Jerry Yang


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Government-mandated curricula are degrading our quality of education.

In the United States, teachers are facing a critical inner debate: Should I sacrifice spreading the art of learning for government-mandated curricula? Over the years, teachers have been bombarded with mandate after government mandate telling the teachers the way they should teach, and this is being reflected in their quality of education.

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    Dec 11 2012: The issue isn't the mandate per-se, the issue is that the mandate and the curriculum are dictated by those who shouldn't have the authority to do so.

    Just as Science should be left to Scientists, Education should be left to educators and those at the height of their fields.
    Leaving those unqualified/undeserving of the position to dictate how the system should work is akin to having a handyman design a skyscraper --He's out of his level of competence and it'll all come crashing down eventually.
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      Dec 16 2012: And Legislators should keep to Legislation. So why are Legislators meddling in the realms of Education, which should be left to Educators?
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    Dec 11 2012: government mandate benefits nobody. it just makes us servants without free choice.
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    Dec 19 2012: The fact people do not care to know that the education system in this country is among the worse in the 'first world countries' and gets out shined consistently by countries with far less money. . . Makes me only fear the future development. . . Truly heading towards an idiocracy.
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    Dec 14 2012: Jerry, Allow me to expand the view just a little. The Feds device a Common Core Curriculum (CCC) .... you want some of the big bucks you will go along. Because that draws the line in the sand for the US what else occurs. The real power in education becomes involved ... educational textbook writers and test developers. They incorporate the (CCC) into all texts and test developers model the "high stakes testing" on what the text covers.

    At the next level we must align the syllabus and teaching guides on the texts and in doing so the tests. To throw more fuel on the fire ... teachers evals (and therefore raises and even employment) are now tied to students testing grades. This of course also rates the district and the individual schools so everyone is tied to the students grades. Now if you are a superintendent/principal/teacher you will do certain things to ensure success.

    Fiirst I would devise daily teaching guides for each grade district wide ... develop tests for daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly to ensure that we are on target. teachers would be required to submit reports on each test .... documentation would be required for any student at risk ... supervisory reviews on all teachers would become very negatitave and frequent ..... contracts will be rewritten to allow for discharge of "poor" teachers and the right to not renew contracts in short we are now teaching the test and are parroting responses to achieve higher test grades.

    This provides for the worse and shallowest learning with absolutely no ability for application or a deeper understanding of the subject.

    The teachers now have higher and smaller hoops to jump through with little or no control of their own destiny.

    With one or two small moves we will have a totally federal government run education system that writes all texts and grades all papers. Socialism at its finest in the US. The stated goal of Arne Duncan.

    Thanks for letting me rant.

    All the best. Bob.
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      Dec 14 2012: No problem. BTW, I like your profile picture.

      Thus, what we have to do is gravitate away from the socialistic views you present to allow students to not only gain a deeper understanding of the subject, but also be able to apply it to real world problems, which is essentially the ultimate goal of school.
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        Dec 14 2012: Concur. Jerry what we have seen in the last few PISA Exams should have told us where education needed to go. We do not learn from history very well. We do not see Argentina as a warning to economics/political errors. We respond to educational need based on national pride. During Esinhowers administration the Russians beat us to space so we surged in engineering to catch up. During Obama's administration we came in on the bottom third of the bottom third in PISA testing results so we now have a national surge (again). The problem is that at neither time did the problems facing education get addressed. It has become the job of administrators to interpert, react, respond, and implement federal and state mandates in order to remain eligable for "the big bucks". While at the same time ensuring that they garner a large salary. The name of the game at all levels is money and job security. I have written papers stating that the administrators job is essentially a job for a MBA not a educator. Hire principals for education and MBA for management and save a lot of money and gain efficiency. Our larger districts have four or five superintendents with differing titles and each at over $100, 000. Some Supers makes $250,000 and lots of perks. Even the smallest districts they make $85,000 plus.

        The question becomes, Have we allowed the fox to guard the hen house for to long? The next question in that area is what about educational unions? How about getting the feds out of the education business and allow the states to conduct their internal business as the Constitution states. Parents have all but been shut out of the process. Jerry the parents you need to see and talk to do not interact with the school. You get to see the good moms and dads.

        We need to analyze the system to address 21st centry problems and application of technology. If not the teacher will become a class monitor with no need for a degree only compliant to federal demands.

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          Dec 16 2012: Let me address each of your arguments in turn:
          1. The PISA Exams are intended to be standardized tests that compare education systems across the world, and results so far have been depressing. The Obama administration has more than pushed and advocated for educational reform, but almost nothing that directly impacts schools on a local level.

          2. The administrators of a school are there to administrate. However, it is necessary that we have educators who are actually familiar with the education system to administrate properly. Those former educators are able to comprehend the system because they have been through the system before, and they know its little quirks and whatnot. That is why they should be able to administrate - because they have that knowledge of the system. Indeed, it is important to have people who are educated and have MBA's as administrators, but if they do not have that experience as an educator, then they are essentially reduced to reacting and implementing.

          3. Localizing education would certainly bring more benefits as states are allowed to address specific educational weaknesses. However, each state is different, and each state has its own educational downfalls. Thus, students are not getting that same level of, if you will, "equal" knowledge in all fields when states decide to target certain areas. For example, Texas's SAT scores have fell for quite some time, but has Texas done anything about it? Nothing major, except for the phasing in of the STAAR assessments. The STAAR is supposedly designed for students to perform to a certain level, one that is considered "college-fit" for that certain grade level. Unfortunately, Mr Perry is not too concerned about Texas's education system.
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          Dec 16 2012: 4. Parents are unfortunately "banished" from the loop in the current education system. But it is not just an issue of the education system; it is an issue of school administrators. School administrators should allow more parent-teacher-student-counselor 4-way interaction so that efforts can be focused on doing what is best for the student.

          5. Technology is a marvelous thing, and if used within certain boundaries, can and will bring the level of education to the next level. However, most districts have policies that inhibit the use of technologies such as smartphones in the classroom, arguing that they inhibit learning during instructional time. Many schools all over the nation have already integrated technology seamlessly into the classroom. The next step in the process would be for that same technology to be made available to all schools.
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        Dec 16 2012: Jerry, It would appear that we are together on most issues with the exception of #2. As I proposed the job of education would be the responsibility of the Principals and the job of management would be the relm of the MBA. Thus satisfying the "been there" aspect of your concern.

        # 4 is of special interest. School boards and Administrators cower from the threat of lawsuits. The advent of the "Executive Session" came as a protection of the public knowing what is going on prior to consulting with a lawyer.

        Another issue is that if a complaint is lodged against a teacher, it goes into a black hole. When selecting a teacher we the parents do not know that 32 complainhts have been filed on teacher X or what the results of the complaint were. If if I file a complaint I do not receive any feedback.

        Lastly, when the board fires a administrator a agreement is signed that s/he gets a letter of recommendation and X years pay. That has to be the dumbest thing ever. I fire you and tell everyone how great your are and then I pay you for not have done the job you agreed to. The board should write a contract that says if you are terminated for cause and leave we will not state why. If you contest it all facts will be made public in a open hearing. Your choice. Get a lawyer and see you in court.

        Jerry, thanks for your time in discussing this with respect.

        I wish you all the best. Bob.

        PS: My kids went to school in Texas (Ft Worth) when I was an engineer with General Dynamics. Even then the teacher were teaching to the test for their protection. To bad.
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          Dec 19 2012: Let me clarify: you are saying that the administration side of education would go to the MBA and the principal is still an educator?

          The fact that point #4 exists is a result of the fear of criticism, but they can't make everyone happy. And I liked your comment on firing teachers; isn't it ironic?.
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        Dec 19 2012: Yeppers. The District Superintendent would be a District Manager, that would take away the illusion of his classroom experience. While the principal would be the "Head Master" in effect. Principals within the district could confer for maximum effectiveness.

        Carters intentions were probally honorable when he made Education a post. However we have seen government in action. The cabnet post now has a 60 Billion dollar budget and 5,000 employees. The stated "joib" is: " The primary functions of the Department of Education are to "establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights."

        As I read that .. It collects data from the states ... writes a policy statement ... and refers civil rights cases to the Attorney General.

        Wow the only real job it has is to write a policy statement. with a staff of 5,000 and 60 billion dollars to do it .... that had better be one heck of a statement.

        Four analyists, one manager, and a secretary could do the job over the summer when the states submit the results ..... so "In My Opinion" this is a three month job at best. Lets be generous and say a budget of 1 million for rent, supplies, equipment, and salaries. Is that more or less than 60 billion ... I'll look into that.

        Guess that I expect something for my 60 billion .... silly me.

        Thanks for the reply. I wish you well. Bob.
  • Dec 11 2012: "Government-mandated curricula is degrading our quality of education."

    People who believe something as complex as the quality of an education system is determined by a single factor are degrading the quality of thinking.

    Government mandated curricula can go too far but they are also necessary to keep things like creationism out of the classroom.
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      Dec 11 2012: it is very nice that you want to force your world view on everyone else for their own good
      • Dec 11 2012: Call me old fashioned but I believe children are not the property of adults: parents (or guardians) don't have a right to deny their children the truth and a chance at a scientific career, which is the real forcing, (especially when tax payer money is involved, which usually is the case) anymore than they have the right to deny them food and shelter.

        Parents (or guardians) are free to choose a school but there have to be limits to protect the child because its future is more important than the primitive superstitions and sensitivities of the adults around it. I know what I'm talking about here, so please leave your libertarian BS out of this for once, this is about children, not consumer products.
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          Dec 11 2012: "children are not the property of adults"

          rather, children are property of the state

          "Parents are free to choose a school"

          as of now, they are not

          " I know what I'm talking"

          eeer, ugm, well okay. good argument.

          "libertarian BS"

          congratulations, you are established yourself a worthy opponent
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      Dec 16 2012: I am not proposing that government-mandated curricula is the sole factor in degrading education; I am only saying that they are one of the factors. Other factors include lack of parent involvement, administrator-reactionary methodology, etc.
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    Dec 11 2012: The challenges in this area are: 1) such mandates tend to lean toward things that are easily measured (or, more specifically, to measure only a part- and not necessarily the most important part, of educational goals), and 2) best practice in education involves differentiated instruction, which is to say, instruction geared to specific students' needs and best ways of learning. Differentiation and standardization by mandate are often at odds.

    Added to this, the frequency and manner of measurement often have a practical impact of taking valuable time away from instruction and inquiry and of affecting in a negative way students' relationships with schooling. Frequent narrow testing and particularly the abundance of short answer, write/wrong questions convey narrow messages about the purpose of education and can draw the focus of classrooms away from critical thinking.

    In my experience in this field, the broad mandates from either the state government or national standards are in the area of what students should know or be able to do (content) more than how to convey that (pedagogy). Restrictions on or standardization of pedagogy are more likely to be district-driven, which also can restrict differentiation for different students' needs and the flexibility teachers have in meeting those needs.

    To be fair, errors of judgment or confusion about appropriate focus can occur at any level, from the classroom to the highest levels of government. There are teachers who would, without direction, not make the best use of students' time. On the other hand, when the federal government made serious extra funding to schools contingent on common core standards, Massachusetts appealed to maintain state standards that were higher than those common standards and was told, according to what I have read, that reaching higher than the common core standards was not acceptable.

    Teaching in urban schools is a demanding job that demands on-your-feet ingenuity but one with immense rewards.
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      Dec 12 2012: So do you believe that there can be a consensus between differentiation and standardization by mandate?
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        Dec 12 2012: I don't understand your question, perhaps? There could be a standard that everyone needs to learn x by the end of third grade. Then some students might learn it by first grade and some by third and the teachers could use whatever pedagogies worked best for their kids.
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          Dec 16 2012: Our current system provides mandates for students at the end of each year. The issue that I see with what you propose is that people who place students in appropriate classes sometimes do not know that each child has a different amount of knowledge. So some students could be placed in classes that are too difficult and others too easy. Hence came along the distinctions of Gifted/Talented and Advanced Placement Programs. But then, teachers have the inherently difficult job of catering to the entire class so that everyone learns at least something by the end of the school year. This is very difficult to achieve because every person learns differently.

          Government mandates and standards are not entirely bad, for they provide teachers and educators with good benchmarks. But these standards ought to be somewhat more flexible to accommodate all students.
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    Dec 11 2012: Government-mandated curricula is degrading our quality of education - I can only say Amen to that!
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    Gail .

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    Dec 11 2012: Curious approach to the matter of the declining quality of education, but I suspect that you have some unsustainable assumptions built into your question.

    Results based teaching which too often means teaching to the test is not a mandate that tells teachers the way they should teach. It is a way that lazy teachers manage to keep the pay checks coming in with the least amount of work possible.

    but the problem doesn't begin or end there.

    "The WAY they should teach" is not nearly as important as "WHAT teachers teach.

    Our educations have been filled with both overt and covert lies. These lies force defiance of the logical thought process and stymie understanding of the world that students live in. Teachers teach WHAT they are told to teach and WHAT they themselves learned - lies included.

    When I was an employer, I hired former teachers for a while, but I learned that this never worked out and stopped hiring them. In most cases, the former employees returned to education because that career was so much easier. The only place where I have seen former teachers succeed is in mindless jobs where no creative thinking was either required or desired.

    Combine all of this together and you have a system designed to fail students.
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      Dec 12 2012: I certainly agree with part of what you say. "Teaching to the test" is not a mandate as to what teachers teach. But to "keep the paychecks" coming, as you say, the teachers want better performance on these standardized tests whose content is presented in government-mandated curricula.

      "Our educations have been filled with both overt and covert lies. These lies force defiance of the logical thought process and stymie understanding of the world that students live in. Teachers teach WHAT they are told to teach and WHAT they themselves learned - lies included. "
      This is such a true statement, and one that can be seen the textbooks and instruction of many subjects, in particular, math. Mathematics is a field that is normally taught very objectively - this, then this, then this. This is what government-mandated curricula essentially do. Mathematics should not be taught objectively - it should be taught subjectively, in the sense that students should be able to see different connections between topics, with teachers just as a guidepost.
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        Dec 12 2012: Here is the statement of intention from the Washington State Math Standards: "These standards set more challenging and rigorous expectations at each grade level. In addition, they provide
        more clarity to support all students in developing and sharpening their mathematical skills, deepening their
        understanding of concepts and processes, and utilizing their problem-solving, reasoning and communication
        abilities. For students to develop this deeper level of understanding, their knowledge must be connected
        not only to a variety of ideas and skills across topic areas and grade levels in mathematics, but also to other
        subjects taught in school and to situations outside the classroom."
        I share this just to clarify, for those who have never actually looked at standards, that standards do not necessarily emphasize rote learning or deemphasize seeing connections. I assume other states have similar standards, as they try to align with the common core standards to qualify for extra grant money.
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          Dec 13 2012: Standards don't necessarily emphasize rote memorization, but that is what is happening in classrooms today: Teachers are giving the information to the students, and they are expected to know the content by a certain date to adhere to some government-mandated curriculum. Thus, teachers do not have the time to delve deep into the subjects they teach; students are missing out on a lot of good information because of that.
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        Dec 13 2012: That was not my experience in public school math classes, which I taught as well as observed until about four years ago- using inquiry-based materials, but I don't doubt what you report is true of your experience in your district.