School-house-clip-art1If you are a parent then you get a glimpse into education at some level.  Elementary school, junior high school, high school and hopefully college.  Each are different and many have not moved forward at the speed of everything else around us. 

My interactions with the NY city public education system started with MOUSE.  Through that experience I have remained connected to education at some level.  Fred and I got behind the Academy for Software Engineering.  A public high school in NYC where STEM is the main curriculum.  Fred has really taken the lead on this. 

Over the past twenty years our school system has lost its luster.  When I grew up the public education system, although not perfect, it allowed for left brain and right brain thinkers.  With the passage of No Child Left Behind that mandated testing in order to get results and with that funding something got lost on the way.  The diversification of schools is most definitely one of the things that got lost.  More people of wealth particularly in urban areas are sending their kids to private schools and opting out of the public. The mixture of everyone in a school makes for a much more interesting classroom with all different thinkers from different walks of life.  Perhaps more difficult for the teacher but in the long run that diversity, I believe, is a good thing. 

The more we live in a world driven by technology the more there are several reasons to rethink education.  There are now MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), there are schools that have integrated technology in their curriculum and there are schools that do not use technology at all.  As our society becomes more separated by a digital divide there will be more than one silver bullet to think about making an impact in the education system. 

I went up to the Success Academy Charter school that is the brainchild of Eva Moskowitz last week.  Impressive to say the least.  There are over 7000 kids that have the good fortune to attend.  They started with elementary school and are now adding on a high school next year.  The curriculum is tough, the rules are tight, the are teaching these kids to feel good about themselves and learn boundaries.  Watching the kindergartners enter their class in the morning by standing in line and shaking the teachers hand saying "good morning" before taking each of their places on the circled rugs (each circle in for your own space) is impressive.  They are taking some of the parental responsibilities into the system as they know who the kid is that they are teaching.  Many of them come from high risk areas. 

I get the power of the charter school.  The numbers that Eva is churning out prove how powerful they can be.  They most definitely need to be a part of our system.  As I said, there is no silver bullet.  What is painful is we had one of the most amazing public school systems in the world and have let it slowly crumble.  Like large nonprofit organizations that spend 50% of their funding on management, the schools have done the same.  That management is not including teachers.  The system needs to be taken apart piece by piece.  New curriculum need to be developed that reflect the needs for the next generation not the past generation.  Rules should be applied.  Parents should be involved.  I could go on forever.

I keep thinking about the Success Academy and as impressed as I was when I walked out the door I could not help but think about how one of the best ways to change anything is from outside not inside.  That is exactly what charter schools have done.  They have worked outside the system to make a change.  How do we make those changes in the public school system so that there are options and opportunities for all instead of the lucky ones that draw the right straw to end up in a local charter school. 


Comments (Archived):

  1. Anthony Serina

    Bottom line is that the NYC public school system is just another example of a failing institution. They are underserving the people which they were created to help. I would love to see the system broken apart and rebuilt to reflect todays academic needs and understanding of the new economy. The reality is it will just get worse before it gets better. Things need to be completely broken in this country before the government even really looks at it, then they usually put in place some sort of short-term band aid. Along the way there will always be entrepreneurs and passionate people providing positive alternative routes that only few will get access too.While it goes against the American way, if private schools were completely eliminated I don’t see how public schools wouldn’t immediately become better. It is just a money, resource, and political problem at the end of the day.

    1. Gotham Gal

      agree. about 15 years ago Fred and I attended an event with 15 senators and about 10 tech leaders. It was when Hillary Clinton was running for NY Senate. I was chairing MOUSE at the time. When we spoke about education I got very frustrated and basically said, the problem is that none of you care about what happens in 10 year so nobody plants seeds for change instead all of you are focused on how to get stuff done today in order for you to stay in office. That is the root of the problem.It was one of the few events that I have attended, maybe the only one, where the honest in the room was refreshing because it was a small dinner but of course nothing changed.

  2. Susan Rubinsky

    This is such a good question.My 16-year old son has attended all of the following: public, public magnet, charter, and private. The charter school my son attended in New Haven, CT, is very much like the one you describe, above. I used to call it the Respect, Discipline, and Academic school; every child was expected to strive for graduating from college for day one.Due to my interactions with schools over my son’s young life, I have experienced the frustration of the heavy bureaucracy of public and even public magnet schools but also the isolation and privilege (my son was a scholarship kid and didn’t really fit in) of the private school (this was the environment my son liked the least and he ended up leaving that school to head back to a rather mediocre public school).Here is my little list of Pros/Cons of each type of school:Private: Every child is expected to go to college, it’s just assumed that you will go. The value in going to school with peers with 100% college goals is that everyone is striving for the same goal.Charter: (This depends on the charter; my son went to an Achievement First school) Same college goal as private but bringing this environmental goal primarily to low income, mostly minority kids. Bringing discipline and academic achievement goals to kids who may not have a home environment that supports this.Public: The system doesn’t really expect anything of kids; my son was gliding along doing nothing and getting A’s and pats on the back in elementary school. When he needed some extra help with writing, I was told he wasn’t eligible because he didn’t have a disability. Basically, because of bureaucracy the kids in the middle are just left to “figure it out” while the lowest performing students get all of the extra help. I called it the proletariat factory. This is the place where academics don’t really matter but sitting in your seat and complying with rules is rewarded. It doesn’t foster a love of learning nor does it foster setting any academic goals. Imagine what could happen if the kids in the middle were actually expected to achieve something!One thing the public schools do have that most Charter schools don’t is an arts curriculum.Public Magnet – same as Public but usually with an academic area of specialization. My son’s “magnet” school didn’t have any specialization and I used to suspect that a bunch of parents from the neighborhood just pressured the local government to change the name to a “magnet” school.At the end of the day, our public schools could be so much better if:- There was an overarching code of discipline, including specific/tactical punishments and/or rewards, that are consistent from classroom to classroom within the school. (Currently, the difference from classroom to classroom and teacher to teacher is astounding and ridiculous.)- All schools have a Dean of Discipline; students who are disruptive are immediately removed from the classroom and sent directly to the Dean. They don’t get in trouble for being disruptive; they get in trouble for “stealing the education of others.”- All students are expected to strive for academic achievement.- All students are expected to strive for going to college*. Let’s face it, a college education today is what a high school education was to our parents.- Expanded guidance for students AND parents. A framework for how to prepare for college and what is expected of both students and parents needs to be delineated and also supported by schools.- REQUIRED parental involvement in academic planning and guidance; for example, report cards should only be handed out directly to parents at one-on-one meetings with teachers or guidance counselors.*inevitably there will be a small minority of students who really aren’t suited for college. Those students should be directed to technical or other specialty school where there are viable academic options and careers suited to them. This brings up the whole issue of blending classrooms with people of all different intellects and abilities. I find it enervating when public schools try to blend in students who are severely mentally challenged or who also have extreme discipline problems. You get one or two of these kids in the classroom and the teaching then turns to the lowest common denominator, if any teaching occurs at all. The teaching should be aiming for the highest level and if those kids can’t do it, then they need to be in a different program.

    1. Gotham Gal

      The break down you just wrote between all the different schools is a great reference guide. All trueThe charter school I went to actually holds art up as a fundamental piece of each child’s education and I was happy to see that

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        The inclusion of the arts is great to hear!

    2. pixiedust8

      All schools have a Dean of Discipline; students who are disruptive are immediately removed from the classroom and sent directly to the Dean. They don’t get in trouble for being disruptive; they get in trouble for “stealing the education of others.”This is an interesting point. I have heard some horror stories about one disruptive student that ruins a class for everyone (and what is sad is that the disruptive student’s parents don’t care, which obviously doesn’t benefit him in the long run, either.) Teachers have enough to do just teaching.

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        I have seen one kid control a whole classroom for a whole year. It’s so exasperating. Most public schools want their teachers to control the students. I say, take that responsibility off the teacher’s plate. Also, if there is a consistent framework for discipline — that is overarching to the whole school, rather than from classroom to classroom — it’s easier to keep the whole school on track AND each kid is aware of, “If I do X, then the result will be Y,” no matter what classroom they are in.

  3. pixiedust8

    My daughter goes to a G&T program within the NYC public school system, and I have been very pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as I was a product of private school outside NYC. The teachers are really amazing, and do so much out of their sheer love for education and children.I agree, however, with your point that the administration and teachers are way too separated. I respect the principal at our school, but she is dealing with massive budget cuts and how the school will be measured on testing, as opposed to on the actual students. It’s not her fault, and I’m sure it’s the same way in almost all schools.What I fear is that motivated people, like my daughter’s great teachers, will no longer have a reason to teach. The system is now so bureaucratic and one teacher is expected to take on 30 (or more) kids all day. When you think about it, each classroom is like a small corporation and the teacher is the CEO, managing a bunch of personalities.

    1. Gotham Gal

      managing to the test is just so crazy!!

      1. LE

        Not only that but I noticed that in the public schools the put no effort into anything that isn’t tested. So the productions they do with the kids (the things you go to as a parent) are totally lame because it doesn’t count toward anything measurable that matters to the teacher. I saw this at a number of schools.A small example. You go to see your kid in some musical show or some singing show and they have all the kids sitting on chairs instead of bleachers. [1] They run a school dance and the lighting is to bright and there are no decorations. But on the front of the school there is a big “we’re a blue ribbon school” banner. They are so conditioned to the measurements they are rewarded on they put no effort in “phone it in” on anything else.I’ve seen this a number of times.[1] So unless your kid is in the front row you can’t see them. Seriously how mediocre, lame and not well thought out.

  4. AG

    I fundamentally don’t understand why no president, senator or other elected official has made it his or her business to crack down on schools. I wish Bloomberg had taken it on in the city. It is truly one of the saddest aspects of this country. Beyond what everyone has mentione, teachers pay is a huge issue. It’s impossible to attract the best talent to a field that pays what public schools do. Though i never went to public scbool, i volunteered in kne as a college student…many teachers are incompetent and uneducated themselves

    1. Gotham Gal

      I don’t get it either

  5. Lisa Abeyta

    We live in the third largest school district in the U.S – in one of the poorest states in the union. Our children’s high school in this district enjoys a graduation rate of 98% and over 90% of those graduates go on to college with 75% of them receiving scholarships of varying amounts. Within the same district there are high schools with graduation rates barely over 30% with hardly any college prep classes available to students and rampant gang and drug issues. A new study released by the state shows that even with increased budgets for Head Start and early preparedness programs, we haven’t made a dent in the problem. Yet our charter schools continue to serve children in smaller classes with better results that most of the schools in the district can produce. One of the key factors I’ve noticed is that the level of beauracracy is lower, because most of the schools have waivers from following the stricter federal requirements that the traditional schools are required to meet. I have seen first-hand the benefit of federal programs forcing schools to provde adequate education for special needs childrenm, but I am also convinced that the system is so broken that it often does more harm than if the schools could provide the acommodations without the federal government’s lengthy and arduous documentation.

  6. TanyaMonteiro

    this post applies to SO many places/cities, “the problem is that none of you care about what happens in 10 year so nobody plants seeds for change” this seems to be the key, certainly here in Africa and not just for education.

    1. Gotham Gal

      it is called i am in office now not later.

      1. TanyaMonteiro

        where as good parenting is all about I do the work now FOR later

        1. Gotham Gal

          so true

  7. LE

    Charter schools work because they are able to filter and control the student body. Similar to the private school I attended. That’s a huge difference and makes it much easier to do things.My high school class had 100 kids my sisters (both who didn’t want to go to a private school) had 1000 kids in their class. No comparison in the student bodies (my school was a boarding school although I was a day student).Some of the rules and drawbacks of public high schools are there because of the lack of control that teachers have because they essentially can’t kick out students. Not the case in a private school and once again there is a filter. You don’t get in unless you fit the mold (and can pay although there were poor students who were given tuition but guess what they were filtered as well).Doing things at a “filtered” school is inherently easier and is much like a parent who has well behaved kids lamenting why another family (with “wild” kids) is doing it all wrong. (I probably didn’t say that right but I think you get the point I am making).I have well behaved kids (both in college now) and I also now have very well behaved step kids in elementary school. I don’t have to break a sweat at all to get them to stay in line it’s almost to easy. The kids listen to me. Period.But I’ve dated women who have kids that aren’t the way I had or have it now. And I can tell you it’s another ball game entirely. One of the women (with the particular child) managed to get him into the local charter school and I attended many meetings and saw the difference in what they could do in that environment. But the child didn’t integrate well and iirc he was essentially kicked out and had to return to public school.”Back in the day” (my point here actually) schools had many more arrows in their quiver so to speak. Back when I was in school even the public schools (I’m sure you remember this) had a way to kick out or keep in line unruly students. I remember having kids in public middle school (who were bad kids) who told me that they feared being transferred to the delinquent school if they didn’t shape up. They were the tough kids in our school but feared being sent to the city “tought” school. (And they shaped up iirc again).I’m no expert on this for sure but I believe they essentially lost that power and any other method of keeping kids in line.

  8. JLM

    .I agree with you more than you agree with yourself.I do not however understand why any of the blame is laid at the feet of No Child Left Behind.NCLB was sponsored by folks like Sen Ted Kennedy and was an update of a 1965 law, Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It was a required reauthorization.At the time it was not particularly controversial as it injected testing and teaching requirements but the standards themselves were left to the individual states.Students were allowed to change schools if their school failed to deliver and teachers were to be tested. These are all good things.The notion that “teaching to the test” is a bad thing merits a bit of discussion. If the curriculum is designed correctly and is taught effectively, the test should, in fact, be a reflection of the teaching and a fair test of the student’s mastery of the subject.The tests are literally not available to teachers until administered so the notion that answers are being provided — used to call this cheating — is not correct.Most of the opposition to the NCLB actual law is from teachers and teacher unions who do not want to be held accountable.The superior performance of charter schools on the required testing is a testament to the notion that quality education can be delivered at the same cost per student — less actually — than the average public school.Most charter schools are inferior when physical plant, administrative depth, teacher compensation, libraries, computer systems and other financially driven parameters are considered and yet they deliver superior results primarily because of the dedication and passion of the teachers.In many ways it is the failure to enforce the accountability standards of NCLB which has allowed inferior performance to continue.In education, we do not get what we expect, we get what we inspect.JLM.