From Across the Pond (Britain, not Bellevue)

What does Sir Michael Barber, Britain's former education advisor to Tony Blair, have to say about education and American education in particular? This is addressed in a great article in the NY Times.

From the article:

"What have all the great school systems of the world got in common?” he said, ticking off four systems that he said deserved to be called great, in Finland, Singapore, South Korea and Alberta, Canada. “Four systems, three continents — what do they have in common?

“They all select their teachers from the top third of their college graduates, whereas the U.S. selects its teachers from the bottom third of graduates. This is one of the big challenges for the U.S. education system: What are you going to do over the next 15 to 20 years to recruit ever better people into teaching?”

South Korea pays its teachers much more than England and America, and has accepted larger class sizes as a trade-off, he said.

Finland, by contrast, draws top-tier college graduates to the profession not with huge paychecks, but by fostering exceptionally high public respect for teachers, he said."

He is fair in assessing that Great Britain has far fewer students than the U.S. but also acknowledges the power that states have over the federal government in education.

He did a report for the state of Ohio:

"In Ohio, for instance, Sir Michael led a McKinsey team last year that helped produce a 102-page report recommending new education policies based on the best practices in Britain and other countries.

(The report can be seen at

About failing schools:

"When it comes to failing schools, Sir Michael expresses impatience. When a public school is failing — not just going through a rough patch, but also systematically failing to educate its students — he says there is only one question the authorities should consider: “How do I get these children a good education as fast as possible?” "

His reaction to NCLB:

"Sir Michael said that he considers No Child Left Behind to be an outstanding law, perhaps one of the most important pieces of education legislation in American history, he said. But the law is not without its flaws, he said, which include its methodology for identifying underperforming schools on the basis of student test scores alone.

“It depends much too often on quite crude tests and one year’s data,” he said.

The world’s best school rating systems, including England’s, he said, not only consider test results, but also send government inspectors directly into schools to search for causes of poor performance. McKinsey’s report on Ohio recommended that the state create a corps of inspectors like England’s, which reviews every school at least once every three years, examining the teaching environment and the caliber of school leadership, and suggesting changes, he said."

Lots of interesting ideas here. A question for the teachers; do you feel respected by the public at large? Would you feel as good or better about your work if you were treated like a firefighter? Would more pay balance a larger classroom? What would make a teacher's life better?


Anonymous said…
Our schools need discipline, structure and high expectations. For the PC police, these are not racist white traits. This is common sense for human beings in a democracy. Some of the teachers are clearly afraid of some of the students. Some of the teachers are afraid to enforce the rules that are clearly stated in the rules brochure that we parents receive at the beginning of the school year. There is a culture of disrespect in many of the Seattle Public School's high school classrooms. I observed my child's classrooms last year and saw this disrespect over and over. I will not name the school because I want to remain anonymous. Yes, there are some great teachers in our schools, but there are not enough of them.
They need to be paid more to attract higher quality teachers. The union needs to do a better job of weeding out the bad ones.

The violence in movies, TV and music has had a detrimental effect on our youth. They hear and see violence so much, that it has become acceptable, even in the classroom.

Until discipline and high expectations return to every classroom, I don't see things getting better. It isn't always about money. All kids (rich,poor,white,non-white) need structure and reasonable discipline in the classroom.
Frustrated, for me, you are preaching to the choir.

I just don't get the degree of laxness in behavior at middle and high school (and I'm talking about so-called "good" schools). I had a talk with the principal and vice-principals at my son's school about behavior and the reaction was muted. One said that maybe they could work with the kids about how they wanted the school to be. Sigh. Okay, we want them to care about their school, even take ownership but they are still kids. Turning away from standards, whether academic or behavioral, doesn't help them. I think the administrators believe it's a small thing but when you have large numbers of kids believing that "everyone" is doing it - wearing hoods, sunglasses, caps, eating/drinking, texting or listening to iPods - it does affect the classroom. How can it not?
Anonymous said…
I couldn't agree more. The behavior at school is surreal, and completely unacceptable. And, what's worse, besides the schools turning the other cheek, many parents do too.

We had one child in an alternative school, where there were no rules about things like hoods, sunglasses, cursing, chewing gum, inappropriate clothing and earings. Even offenses like unsafe behavior and physical violence were rarely addressed, and even when they were it was very gentle and polite (PC). It was chaotic, and unsafe to say the least.

We finally transferred out child to a very structured high achieving traditional school, and we found that rules were rules and they were strictly enforced. If a kid ran in the hall way, you could count on a teacher catching them. If a kid hit or hurt another kid, it was addressed swiftly and firmly. My son wore a magnetic earing to school one day, which was returned to me promptly that afternoon in an envelope with a note from the teacher asking that he leave his earing home as it was distracting him and the other students. Bravo to her!

There is a difference from school to school, and I know when picking a High school I will look at how behavior and dress codes are addressed and enforced, and choose a school accordingly.
Anonymous said…
Adding to my last post....

Melissa how has your child done in the environment that you describe at his/her HS? Does he/she hold her own ground and rely on the values that you have (surely) instilled in her? Or is she influenced by her peers and surroundings? My kids have not reached HS yet, and I am truly curious as to how poor behavior amongst peers influences an otherwise good kid, from a good family?
Anonymous said…
A student in today's PI article about drugs in schools directly addresses the discipline/rules issue:

"We are in an era when people really don't care about school rules or laws, so it happens," said Tavar Proctor, 21, who attended Seattle's Franklin High School, adding he doesn't drink or use drugs. "It's pretty much common in school."

Interesting, too, what the article said about drug use at Ecstein (quoting Sherry Carr's daughter):

When Bailey Carr started sixth grade she didn't see anyone using drugs around Eckstein Middle School in North Seattle.

By the time Carr hit eight grade last year she noticed a lot more kids drinking and smoking pot and guesses that 45 percent of her classmates have used drugs or alcohol more than once.

But, "people actually do a good job of hiding" it, said Carr, 14, who starts at Roosevelt High School this fall. "The thing you see most is just someone being high."

My son is 9, so we're just heading into this territory - hearing about the lack of structure/discipline in middle schools, combined with articles like this, makes me worry.
Jet City mom said…
The contrast between security staff at my childs middle and high school was depressing.

In high school, staff are very visible, they know the kids- they escort them to class if need be. They even attend school board meetings, outside events ( as spectators)and are respected in the community.

In her previous school, the security staff spent most of the time in his office reading the paper. He often ventured out to walk around having a smoke, but even though I was in the building often every day all day, I virtually never saw him intervening in a positive & effective way that the staff at the high school do.

I also know teachers who wink at illegal behavior, according to students who are now adults, however the most aggregious offender now teaches in the Lake Washington district.

But re: respect
My daughter has had some wonderful teachers. Teachers who truly love teaching, are excited about their subject and have clear expectations and clear structure to enable those expectations to be reached.
I respect those teachers.

I also know teachers who don't do the above- complain that it is because they don't get enough money even though they get paid more per hour than either I or my partner & have low standards ( especially for themselves- do you wear flip flops to work? ), and what is one of my hot button issues, spend so much time complaining about the WASL and NCLB, that they barely have time to do anything else.

I don't respect those teachers- in my world, respect doesn't come automatically.
Politeness and respect are two different things however.
I raised my kids to behave politely, in most circumstances, but to also see if words match actions.
Anonymous said…

According to this article Jennifer Rice, the Fed. Way teacher of kidnapping and molesting a 10 year old child, had a long history of inappropriate behavior. she had been relieved or resigned from 3 schools prior to this one, for her misconduct with students.

What has gone so wrong with our society? Why would we keep re-hiring someone with this type of record?? If it had been a male teacher would we have continued to re-hire him?
Outside the box, let me preface - my son is no angel. Meaning, he doesn't get into trouble and is respectful to teachers but does he talk in class? Oh, probably. Has he been late to class? Yup. Is he influenced by other kids and their behavior in class? I'm sure he is.

I sat in on a class last year where the kids were in groups and there was one child in each of 2 groups begging the others to stop talking so they could finish the assignment. If the majority of the kids in the group had been saying, stop talking, it likely would have stopped. My point is when you get to a critical mass of casually bad behavior (a constant low hum of whispering in class, tardies, remarks made out loud to get a rise out of the class without the teacher's intervening) then kids get the message that this is okay.

I may just not get today's classroom management.

I'll have to read the PI article. Neither of my sons experienced much exposure to drugs or alcohol at Eckstein. There are very concerned parents there who have been working hard on this issue as well as the issue of bullying. I can't address what is being done at other schools.

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