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Kevin Wolf

My first thought upon seeing this story was that a great many will argue that we do indeed have a "teacher meter": standardized testing. Here in Massachusetts, it's the MCAS. That it does not at all help to predict drop outs (in Mass. students who drop out tend to have done fine on the MCAS) is just one reason why this is not as useful a tool as it's said to be.

Of course, there are other problems (teaching to the test, rather than "teaching," for example) but that won't stop the powers that be from believing we can in fact quantify the incredibly complex interaction of pupil and teacher.

Michael Bartley

Lance, as an old broken down outdoor educator forced to transition to the classroom, I heartily agree with this post. Your second paragraph is one of the reasons I love your blog. Ah Mannion, the antidote to horse dung. Coming from the outside, so to speak, I've been saddened to find our schools plagued by a society that disparages intellect while babbling endlessly about education. The fevered shout of the conservative media, in particular, has been effective at demonization over solution. The problems are to complex to comment on here, so I'll just say that effective reform will elude us as long as we insist on simplistic all purpose solutions while passing and withholding the buck.


As a soon-to-be-potential-teacher, I have to ask, is there no objective way of measuring performance? Because while I've been lucky and have had some amazing teachers, I was also in an accelerated program and got the cream of the crop usually. I can only imagine what a horrendous teacher would mean.


More talk, no action planned. Living in Massachusetts, we are governed by Obama's understudy, Deval Patrick. In the last 2 years, Deval has been dutifully aping Republican talking points on education: higher standards, teacher accountability, a charter bonanza, etc. After two years, he's done almost nothing to back up the talk with action...pretty much what I expect from the president.

Retired school bus driver.

It looks like we have a president who wants to help our teachers teach our children.
I want to see what he plans to do about helping our teachers who have a majority of non-English speakers in the classroom. Here in S.Calif. we have schools that are overrun with non English speakers who bring the quality of education down..according to all the "testing". A single teacher, with one aide cannot teach 25-30 kids who, for the most part do not speak English. They speak Spanish at home and continue to speak Spanish at school. The few Engish speakers suffer because of the majority of non-English speakers in the class room.
How is a teacher supposed to teach all those children without extra help that the schools cannot afford to hire? Before the teachers get blamed for everything wrong with the children not learning, the whole education picture needs to be looked at.
Merit pay will not solve anything. If the principal does not like a teacher..guess who won't be rewarded? And yes, favoritism is alive and well in the school system.
Teachers spend a large part of their day on paperwork for the school system records..then they get to go home and prepare for the next day. They also get to pay for school supplies out of their own pockets because the schools don't have enough money for basic supplies. The teachers are expected to teach, but, where do they get the materials to teach with??
I worked as an aide for 5yrs in a local elementary school. I saw first hand what my teacher went through, the paperwork she had to do for each student, the report card for a kindergartner was 5 pages of notations for every step of a childs developement. Times that by 25-30 children and you can see that the "quality" suffers as does the child and the teacher. The money she spent from her own pocket was for supplies the school should have given her. I spent money out of my pocket to buy things for the classroom to help out as well.
If students don't want to learn in the upper grades, maybe they aren't being taught the things they need to know. Not everyone will use Algebra..why not make that an elective?? What happened to Home Ec? That's where some life skills could be taught. The students are being forced to learn subjects just to pass a standardized test the state says they have to pass to graduate..why not teach them something they can actually use in their life after graduation?? Not everyone wants to go to college. Maybe the students should have a voice in what they are taught?????


Merit pay for teachers is the first truly stupid idea I've heard come out of the Obama administration. There are other facets of his agenda I disagree with, but they are usually well thought out. This one is just skin deep and unsupportable. You want to improve education? Mandate smaller class size.


Merit pay for teachers is the first truly stupid idea I've heard come out of the Obama administration.

unless you live in a state where teachers don't have a union, i.e. texas. then it seems like a really great idea since the state has lied repeatedly over the years about how it was going to put money from this that or the other scheme into education, only to redirect it later.

i'm trying to stay calm, but hearing anyone say that a plan to help teachers is "stupid" when they obviously don't know all the background is infuriating.


You are exactly right! I've worked in the UK and at various schools in the US and am here to tell you smaller class sizes + resources will vastly improve our education system. I currently work in a school which mandates that each class have only 25 kids- you'd be amazed at how well our students do and at how happy our teachers are.


Oops I meant lina, but my post speaks to retired...'s post as well!


I love this post.

While lots of Obama's education ideas sound nice in theory, in practice I don't think they would work a lick.

As a previous commenter noted, merit pay is a touchy thing as favoritism definitely plays a part in how classes are organized, especially in elementary schools. My former first grade teacher is a tough cookie, so she is often sent the worst students: the ones whose parents don't bring them to school for whatever reason, the ones who at seven have a vocabulary of curse words bigger than their regular vocabulary, the ones whose parents think their little precious couldn't possibly have a learning disability (so they fail test after test while going without treatment). Now, she can handle a roomful of these kids and they come out better students for having had her. But what happens if the principal decides there is a first grade teacher she doesn't want in her school anymore and she sends her all the most difficult cases. If this teacher cracks and fails to teach them, does that mean she deserves to be fired?

Or the idea of an extended school day, again good in theory, a nightmare in practice. When Mr. Obama mentioned South Korea in his speech, I looked up info on South Korea's schools and what I found stated that their school day is 10 hours long. What does that really mean for students, parents, and those who work in schools. For students, it greatly reduces or eliminates the chance for after school activities. For parents, it means they have a whole new set of challenges to deal with given the logistics of getting kids off to school and picking them up; the might not be a big deal if you are wealthier, if you have a car and either a stay at home parent or a flexible job schedule. For educators, it means that they would spend 50 hours a week on site working; add in the off site work of grading homework/tests/papers, coming up with lesson plans, and so on and you pretty much have a nonstop job.

I'm sorry to rant, but this stuff just makes me foam at the mouth. There is a lot that can be done to improve education, but it can not be accomplished via policy changes alone. As Lance and others have so rightly said, we are not a culture that really values intellect; we pretend we do, but only on paper. If a kid gets below an A-, you can be sure some parents and kids will protest, but instead of explaining why they didn't earn an A, we give it to them so they can get into their choice college or whatever. We don't care about what they really know, only what the paper says they know. And until that culture that spawned that changes, no amount of extended school days and teacher firings are going to make much difference.


Or the idea of an extended school day, again good in theory, a nightmare in practice. When Mr. Obama mentioned South Korea in his speech, I looked up info on South Korea's schools and what I found stated that their school day is 10 hours long.

Well, I don’t think Pres. Obama said we should mimic S. Korea’s education system exactly. And, there is no reason why extending our school days or year has to be a “a nightmare in practice.” I agree that our kids don’t need to be in school for 10 hrs a day – but 6-7 hr days with a spring break, fall break, winter break, various half-days off, and 3 months off during the summer just doesn’t cut it.

There is no conceivable reason we can’t extend the average school day by an hour or two and/or start year-round school. If done right, the students still have a lot of time off – just not months at a time which wreaks havoc on a kid’s retention of the previous year’s studies. Besides the obvious benefits to students and teachers (flexible lesson plans, more time for in class work = less homework, more one on one interaction between student and teacher, etc), this would be a much better arrangement for working parents as it reduces the need for finding before/after school or summer care for their kids. Our society is no longer agriculturally based and as such, kids do not need to be off for 3 months in the summer to help on the family farm. I understand there are still some rural areas where that is the case, and individual districts can, of course, adjust their school calendar accordingly. And, none of it would affect after school activities; in fact, it would allow for more or extended activities.

Obviously, extending the school days and/or year alone will not fix our public education system, but the short school days/years are a part of the problem and it does need to be addressed along with the other issues affecting our children's education. (IMO, switching to year round school would be all that is needed in most cases, but there are many communities and students would greatly benefit from slightly longer school days as well).


"Of course, no matter how innovative our schools or how effective our teachers, America cannot succeed unless our students take responsibility for their own education..."
Students are kids. Not so big on the responsible part. and what about special needs kids, that can't advocate for themselves? This is flaming dog poop.


Lance, I want to disagree with you on a few points. First, there are ways to know whether the third grade teacher is benefitting from the second grade teacher's efforts. That's the virtue of standardized testing. One looks at how much the teacher succeeds in improving pupil performance.

Second, yes, there are lots of problems that teachers should not be blamed for. The politicization of textbooks, parents who are not involved in their child's education, and corrupt or just inept school administrators are problems... as are kids who do not value education. None of these problems excuses faults in the teachers, and all of them are out of reach of the federal government.

Third, pay for merit per se is a weaselly way of dealing with a genuine problem. There are a few (5%?) really, really bad teachers. There are a number (15%?) who would benefit from additional training. There are a lot (60%?) who make things more complicated than they need be. The really bad ones need to find another line of work. The trainable ones need to get trained. The ones who have the technical skills but lack the insight that makes a great teacher need guidance. Pay for performance waits until the deficiencies in teaching become evident in pupil performance: it's way behind the curve.

In a big picture sense, our school system needs to be nationalized. Some public schools are great. Some are awful. We need to take what works in the great districts (including more money and textbooks that haven't been selected by the local commissars) and apply it to the rest.

There's plenty of room for criticism of teacher performance. I hear a lot of it, especially the harshest of it, from teachers themselves.

A Teacher For 25+ Years

Obama is selling teachers down the river.

Kids and parents don't expect to do any work or have to learn anything and certainly don't want homework. Parents and kids expect good marks just for breathing. Most parents don't support the classroom or teachers while the pushy few get their way. Dumb administrators, clueless control freaks and ideologues on school boards, and narrow state standards have devolved curricula to the point where only English and Math count, since that is what is on the MCAS. High stakes testing is all that anyone has time for in public schools today. Its all about 'looking at data' from test scores, not teaching.

Society hasn't spent real money on education in this country. There is no time in the school day for professional development, teachers are treated like glorified babysitters. Inequality is the only possible educational outcome, as long as education depends on taxes on selfish homeowners who don't have kids.

Schools are busy preparing today's youth for the 19th Century. How are teachers with a single computer and a blackboard in the classroom expected to compete with the distractions of the 21st century? There aren't enough computers or software or teacher training in a world where kids spend more time watching TV, movies, listening to music, IMing, texting and on the internet than the entire time the kids spend in the classroom?

Bombs, wars, the military-industrial-complex, bailing out Wall Street and Bank of America is all this country cares about. Parents aren't parents anymore and let their kids run wild with violent videogames, cellphones and organized sports. Only the asian kids are taught high expectations and hard work by the family.

Look who is left holding the bag: The teachers.

Thanks Obama.

But then he send his kids to an exclusive private school, now didn't he?


Most kids who leave school early are labeled "drop-outs."

It puts the blame on them.

But the fact is that the majority are "push-outs": Kids whom the schools do not care to reach and teach.

If you judge by tests, the is one infallible way to raise student achievement. Raise the living standards (and class status) of their parents.

You KNOW that's nagahapun...and everything else is window-dressing...

We know what works if we want kids to become independent, critical thinker: Small, diverse groups of kids participating in practical applications theorough which the students use the known to explore and explain the unknown.

I.e., read Vygotsky...

Chris The Cop

There are too many poor and woking class children who come home from school to a chaotic environment. No matter how much money the government spends, no matter how much you train or pay teachers, no matter what you do, if a child comes home to no structure/varying guardians and a normless atmosphere, he or she won't be helped by the 6-7 hrs. they spend in school.

There does appear to be an exception to this, but it involves the sort of immersion program being tried out in Harlem and Portland, Or., requiring a much longer school day and teachers working 14-hr. days.

Finding a way to rebuild the family unit is the most important requirement for improving the education of millions of at-risk children attending sub-standard schools.

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