Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The DOE Murders

I'm a huge fan of whodunits. One of my all time favorites is Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders. It's about a sociopath who tries to collect an inheritance through murder. To throw the police off, he convinces a man who suffers from headaches that he is a psychopathic killer.

I mention it because I made one of those text-to-world connections that we're constantly telling kids they have to make and which take all the excitement out of reading. In the book, the immortal detective Hercule Poirot is disdainful of the murderer because he tries to pin it on the man with the headaches, who will forever have to live with the guilt of crimes he did not commit. The line that jumped out in my memory was when Poirot claimed the crime was not sporting, indignantly saying, "To catch a fox and put him in a box and never let him go! It is not le sport!"

I was reminded of that line when I had a talk with a teacher at my school. He has been U rated for the last three years. No one seems to know why. He seems competent, at the very least. Certainly he keeps his students in order and they learn from him. Yet, he keeps getting U's on his annual review. He is headed for his fourth U this year, because he has already collected a nosegay of unsatisfactory observations. I asked him how he had escaped the rubber room, given this litany of stinkers from the administration.

"I'm too useful," he replied. "They keep me around as a kind of warning to other teachers, that it can happen to them. It keeps teachers scared. If they sent me to the rubber room, I'd be out of sight. They need me as a reminder to the staff that they'd better not step out of line."

As I said, from what I can tell, he seems like a good teacher, so I think he may be right. They could have sent him to the rubber room on incompetence charges a year ago, but they didn't. They will U rate him again this year, and offer him us as an example of what happens to recalcitrant teachers.

It's a disgrace, really. If they guy is incompetent, they should charge him, and if not they should leave him alone. They caught themselves a fox and put him in a box and they plan never to let him go. All part of a sequel to Christie's classic, called The DOE Murders, in which no one is killed but someone's soul dies a little bit every day. Hopefully, this installment will never make it to your school.

As Poirot would say, "It is not...le sport!"

Monday, April 26, 2010

If the Hat Fits...

When the Klan marches, the newspapers have to cover it because it is a newsworthy event, however repulsive and ignorant the Klan may be. While "Educators 4 Excellence" may not quite rival the Klan for cluelessness, they do their best to come close. I've tried to avoid covering them because they are outstanding attention whores all by themselves and they don't need any additional coverage from me. Besides, Chaz and South Bronx School have both done an admirable job of exposing the idiocy of the E4E crew. Still, there are two things that bother me that no one has addressed.

First is the E4E website itself. It's certainly nicely done, as it should be--it's powered by Media Mezcla Campaign Engine, which provides tools for politicians to run campaigns. I wonder how two low-salaried teachers managed to put up a website using expensive software that politicians use in their campaigns? A suspicious person might infer that these two fine newbie teachers somehow managed to hook up with powerful, moneyed pols, but we all know that couldn't be, could it? In any case, one of their goals is to join the "debate" on how to improve schools, apparently by eviscerating them. Toward this end, they have a blog that does not accept comments. So much for debate.

A bigger bone to pick with E4E is that they brainlessly list two contradictory goals on their "Declaration" page, to wit:

  • Reestablishing tenure as a significant professional milestone through the use of a comprehensive teacher evaluation system and
  • Eliminating the practice of "Last In, First Out" for layoffs

Perhaps these two don't understand that tenure is already a significant professional milestone. A teacher must produce results for three years, and can be fired for any reason whatsoever before that time frame elapses. How E4E plans to make tenure more rigorous remains unclear; it seems to me that getting fired for any reason is already pretty rigorous. Perhaps E4E would like those who fail to attain tenure to be drawn and quartered or slammed in the iron maiden.

What the E4E crew fails to get is that eliminating seniority for layoffs effectively renders tenure meaningless. What good is tenure when you can be fired any time the mayor declares a fiscal crisis? Fiscal crises happen in NYC with greater regularity than ethnic street fairs. Let's see how far tenure gets you when your principal hands you a pink slip and sends you skidding down the street on your hindquarters.

Of course, none of this probably matters much to the E4E crew. I doubt their ultimate ambition is to be great teachers. More likely, they want to be the Grand Wizards of education--superintendents or better. If layoffs were based on the ability to brown nose and kiss Joel Klein's wrinkled ass, these two would have jobs for life.

So the E4E crew get awarded a pair of matching dunce caps. Which, when you think about it, look kind of Klannish, which seems to fit.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

That's What She Said

I was doing my normal test prep with one of my 8th grade classes. We were working on the Reading/Writing part, in which students read two passages and answer some short answer questions and then write an essay. I decided to give my students two brief biographies to compare--Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.

They were somewhat challenging passages, as biographies often are. I was teaching my lower functioning class, but they seemed to be making progress. Until Michael raised his hand.

"What is it, Michael?"

"This Ameria Earhart," said Michael, with a puzzled look on his face. "Is he a man or a woman?"

I expected the rest of the class to laugh at him, because the passage clearly referred to Amelia as "she" approximately 4,639 times. Instead, they all looked at me, as if to say "Yeah...that's a good question!!!"

I referred Michael and his curious peers back to the story and pointed out the pronoun references. Michael eyed me suspiciously. "So that means she's a girl, right?"

I have no idea how a child can get to the 8th grade and still be so anatomically incorrect, so to speak. All I could think of at that moment was how my Teacher Data Report would be tied to Michael and his peers. Every year I am surprised by what kids don't know. You can't teach everything. It's impossible to get it all in.

That what she said.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Seniority Means Always Having to Say You're Sorry

I've noticed something strange. Whenever the discussion turns to layoffs, tenured senior teachers seem to want to apologize for having job security. "Sure, there are some bad senior teachers out there," we say, almost whimpering, "but most of us work just as hard as the newbies!"

Well, I'm sick of it. There are lousy doctors, lawyers, accupuncturists, and envelope stuffers out there, but you never hear the good ones making excuses for the bad ones. In other professions, it is assumed that the good ones far outnumber the few rotten apples. In teaching, we constantly apologize for the very few crappy senior teachers despite the fact that most of us with a few streaks of white in our hair are damn good educators. I think it's high time we stopped apologizing for the failures of a few and started demanding recognition for the fine work the vast majority of us do.

The myth of the great teacher persists in our society, but the myth of the do-nothing, feet-on-the-desk, waiting-to-collect-a-pension teacher has become almost as pervasive. They are just myths. There are only a few Mr. Chips out there, and probably just as few Buffalo Chips. The vast majority are neither great nor awful--we are just hard working, dedicated people doing a difficult job to the best of our ability.

The idea that senior teachers should be laid off is gaining traction as well. Yet, you almost never hear new teachers apologize the way senior teachers do. And the real, rarely spoken truth is that senior teachers are almost always better than new teachers. I was a new teacher once, and I was lousy in my first year. I was so bad that I didn't even know how much I sucked. By my third year, I had some idea of what I was doing. It wasn't until about my 8th year or so that I knew I belonged and that I could handle just about anything. Most teachers will tell you just about the same story. It took time for us to become the teachers we are today.

BloomKlein would gladly throw us on the dung heap if they could under the guise of keeping the "best" teachers. In my view, the best teachers in any school are the veterans. Many of the newbies will one day become fine teachers but that day isn't today. This is even acknowledged by the city itself in their Teacher Data Reports, in which new teachers are compared to each other and not to veterans. (Pardon me for using the reports for anything other than spare toilet paper. It shan't happen again).

Layoffs aren't about weeding out the few incompetents. Layoffs, when they truly have to occur, should be about keeping the workforce stable and making sure that those who have dedicated their lives to the profession aren't shafted. Those new to the profession, if they are truly dedicated, will return when the fiscal crisis ends.

In any case, I believe the current threats of layoffs are little more than Mayor4Life employing the Shock Doctrine. He runs arounds in a Chicken Little-esque manner, claiming that the educational sky is falling due to the recession. In the ensuing panic, he hopes to realize the mayoral wet dream of being given the authority to fire high priced teachers and all but end that nasty practice of having to actually pay pensions. I really believe when Bloomberg sees that we will not give in to him and he will have to lay off new teachers, he will suddenly find a way to avert most, if not all, the layoffs. Witness Washington D.C., where Michelle Rhee miraculously found a 34 million dollar suplus AFTER she managed to lay off 266 teachers. This layoff threat is just a Rhee-play on a grander scale.

Before someone demands an apology for anything I've said here, let me head them off at the pass. The answer is no. I'm not sorry for wanting to keep and protect my job. I'm not sorry for having learned my profession through years of hard fought experience. I'm not sorry for sticking up for the "last in, first out" method of layoffs, because I believe that to be a lynchpin of unionism that newbies will appreciate themselves one day.

The only thing I'm sorry for is that we all have to work under a mayor and chancellor who think that educational policy means wielding an axe and a machete.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Et tu, Mulgrew?

When was the last time you felt excited to be a union member? I don't mean excited as in ready to jump out a window or pluck Randi Weingarten's eyeballs out. I mean when did you last feel that, as a union, we really accomplished something? (Pause as Jeopardy theme plays.) I can't remember either.

But if you ask that question of Florida teachers, they will all have an answer for you: Yesterday. That is when the teacher's unions in Florida, in conjunction with parents and concerned citizens, kicked the ass of the Republican controlled Florida state legislature by forcing Governor Crist to veto a bill that would have made drastic and draconian changes to teacher compensation and effectively ended tenure.

They did it the old fashioned way--by rolling up their sleeves and protesting. A quarter of Miami-Dade teachers participated in a sick out. Governor Crist received 120,ooo phone calls and emails opposing the bill, to about 3000 in favor of it. They made it clear that Gov. Crist wouldn't be elected dog catcher if he signed the bill.

And the teachers won. I can only imagine how good they feel.

I can only imagine it because it doesn't happen in NYC. What I remember most over the last eight years is our union giving up seniority transfers, sending us back to lunch duty, extending our day, giving up our rights to file meaningful grievances, and standing idly by as the Rubber Rooms and ATR ranks swelled. We sit without a contract and without the even pattern raise that has been given to all other unions.

There was a slight glimmer of hope yesterday for NY teachers as well, when the closing of Rubber Rooms was announced. Still, there has been nary a word said about the bill introduced to the New York State Legislature that would allow layoffs of senior teachers and base retention on test scores, much as the Florida bill aimed to do. One early sponsor of the bill has already dropped out, but that's just not good enough. We should be picketing the offices of assemblyman Jonathan Bing and state senator Ruben Diaz, bombarding them with phone calls and emails, and generally making their lives miserable for trying to screw us over. The UFT should seize this opportunity to let NY politicians know that from now on, they'd be wise not to scapegoat teachers or try to erode our hardfought gains.

As Brutus once famously said in Julius Caesar, "There is tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." The tide is in, Mr. Mulgrew. Your troops are ready. It's time to lead.

After Randi's hideous tenure as our leader, we need to become a more radical, focused union. I hope we aren't all standing in the unemployment line a year from now saying "Et tu, Mulgrew?"

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Random Thoughts

A lot of thoughts have been rattling around in my head lately (no cracks about all the room in there), and I'd like to write detailed posts about many of them, but since I don't have the time I'll just throw a few random thoughts out there.

Seniority: The bill currently in Albany to do an end run around seniority worries me. I don't think it has much of a chance of passing, but we are moving in that direction. Young teachers don't seem to care much about seniority, mostly, I would guess, because they don't see themselves in the system for an extended period or they think this law would never apply to them. Personally, I think it's nothing more than a money making scheme for the city and state--a way for them to hire teachers on the cheap and make sure that pensions never have to be paid in the future. There's an interesting conversation going on about this at NYC Educator's blog, where Miss Eyre came out in favor of proactively changing the system before the legislature changes it for us. I totally disagree with her; seniority should be sacrosanct. We could easily garner the support of every union worker in the state, because let's face it--if teachers lose seniority, every other union member in the state is in jeopardy.

Florida: Who'd have thought that Charlie Crist, a Republican for God's sake, would veto a bill that would have eroded seniority rights, tenure, and introduced merit pay based on test scores? He got 65,000 calls and emails opposing the bill, and only 3000 in support. In addition, Miame-Dade teachers staged a sick out, showing that they mean business. Why the UFT can't take some serious action when it so obviously works?

Principals: If seniority was taken away, would you want to have your future determined by a leadership academy principal like this one? Another reason to fight tooth and nail to keep it.

Rubber Rooms: I'm glad they are gone, but the devil is always in the details. I'm taking a wait and see attitude on this one. The UFT has been bested in so many negotiations with Bloomberg that it's embarrassing.

Negotiations: Why are we negotiating AT ALL? Again, I'm glad we are getting the rid of the RRs, but shouldn't this have been part of contract negotiations? Why are we giving the city ANYthing while they are holding our raise hostage and threatening to lay off 8500 of us?

The Law: If any lawyers can help here, I'd appreciate it. Seniority for layoffs is not just a matter of state education law, it is also part of our contract. Can the state simply overturn a collective bargaining agreement by passing a law? It's been a long time since I took a law class, but I kind of remember that a contract is pretty tough to break when both sides willingly entered into it.

UPDATE! Found Via GothamSchools, it appears one of the cosponsors of the bill has dropped out, because the he believes the contract clause of the constitution bars states from interfering with current contracts. So if I figured that out, why didn't the UFT lawyers?

Layoffs: If a teacher is one year away from retirement and gets laid off, wouldn't that person be entitled to a full pension anyway, considering that for 24 years that person worked under a contract that pretty much guaranteed them a full pension as long as they didn't do anything to get fired? Would the city have to refund some or all of the pension money paid in? What about the additional 25/55 funds that were voluntarily given under current layoff rules? Wouldn't the city have to give those back? Would those laid off be entitled to their jobs as soon as hiring restarted?

Relief: Read some hilarious detention slips here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Fun with Anagrams

I like anagrams. It was me who discovered that the letters in my former principal's name could be rearranged to form two words that mean "a big explosion of flatulence". I've always thought this was a sign for us all to stay away from that woman, so I made sure every member of the staff was aware of this bad omen. Oddly, I no longer work there, although I'm sure there was more to it than that.

I was thinking of writing a post about cheating today, when it struck me that the words cheating and teaching are perfect one word anagrams. That must mean something. So I put on my investigative hat (the red one) and plugged the word teaching into an anagram server. Here are some of the telling results:

Change It ("it" referring to the answers)
Acing The (as in Acing the Test!)
Ace Thing (see above)
Get A Inch (ahead of your fellow teachers!)
Cat Hinge (OK..they all don't make sense)

You see the pattern? We're being told to cheat! I knew ever since NCLB became law that cheating was the way of the future, because one of the goals of NCLB was to have every student reading at grade level by 2014. I remember laughing heartily the first time I heard that. "The only way that will ever happen," I recall thinking, "is if we all cheat or make the tests so easy my dog could pass them." Well, the tests have gotten about as easy as they can get. To test that theory, I put a number 2 pencil in my dog's paw. He gave me an insulted look and chewed up the pencil. Which just shows you. So the only thing left is cheating.

I starting thinking about cheating during test prep the other day. At least four students that day asked me to define words for them, including words that were choices in the multiple choice section. When I told them I couldn't do that because it was part of the test, they all gave me a look just like the one my dog had given me, only without so many teeth. One child even stared chewing his pencil. Yes, they seemed insulted and perhaps even shocked that I would not give them the answers. Imagine that! What kind of teacher am I, that I won't help my students achieve and be the best they can be!?!

This is where we are headed, of course. With tests dumbed down, merit pay for students and teachers, and the push to tie employment to test scores, it is inevitable that cheating will become more widespread than it already is. If a teacher has perhaps half his or her salary riding on a single test, or may get the ax if little Johnny forgets what an inference is, the pressure to cheat will be too much for many. I doubt that politicians mind at all; increased test scores are always good for them.

So, will I succumb to the temptation? Will you? Before you say you'd never do such a thing, let me inform you that one anagram for "Joel I. Klein" is "Eek! I'll Join!!"

What does that tell you?

Postscript for the nerdy among you: In researching this post, I discovered that if you put the word "anagram" into the Google search box, it will say Did You Mean: nag a ram?

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Business Model Files for Chapter 11

I've been meaning to blog about Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, for a while now, but truth be told, I haven't had time to finish it yet. I will say, however, that it is a great read and a real eye opener. You can purchase it here, and I can assure you it's worth the price. In fact, I would have bought the book for Chapter 5 alone. The unassuming chapter title, The Business Model in New York City, hardly does justice to the contents. In it, Ravitch ravages the BloomKlein years, taking us on a misstep by misstep chronological journey through the decline of education in NYC as the Education Mayor attempted to replicate the business model in our schools. I knew most of the things in the chapter, but somehow seeing the litany of mistakes detailed all in one place brought home to me how thoroughly the BloomKlein years have sucked the life out of the public school system.

I bring it up today because two more missteps, largely based on the business model, have taken center stage today. First, it's been reported that the experiment to pay students for better grades has been a colossal failure. The idea was based on the assumption that children would work harder if offered money to do so. It works for all those Wall Street types doesn't it--you know, the ones who get miltimillion dollar bonuses while teachers have to buy #2 pencils so their students can take practice tests? As it turns out, those Wall Street guys got bonuses even when they fared worse than a monkey throwing darts at the Wall Street Journal, and kids did about the same.

In a related business model story, it appears that merit pay for teachers is a bust, too. Despite the fact that merit pay has been pushed since the 1950s, Vanderbilt University's Matthew Springer says, "I think the jury is still out." I don't know about you, but it seems to me that if you can't prove that something works after 50 years, it probably doesn't. Nevertheless, states are scrambling to include merit pay in their Race to the Top applications because they want to snatch up some of the money that Obama has thrown in the air.

The business model doesn't work in a school environment. I know it, Diane Ravitch knows it, and most people with common sense can figure it out. It's time the business model filed for bankruptcy already.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Congrats to Michael Mulgrew

It appears that Michael Mulgrew has won the UFT election by a wide margin. While I personally voted ICE/TJC, I offer my congratulations to the Unity crew. It would appear that the membership wants to get behind Mulgrew at this difficult time, and I hope he justifies the mandate he has been given.

Hopefully, this outpouring of support will strengthen Mulgrew in the upcoming battle against the demands of the state in the RttT battle. This should also strengthen his resolve in our continuing contract dispute with the city.

Mulgrew is now duly elected, and out of Randi's shadow. He can either follow in her footsteps or work to take back public education from the billionaires who hope to see it fail. I hope he chooses the latter course.

Good Luck, ICE/TJC!!!

The election results are due in today, and I wanted to wish all the ICE/TJC candidates good luck. I voted for the slate, and I convinced at least five others to do the same. Unfortunately, many teachers don't even understand the 3 (really 2 if you don't count New Action) party system. When I explained to some teachers in my building what was at stake, they said they'd vote for ICE. So that's 6 from me.

Ed Notes explains what is at stake. Even if they don't win, a good showing by ICE/TJC will serve to light a fire under Unity and Mulgrew.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Other Argument for Seniority

There's a nice piece in the Community section at Gotham Schools that lays out the case for seniority, especially in light of possible upcoming layoffs. I won't repeat any of the author's arguments here; you can read them for yourself and decide if they are compelling. I think they are.

I'd like to address an argument for seniority that I rarely hear, but it warrants discussion. I believe that ignoring seniority as it exists now would ruin education in the future, and here's why.

Klein's reasoning is simple to follow. He wants new, cheaper teachers who he can replace as soon as they show any signs of independent thinking. In that way, not only can he control how and what is taught, he can do it on the cheap. And he can forget about ever paying those expensive pensions, as no one would ever make it to the 27 years of service they'd need to retire. While this would certainly work to save money in the short term, it would be a disaster in the long term.

What is the lure of teaching? The opportunity of working with kids is a large part of it, but there are many other considerations that make teaching a worthwhile career. It offers job security, more time off than most jobs, and a chance to retire in a reasonable amount of time (7 more years than police and firemen, but less than the usual 30). In exchange for those perks, you must get a master's degree plus 30 credits, you spend a good amount of your personal income on supplies, you work in a less than ideal environment, and you get to be a highly educated bathroom porter five time a week. Most teachers--career teachers anyway--feel these things to be a trade-off we can live with, even if we don't always like it.

Now, let's take away seniority. Klein gets his way, and teachers can be laid off at any time, virtually guaranteeing that whenever there is a fiscal crisis, teachers who get paid the most get laid off first. Who would want to be a teacher under those circumstances?

You'd need to get an expensive bachelor's degree, and then devote a lot of time, energy, and money into getting that master's degree, all the while knowing that your own hard work is putting you ever higher on the salary scale and thus closer to the guillotine. No other school will hire you with those credentials and that salary, either, so in a few years, your career will be over. You'll have virtually no chance to ever make it to that 27 year retirement, even though you will pay 5% of your hard earned money into it as long as they keep you around. You'll never get very high on the salary scale because when you do, you'll be axed and you'll have to start at the bottom of some other profession.

Almost no new college graduate would want to start their working career in a job that will almost certainly be a dead end. With the security and the retirement gone, all you'll get as a teacher is far less money than in the private sector and some potty patrol, which is not a skill you'll need in your next career. Yes, you'll still get summers off, but like most new teachers you'll need to take a job in the summer just to make ends meet.

A lot of new teachers don't remember the bad old days when the DOE couldn't recruit anyone. They went to foreign countries to try to get bodies to stand in front of classrooms. That's where we'll be when seniority disappears and no one wants to be a teacher anymore.

But that's probably what BloomKlein wants. If they can make the public schools bad enough, they'll have a reason to ask for a boatload of new charter schools that they can bestow on their friends like Eva Moskowitz, who makes four times the top teacher salary.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Blasphemous Truth

OK. I'm going to say it. No one else will, so I'll have to. Here we go:

There's absolutely nothing fundamentally wrong with education in the USA.

I know. This is like telling a child that there is no Santa Claus. They've believed it for so long and with such conviction that the realization that, hey...maybe mom and dad did put those presents under the tree after all...seems shocking. But it's true.

This is not to say that the education world is perfect. There are many things that need to be fixed. But the fundamentals are all in place. The system works, and it always has worked. More importantly, it will continue to work unless we let the education deformers destroy it.

I've known this truth since I first began teaching. In my first year, I had a top class, three general ed classes, and one bottom class (this was back in the days of tracking). And what happened was predictable. Despite my many shortcomings, my top students did great, my middle kids stayed in the middle, and the bottom class stayed right where they began--at the bottom. And had I been a great teacher, which I most certainly was not, the results probably would have been roughly the same. Oh sure, a better teacher probably would have moved a few kids more quickly up the ladder, but the blasphemous truth is that we have always had a top tier of students, a middle tier, and a bottom tier.

The myth that a good teacher is the single greatest factor in a student's education is pure nonsense. Naturally, having a lousy teacher is a detriment, but most teachers are far from lousy. The lousy ones tend not to make it past the first few years--either that, or they improve.

The meme of the "great teacher" has its origins in the worlds of literature and entertainment. From Blackboard Jungle to Stand and Deliver, the media has inundated us with the idea that great teachers can change lives. Don't get me wrong--sometimes we do change lives. But not every day. And not with every student. For the most part, we do our jobs, educating children as best we can, and we hit the occasional home run. But sometimes we strike out. And sometimes we bloop one into center field that looks like a line drive in the boxscore. Even Babe Ruth struck out almost twice as often as he homered.

Despite all the rhetoric and all the changes to what is taught and how it is taught, there is one truth that Klein and all the other ed deformers can't explain away: The results of all their tinkering with the education system have amounted to a big fat zero. NAEP scores in New York--the one test that the state can't dumb down--have flatlined over the last decade. Klein and his crew--along with all the other saviors of education across the country--have not caused scores to budge an inch. Not one inch.

One can reasonably assert that Joel Klein and his ilk have made education worse. After eight years at the helm, with constant test prep, increased periods of ELA and math, and the dreaded 37.5 minutes added to the day, students are doing no better than when Klein began. If anything should have made scores go up, teaching to the test should have done it. But it didn't. It hasn't done it in eight years, and all the charter schools, quality reviews, and micromanagement in the world won't change that in the future, either.

Because of The Truth. We have kids at the top, in the middle, and at the bottom. We always have, and we always will have. If we devoted all our energies to teaching every child the piano, we'd have a few Mozarts, a bunch of kids who can play reasonably well, and some who mangle Chopsticks after ten years of study. Public education has produced both presidents and dropouts, lawyers and laggards. 'Twas ever thus.

As Americans, we see other nations flourishing, and their education systems competing with ours. We see this as our failing, but the reality is that other countries are simply catching up to where we have been for years...we are not falling behind. We've led the race for so long that we're unfamiliar with the feeling of the hot breath on our necks as other countries chase us down.

Some may call this a nihilistic view; I call it reality. If we dropped all the gimmicks and instead focused on teaching children what they need to know to the best of our (and their) ability, we might just see some real improvement. It will never be as it used to be, when America had a great education system and everyone else stank on ice. And it will never again be like those glorious days when we all believed in Santa Claus and Mr. Chips. But the American education system can be great once again, as soon as we stop looking for Mr. GoodTeacher and get down the business of giving our kids the same solid fundamental education that we all received. Then, we can let them soar.

If you feel the need to throw stones as me, please do it in the comments section.