March 17th, 2010
12:44 PM ET

Schools in the crosshairs - what reform is needed?

It's a big day for education. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke with a Senate committee to discuss the Obama administration's blueprint for overhauling the No Child Left Behind Act.

Obama's overhaul comes as a debate is stirring nationwide about the best way to help fix the nation's worst schools. Education systems are struggling to find a way to make the best changes for students while battling large financial and budget crises.

Today, officials from the Detroit School announced that as part of their $1 billion plan to revamp their system, they will close 44 schools. CNN affiliate WXYZ has full details of the plan, which schools are impacted and location reaction to the decision.

Detroit's announcement follows others around the country. Kansas City, Missouri, schools decided to shutter failing schools and a Rhode Island school decided to fire all of its teachers in an attempt to make the school better, leaving educators, parents and experts weighing in on the current state of the education system.

All of the announcements have garnered widespread and differing reaction. Esther Wojcicki, a teacher at Palo Alto High School in California for the past 25 years, said the key to fixing schools shouldn't be firing teachers and starting over, similar to what Rhode Island is doing, but instead, working with teachers to improve the current system.

Sir Ken Robinson says our education system works like a factory - he believes it's based on models of mass production and conformity that actually prevent kids from finding their passions and succeeding. There's a better answer in his mind - focusing on personal development instead of a one-size-fits-all aproach.

But in the midst of the discussion of the bad, there are also some schools that seem to be effective in making a difference - though they're struggling financially. That is the case of MyYeshiva, a school in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, that aims to help kids who are "stuck in the middle" but haven't given up. It also focuses on special-needs children.

What about the schools in your area? How are they performing and what do you think needs to be done to help fix the current educational system? Weigh in on iReport.

soundoff (126 Responses)
  1. Honest Abe

    i am a teacher in southern california – heres a quick summary of what i'm working with:
    -packed classes (40 students)
    -wide range of academic levels in one class (even kids who cant read)
    -most of my students could care less about school.
    -NO respect (and the school wont discipline them because they need attendance to be up for more $)
    -high transient rate (here today gone tomorrow)
    -kids go to mexico for a month during the yr.
    -limited to no english at all
    -kids who finish 2 hr tests in 10 min.
    -NO funding
    *and you want me to get paid based on the results of my students. if i teach 8th grade why should i be responsible for what a kid didnt learn in K-7th??? the only people who know what schools need and how to make it work are TEACHERS plain an simple.

    March 17, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jean

    What works at the succeeding charter schools and good private schools:
    Uniforms to create an appropriate atmosphere for learning. Good jobs require professional dress. School is a child's job, hence he/she should dress appropriately. Excessive anything creates a distraction form learning. The kid can express him/herself on non school time.

    Longer school years and longer academic days. Teachers dedicated to this objective. It's time they realilzed that the rest of the professional world no longer works 40 hours weeks if they want to succeed. Pay the teachers better.

    Expel unruly and unproductive children or segregate them if they are unwilling to conform to the school rules so that the rest of the children don't suffer from the waste of the teacher's time. This does not mean get rid of the special needs kids, I'm talking about kids with flat out bad attitudes.

    A focused challenging curriculum. Schools should "track" kids starting in the 4th or 5th grade so the high achievers can move ahead. Who cares about self esteem? If you want to be in the top class then work for it.

    If the budget is too tight to hire decent teachers with decent class sizes, cut sports, and whatever other afterschool programs do not pay for themselves. If people want sports in their school, try fundraising.

    Cut transportation before cutting teachers or class size. Let parents pay a fee for busing. Or maybe the parent could actually take responsibility for getting their kid to school.

    Stop cutting off the academics 2 weeks before Christmas vacation and 3 weeks before the end of the school, and actually teach the curriculum for the entire year.

    Do not tolerate in any fashion bullying, unruliness, unkindness, rudeness. Teach ethical behavior. Encourage healthy competition. Give a child some sort of a goal to follow through on. Reward accomplishment. Don't demean poor performance, but don't praise it either.

    Make sure kids have adequate recess time so they can focus.

    March 17, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Bob

    Read the excuses. The same lame tired complaints from the education industry – not enough money, outsiders interferring on their turf, parents, politicians, immigrants, language, etc., etc.

    The rest of us are bored with your excuses, educators. It IS time that outsiders took charge. You have been given the responsibility for education. Your teacher colleges have provided the direction for education – and innovation after innovatiion, all leading to "improvements", then abandoned. You have been given MORE money than any other country in the world (maybe one other spends more). Yet, by any measure (you despise measurements, I know) You have failed to meet our expectations.

    It is long past time for a change in leadership.

    March 17, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jean

    Other thing that seem to work in my kids' school (Catholic parochial):

    A ton of parent vokunteerism. Extra monitoring of the lunchroom, playground, school halls. Help with alot of office work so not so many support people have to be hired. Parents helping with various things in the classroom so the teacher can teach. Parents in the hallway listening while a 1st grader reads one on one to them. Parents in the library helping with Accelerated Reader tests. Parents donating time and resources to improve playground, plant flowers, cut grass etc to save money. Parents organizing fund raisers for new computer labs, library books, scholarship fund, Parents teaching Junior Great Books, Art Adventure, Read Naturally.

    KIND Committee- A student run anti bullying campaign

    Teaching a (non-religious) discipline program called Discipline with a Purpose.

    Concentrating more in Kindergarten on behavior, school rules,emotional maturity, social maturity, virtues etc than in trying to teach 5 year olds to read. (Though this happens too if the child is ready, no pressure if he is not.

    My own thoughts:
    Segregated classes or schools by sex once they reach Junior High age.

    School place more emphasis on who won the spelling or geography bee than what the basketball team is doing.

    March 17, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jean

    What parents can do:

    Turn off the TV.

    Go to the library. It's free.

    Don't give your kid a cell phone, a computer in their room or a TV in their room.

    Know where your kid is. Don't let them out on a school night, except for an after school activity or a job.

    Set an appropriate bedtime and stick by it.

    Be a parent. You chose to have them. It is your job to make sure they do their job in school.

    March 17, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Underachiever

    Firing the entire staff of a school is sometimes necessary is the school has been given many opportunities to improve and the union does not allow the management to evaluate teachers on an individual basis. Sometimes, a forest needs to be burned to allow for more healthy growth.

    Comparing with k-12 schools in Asia, our schools lack disciplines. In this environment, only the kids who are motivated themselves or whose parents are greatly involved can do well. But most kids needs to be pushed. If their parents don't pay enough attention, the schools will let them fall behind. It is not uncommon for a high school student here not being able to do the basic operations in arithmetics.

    Similar to point #1, our schools lacks regiments of drilling and practicing. Some "experts" may argue that repetitions kill the fun of learning. This is only true for the smartest few, who can be easily recognized and exempted. Most kids needs the practice and drills to become proficient. Most kids will get used to this pattern when they realize that the only way to reduce practice time is to meet the standard.

    There needs to be more school days and much short summer break. The waste in the summer break is unbelievable! Kids coming back from summer can barely remember anything from the last semester. Most students attend school for around six hours per day, and usually anywhere from 175 to 185 days per year.
    In comparison, most schools in Asian countries the school days are well over 8 hours and 220-250 days per year. The summer break is usually 2+2 weeks (2 in the beginning and 2in the end of the summer). If this is too extreme for the Americans, 3 continuous months are also excessive. Kids should not be away from school for longer than a month.

    And lastly, we need to pay our teachers better and also based on their performance and area of expertise. The businesses pay more for harder to find skills. School should do the same. Our schools lack qualified math, science, and technology teachers. It can only be expected that our students don't do well in these areas. As a vicious cycle, fewer people wants to learn math and science to teach the next generation. We need to set aside scholarships for college and graduate students who are willing to commit a few years of their time as teachers.

    March 17, 2010 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
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