pigtails' guest post, and I thought it was great, spelling errors and all. However, I know that at her age (and even younger), my mom would have seen that and, very calmly, handed me a dictionary. She wouldn't have told me which words were wrong; I would have to look them up and figure it out. So here is my question: how do you decide when to be involved in various aspects of Pigtails' education & work ethic? I totally get that she's young right now and her behavior will correct as she is held accountable at school for the details--no parent needs to be a slave driver throughout the child's life, because the child might lose the joy of learning (among other repercussions). However, it seems to me that instilling discipline includes not just school uniforms, but teaching your kid do the hard work of checking their work and being meticulous. Involvement includes not just reading to your child early and asking questions, but teaching her academic accountability before school starts demanding it. That way she's ahead in the basics beyond just identifying colors, which is what prepares her to excel because she has already learned basic discipline and detail-orientation.

    Also--I promise I'm not trying to be obnoxious, so I really hope I'm not coming off that way. Just occurred to me that I didn't think twice about the guest post (and thought the spelling was adorable), but I just see a disconnect between placing value on some kinds of discipline & involvement, but not others. I'm sure you see that disconnect because you've clearly thought this all out and are heavily sensitive to your daughter's temperament and needs, so just wondering how you make decisions on when Pigtails seems ready to tackle certain next steps in her education.

    1. This is a random blog, not school, so I told her she can do best-guess spelling on the post and be done. An F7 spell check would've fixed the errors, I thought her post was pretty cute left untouched.

      Her and I hammer on studying spelling words every night, she scores well on them so not too concerned.

      Five years from now she'll look back on her fuckey pickel post, do a facepalm and we'll both crack up.

      I despised creative writing in high school. Mrs. Webb obsessed on robot mechanics to the point where she squelched all manner of creativity. Wasn't until I was in the mid-20s and started writing running race recaps that I discovered the freedom and joy of scribbling raw, unfiltered thoughts. Haven't look back since, good things are coming on the writing front.

  35. You sure are a glutton for punishment! If you were a woman, I'd place my bet on this posts' origins coming about b/c your cycle just returned after nursing Pigtails for the last ten years!

    Amen on all points. And as a former teacher, hogwash to the idea that public school teachers don't get paid enough. They work 8 MONTHS out of the year with every weekend off and holidays. Other than government jobs, teaching is about the next most comfortable job regarding hours. I know...depends on class size, individual students, and a hundred other things, but so does every other job held by anybody else. Who you work for/with/location/lighting/ergonomics, etc. all play a part. Quit crying foul, NEA!

    Another point you missed, but have hit on in posts re: daycare, etc. is the fact that there is absolutely no data to support early childhood education is/has helped kids prepare for school nor any health issues (b/c of the food the government is providing). Interestingly, Finland children do not go to school until age 7.


    As in any other sector where the free market is able to do it's thing, there should be real choice for parents to decide which school they want their child in and vouchers of some sort for those of us who pay taxes and pay tuition (and for home school supplies as well). Bad schools will shut down as good schools are flooded with students and those good schools will get rid of mediocre teachers and hire the best and pay them accordingly (Great teachers get great pay, good ones get good pay). It is simple competition. No dentist or veterinarian or electrician or plumber keeps a job or business open when they produce stinky results time after time.

    And may I suggest my Alma Mater for your daughter...


    Many, many people meet their spouses in college. Just a fact. Sending your child to a place where the pickings are slimmer simply means it will be more difficult to find someone with the same values, morals, and faith. And frankly, if you help her pay for school at all let alone foot the bill outside of her own saved up money, go nuts on 'helping' her choose the school...like the broccoli/carrots option. If I'm paying what my child's savings don't cover, it is my call. I'm older and wiser and I care enough about them to not need them to think I'm always cool or right. And duh. I still make mistakes, but I just don't think choosing a great school that my child might not have as his/her own first choice is not going to make or break their life for the rest of their life!

    1. That's a first, Beard doing a PMS-laced post.

      You hit all the right points:

      -It is the responsibility of parents, not government to train up our children
      -Daycare is not in the best interest of our kids
      -Choice rules, let me fire tax bucks at the school of my preference
      -Teachers need to be paid on performance, not years of service, just like any other job in the real world
      -Parents would be wise to help select a college for their brood that ensures the best success at hitting their career goals AND a similar worldview. Why do parents assume 18-year-old kids are adults and in the best position to pick a university? Teens know nothin'.

      Thanks for the note, I'm off to put on a pad.

  36. Anonymous2/25/2013

    I have been teaching for many, many years. For background information..not in the same school, not at the same grade level and not always in the same state. I have on several occasions received recognition for exceptional teaching.
    Private schools will have better test scores. The majority of children come from economically and often culturally rich environments; with interested, caring parents. Most,if not all, know that dinner will be available to them after school just as breakfast started their day. Most of the classrooms are not mainstreaming a growing number of children with emotional or social issues into their activities. In short, the environment is fairly homogeneous.
    Public schools and teachers are functioning within a heterogeneous system. Children sent too young because parents are seeking relief from daycare costs. Children who hunger for food, time and safety amongst those who seem to have abundance of all. Children who were never read to and those who were read to obsessively. The truth is that not all of these children had the same beginnings and not all have equal future opportunities and until we are brave enough to say it aloud, until we can honestly evaluate a child's future we will never be able to teach each child that which he/she needs to become a productive member of society. These contrasts between children often become the cause of hurtfulness that will be with the individual for the remainder of his or her life, but it need not be so.
    Although I did not read all of the comments I did note that the conversation seemed to be focused on stuff: technologies, money spent, teachers' unions, performance...while the product is children, not my child or your child, but all of the children. To educate all of the children will necessitate that we think of the well-being of each and every child individually and that we act according to what each needs to grow and learn. We will continue to fail as often as we succeed if we continue to think that one method is suitable for all. When we look we will see that some will be suited to advanced education, some to service, some to specific fields such as technologies or medicine, some to trades...the possibilities are endless. Some will be able to demonstrate their abilities by taking tests, while others will require participation in project based exams and still others will excel at oral presentation.
    Constant rehashing of what is or is not working, is not effective helping. We need to think differently about our priorities...the children.
    ...a NY State public school educator

  37. I never realized how lucky I was to grow up in Minnesota. :) I went to public school K-college and had excellent teachers - ones that were committed to over-doing the curriculum (like the third grade teacher that had us doing long division and making stop-motion movies) and wringing every second of class time for our benefit. Minnesota (and I'm sure other states too) has a great PSEO program, which is what I enrolled in full-time as a junior in high school. State pays for nearly everything for you to go to college if you're still technically in high school. Not only that, but my parents were absolutely committed to education excellence and pushed me to do the best I could at academics.

    I don't have kids myself, but a few friends do, and now that I live in Virginia I realize how fortunate I was. I have a friend who spends a minimum of an hour a night with each of her kids going over homework and tests and making sure they understand what they got wrong. The kids can spit out answers to questions, but don't always understand the 'why' or 'how', so she makes sure they do. She laments the lack of teachers doing much but making sure the kids can pass the state-administered exams, though, putting much more pressure on parents to make sure their children excel.

    On the other end of the spectrum are parents that don't sit down with their kids consistently and the difference is absolutely visible in how they communicate and how well they do in class.

    I guess it truly takes a community to raise a child - both parental and teacher involvement. I don't know as much since I don't have kids of my own, but I'd imagine that you'd need excellent teachers as well as involved parents for any model to work.

  38. I read so many excellent comments before posting this, so here it goes. My little sis is getting ready to graduate college with a degree in elementary education. She's currently spending her last semester student teaching in a Title One elementary school in 3rd grade math and science. I think she would want to ask- where is all of this money going? Because she's not seeing it! Some of my teacher friends are buying their own pencils and paper and chalk. What good is a smart board if the kids can't take a test or they don't have books? There needs to be money, but it needs to get to classrooms. Why do you think public school supply lists are so long? There are so many sides to this puzzle. I was public school educated K-12. I wouldn't change it for the world. I had exceptional teachers for the most part. My parents were extremely involved. There's no one right answer, but after seeing my sister and a new side of public schools, I think there are many parts of the system that can be worked on.


Thanks for the note, check back for my response!