Public Education Lacks WAY More Than Money

School started ten weeks ago and to date my daughter's 4th grade teacher is failing her, as well as most of her class.

--Teacher does not review, grade and return tests in a timely fashion for continuity in learning, often taking weeks, if ever, to grade tests and return them to her 29 students.

--Teacher has not reviewed or returned ANY homework to students, ever, though gives them a packet a week on Mondays, due on Fridays.

--Most in-classroom work and tests are corrected by the students exchanging papers and grading each other. Frequently the teacher does not review the grading accuracy, which is often wrong, simply records the student given grade instead.

--Teacher does not review most in-class assignments, does not correct for spelling or grammar with writing assignments. 

--Teacher does not control her classroom. Instead of disciplining disruptive students immediately, she tries to ignore them. Other students join in and half the class goes to mayhem. The teacher then punishes the entire class, denying the kids who want to, and need to learn by demanding all kids put their heads on their desks for upwards of an hour, missing hours weekly of precious teaching time.

I met with my daughter's teacher last week. I requested she provide corrected homework and more timely grading and careful review of tests and in-class assignment.

Her response: “All the 4th grade teachers return tests as soon as possible. There is no deadline to correct material. It is at the teacher's discretion.” She then went on to inform me she would not be returning any homework, ever. It was agreed upon by the 4th grade teaching staff to 'focus on tests, and preparing for them instead of homework,' which they “looked over and recycled.” She complained of being so very busy on an ever diminishing school budget, and with a two year old daughter at home would not be returning any of my daughter's work, in-class or homework with corrections.

After meeting with the teacher, both my husband and I went to see the school principal. We requested from her the following action items:

  1. Tests must be corrected, or thoroughly reviewed BY THE TEACHER and returned to the students within 2 to 3 DAYS for continuity in learning.
  1. All teachers at the school must review and correct all assigned homework and return to students the following Monday or Tuesday from the Friday it is handed in.
  1. Teachers must remove disruptive students from the classroom after the second warning, send them to the administration office for a time out, or to the principal for further discipline when necessary, so the teacher can proceed with teaching the students wanting to, and NEEDING to learn.

These very simple things were done for me when I was in public school, and I'll bet for you too. The 'focus' of teaching must be on ALL ASPECTS, from homework to tests to class assignments and participation. There is no need, in fact, it is detrimental to focus on tests alone, since so much of learning isn't about testing, but gaining and retaining knowledge to build on.

Continuity is an essential part of learning. For my daughter to understand what she did wrong (or right) on her tests [and assignments], she needs a direct and prompt correlation. Waiting a week or more to grade and return tests is detrimental to retention. Without her tests to reference, she can not, and does not remember what she did on the exam, what the problems were (in class disruptions, or not understanding the material), and she must go back to the beginning to sequence out the issues instead of progressing forward as tests are meant to accomplish.

Throwing away (“recycling”) homework and assignments is also detrimental to learning. It teaches my daughter her homework doesn't really matter, or count. Why should she care about the quality of her work when the teacher so obviously does not. Getting her to invest the time and energy to complete the work and do it right is a constant struggle. And I'm now fighting the teacher's example of complacency and laziness. Additionally, the teacher has NO accountability when she throws away homework and assignments. Parents have NO reference if the teacher is following the child along without them correcting and commenting on work.

The principal listened attentively, then started defending. She reiterated the 4th grade teachers poor excuses for eliminating their task of correcting and returning homework. She had no idea the teachers did not have a specific number of days to return graded and/or reviewed tests and in-class work. She had no clue about the discipline issues in my daughter's classroom disrupting learning. The school's unwritten policy was for teachers to “deal with their classroom discipline problems on their own.”

Clearly my issues are not just with my daughter's teacher, but systemic to the school under the principal's guidance, or lack thereof. Four years in a row my daughter has had teachers of her current teacher's caliber at her public elementary school. This is the school's third principle in the nine years collectively both my kids have attended. Once a California Distinguished School (and the reason we moved to the area), it is now struggling to maintain its rating. In fact, the school lost 15 points on their Star Test scores last June.

The next step was to take our complaints to the school district supervisor. He listened respectfully, but like his underlings he defended his staff, complained of the lack of funding, the increased number of students per class (30 or less, same class size I had), and so forth. He finally agreed to look into my issues and get back to me.

For about two weeks after my husband and I talked to all involved, my daughter's teacher handed back her tests and assignments with corrections 3-5 days after they were given. But I'm deeply disheartened to report the last few weeks she's returning to her old ways.

Last week I got an email from the school district supervisor explaining why the policies of my daughter's elementary school will remain as is, under the principal's discretion, but he appreciated my input.


I can't afford to send my kids to private school, especially after the close to $1,000 in add-on parcel taxes we pay to the school system, and have to pay whether my kids attend them or not. I can not change the very complex, unwieldy, undisciplined, unaccountable education system, yet I'm forced to pay educators increasing salaries even when their performance is sub-standard. In the real working world those who don't do their job are fired, not given raises, as teachers and educators are constantly angling for, and in fact getting. April this year the starting salary for credentialed teachers in our district was (approx) $43,411. Now it's $44,376.

In April the average (not starting) annual salary for full-time, age 25+ employees with a Bachelors degree was $43,303 (m). Now it's $43,317 (m) $39,336 (f).

Schools keep asking for more money while slashing in-class hours with furlough days, teacher work days, extended holiday vacations, half-days for teacher conferences, etc. Teachers in our district worked 194 days annually last school year, while outside the world of public education full-time generally requires 239 days, or more, especially in today's competitive workplace. They taught only 175 days last school year, and only 163 were full school days, if you can still call them full, with kids out by 1:00p.m. every Wed. and 2:30p.m. the rest of the week.

These salaries, while not high, are solid, and with the added health care and pension benefits could be considered generous in our current economy. I am the first in line to advocate raising these salaries substantially with proof of performance, as any job outside public employment demands. In our public education system however, failing teachers are often transferred to other schools ‘in what's been dubbed the "dance of the lemons,"' taking away any competitive incentive to be the best knowing they keep their job regardless of performance.

Most of us remember a few, and if we’re lucky a handful of great teachers we’ve had. But between those who strive to be the best and those who could care less lies the rest—including most teachers on the bell curve. Following the statistical norm, out of the 11 teachers my kids have had at this elementary school, two were/are undeniably fantastic (first to get to school, last to leave [by hours]); three have shown promise; but the rest have been unremarkable, leaving minutes after the bell rings; inconsistent with assignments, homework, tests; taking weeks to grade and return work, if at all, corrupting the foundation of discipline through consistency they should be modeling and imposing on their students.

Parcel taxes were asked for and granted last election, yet five days and several art and music programs were still cut from our 2010-2011 school district calendar. If the past is any indication of the future, bending over and writing another check buys little to nothing that directly benefits our kids. Burdening taxpayers and homeowners to contribute again and again to our broken education system will not fix it.

Eliminating continually failing administrators and teachers from our education system is a place to begin our recovery, along with awarding top salaries to educators who demonstrate excellence by advancing student achievement. Parents and taxpayers must demand accountability of their educators instead of blindly contributing more and more to support a failing system.

We fought a revolution over Taxation Without Representation once. It's time we do it again with our public education system.


Anonymous said...

Good article. When incompetence keeps getting promoted upwards, it becomes systemic. I had one outstanding math teacher in high school, ironically, his advanced classes were taken away from him because some of the students complained that he graded too hard.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of these poor experiences. Seems like it is so hit and miss with teachers (and schools and districts). I keep hearing good things about charter schools, although there may not be any in your area. Hang in there!

John B said...

I don't believe money is the principal issue driving the problems with Calif public education.

My belief is that the creation of a vast educational bureauacy in Sacto which hands out $ & edicts to the local school systems is one of the problems. Local school boards are no longer required to raise money for their districts. The Revenue Limit (a state scheme that distributes property tax revenue based on a formula)replaces local accountability for raising & spending money.

If the local school board does not have the authority to adjust taxes based on district need and justify to the citizenry the property taxes paid for schools in the district, why would they be motivated to do anything other than blame Prop 13 for any educational woes?

The second major issue which causes the deterioration of educational standards is the teachers union & its ability to capture the state Bd of Education and shape its policies.

Has anyone ever tried to get a poor teacher fired? It can be done but it's a long process.

And why is it that primary & secondary school instructors are grant "tenure"? I thought that was important only in research universities to permit research into controversial topics.

At the public school level, it serves only to erect an additonal barrier to teacher accountability.

Has anyone seen a copy of the union contract with their local school district. Neither the district nor the union hands copies out.

I understand that the union contract with the San Francisco Public School system is 6 inches thick! This 6 iches has nothing to do with educational standards. It has to do with job security, tenure and work rules.

If the teachers union put as much effort into setting standards for identifying good teachers as they to assure the steady flow of sues into the union bank accounts, I am sure the situation in the public schools would be different.

Not that I am identifiying this as a solution. The unions' goals are to protect their jurisdiction over the educational system and obtain greater benefits for their members (in that order).

THe situation in Calif's schools did not happen overnite and the solution will also take time to implement.

In addition to bringing pressure at the local level, the state Educational bureaucracy needs to dramatically thinned and given the mission of setting minimum standards for CA schools to meet.

Finally, Calif should return to the situation of 30 years ago when public sector employees were not allowed to organize (join unions). With the unions' vice-like grip on politicians in the major metro areas, loosening that grip will take time.