California Listening Tour Education Forums

Posted on March 23, 2012


California Listening Tour Education Forums (in Partnership with StudentsFirst)

[VIA: I have striven to be as accurate as possible in this summary. I take responsibility for any misrepresentions. The quotes that follow are not exact.]

The main speaker was Michelle Rhee, introduced and hosted by her husband and Sacramento Mayor, Kevin Johnson.

Michelle began by sharing a bit of her story, much like what we heard at the Summit, which gives context to her rigorous commitment and vigorous advocacy. People in the D.C. school districts were coming to work with excuses and seeking “fairness,” and not with a commitment of serving our children. This poses the big question, What do we do with teachers who are ineffective? Let them stay on? From a system’s point of view, that makes sense. But from a mother’s point of view, that is not okay. If that kind of delinquency is not acceptable for our own children, neither should we allow that possibility for other people’s children. Children only have one opportunity to be in the first grade. “This is why I am so impatient. Why I am willing to make a few adults upset…” The question is, What are we willing to do to change the outcome for our state?

We need to regain the American competitive spirit

We are so concerned that kids feel good that we’ve lost sight of actually making them good at something. My kids suck at soccer, yet if you were to look at their rooms, they’re filled with trophies and ribbons. You would have thought that Michelle Rhee is raising up the next Mia Hamm! I tell my daughters that if they really want to be good at soccer, it’s going to take a lot of hard work. We are not doing the children any favors by overly rewarding them and constantly praising them.

People often see things in extremes. There is something in-between that we must recapture in order to regain our position in the global marketplace.

How do you keep the most effective teachers?

We have to create an environment and culture. For example, “Last In First Out.” This policy does not make any sense if thought about from the perspective of keeping the very best teachers.

Being an effective teacher makes a huge difference, and a Harvard study equates it to long-term earning potential — a direct correlation. In other words, a good teacher can make the difference for that student later in life getting a high-paying job vs. a low-paying job.

We already know that teachers do not go into the profession for the money. But compensation has to be an important part of the equation.

Tenure existed for a very good reason. Today, however, we are in a completely different circumstance where we have Federal protections that will not allow teachers to be abused (thus implying that tenure is an outdated policy). In my opinion, anything that does not have the best interests of the students in mind needs to go.

Not just academics, but what about attending to psychological and social effects? Could we not group them through 6th grade, then through 9th grade, then through 12th grade and provide mentoring through the years?

On the second thing, yes, absolutely. Mentoring makes a big difference, and the hardest most difficult student turns to pudding when you tell them to help a Kindergartener read. On the first thing, grade configuration is not the silver bullet. The bottom line is that the grade configuration matters less than the culture and environment. Children will rise to the expectations or fall to the expectations we set for them.

Regarding an emphasis of social and emotional learning in schools, it’s really important to not pressure our students into performance, is it not?

There is a difference between the stress of performance and the standard of greatness. Our job is to tell students, “This is what greatness is,” and then not coddle them. We need to tell them that to get there requires hard work and discipline. All I’m simply saying is that celebrating mediocrity does not help them.

Regarding Mayoral control, while it does not eliminate politics, it does provide the possibility of cutting down on the politics. It can make reforms more efficiently. Regarding finances, California has the worst financial system for education.

What about poverty?

There is no doubt that poverty impacts a child’s readiness to learn. I don’t thing anyone would disagree with that. However, the problem is that many see that because of poverty they can’t learn. That has to change. Also, it has been shown that the best way to overcome poverty is through education. Does it make it more difficult? Yes. Is it impossible? No. Their future is going to be there through the education.

We (America) have one of the lowest mobility rates in the world. That means that the possibility of you escaping poverty is slim to none. If we’re going to reverse that we must have the schools improve.

Parent involvement?

If we want more parent involvement then we need to create environments that welcome and respects parents. We are currently not sending them the message that we want them involved.

What is it going to take to build respect for teachers/educators?

We have to do it, and we have to do it soon. Why aren’t educators being recognized? In my opinion, we as a country, we don’t value education period. For example, if we are not at the top of the Olympics in medals, our country would outcry. But we are 25th in math of 34 nations, and nobody says anything.

Nations can actually change. If a country decided that they were going to focus on education as a national priority, it is possible. This is only going to happen if we all collectively see education as important to our livelihood.

For more information, text “Student” to 877-877. We recessed to U2’s “Beautiful Day.”

— VIA —

Perhaps the most poignant statement in this evening, the one that I think resonates to the heartbeat of this issue (education) and a whole host of other issues (political and religious) is Rhee’s statement that we as a society don’t value education period. Is education — of our children, youth, and even adults — MIA in the value structure of our nation’s conscious? I don’t know if we can say absolutely “yes,” for we do have organizations like, Teach For America, However, as was mentioned, if you follow the trail of money, and rhetoric, it appears the evidence is quite clear that we esteem education little in comparison to celebrity, sport, and personal “happiness.” (Rhee made a “jab” at her husband stating that comparatively speaking, basketball players make millions “for very little entertainment value.” Compare that to teachers who make very, very little for the tremendous work and influence they provide.)

Though we are benefactors of a Jewish culture, a heritage of valuing education greatly, we are also inheritors of a Greek culture, a lifestyle of performance and self-aggrandizement. The epic battle between Jerusalem and Athens continues.