Education Nation: The Latest Forum For No-Duh Sound Bites and Finger Pointing

With it being an election year and all, education is suddenly a topic everyone wants to talk about again.  And when I say “talk about,” I guess I really mean “spread around statements full of bull shit and buzzwords” or “finger point.”  It has been a loooooooooooong time since Mrs. Mimi has actually seen anyone on the old television have a constructive dialogue about education and even longer (read: never) since Mrs. Mimi has seen an actual teacher who is currently working in the classroom get a place at the proverbial table. 

Last night, there was a special segment (part of Education Nation) that discussed the issues covered in the new documentary Waiting For Superman.  Guess who was on the panel?  The one assembled to talk about the state of education in our country.  No, really, guess.

Okay, let me give you some choices:
 a) a film maker

 b) a teacher
c) a singer/song writer
d) a fairly inarticulate union president who needs to work on her snappy come backs
e) a school chancellor who has been known to fire teachers on film
f) the founder of a successful charter school
g) a, c, d, e and f but NOT b. I mean, NO WAY to b.  Including b would be absolutely ridiculous!  Ha ha ha ha haaaaa…..


Yes friends, you read correctly, John Legend got to weigh in on education in this country.  I know, I know, he did GO to school at one point in his life and evidently that qualifies one to open one’s mouth.


So if we’re following that line of logic, I guess the next time John Legend is working on a new song for a hot new album, he’s going to talk to a teacher about harmony?  A chorus?  Hot new dance moves?


I think it’s great that a movie such as Waiting For Superman can trigger so much national discussion about an issue as serious as education.  For real.  HOWEVER, I do take issue with the fact that this movie (and all the subsequent discussions) choose to only highlight successful charter schools while simultaneously spitting on all public schools, implying that going to a neighborhood public school is equivalent to flushing one’s future down the toilet or something.  I mean, let’s take a deep breath and think before we speak, shall we?  Let’s not take the whole super hero, good vs. evil thing too far and draw an overly simplistic picture of what is actually happening…let’s not pit charter schools and neighborhood public schools against one another and call it “competition”….let’s not talk about test scores alone when discussing desirable outcomes for children…let’s not be so quick to ignore the brilliance that is happening in public schools across our country.

This is Mrs. Mimi’s year of zen and frankly, all this finger pointing is making me feel decidedly UN-zen.  In fact, it’s making me want to dust off the old soap box and start throwing around the word “douche bag” again….

Then President Obama gets on television this morning and is all, “we need great teachers”, “teachers are the unsung heroes of this nation” and “we need to reward excellent teaching” which (duh!) no one is going to argue with.  He talks about removing inadequate teachers which (duh!) no one is going to argue with.  He talks about having high standards for students which (duh!) no one is going to argue with.  He talks about raising respect for teachers and professionalizing the career which (duh!) no one is going to argue with.  It is like watching a train of buzz words fly by in a flurry of amazing sound bites just waiting to be snapped up by the evening news.

Where is the substance?  HOW are we going to determine the good from the bad?  (And please don’t say test scores…or else I’m reaching for the soapbox.)  HOW are we going to have high standards for students when our only measure of achievement seems to be a number on a test?  HOW are we going to encourage excellent teachers when tying their hands through mind numbing standardization is slowly killing their creativity? 

Take a stand.  Say something.  Or maybe, ASK A TEACHER.

Wanna know what I think?

I think we need to start at the source.  Make it more difficult for people to be accepted into ed schools.  Make teacher preparation more rigorous, theory IS important to the development of one’s overall philosophy of education.  Make student teachers spend more time in the classroom observing and watching expert teachers, not just any old teacher who signs up for the free credits.  Make new teachers work side by side with outstanding mentors at their same school and give those partnerships the time and resources to actually make a difference.  Make professional development for all teachers relevant and differentiated by speaking to teachers instead of planning for them.  Make a professional career ladder for people who stay in teaching – don’t assume or imply that “moving up” means moving out of the classroom.  Make a place at the policy table and the school decision making table for excellent teachers – don’t assume ONE rep actually represents us all.  Actually DO one or more of these things instead of talking about them or doing them in insultingly superficial ways. 

This whole education nation thing so far?  My hopes are feeling a bit dashed….but I’ll keep watching.  What about you?

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  • Why is it NOT surprising that there was no teacher on the panel? Why is it NOT surprising that Oprah hosted the billionaires and film maker and there was no teacher to respond to their opinions? Why is it NOT surprising that the President on one hand talks about how important teachers are and on the other hand cheers when an entire school of teachers is fired in Rhode Island? Why are the people who WENT to school the experts and the people who have spent their lives working IN schools are left out?

    It's frustrating…

    September 27, 2010 at 11:27 pm
  • All of this and then some. I really do appreciate Obama's efforts – I appreciate any effort – but blahing the same thing over and over again that everyone has already said doesn't get us anywhere.

    I'm 9 months away from my masters/certification, and after that I have no idea. I don't know where my support will come from. I heard a 10-year veteran say he was just coming in for the pay check, and didn't know what to do with the kids. A good friend lost her classroom last week because she didn't have enough students enrolled (she had 11), and yet another school 5 miles from there has 30+ students to a room. I want them to find me answers to these ridiculous scenarios; when are they going to talk about that?

    September 27, 2010 at 11:27 pm
  • What's so frustrating to me is that I am burned out after only 13 years of teaching in the public education system. I just want to teach! Where did the idea of imbuing the love of learning in our students go?
    I do have to disagree with just one point Mrs. Mimi makes — more training for useless teachers doesn't improve their teaching. I worked on a team with 3 useless teachers and they learned nothing from our staff development. They didn't LOVE the students nor did they LOVE teaching, no amount of training will overcome that obstacle.
    I have left the teaching profession as I am tired of fighting the good fight and coming out with too many bruises. Test scores, test scores, test scores, and useless teacher training (one size fits all!) have taken the passion from me.

    September 28, 2010 at 2:33 am
  • I love you for mentioning ed schools. My education was WAY too easy.

    September 28, 2010 at 2:33 am
  • I have been thoroughly disappointed by the Education Nation discussions thus far. I have also been waiting for you to comment on it, checking back on your site, because I knew you'd have a thoroughly succinct (can that be?) way of putting how I feel. And you have hit the nail on the head. Until I don't get scoffed at for being "just a second grade teacher" nothing will change. Teachers need respect and fair compensation for the incredibly hard work we do. Agree, agree, AGREE!

    September 28, 2010 at 2:33 am
  • I was hoping you would be as annoyed as I was at the people who are weighing in on the subject! The Oprah episode that talked about it had me fired up!!! Did they have a teacher on the show that actually got to speak??? Nope, they forgot about that part!

    September 28, 2010 at 2:33 am
  • Ditto to all above. It seems to be a balancing act to discuss charter schools and their role and compare it to public schools in general. Are charter schools successful? What is the measure being used? With which students is it the most successful?

    As teachers we all know that one size does not fit all. Thank goodness there are so many talented teachers with a variety of methods, expertise, and amazing talents to share with our students. It's what makes the educational experience so powerful. Each child can hopefully find a connection with one or more teachers who reached them where they needed it. I look at my role as being part of the planting process. If a previous teacher plants the seed, I may see the fruits of their labor by continuing to sow the seeds for the child. The previous year's teacher may not see the fruits, but does that null and void what they did? Not at all. As it has been said many times, "It takes a village." One isolated test score does not a successful learner make. We are measuring the learning capability of a student and we certainly must be accountable, but as we all know it is never the whole picture.

    September 28, 2010 at 11:35 am
  • Oh wow, can I cut and paste your comment??? I need to take it to my (I think) "listening" principal!!! I just can't say it as succinctly as you!!!! I, too, heard about educationnation on the news tonight, in "instructor" magazine today, and couldn't wait to hear what you thought….
    What does that say about all of us??? You have hearts and goals in your musings!

    September 28, 2010 at 11:35 am
  • Here, here.

    For starters…. can we have an EdSec that has teaching experience? Obama and beyond are not getting any useful advice from Duncan.

    September 28, 2010 at 11:35 am
  • Amen!

    September 28, 2010 at 11:35 am
  • I just stumbled across your blog when I googled 'frustrated by education nation'. I, too, am both excited about the spotlight on education yet frustrated by the platitudes and catch phrases without SUBSTANCE. On the flip side, I've seen (and had) conversations with other teachers go downhill quickly when there are philosophical and pedagogical differences pertaining to substance. The best way out of that situation is to find common ground again – hence, the 'no duhs'.

    September 28, 2010 at 11:39 pm
  • I almost hate to drop this link on you. It is also un-zen.

    The article makes a lot of good points. And I'm curious to know how this is shaking up LA. But it does make me a bit squeamish to know it's all thrown out there to be aired like dirty laundry.

    Hmmm…I'm not quite sure where I fall in light of this….,0,258862,full.story

    And yes, there are thousands of real teachers who are really ranked. CRAzy.

    September 29, 2010 at 12:54 pm
  • Laura, Laura, Laura…oh that link. Thank you and at the same time, my head hurts. Must. Blog. About. It.

    September 29, 2010 at 5:27 pm
  • Countries quoted to us as having successful schools have one thing in common and guess what, it's not tests! It's a culture that looks to teachers as people (PEOPLE) who are worthy of respect, honor, and are seen as competent and knowledgeable.

    We are digging ourselves into a country without public education. Waiting for Superman is a HUGE push towards privatization.

    I'm disgusted.

    October 4, 2010 at 1:12 pm
  • If you know that everything they say is crap, then why do you fall for the line that there's something wrong with ed schools?

    Are you allowing yourself to believe that little fairy tale while disbelieving all the others?

    Otherwise I agree with everything you say.

    BTW, I went to an excellent teacher prep program at the University of South Florida, and had almost 1000 hours of classroom time when I graduated.

    October 6, 2010 at 1:13 am
  • The documentary is not about privatization btw.

    October 10, 2010 at 8:26 pm
  • I agree with you about how to fix it by starting at the source. Teachers need to work together and try to help each other be better teachers. At Summit, a school mentioned in the documentary- the teachers sit in on each other's classes, during a prep period every few weeks and write down how effective they thought the teacher was, whether the kids were engaged and then the teachers all discuss it at meetings. They spend a lot of time trying to be better teachers and frequently ask the students what worked for them and what didn't in terms of types of activities. The teachers all genuinely care about each other and love what they do which is why the school is successful.

    Once you get the culture in a school right- the other things are much easier to work with. That includes teacher culture, student culture and Admin culture. When the culture becomes about community, and a belief that everyone can succeed and we can all learn from each other no matter where we are on the ladder– that is when success happens. To get the student culture right- one of respect, and tolerance- the faculty have to set an example. They have to be dedicated to growing as people and teachers; they must be there for each other. Teaching is hard, and unless they support each other they will be half as successful as they could be.

    I attend Summit and wanted to point out that rather than slamming the documentary as many seem to- it'd be good to look at what things they got right and how they could universally applied.

    And BTW the founder of the successful Charter- Tod Dickson- is a teacher. He taught before he was the director of the school.
    While the documentary did highlight important problems,

    October 10, 2010 at 8:26 pm

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