Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My Thoughts on 20/20 Show “Stupid in America”

I am writing this while the kids are on a break from our homeschooling lessons. Here is a quick jotting down of my thoughts on the show that aired a few days ago on 20/20, a 60 minute show titled “Stupid in America".

1. I think that all parents who use school for their children should watch this show.

2. All parents who homeschool should watch this show so they see some of the issues in American public education including the lack of the effect of a voucher system. In the very least this show will make homeschoolers feel good about their choice (even if the issues on the show are not the primary reason they are homeschooling).

3. I have read books on the subjects of: an ideal education for children, the problems with American public schools, the problems with institutional schooling in general, ideas for education reform and have heard some lectures given by people about these topics. I did not learn about any new topics from watching this show that I didn’t already know.

4. This show did talk about topics that are seldom talked about in the mainstream media. By the way American public school reform dates back to the early 1900s. I have a book from 1905 which talks about the problems in school and how they need to be fixed. I also was surprised to learn that a huge education reform movement was going on when I was entering elementary school. As an adult I was thinking that things were alright when I was in school but really many teachers and administrators, back then, were upset and are upset about the same issues that reformers are upset about today. The only major difference is that back then the big outcry was “we are not spending enough money on education” and now they are saying “we increased spending and things are not getting better”.

5. The fact that the show was 60 minutes long allowed the topic to be delved into pretty deeply. There was a definite focus to the show and I appreciated that the subject matter was kept to certain topics so those topics could have enough time dedicated to them. An example was they did not ever talk about homeschooling which was good and fine with me, as it allowed the focus to be on what it was on: the problem with American public schools. They also did not talk about learning styles or alternative education methods or private schools. There was a short segment about ‘making learning fun’ and how that is successful.

6. The focus of the show was on American public schools. The major focus was the fact that we have a monopoly system. We do not have school vouchers. The point that the system is flawed and produces poor results in learning was made over and over. The system in Belgium was explained, where money is attached to the child and the child can go to whatever school they want. The schools there are more competitive as they need to get good learning results and keep the families happy or they will lose the business. Test scores are higher in Belgium. I was left with the impression that John Stossel (the host) wants America to have a voucher system.

7. American charter schools were shown a bit, as one option that is legal right now. Administrators, teachers, and parents were interviewed saying why they feel that students do can flourish in charter schools, because they are free of much of the problems that come with school being a monopoly (inability to fire bad teachers and the effect of teachers unions on the education system).

The most charismatic person interviewed was education reformer Kevin Chavous, who runs a charter school. Chavous has written a book “Serving Our Children: Charter Schools and The Reform of American Public Education”. I enjoyed hearing what Chavous had to say and I’d like to read his book. I had never heard of him before. He was passionate about the topic, and obviously had strong opinions and convictions.

8. The show then shifted gears to focus on American public school teachers and the teachers union. They showed how difficult it is to fire teachers and how tenure seems to only ensure that problem teachers stay in the system. Students and parents were interviewed and gave examples of problem teachers (drunk at school etc.). Reports were made about teachers who have sex with students or have cyber sex with minor aged students. Even when a teacher admits to the crime, they often cannot be fired! Can you imagine? The difference between their system and the American private industry is so different that it seems unthinkable to believe that these teachers actually are living and working in America.

9. One new thing I learned is that in New York city these problem teachers are made to sit in the ‘rubber room’ which are rooms where they go by day to sit and read books and magazines, rather than to teach. The school not only pays their salary and keeps them employed but they pay $20 million per year to rent four different buildings to house these teachers. There are 80,000 teachers in New York City and they said only two have ever been fired due to having just cause. A flow chart of the disciplinary process for teachers was shown and it unfolded it seemed to go on and on, with many pages, with a complicated flow chart process!

10. Interesting quotes were made by some teachers such as stating that no teachers ever do a bad job and if so it should be proven. Another comment was made that it should be proven that a teacher is not doing a good job (and implied that it was impossible to do). Well that is not true given that some teachers actually admit to things such as having sex with minor aged students. Another interesting quote from a teacher was that there is nothing wrong with monopoly systems. Another said that to have a more competitive school system such as more charter schools and money attached to the student should not be tried as it has never been tried before. One may argue that the monopoly system has been in place for over 150 years and according to statistics it is not doing a great job. One teacher went so far as to say that competition has never worked in any system and it would not work in schools. Well, that is sheer ridiculousness! Competition works in many parts of American life!

11. I enjoyed watching this show because it was different to watch and see the same information that I have read in print.

12. It was beneficial to me to see so many different people saying the same thing that I have read in books. It is one thing to read a book with one author and you may thing “this person is nuts” or “wow, this person is biased” or “maybe this person is just wrong”. However to see the interviews with teachers, administrators, parents, and students and all were saying the same things that I had read (or personally experienced as a student myself) was interesting.

13. Another major point that was made is that adding more money to the cost of education doesn’t impact the results. More money doesn’t make more learning or more educated children. Statistics were given to show spending in past years and how increases have been made and how the test scores are the same or worse now. They also showed how spending is done on buildings, equipment or extra-curricular things that are not helping basic learning. A charter school was shown which has shunned many things such as expensive sports equipment (the children run around the city block for gym class) and the children help clean the school and set up and break down the cafeteria for lunch (rather than paying someone to do it). This and the other things they are doing such as having the principal visit each class each day is helping the children learn more and score better on tests! They also showed one town who is building this gigantic $35 million building to house only school administrators!

The author of the book “Education Myths”, Jay Greene, was interviewed on the show. Here is one of his great quotes:

"If money were the solution, the problem would already be solved … We've doubled per pupil spending, adjusting for inflation, over the last 30 years, and yet schools aren't better."

14. We saw an example of an 18 year old who can barely read. We saw parts of his PPT meeting with a room full of specialists. One was saying that she sees improvement in his reading and that he is doing great and that no changes in the program are needed. We also heard him read and it was equal to what my children were reading and how they were reading when they were still going through their first phonics program (one at age 5 and one at age 4). The PPT meeting was shown to demonstrate how the system is now loaded with education specialists and how their time is spend in long meetings such as this one, where it was implied that nothing much really gets done in the PPT meetings. I have a relative with autism and have listened to audio recordings of his PPT meetings and I can attest to the long-winded and dragged-out nature of those meetings, which are filled with a handful of school staff.

15. I really think that every parent should be more active in their children’s education if they send their child to school. Parents should not just think that if they move to a ‘good town’ with a ‘good education system’ that it is enough. Parents should be aware of the issues with public schooling and should see if these things are happening in their own school.

A great book for parents of schooled children to read which sums up everything they need to know and gives MANY ideas for how a parent can work to get their child better educated (even if that means supplementing a bit at home after school hours) is "The Educated Child: A Parent's Guide from Preschool Through Eigth Grade" by William Bennett, Chester Finn Jr, and John Criss Jr.

There are a lot of other books on the market about problems with American public schools. Most of the books just talk about the issues. The difference with “The Educated Child” is that it is written to the audience of parents who send their children to school and it gives ideas for what parents can do to make sure their children are educated (even if that means supplementing a little at home).

In case you are thinking that American public schools are doing a great job, the show reports that only 1/3 of fourth graders and 1/3 of eighth graders are performing below standards for reading and math. It is also stated that in fourth grade, American children are doing well when compared to other countries, according to test scores but that the scores plummet in comparison to other countries for middle school and high school levels.

ABCs website
A long article on this story, called “Stupid in America: How America cheats our kids out of a good education” with related links is on the ABC site, here.

ABC is running a poll right now asking if we think competition will improve American schools. As of right now 82.9% say “yes”. Go here to vote.

Today the ABC website is showing two short video clips from the show, one is called “Stupid in America” and the other is called “Monopoly in Teachers”. Go here to view these (click on the links).

Consider Emailing ABC
I am sure that ABC will receive thousands if not more than a million negative emails from teachers and school administrators. I plan to email my positive comments to ABC. Please consider emailing ABC with your thoughts, no matter whether they are positive or negative.

If you want to email ABC go to this page and scroll down to the link for “contact 20/20” and click on it.

I am really happy and am still surprised that such a show actually aired on American mainstream television. I have felt that in the past the American media was skewed toward not ever wanting to say anything negative against the American public schools in general or toward teachers. It seems to me the media has been anti-voucher system while this show was very obviously pro-voucher system. Lastly the media usually is in the camp of “spend more and the education will be better” and blames the American citizens for being cheap with spending on education. However this show showed very plainly on more than one occasion how more spending ahs been done and how it has not helped. The fact that American public education seems to be getting top-heavy was also shown very clearly, and that is where the money is going. I am sure that ABC is going to be slammed by negative emails from teachers, administrators and people who don’t want to believe the statistics and facts about the reality of what is going on with American public education.

1 comment:

Scholar said...

Very nice summary, thanks!! I quoted you on my blog.