Archive for the ‘Innovation in Education’ Category

The Parent Trigger? Parents of children in failing schools are no longer “waiting for superman”

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Saturday, The Wall Street Journal had an op-ed piece by David Feith on “The Radical School Reform Law You’ve Never Heard Of.”  Apparently, some parents of children in failing schools in Califronia are no longer waiting for superman but, in fact, have become superman.  Perhaps a more apt image would be Dirty Harry in that these parents advocate “pulling the trigger” on failing schools.  In Los Angeles, where a high school student has only a 50% chance of graduating and a 10% chance of going to college, it is hardly surprising that an activist group called Parent Revolution is demanding reform.  If 51% of parents sign a petition, they can force administrative changes, invite a charter school to take over the school or shut it down.  Amazing . . .

Thousands of parents have already pulled the “parent trigger” by opting out of the public education system to homeschool.  At homeschool fairs, I’ve met hundreds of parents who in order to “save” their children had to withdraw them from the public schools.  Some are parents of special needs children whose needs were not attended to, some are African-American parents who do not want their children particularly their sons “socialized” by their public school peers and others are parents who are fed up with the bureaucracy.

Go to a homeschool curriculum fair and you will be surprised by children who are genuinely interested in learning and unfailingly polite to adults.  Is it because these children spend more time with adults or because their teacher-parent devotes one-on-one quality time with them?  A homeschool parent knows if his or her child is falling behind in math or reading or acting out in class and can remedy the situation.  We need to replicate the homeschool experience by having classes with fewer students and weeding out those who are hell-bent on not learning and thus keeping others from learning and making a teacher’s life impossible.  Another benefit:  homeschooling gives families great flexibility in scheduling extracurricular activities such as sports or music lessons, visiting museums or taking family vacations. 

The assumption is that homeschool families are typically middle-class and can afford to homeschool.  That is not the case.  Many families struggle to get by and still homeschool.  They feel the material sacrifice is well worth it.  I doubt that in their home, their children have a “50% chance of not graduating from high school and a 10% chance of attending college” as David Feith states is the case for the average student in Los Angeles.

I applaud the parents of the Parent Revolution.  It is time the public school system made our day by being accountable and putting the needs of children ahead of their own.

To read the article, go to:…/SB10001424052748704462704575609781273579228.html

A Teacher’s Perspective

Sunday, October 24th, 2010


A friend sent this email:

After being interviewed by the school administration, the prospective teacher said:   ‘Let me see if I’ve got this right.  You want me to go into that room with all those kids, correct their disruptive behavior, observe them for signs of abuse, monitor their dress habits, censor their T-shirt messages, and instill in them a love for learning.  You want me to check their backpacks for weapons, wage war on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases, and raise their sense of self esteem and personal pride.  You want me to teach them patriotism and good citizenship, sportsmanship and fair play, and how to register to vote, balance a checkbook, and apply for a job. You want me to check their heads for lice, recognize signs of antisocial behavior, and make sure they all pass the final exams.  You also want me to provide them with an equal education regardless of their handicaps, and communicate regularly with their parents in English, Spanish or any other language by email, telephone, newsletter, and report card.  You want me to do all this with a piece of chalk, a blackboard, a bulletin board, a few books, a big smile, and a starting salary that qualifies me for a supermarket position?“ 

My commentary:

Let’s help our teachers by promoting the best and compensating them well.   Let’s make it easier for truly gifted individuals to enter the teaching profession.  Why is it a teacher must have a teacher’s credential to teach high school English and yet that same individual can teach freshman English at our top universities as a TA with two-weeks of instruction and yearlong mentoring?  Why not do the same in our K-12 program?  Let’s bring the BEST and the BRIGHTEST into our classroom?

                          (Image above from

Waiting for Superman

Saturday, October 9th, 2010
Child in Waiting for Superman

Child in Waiting for Superman

Have you seen Waiting for Superman, a documentary on the lamentable state of our public education system?  This documentary has ignited a debate in the editorial pages of our newspapers. This week Rupert Murdoch of The Wall Street Journal praised the film and called for reform in our public education.

geoffrey-canada7If you watch the news, you may have seen Davis Guggenheim, the director, discuss this documentary or Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, one of the heroes of this film. In the late ‘90’s, Geoffrey Canada proved that children from the most blighted and drug-infested areas of Harlem could not only succeed in his charter school but go on to graduate from college.  So remarkable and inspirational is his story that 60 Minutes interviewed him, so too have Charlie Rose and Oprah.

Stop to consider the social consequences of high schools whose drop-out rate is 60 per cent.  These high schools in our inner-cities are nothing but factories for failure.  It is time for education reform in our country.  It is time for the teachers union to weed out ineffective teachers and improve their ranks.  Bad teachers make it difficult for the good teachers to their job as they must spend so much time  doing remedial work with students taught by these teachers.


Parents must demand accountability from the schools.  At the same time, they must provide an environment at home which fosters learning.  As I’ve said time and time again, a parent is a child’s first and primary teacher.  Make sure homework gets done,  Monitor television viewing.  There should be NO tv in a child’s bedroom.  The distraction is too great.  Teachers must be accountable but so must parents.


I urge you to see this film and join in the debate.





School Choice Reform? Now is the time.

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Yesterday, I read an excellent article, “Pennsylvania Kids Deserve School Choice,” in The Wall Street Journal.  Written by Anthony Hardy Williams, an African-American legislator in Pennsylvania, who is running for governor, the article appeared on the op-ed page of the Journal. 

Mr. Williams argues President Obama’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program will not improve public education in and of itself. Should Pennsylvania be awarded a $400 million grant, Mr. Williams states this amount would represent “less than half of 1% of the $23 billion spent annually” in Pennsylvania’s public school system, a paltry “$56 more per child.” 

Believing competition among schools improves the quality of education, Mr. Williams advocates school choice.  School choice would allow not only public schools but charter, magnet, private and vocational schools to compete for “a piece of the $23 billion” spent annually in Pennsylvania’s public school system.

Some might wonder whether school choice is in fact a legitimate option. According to Mr. Williams, the Supreme Court ruled in the 2002 case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris that school-choice programs are constitutional.  This ruling by the court has “the potential to fulfill the promise of Brown v. the Board of Education and bring true equality to education.”  However, there are those who oppose school choice.  The teachers union argues that what ails the public schools, particularly those in the inner-city, isn’t lack of competition but rather adequate funding. “This is a myth,” Mr. Williams says.

Apparently, Pennsylvania spends an average of $16,462 per student.  Yet if a private or charter school were to spend this amount on a student and not produce results, parents would remove their child from the school and that school would ultimately fail.  “But parents don’t have the option of withdrawing a child from a failing public school,” Mr. Williams explains.  “Today’s system permits failing schools to continue, penalizing less fortunate children.” 

In Mr. Williams’ case, his mother, a public school teacher, alarmed by the unsafe neighborhoods her son traveled through on his way to school, saw to it that he got a scholarship to a private school.  

Parents should have the right to choose the best school for their child.  How can we call ourselves a free country when we deny parents this fundamental right?  Yet our legislators in D.C. including President Obama send their children to private schools.  Indeed, would Mr. Obama be president had he not attended the prestigious Punahou school in Hawaii?  Would he have received the same quality education in Hawaii’s public schools?  His mother like Mr. Williams’ chose to opt out of public education for her son.

Many African-American mothers email me, telling me they opted to homeschool rather than send their children to these failing inner-city schools.  If we do not give parents school choice, the achievement gap will continue to widen.

Were I living in Pennsylvania, Mr. Williams would have my vote. Anthony Hardy Williams should be applauded for his courageous stance.  In several television interviews, I’ve heard Geoffrey Canada support school choice.  Bravo to both men for supporting families and defending their right to choose the best school for their child.  Education should be about the children.

To read the article in full, google “Pennsylvania Kids Deserve School Choice at The Wall Street Journal.”

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Survey of American Public School Teachers

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

In a continuing effort to improve education in our nation’s schools, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation surveyed 40,000 public school teachers.  According to Vicki Phipps, the Gates Foundation’s education director, “Teachers are on the front lines of this work every day.  It doesn’t make sense not to be talking to teachers.”   The survey was conducted between March and June of last year.  Teachers were not told the Gates Foundation sponsored the survey.

Here are a few of the findings:

  • Supportive principals mean more than higher salaries.
  • 64% of teachers said merit pay was important in keeping good teachers.  
  • 29% of teachers belive a longer school day and year would impact student achievement.
  • 22% of teachers say evaluations by principals were an accurate measure of their work.  Teachers prefer evaluations based on how much their students learn.
  • 60% of teachers said setting learning standards in all states would hve a strong impact on student achievement.
  • 40% of teachers said students entered the classroom below grade level.
  • 12% strongly agree that traditional textbooks engage students.  Teachers  prefer digital media over textbooks. 
  • 97% of teacher said setting high expectations is essential in raising their students’ achievement. 

The Gates Foundation research will help shape our national debate on education.  I applaud them for asking teachers what they think.

Education Secretary Urges California Reform Public Schools

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

This morning’s OC Register reports:  “Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged California officials to use the current economic crisis as an opportunity to reform the state’s ailing public schools.”   Duncan is worried California’s staggering budget deficit will affect the public school system which once led the nation but now ranks low in academic performance.   The Register quotes Duncan:  “Honestly, I think California has lost its way, and I think the long-term consequences of that are very troubling.”

What are these “troubling long-term consequences”?

California has a high school dropout rate of 30% which in fact may be substantially higher as reporting norms are not standard and there is pressure to under-report this number.  Also how do you define “dropout”?  Is a student who drops out but receives a GED a dropout? Federal regulations will require states implement standard norms by 2010. 

If roughly one third of our high school students drop out, California has approximately 1.2 million young people destined for nothing more than minimum-wage jobs.  These young people will occupy the bottom rung of our economy, representing $42 billion dollars of lost wages over their lifetimes.   Add to this figure, the $11 billion they will receive in welfare.  Not surprisingly, they are also more likely to have children while young and be  unwed, further perpetuating the cyle of poverty.

Starting adulthood as a high school dropout is a tremendous handicap.  78% of our prisoners are dropouts.   It is cheaper to educate than incarcerate.

Of the 70% of our high school students who do graduate, 84% are Asian, 78% are white, 60% are Hispanic and 57% are African-American.  Hispanic and African-American students are more likely to be attending inner-city schools. This graduation/achievement gap for Hispanics and African-Americans is troubling.  As Bill Gates says,  the U.S. has “one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world.  If we keep the system as it is, millions of children will never get a chance to fulfill their promise because of their zip code, their skin color or their parents’ income.  That is offensive to our values.”

How do we reverse these trends?  

Secretary of Education Duncan urges education officials to compete for more than $10 billion in the $787 billion federal stimulus package set aside for innovation in education, stating the  administration will invest in school districts and non-profit groups “willing to challenge the status quo.”

How do we challenge the status quo?

If we challenge the status quo by ensuring competency at the third grade level (all students know how to read, can add and subtract and have mastered the times tables, the building block of mathematics), we are likely to have competent high school students.  Parents and teachers have great influence on a third grader.  By high school, it may be too late. 

Schools, teachers and parents must focus on ensuring math and reading competency for third graders.  We need smaller classes,  remedial tutoring for non-native speakers and those who have fallen behind.  We also need public service announcements urging PARENTS to supplement their child’s education by reading to them and by tutoring them in basic math.  These are life skills.  Without them, a child’s future is severely compromised.

No more business as usual. Parents must see to it their children attend school, get enough sleep, turn off the television and do their homework.  We can blame schools for failing our children but we must also look to the parents and their responsibility particularly in their child’s early years.  Some children begin failing the system in the first grade!  These first years are critical.  We need intervention early on.  A penny on the dollar spent here will return enormous benefits.

Parents must challenge the status quo.

Parents must examine their attitudes toward education and their belief that their child’s education rests solely with the schools. One way to reduce the gap between white and Asian students and their Hispanic and African-American counterparts is for minority parents to encourage the study of mathematics.  High-paying jobs such as engineering require a knowledge of algebra.  Fewer than half of Hispanic and African-American students take math beyond Algebra II compared to 69% of Asians and 54% of white students.  In addition, only 33% of students from disadvantaged families take math beyond Algebra II compared with 72% of students from affluent families. Do the math.  Considering this statistic alone, children of affluent families are twice as likely to have higher paying careers.  Algebra  is now mandated for all 8th graders in California.  If we do not ensure students have basic math skills to to pass algebra, the unintended consequence will be even more high school dropouts, particularly among our minority students. 

My conclusion: we need innovation in education that challenges the status quo.  We need to challenge bureaucratic inertia in our schools.  We need funds to improve schools by reducing class size and attracting and retaining great teachers by offering competitive salaries.  We also need parental accountability, especially in the child’s elementary school years.  A parent is the child’s first and primary teacher.  All learning starts at home.

Be careful what you teach.  If you believe education holds the key to your child’s future, your child will more likely believe this as well.  Believe in your child’s potential and work hard with your child to ensure that he or she fulfills it.  We can save the world, one child at a time.